Three Playoff Lessons for the Rebuilding Rangers

It’s a little bit dull around Rangerstown these days, given that our beloved Blueshirts did not make the playoffs. I’ve mentioned this on twitter a couple times, but in case that’s not your communicative medium of choice, it’s a kind of an empty feeling walking around midtown Manhattan, and Penn Station especially, without the buzz of the postseason in the air. I almost miss that dumb double-decker bus that does a loop of the lower 30s with all of the gaudy Rangers decorations and shouting Rangers fans on top of it (almost, but not actually).

Still, life, and the playoffs go on, and if you’ve been watching and taking notes (I haven’t actually been taking notes) then you may have made a few observations about what it takes to be successful in today’s NHL past the month of March. Or at least I have, so here’s a few thoughts. Feel free to share yours in the comments as well, because it’s always fun to take postseason hockey.

  1. You need speed, and not just fast skaters. One of the things that sticks out about a team like Winnipeg is that they make unbelievably quick passes. They know where they want the puck to go almost instantaneously as it hits their stick, with the next move in each player’s mind. It’s good communication, and it’s good coaching, to have every player in sync with each other and a solid game plan mapped out. Creativity is key here too, with the Jets willing to make risky passes in exchange for high quality scoring chances. It doesn’t hurt that they are also one of the youngest teams in the NHL as well, with the accompanying skating speed that comes with it, but the thing that sticks out to me the most is the quickness of mind that they have. Of course, each of the other three teams that are left also seem to have this crispness to their respective games, but Winnipeg is the one that sticks out to me the most (they’re my current favorite of the Conference Finals teams).
  2. Intensity is key. This is where a good coach and culture come in, much as I decry intangibles (not really, but you might have that perception of me – I just think that they take a subordinate position to skill, but they’re still important). The Vegas Golden Knights for example don’t really have any absolute superstars in terms of skillset, despite their high levels of production from guys like Jonathan Marchessault or William Karlsson. What they have instead is top to bottom intensity; they work hard on and off the puck, and whether you want to call it heart or grit or whatever it shows. A good coach imbues each player with this, and a strong locker room connection puts each player on the same page, so that each guy on the ice and on the bench knows that they need to battle for every puck and never waste an opportunity to make a play. Now, it can be argued that the Rangers weren’t necessarily lacking in this during this past season, just that they weren’t very good skill-wise, but I think the two do go hand in hand. You need a lot of both to make it in the postseason, because teams that come out flat even for a second wind up paying a dire price, and if you’re not quite there for a whole game forget about it (see, Tampa Bay vs. Washington in Game 1). I’m not saying that the Rangers should waste assets and trade up for Brady Tkachuk, but I am saying that the next coach needs to make it clear that work ethic is paramount, and Jeff Gorton needs to be especially attentive in keeping the roster chock-full of guys who have the right mindset.
  3. You need goals to win games, and lots of them. This is kind of a no-brainer, but it’s worth repeating. I’m not of the opinion, contrary to some twitter thought leaders, that you can’t build a team around a 50-point guy like Lias Andersson, but I will concede that scoring needs to come from somewhere. The 2014 Rangers that almost made it all the way didn’t have any 80-point guys on the roster, but they were scoring by committee. It certainly helps when you have Alex Ovechkin or Patrik Laine, but one way or another your going to need a high level of scoring to make it far. The Rangers notably didn’t have anyone on the team finish the season at the same level of production we’re used to seeing, and that’s, well, bad. Once again, you need goals to win games – the team that scores more wins, period. Whether this comes from high xG or an unusually elevated shooting percentage doesn’t really matter in the playoffs, because if you get it done you get it done. Be it one special player leading the way or the whole team chipping in, you’re not going to make it in the playoffs these days if you can’t get a goal when you need one, and to be quite honest you always need one. Jeff Gorton certainly has his work cut out for him on this front, because if you’re like Winnipeg you really need to hit it out of the park with all of your draft picks to get guys who can score up and down the roster (or if you’re like Washington you need to draft the best goal scorer of the last 30 years, and a solid setup man to boot).

So there you have it, three obvious observations about how to be successful in the modern NHL. While they all sound like no-brainers, I’ll say this: none of the teams that are left play “heavy hockey”, they don’t agitate so much as they play “the right way”, and they have complete rosters that they can depend on night in and night out (unlike say, the Devils, who needed Taylor Hall to carry them to where they ended up and then found themselves faltering when no one else could score).

If you’ve got any other thoughts, disagreements, whatever feel free to leave them in comments, as I am genuinely curious to hear everyone’s thoughts on this years Rangersless playoff campaign. Happy Mothers’ Day too everyone, remember to thank your moms for everything they do, and if that’s not your thing (universal experiences are not quite always universal, and that’s OK) have an excellent Sunday.

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  • Pat

    This is one of the best posts in quite some time, and your right on the money.

    “While they all sound like no-brainers, I’ll say this: none of the teams that are left play “heavy hockey”, they don’t agitate so much as they play “the right way”, and they have complete rosters that they can depend on night in and night out”

    It doesn’t hurt that the Jets are a big team as well. Look at their line up:
    Buff 6-5 225lbs, Chiarot 6-3 220, Trouba 6-3 200, T Myers 6-8 230, Morrissey 6-0 195, Morrow 6-0 195, Wheeler 6-5 225, Scheifle 6-3 210, Lowery 6-5 210, Matthias 6-4 230, laine 6-5 206, Copp 6-1 206.

    This is no smurf team, all skilled, and can skate, while playing a team game, under a “real coach”. Paul Maurice knows how to make adjustments according to what’s happening during a game. This is the model I hope we as an organization follows, and that we get a coach who is flexible, teaches, and has no biases on his part. That sounds like a man who is 180 degrees from the old coach. I can’t wait to see what JG does this off season!!!!!!!

    For the record I want Tampa to win because we get their #1 next year, but my dark horse has been the Jets from the beginning, and wouldn’t be disappointed if they win because they are the exact team I want the Rangers to look like some day!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Nailed it, Like George Young said, and I paraphrase “A good big guy is always better than a good regular sized guy.”

    • That’s the one of many things in Pat’s post that stuck out Walt. The Jets are a big heavy team that has speed and skill. They’re given a game plan that fits the players. The Caps have gotten this far now because there’s a better balance of skill throughout the line up. Big, tough, fast skilled players with edge. Groton seems to have traded for such young players and the picks will bring more. All I’ve read points to this being a very deep draft year. G must keep the picks all of them. The Rangers need as many young skilled talented players as they can find. Besides Ramus Dahlin there’s no other generational player. The next two just are NHL ready . Which doesn’t mean any of the rest (1st rounders) will not be better or more successful. Just may take longer to get there. One cup in 75 plus years years I can wait a few more. Please NO Taveras ok we been down that road 2 many times. Toughness is in the head as it is in the heart. This team needs more players with both along with speed and skill.

    • We were tough once, tough to play against. Again, say what you will about Torts but he demanded the TEAM play with some bite — and that didn’t mean having a whole team over 6′ — not that size doesn’t help, it just can’t be the measuring stick by which you look for “heavy” players. It’s about strength, determination and sheer will — and that’s what I want, mental toughness and players who can play a heavy game.

      • Are you a Kreider fan? Torts hated him and I remember a undertone of him calling Kreids a lazy and soft plater who doesn’t get it. That’s the kind of tone he had about his prospect. See I’m kind of torn of never liking him but also knowing that he kept it real once in a while like about his views on certain player’s. Than I remembered how he thought that BB was a 3c during his tenure behind the bench. I also remembered how hypocritical he was like with Hags playing on the top line but not on the PP even though his theory on Hags was correct.

        I want Tippett, he’ll bring culture and the correct D to the team. If JG was savvy with his next coaching choice than he would wait for the Caps to lose so could interview Todd Reirden.

        • Tippett does coach a blue collar style of hockey and gets the most from his players. I am in the hire Tippett camp. Unless Sutter is available.

        • I am a Kreider fan. That said I expect more from him in every aspect of the game. Re: Torts, I was never enamored with his treatment of young players, but I did admire other aspects of his coaching style. He created a clear identity, he demanded that we were tough to play against and every team in the league knew they were in for a tough battle when they played us.

          Re” Tippett, I put his name out months ago. I think he did a great job with limited resources and a lot of young players. He’s structured and old school, yet at the same time he showed a lot of flexibility with what he had to work with.

    • Ahem, Coach Walt:
      That wicked talented freight train known as Byfuglien is closer to 265-275 than 225.

      I also mentioned the Jets, their depth to you and our small hardcore of armchair GMs and head-coaches months ago.

      But beyond the size, collective heft and uptempo heady play you and Pat alluded to is buy-in: Vegas’s group to Gallant, and moreso Winnipeg to Paul Maurice. Simply gettin’ at it. A discernible compete level. No one takes a shift off.

      Like you, I dearly hope JG summonses a similar personality–authentic, relatable, but with some Mike Sullivan-like bark–as the new bench boss.

      • Nick

        Good catch. In my haste I put Buff at 225, meant to say 265, but what’s 40lbs between friends?

        You right, you have to give credit where it’s due,these guys are like the Everready Bunny, they just keep going, and I love that in any team.

        Hope all is well with you big guy, haven’t seen you on the site in a while, stay healthy…………..

    • I agree with you Walt. I see Winnipeg as a team to emulate. There players are big, physical, good skaters and very skilled. Plus they have no problem mixing it up if necessary. The type of players you want on a hockey team.

    • I agree Walt,I would love the NYR to look like the Jets someday hopefully soon,but I would say all of the teams left are playing heavy hockey,its been a hard hitting playoffs so far.

    • Very true Walt. You need big guys but that can skate. The Rangers made it to the SCF because they had 4 lines that could skate. The Eastern Conference didn’t have a team as deep as that Ranger team. The Kings were big but could keep up with that NYR team. It’s hard enough to find 18 guys that can skate well. Finding 220 pounders that can skate is even more difficult. Cheers to Winnipeg for the team they’ve built. The Jets vs either EC team is going to be a great series. Makes the cap jump a bit from its stagnant state of last few years.

      • Lace

        “This is no smurf team, all skilled, and can skate, while playing a team game, under a “real coach”.

        This is what I said, of course they have to skate, and it seems that the kids coming out these days are all gifted skaters, especially the Swedes! Bottom line, go for skill, leaning on the side of bigger kids!!!!!!!!

    • Tampa does not play heavy hockey but then again, what do you expect from a team woe’s 25% of the team are ex NY Rangers.( And that my friends coming from a long time Rangers fan. 50+ years.)

  • Biggest omission to this post…physicality…..every team in the Semis has it

    You won’t win with just speed and intensity…you need the triad to win

    You also need your role players….PK…PP and checking line….faceoff specialists

    And you don’t need elite goaltending though it helps, great goaltending is enough
    Holtby, Fleury, Hellebyuck and Vaselivsky are all great goalies and non elite

    • Is Tampa really that physical? They play with a lot of fight but I don’t think they play with the same type of physicality that say Washington or Winnipeg does … same for Vegas, a lot of fight, a lot of effort … but sheer physicality like you see from say Ovi or Tom Wilson? Not really.

      • Hey Tanto

        Vegas….Oh yeah…they are very physical too

        Lightning are the least yet they still are….even McD is being physical

        Vegas….Carrier, Reeves, Engelland just to name a few

      • Tampa with the exception of game 1 against the Caps has been very physical during these playoffs,they are not as big overall as the other teams left in the playoffs,but they hit everything that moves.
        They outhit the Bruins in that series beating them at their own game.

    • Special teams should be set for years to come, this was why Brassard and Stepan could both get the boot in back to back offseasons. People have to stop sleeping on the ability of Zib and Hayes. We already know what they bring and could probably get alot better if the quality around them goes up along with consistent minutes. Right now the special teams have been ranked better in back to back seasons compared to when we had Cally, Stepan, Brassard, Dubi, Boyle, Hags, Richie and Artie. Those were alot of names that never had the PP and PK ranked inside the top 10 for majority of the seasons.

      On the PK with Hayes seeing the most minutes means that this team can always have that ability to score while shorthanded. Zib would easily lead the second wave in that situation. It could allow a message that needs to get delt with in the regular season if need be or a all out attack to score one in the dying seconds of a period during a playoff game like last night with what Reaves did to LV.

      PP with Zib scoring should never be a issue and now with Kovy should put them over the top with skills. Hayes taking the second unit under his wing with Chytil will make for the best PP2 in the entire league.

      Those stuff shouldn’t ever be a problem and the faceoff specialist isn’t much of a big deal imo. Who knows how good those center’s could be? Hayes is already the best 2 way center and has improved before the new faceoff rule and after by basically finishing with 51%. Zib might be a little better and that’s not saying that the neither of them could get even better in the circle. I’m telling you don’t sleep on those two, they cover alot of what you’re questioning. If Chytil and Andersson are the 3c and 4c than Zib and Hayes could still take the role of matching up against the best in the DZ if need be.

  • Amen to that Jerry!!! Laine looks like one of the Gargantuas— the brown one — in that old movie from 1966 War of the Gargantuas. He really needs to shape that thing up or something…. Great comment!!

  • Drafting.
    Signing free agents.

    Doesn’t matter how you build your team, you need to do 2 things:

    1) Identify talent and how that talent will translate to playing in the NHL.
    2) Manage the cap in an efficient way.

    The fact is the Rangers will never be in a position to be at the top of the draft for any number of years. They drafted #4 in 1999, with that disaster pick of Brendl.
    So the chances of getting “franchise players” via the draft are much slimmer. Is it possible to get elite talent after the top 5 picks? Of course, but the Rangers have to make a commitment to grabbing top end talent regardless of position or need.

    It’s tough to win when you’re giving out bad contracts to Girardi, Staal, and maybe now Smith and not giving contracts to guys like Stralman, which was the beginning of the end with this group.

    Did the Rangers even err in selecting Andersson over Middlestat or Tippet last year at #7? Only time will tell. If Andersson is on the 3rd or 4th line and the other 2 guys are succeeding in the top 6 then the Rangers blew it once again, and I like Andersson, but results matter.

    This whole “re-tooling” is hinged on guys like Lindgren, Hajek, Howden, and Ryko, guys that were acquired to play here at some point. If they’re busts or marginal players then the whole trade deadline was for nothing.

    I’m very positive that the Rangers did the right thing but we have to see how it plays out to see if they did indeed identify the right talent to move forward.

    Other than Vegas, which is the exception, the 3 remaining playoff teams have top 3 draft picks that are franchise players in their current line ups. The Rangers will never have that chance. I think the last time the Rangers picked in the top 3 was in the 1960s. So they have to smart, making every move that will make their club better to build a good team from top to bottom.

    • Back when there was 6 teams, I believe we drafted Brad Park. LOL!!!!!!!

      You right about drafting the right players, and the need to develop them. Just a quick thought, could it be that the organization never took the draft seriously in the past, but now have to because we are in a cap era? I suspect that is the case!!!!!

      • Walt, I think it was a simple fact of they tried to be too cute with the picks instead of “keep it simple, stupid.”

  • Yep, good article but one but….. Jets got this season and PO hell of the goal-tending, Not Laine, Not Wheeler, Not Scheifele killed Nashville but Hellebuyck

  • Proposal: Much like we agreed to let go the McIlrath issue (and I was a fan), can we possibly agree to let up on the “anyone that remotely values physical play must be a Neanderthal” theme? Among today’s posts, which were great on the whole, there are still those that cannot get themselves to acknowledge that physical play, IN ITS PLACE, is a component of a well rounded successful team. Instead, it has been called “heavy” as if that is a more polite, acceptable way of admitting to something lowbrow. Cmon now folks! A winning team has a bit of all aspects, generally some in greater or lesser measure depending upon the team, and once and a while a team is mostly one dimensional in the odd year or two. The Rangers have been soft post Torts, no pressure on opposing defenses, no crease clearing, no punishment with taking liberties with teammates, resulting in injuries (See: Vesey, J., Staal, M., Lundqvist, H.).

  • …and, if I may add, don’t read me solely the physical measurements of the NYR roster. Size alone won’t do it if it is not used to its advantage. Physicality is a mix of intensity and size and willingness to sacrifice one’s body as well as daring the other team to do the same in order to prevent you from enforcing your will.

  • Playoff Lessons? You need elite talents to win in the playoffs, that’s it. It doesn’t matter from the draft or free agency, the Rangers aren’t going to win without elite talents.

  • The Rangers haven’t had superb draft records for the past 5 years, avg at best. So for the Rangers to improve themselves quickly, the best way to do it is to trade up in the draft and get one or two of those ‘can’t miss’ elite talents and sign JT from free agency.

  • It’s a collaborative effort to regain strength in an efficient but gallant way. They need to compile a roster of players who know, but can be taught. A happy balance between golden grit and dubious intensity can bring a team from mediocre to stellar. We’ll have to see where the boys draft out.

  • we definitely got to get a sniper and grit in here something we have been lacking….I know this guy is considered a problem child but evander Kane is a tough ,hard nosed goal scorer…and only 26 ..maybe a guy we should consider..

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