Scattered Friday Thoughts

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

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.

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  • you thought you would be watching a good game it turned out real bad as Tampa is showing why they could contend for the cup hopefully tomorrow’s rangers vs panthers game will be watchable

  • As always, great post. As a long time AV defender, I don’t think there is any chance he returns. He had a good run. Close no cigar. If he isn’t out the door very soon after the end of the season it would be hockey malpractice of the first order on the part of management. If now is not the time, I don’t know when is!

    He was never as bad as his detractors claim. That said, it is fair to admit that he may not be as good as I once thought he was. He’ll get another chance soon and we’ll see how that goes.

    On another note, while I am admitting things, has anyone noticed that Yandle really found his game the last couple months as a Panther? I didn’t know he had it in him. Now, I know some of you will say that AV ruined him…well, if that is true, he stayed ruined for a long time. But he is playing really well now.

    • I agree about AV. There are two reasons to fire a coach. One is to get a better one and the other is PR. I think keeping AV would be a PR disaster and seems foolish when you are urging patience. Sure, if I am dead certain that I can build a team that will win the Cup in 2020 with AV at the helm, I keep him, but JG surely knows you can’t count on that.

    • Just out of curiosity.

      Most on this blog, including myself, are in favor of AV getting the boot (I’m aware that this is an understatement). Does anyone know what the feeling is amongs average game attenders.

      Similarly, what does the media outside of NYC think? When I see nationally broadcast games, the announcers praise AV as one of the best coaches of the last decade? Are they watching same games as us? Or are they not watching at all and are going by his past? Kind of like ESPN article last year who criticized Rangers as being one of the oldest teams in the NHL, full of over the hill, expensive free agents. At that time there were, I think, 3 players over 30. And the free agents were Grabner and Vessy.

  • Interesting thoughts, Justin. A few comments on them.

    1. We underestimate the importance of a winning mentality. I can’t help but think that many of the Edmonton struggles in the last decade are related to the idea that the players just don’t believe they can win. All the talent never seemed to matter. Even after one good year, this year has the here we go again feel to it. Guys like DeAngelo, Gilmour, Pionk are already building a career of losing, both in the NHL and AHL – albeit short so far. I think losing to get a better draft choice comes with a high price.

    2. I agree that the defensemen are mostly place holders, but I don’t necessarily agree with how you sort them out. One quick caveat, assessing trajectory is tough and we may be very surprised in the end. For now though, I rate Pionk first as he is clearly the defenseman most trusted by AV. [Note: I have never been a Pionk fan.] I regard Skjei second but have been very disappointed with his development to date. He’ll never be a first pair guy IMO and I would not rule out trading him. Both Gilmour and DeAngelo have skills and weaknesses. At the moment, my feeling is that Gilmour is the better skater and is making much more progress, so seems more promising (though in keeping with the spirit of your comments, it is likely that one or both won’t end up particularly well regarded).

    5. Maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t think any one is going to be sacrificed for Vesey. Vesey has 19 points in 65 games and is -20. Why exactly is he going to get a raise? And whether or not you squander $1.2M on Vesey is not going to affect whether or not you can keep those other three guys – or have to sacrifice one of them. I’m not a Vesey fan, but I don’t think how you treat him is cap-relevant.

    7. The Rangers made numerous miscues last night – and in so many games. Every single miscue has an explanation. Almost every mistake can be defended on some level. But if we choose to voice that defense for precisely one player, ESPECIALLY if that player is the best player, we have a double standard which is a cancer on the team.

    • Agreed Ray, Vesey is a non-factor in terms of salary cap. If the Rangers can get a decent 2nd rounder for him I could see him being moved, otherwise one could just keep him as a bottom 6. At least he plays with some emotion and isn’t a big old softie.

    • Last season I use to say this alot that Vesey touching Hayes sophomore slump numbers would be a gift even as a sheltered player. It was the only reasonable career high that I could see coming from him. I thought he was going to be our Pascal Dupuis when he first arrived here. He’s bigger and I assumed that he could have played like him but even that was a mega fail as a expectation for him to grow into.

      Vesey failing to secure a top 9 role/PP role were epic fails in his game to get paid and make his mark. AV gave him major PP time by trying to squeeze him on the top one at times and he only has 12 goals to show for it. Spooner is a better bottom 6 winger/PP specialist, Hayes proved he’s superior than him after 1 season of playing shutdown role and could be viwed as a specialist on special teams for most around the league starting with the NYR. Namestnikov is another better player than he is. Bottom 6 names like Fast or Antoine Roussel can put up 25-30 points with 1 or 2 less goals. It’s going to take a coach and club to really love him in order for him to walk away with a half semi decent contact extension.

  • I wouldn’t worry about Vesey staying over anyone on this team or taking money away from a UFA. Hayes at this point is just taking the money away from his best bud due to how much better he will get payed than the other 3 and we all know Vesey is at the bottom of that ladder. Namestnikov might have a decent point total this year to finally show he can put up respectable numbers but we know KH can put that up as a 3c with no PP time and instead as a leagues top shorthanded producer. Spooner is just showing the club that there’s better quality complementary names out there to lock up as a PP type of player. It’s still all hype with this dude, we act like he play’s a chippy style of ever since him not being a 20 goal scorer fell apart about 5 months ago.

    • I believe whatshisNamekov numbers will faulter now that he isn’t playing with Stamkos. Hopefully Gorton will be mindful of that when it comes time to give the Ruskie pivot a new deal.

      • 100 % agree Bloomer……his numbers were inflated because he plays with Stamkos, kucherov, johnson…etc and played PP minutes…..which both miller and vesey were limited in pp time……
        Vesey is 6-3 200 and likely to gain another 10-15 pounds……so I can see the rangers getting rid of him and replacing him with someone of Desharnais size………..
        BUT if they [lunatic AV] kept him and put him with a decent center and stop jerking him around on different lines he WILL develop into a 20 + goal scorer…….

  • agree with most of what you said. I have to wonder this about Hank though. I know he wants to stay and i don’t believe you get value by trading him. Nor am I advocating trading him. But his career stats are going to be trending lower with this team in a rebuild. I’m being kind, but 2 more years of this and his career numbers will suffer some damage. Does that push him to ask for a trade? Don’t know the answer to that, but if he’s not going to win here is he ok hurting his stats in the long run.

    Also totally agree with you on Vesey. I would definitely move him first of the RFA’s. Spooner is making a strong case to keep him around.

  • The problem with losing is that it soon becomes the norm. During the tank, players develop bad habits that will be difficult to correct when the new coach is brought in. I agree that most of the Rangers blueliners are placeholders. So much for the theory that if the Rangers just get rid of Girardi all their problems would just go away.

      • We have reach consensus Tanto. Av has been exposed. The other NHL coaches have caught on to his dog and pony show.

      • Tanto

        You mean the three defense coaches, and the results being the same? People got pissed off at me for pointing it out, now we have a consensus, the guy can’t come up with anything out of the box, he’s a stiff. Why is he still here, others are right don’t let the kids develop bad habits. Hell, put Druery behind the bench for the last month, it can’t be any worse………..

  • Keeping Spooner, Vlad, Hayes and Vesey is entirely possible. Vesey is already a winger so put hm on the 3rd line with Hayes. Spooner can be on hayes’ other wing. Vlad can be the 2nd line center. Chytl can be used on his wing. Andersson can be the 4th line center. In my scenario everyone has a spot on the team.

  • Is it just me or is anyone else tired of Zucc’s blind and forced passes to no one. Shoot the f’ing puck, Barry

    • That’s always been one of my complaints about Zucc (and many others). They always try to force passes instead of shooting.

  • I just pray we get that one guy in the draft. who becomes the new face of this team. a scorer yes, but most importantly a leader.

      • We think alike on this one. I’m a big supporter and think the kid will prove out the worth of the Stepan trade (and you could label me a big Stepan supporter) all by himself. I mean he threw a silver medal into the crowd, got a ton of flak for it and remains for the most part unapologetic about his actions.

        • Tanto

          That’s why I love this kid, won’t settle for second best. Leaders like that are what you want in your lineup for sure!!!!!!!!!!

  • Agree on the young defense men. They all have some skill but none of them really stands out as a potential keeper – yet. The Rangers have been bleeding shots just as badly (or worse) than they were before the fire sale. And no, its not all AV’s or Ruff’s or the system’s fault (some of it is). The fact is that those guys are either 1) not really that good 2) still adjusting to the NHL or 3) some combination of 1 and 2. D’Angelo skates well, passes well and can handle the puck but he makes atrocious reads when “defending” and has been on for many goals without generating enough offensive output to make up for it. I actually think Gilmour is a better prospect but still a 2nd or 3rd pair guy at best. Pionk makes some heady plays but I don’t really see top-end skill there. Skjei is having a rough sophomore season and only time will tell if he can step up to the top pair role that would seem to fall to him (pending trades, draft, etc) by default. O’Gara? Pure AHL roster filler and emergency call up.

    Vesey? Yeah, time to move on from him.

    I think the organization will decide to move on from AV after the season. I don’t think he’s nearly as bad as he’s made out to be in this and other Ranger blogs but he clearly has his faults and limitations and is probably not the best guy to manage a rebuilding process.

    I don’t buy into the angle that the NHL actively intervenes in the draft lottery process to ensure that certain players go to favored organizations (although it would be entirely within character). I’m going to have to see hard evidence to that effect before I buy in.

    • This is not the defense you’ll see next year, this is a bunch of kids that are being evaluated to see just where they stand within the organization. Some will be moved, others may be in the A next season, and yes they aren’t skilled enough to play for us on a regular basis.

      Yet AV has done NOTHING to make the transition easier for them, and the main issue with me is they have to be taught, so why not change the defensive system to make it easier for the new kids to perform better? Another example of putting a square peg into a round hole………….

      • Agree 100%, Walt—the true proof of Vigneault’s stubbornness and inability to think outside of his own comfort zone has been on display since the selloff. If a vet like Marty St Louis had trouble adjusting to Vigneault’s system, how is cramming this complicated style of play down the throats of young players helping the franchise evaluate these players in the last games of this season?

  • I have been saying….DEPTH and we are certainly heading in the right direction if we don’t do stupid mistakes and trades

    What the Rangers will be experiencing is the growing pains and that comes with the territory and is measurable in either direction but I think we have good teachers in the organization.

    I am looking forward to watching the kids grow

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