Rick Nash will be better next year, won’t he?
Apparently during the first week of July, the Rangers got worse. On paper that may be true given their losses during free agency but too much emphasis is placed on old clichés such as ‘the grass is greener on the other side’.
Didn’t the Rangers just get to the Stanley Cup final? It’s pretty green in NY right now too. People underestimate the potential of the current roster. Here are a few key reasons why the Rangers will be better next year, despite the hits endured in free agency.
Everyone’s favourite whipping boy in the playoff run, Nash cannot be as snake bitten as he was during the postseason run. He also missed a chunk of time during the regular season and yet still led the team in goals and was third in the league in game winners. Assume for a moment Nash remains healthy and has an uninterrupted season. Assume for a moment he has a full year opposite a maturing Chris Kreider. Nash will return to his goal scoring form and make the Rangers more dangerous offensively.
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Back by popular demand, we’ve decided to kick start our annual player, coaching, and management report cards. As always, these grades aren’t just based on stats, but also the execution of each personnel or player’s respective role within the organization. Obviously there’s some subjectivity here, but that’s what makes this interesting and conversational.
Before I get started on AV and company, let me first say that grading coaching specifically is not easy. Many of the greatest coaches in this game have been fired multiple times over, and it’s never because they lost their ability to do what they do. More often than not, those decisions typically come down to politics.
So how does one evaluate a coaching staff?
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Smiles for Miles. (Photo: Jason Payne, PNG)
Picture it: it’s a beautiful late spring day in New York City, sundress weather, lunchtime in Midtown with tons of people relaxing in the middle of another work day. All of a sudden, you get a text. Then another. And another, followed by NHL alerts. Your coach has just been fired after a slaughter of an exit from the Eastern Conference Semi’s in five games.
If you’re a diehard Rangers fan, you respond in one of two ways: joyous applause or incredulous anger and questioning. If you’re this girl, it’s the second. Of all the things that came out of my mouth while walking to grab lunch that day, some examples are: How could they do this? Why is Sather’s job safe but no coach can get a break? Who the [expletive] will replace him? They’re gonna hire some scrub and the Rangers’ talent is gonna go to waste. I adored John’s passion and fire, and I thought his gritty style of coaching was #therightway. Maybe because my greatest coaches have been like that, maybe cause hockey just seems so hard.
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Photo: Getty Images
When Alain Vigneault had some choice comments for J.T. Miller following his demotion back to the AHL, after being given a golden opportunity to take a critical role for the Rangers, many fans called for AV’s head. The arguments thrown out had nothing to do with his successes as the coach this year, but that he has “never liked kids and refuses to play the kids.” It’s a silly argument actually.
Let’s use AV’s recent history –his stint with the Canucks– as the barometer for playing the kids. He started there as the head coach in 2006-2007. Since the 2004-2005 season never happened, I think it’s fair to start with the 2003 draft as our cutoff for our little experiment, seeing how many kids were drafted by and played for the Canucks under AV. Technically, I can use the 2001 draft since Kevin Bieksa (5th round of 2001 draft) didn’t play his first full season until 2006-2007. But, let’s use 2003 as the cutoff.
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I still can’t get used to Alain Vigneault’s steady line combinations after four years of John Tortorella’s incessant juggling, but Vigneault has stuck with the same combinations for quite some time now. It’s worth nothing that the Rangers finally turned a corner this season thanks in no small part to the team’s balance and chemistry up front. Mats Zuccarello has been the team’s best forward so far this season and a key cog in Vigneault’s formula, but with him lost for likely another week or two (not to mention the upcoming trade deadline), Vigneault will be forced to rejigger his preferred trios.
Throw in the fact that winger Derek Dorsett is ready to return from a broken fibula and 20-year-old J.T. Miller, who has been dominant in the AHL, was recalled last night, and it’s tough to predict what Vigneault will end up with. It’s probably most likely that Vigneault will be forced to try several different new looks – which might not be settled by the trade deadline in three games, throwing us back to square one.
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If Del Zotto finds form, can the Rangers afford to let him go?
With Michael Del Zotto back in the line-up consistently and finally cobbling together some consistent form the likely trade suitors will increase as Del Zotto starts to rack up the assists (3 in his last 4 games). Of course, with Del Zotto improving in recent weeks (as has most of the roster) the Rangers stand to benefit. Here’s the dilemma: if Del Zotto is playing well, it might make him more attractive to other teams but all of a sudden the Rangers can’t afford to deal him.
In theory, Del Zotto should thrive in Alain Vigneault’s system. It’s been his decision making that has let him down. Vigneault encourages defenseman to step up into the play, play aggressively and try and keep plays alive in the offensive zone. All those theories fit with Del Zotto’s skill set. When Del Zotto is playing well he is still a unique player on this roster.
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Quick note: Last night’s goal breakdown will be posted this afternoon.
Back by popular demand, we’ve decided to resurrect our hotly contested player, coaching, and management report cards. For those of you new to the blog, the staff and I hand out ‘performance grades’ around the mid-way point of the regular season and just after the commencement of the playoffs. As always, these grades aren’t just based on stats, but also the execution of each personnel or player’s respective role within the organization.
Before I get started with AV’s grade, I just wanted to reiterate that we try to be thorough with these posts. Although most of us have played hockey at some level, we know we’re not experts. If we were, we’d be working in hockey ops. With that said, we feel we know the game better than others who cover it, so we hope you enjoy this series.
So that’s my preamble, let’s move along.
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Alain Vigneault was hired to win a Stanley Cup. That’s not just a cliche that every coach says to endear himself to fans, it’s the truth of the matter. After John Tortorella followed up an Eastern Conference Finals appearance with a second round playoff exit last year, GM Glen Sather determined that a new head man was needed to push the Blueshirts over the top and capture hockey’s ultimate prize.
Vigneault, who came within a single game of winning the Cup in 2011, was viewed as the man that could get more out of the team’s offense to go with its trademark top goalie and stellar defense. But just six months after Sather made the coaching switch, his team is much further away from winning it all than when Vigneault arrived. Read more »
The Rangers need their coach to coach, not to moan about talent. Photo: AP
As the Rangers struggle to mount any kind of offense or physicality, the team is being increasingly exposed for the obvious flaws that they have. We’ve discussed ad nauseam how the Rangers should turn to some of the prospects to help the ailing offense (Kristo) or the putrid levels of physicality (McIlrath). One player that hasn’t had much airtime is Marek Hrivik, at one stage a dark horse for a spot in the line-up to start the year. Hrivik could help both of the Rangers critical areas of concern.
While it may have gotten to the stage where veteran help (aka a trade) is what’s needed to mix it up, Hrivik has shown that he can control the puck, work the boards and use his body to good effect. He’s also a player with legitimate offensive upside. At 6’1 and 200 lbs Hrivik may not seem physically imposing on paper but in limited exposure he has shown he uses his entire skill set effectively. We can’t say that about the Pouliot’s and Pyatt’s of the NHL roster.
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It seems sacrilegious to call him out, but even Ryan Callahan must elevate his game
As is always the case when the Rangers are struggling, fans, players and the media alike are all searching for answers to the team’s woes. And though everything from bad puck luck to injuries has been a factor, coach Alain Vigneault hit the nail on the head yesterday when he put much of the blame for the team’s poor start on its underperforming core members.
“If we are going to get some traction and get past that .500 level, we need our top players to consistently play like top players,” Vigneault told Andrew Gross. “Not a period in, a period out. Not a game in, a game out. We need that core group, the leaders of this group, to perform accordingly. And we have not done that on a consistent basis and on a game to game basis. Just look at our lineup, look at our core group and look at our key guys and there’s the answer.”
Vigneault couldn’t be more right in his assessment of the team 28 games into the year. Because as much as fans like to argue about what Michael Del Zotto might fetch in a trade or which youngster should play a handful of minutes a game in place of Taylor Pyatt and Benoit Pouliot, it’s highly unlikely that any such substitution would have a major impact on the team. Maybe J.T. Miller, Dylan McIlrath and Danny Kristo will re-join the Rangers this year and maybe not, but the Blueshirts certainly can’t count on any of the unproven prospects within the organization to arrive and turn the season around. The team has already gotten a surprise shot in the arm from Chris Kreider, and even that hasn’t been enough. Read more »