Archive for State of the Rangers
The interesting thing about having a set day to write is that sometimes you are forced to sit on the sidelines while other writers are able to react to certain situations, immediately. In this case, the Rangers were eliminated by the Penguins on Saturday, and I wasn’t scheduled to publish until the following Friday. Lots of digestion time. Since then, there has been breakup day, a myriad of reactions from all over the interwebs and some fine analysis done by the talented staff here. As you can probably surmise, I have thoughts…
1. Not that the result was surprising, but it was still disappointing. The Rangers were never going to make a serious run considering all the issues the team had. Still, the fan in me was hoping to see something amazing that the analyst in me knew was never going to happen.
For those of you who have been following Blue Seat Blogs for several years, or perhaps follow me on Twitter @thehockeysuit (shameless plug), know that I’m an eternal centrist. I try to see multiple sides of an argument no matter how extreme. Since the Rangers laid an egg to Pittsburgh – and probably even before that – fans have been asking whether or not the hourglass has run out on AV. The reactions to this question have been obviously polarizing.
Rather than give you my opinion and back it up with pretty gifs, or advanced stats, etc., I’ll share with you what the thought process likely is inside the walls of 2 Penn Plaza under different scenarios. From there, you all can form your own opinion on what the Rangers front office will likely do with AV. As always, please feel free to sound off in the comments.
When the Rangers exit the playoffs (and it may be tonight but it will certainly be before June) they will have a lot of issues to confront. The lack of accountability, the holes on the roster, the coaching staff’s inability to address the obvious issues plaguing the team all season… the list is pretty extensive. Yet despite all of this it’s easy to forget the core of the roster is legitimately solid. Changes are needed, but not on a ‘let’s blow it all up’ level. The biggest danger to the Rangers however may be the number of teams in similar positions who may be vying for the same talent this summer.
Whether you believe the Detroit Red Wings should entice Pavel Datsyuk to stay or not (they shouldn’t) the Wings have managed to stay competitive and like the Rangers have a core of prospects now in place that should allow the club to return to contender status if Detroit have a good summer. The Wings can accelerate a return to contention if they are able to steal Steven Stamkos in the summer. The Wings coped with losing Mike Babcock pretty well as well as dealing with the steady decline of important veterans.
Raphael Diaz was recalled by the Rangers yesterday, much to the chagrin of many fans, as Dylan McIlrath seemed to finally be getting a legitimate chance with Dan Girardi out of the lineup. The hope was fair, as McIlrath really had done everything he could to warrant a longer look with the team. Alas, he was limited in his playing time in Game Two, and only saw ice time late because Kevin Klein was in the box.
This led to the speculation of the Diaz recall, and to be fair, Diaz is an NHL defenseman. He’s another one of those guys, like Matt Hunwick, that floats under the radar because he isn’t flashy or physical. He just moves the puck up the ice and starts the breakout. Couple that with his skating ability –which is significantly better than McIlrath’s– and you have a guy that is exactly what the Rangers need.
I’m not a pessimist, in fact I am usually quite the (complete) opposite but here’s a grim statement for all you Rangers fans out there: barring a remarkable turnaround in performance, momentum and decision making the Rangers will be enjoying the offseason in about ten days time.
Here’s another pretty bold statement for you: this season Henrik Lundqvist has saved Alain Vigneault his job. At first glance Lundqvist’s numbers are not their usual Vezina standard until you dig a bit deeper and see what incredible numbers he’s actually put up against the quality of shots he’s facing. Lundqvist has never had it harder and yet has never been more important to the Rangers success.
Leading up to the Rangers and Penguins first round match up on Wednesday evening, the boys from Pittsburgh find themselves in a strange situation. Their starting goaltender, Marc-Andre Fleury, practiced yesterday, but is unconfirmed to make it back in time for game 1. Their backup, and highly touted rookie, Matt Murray, is day-to-day after having his bell rung by Braden Schenn in game 81. He is also unconfirmed to be available for the start of the postseason. They have last year’s backup Jeff Zatkoff ready to go, and have called up (slightly less highly touted) rookie Tristan Jarry, just in case. Read More→
As we have discussed a few times, and from a few different angles, the Rangers are approaching a period of significant change over the next summer or two. With players (Girardi, Dan and Staal, Marc to name just two) regressing, contracts expiring (Eric Staal amongst others), other cumbersome contracts causing reason for concern (Rick Nash is making almost 8m? Really?) and a lack of can’t-miss prospects on the way, the Rangers are going to have to be both creative and proactive as they look to build on the fly as they try to stay in contention.
Jeff Gorton’s trade savvy will need to be in full beast mode over the next summer or two and maybe one player worth exploring might be Ottawa’s Mike Hoffman. Hoffman, despite emerging as a legitimate goalscorer, hasn’t always seen eye to eye with the Sens coaching staff this season and at times has even been demoted to the fourth line .
Over the course of the season, we, along with many other folks, have beaten to death that the Rangers defense is not what it used to be. While we’ve addressed some of the root causes, we have not addressed what specifically changed from last year. The personnel is the same. The system is the same. So it’s fair to expect similar results.
As with anything in sports analysis, it is very rarely one thing. A culmination of factors can conspire to change something that once appeared static and reliable.
First, let’s take a look at age. The average age on the blue line is 29.7 years old. That is not a young group. Dan Boyle’s spritely 39 years obviously skews things a bit, but Ryan McDonagh and Dylan McIlrath are the only members of the defense significantly under 30 (Yandle is 29). Especially for the less mobile defenseman, there are a lot of miles on those bodies.
One of the major complaints some fans have about the Rangers is that they “lack a number one center.” Pat debunked that yesterday, citing that the Rangers, in fact, have a pair of top line centers in Derek Stepan and Derick Brassard. The pair of them give the Rangers great flexibility and matchup advantages, as no team can focus on just one of them.
That extends down the lineup, as the Rangers are able to keep Kevin Hayes sheltered as the third line center. On most teams, Hayes would be a second line center based on his even strength production (remember that he gets no powerplay time on a team this deep, which affects his overall numbers). Keeping him on the third line presents the opportunity for mismatches, as few teams have the depth to handle three top-six centers.
Every once in a while, the idea that the Rangers don’t truly have a #1 centerman pops up in Rangers discourse and I wanted to unpack this idea for a couple of reasons. First, it implies that neither Derek Stepan nor Derick Brassard is a true 1C, and second it undersells what is otherwise actually one of the Rangers’ major strengths: their center depth.
Both players have similar styles of play, functioning primarily to set up scoring opportunities for guys like Rick Nash, Chris Kreider, or Mats Zuccarello. While Brassard is perhaps a little bit flashier, making slick, highlight reel passes with favored scoring partner Mats Zuccarello, Derek Stepan is no less proficient at distributing the puck. Defensively they play similar games as well, with each center being positionally responsible and adept at providing puck support down the middle.