Nov
04

So what now?

November 4, 2017, by

jeff gorton

The dust has settled a little bit on this past week, which started with a lot of smoke and rumors about AV potentially being fired, the Rangers making a big trade, or both. None of this has transpired – in fact the Rangers put together an exciting comeback against the red hot Vegas Golden Knights and managed to stymie the NHL’s most dynamic scoring duo, Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov, while pulling off an OT win in Tampa Bay. They go for their third straight win against the Florida Panthers tonight in South Florida, which if they manage it will have the team looking not so bad at all. So this raises the question – what now?

Well let’s start with the win against Vegas. Sure the Rangers managed to put their foot on the gas pedal towards the end of the game, scoring some nice goals to change what seemed like a foregone conclusion of a loss. This win in particular was significant, as Larry Brooks’ column about AV being on the hot seat had just come out the day before. The conventional wisdom was that if the Rangers lost against Vegas, AV would be fired. So much for that.

Yet as Rick Carpiniello put it so succintly on twitter, the third period of that game was like putting lipstick on a pig. Although they managed a compelling counterattack in the third, the first 40 minutes of the game was all blown assignments, opposing team rushes, and getting hemmed in their own end. Not exactly the kind of hockey that should save a coach’s career but hey, if it work it works I guess.

Then we have the game against Tampa. This one, in contrast to the game against Vegas was actually a good game. In particular, the reunited KZB line had the Stamkos/Kucherov scoring unit stuck in their own defensive end for significant portions of the game, sometimes even with the Victor Hedman on the ice as well. The team was connecting on passes and creating chances, and were it not for Andrei Vasilevskiy the score would have been quite tilted towards the Rangers indeed.

This game was a success and showed how well the Rangers can play against a dominant team like Tampa Bay. It comes with a caveat though, although I guess it becomes sort of a chicken/egg conundrum the more you draw it out. Tampa played a particularly bad game, with Dan Girardi giving up significant chances to the Rangers, Stamkos just not creating, and Victor Hedman making some errant passes that were unbecoming of his reputation as the second best defenseman in the game.

Of course, like I said, this becomes a chicken and the egg problem – did the Rangers play well because Tampa played poorly, or did Tampa Bay play poorly because the Rangers played well. The world may never know, but what we do know is that the ice was titled. The Rangers should have won that game and they did. That’s not to undercut their accomplishment, just to point out that it wasn’t particularly hard for them; they were on their game and the result showed accordingly.

So where does this leave us? Well the rumors are still flying about the Rangers potentially making a trade with Montreal, although thankfully according to Larry Brooks Chris Kreider is off the table. AV, in a perfect world, would remain on the hot seat, but on that front I’m not so sure. He could make a strong case to management that he made adjustments that helped win both of the aforementioned games (which, credit where credit is due, he did, at least with regards to the forward lines) and in any event they won regardless of any qualifiers, which is often enough to secure one’s position in today’s NHL. While things may have calmed down a little bit on both of these fronts, in a perfect world they would still be open issues for the front office to resolve (and maybe they will still, who knows, perhaps I’m cynical).

Because the Rangers are still a team in a transitional phase, and they need to decide what kind of team they are quick. In addition to the Montreal rumors, there have been various claims from Canadian media that the Rangers are in fact looking to restock the farm, which may include selling on guys like Rick Nash, Michael Grabner, or even Mats Zuccarello. That doesn’t sound like a team that sees itself as a contender, which is fine, except that Hank isn’t getting any younger. It also becomes quite perplexing when you consider the team’s two biggest free agent signings, Kevin Shattenkirk and Brendan Smith, because those both seem like fairly “win now” moves.

Additionally, whether the team is winning or not, if Jeff Gorton is indeed building a new kind of team he needs to decide whether AV is the right coach for that team, except for the fact that he already extended him last year. That would suggest to me that management thinks that this group, right now, can make a run at a Cup, which if that’s the case then the “rebuild on the fly” makes a little less sense. It all seems to be pulling in opposite directions, and some coherence would certainly do this team well.

Of course I may be totally underestimating management here. It is possible to thread the needle in terms of restocking a team’s prospect pool while simultaneously keeping a core together to remain in contention, a la the Anaheim Ducks. It’s also true that even if you do enter a total rebuild, with the right moves (and some luck of course) you can turn things around relatively quickly – just look at how quickly Toronto went from being bottom of the barrel to veritable contenders. Jeff Gorton seems to be competent enough; despite the Derek Stepan deal I think theres evidence that points to the idea that he has his head on straight in a way that Sather perhaps did not.

It’s a strange time to be a fan for sure, with all kinds of factors up in the air and not much to go on except faith. On one hand we have the fairly obvious fact that the Rangers have deep structural issues, while on the other hand they seem capable of coming out of their slump. How the rest of the season will transpire is a mystery, as are whatever moves the front office will or won’t make. It certainly is tough, given some of the past missteps management has made, to trust in the process, but right now that’s all we have to go on.

Categories : Musings

40 comments

  1. Bobby B says:

    The Rangers need to look real hard at the 3 contracts that are not cap friendly. Nash, Staal, and unfortunately Hank, This current team is not cup worthy and these 3 are not getting younger. Does one look in the mirror and say its time to turn the page. Time to man up and look to the future!!

    • Blue Seat says:

      Tie Staal to Hank in a trade that brings a good return would be great. But, who is the Rangers’ goalie? A big drop there, and house cleaning is the best option.

    • Eddie!Eddie!Eddie! says:

      Except that there’s one little detail you’ve forgotten my friend— Staal and Hank have NMCs. Staal isn’t going anywhere this year, but he could be bought out at season’s end. And remember, the Rangers already are on the hook for Girardi’s dead cap space. It will be interesting to see what their appetite will be for dumping Staal and having that dead cap space added to Girardi’s. Not a pleasant prospect.

      No chance Hank gets bought out and also no chance he gets moved. He won’t agree to go and I doubt the Rangers want him to go. He’s the Rangers goaltender until Shesterkin comes over here in a few years, so get used to it.

      Nash is another story. That all depends on how the season unfolds. He could very well be dealt prior to the deadline if the Rangers fall out of the race.

      • Leatherneck says:

        Same thing was said of Gretzky, he got moved anyone will get moved. If Leaky wants a Cup then he’ll waive his NMC, he ain’t gonna win it here

        • Eddie!Eddie!Eddie! says:

          True, but that was an unusual set of circumstances.

          It was possible to deal Gretzky because…

          a) He had already won multiple Cups in Edmonton, and the Oilers still had a Cup worthy team. That provided a buffer to lessen the anger with the fans. Because they were still that good, even without Gretzky, that made the fan reaction not as bad as it would have been if they went from contender to rebuild.

          B) The Oilers were having financial issues, and had to deal him. Obviously not the issue in NY.

          C) Gretzky was only interested in going to play in a major market like NY and LA. I think there are few if any places Hank would be willing to go to.

          D) Gretzky had just gotten married to Janet Jones who was an actress with LA ties. Beyond Sweden, Hank’s family ties are all in NY.

          E) there was no salary cap to worry about and LA was in a position to make a splash.

          All that made dealing Gretzky possible. Hank wants to win, but he wants to win in NY. I believe living in NY is more important to Hank than anything else. He has all of his side interests there. He’s a major NY celeb. His family is entrenched there. I can’t see it happening.

          But ok, let’s assume you are right—that Hank would agree to be moved. What contending team that needs a goalie has $8.5 mil of cap space available? And what kind of return would the Rangers get for an aging goaltender with a huge contract? Probably not very much. So either the Rangers would have to eat half the contract, and/or get back pennys on the dollar in terms of return. And who exactly is going to play goal until Shesterkin arrives? Won’t that player cost something as well?

          Even in a rebuild, in NY, you still have to sell tickets. This is a business. The Rangers are not going to totally gut the franchise and trade their one marketable asset unless they get something equally marketable back. MSG would be half empty, TV ratings would tank and advertisers would not be happy. This is nothing like the situation that made it possible to deal The Great One.

          I could see one possible scenario. I believe Shesterkin will be coming here in the ‘19-‘20 season. Hank will have two years left. Shesterkin would clearly be the heir apparent. Once he proves he’s ready to replace Hank, maybe Hank, who clearly hates to sit, might agree at the 2020 deadline or that off-season to be dealt to a contender. That would make more sense. His time away from NY and his family would be minimal. A team might be willing to take on that salary for one season+. The Rangers would have their new King (or Czar). That’s the only way I see it happening. I think the chances it happens now or next season are next to zero.

          • RichS says:

            Agree with every reason you gave 3E…..and I would add that gretzky was still at or near the top of his game and still a top 1, 2 best player in the game [which made his salary less of an issue] which unfortunately , Hank at this point not……

            • Eddie!Eddie!Eddie! says:

              Yes…very fair and important point Rich!

            • Hockey Sittoo says:

              Although I agree that Hank is not as good as he was 4 or 5 years ago, I do think he is still capable of getting the job done. It is worth noting as Mike Murphy of BSB tweeted yesterday:
              “Avg HDSA% for goalies with at least 3,000 minutes since 2016-17 is 18.8%.
              Lundqvist 22.3%.”
              That number btw is highest in the League. So it’s easy to call him “Leaky” or tear him down for not living up to his usual standard last year. But let’s see what happens if the team can straighten out its defensive woes. If Hank is still average or below average in terms of raw numbers, then by all means try to move him. But until he gets a fair shot behind a competent defense I am not ready to give up on him.

          • Richter1994 says:

            Great post my friend.

        • King Sieveqvist ! King Sieveqvist ! King Sieveqvist ! says:

          Leather I think we’re stuck with him , maybe he gets moved but we’ll have to pick up half or more of his salary! Whats is % on low danger shots lately ? lol

          • Richter1994 says:

            I ask this a million times and I never get an answer. If a starting goalie is making at least $5M per, then what is it that you’re going to do with the extra $3.5M that is going to make this team better than it is now?

            • Eddie!Eddie!Eddie! says:

              Exactly. He says he hates Hank because he hates the contract. But the alternative in 2013 was who? There was none. The alternative today is who? There is none. The extra $3 million would be spent on who? No one that makes us a better team.

              And on top of that, he literally revels with joy when Hank lets in a softie. So very classy!

              I’ll stick with my original guess…he’s actually a Marty Broduer or Billy Smith loving Islanders or Devils fan trolling this site, because no real Rangers fan would take on that screen name to denigrate the greatest Rangers goalie and top 5 Rangers player of all time.

              Shame on you “Sieve”.

              • Richter1994 says:

                I mean you’re going to pay $4-5M per anyway and to a lesser goalie. What’s the point?

                Other than complaining with an agenda. Only I’m allowed to do that, lol.

              • Eddie!Eddie!Eddie! says:

                See, that’s just it. You and I agree on some things and not on others. But for the most part, except for when one of us gets into “irrational fan boy mode” (usually you…just kidding!)…which btw we all do, you have well thought out reasons why you feel how you feel about the coach, Girardi, etc. I may have a different approach but I totally respect when a person can say why they feel as they do and make a convincing argument.

                I don’t get hating on someone who has accomplished a great deal just because he makes a lot of money. It’s beyond my comprehension and tolerance level.

              • Richter1994 says:

                I really don’t mind people coming at me as a matter of fact I appreciate it and it hopefully leads to good conversation.

                I just don’t like when someone takes a position “just because” or comes at me with no counter proof or reasons. You do and that’s why we converse on a regular basis.

                Yes, I have a thing about the coach but don’t get mad at me, tell why I’m wrong (saying it rhetorically).

    • Ranger17 says:

      NMC for both Hank and Staal they are going nowhere we. Are stuck with those contracts .Nash I would keep if he picks it up or look for draft picks at the dead line

      • Eugene says:

        Nash never recovered after 2 seasons ago leg injury, he is dead

        • Eddie!Eddie!Eddie! says:

          I think that’s a little extreme. His two way play has been mostly excellent. He just has been snake bit in terms of finishing on scoring chances.

          • RichS says:

            Our best player so far this year! Hopefully the younger guys are seeing how he knows just where to go on the ice and HOW to get himself open for great scoring opportunities……at least 20? great scoring chances……
            except for jagr , our best forward the past 20 years?

            • Eddie!Eddie!Eddie! says:

              That’s interesting Rich. Was he better than Gaborik during his best years? Perhaps.

              I can see your point. This is his 6th season. True, Nash has had injuries and scoring droughts. But in terms of five years of sustained performance, yes, I think you can make that argument.

  2. Eddie!Eddie!Eddie! says:

    Pat, it’s a good question. What now?

    Obviously, we can’t know for sure what’s going on in anyone’s mind. But based on the reporting I’ve seen, I believe that AV is not “game to game”. Most every team has bad stretches. Heck, under AV, the Rangers have had a poor stretch of roughly 10 games or so in every season except 2014-15. But in every case, the team snapped out of it. So I think while there certainly had to be concern, and probably still is, I’m not so sure Gorton was or is ready to assemble the firing squad—yet.

    Darren Dreger said it well the other night. There is no indication whatsoever that AV has lost the room or that his message has gotten stale. Elliotte Friedman said he doesn’t believe the Rangers front office is particularly keen on making a coaching change at the present time. They are first going to see if they can upgrade via trade.

    But obviously, AV (or any coach for that matter), is always somewhat “game to game” because at the end of the day, plans can change based on results. They can like AV all the way want, and I absolutely believe AV has the full support of the front office (the contract last January pretty much proves that). But at the end of the day, if the team spirals and doesn’t bounce back as they have in the past, then sure, AV could very well be fired.

    On Kreider being off the table as a trade chip, that may well be true— for now. But in my experience, sometimes that’s all part of the game that GMs play. It may be code for “he’s off the table right now because those of you interested in him aren’t coming close to offering me a package I want”. I still believe that IF the Rangers are out of it, and IF a team wants Kreider desperately enough prior to the deadline, that if they see him as the final piece to their puzzle, they might be willing to overpay.

    I want to say again, I am NOT interested in seeing Kreider, Miller or McDonagh go anywhere. They are good players. But I am ALWAYS interested in seeing the team improve. And those three have the potential to bring back the greatest return. If there is a deal out there that allows the Rangers to improve the team that involves trading one or more of those three, then of course any GM will listen. So I’m not fully buying this notion that Kreider is “off the market”. He’s just off the market right now because probably at the moment, the market isn’t bearing the return the Rangers would want.

    (BTW, I’m no longer including Hayes in my “trade em” group because with our thin situation at center, he and Zib are arguably the two most untouchable players on the team right now).

    One thing to keep in mind in terms of Gorton’s long term thinking—just look again at AV’s long term contract. I think management concluded last year that AV is the right guy for this “rebuild on the fly” approach. Otherwise, why extend him? They give AV an extension, and at the same time they are getting younger. So what that says to me is—Gorton believes AV is the right guy to give the “tough love” to young players when needed. This contract also says to AV, “look, we are going to be in a bit of transition here because of the cap for a year or so. This contract says we want you here once the retooling is complete. So just keep us relevant and in the mix, we will in turn be patient, and we will give you a team that can compete for the Cup by 2018-19.”

    Again, no guarantees, because if it goes off the rails entirely, everyone is at risk—AV and maybe Gorton too. And also certain players that we don’t want to see leave. But that’s my read on it, for whatever that is worth.

    • Chris F says:

      It’s worth nothing! Nothing, ya hear?!

      • Eddie!Eddie!Eddie! says:

        I’m glad you got ahead of it and pre-empted my usual detractors. 🙂

        • Chris F says:

          I do what I can.

          On a more serious note, I largely agree with your assumptions on this. It’s far more likely that JG gave AV the extension with the intention of riding through a bumpy year or so transition than JG giving AV an extension, then looking to fire him over a rocky start, when there is no one better out there available to replace him. The latter would be the sort of half-cocked reactionary blunder that would get JG canned.

  3. Richter1994 says:

    Tyler Bozak has fallen down the depth chart in Toronto, get him here now and put him on the 3rd line.

    Problem solved.

    • Chris F says:

      What’s the cost?

      • Richter1994 says:

        May not be much. He’s playing 14 minutes per night as the younger players have passed him. Graves and a pick?

        • Chris F says:

          I think Toronto would consider that.

          • Richter1994 says:

            100%. They need a D man and Graves fits their youth movement. Maybe throw in a 3rd with Graves.

            Plus the Leafs get ca relief. We can afford Bozak cap wise.

            • Chris F says:

              I don’t love the idea of losing Graves for a rental, but we do need help.

              Chytil is tearing it up down in Hartford. I would like to see how he fares with another call-up before dealing off any top prospects, but if he struggles again, then we’re sort of out of options.

              • Peter says:

                I don’t like the idea of dealing Graves, of dealing a pick and the whole idea that ‘we need to do something’. I don’t think Toronto gives up Bozak to the Rangers for Graves and less than a first or second rounder. With a possibly strong draft coming up, dealing such picks is foolhardy.

              • Eddie!Eddie!Eddie! says:

                I wouldn’t lose sleep over possibly dealing Graves. We’ve been waiting for him for what, 2-3 years now? I don’t see him as anything more than a borderline AHL/NHL asset. We have plenty of defensive depth in the AHL. We are going to need to unload some of it at some point to fill other needs.

                As for dealing a number one, I agree, no way.

                Whether the Rangers are buyers or sellers at the deadline will depend, as it should, on whether the team is in contention or not.

              • Richter1994 says:

                For some reason Graves is not part of the Rangers’ picture and he will be a trade chip at some point IMO.

            • Richter1994 says:

              Peter, you know that the Rangers will never tank my friend.

    • Eddie!Eddie!Eddie! says:

      Like it! But for whom?

      • Richter1994 says:

        Just said to Chris, Graves and a pick?

        • Eddie!Eddie!Eddie! says:

          That works. But do the Rangers currently have the space? Bozak makes $4 mil I believe. According to Cap Friendly, the Rangers have $3 mil in available space. I guess if they wait and a deal could be done later in the season, then it could work. Or, do it now and maybe throw in Holden so some money comes off our books?

  4. Peter says:

    I believe that Gorton, being an astute hockey guy, decided to roll the dice for this season and see what happens. Even with the few patches they made when the team looked disorganized at the beginning of the season, that may still be the case. Of course, Slats might come along and urge a trade and suddenly they have another center but deal a young forward. That would be a Slats move so I do not discount the possibility of a trade completely.

    I don’t believe that AV was ever truly on the hot seat. One reporter whispers it and folks who always hate on the coach when things go wrong engage in post-AV speculation and wishful thinking. For better or worse, I think AV is here pretty much thru the end of his contract. No I am not an “AV supporter”, I often wonder why his defensive scheme does not jibe with his offensive scheme, but I am a realist.

    My own bias is toward letting it ride and if they are out of the playoff picture then sell from strength, not from desperation. Parlay some veteran players into picks and young, talented players. Hank will be good enough for the next couple of years, then Shesterkin will be ready to take over.

    Yeah, Hank will probably never win a cup with the Rangers. That won’t doom his legacy in my book. “Hank’s window” has really already closed because the team will not be a real cup contender until he is ready to retire. Nobody regards Ernie Banks poorly for never being in the World Series either. 🙂