Archive for State of the Rangers
Jeff Gorton has done a masterful job remaking the Rangers’ forward corps and deserves full credit for that.
But as the trade deadline closes in without any apparent blueline solutions on the horizon that don’t cost an arm and a leg, it’s fair to ask – what was the plan on defense?
The decision to let Keith Yandle walk was puzzling, but with Yandle having a poor year and his not insignificant contract, we’ve largely given Gorton a pass on that.
And indeed, the acquisition of Nick Holden has worked out marvelously. Paying a mere fourth-round pick for arguably New York’s second-best D-man was a coup.
But here’s the key question: was that it?
Earlier this week, the Rangers extended head coach Alain Vigneault’s contract another two years through the 2019-2020 season. The timing was a bit odd, as AV still had another full year on his initial deal and was fresh off a pretty embarrassing playoff defeat last season. But it’s tough to argue with AV’s success with the Rangers. He sports a 175-97-23, good for a .632 win percentage.
AV is a very smart coach. His systems on the ice generate solid offense. There’s a reason why he is as successful as he is. It’s not just dumb luck. But he is not a perfect coach. His flaws not only overshadow his successes, but follow him from team to team.
The New York Rangers are a good hockey team. Their top 14 forwards as a unit are some of the best in the league. They have skill, speed, and most importantly, depth. They have one of the best goaltenders in the world. But as we’ve all seen, the Rangers are deeply flawed on the blue line.
Flawed teams are generally inconsistent. I say generally because the size and type of flaw matters here. A flawed fourth line, for example, isn’t as big of an issue as a flawed blue line. It’s tough to hide three or four bad defensemen. With that flaw, and the division the Rangers play in, we are going to get what we’ve been getting. Some bad losses, some great wins, and some in between.
Per Larry Brooks, the Rangers have given head coach Alain Vigneault a two year extension. Vigneault, whose contract was set to expire after next season, is being rewarded for a pair of Conference Finals appearances, one Stanley Cup Finals appearance, and one President’s Trophy.
AV came under fire last year for his deployment of his so-called favorites, but has taken a step in the right direction this season. He is not the perfect coach, as anyone who watches his defense deployments will tell you, but he’s a solid hockey mind. He certainly has offensive strengths, even if he lacks defensive evaluation.
Vigneault has a solid record with the Rangers, at 175-97-23, good for a .632 win percentage. By the time the season is over, he will be fourth in franchise history in coaching wins. Love him or hate him, he’s had a good run.
It’s no secret that defense is the big problem area for the New York Rangers. Fans know it, pundits know it, and by the sound of things GM Jeff Gorton knows it. This defensive corps is simply not fit to contend for a Cup, and has held back an otherwise talented forward group as the team gets hemmed in its own end and struggles to complete successful breakouts.
Revamping this defense is Gorton’s number one priority as he heads into the trade deadline and the offseason, and as I hinted at in this week’s post about my dream acquisition, it’s something that’s been on my mind as well. I’ve given some thought to how the Rangers might go about fixing things, and hopefully they can do so without losing too much of their offensive mojo. How might they go about ameliorating the present situation you ask? Hold onto your butts.
One of the biggest hot button issues surrounding the Rangers this season, and especially during this recently slide has been the struggling Henrik Lundqvist (last night’s solid performance notwithstanding). Larry Brooks even wrote a click bait article (which I’m not going to link to) about the issues in the Ranger crease.
There is no question that Lundqvist has been sub par this season. By any available metric, his performance has been below average, and significantly so when compared to his career performance numbers. In a vacuum, a .902 save percentage is not acceptable for any NHL goaltender, but this is not any NHL goaltender we are talking about.
It seems like ages ago that New York and Vancouver took part in a Coach Swap, something each team needed. Long tenures are tricky because coaching flaws can begin to show. If the coach isn’t willing to adapt, their future with that team looks murky.
It’s how they create reputations and the reason that so many get hired, as is evidenced by that Rangers wife-swapped squad; tired of the aggression and hard-nose, “gritty” hockey, the Rangers opted to hire the offense-minded Vigneault who had come very close to Stanley Cup glory in the Northwest.
One of the bigger tasks on GM Jeff Gorton’s plate this summer was revamping the bottom six. The Rangers had just met a quick defeat at the hands of eventual Stanley Cup winning Pittsburgh Penguins and throughout the series (and much of the regular season, depending on the opponent) was that the Rangers depth players simply couldn’t match up against those of elite teams. I won’t beat a dead horse too much, but I will note that Tanner Glass saw significant minutes in the playoffs last year. Enough said.
Gorton rose to the occasion and made savvy acquisitions in the offseason, most notably Michael Grabner and Brandon Pirri, and later picked up Matt Puempel on waivers from Ottawa. While Grabner has obviously been the standout amongst this group the three of them, and call-up Marek Hrivik, have given the bottom six a whole new look. The Rangers’s bottom two lines are now primarily identifiable by their speed and puck handling ability, as opposed to their propensity to bleed shot attempts.
Continuing our midseason grades (defense here), next up is the front office and goaltending. Grading both is a little tricky, as the front office is just ramping up their efforts for the trade deadline, while the goaltending has been a bit inconsistent.
When grading the front office, I had to look at the offseason body of work in addition to the moves made in season. Considering the injuries, the front office has been a little busy lately. As for the goaltending, well I’m taking a different approach this year. Instead of looking at each player individually, I’ll be looking at both Hank and Raanta as a single entity.
With the Rangers on their bye week, which was perfectly timed with the halfway point of the season, we are afforded the opportunity to evaluate the Rangers with nothing else going on. Midseason report cards have been a bit of a tradition here at BSB, so let’s keep that tradition going, shall we?
Over the next few days, each of us will be tackling a different aspect of the team, and assigning grades accordingly. I’m batting leadoff here, and I’m going to be discussing the most polarizing aspect of this year’s team: The defense.
Overall, the back line for the Rangers has been relatively bad. The combination of age, injuries, wear and tear, and a shift towards speed has made what was once a strong defense into a bottom-five unit in the league. The slow start by Henrik Lundqvist exposed the defense even more. But it’s not all bad, either.