Grading The Rangers: Erik Christensen


Having finished evaluating the goalies and defenseman, Blue Line Station’s extended coverage of player reviews moves on to forwards. Today’s topic of discussion: the “enigmatic” Erik Christensen.

After being plucked off waivers from the Anaheim Ducks midway through the 2009-2010 season, Erik Christensen has had an interesting go of it with the Rangers. He was partly responsible for clicking immediately with Marian Gaborik that season, giving the Rangers a formidable tandem. However, Christensen couldn’t maintain any form of consistency: it’s been his M.O. his entire NHL career. Despite that, the Rangers were comfortable signing Christensen to a new, 2-year deal on July 1st. Coming into this season, more of the same chemistry between “Crusher” and Gabby was expected. What the Rangers got instead was more of the same inconsistency with added frustration, injuries, and a reasonable doubt as to Christensen’s future with the Rangers.

Let’s take a closer look at the tumultuous 2010-2011 campaign of Erik Christensen:

What We Expected

For Erik Christensen to fully embrace the second chance the Rangers had given him and to build upon the chemistry he developed with Gaborik last season. In his 5 seasons prior to this one, Christensen has played with the Anaheim Ducks, the

Manitoba Moose/Winnipeg Jets

Atlanta Thrashers, and the Pittsburgh Penguins. The reason being is despite the all-world offensive talent Christensen possesses, his consistency, work ethic, and team spirit were all called in to question at various points with other clubs. However, the Rangers, needing more top-line offensive talent, took a flyer on Christensen with hopes he’d establish himself on Broadway, knowing his chances to keep playing in the NHL may soon come to an end.

In 49 games with New York last season, Christensen put up 26 points (8g, 18a). Reasonably, getting between 30-40 points from him this season at minimum wasn’t out of the realm of possibilities. Even though it was a small sample size, Christensen did show an ability to put up points and be an offensive factor for the Rangers. Plus, he boasts some impressive shootout numbers and couple that with the fact the Rangers need to scratch & claw their way to victory most nights meant Christensen should be contributing factor to success.

How He Did

To put it nicely: not good enough. Christensen fell way short of what he should have been able to accomplish in his second season with the Rangers. In 63 games played, “Crusher” amassed a meager 27 points (11g, 16a). More troubling was the inability to rekindle his chemistry with Marian Gaborik, who had his own nightmare season. To top it of, he missed 16 games in the middle of the season with a knee injury, further disrupting his mediocre season. As the season wore on, Christensen fell more and more out of favor with coach Tortorella, only getting on average 8:31 of ice-time by April.

The only thing Christensen seemed to be good at this season, other than pulling disappearing acts on the ice routinely, was the shootout. This is the only area where Christensen earned his salary, scoring 5 shootout goals out of a possible 8 attempts.

In the 5 game playoff series against the Washington Capitals, Christensen scored 1 power play goal from an impossible angle in Game 3 and otherwise was invisible for the entirety of the playoffs.

Final Grade: D

The only reason Christensen doesn’t get an F in my grading is for the success he had in the shootouts. Otherwise, it was a terrible year for Erik Christensen. The nightly effort required by John Tortorella’s players was absent from Christensen most games, which explained his decreased minutes as the season wore on. The knee injury may have played a part in him not being able to establish any offensive timing, but Christensen wasn’t exactly lighting it up before he got hurt.

His coaches & teammates may not have universally liked him after claiming Sean Avery sucker-punched Oilers D Ladislav Smid after their altercation on Nov. 14th in an 8-2 win over Edmonton. Here’s the quote Christensen gave Edmonton TV after the game:

“It looked to me like he suckered him; I’m not going to deny it,” Christensen then told The Post. “I mean, everyone could see.”

To call out your teammates to the media is a cardinal sin in sports. Those matters are meant to be kept internally and offer a glimpse in to part of Christensen’s problem sticking with one team. Torts claimed the matter was “dealt with by the players” afterwards but who knows if the damage was done from that point on.

Going Forward

Despite still being under contract for next season, there is a realistic chance Erik Christensen isn’t on the Rangers next season. His lackluster year has given the Rangers organization enough doubt as to whether he can succeed here in New York going forward. Simply put, his mindset and overall game are not a perfect fit in John Tortorella’s system and with prospects on the horizon, the Rangers have to decide if Christensen plays here next season.

His cap-hit of 925k is reasonable to another team that might need scoring help. We’ve seen Glen Sather pull a rabbit out of a hat with trades before, so it’s not impossible to think he couldn’t peddle Christensen to another team for a late-round pick or mid-level prospect.