State of the Rangers

With changes necessary, the Rangers need to look within

AP Photo/Mike Strasinger
Rarity: A Ranger goal celebration. AP Photo/Mike Strasinger

With the Rangers seemingly in a tail spin and with the injuries mounting it really isn’t time to panic no matter how bleak it may seem at present. That said, changes do need to be made.

The Rangers have an opportunity to insert the likes of JT Miller, Danny Kristo and Dylan McIlrath now and give them consistent ice time and at no real risk. All of the aforementioned cannot do worse than the likes of Benoit Pouliot, Taylor Pyatt and (this season at least) any combination of Falk, Del Zotto and John Moore. If all they achieve this season is to become role players – or even that they simply avoid being liabilities – then it’s almost already an upgrade and developmental time long term.

With the team generating little to no offense, inconsistent (at best) defense and with spaces to fill thanks to an injury list that could backfill a local hospital there is an opportunity to exploit. Alain Vigneault has bemoaned the lack of appropriate player types and perhaps that’s true but is that because he’s simply icing the wrong type or is it that he hasn’t got them within the entire organisation? It’s time to find out.

Barring a disaster of epic proportions, Vigneault has time on his side so it would surely benefit him to look at the prospects available. He’s not getting fired this season unless the Rangers go on a winless streak that would threaten riots in New York.

With a core consisting of Nash, Stepan, Richards, Hagelin, Kreider and Zuccarello up front there is enough depth to support the younger players who could be inserted. The assumption would be the same on the blue line where Girardi, McDonagh and Stralman (counting only the healthy) could help McIlrath’s transition, and maybe Conor Allen’s too.

The Rangers have holes everywhere but they have some opportunities here. They are in an incredibly weak division so even with injuries and a lack of consistent form they’re well in the playoff race and the LA Kings have shown us recently that it’s about getting in, not necessarily which high seed you grab.

The Rangers also have an opportunity to show players within the organisation that poor form will not be tolerated by jettisoning Pouliot and Pyatt permanently in favour of the kids. Send a signal to the roster. This kind of move also gives a preview as to whether Vigneault really does need to demand a fresh batch of talent in the summer or whether he actually has something tangible to work with.

The Rangers could always go the trade route but that will cost assets and knee jerk reactions to a poor run of form usually hurt long term and certainly more than the growing pains of some talented prospects being thrown in and given legitimate opportunity. Of course, a trade could work out well but this roster has depth issues as well as concerns regarding the skill level so will a trade (outside of the spectacular) really be the answer?

The current situation demands two things: core veterans on the roster finally being held accountable and delivering, and a fresh insertion of talent. The excuses are no longer there, the talent shouldn’t be ignored.

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  • This all sounds great, but the kids need ongoing development (you know, “coaching”) at the big club to get better, not just thrown into the deep end of the pool to fend for themselves. The vets on the team can help, but the coaching staff really needs to step up, starting with AV. Not sure his “hands-off, let the players coach themselves” style will help the young ‘uns.

    • Well, here here; finally, a voice of reason in the wilderness.

      Develop our prospects? I am not sure AV thinks that is part of his job description.

      Excellent article and spot on with the assessment.

    • RM,

      AV’s “let the players coach themselves” mentality, I think, applies more to the on-ice product during a game. AV manages the lines and frames overall strategies within the designed system, but on any given play it’s up to the players to use their talent and instinct to make the best play.

      I don’t think that approach to coaching the game should suggest to us, as outside observers, that Vigneault doesn’t mentor and teach during practices and off-ice preparations. I’m sure he is closely involved in instructing his veterans and developing his rookies on and off the ice, even if we don’t him micromanaging during games.

      We shouldn’t jump to conclusions. No NHL coach truly and fully adopts the let-them-coach-themselves approach and stays coaching as long as AV has.

  • Agree that kids ned coaching, but they also need to know that one mistake won’t send them packing. It seems absurd that Kristo and JT are not here and Poulot and Pyatt get icetime.

    I will ask again, what is an AV-type player?

    • Don’t you know?

      An AV-type player is like either Sedin brother, who puts up 90-100 points consistently and absolves the coach of many responsibilities.

      • Ohhhh I see. Maybe we can get Gretzky to lace em up since we can’t get the Sedin’s, Crosby or Kane.

    • You guys look at things so one dimensionally.

      Want to know who else played great hockey under AV? Ryan Kesler. American born, hard working, 2 way player, blue collar mentality with a scoring touch. Kevin Bieksa. Hard nosed top 2 shut down defenseman with the ability to eclipse 40 points with limited pp time.

      Looking at things under a narrow and stereotypical lense of your choosing does nothing to help your understanding of actuality.

      • Actuality you mean, like, in actuality, a .500 record with a group of players that are lost on the ice?

        Oh, yeah, that actuality.

        • Bruh, I don’t like what I’m seeing either. I much prefer the 2011-12 brand of Rangers hockey which we got. Dubi, Prust, etc. I miss that.

          But your comments critiquing AV for only being able to coach one type of player or one type of team are nonsense. You’ve seen the guy for 30 games or so. They’re anecdotal and unfounded.

          As far as my opinion, I don’t like him yet but I have an open mind. Your comments seem to indicate that you don’t.

          • Yes, I’ve only seen him as Rangers coach for 30+ games. Yet, I’ve followed hockey for decades and am well aware of his record and performance in Vancouver.

            His record is one of not developing prospects — that is wholly inconsistent with a successful strategy the past four years of aggressively integrating prospects into the lineup. Aside from the past four years, the Rangers had a horrific record developing prospects and AV’s style, as a coach, sets us back in this area.

            How many times do you need for AV to go to the weel with Pyatt and Pouliot (see tonight’s lineup) to recognize AV simply has a bias against playing prospects? Have you researched is record in this area in Vancouver? I have, so it seems obvious to me, and I would encourage you to do the same. Don’t you think as a Rangers fan I would like this to not be the case?

            Have you asked yourself why Pouliot and Pyatt, for at least half the games they’ve played this season, were on the 3rd line, or higher; whereas Miller, except for a few shifts, was only given 4th line minutes? What happened to the widespread consensus you never develop a rookie on the 4th line?

            You are entitled to your view; I certainly respect that and I would prefer you to be accurate in your assessment. Yet, I have a different view — I don’t believe the organization is being served well by this coach when it comes to its prospects.

            Time will tell my friend. Thanks for your reply.

          • We’re on the same page with prospect development and I agree that the past 4 years (under Torts) we made great strides in that department, Kreider aside.

            As inspirational as it is though, I’m not a huge fan of tie goes to the (younger) runner. So far Pyatt, Pouliot, Miller….All of them are playing poor. Everyone just wants to give Miller ice time because he is younger. I don’t think that should be the unanimous viewpoint. It is all circumstantial and none of us, from the outside looking in, know who is or isn’t doing the things in practice that the coach wants to see. We are not adequate judges of who deserves the ice time. Maybe Pyatt and Pouliot are in trade discussions and Sather wants them in the line up so AV’s hand is forced. Unlikely, but who knows.

            If Miller is going to be up with the big club, though, I agree that 5 minutes a night is not the solution. Its top 9 minutes or send him to Ct, for sure. So I was not a fan of his sheltered minutes, either.

          • If Miller plays 3rd line minutes and does not contribute more than Pyatt or Pouliot, I would be satisfied with a demotion to AHL for further development. I’d just like to see what he can do with more consistent and lengthy play than what 4th line offers.

            You do make a very good point about possible trade discussions being one reason for why some players may be given ice time over others. It has not been lost on me that AV may also be taking the long view; aftyer all, he has a 5yr contract — no harm in giving the veterans every opportunity possible early on, knowing the prospects will get their shot. So, it’s fair to say my written views should show more balance; I am just not a believer in this coach yet and am disappointed with the “state of the team and organization” right now.

            I think in 3-4 months, things could be looking much brighter.

      • Hatrick,

        Great point with regard to Kesler and Bieksa.

        AV also deployed Manny Malholtra brilliantly (and Max Lapierre).

        Vigneault can really be credited with popularizing and main-streaming the concept of zone matching, something that all teams are trying to do now with certain personnel, but really only the Canucks were doing in 2011.

        • Agree that AV deserves more credit for developing players than he receives, but to suggest he popularized zone matching is inaccurate. That strategy has been around for over a decade.

          • Tracking of Offensive and Defensive Zone Starts dates back to 2007-08.

            However, Malholtra was the first player to be on the ice for over 200 defensive zone face-off wins AND have an offensive zone start rate of less than 30% in a season. His role really led the charge for having a true defensive zone specialist, and that was 2011 and it’s really taken off in the League since then. So, while AV certainly did not come up with the concept, he deployed it to a larger extent than anyone else that I can tell, and should be credited I think with demonstrating how it can really effectively be used on a consistent basis by creating defensive zone specialists in the lineup.

          • Holik was a perennial 50-60 point guy. He certainly had a tough two-way aspect to his game, but without access to the O/D %, his stats don’t suggest he was used a defensive draw specialist.

      • Hatrick

        Well stated again!!

        If AV were as bad as some think, how did he last as long as he did in two major hockey markets for so long. Who in their right mind wants to coach the Canadians, or Vancouver??

        You can’t walk the streets of these cities without people wanting to do anal exams on you to see what you had for dinner. We love hockey, in Canada it’s a religon, and AV still managed to last as long as he did.

        Must have done somethign right , right?????

    • A Swede that can deke a defenseman out of his Jock strap but in the D Zone he dare not go. He’d rather wait in the neutral zone for the play to come to him than have to play defense. It’s not his job. That’s for defenseman to take care of. When the playoffs come around AV’s Canucks were just never tough enough to hang. That’s my idea of an AV type player.

    • I am sure they do not. All of our thoughts (I believe) are being discussed internally. There are also factors we may not be privy too. Slats and AV want to win as bad as we do, but doing it and saying it are two different things.

      We can all voice our opinion, but the roster is in Slats and AV’s hands and the team itself needs to own their efforts too.

  • Couldn’t agree more. It’s time for the kids. They will make mistakes but that is what coaching is all about. Pouliot is a waste of space as is Pyatt. And I’m quickly losing patience with Boyle too.

    • Boyle is a perennial playoff monster. Last year Pyatt played his best hockey in the post season. I would say he was one of our 5 best forwards. I don’t care for Pouliot at all. Last year I hated Pyatt until he stepped it up in the post season. Teams need guys who excel during the time of the year when it matters most.

      I’m not saying that I am enjoying watching any of those guys play right now, but let’s not lose sight of the bigger picture.

        • Lolz. Solid point. At least our division is littered with teams as bad as we are. Because of that we still have a very solid chance of securing a berth.

  • There is actually something worse than playing Pouliot; it is creating more Pouliots. Bringing a guy up who hasn’t earned it, who hasn’t worked sufficiently on being a two way player, who hasn’t demonstrated a commitment to playing hard all of the time and hasn’t learned the lessons you want him to learn are things that create an attitude we don’t want.

    I personally think Kreider was damaged by the chance the Rangers gave him in the 2012 playoffs – play in the NHL without learning the system – and it took a year to get over it.

    Pyatt and Asham are old and slow and of little use anymore, but they are guys who did earn their right to be here and playing them doesn’t send the wrong message.

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