Rangers mid-season grades: Coaching

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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  • Disagree on the grade, more like a D!!

    AV isn’t a bad coach, but he seems to not be flexible at all. If you don’t have the players you want to play your system, you adjust to the players you have, and try to make it work. I will give Torts plenty of credit in that he made adjustments as needed, both on the O, and D!!

    As for Pouliot, they should have sent him down some 15 games ago, if not sooner, as a wake up call. Like you rightly pointed out, he is playing sooooooooooooo much better than he was before he was introduced to Mr Pine Bench.

    Also, is it fair to put all the blame at the foot of AV?? Sather has done nothing to help make this team bigger, tougher, and harder to play against.

    On the positive side, I have been the biggest supporter of the Kreider kid, love how he is playing, and it makes me proud that he is wearing our jersey!

  • Hey Suit

    As much as I like playing Devil’s Advocate, I think you are spot on. He may need (AV) to learn what makes some guys tick, and I will give him 15 more games. The numbers on production do not lie. I think I would give “management” a C, so I include Slats, as he is not providing the right complement of players. I do feel that Pouliot will come around, but a skating, overload system requires a fast, proactive defense, and I see only 1 or 2 guys like that on the current roster.

    • Maybe so Sal, but the argument last year was that they weren’t capable of playing the 2-1-2 forecheck, zone defense, etc. anymore.

      If they’re not capable of playing either particularly well, then obviously there’s roster issues. Now to your point, I don’t think that absolves the coaches, but management certainly deserves their share of the blame.

      • A Coach is a lot of cause and effect. Players not playing up to their capability is about them and the systems they are asked to play in. Output has a lot to do with input, but we cannot discount the psychological effect a coach has. Torts certainly played mind games that worked for some but not for others. I will guess that AV’s approach works (and irritates) sort of similarly. AV handles the press better though.

  • I think it is a stretch to grade AV within the “C” category.

    “C” is average; adequate; ordinary. That seems too aggressive, even though I expect him to improve considerably as time goes on.

    My reasons for stating this are:

    – his personnel decisions have been very suspect, and have adversely impacted the team, in my view. You referenced Pouliot; at different points in the season, I think AV mishandled Kreider, Miller, Pyatt, Powe, Hagelin, etc…as a new coach, I get the fact he does not know his players but, then again, he was the one that chose not to review any tape whatsoever about his players coming into training camp.

    – His on-ice leadership is poor, in my view. There have been a half dozen games this season where a timeout and intra-game adjustment or kick in the butt is what this team needed; and he sits back with a stare. Not acceptable.

    – There seems to be some “meeting of the minds” or cohesion taking place amongst this squad; I think as the season progresses, AV will be better, and performing at the “B” level. He is experienced enough, and has enough tools to succeed, to a point. I think he will do better second half.

  • C is what I’d give the coaching as a whole. They’ve had ups and downs, but the improved PP alone is worth the C grade, even with the inconsistency.

    • I understand your logic; but the improved PP also has to be weighed more heavily within the context of our 5 v 5 play. This team has been top 4 through 8 in the league 5 v 5 the past few seasons, and we are around 26th in the league right now. It seems you are not factoring in this big drop-off in 5 v 5, yet giving credit to the improved PP. It’s all part of the same package, is how I see it.

        • Correctomundo! It is all subjective. I appreciate you resurrecting the grading system; elicits good dialogue around the team.

      • That’s a fair point. My counter point is that they’ve been in the top half for puck possession all year, so puck luck may be playing a part.

        That December stretch is fresh in everyone’s minds, but the November stretch and the most recent 4-2-1 stretch seem to be ignored.

        • Rangers goals over the last ten: 4, 4, 3, 3, 3, 2, 2, 1,1 (In order from most to least). Good sign that the puck luck is starting to shift back

  • I think your coaching grade is just about right at this point, although AV has appeared to be brain blind on so many occasions. First he became enamored of Boyle at center and as much as I like Boyle as a person, he contributes absolutely nothing offensively and he’s not a good enough skater to play center. Then there was Pyatt eating up valuable minutes that someone else could have had(rookie). Although our PK is good it could be the best in the league if AV made more use of Hags & Kreider on this unit. These guys are so fast it would make for more shorthanded goals because those two can cover more ground than most. I think his handling of the goaltending situation has been sloppy and he needs to use motivational tactics to get this team to impose its will on other teams. When the other team ramps up its game like the Bolts last night, the players need to push back hard instead of playing like nervous nellies. This is the arena where confidence is most important. I give Arniel a B for a much improved PP which is a matter of having the right guys out there like Zucc & Brass, two great passers. The pass(quick reads & react) is essential on the PP as keeping the puck moving is paramount. As for Ulfie got to give him a D as he has made a very good D look confused out there. I’ve never been a fan of MDZ and I think Conor Allen is going to find his way into the lineup sooner than later.

  • I guess a C grade is about right for a team that is nothing more than .500. But you really can’t evaluate the true work of AV yet. This is still mostly Torts team. Yeah, I know, a coach has to coach with what he has; but AV was brought in here to turn around the whole system of how this team plays. He is not working with the type of talent he needs to play the uptempo, offensive game that he prefers. Having said that, its up to him to adjust his system to adapt to the talent he has. If you want to criticize him at all, I think it would be on that point. The second half will be big for this coaching staff, especially if Sather can somehow upgrade the talent level. As for Arniel and Ulfie, the jury is out on them. They don’t have a track record as great coaches to fall back on(or a 5 yr contract, either). If the team sinks in the second half, they will be the ones to walk the plank.

    • Material changes in the roster were not a requisite for AV to take this job, and he was offered a very nice 5yr contract. I cannot agree with an “Incomplete” grade because this is Torts’ roster. Torts never got the players he wanted (right-handed puck moving defensemen; top line LW) yet he adjusted and so will AV with this roster. That’s why it is a “coaching” position.

      “C” grade seems within reason, though, as referenced above, it seems a tad aggressive for me.

      Does anyone know if Arniel plays a role in the power play? Or is that predominantly AV’s area of expertise?

    • The statement that this team can’t play uptempo is pure mythology. There are a lot of good skaters out there & guys with offensive skills.

  • I have followed the Canucks a lot living on the West Coast (almost all the games are televised) and I have on occasion, watched a few games at G.M. Place, now Rogers Arena. I don’t know what the ticket prices are at Madison Square, but in Vancouver they are through the roof. None the less, I am an avid hockey follower and enjoy watching both the Canucks and the Rangers games thanks to and the Center Ice Package.

    I gave AV a C grade in the Blue Shirt Blog poll as well. His weakness as a coach really showed up during the Stanley Cup playoffs, particularly in the Boston series. His insistence to roll 4 lines at all times in that series as well as his inability to get his players to play a discipline game of hockey (stupid penalties) and miss defensive assignments all contributed to their loss to the Bruins. Canuck goalie, Roberto Luongo took the fall, but in my view, the Canucks defence was atrocious. And I see the same clusterfuck style of defence now in New York. AV is also notorious for not preparing his team out of training camps. The Canucks always had poor starts to their seasons and that trend continue when he took over the reins in New York.

    A good coach is a student of the game and always learning. But in my opinion this Ranger team is much more capable then what their record shows. And now with all the trade talk, what chemistry that is left with this team will soon be gone. The Rangers are heading for another “decade of despair” as one blogger puts its and this a result of overreaching by a GM who best days are behind him.

  • Last 10 games Pouliot has reminded me of Steve Vickers. Conor Allen is steadier than Del Zotto. Where will Callahan play when he gets back?

  • The system is A+(some games the Rangers owned the other team but could not score), The coaching of players F–(doesn’t know how to handle talent, Kreider, Miller… and blames Del Zotto for everything), doesn’t know when to call a time out F, referee mistakes no reactions F. Oh yea I hate the coach, not the person but is coaching.

    • How should he “handle” such great talent here? Miller has some good hustle, but honestly, he’ll never score more than 15, MAYBE 20 in a career best season. Kreider I’ll give you, but apparently AV’s “mishandling” has paid off in increased productivity, so there’s that.

      And how will screaming, Torts-like, over the refs’ mistakes help, tangibly? We as sports fans love emotion – we want the athletes and coaches to share what we feel, but yelling and screaming don’t win games; having players capable of executing at a high level does.

      • Do you see what he is doing now?. Don’t you put your best players in overtime? Tell me that is a smart coaching move. Miller is not a 4th line player!

  • Kreider has flourished under AV, who sent him down at the right time, and recalled him at the right time. Benching Zucc and Pouliot have had similar results (although he waited too long to bench Pouliot and Pyatt). Still, I only give him a C+ because of the team’s record. Of course, if AV enjoyed with the elite goaltending we NYR fans had been accustomed to, I suspect we’d be in 2nd place in the Metro. I prefer AV’s systems to Torts’, but admire the “jam” Torts got his teams to play with. A couple of moves and Hank being Hank, the only teams I fear in the East are Pitt and Boston.

  • I’d give AV a C+. Obviously, the record thus far can’t permit anything higher, but I think he’s getting too much flack here.

    First, the problem with the Torts-era teams (which, 2012 aside, were actually mediocre) was always offense, particularly on the power play. AV has gotten the PP to at least some level of productivity, which has kept the team afloat.

    Second, I place 99.999% of the blame on management for constructing a roster built around smallish players overall (the stat mentioned in the article above about 8 of 14 forwards being below the league average in lbs. is astounding and disturbing). It’s full NOT so much with has beens, but more never-was types (Pyatt, Nash, Pouliot, Brassard), flaky/flashy types who developed bad defensive habits they’d never get away with in the pros (Del Zotto, Moore), the overrated (Girardi and Hagelin, the latter having great wheels and no brains) and chronically injured types who get an E for effort but don’t have either the physical gifts or supernatural talent to play the intense, hardcore way that they do (Staal, Callahan).

    How many coaches does this team need to go through before we start blaming the REAL problem here? Scotty friggin’ Bowman can coach here and have the same results. Face it…our darling heroes just aren’t that good, and all the coaching in the world can’t save them.

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