Perceptions Do Matter

Look, a lot of internet ink has been spilled in the last 24-48 hours as to how bad the New York Rangers are. The better Rob hit it pretty square on the head on Monday regarding the Rangers signal (rebuilding) and then subsequent actions (let’s waste roster space). I’m not here to say anything radically new, but just provide another thought process to consider, especially while we all watch this franchise try to transform itself back into something it was so close to only about five years ago.

The reason I post the above is not to go on a long rant about how shots mean everything (they don’t, of course), but just to give perspective. Anyone else remember the late 90’s and early 2000’s? Six straight mediocre years from 1998 to 2004 finishing fourth in the Atlantic; stuck in the middle due to NYR having the financial ability to purchase free agents, but not actually getting top-end or proper depth talent (or a long-term plan for goaltending) to create a complete NHL hockey team. Shots per game has gone up by four for each team every night, sure, but this year is some of the worst team defensive efforts NYR has seen in twenty years. The only saving grace was that the Rangers managed to hit on some of their mid-round picks during the latter end of those years, and they stumbled upon Lundqvist in 2000.

There has been and will be plenty of analysis as to why they’re so bad, but honestly, I blame no one for not getting riled up on a daily basis after fifteen years of moderate success, with three or four of those years being legitimate Stanley Cup Contenders. That being said, I tweeted this out midway through the Coyotes game:

While the trades and moves are coming, and dear lord please bring them soon, the fact of the matter is the Rangers didn’t hire Quinn just to fire him anytime soon (Ruff can be the fall man though!). Therefore, Quinn’s lineup decisions, in-game deployment, and overall management (and eventual feedback to the Front Office) have weight. This is where the perceptions matter, because as a result of choosing to do certain things that he must somewhat be aligned with the Front Office on, contracts may be handed out that could very likely hamper the Rangers from becoming a decent team in two to three years’ time.

Instead of focusing all on the bad of late, I decided to look at two interesting streaks that occurred in the first half of the season. The streaks were (figures via Corsica):

Despite the decent gap in expected goals and corsi (which is rarely sustainable long term), this was some of the most quality and consistent hockey the Rangers played in the first half of the season. While some players were just flat out playing better, there is also the chance of some different systems instructions going on. At the same time, the following lineup changes happened:

  • Adam McQuaid went down with an injury, replaced by Tony DeAngelo.
  • Fredrik Claesson and Kevin Shattenirk reunited after Claesson’s return, and progressively saw more TOI, going from 3rd pair TOI to 2nd in the middle of the streak, followed by 3 games with the most 5v5 shared TOI until Game 23. At Game 23, they were demoted back to 3rd line TOI.
    • Staal and Pionk returned to top-pair 5v5 TOI for Game 23.
  • Mats Zuccarello and Pavel Buchnevich were out with injury (Zucarello seeing top six minutes, Buchnevich seeing middle six).
  • Finally, Brady Skjei was scratched for Games 20 and 21.

Many of these changes have been moves that NYR fans have been calling for. This list includes Staal & Pionk seeing less TOI, Claesson and Shattenkirk seeing more, and DeAngelo getting a legitimate shot (McQuaid’s presence on the team in general, non-withstanding). Skjei has been better of late, and Zuccarello is clearly slowing down and may be on his way out, given recent public comments.

So while the two streaks don’t gleam some sort of magic formula for perfect hockey, it does indicate that the losing doesn’t have to be complete blowouts where the Rangers get caved in. If changes are coming to the defense, which Quinn hinted at on Monday, let’s hope they align with the above.

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  • I think that the decision needs to be “who can help us win today vs. who needs further development to help more next year”.This may be a difficult decision for a coach, as they really look to win every game. To me, the obvious choices to make are to sit McQuaid in favor of Tony D and that Claesson and Shatty need to be together.

    On the offensive side, the options are fewer. Cleary with Hayes out of the lineup, we are a less formidable opponent. If Chytil is really a top 6 forward, then he does need to center the 2nd line. Howden should continue to center the 3rd and Boo the 4th. I would sit Zuuc and put Vesey on the 2nd line . Howden needs a little jump in his line so maybe let Namesnekov and Strome flank him. Possibly bring up the best young forward from Hartford and add them to the 4th line.

    I also think, while the 1st line should lead in TOI, the rest of the lines need equal time to really judge compentency. We are not going to out-talent anyone, but we could out-effort them.

    Georgiev needs to do well against LV so he starts again against the Isles.

    • Good points on the offense Creature. I didn’t touch on it much because to me it’s less clear as to what to do than the Defense. I agree with most of your ideas outside of Strome – he hasn’t been good and even though he is 25 he is essentially the Forward version of Adam McQuaid (aka: why is he even here?).

      The coaches should be trying any and all combinations to find things that may work in the future, which you can pitch as “trying to win.” Trotting out the same stuff that is getting caved in seems bananas to me.

      • I agree Rob. My worry is that there is no one in Hartford any better than Strome. That is not to say we should go down and get a kid and give him 4 games, but I just do not see anyone lighting the lamp often enough.

      • You can’t compare McQuaid and Strome because the situations act defense and forward are completely different. Arguably the Rangers have eight second and third pair defensemen. They are weak because of the absence of a first pair, but one can argument that everyone deserves to play and so playing McQuaid is blocking someone else. On the other hand, the forward corps is a true wasteland, lacking both a first line and depth. We’ve seen there is no help in Hartford, no real reason not to use the 13 forwards they have now. And are we concerned that Strome is blocking McLeod?

        • We have how many 2nd pair defenceman? I’ll give Shatty that respect due to his God given talents and how he’s made a living after all these years. Nobody is a legit top 4 on other than him and Pionk. Skjei would look amazing if he was a top 3/4. The management and fan base will soon pick up on it. Skjei best attribute is in the OZ and that’s nothing to write home about. I rather settle for someone like Brendan Dillion quality of play in the DZ.

          I think a group of average to decent top 4 names could make up a good D core. LVGK are on par to that and watch how their D men skate the puck out and into the OZ. Watch how they defende, body positions etc.

  • In looking at your shot chart, it seems like John Tortorella knew what he was doing with the roster he had. He may have been the best coach this team has had in the past 15-20 years. Unfortunately, I believe his players grew tired of his act and we fans vilified him unnecessarily. IMO, he has toned that down and is a better coach for it today.

    • Torts’ tenure with the Rangers was far from perfect and he is a much better coach in terms of personnel management today than he was back then. He has even evolved his in game strategies and has done well in Columbus. But his Rangers teams played hard and well before he burned them out. I am happy for the crazy old buzzard and that he has improved as a coach. I enjoyed most of his time with the Rangers.

    • The problem with this analysis is that PDO is more important than shots when it comes to goal differential. AV used systems that counterattacked quickly and were very dangerous to play against. His teams were very good PDO teams, much better than the Torts teams were. Which is why they were more successful- until the wheels fell off.

      • Hank and Raanta had a lot to say about PDO under AV. AV knew what he had in goal. His team could afford to go the attack knowing the vulnerability of a counter-attack and what they had in Hank.

        Tortorella ‘s shot suppression system may have been slight overkill but it was working and he had Hank. The team was very hard working until his wheels fell off too.

      • Your NHL PDO leader so far is the Leafs, shots for the Sharks, shots against the Canes, differential the Lightning. The Lightning also currently have the best shot %, Islanders and Bruins the best save %. It is entirely possible that none of those teams wins the Cup, of course, even if those numbers hold all year. PDO is fun to look at for the hell of it when they put all the teams on a lucky/unlucky/fun/dull chart, but it really doesn’t mean a ton more or less than any other stats if/when taken as a one-off indicator. Just one shade in the palette. In fact, it basically is more than likely going to level out to 100 if you look at a long enough sample for a given franchise. To note, the AV Rangers were good for the 18th highest PDO the season they lost in the Finals; 99.8. Kings were at 100.1. Frankly, that still surprises me to this day. The narrative of those teams’ styles would have those numbers flipped and with a bigger gap between them.

        AV’s systems only fit a very certain type of roster. When he ceased to have that very certain type of roster any longer in his latter years in NY or VAN, be it due to players moving on/shipped out or natural decline or injuries or necessarily infusing young players he was not equipped to develop or shooting himself in the foot with deployment decisions, etc., his teams ceased to be successful. AV refused to adjust his systems to the strengths and weaknesses of the roster over time in both stops, and voila – dumpster fire. It’ll happen more than not in such scenarios if given long enough to come to fruition. Like Phil Jackson’s triangle in basketball, the system is dangerous as hell with the right pieces…but those are VERY particular pieces needed, and without them, it is rather trash.

        Torts was definitely a smarter coach than many fans gave him credit for, IMO. I had far less philosophical/logistical issues with his decisions on a regular basis than I did AV’s, personally. AV infuriated me by consistently going against the grain of logic, even when it had already failed him multiple times prior in the same exact scenario. Torts didn’t do that nearly as much IMO. I think AV was absolutely the right coach for the Rangers when he was hired, and Torts had well-worn his welcome out. What is the quote from Game of Thrones…”If you acquire a reputation as a mad dog, you will be treated as a mad dog. Taken out back and slaughtered for pig feed.” So, Torts unfortunately made his own bed, in that regard. He didn’t make nearly as many boneheaded decisions as AV did in my opinion, however.

        • Agreed, Torts usually played his best players. His lineup controversies were few compared to Vigneault and Quinn. Even when he sent Sean Avery to the minors, a skill player (NHL washout Erik Christensen) was Avery’s lineup replacement. Tough guys like Stu Bickel or Mike Rupp were given chances to play but had to maintain some level of ability to stay in the lineup.

        • There is a common misconception about PDO — at least what I think of as PDO, an amalgamation of the percentage of your shots that go in and the opposing shots that don’t. People think of it as luck, but it represents something real. What is true is that the numbers that are computed are based on small samples, which means that even 40 games into the season, this year’s statistics only correlate loosely with “true PDO”. It is tempting to throw up your hands and just use possession stats, which are way more accurate. But Dave complained over and over again about how poor AV’s teams were at possession as they continued to win. Too much to be luck. AV’s systems were inherently possession-weak, PDO-strong. And I suspect the same is true of guys like Girardi and Staal — but to figure this out, one must use years of data — OR, and this is the tough part for stats people to swallow, one must trust talent evaluators to figure out who has good PDO skills.

          There is a grim fact here. If I ask the question, “Is Neal Pionk a good PDO player?”, all of the statistics from his entire career won’t give us much of a clue. There just is insufficient data.

    • I am a big Torts fan from his time here in Tampa with the Cup to what he has done with the CBJ’s.

      In between, his time with the Rangers was better than people give him credit for. The team was always competitive and NO ONE lacked effort. Sure he is got a flare for anger and a short leash but that’s what makes him Torts.

      We all hopefully learn as we go though each day and to echo the statements above, Torts has learned to live within himself. I think that he has found a good gig in Columbus where the spotlight is not so bright and he has a support system that includes JD if he wants to blow off some steam.

      I’ve met him and he is a good man and very, very humble. Marty St. Louis, Vinny, and even Richards (until maybe the playoff benching) will tell you the he was the driving force behind making them better players.

      • “Marty St. Louis, Vinny, and even Richards (until maybe the playoff benching) will tell you the he was the driving force behind making them better players”

        ….and you know this how?

        • Because they each have said it during jersey retirement ceremonies here in Tampa. I’ve been a Lightning season ticket holder since 1999.

          Next question?

          • ok, that’s fair. Thanks for the answer. I am not in TB so was not privy to this incite. wasn’t trying to antagonize. apologize if you felt I was.

    • Tortz teams were always tough to play against for sure. They blocked shots and the Rangers were always the hardest working team on the ice. The problem though was that come playoff time they couldn’t score. If Hank let in more than one goal then they likely lost. They just didn’t have enough talent to put the puck in the net.

  • McQuaid playing over ADA is wrong on so many levels. Anytime Cody McLeod is on the ice, we do not have a best player scenario on the ice. He’s terrible at hockey. And he is the least skilled player on the team. Those 2 guys are there to protect the kids I think. But they are actually hurting the kids by taking rooster spots.

    If the premise is the coach wants to play veterans over young kids because he wants to win, does the coach know what it takes to win? Because the young kids are better than the veterans he’s playing. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt for now, but some of these decisions are very concerning.

  • If Quinn had any guts he’d sit zucc. He’s benched everyone else. Can zucc’s trade value get any lower? He can package it post game as needing to get others more time etc.

  • McQuaid was a FO mistake and now the only way to salvage the situation is to play him and hope someone will give us a bag of pucks for him. Assuming Skjei does not return to being decent player which is becoming less likely all the time there are no top 4 defensemen on the team. The other 7 guys are bottom 6 or worse talent, lets hope someone will need some depth defensemen at the Trade deadline and we can pick up some 3rd or 4th round picks. The team needs to bottom out the big sell must happen now (before injuries happen)

  • Now this post is by no means meant to defend Sather or Gorton but something for everyone to ponder. Let’s assume Mgmt and Coach all agree this team was (now is) not capable of making the playoffs or that if they did they would surely be eliminated in the 1st round. Now my second theory is that due to the first, they also have no interest in being the 17th-29th best team in the NHL as perhaps Lias expectations have been lowered and our lack of Offensive from 2 stud Wolfpack defensemen have also warranted concerns in just how quickly this turnaround may take). Very plausible I would think.

    As such, they are going to dress the team (ie Mc’Brothers’, Smith, Staal, etc) that gives us the least chance of winning while balancing two other goals: 1) trade value (of legit players in the lineup), and 2) the development of certain youth. If all were healthy and the lineup consisted purely of those most deserving, we’d likely be a 14-18th place team (baring no injuries). I don’t know about you but I’d rather have a chance at 1-2 pick at the cost of postponing DeAngelo and Anderson’s confidence and development respectively than risk another questionable mid round draft choice from our renowned Scouting team.

    Even Gorton and Sather couldn’t screw up the 1st or 2nd pick this year. I really think that’s what’s going on here and if true will happen right down to the end of trade deadline so we maximize our losses. The only trade I see happening more sooner than later would be Hayes.

    Related to this, Hayes injury has a couple knock on effects: 1) his value to the Rangers has sky rocketed due to their recent ineptness, thus his trade value to all suitors as well, and 2) its giving Rangers/Mgmt a legit chance at 1st or 2nd pick which now reinforces the likeliness of them continuing their maddening roster management. There is no relief in site for us fans as we will be miserable until the trade deadline is complete and we have 4-5 fresh names in the lineup.

    Happy New Year guys! ; )

  • The Trade are coming and will make 70% of this all moot. The evaluation period is coming to an end. Feb 25th.

  • Rob, thanks, nice points.

    I still feel many of us are not considering the real importance of having more experienced in the line-up. Even in college a team has upper class men in the pros the more experienced players are the upper class men and like them their time with the team is coming to an end.

    But you do need them at some starting point, not on the sideline or just in practice, players like Zucc and others are valuable to watch and learn from for at least 1/2 a season, no?

    and further to the point about MGT hiring Quinn to only fire him, Come on, whoever is thinking that or wants it, consider a few if not more of the players who are already advancing…

    #44, #72, #90, #21, and do not forget, others are only like 24-26…

    for 90% of this season I see a team fighting, battling, playing games with and without leads, coming back from deficit…
    If this were a top end team on a bad streak would we be all upset, NO, not if our points were in the PO’s…

    this team “Believes” it can make the PO’s, but did any of us think it… and for a while we were on Cloud 9…

    it’s gonna happen, bite the 2-3 year bullets… relax, pick a youngster to watch from, Drink from Jobu’s cup… well sip it for now, this is gonna take some time…



    • I don’t want to fire Quinn, but I also don’t necessarily want not to. He is an unproven rookie coach. Both ourselves and management did not really know what to expect. I think that if he performs at the lower end of expectations, he should be gone. if he does well, he should be kept. This isn’t like hiring Tortorella or Vigneault or Hitchcock where you sort of know what you are going to get. An early departure should not be ruled out. He has no track record of success.

      In my view, the jury is still out. He hasn’t been a disaster, but he keeps playing McQuaid, he keeps Pionk first pair, he won’t play DeAngelo, motivation seems suspect, it is not clear that the young players are actually moving forward, …

  • Hehe I remember 1998-2004 the roster was a litany of has beens if I ever saw one.

    I guess if you remember those times the roster now doesn’t seem like a bad roster all things considered.

    • To your point—I paid money to see Jeff Toms and Rico Fata in the top 9 for the Rangers in 2001-02.

      Dark times. And then to attempt to save the season, Sather traded for a one-legged Pavel Bure.

  • We are doomed to a “just miss the playoffs” team, which is purgatory for the forseeable future. OMG!

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