Archive for State of the Rangers
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.
It is often said in the sports business that the third season in a coach’s tenure is sometimes their most difficult. Players tend to tire from the same voice. A coach’s tendencies with x’s and o’s tend to become a little stagnant and predictable for the opposition. Players end up unhappy with their roles and can sometimes lose hope in gaining more responsibilities. The list goes on.
It is at this critical juncture, coaches need to find ways to make adjustments to their system and how they manage their bench.
The Rangers seem to be hitting that lull. Their scoring chance differential at even strength is a -128. That’s by far the worst differential this organization has had since they started tracking the stat 10 years ago. Whether this is due to players tiring of AV or not is anyone’s guess. Regardless, the roster is what it is and adjustments have not been made.
We’ve spent an incredible amount of time on the Rangers blue liners this season –from deployment to usage to ice time to lineup decisions– for good reason. There is a major issue there, but it is not the only issue plaguing this flawed club right now. Another major hole in the lineup is in the top-six forwards, where Jesper Fast continually plays, despite not having the appropriate skill set.
Don’t get me wrong, Fast is a solid player. He’s a great skater, solid defensively, and has a top-notch hockey IQ. But he’s not a scorer. The Rangers appear to lack that scorer in the top-six. Alain Vigneault has tried Fast, J.T. Miller, Kevin Hayes, and Oscar Lindberg at various times, and none have stuck. To be fair, none have really played consistently enough to warrant a permanent spot in the top-six.
The Rangers have always gone after the big names, most recently of course Keith Yandle and Martin St Louis. The following months will likely see a lot more big names changing address both in-season as well during the summer and free agency. Ryan Johansen, Steven Stamkos, Patrick Marleau, and even Evgeni Malkin are the source of rumours.
A lot of noise has been made recently about the Ryan Johansen situation. The big, young center is a phenomenal talent but has been through turbulent times in Columbus on and off the ice, including an acrimonious contract negotiation over a year ago.
Recently, Johansen has been scratched and apparently had problems with John Tortorella as well as being inconsistent with his performances on the ice. But Johansen’s talent is undeniable, and his upside almost unlimited, which is why so many teams are linked to the big center. Johansen (as an FYI) is on course for unrestricted free agency in 2018 at just 26.
Much of the focus of our frustrations this year has been on the defense. It’s been ranging from singling players out for poor play to overall team defense and poor execution. Part of this problem comes from deployment and a lack of willingness to move away from veterans that are struggling this season. That part lies with the coaching staff, particularly Ulf Samuelsson and Alain Vigneault.
When a team is protecting a lead, you expect the best defensive units to be on the ice. Likewise when the team is behind, you expect the best offensive players to be out on the ice. Luckily Micah McCurdy has put together a great site called hockeyviz.com, which takes the deployment and puts it into easy to understand visuals. First, let’s look at who AV puts out there in game situations.
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?
It’s become blatantly obvious at this point in the season that the Rangers’ blue line needs something of a tighten up, with the team bleeding shot attempts on a nightly basis stretching back beyond this current skid to when the team was winning a larger proportion of their games. Although the team’s defensive play has been slightly less hemorrhagic of late a consensus seems to have formed, gesturing towards the notion that the Rangers’ defensive corp is among their biggest concerns.
More statistically minded fans may have seen this coming during the Rangers’ win streak earlier in the season, but at this point most fans can see that the Rangers’ defense is not what it could (or should) be, especially with regards to the play of stalwart defensemen Dan Girardi and Marc Staal. With the Rangers having won only two of their last seven games the team needs to be looking ahead to solutions, and once again I have a modest proposal to make. This blog has already written in praise of Dylan McIlrath’s play and noted the future importance of Brady Skjei. Insofar as the Rangers are working with what they have the two young players are crucial to improving this blue line right now, not just down the road.
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.