Anyone that watched the mini-debacle against the Ottawa Senators will know that there are a few serious flaws to be found on the Rangers roster. The win against the Sabres shouldn’t change the way people view the Rangers. This team doesn’t engage enough along the boards and they certainly don’t go to the net enough or make life difficult enough for the opposing goaltenders. The blank in Ottawa wasn’t an isolated case. This team needs to change its DNA up front (or at least mix it up) and needs a different type of top six forward.
In theory, the Rangers should have the players to get to the net with regularity. When Rick Nash wants to he can absolutely dominate most defenders and when he drives to the net he’s hard to stop. Same goes for Chris Kreider but too often both players play on the perimeter. At least, when you consider the physical tools at their disposal. Even if you consider their attempts to generate traffic appropriate, the rest of the roster doesn’t get to the high traffic areas nearly enough.
This post isn’t so much about Daniel Paille (although Paille is still a guy who couldn’t get a job at league minimum for the past half a year) than it is about the worrying decision making amongst the Rangers hierarchy.
Let’s give a little bit of credit to Paille to begin with. Paille was a key member of the Boston Bruins once highly thought of fourth line along with Gregory Campbell and (correct me if I’m wrong) Shawn Thornton, a line that helped the Bruins win a Stanley Cup. Paille has 172 regular season points in the NHL and has carved out a solid NHL career as a depth forward once coming a goal shy of a 20 goal season. It’s fair to say Paille has some ability and has helped previous teams win.
Now let’s get back to the Rangers and their decision to bring in Paille despite other major and more immediate roster needs and facing an already restrictive cap situation. Paille’s arrival will likely change very little (I hope I am wrong). While it is refreshing to see Alain Vigneault admit the penalty kill is struggling and for once seen offering some frankness to the media and fanbase, it is maybe a sign that he is not seeing the greater issues. And by his decision to bring in Dan Paille, maybe neither does General Manager Jeff Gorton.
It’s amazing how things change in a short period of time. Just last season the bedrock of the Rangers’ success was arguably their defensive depth from one to six. This season however we have seen the inconsistencies of Ryan McDonagh, the misuse of Keith Yandle and the relative regression of Marc Staal but especially Dan Girardi. Last season several people thought Kevin Klein was the organisation’s best trade option on the blueline if the Rangers were to strengthen elsewhere because he was dispensable.
Fast forward to this season and the Rangers have (as has been well documented) struggled to keep pucks out of their own net and most people assume, to maintain a mid to long term competitiveness, the Rangers will need to move Girardi and/or Staal to ease the cap problems. Not so much discussion on trading Kevin Klein any more hey?
The Rangers have always gone after the big names, most recently of course Keith Yandle and Martin St Louis. The following months will likely see a lot more big names changing address both in-season as well during the summer and free agency. Ryan Johansen, Steven Stamkos, Patrick Marleau, and even Evgeni Malkin are the source of rumours.
A lot of noise has been made recently about the Ryan Johansen situation. The big, young center is a phenomenal talent but has been through turbulent times in Columbus on and off the ice, including an acrimonious contract negotiation over a year ago.
Recently, Johansen has been scratched and apparently had problems with John Tortorella as well as being inconsistent with his performances on the ice. But Johansen’s talent is undeniable, and his upside almost unlimited, which is why so many teams are linked to the big center. Johansen (as an FYI) is on course for unrestricted free agency in 2018 at just 26.
The Rangers are as big a defensive mess as they have been in well over a decade. It’s truly difficult to recall a sustained stretch of such defensive lapses on a game by game basis as this recent ‘run’. So how do you find the cause to the problems? Where do you begin to remedy the team’s ills? And how can this coach turn it around with little assets or depth to change the roster or practice time to go back to the drawing board?
Ironically, the problem isn’t the powerplay which is currently in a 5 for 21 stretch – not good enough to brag about but certainly not the problem. The problem also isn’t Henrik Lundqvist even if he has been pulled in two of his last four starts. We could go through this post listing a bunch of trends, statistics and/or players who have shown up on the box scores and suggest they’re doing their bit. However the fact is – other than stating the obvious and noting that the defense is a mess – the fix isn’t obvious either.
Remember when the Rangers had depth up front? It seems like a long time ago doesn’t it? The injury to Derek Stepan has, of course, thrown the Rangers line-up into disarray. The team is missing its presumptive top line center, one of its better penalty killers and one of the better defensive players from the roster. However, Stepan’s absence cannot explain the relative stagnation of Chris Kreider, the sophomore troubles of Kevin Hayes and the up and down play of a handful of other forwards on the roster.
Right now, the Rangers are lacking clearly defined lines and an established top six. Any team would miss a player of Stepan’s ability but one of the underlying problems has been the Rangers inability to find a second top six right wing. Which brings us to a potential solution; Martin St Louis anyone?
Note: I posted over Dave by accident. Oops. Be sure to check out his post below.
The news that Jarret Stoll was waived on Monday afternoon should only come as a surprise because of Alain Vigneault’s perceived loyalty to his players however Stoll’s play (declining on a game by game basis) will have never won him any loyalty from his coach. As such the Rangers have started to make moves to address the worrying trend in results in recent weeks by severing ties with Stoll.
Stoll should only be the beginning. As I wrote several weeks ago, Stoll was a luxury addition by the then greedy Rangers. He was acquired in the summer because of his perceived added value (hello Stanley Cup rings) rather than his skill set being a legitimate need for the Rangers. He was always a square peg in a round hole especially when you remember Dominic Moore is still a regular in the line-up.
The Rangers embarrassing loss in Edmonton was the exclamation point for the embarrassing regression from the Rangers defense. Unfortunately it all centers on Dan Girardi. The veteran Rangers blueliner has become an absolute liability.
This issue is no longer about his already questionable decision making ability. Players can cover up their decision making through their athletic prowess (Chris Kreider), their effort (guys such as Brandon Prust) and their positional sense but Girardi’s awful play has become so apparent and it’s because he’s basically doing nothing right on the ice anymore and it’s got to the point where he needs to be removed from the line-up, even if it’s just for a game or two.
Girardi can’t skate well enough for Alain Vigneault’s system, he makes bad plays with the puck but his positional play has now never been worse. He’s far too often removed from the play in his own zone. To the point where he can’t even block a shot which has so often been his saving grace (because fan bases overrate heroic blocked shots like it was the Spartan’s last stand) and a key defense from his defenders (of which I used to be one).
There are always cycles in prospect development. An organisation’s pipeline can’t always be flowing with NHL ready prospects and it seems that the Rangers pipeline has hit such a ‘lull’ in terms of readily available NHL forward talent and it may be starting to have an impact.
Up front, the Rangers don’t have much to fall back on (or call up) and the injury up front to Derek Stepan and the illness to Emerson Etem has highlighted the lack of available NHL ready resources. Hence you see Tanner Glass back in New York this week. However this lack of talent isn’t unexpected. The asset stripping trades, lack of early round draft picks and the multiple prospect ‘graduations’ over the recent seasons has left the Rangers system thin on the ground.
Looking at the Wolf Pack’s depth up front this year and it makes grim reading. Unless you get excited by the idea of Travis Oleksuk, the neigh on thirty year old Chad Nehring or the NHL career flatlining Marek Hrivik then there really isn’t much on the way from the ‘Pack in terms of forward talent any time soon. This is the way it’s going to be for a little while folks. The Rangers’ can’t really afford many injuries because there’s little help on the way.
We have arrived at a point in the season where the warts on the Rangers are no longer avoidable. The Rangers defense keep turning the puck over, they continue to show an inability to protect Henrik Lundqvist or even limit odd man rushes despite the warning signs being there from the very beginning of the season.
Sure, the Rangers still have a very healthy record and they keep winning games (disregarding the current three game losing streak) but this team isn’t about the regular season. This team is about going deep beyond April. If the bad habits can’t be ironed out now, they threaten to undermine the team when the season has meaning.
Is this overreacting to a handful of sloppy results? After all, before the Bruins loss last week, the Rangers were the only team in the league to be averaging under two goals per game against. The only team in the entire league. Clearly that was an impressive statistic but was that the by-product of Henrik Lundqvist’s unbelievable start to the season? The Rangers have conceded at least four goals in three of the last four games, not including the stinker laid down against the Flyers. Right before that stretch of goals conceded, the loss against Tampa Bay was also highlighted by a late, shorthanded goal caused through individual mistakes from the Rangers.