The Rangers have a Ruff problem to address

When Lindy Ruff was hired by the Rangers to be Alain Vigneault’s assistant coach before the start of the 2017-2018 season, he was viewed as AV’s replacement. That was clearly premature guesswork, as Ruff never took over the head coaching gig. He did however, remain with the Rangers after AV was unceremoniously let go last offseason.

When Ruff was brought on, he was a guy who could provide a different voice in the locker room, but run the same system as AV. It’s well documented that Ruff, as a head coach in Buffalo and Dallas, preferred a 1-2-2 forecheck, the hybrid man/zone defensive zone system, and an aggressive penalty kill. Compare that to David Quinn’s passive 2-1-2 forecheck and 2-1-2 zone DZ system, there’s a stark contrast.

So we already know that the coaches don’t like to run the same system. That’s fine. Coaches are professionals and adjust. It’s just worth noting.

However as we get towards the end of the first year of the Quinn/Ruff duo, it’s hard to ignore how porous the defense has been. Part of it is Quinn’s desire to concede the blue line, which leads to easy zone entries and good amounts of sustained pressure against the Rangers. They’ve corrected that recently, but it was still a problem.

However it is still worth noting that Ruff has the blue line control, at least within DQ’s overall strategy. And Ruff does not have the best track record with teams controlling play and limiting chances against. Let’s look at his last gigs and see how his teams did in limiting chances against (CA/60):

  • 2018-2019 (NYR): 58.75 CA/60, 23rd in NHL
  • 2017-2018 (NYR): 62.16, last
  • 2016-2017 (DAL): 58.05, 26th
  • 2015-2016 (DAL): 55.56, 19th
  • 2014-2015 (DAL): 56.61, 23rd
  • 2013-2014 (DAL): 56.4, 21st

Now we do know that Corsi isn’t the best measuring tool for overall play, since quality isn’t really taken into account. After all, Ruff’a Dallas team in 2016-2017 was an even 50% CF%, meaning that they also generated a ton of chances themselves. What this shows us is that Ruff’s teams of the past have historically struggled to limit shot attempts against.

But let’s start taking quality into account with xGA/60:

  • 2018-2019 (NYR): 2.47 xGA/60, 20th in NHL
  • 2017-2018 (NYR): 2.75, 29th
  • 2016-2017 (DAL): 2.59, 25th
  • 2015-2016 (DAL): 2.34, 24th
  • 2014-2015 (DAL): 2.38, 25th
  • 2013-2014 (DAL): 2.37, 23rd

I find this to be funny, because Ruff is here to help the defense, yet he hasn’t coached a team in the top-50% of the league in limiting quantity and quality attempts in five years. So the notion that he’s a good defensive coach doesn’t have any statistical backing at all. It’s based on reputation with the Sabres, where he had Dominik Hasek. And we’ve all seen what an elite goalie can do to mask team defensive woes.

A coach’s job is to get the most out of his players. That’s what the best coaches do. However with Ruff, it appears that he has been unable to do that. We’ve seen first hand refusal to adjust pairings to which pairings actually work together. We’ve seen questionable at best lineup choices. We’ve seen good players come to New York and get relegated to bottom pairing minutes. We’ve seen “defensive stalwarts” get top pairing minutes despite being overmatched night after night. It’s repetitive, and when it comes to identifying issues and adjusting, Ruff has been unable to do so, both in New York and in Dallas.

*Disclaimer: There is a portion of this that applies to the players, as they need to perform. If a team doesn’t have the right players, then there’s not much a coach can do. The above is a discussion point about getting the best out of the players he currently has, not about the players themselves.

The best and most recent example of relying on what is perceived to work but really doesn’t is the Marc Staal-Neal Pionk pairing. That pairing is consistently rolled out as a top pairing, but gets hammered nightly. The most recent surge for the Rangers was when Pionk was hurt and Staal was paired with Tony DeAngelo and moved down the lineup. They weren’t caved in as much. Yet when Pionk was healthy, back came the Staal-Pionk top pairing. It is a refusal to adjust.

If the Rangers organization is committing to a full rebuild, then the Ruff issue must be addressed. If the goal is to truly grow the prospects, put them in positions to succeed, and get the most out of them on the ice, then either Ruff needs to adjust, or the team needs to adjust. Something needs to give.