Needs improvement

Needs improvement

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.

I have to say when we put up that poll (on your right) last week asking you all to grade AV; I expected the results to be more satisfactory. Our Torts polls always had better grades from our readership than the comments would indicate, but I guess we never heard from most of his supporters. AV on the other hand seems to generate a fair amount of support in the comments section, but 85% voting a C or lower is astounding.

For me, I analyze AV and his staff on several basic principles. Do the systems match the makeup of the majority of the roster? Are there any major roster weaknesses that coaching can’t fix? Are players held accountable for major mistakes? Finally, are the coaches getting more, less, or equal production out of our players than former coaches? So you can see, I obviously try to look beyond the win/loss record and dig a little deeper.

From a systems standpoint, while I prefer a more physical brand of hockey, I understand what AV is trying to get this team to execute. The overload system in both the offensive and defensive zones are generally employed with smaller/quicker teams, and we are certainly one those since 8 of 14 of our forwards are listed under 205 lbs. (the league average).

On special teams, it also nice to see the 1-3-1 power play full-time since Torts/Sully did have success with it for parts of last season, but never stuck with it long-term. The penalty kill also remains a team strength despite a sub par season thus far from Henrik Lundqvist.

As for roster issues, there’s no doubt we need to add more size and grit upfront and a better balance of right-handed shots. On defense, we badly need a right-handed shot or at least a left-handed shot comfortable with playing the right side. While most of these things are needs around the league, our front office hasn’t done a great job constructing the roster needed for this system to fire on all cylinders. More on that later this week.

If we stopped right here and graded AV and his staff, I’d probably give them a B on systems alone given the roster issues, but alas there’s still more to cover.

Player accountability in my opinion has been inconsistent at best with this new regime. I appreciate the fact that not every player will respond to a kick in the ass, however, most players do respond to getting their ice time cut. After all,  everyone wants more minutes. After seeing how Pouliot has played since his benching, all I could think was, why did it take so long to put him in the press box? Some of his penalties and turnovers were atrocious.

I also don’t agree with AV’s approach of rolling four lines come hell or high water. Over the course of an Olympic year it makes sense to try to keep guys fresh and avoid playing your top guys crazy minutes. However, sometimes you have to coach a game to win it and worry about the long-term tomorrow.

There’s been plenty of games where any part of Stepan, Hagelin, Richards, Pouliot, Nash, Brassard, Girardi, etc. were ghosts and just didn’t have it, yet they still got their usual minutes and no bench shortening took place. If we’re going back to the pre-Torts country club ways of zero accountability unless you’re 23 or younger, we’re not gonna get very far. I’ve been saying it for years on this blog — minutes have to be earned by everyone.

Finally, the last element I evaluate coaches on is player production. Right now, only McDonagh, Kreider, and Mats Zuccarello are on pace to produce more points than last year. Richards, Hagelin, and Boyle are essentially flat. Everyone else’s production is down. That’s pretty bad no matter how you slice it. While you can probably blame some of this on injuries, Bylsma has certainly had his share and yet he’s still able to get the most out of his roster.

Still, despite unsatisfactory results thus far for the Rangers, I think AV is a good coach. He may not be a great coach, but I do believe if we could upgrade this roster before the deadline we’ll have a fighting chance in the playoffs. Without upgrades, I just don’t see us making it past the first round, if we can even make it at all.

Coaching Mid-Season Grade: C

Coming up this week we’ll also be grading our top six forwards, bottom six forwards, defense, goaltending, and management. Stay tuned…

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