Archive for State of the Rangers
The first half of the 2015-2016 season for the Rangers can only be described as a roller coaster. They stormed out of the gate with three quick wins before going 0-2-1 to level expectations. Then came the run that no one could have predicted, going 13-1-1 over the next 15 games to start the season at 16-3-2, a team record. Then came the fall, as the Rangers went 3-9-2 over their next 14, literally crashing down to Earth.
The process was terrible throughout, but the recent games from the end of December through January have been cause for hope. The process is improving, and the team has started to turn it around, going 6-3-1 in their last ten games. But like every team not based in Washington D.C., there are a few questions that the Rangers will need to find answers for heading into the second half of the season.
There are a whole load of questions (and moving parts) when it comes to how the Rangers approach the trade deadline in February. One player who could have an indirect impact is top prospect Pavel Buchnevich.
The Rangers top forward prospect has developed incredibly well over the past two seasons in the KHL. Buchnevich quickly became Severstal’s best forward, breaking scoring records for a teenager along the way – besting Vladimir Tarasenko’s previous scoring mark. He earned himself a move to the powerhouse SKA club where he has more than held his own on a stacked hockey club. Even with less ice time than at Severstal, Buchnevich is making an impact.
It was a Glen Sather staple. Perhaps the last of a dying breed of the black-and-white “all-in” or “rebuild.” It was the all-in move, one that is rarely seen today, that has cost the Rangers four first round picks and the best and most electric prospect this organization has seen in what feels like a generation.
Starting at the 2014 trade deadline, the Rangers went for it all, which was the right choice. They had previously sacrificed a first round pick for Rick Nash, a deal they absolutely had to make and really didn’t cost them much in the grand scheme of things. But they then sacrificed two first round picks –and captain Ryan Callahan– for an aging Martin St. Louis. He brought that scoring punch. The Rangers lost in the Stanley Cup Final in the closest five game series you will ever see.
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.
Yesterday morning, the Rangers signed winger Daniel Paille because, as Alain Vigneault put it, “he is a solid fourth line penalty killer and our penalty kill needs help.” It’s no surprise that the Rangers are struggling on the penalty kill, they 25th in the league with a 78.9% kill rate. This is a huge contrast from last year, when they were 6th in the league at 84.3% efficiency.
The only major difference from last year’s unit to this year’s is that Carl Hagelin is no longer with the team. As the second most used penalty killer, he was extremely efficient with Dominic Moore. They both had a CA/60 in the high-70s, at 76.98 for Moore and 78.60 for Hagelin. Those are excellent shots against rates. They aren’t the only ones to have solid Ca/60 rates on the PK either.
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.
The Rangers have a right-defense problem. Kevin Klein is solid and by far the best defenseman on that side. Aside from him, the Rangers aren’t really sure what they are getting on a nightly basis from Dan Boyle, Dan Girardi, and Dylan McIlrath. The cause of inconsistency varies by player, but inconsistency is still inconsistency.
Boyle is still a solid possession player and his presence opens things up on the powerplay. However he is old and he’s slowing down considerably. He got torched by a Caps player on Sunday to negate an icing, and has been slow to the puck relatively consistently all year. That’s by no fault of his own, he lost a step.
Girardi has had a terrible season, and a fractured kneecap probably isn’t helping matters. Injured or not, he’s been a liability on the ice. McIlrath’s inconsistencies are more easily explained, as he’s a rookie. He will make mistakes. But those mistakes will become fewer in number as he gets more playing time. He should be getting groomed for regular minutes next season as well.
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?
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→
I have a confession to make. I haven’t really been watching much of the Rangers lately. A combination of a hectic work schedule and early deficits have conspired to dilute my commitment to watching this group. It’s tough to keep it locked to MSG when they are already down 4-1 six minutes into the second. Despite this, I have obviously read every wonderful article the BSB crew has churned out and scrolled through the ol’ Twitter feed to see the wreckage the morning after games. The weirdest part is my liquor cabinet hasn’t needed refilling as often. Strange.
What this little break has allowed me to do is take a step back and assess the big picture with this club. The only consistent thing this season has been inconsistency. They have been embarrassed by mediocre teams like the Flames and Oilers, but have put on clinics against talent-stacked squads in Tampa, Dallas and St. Louis. It’s maddening. What I have determined during my sabbatical is that the organization is facing a litany of crossroad decisions as the Rangers enter the back half of Henrik Lundqvist’s prime window.