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.
The Rangers got whooped against the Canadiens Wednesday night. Happy thanksgiving everyone! All jokes aside, the Rangers were brutal, but the record is still full of good things so on that note, let’s have a short thanksgiving musings shall we? Have a great day today everyone. Happy holidays.
I’ve gotten a lot of heat recently for writing negative posts on the Rangers despite the sexy record and division lead. The thing is, the Rangers are not playing well in their own zone at all and are over complicating things in the offensive zone as well. We all love the record but if the Rangers ambitions are another trip to the Finals, the play has to begin to catch up to the record.
It’s fact that the list of Rangers players meeting expectations is a lot shorter than the list of players who could be playing much better.
A shutout victory against a very good team can mask a lot of deficiencies but the Rangers won’t win the Stanley Cup the way they’re currently playing – I think all Rangers fans know this. The top line can dominate all they want but they can’t play sixty minutes every game and Henrik Lundqvist can win the Vezina by a landslide but even he needs support. There is no way Lundqvist can continue this stretch of excellence unless the team start to play better in front of him.
The Rangers are winning games but they aren’t playing consistently well at either end of the rink – a handful of players aside. If it wasn’t for a potentially career year from Mats Zuccarello and Lundqvist’s sustained brilliance, what would this team’s record be? A lot closer to .500 hockey for sure.
Of course, there are a lot of reasons for optimism. The vast majority of the roster can play better, the defense certainly has the ability and collective track record to suggest they can (and will?) offer Lundqvist more protection and if team-wide discipline improves (it must) then the Rangers would spend less time in the penalty box surely resulting in more offense by default.
There are many reasons to hope Dan Boyle can get his game to the point where he sticks in the Rangers line-up in what appears to be his final season as an NHL defenseman. First of all, if Boyle improves it would surely bring with it a ripple effect on the Rangers blueline – his improved play would solidify the Rangers’ top six. It would also likely mean he’s helped influence an indifferent powerplay (despite just two PP assists only Keith Yandle averages more PP ice time among Rangers blueliners). It would also likely mean that the Rangers have continued to win games meaning management don’t prioritise changes to their experienced but at this point underwhelming (as a unit) blueline.
The most important reason to hope for a short term Dan Boyle resurgence however currently resides outside of the New York spotlight. It’s Brady Skjei. Not every young college alumni can Ryan McDonagh themselves to the NHL. Not every defenseman is ready after a few weeks of pro ice time and the Rangers should (and likely have) absolutely no interest in rushing their prized asset. Dan Boyle’s situation however massively influences the Rangers immediate attitude toward Skjei.
New York Rangers’ general manager Jeff Gorton must be watching his team win game after game to start the new season while wondering what he’s done to deserve such luck. Why luck? The Rangers are likely headed toward a tough offseason with several young, but key, roster players due new contracts. The lucky part for Gorton right now, is that none of those players are making a strong case for (key word) significant pay rises.
As we enter mid-November, Chris Kreider, Kevin Hayes, J.T. Miller, Emerson Etem and veteran defenseman Keith Yandle are all approaching next summer with their future’s unclear. Particularly in the cases of Kreider, Hayes and Yandle all three should be significant parts of the Rangers future. Kreider is the power forward, goalscorer in waiting, Hayes has quickly become an integral and flexible part of the top nine while Yandle is the best puck mover the Rangers can turn to.
There are many different ways to develop prospects but are the Rangers – and coach Alain Vigneault – mishandling Emerson Etem and Dylan McIlrath? Sometimes a team needs to let a player grab a regular spot even before he’s earned his role. Maybe the Rangers need to lengthen the leash for Etem and McIlrath while the season is still early.
The Rangers have two unique prospects on their hands in Etem and McIlrath. A team not known for their physicality, the Rangers could surely benefit from Etem and/or McIlrath establishing themselves in the rotation. Etem has one of the biggest bodies up front for the Rangers and has speed the team would love to see more of. McIlrath of course, is a massive presence on the blueline who is comfortably the biggest, most physical defenseman the Rangers have on the backend. The problem is, neither player has been able to display their physical talents nearly enough. Part of that reason is opportunity.