State of the Rangers

Do the Rangers need to take a page out of the Penguins book?

Brady Skjei has to be a full time Ranger next season.
Brady Skjei has to be a full time Ranger next season.

Remember when everyone thought the Pens were too light and too ‘green’ on defense to contend this season? Seems like a major error of judgement, no? After dismissing the Rangers, the Pens have the Caps on the brink and appear very well set to take a run at the Stanley Cup and they’re doing it with a relatively unheralded defense.

Yes, the Pens have an absolute offensive stud (albeit a dirty one) in Kris Letang and beyond Letang they have two good puckmoving blueliners in Olli Maatta and the traded for Trevor Daley. Beyond that though and they have either a lot of youth or question marks rounding out their unit depending on your own personal take on Ian Cole, Ben Lovejoy, Justin Schultz and Derrick Pouliot. What the Pens lack is a lot of established, top four blueliners. But it hasn’t mattered.

The Rangers can learn a lesson from the Pens (well, multiple lessons actually) in that it is arguably the type of blueliner rather than the level of experience that is most critical. People will naturally panic if the Rangers open next season with Brady Skjei AND Dylan McIlrath in the top four especially if there is a lack of experience behind that top four as well. However the Rangers need to jettison at least one of Girardi or Staal and they absolutely have to promote or find the right kind of blueliner.

The Rangers *ahem* difficulties in exiting their own zone are well documented – this is an issue that urgently needs addressing, and Skjei will help in that regard. As will a healthy Ryan McDonagh and Keith Yandle (we hope). But McIlrath can also help here even if it’s not his calling card as he is certainly no worse than Marc Staal or dan Girardi in making a good zone exit. There needs to be more though.

Should the Rangers give an extended look to a kid such as Ryan Graves who has enjoyed a solid first pro-campaign in the AHL? Absolutely, even if he isn’t entirely ready. This Rangers team – even with a handful of changes likely due this summer – can make the playoffs on the back of Henrik Lundqvist and a pretty deep offense. In order to get better on defense the Rangers need to be brave and go younger and make real, long lasting changes.

The next step for the Rangers is not just getting more youth inserted into the blueline but following the Pens strategy and ensuring they get puck moving defenseman into the line-up, be damned to the youth of the player, be damned to the relative NHL inexperience and (almost) be damned to where they find the player. The Rangers defense is too old, it’s ill-fitting with the style of their coach and there are too many square pegs in round holes.

The Pens are being rewarded for their relative bravery in adapting their defensive unit to match their system even if it meant less heralded or proven talent. Their defense may not have brand names like Staal or Boyle but it better fits the needs of the NHL playoffs. The Rangers need to take note.

 

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  • it seems the caps are having the same problem with the pens speed like the rangers did so now the rangers have to change it is time to get younger and faster on the defensive end play Dylan more you have Brady who impressed and you have klein, staal, and Ryan Mac. then resign kreider, J.T

  • A million thumbs up. The Pens performance had better be opening the eyes of management. And they better not fall back on the excuse that those guys have Crosby, Letang, Malkin and Kessel. They need to realize the mistake they made with Hagelin and Stempniak and they need to put talent in the lineup over Tanner Glass. In addition to the youth on defense we need to get Hrivik in the lineup full time and put Hayes as 3C, Lindberg at 4C and Fast on the 4th line and stop bouncing these guys all over the lineup. Play to their strengths and fit the system to the personnel.

  • Doctor Chris, you have diagnosed the problem perfectly.

    Any talk of trading Nash, for example, is all about the D not about the player being traded. What can we do to bring in that one quality D? Offload salary and talent from an area of strength (forward). The salary clears space and the talent brings us what we need.

    This team can retool pretty much on the fly if it follows your diagnoses and cures the D through some sort of semi-radical procedure.

  • “The Rangers *ahem* difficulties”

    CLASSIC!

    nice post.

    Seeing Hagelin blow out of the box last night, push past a defender, charge the net, man I miss that guy.

  • Lets hold off on taking any pages from the Pit playbook in solving the Ranger woes on defense, just yet.. After all, all they’ve accomplished so far is destroying a defensively challenged NY squad, and taking a lead on a Wash squad, who is once again in the process of blowing their season. I think Pitt’s new found defensive prowess might be due more to system changes than personnel. Sullivan really has them working on D. But still, you do make a great point in the need to inject some youth into the equation. I’d love to see some young guys get the opportunity back there, but I don’t think they have anyone that might be ready other than Brady (I can’t spell his last name (; ). I hope thats what they decide to concentrate on when the summer retooling starts. As for making the playoffs, ‘on the back of Lundqvist,’ thats just the type of attitude that has to end. He can’t be depended on to carry this team as he has in the past. To do so allows them to ignore other problems on the team—that surface when Hank starts to falter. He needs some help!! More than he got this past Season.

    • Joe

      I agree, but some will say we got 101 pts, this was a solid team ????? With that thought in mind, how can we say the team was defensively challenged?????????

    • A good portion of the mentality change is playing their best puck movers. They got Daley. They got Letang back. Maata got more playing time. Cole’s time was diminished. Those are very important aspects to this.

  • It seems pretty simple to me. The Rangers were the fastest team in the Eastern Conference and were also the best team in the Eastern Conference. This year after the Hagelin trade (Pittsburgh was a .500 team before Hags arrived) they are the fastest team in the East… and oh yeah, they also happen to be the best in the Conference. Removing the center line (2-line pass) from the game has opened it up. Can you imagine how great Pavel Bure and Mike Gartner would be in today’s game?

    • Great points made, but let’s also give credit where it’s do, they made some very bold moves. Last night Doc Emerick even said that seven players on the roster played for the Wilkes-Barre team, that is an amazing number of kids out there, right?????????????

      Sather, are you listening ???????

      • Walt

        Players that played for the Hartford team who dressed against Pittsburgh in round 1:

        Girardi, Staal, Stepan, McDonagh, Kreider, Miller, Fast, Lindberg, McIlrath, Skjei

        Tried to list them in age order, old to young. Didn’t include Diaz, because he doesn’t really fit the narrative of ‘homegrown’. Also didn’t include Hayes since he made the jump right to the show last year, but is very much a part of our young core.

        My point is that the disdain for Sather making his continuous splashes for free agents (most recently, MSL, Yandle, Staal) overshadows the fact that the Rangers since the lockout have committed to a homegrown core as much as any other team in the NHL. And did so without lottery picks. Unfortunately, pushing the chips ‘all-in’ the last few years did not return us the ultimate prize. Still, we would be remiss not to note our extensive homegrown core above.

        Now the time should come to change the guard slightly….. by that I mean the first two names on that list.

          • You know, you could be correct. I’m playing half blind here as I keep missing when they allude to the ‘7 players from the farm’ narrative.

            In any event, they certainly have the right young players to mesh with a generational core. The end result is a team on a tear.

        • Staal and Stepan never played for Hartford, but they are certainly considered homegrown, along with Hank, Hayes, and Zucc.

          Look, Pitt got lucky with some picks. All these vaunted minor leaguers they brought up were 3rd and 4th round picks as well as undrafted free agents. It happens. It’s not like they held on to their top picks and this is the yield from holding on to picks for so long.

          As a matter of fact, Pitt had a #8 pick in 2012, and they wasted it on the awful Derrick Pouliot.

          Pitt has had massive holes in their forward lineup for years, for once, they stumbled onto some quality minor leaguers to fill that depth.

  • Great observation, Chris. It seems like a changing of the guard is needed given the drop off in play from a few (2) Ranger tenured defensemen who 1) don’t fit the system very well and 2) aren’t justifying their salary cap hits.

    Given the construction of the rest of the roster (read, forward group) getting younger isn’t an irresponsible cliche solution; it actually makes sense. Not only do younger players typically cost less, but they also would fit into a ‘growing core’ which the Rangers should embrace given the diminishing returns we are currently seeing from a couple declining and expensive stalwarts.

    As we all know, easier said than done…

    • Agree, but the main reason the kids are so affective is their hustle, and desire to earn a spot on the roster. I’m not Paul, who can verify my thought process, but it appears that the older guys just don’t seem as enthused, and are more settled, and don’t bust their humps quite as much. Let’s go kids !!!!!

      That is my humble opinion, and you don’t have to agree with me, but I’m convinced that is the way to go !!!!!!!

      • I won’t say that’s wrong, and you’re certainly right to an extent in some instances, but it is a bit of a generalization.

        Playing devils advocate here…. is Hayes hungrier than Lundqvist? And you can’t say that anyone gives more to the team night in and night out than Girardi. The guy is an absolute monster who plays through anything.

        Perhaps at a certain age, it seems that enthusiasm gets replaced by pride…. and both drive competitiveness, neither more so than the other.

        • Solid questions, and maybe I over simplified the problem, but for the most part I do believe what I posted. Maybe Hayes had it too easy, and didn’t have to break his tail, while having the position handed to him on a silver platter. As for the other two, both war horses, but one is due for a trip to the glue factory !!!!!!!!

  • I can’t believe what I just read, who was the author Walt??????

    Spot on, on all counts. I may sound like a broken record, but we have been calling for such a move for some time, and let’s hope the management team hears our pleas.

    I remember when Brad Park first showed up on the seen, and played so well as a rookie, that the team let a HOFer, Harry Howell go. I remember when Bobby Orr first started, he was so damn good that he changed the game as we knew it at the time. If both the Rangers, and Bruins at that time weren’t bold enough to make those moves, what would the game have been going forward?

    Now I understand we don’t have that type of player in our system, or anywhere on the horizon, but there is a great saying, and it applies to the Pens of today, “no balls, no glory”, and that team has shown cast iron gonads, that will pay dividends for years to come.

    I could accept playing with Skjei, DMc, and Graves in the same line up, with a McD, and Klein, and Shatty……….. That would give the team three kids playing with some very good talent, and a chance to develop into a solid defensive corp. The division is weak, so why not exploit the situation? This off season is going to be a make, or break scenario for us going forward for the next five to seven years. We either jump into the pool and sink, or swim, I’m for swimming with kids, rather than drown with the old guard !!!!!!!!!

  • Before we try to copy the Pens, lets not forget that their young/speedy defensemen have 2 thinks we do not – Crosby & Malkin to pass to!

    Yes their backline speed and agility is impressive and we may need to add that type of player – BUT – if our offense finished, if our offense was THE MENACE that the Pens offense is, we still might be in the playoffs. Their young/speedy defense pairings played a PREVENT defense our offense couldn’t crack. The Pens have the players, but their defensive system should be copied, not just their player types.

    Plus – Our PK and PP were trash – didn’t scare anyone on the PP and everyone with a stud player feasts on us. This needs to change and that is not a backline change as much as it is a system and personnel change.

    • Sal

      You just gave us some justification for the removal of Ulfy as our defensive coach, no imagination on his part. Maybe he is just as rigid as AV.

      How ironic is it, Sully could win the cup, and be coach of the year, while he couldn’t do squat for us as an assistant, especially the PP !!!!!!!!!!

      • Walt – Sometimes mediocre coaches achieve great things. Look at Joe Torre with some of those Yankee teams. He had superstars up and down the line-up. He had to fill out the lineup card. That’s about it. The NYR, as composed, need a flexible coaching staff that builds a system around the players we have. IMO, neither AV or Ulfie did that. Throw in Scott Arnel for the PP as well. Sometimes a coach has to actually add value. Can’t say the group behind the bench was responsible for too many wins based on their decisions alone.

        Now, when your hands are tied with Cap issues and aging players who just can’t get it done, that makes everyone’s job harder.

        • Agree, then the disassembly of the squad as we know it should have begun yesterday, that includes the honest evaluation of the entire coaching staff, from AV on down !!!!!!!!

          • That also should include the top management team, who put this staff in such a position in the first place!!

  • I hate the bench interviews, but the Pitt coach said something last night…..speed thru the neutral zone. Something we used to have.

    Btw, winning goal last night was right out of #5’s playbook.

    • Lol, I hadn’t seen the game winning goal until just now. Here I was, thinking you were handing out a compliment to ol’ Danny G.

      Boy was that a terrible play.

      • Exactly, that’s pretty much where all the Rangers’ issues stem from. Fix that, you fix the Rangers.

        Unfortunately, it’s a tough fix because there are two virtually immovable players in the way

  • You have to give Mike Sullivan credit. He has game planned the Caps, and us, extremely well. The deployment, the breakouts, plugging guys in for injured or suspended folks, has all been meticulous.

  • The worst thing about the Penguins post-season performance is, the more success they have, the more some fans will think this Rangers team is not in need of major repairs, but only tweaks. After all, we lost to the mighty Pens, right?

    101 points means a lot less in today’s NHL than years past, We finished the season ranked 9th in the league; and heading in the wrong direction. More division rivals have or are close to surpassing us.

    “Tweaks” will assure we get to a 14th type league ranking quickly which, by the way, wouldn’t be so bad if structural improvements were being made for the long-term benefit of the club. But tweaks are not structural in nature; just minor adjustments.

    I like the big picture idea behind this article a lot. However, I cringe at the notion of the Rangers following the path of other teams. I thought we were following the Bruins; then the Red Wings; now the Pens? Let’s impose our own vision on how to win and be disciplined and ruthless in going about our business at the same time.

  • I just hope and pray that it was totally Glen Sathers decision to let Anton Strallman go and instead sign Dan Boyle, NOT resign Carl Hagelin, trade Lee Stempniak ….. and not play Mcilrath and Sjell and continue to put out girardi, stall and boyle…..

    And I hope and pray that Sather is never again involved in ANY player personnel decisions!!!!!

    What A Moron………How is it possible that a man in hockey his whole life cant tell a really good player from washed up has beens?????

    I think most fans , if not all would have made better personnel decisions than sather.

    • Yup, trading a washed up Gomez for a really good up and coming McDonagh. Certainly couldn’t have been Sather, that guys a moron.

      • Hatrick

        Even a broken clock is right twice a day !!!!!!!

        If one did an analysis of Sather’s total body of work as our GM, he would qualify as a dud !!!!!!!!!!!

      • One good trade in 15 years……you made my point…..he was clueless

        and i didnt include all the bad drafts…..passing on cam fowler, tarasenko , zack parise etc

        or giving bad contracts,,,,,,girardi, stall, gomez, wade redden, holik

    • Rich,

      I betcha if you were to ask 20 BSB regulars here, that in an imaginary world we had the option of signing Hags today for 4 Mill per over the next 4 years, at least 15 of them would decline including myself.

      Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE the guy, and if you were to go back the day we found out he would no longer be a Ranger, I was up in arms and quite emotional about it. However, it’s very difficult to justify 4 Mill per for a player like Hags.

      Yes, those two (Stempniak, Stralman) were mistakes, but with respect, you’re nitpicking two moves over a hundred moves Sather has made over the past decade. I would expect a few mistakes here n there. Again, over the past 5, 6 years, this Ranger team has been one of, if not the most succesful teams in the league.

      Fyi…. I was telling EVERYBODY, that we should keep Stempniak 🙂

      • Hags is a 30 point winger. You don’t pay 30 point wingers $4M a year.

        Hags is not what was missing from the Rangers this year. We need to drop that dumb narrative. Stalberg is freaking Carl Hagelin, they are the same damn player.

      • Hagelin is a difference maker in the playoffs and on PK….Speed!
        when he chose to overpay girardi and stall costing us hagelin and strallman there is no excuse….

        and I forgot to mention the yandle trade which may turn out to behis worst if we dont resign yandle….

    • Rich, of all those, only the Stralman thing is an issue. But it was the combination of losing Stralman, signing Boyle, and re-signing Girardi and Staal that put them in this situation. It’s not a one move thing.

      • And the re-signing of both Staal and Girardi are based not only at past performance, but also because we didn’t have a up-and-coming young replacement ready to go. What should have happened is that the NM clause should have been for a year or two only.

        • Looking at overall body of work…..15 years ,big market money to spend……choice of free agents….zero cups…..

          One good trade in 15 years…
          letting nylander, jagr , rosival, strallman, boyle, hagelin stempniak, all walk…..

          all the bad drafts…..passing on cam fowler, tarasenko , zack parise etc

          or giving bad contracts,,,,,,girardi, stall, gomez, wade redden, holik

  • During two seasons prior to last season the Ranger’s speed was probably the main reason for their success, after Hank’s play in goal. The main reason the Kings gave them fits was that the Kings were also fast and skilled, as well as capable of physical play. Our Dmen had trouble keeping up with them and also got injured.

    In my opinion the Rangers need to groom their young forwards and defenders and focus on being younger and faster in order to compete effectively in the coming seasons. Yeah, they will have growing pains, but if they have the right young players then they might not be as far away from performing well in the NHL as some might believe. Certainly the Pens’ young players have stepped up during the last half year. I’d much rather watch a kid make mistakes than watch an older player try to do things he can no longer do well.

    That being said, the contracts Slats handed out to the older core are huge, long term, and include NMC’s. The expansion draft rules also are going to impact what they can do. Gorton is going to have to work like hell in order to improve the team under those constraints. It may take two seasons or longer.

  • There is no reason why Skjei and Mcilrath should not be in the starting lineup for game 1 next year. The Rangers need to start thinking of cheaper options all around and build from the system that is shallow at best. Also, in my opinion, a Keith Yandle signing will be a major mistake. The guy is really, really, good offensively and on the PP, but his defensive game is very irresponsible and a liability. We don’t want to fall into the same trap as Danny G and M. Staal. Yandle will demand big bucks for 5 years and we cant afford in our current cap crunch to award him that. Let him walk!!

  • I think the basic point about youth and the defense is good. I disagree,however, that Lundquist is that important. To stick with the Pens analogy, you failed to mention that they also went (not by choice) with a young, unproven goalie.

    Lunquist is a good man, but not as important as billed. In fact, I believe that his reputation was made mainly by the defensive work of the team in front of him which is why he did not have such a great season this year. Trades and the timing of a rebuild should not depend upon his age (i.e., his “Window”). In the needed rebuild, a trade for value received should be considered as it should be for Nash, Girardi and Staal.

    • There’s a lot of data out there that shows exactly the opposite….that in fact Hank might be the single most important player to his respective team of the past decade. Even this year, an off year, he faced more high danger shots I believe it was then any other goalie. I think he had the best 5×5 save pct in the league.

      In my view, other than the 2014-15 season, when we were cooking on all cylinders and we had Talbot in there for a stretch, we are likely a lottery team in every one of those seasons without Hank.

      Now, as he ages, clearly, the narrative is going to change to an extent, and that needs to be considered when plotting the future.

  • Lets take a look at who the coach thinks has talent. Glass, M Staal, G, Nash, Stalberg, Fast, Stepan, Boyle,Mcdonough, Zucc,and Brassard! Lets look at who the coach thinks is not talented. Haglin, Hays, Miller, B Boyle, Stalman, Mccllrath, Yandle and Kreider.

  • I just hope the Rangers understand what happened this season. They had a pretty decent team with an atrocious PK. It didn’t seem to matter who was on the ice (well, things weren’t so bad when Raanta played), the PK just stunk. And what would have been an excellent was transformed into a 101 point season.

    In the playoffs, a hot opponent and the disastrous PK put them out of the picture.

    I don’t know what to do about the defense. I do think it is ridiculous to look at two roughly equal defensemen named Girardi and Yandle and think about giving Yandle a Girardi-type contract while talking about buying our Girardi. I don’t know how good either will be next year of course. Girardi may be healthier, then again he will be older. Yandle will just be older.

    I do know how good they were this year. Yandle is better at getting the puck up the ice. OTOH, facing a 2 on 1, Yandle gives the goalie as much chance as he would have on a 2 on 0. Girardi actually has an idea of what he is doing. Advanced stats of course ignore such distinctions, which is why they tell us that Toronto is better than Washington.

    I pointed out earlier that Girardi has a better +/- than Yandle. It was kindly pointed out to me that the numbers are misleading, that Yandle is destroyed by EN goals and that the 5 v 5 numbers are identical (+11 or +12). Now, that is not entirely fair. Girardi has the advantage of playing with McDonagh a lot. OTOH, Girardi played lots of shut down, while Yandle got lots of sheltered minutes and offensive zone starts. I’d say a wash.

    Yes, Girardi looks awful, but in truth he always has. And Girardi has played in the Stanley Cup Finals. One can argue that advanced stats are better because +/- is so much luck. But here is the thing. Winning depends on performance and luck. If an offensive player gets 40 goals on 40 shots, you can argue that he is really a very lucky 5 goal scorer, BUT you cannot argue that he is to blame for the team not winning.

    • Players and coaches, not “systems” make great hockey clubs. We need a trend-setting, groundbreaking, faith inspiring leader for our young talent to aspire to play for. Only one man commands that kind of presence and that is the greatest leader and captain of all time. The simple answer is: Out with Vigneault and in with Messier. Problem solved.

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