Last night the Rangers were absolutely dismantled by Rangers-South the Tampa Bay Lightning in predictable fashion. This was an ugly one to watch, as the Blueshirts were helpless to defend wave after wave of offensive attack. No one said rebuilds were easy. As we start to move towards the twilight of a lost season, I have some thoughts…
1. There has been a lot of talk about the most beneficial way to play the remainder of the season. Logic would dictate that the Rangers should lose as many of the remaining games as possible and improve their odds of a higher draft pick. Makes perfect sense. The problem is the players on the ice will and should try to win. You can’t throw games in professional sports. The team on the ice is going to be outclassed most of the time, given the way the roster was gutted, and we can all root for losses. Expecting professionals to go out there and throw in the towel isn’t something that should be on our radar.
2. I’m all for watching the kids get a shot and it’s just wonderful not to have to yell at the tiny little Nick Holden on my screen anymore. The question that I have though, is how many of these young defenders are really part of the next winning team? Brady Skjei, sure. If Tony DeAngelo sorts of some of his decision making and defensive responsibilities, he certainly has the skill. Worst case scenario, he could be a passable third pair guy who gets a ton of PP minutes. Neal Pionk, John Gilmour, Rob O’Gara; I can’t help but feel like they are place holders for the real talent to come. Not going anywhere specific with this, but I guess I don’t think we are watching the future with most of these guys.
3. For the most part, I agree with the decision to keep the coaching staff in tact as we limp toward the finish line. AV’s dogmatic adherence to a one-dimensional, broken system should help keep the losses piling up in the race for the lottery, plus there really isn’t much coaching talent available this time of year. It’s honestly not that big a deal since the Rangers tippy top prospects aren’t playing for the big team at the moment. The problem is that the farther out from the sell-off we get, I keep getting this nagging feeling that AV will stick around. I’d still handicap it at about 90/10 that he goes before the Draft, but that 10% chance is not going to be fun until the organization pulls the trigger.
4. Along those same lines, the reality is the Rangers, as currently constructed, are very likely to get steamrolled by teams like Tampa. They just do not stack up, talent-wise. However, you can work the system around the new roster construction to limit the damage and make the team more difficult to play against. You can use an adaptive style to actively stymy the others team’s offensive strategy. I would never advocate for the trap, but I think for the sake of morale and general professional pride, I would like to see some adaptation from the organization to try to make the on-ice performance something other than an abject embarrassment.
5. The Rangers have four arb-eligible RFA forwards for next year: Vlad Namestnikov, Kevin Hayes, Ryan Spooner and Jimmy Vesey. The first three can play center, and Vesey is a wing only. It seems that the general consensus with the up-and-coming center depth is that Namestnikov would move to wing if he is retained. Now, you have several players that fit a fairly similar profile and it makes no sense to give significant raises to all of them, when none are going to be game changers going forward. Of this group, it needs to be Vesey that moves at the Draft (or before). I’m not opposed to moving more than one of this group, but if one of the others are sacrificed for Vesey, I will riot. His name value is still significantly higher than his on-ice production, which is all around, pretty bad.
6. The Rangers now own the eighth worst record in the NHL. They are 13 points ahead of Arizona for the league’s worst record with 14 games to go. They obviously aren’t going to get to the top spot, but they could certainly move down into the top five if they keep this up. I’m a big conspiracy theorist when it comes to the Draft Lottery. The league controls a process where generational talent is assigned to a franchise. The NHL needs its important franchises to have marketable players and they need those teams to get back into contention quickly.
There are two kinds of first overall picks: top-end talent and generational talent. When you look at where the latter have fallen in the Draft Lottery, it’s pretty telling. The Edmonton Oilers had one of the greatest dynasties in pro-sports history and had had a period of significantly poor performance. They squandered three consecutive first overall picks and were rewarded with Connor McDavid. The Maple Leafs are one of the most storied franchises in the game and were given Auston Matthews. Colorado had a great run in the 90’s and became terrible, boom, Nathan MacKinnon. My point is the NHL cares where these players go. The Senators, Sabres, Canucks and Coyotes are where stars go to languish in obscurity.
Rasmus Dahlin is a generational talent. I’m not going as far as saying the Rangers are likely to win the lottery, but I think Montreal, Detroit and New York are more likely landing spots than those teams.
7. I just wanted to say one thing about the fourth goal last night. We all know Hank is not good at playing the puck. However, when he had faced 30 shots up to that point and the defense showing no ability to transition out of the defensive zone, he tried to do too much. I’m sure he was frustrated and felt the need to disrupt the offensive flow and he got burned. The position that “Hank should never leave his net because he sucks at playing the puck” is just not realistic. Goalies providing basic puck-handling functions is an absolute necessity in the NHL. It keeps defenders from taking blind-side hits and full stride collisions behind the net. If we think the Rangers get pinned in their zone now, just wait and try to have a goalie stuck in the blue paint and watch what happens.
It is going to be a bumpy ride from here to the end, but the offseason promises to be much more interesting. The organizational strategy at the draft and decisions about the coaching staff and free agency will be anything but boring. Try to stay sane out there everyone, and remember, embrace the tank.