Archive for State of the Rangers
The Rangers will be without defenseman Kevin Klein for the foreseeable future with a broken thumb, and the injury came at the worst possible time. Klein has been arguably the Rangers’ best defenseman, and absolutely the best right-handed defenseman. Dylan McIlrath will get extended playing time, likely with Keith Yandle.
On paper, the drop-off from Klein to McIlrath shouldn’t be all that terrible. McIlrath actually has better possession numbers, but it’s a small sample. But from what we’ve seen, he’s been able to make the smart first pass out of the zone and manages his gap control very well, which helps hide his weaker skating.
It’s been an up and down season so far for the Rangers as the trade deadline approaches, with an early win streak still keeping them afloat in the standings despite some mediocre play of late. Although the on-ice possession metrics have been improving steadily, the Rangers are still plainly capable of losing badly, as evidenced by their shutout loss against Ottawa and the other night’s defeat at the hands of divisional rivals the Devils.
The Rangers may still likely make the playoffs, but it’s hard to say watching this team that they’re a legitimate contender for the Stanley Cup. All of this means that this trade deadline will be critical juncture for the New York Rangers, with the organization demonstrating whether or not it recognizes the obvious issues with this team or whether it will recommit to the kinds of practices that got us to this point just two seasons after making it to the Cup finals.
Chris Kreider has approached a crossroads in his Rangers career. Kreider has the opportunity to make himself either untouchable (and in line for a new fat contract) or very quickly place himself in the cross hairs of General Manager Jeff Gorton as the team approach the trade deadline.
One assumes that the Rangers (whether you like it or not) are likely to be buyers at the deadline. They need to add to the core if they’re going to have realistic designs on a deep playoff run and with draft picks at a premium it’s likely to be young roster players that are the focus of any potential trading partners. There’s a handful of underperforming players on the roster at the moment and teams covet upside – particularly upside that’s attached to an expiring contract.
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.