The Case for the Rangers as a Stanley Cup Darkhorse

rangers kings Rick nash

(Apologies for the sporadic output lately but unfortunately, wedding planning can’t be handled over spreadsheets.)

After a shaky start to the season that led to many calling for the firing of coach Alain Vigneault, the Rangers have righted the ship and have reeled off 18 wins in the last 27 games. While the resurgence of star goalie Henrik Lundqvist has played a major role in the team’s drastic change in fortunes, it would be a disservice not to look under the hood of how the skaters in front of him have performed.

With their recent uptick in performance, the Rangers have now moved into the top ten in goals for and goals against (ranked 7th in both stats). However, as I stated earlier this season, while stats themselves are critical to understanding a teams performance, understanding how they got there is just as important.

Using my Player Styles data (explained here in a previous post), I looked at how the Rangers compared to previous playoff teams in the post-2008 Corsi era. The chart below shows both the lowest rating in one of the 7 areas and still make it to the next round, as well as the average rating for that round. So for example, the average Cup Winner had skaters who were on average, better than 67% of the league in passing, and better than 63% of the league in shooting.

As you can see, by their 2018 ratings, the Rangers meet minimum cutoffs for a cup contender in nearly every area. More specifically, they currently rank among the league’s best teams this season in the key stats of Shooting, Passing, Skating and Two-Way Play. With Hank firing at all cylinders right now, that is usually a recipe for a long post season.

However, there is one glaring weakness that stands out. As you can see, Shot Creation is the one area where the team struggles. As it currently stands, no team has even made the Finals with a Shot Creation rating as low as the Rangers. Unfortunately, winning the shot battle has never been a strong point of AV’s tenure and his prioritization of shot quality over quantity is the main source of criticism about his systems, and it has only gotten worse over time.

Ultimately, what the data suggests is that the Rangers may still be a move or two away from being a truly dangerous Cup dark horse, and short of replacing AV, it may be the difference between jubilation and disappointment this offseason.

Or maybe a trade for Dave’s favorite Sabre might fit the bill.

"The Case for the Rangers as a Stanley Cup Darkhorse", 4 out of 5 based on 11 ratings.

35 thoughts on “The Case for the Rangers as a Stanley Cup Darkhorse

  • Jan 3, 2018 at 12:09 pm

    Please don’t waste precious assets on rentals as AV does not know how to use them unless they perfectly suit his worldview.

    This current team is the distilled essence of AV. Consistent ability to generate HD shots which leads to generally decent GF and xGF statistics. And an incredible inability to play defense (we leak tons of shots, but also lots of HD shots) which leads to relatively abysmal xGA stats, but average GA figures due to outstanding goaltending.

    Somehow at this point our defense at 5v5 is the worst in the league despite removing the cancers that were Girardi and Klein. I think AV’s systems and coaching have a lot more to do with how poor we are in our own zone than the personnel, and this season seems to prove it.

    This AV recipe will never work for us in the playoffs, and has not worked for AV now for a decade. It failed outright last season despite facing a garbage Ottawa team (one of the most poorly coached series in the history of our franchise; AV should have immediately been canned). We should have made the Conference Finals.

    If the Rangers FO was woke, they’d can AV and the entire staff and try to bring someone in mid-season.

    • Jan 3, 2018 at 2:28 pm

      Personally, I like AV and his systems. I think he’s one of the more proactive coaches in the NHL. I think there’s a few coaches in the league that copy his strategies and a lot of others that don’t have the know how or “brass ones” to implement his aggressive Dzone scheme.
      I just wish that AV would alter his coaching style some. I think he is too passive when playing with a lead, especially leads of 2 or more goals. I this instant, I think he should be more aggressive on the forecheck and disrupt the oppositions rush. Yet he lays back, even in the first 40 mins.
      I understand that you can’t throw structure to the wind when playing from behind but I’d like him to take a few more chances and other teams have always dominated possession from behind. The Rangers not so much. They still look for their chance to counter and often it doesn’t come or they swing and miss.
      The problem with firing AV is the Rangers will likely be back to zone coverage and dump n chase hockey. Don’t think for a second AV will be unemployed very long either. Some team may fire their coach the second AV is available.

      • Jan 4, 2018 at 5:10 pm

        I think you’re confusing “entertaining” with “championship caliber.”

        When they fired Torts for AV, my son-in-law and I said “Well, I’d rather lose 4-3 in an entertaining game than 2-1 in a dull grind a la Torts.”

        We got that for a while, but it’s just like that funny ad about becoming your parents says, “defense wins championships.”

        This team IMO needs two things: Learn from Vinnie: SHOOT SHOOT SHOOT. We could be #1 on GF if we actually took shots and went to the net – despite passing up countless opportunities, we still rank #7, so we must actually have some talent. #2: Learn to defend in front of our net. B. Smith can be found at many different zip codes during his shifts, very few of them located in front of H. Lundqvist. This is where a guy with edge and a taste for contact needs to be. Marc Staal needs to be anywhere that is not on the ice. Watching the two goals he made happen for CHI was enraging. This pencil-necked flamingo-footed turdbucket is killing this team, costing us points on a regular basis. Excise the tumor by the deadline. Whatever it takes. If no takers or he wan’t go, just make a permanent home for him in the press box. (My hockey bud from SWEDEN called to talk today, and asked me what was wrong with Steal…he watched the Chicago game. Called him ‘slow and stupid.’

    • Jan 3, 2018 at 3:48 pm

      The Rangers are the 7th best team in the league in Goals Against and Goals For per game. How does this make our defense at 5v5 the worst in the league?

      • Jan 3, 2018 at 5:22 pm

        Well, they are 4th worst in the league in shots against. In other words, goalkeeping would seem to be the predominant reason goals against are on the other end of the spectrum.

  • Jan 3, 2018 at 12:36 pm

    The fish still smells from the head down. AV is not a bad guy, he just isnt the guy.

  • Jan 3, 2018 at 1:11 pm

    I think that it comes down to this: To win the cup, the players have to do it. The coach isn’t as significant as you would think from reading blogs.

    Mike Keenan was self destructing in ’94, and Messier and the boys took over and won the Cup despite, not because of, Keenan. AV might not be my favorite coach, and I sure do not like the way he wants only passes out of the defensive zone, but for the Rangers to win the Cup, the players need to will it, give every last ounce of effort, and have a little luck too.

    • Jan 3, 2018 at 2:21 pm

      To do that, they need a true leader. Who do we have besides Hank? So many games they come out without any passion.

      • Jan 3, 2018 at 2:29 pm

        Agreed. But that is not a coaching issue as much as it is a player issue. You can only give a “Win one for the Gipper!” speech a few times before it begins to fall on deaf ears in the clubhouse.

    • Jan 3, 2018 at 2:27 pm

      I agree with your last paragraph and have made remarks similar to its opening sentence. In professional leagues, games are lost more often than they are won. In juniors and college a player can make a mistake and get away with it. In professional leagues everybody (well, maybe not Tanner Glass) can capitalize on a mistake.

    • Jan 3, 2018 at 5:35 pm

      I think what we are seeing is that you need pretty much a fleet of above average two-way defenders to properly execute AV’s defensive scheme. No team, really, has that. It’s one of those schemes that seems brilliant until execution, when an effective neutral zone trap ruins the effort nine times of ten. Luckily for AV, not many teams are really built to be able to run the trap on the fly with solid success. Ottawa is and can, though. That allows a lesser roster on paper to nullify the benefits of AVs system. AV’s hubris in refusing to adjust to the trap seals the deal.

      The system/process needs to change, and not necessarily even majorly. If the coach won’t do that, then the coach needs to change. We’ve seen this movie before, and I for one am getting sick of seeing it.

      I’ve said this ad-nauseum, because it is true: good coaches cannot lead bad teams to glory. This is how we can see that coaching has its limits on the end of the spectrum. Obviously, the players need to execute. However, their is no bottom to the other side of the spectrum: good teams can be rendered completely null with poor coaching decisions. The margins for error in this regard are so slim, that it only takes a few. AV keeps making those same mistakes over. And over. And over.

      In order for AV to win a Cup with this team, he’s gonna need pretty much cherry match-ups in the bracket along the way; teams where his system gives them fits, all of them. He will tinker with everything possible but his darling process, and I find that arrogance – which is exactly why Ottawa won the last playoff series – inexcusable.

      • Jan 4, 2018 at 7:00 am

        As usual, your post is pot on, great analysis!!!!!!

        • Jan 4, 2018 at 7:00 am

          spot on!!!

  • Jan 3, 2018 at 2:40 pm

    Congrats on planning a wedding. I just had mine in October. Was a blast but unfortunately a huge time/energy drain planning…even considering I had minimal participation in the planning phase. In any event, enjoy it and keep the posts coming.

    • Jan 4, 2018 at 8:28 am

      congrats to you both on the nuptuals [sp?].

      also, kudos on the interesting diagram, etc.
      to address the substance of the article, IMO it is simple.

      you must have adequate horses, or there is no hope of winning.
      Rangers to not.
      Continued desperation trades not only fail in the present, they screw up the future.

      It is simple.
      Build, baby, build
      No kicking the effin can down the road or anywhere else; get rid of it.

      When forced to deviate to accommodate instant gratification sought by AV — who should be canned — GMJG and staff have usually drafted well. Let’s use that by adding, not giving away picks.

      “Youth will be served” is recognized saying for a reason.
      Now is the overdue time to start.

  • Jan 3, 2018 at 2:49 pm

    It’s not surprising to me at all at how bad they are at shot creation, as they do not have those one or two guys that can dominate by themselves. Nash is the closest but is past his prime. As a result, more passes are needed to create chances which means that the chance of turning the puck over is greater. More possession means less chance for turnovers.

    I saw what Peter, our good friend, wrote above and I have to disagree about the importance of the coach. If they did not have an impact or much of an impact then you could just hire anyone to the role. I know I just simplified what Peter said and he probably was not saying what I am saying now but here is why the coach is important:

    1) Players have to believe in the coach and that comes from confidence in his leadership.
    2) Implementing the proper system for the skillset of the players.
    3) Utilization of the right players, including knowing when to use and when not to use certain players.

    There are gaping holes in this team roster wise. A top 9 center is needed, unless they can get a strong winger to keep Miller at C. And they need at least one more D man, preferably one that can defend at the end of games.

    Can they contend? Sure, but Hank has to keep playing like he is now unless they can get reinforcements, which is unlikely because they will cost a lot trade wise. I see Chytil being called up at some point and being that top 9 C to move Miller back to wing. Or they may put Chytil at wing to give him less responsibility. A D man from Hartford may be a possibility too.

    Best of all worlds? They acquire someone cheap that the other team doesn’t want because I do not see the Rangers giving up significant assets this time around. IMO.

    • Jan 3, 2018 at 4:42 pm

      Yes Richter, but the Rangers had some fine coaches before they ever won a cup. I realize that coaches make a difference, no doubt about that. But it comes down to the players. I had to shake my head when people were going on about who AV had out there on the ice at the end of the last playoff game against the Senators last year. The bottom line in that game was that if the Rangers had played better for the entire first 60 minutes, and had given it everything they had, they would have beaten that Senators team and gone on to the next round. But they didn’t do that, so the last minute of the game’s loss was due to the preceding 60 minutes.

      Yeah, coaches matter, but unless the players give it their best shot and bring their best game, they are not winning anything. I don’t know what this team can do as constructed, but I do know that they don’t always give it their all.

      • Jan 3, 2018 at 4:49 pm

        Good point Peter, but it’s the coaches responsibility to have the players play their best. All too often last year this group was unprepared, and sometimes unmotivated. That’s on AV and on ice leadership.

        We did not have the players to light a spark, nor a captain to command better on ice effort.

        I am in the camp that AV is a very good coach, his win/loss record supports that, but just not for this team.

        • Jan 3, 2018 at 6:51 pm

          All coaches loose their luster in the locker room. Their voice isn’t heard as well by the players after several years. I think it comes down to the players more. Mac is a great player but I’m not sure he is the leader this team needs to get behind.
          In the same amount of time the fans loose patience in the coach and start to blame him for some things that he has little control over.

      • Jan 4, 2018 at 8:31 am

        Peter, I was one of those people railing against AV for bad deployment. Sending out the same D pairing that loses 3 playoff games is completely on the coach.

        By your reasoning, the coaches should never be blamed for anything because you can always blame the players. It’s like being a weather person where you say whatever and it doesn’t matter if they’re right or wrong. I want a job like that.

        • Jan 4, 2018 at 10:38 am

          Well, you are overstating my case. I didn’t go to that extreme. 🙂

          The idea that AV lost the playoffs to the Senators that some folks seem to really believe is also overstating the case.

          If the team had executed AV’s system well, and given maximum effort every game that series, the Rangers should have won it is 6 games. But, some nights the forecheck was nonexistent. That is on the players in my opinion. It is not as if AV doesn’t ask them to forecheck, it is part of his game plan.

          No, I am not happy with his defensive deployments either. But my point is that despite that stuff, they should have beaten the Senators. They were capable, but didn’t perform. I think that is much more on the players than on the coach.

          Sure, I’d like to have coach Q or that fella in Toronto coaching the Rangers. But as sure as we are sitting here, they’d be blamed for losses on the blogs too, and would suddenly become less than they were held up to be before they got here! You know that is true, I am sure. 🙂

          • Jan 4, 2018 at 5:46 pm

            Peter, this is a ridiculous post, sorry.
            “If the team had executed AV’s system well, and given maximum effort every game that series, the Rangers should have won it is 6 games.”
            So, if everyone had killed themselves, and played great, they should have won.
            Well, they got to the last couple minutes of key games with the lead, and only needed to hold it to win. Had they won two, they’d have moved on. Instead, in Game 5, THE COACH put Staal out on the ice. No matter how much effort Marc Staal puts in, he is just physically unable to perform and defend at an elite level any more (if he ever was). Late in the game, tired, Staal was useless. Basically, no matter what decision AV made, he managed to be exactly wrong. The issue in the last minute is ALWAYS the front of the net. You need big strong guys to clear out and let Hank be Hank. In Game 5, AV puts out Stepan, Zucc, GLASS, Staal and Smith to defend a 6 on 5 with 1:30 to go. The only one there who EVER clears out in front is Smith.. What a shock, the Sens tie it up on a net front scramble. In Game 2, his deployment was equally bizarre for the tying goal.

            The job of the coach late in games is to orchestrate his shifts and men to have just the right guys ready with a breather to go out and defend. This requires a fast mind, and calm in the storm. AV’s deployment in the crunch looks almost random. Look at those 5 names again. A scoring center, the 2nd smallest guy in the league, the worst player in the NHL, a half-blind flamingo, and one guy who actually belonged there and semi missed his check, but forced his man away from the front of the net anyway. The four guys who shouldn’t have been out there ALL fucked up. That, my friend, is not about execution. It’s about deployment. I would have fired him before OT and let a concession vendor coach the rest of the way.

            • Jan 5, 2018 at 3:40 pm

              No, my post was not at all ridiculous. If they had played the way they are capable of playing from the outset of the series and from the outset of that game, they would have not been in the position of losing the game and series to the Senators. To nitpick about who the coach had on the ice in the final seconds as if the lack of passion and commitment by players in a few games in that series didn’t matter and was not far more important is just wrong headed in my opinion.

              • Jan 6, 2018 at 5:08 pm

                They had the lead in those games, and only needed to hold a 2-goal lead and a 1-goal lead through the final two minutes of those games. If they win those two games, they win the series. In both of those situations, the key goals against were scored against bizarre and wrong-headed deployments by a coach who has repeatedly choked in tight games. From “losing” players on the bench to failing to call timeouts when desperately needed, to taking too many men penalties late, to sending out freakish lines and pairings that have no place being out together, and less at the close out moments of a playoff game — there are not about players playing the way they are capable. Steal and Hoolden are NOT CAPABLE of defending in front of the net. They had the lead BECAUSE they outplayed the Senators. If a coach in football puts 10 men on the line and allows a bomb on the last play of the game, he is an idiot. If a manager leaves an obviously tiring pitcher in to face the league MVP when he has great closers ready, he is an idiot. If he puts out a journeyman marshmallow and a half-blind flamingo to clear the front of the net with a minute left and a one-goal lead, he is an idiot.We lost the Senators series because we choked away two wins we should have had, and were not good enough to recover. That’s life in the NHL. If you give up your advantage, you’re going to pay.

  • Jan 3, 2018 at 2:53 pm

    I just don’t see how adding any player AVAILABLE will make any real difference — aside from maybe Karlsson, but at what price? That said I still think we’re a darkhorse regardless. If anything we have very difficult decisions to make about Grabner and Nash; we should be thinking about that rather than “adding” a player to the mix.

    • Jan 3, 2018 at 7:08 pm

      I don’t see how there is any real decision to make. They can probably get a real good roster player for Grabner or dump salary for a separate move.
      Nash is a goner at the end of this season. Of course his 10 teams probably will have changed from what he would have submitted to in the past. Toronto is an up and coming team now where years ago the Leafs were on everyone’s No trade list. Maybe they can move him before the deadline and make a move going into the playoffs with the cap space that opens up.

  • Jan 3, 2018 at 3:01 pm

    This team has a leadership void, and it is behind and on the bench.
    This would be okay if we had a stud to rely on, but we don’t. No Stamkos or Ovie who will get his point a night. So we need the sum of the parts (yes, including the coaches) to be a combined better team than our opponent.

    We can do this here and there, but not consistently enough to make it to the final. I agree on a top center and also think a top 4 (puck-moving) defenseman would help. Wait, wasn’t Yandle supposed to be that?

    The coach has molded the team as 2 separate units (offense and defense), when one cohesive unit is what is needed. Too late to fix that now unless we pick up Karlsson on “D” and a top “Center”, but at the cost of the farm system? I think not.

    • Jan 3, 2018 at 3:11 pm


  • Jan 3, 2018 at 3:51 pm

    In my non-expert opinion.
    This is not a real contender no matter how us fans wish it so.

    Sal hit it right on the head. Leadership void in AV behind the bench and McD is not captain material. Very good D-man yep, captain, nope.

    Once again I hope Jeff is smart enough to realize this year we have a rare opportunity. We have the ability to set us up for years. We have players other REAL contenders need.

    My formula is very simple

    Nash a UFA
    Grabner a UFA

    As I’ve said before, those four will garnish a bevy of some ratio the following combination
    -High picks in the upcoming exceptionally strong draft
    -High end prospects
    -High end young player

    We keep our “core” and the few quality prospects we have now and we might actually form a real contending team.

    Trading picks for another Staal type vet is only asking for more of the same.

    This isn’t popular nor is it easy, but at least we’ll break the cycle this team has been mired in for years.

    • Jan 3, 2018 at 10:49 pm

      Jerry, I agree 100%. The team is not one centerman away from being a cup threat, They are missing intangibles and perhaps some fleet players on defense. I’d trade each of those wonderful vets for the best deals available, bring up youngsters for the remainder of the season and go into the draft loaded with good picks to work from.

      Problem is, that just is not gonna happen.

    • Jan 4, 2018 at 8:36 am

      Jerry, I agree with you that they should be trading vets for picks but everyone knows that they will not do that being in a playoff position.

      To me, the best case scenario is to go young internally.

      In: Lettieri, Chytil, and Graves or whomever from Hartford.
      Out: DD, Carey, and Holden gets traded.

  • Jan 3, 2018 at 5:57 pm

    Nice article. Thanks for doing the homework.

    IMO …this is maybe the year any team could win the cup. The big 3 are not so big anymore.
    LA Kings look good but not that good. Chicago looks like as skilled as us. And the penguins are out of the playoffs as we speak. It has been 9 straight years of one of these 3 winning the cup. Not much variety in this league. And what do all 3 of these teams have in common? A great 1C and a great 1D and a mediocre goalie compared to our savior Hank. (cough cough his is not that good) In honesty these teams also all had a great 2C the year they won it all.

    Look I like AV’s system…as a regular season system. It is without a doubt the best system, year after year he brings in contenders. With not the best overall talent level. Get over firing the coach. It wont happen. It didn’t happen over the summer it wont happen now.

    In 3 or 4 of the games he was the coach for of the stanley cup with the rangers we had the lead. Every game was a 1 goal game except game 3. So 4 out of the 5 we could have won. That is pretty solid considering the talent we had. Stepan, Brad Richards, Derrick Brassard, Brian Boyle at center. Compare that to Brown, Kopitar, Richards, Stoll. I forget what game it was but Dustin Brown literally just took 1 game and won it by himself. His individual effort was amazing. Out of our 4 centers that year…who honestly can say that guy individually can take over a game like Messier? Only one IMO is stepan. So we did pretty good considering that talent pool. We had a very deep team but filled with average players. Hence the result.
    I agree with one of the commentors above… this a sell team come the deadline. If this FO can get McDavid or Eichel or Taveras, or really any generational talent right now for assets we have….I say go for it. Someone with a unwavering desire to win.
    I assume Lias was the guy the FO thought could be that guy in the future. Time will tell on him. I really hope we dont trade picks for some nobody or has been which has consistently been the downfall of this franchise. And being a fan for as long as I have been I just see it coming, cause of what I stated above. The big 3 are weak.

  • Jan 3, 2018 at 11:10 pm

    Stanley Cup dark horse? Mr.Watkins, come back to us.

  • Jan 3, 2018 at 11:12 pm

    This team should be sellers at the trade deadline. This team isn’t winning a Cup the pieces aren’t there they just aren’t. It’s fools gold every year which has lead to one Cup in 75 plus years. Amazing. See the Yankees who have finally changed their approach. Draft smart development of said players and get picks. The Yankees are set for years to come, Have cap flexibility to add Giancarlo plus still have a top five farm system with the top prospect in all of baseball. Nash, Zuccarello, McD and Staal should all be moved for picks and NHL ready skilled players. It’s whats best for the team long term. The two first round picks this year plus Day, the Russian goalie with the young talent we have are the future. Please let’s move on.

  • Jan 4, 2018 at 9:25 am

    Good thing this article was written before the chicago game

Comments are closed.