Well, the off-season is officially upon us. For the first time in years, we can watch playoff hockey stress free. Kinda stinks. There has been quite a bit of noise so far in Rangerland, between coaching rumors, exit interviews and an uncharacteristically vocal James Dolan. As you can imagine, I have some thoughts…
1. First, I want to talk out the coaching rumors. Dolan has seemingly cast a wide net of potential candidates, ranging from NCAA to NHL experience. He has indicated they are keeping an open mind with regard to experience, prioritizing a certain skill set over a set resume. This is a good thing. If there is a clear direction within the organization about what type of mindset they are looking for behind the bench, the more likely they actually get it as they move through the interview process. I know I felt a little baited and switched with AV. I understand the hire based on where the team was at the time, but he was advertised as progressive coach who was going to use data to try and gain a competitive edge. We all now know he turned out to be just another hockey man. Hopefully, with a clear mandate, we actually get what the team is telling us they want.
2. As far as evaluating or handicapping individual candidates; it’s a crapshoot. Assuming they go with a guy who has less than NHL head coaching experience, we cannot possibly know how he would approach an NHL job. The Show is a very different animal than the NCAA, and even the AHL. The difference in available information and resources is massive, and also the stature of your bosses telling you how and when to use it. All we can look for is a basic philosophy in the announcement from the organization and read between the lines (to the extent possible in hockey) when the newly hired coach talks about his philosophy. The problem is that philosophy can and will change as he spends time around the team and begins to evaluate the talent at hand.
3. Just put us all out of our misery and fire Lindy Ruff already. Because if he remains on the staff with the new coach, so help me. What is the point of bringing in a new voice if you are going to leave an old caretaker of the outdated message behind to muck things up?
4. You can tell from some of the exit interviews, especially guys who left at the deadline, that there was some serious problems with the coach/player dynamic at the end of AV’s tenure. I think his colossal arrogance at his final press conference was a testament to that. However, listening to guys like Chris Kreider and even more so, JT Miller informs a lot. I know that there is this “code” of respect and all that, that you don’t be disrespectful about teammates and coaches (read: don’t show any personality), but you could tell Miller was frustrated. The bottom line for him, he basically had a middle manager whose shortsightedness jeopardized Miller’s career development in a meaningful way. I’d be pissed on the way out the door, too.
5. I keep going back and forth on my feelings of a classic New York-style reload. I could certainly see the organization go hard after John Tavares and grab a few pricy wingers and BOOM, back in contention. I guess it depends on how the Draft goes. The undeniable truth is that the Rangers need to acquire elite talent. This comes at a cost; whether it’s money, prospects, time needed to put the pieces in place, there is no free lunch. If they are unable to acquire that elite talent through the Draft or trades, can we really blame them for looking to free agency?
6. That said, I’d be pretty confident in a re-vamped forward group, especially in a more possession-based system. The defense would still be pretty suspect. Absent winning the lottery and drafting Rasmus Dahlin, you would have Brady Skjei as your number one defenseman. Skjei, Shattenkirk, Pionk, DeAngelo, Gilmour, Staal and Smith is not the defensive corps of a contending team. I’m sure these guys would have better results in a system they could, you know, understand, but I would hope the front office wouldn’t break the bank on forward and fail to address this train wreck of a blue line (again).
7. At what point has the MSM lost their minds about this team to the point that Larry Brooks is now the thinking fan’s voice of reason? I mean, AV must have been some kind of sorcerer the way these guys willingly engaged in humiliating levels of mental gymnastics to rationalize his decisions and continued presence. His faults were apparent, his hubris did him no favors in the face of poor results. Maybe it was coming out alive in his (incredibly entertaining) feud with Torts that made him more objective, but quite frankly, the rest of the beat should be embarrassed.
8. Interesting tidbit on the front office telling Hank they would find a good spot for him if he didn’t want to see out a rebuild. First, it was a classy move by the organization to try to do right by one of its all-time greats. Second, Hank’s decision to decline shows the type of loyalty to the team and the city that the WFAN mouth breathers always claim they expect their athletes to have. Of course there are those out there seething that he should have taken the out and ridden the organization of his contract and the team’s desire to get him a Cup.
So, let’s talk this out. Let’s say he agrees to go, Ray Bourque-style. Off to greener pastures to allow the Rangers to be free of the shackles of his cap hit and unencumbered to re-build the “right way”. What does that look like? Ok, we can start with a mediocre FA signing as either a platoon partner for Georgiev, who has looked good, but played a grand total of ten NHL games. Not only does this FA class lack anything resembling a starting goalie at this point, you couldn’t even go down that road anyway, since you don’t want to block Igor Shestyorkin. So, who? Carter Hutton? Jaro Halak? Michael Hutchinson? Jonathan Bernier? Not exactly an inspring list of names.
Sure, if you are in the full-tank mode looking for several years of futility to go the Penguins/Blackhawks route, this might look attractive. For me, I think what is currently in place is a really nice succession plan. Georgiev or some FA backup supports Hank this coming year, while he still clearly has something left in the tank. The following year, Shestyorkin comes over and gets an apprenticeship with the league’s best goalie coach and a first ballot Hall of Famer before taking the lion’s share of the work in Hank’s final contract year. Nice soft landing for a kid who will need to adjust to the North American game and a new culture, organization, teammates, etc.
9. Now, the quality of individual playoff games has not been at all bad this season, but can we at least get a competitive series or two? It has become a time-honored ritual for me to intend to watch west coast games and end up passing out in the second period. Now? Two sweeps and I’m watching soccer when the lights go out.
Alright, gang. That’s it for me. I hope you are all enjoying the playoffs so far and it would be just super if the Bruins, Devils and Penguins (I’m assuming the Flyers are already DOA) could all lose sometime soon. That’d be great. Enjoy your weekend, everyone!"First thoughts of the off-season",