Alain Vigneault has made many, many puzzling decisions over the course of the first 49 games this season – from his insistence on giving top minutes to Dan Girardi and Marc Staal, to his refusal to give Keith Yandle the lion’s share of power play time, to repeatedly dressing Tanner Glass.
He’s not perfect – not by any stretch. And he’s not always right, but he’s earned a certain amount of latitude after bringing two clubs to the Stanley Cup Final in four seasons, winning a Jack Adams Award and leading his teams to eight straight playoff appearances including three President’s Trophies and five division crowns.
Say whatever you want about Vigneault – the man has had a great deal of success and is widely considered to be one of the top hockey coaches on the planet.
There are still 36 games left in the 2015-2016 regular season, but thanks to the new playoff format, it’s not too difficult to forecast some playoff matchups.
The Washington Capitals hold an 18-point lead for the Metro Division crown and would all but have to go on a three-week team vacation to the Maldives to give any of their rivals a chance at catching them. Behind them, just a point separates the the Rangers and Islanders as the current No. 2 and No. 3 seeds. The two clubs are likely to jockey back and forth for position down the stretch, but it seems like fate that they will clash in the opening round of the 2016 postseason.
We’ve discussed the Rangers’ problems on defense ad nauseam, but the decline in production amongst the forwards is a factor in the team’s struggles as well.
Despite ranking fourth in the league in offense just past the halfway mark, the team is mainly riding one of the NHL’s top scoring defenses, a suddenly powerful power play and some lucky shooting by a few key individuals. The Blueshirts have a lofty goal total, but in fact the team’s forwards are nearly all having down years in production.
Here’s a look at the returning forwards’ scoring stats from last year compared to their current pace: Read More→
Jonathan Drouin’s public trade request kicked the rumor mill into high gear right out of the holiday break, and the recent success of last night’s opponent is a good indication why.
The parallels between Tyler Seguin and Drouin are evident, and like Seguin, Drouin has the potential to become an elite offensive producer that helps catapult his future team into the upper echelon of the NHL.
Drouin obviously has much to prove, but Lightning GM Steve Yzerman no doubt has Boston’s Seguin disaster dancing through his mind as he sorts through his options.
The Rangers aren’t alone in their battle to remain relevant as contenders – all around the league many of the clubs we’re used to seeing play deep into the spring are having major issues just like the Blueshirts.
Perhaps the most disappointing team of all this year is the Ducks, who thought they had attained an unstoppable mix of size and speed to go with a mobile young defense and multiple stellar options in goal. Instead, Ryan Getzlaf has two goals in 30 games and Anaheim sits just three points out of the cellar.
In the Eastern Conference, the Penguins’ blockbuster trade for Phil Kessel did nothing to help and the club fired coach Mike Johnston earlier this month. Pittsburgh’s decline has continued over several seasons and it’s at the point that there’s a reasonable case to be made for the Penguins to – gasp – trade one of Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin. Read More→
The biggest contributors to the Rangers’ problems are veteran defensemen Marc Staal and Dan Girardi, who have struggled mightily and each have cap hits of at least $5.5 million for the next four years (five for Staal).
Dealing either player will be tricky given their robust contracts and current level of play, but that’s the ideal solution for a club that desperately needs to redistribute icetime and everyday lineup spots along the blueline, and hopes to re-sign Keith Yandle this summer.
Trade rumors are likely to begin flying quickly after the holiday roster freeze is lifted and Staal and Girardi will be at the forefront. But while dumping either for prospects and/or draft picks might be possible, it’s an unlikely course of action for a team that fancies itself a contender. Clearing money from the payroll will become a focal point possibly by the trade deadline and certainly during the offseason, but for now GM Jeff Gorton is still hoping to improve his team for the present.
On the heels of a disastrous trip to western Canada that represents the low point of a troubling first quarter, it appears the Blueshirts have reached an impasse wherein they are in danger of taking a clear step back in the contender pecking order. The growing warts in the lineup have deteriorated the team’s quality of play and the Rangers have come crashing down to earth where it appears they’ll stay unless changes are made.
The biggest issues are defenders Marc Staal and Dan Girardi, who for so long ably handled critical roles as stalwarts in the rearguard. But there are also team-wide problems including a less effective forecheck in part due to the loss of Carl Hagelin, frustrating mental mistakes defensively up and down the lineup and nonexistent production offensively from some of the team’s most talented players.
Other than the infamous “Potvin Sucks” chant, there’s not much that’s more annoying at MSG than the cries for players to “SHOOT THE PUCK!” on the power play.
Sure, shooting the puck is usually a great idea – as Wayne Gretzky once said, “you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take” – but blasting a slapper from the point into the shin pads of an opposing forward when you’re the last line of defense is generally inadvisable.
In his column yesterday, the Post’s Larry Brooks wondered if New York’s choppy start is in part due to an inability to find the proper motivation for relatively meaningless early-season tilts, as well as general fatigue and wear and tear suffered by key players.
Whether or not that’s a viable excuse for the team’s uneven performance thus far – and no one within the organization would ever admit it if it was – one of the early trends of the 2015-2016 season seems to be a conscious decision by coach Alain Vigneault to put an increased emphasis on resting his squad, specifically, its biggest stars. Read More→
Chris usually gets to have all the fun with these musings posts, but my thoughts are all over the place with so many interesting developments in the first four games of the season. So here are some of my early impressions:
- It seems like entering each year now, there’s buzz about how the upcoming season will be the Rangers’ last real chance at the Cup and the window is rapidly closing. But that’s really a bunch of baloney. The end of this run could come, and it could come suddenly – but if it does, it will only because Henrik Lundqvist has finally fallen from his perch atop the mountain of NHL goalies. Four games into this season, that doesn’t look like it’s going to happen anytime soon. Lundqvist has responded to coach Alain Vigneault’s challenge to start the year better with a sparkling stretch of unbelievable saves. Lundqvist’s reflexes look faster than ever, and if he’s actually able to continue this hot streak for the first few weeks and months when Lundqvist usually struggles, then you might as well hand him the Vezina Trophy now.
- One of my biggest problems with trading Carl Hagelin was that I thought his speed was essential to the team’s identity. Bu this year’s version of the Blueshirts plays as frenetic as ever. There’s still speed to burn up and down the lineup and it has to be a nightmare to defend.