Thoughts prior to All-Star Weekend
The Rangers find themselves back in action on Tuesday, after their seven day All-Star layoff. Hopefully, the rest does the team well, as they have exchanged optimistic signs of improvement with mediocre displays over the past few weeks (months). While we take a little breather from competitive hockey, I have some thoughts.
Might as well start with the All-Star Game. I will just say what we are all thinking: it’s terrible. It has been terrible for quite some time. At least it doesn’t determine home ice advantage in the Stanley Cup Final, but that’s a different discussion altogether. I have read various articles on how to improve it, and at least the NHL is trying. Yearly tweaks to format, a fantasy draft, etc., have at least shown the league acknowledges the problem. Unfortunately, I don’t think there is a realistic fix. Players don’t try, which is fine. The problem is over the past few years they spend more time just dicking around than they do playing hockey. I understand that these guys work very hard over the course of the year and deserve some levity and recreation. The problem is watching Carey Price play goal backwards just isn’t very entertaining. That’s not to even touch on the whole John Scott fiasco.
More so than any season since I started contributing to this wonderful site, I have seen more diverse and intense debates about the future of the organization. It seems like opinions vary between loading up for the playoff push all the way to full on, tear it down rebuild. Usually, that is just hyperbole to illustrate fickle New York fandom, but the crossroads nature of the cap situation combined with the less than inspiring play of the team thus far, has created a tremendous amount of variation of opinion on the best way forward.
The Canadian dollar is killing me. Sure, I get ridiculous discounts now on my own equipment, but the fact that the cap might actually go down next season is a little ridiculous. You have a huge number of market forces working to drive player salary and term higher and higher for even average players, and no corresponding increase in the overall pool of monies allocated to player salaries.
Continuing to beat the dead horse of the defense. I was talking to Dave and The Suit yesterday and we started discussing all the problems on the blue line. You will have to bear with me as I kind of talk this out, but I have felt for a while that AV is not maximizing the skillsets of his players through the currently implemented systems. After talking through some man coverage versus zone coverage concepts, I realized it really comes down to getting pinned in the zone. AV’s current overload hybrid system is designed to prevent getting pinned in your own zone, by pushing the puck through the neutral zone to the forwards. The problem is when you don’t have the personnel with the skills to execute it, you still get pinned, but there is no structure in place to defend consistent zone pressure. All of this is to say I would rather spend that time within a formation designed to keep the puck to the outside than to see everyone in blue chasing the puck around like mites. Say what you want about Torts, but he knew that Girardi and Staal were better suited for a collapsing, zone system.
It has become fairly obvious that the Rangers need another top six forward. I love Andrew Ladd, the player, but I just can’t get my head around the economics. I just don’t see how you could take into account the acquisition cost, then the cost of re-signing him to a 5+ year deal, and not feel like you will get burned. If he was 26, sure, but I can’t stomach it at 30.
This brings me to some fairly inescapable logic. Is it truly possible to make a meaningful upgrade, while addressing RFA raises, without trading either Staal or Girardi? With Keith Yandle most certainly seeking opportunity and Dan Boyle coming off the books, there will be some opportunity on the blue line, but raises for Krieder, Hayes, Miller, etc., will eat into that space pretty quickly.
At this point, I don’t think there is much choice but to continue to ride JT Miller in the top six. Maybe Pavel Buchevich could come over after the KHL season wraps up, but he shouldn’t be looked at as the knight in shining armor. This team needs to figure out what its long-term plan is ahead of the trade deadline.
The Rangers begin the first half of February with only local travel and a consistent every other day schedule. There have obviously been some wild swings so far this season, but this looks like a really good opportunity to start to work on consistency. Get into a routine, execute each game and for the love of god, stop this “one step forward, two steps back” nonsense that has been going on for the last 3 months.
To that end, the Rangers unsustainably hot start has been a huge blessing. Despite the ridiculously inconsistent play over the past thirty games or so, the Blueshirts are still sitting in second in the Metro and third in the conference. If they can hit the springboard now, and start playing consistently good hockey, there is still a very good chance of a successful season. Now, its up to them.
Enjoy the All-Star break everyone!