On Enforcers: The Unsurprising Inclusion of Micheal Haley

Why the NY Rangers signed Micheal Haley

When the Rangers unveiled their final cuts and 22-man opening night roster yesterday, #NYR Twitter had a (predictable) meltdown. A lot of consternation centered on the selection of Brett Howden over Filip Chytil, as well as the decision to send Vitali Kravtsov to Hartford. One addition that momentarily flew under the radar (and curiously, one that the Rangers did not mention in any official announcements) was the inclusion of Micheal Haley.

Both David Quinn and Jeff Gorton launched into familiar refrains during their press conferences when asked about the bruising forward. I’m paraphrasing here, but they both mentioned the tough, heavy competition in the Metropolitan division (“Look at what happened the other night,” said Quinn, referring to Matt Martin and Cal Clutterbuck’s headhunting expedition in Bridgeport), as well as the fact that Haley brings a different element to the team; something “we don’t have a lot of.”

So it seems as though the more things change, the more they stay the same.  For my entire life as a fan – I remember things pretty clearly going back to the 1993-94 season – the Rangers have almost always dressed an enforcer-type.  Here’s a (probably incomplete) list, starting with two players were part of that glorious championship team.

  • Joe Kocur
  • Nick Kypreos
  • Darren Langdon
  • Eric Cairns
  • PJ Stock
  • Dale Purinton
  • Chris Simon
  • Colton Orr
  • Jody Shelley
  • Donald Brashear
  • Derek Boogaard (RIP)
  • Mike Rupp
  • Tanner Glass
  • Cody McLeod

The Rangers are not alone. Most teams in the NHL find space on their rosters for at least one or two players like those mentioned above. Haley himself was most recently a member of the Sharks, and appeared in 11 playoff games last year.  The Sharks were a really good team that could’ve easily won the Stanley Cup. Trust me when I tell you that Micheal Haley was not the reason they didn’t.

What’s plain to see is that the Rangers still value this type of player, regardless of who runs the front office. A lot of people attributed the signings of players like Orr, Brashear and Boogaard to Glen Sather specifically, and there was a thought that once Sather was gone, the Rangers would permanently wave goodbye to enforcers. For better or worse, it seems as though John Davidson has the same space in his heart for players who are better known for fists and forearms than goals and assists.

What’s important to remember here is context. It’s October. The Rangers are rebuilding. They are an extremely young team, even with Chytil and Kravtsov in the minors. The roster will change as the year progresses.

Most crucially however is the fact that Haley is not blocking the development of any of the Rangers prospects.  Unlike Alain Vigneault, David Quinn is a coach who heavily apportions ice time to his top nine forwards and top four defensemen.  The fourth line rarely sees more than 6-7 minutes in a game.  Jeff Gorton said explicitly yesterday that players like Chytil and Kravtsov will be better served by playing big minutes in all situations in Hartford. He’s right.

Lastly, even if the Rangers were in a position to contend this season, having a player like Haley on the roster would not be a death knell to their chances. It has been proven that hockey is a strong link game, meaning that the quality of the players at the top of a team’s roster has more impact on success or failure than the guys at the bottom. It’s why Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin and Patrick Kane have all won Stanley Cups (Kane most recently on a team that famously lacked depth at forward and had about 2.5 functioning defensemen as well). Yes, depth absolutely matters, but the Rangers future success hinges on Kaapo Kakko fulfilling his potential, Artemi Panarin finding another level, and a few more prospects exceeding expectations in the next season or two.

Am I fan of the Haley signing? Absolutely not. Is it something to panic over, something seriously jeopardizes anything about the Rangers plans this season? No way.

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  • These signings never really seem to work out all that well, the only reason I’m not apoplectic about it is because it’s only money — he can be assigned down to Hartford any time.

    I still believe that Kravs should have won a job — not just over some goon like Haley, but over a guy like Howden … and the argument that it might make sense to keep Howden in the NHL playing even in a 4th line role as opposed to Kravs doesn’t hold water for me.

        • But of course you don’t.

          JG has played this game every year, why should he change because you can’t grok it?

          • No Reen, I don’t. I understand it but I don’t agree with the relevance. I have other priorities which I believe supersede saving $344/day cap credits. As far as JG playing this game every year, that’s his problem — every year priorities should be reevaluated and reorganized. That’s the hallmark of a strong mind, not a mediocre one.

    • I agree. Howden is not a very good player, witnessed by the fact that his scoring dried up inna very short period of time once he had scored five goals. Would rather have seen Kravtsov make the team out of camp, but I’m praying The braintrust is just biding their time to bring Kravs in when the team has more than 3 games in 12 nights.

  • I feel toughness is needed. What I do not get is that we now have 3 spots in the lineup, being held by low offense – rough and tough players; Lemieux, McKegg and Haley. Do we really need all three?

    • “Do we really need all three?”

      Yes. Watching Saturday’s game should tell you that. For starters, our first line is soft. Our second line, absent Kreider, is vulnerable to physicality, as is an Andersson, Fast, Namestnikov line. Lemieux, McKegg and Smith might have been enough toughness, but Haley is not a problematic addition for me. As for Chytil, could he play any softer or get knocked off his feet any easier for a guy his size? He brings a little scoring touch, but shows very little else IMO. Nothing wrong with him and Kravtsov (only 19) “honing” their craft in hartford for awhile.

  • Could’ve kept Boo up instead of Haley, but Boo can’t fight.

    Team gains an extra $1250 for every day Kravtsov isn’t on the roster.

    This is mostly what this is about, nothing to sweat over. I’d be amazed if Haley is on the team after October 19.

    • So the 1 time he fights every 1-2 games for a few weeks is worth handing out a 700k contract? Like you said, they could have just kept Boo up … fighting is antiquated and our PP will make sure the players aren’t abused. Besides, team toughness is much more important than adding a “goon” to the lineup.

  • I disagree with the analysis. The issue is process and once again the Rangers FO seems to be lost in the weeds in what they want. They value the wrong types of guys.

    Also the Rangers are not “rebuilding.” They never were. That dumb letter was issued belatedly to cover-up a botched effort to go for it all (AV’s deployment during his tenure here never ceases to amaze). I still laugh at how comically dumb the one off-season was where they buy-out Gi, say they are rebuilding on the fly after trading Stepan for spare parts, and then blow $10m on Shatt/Smith. And subsequently that season the Rangers suffer through an inordinate amount of injuries which they never had a chance to recover from.

    Anyway, lets just be thankful that we got lucky as hell and drafted Kakko. I hope the talent in the pipeline is enough to overcome the mediocrity that is our FO.


    Did anyone see what the referee did you Evander Kane! come on…

    The ref followed him around and ended up making Kane fall…

    What’s happening to hockey!!!

    They used to take their helmets off to fight…

    oh man

  • I applaud Haley making the team, the team needs one heavyweight who can keep the Opposition honest. Lemieux can not be expected to go toe to toe with the leagues heavyweights. Haley can play a little, he took a regular shift during the Sharks playoff run. Look no further than the Vegas Knights and Ryan Reeves, the enforcer is a dying breed, but still has a place in today’s NHL, especially on a very young, finesse orientated team. The Islander game the another night dictated Haley making the team!!

    • I don’t like Haley’s game and, while I am sure he’d knock the block off of this old geezer, I don’t regard him as a great brawler (but I will admit I haven’t seen more than a couple of his altercations.)

      Be that as it may, I think that at least at the outset of the season it isn’t a horrible idea to have an old tough guy on the squad. Lemieux and DeAngelo are feisty SOB’s who don’t shrink from a scrap, but I’d rather not have Tony breaking a hand on some cement head or Lemieux suffering a concussion. So for now at least, Haley probably serves a purpose.

  • I don’t get what is so hard for analytics folks to understand. We’re a very young, soft team. That’s what we are. Teams with toughness will intimidate this NYR squad without a doubt. I, for one, do not want to see Kakko, Fox, Lias, etc get targeted or hurt this season with opponents running them left and right. Will every team run them, no. But a good number of teams are going to try. And as soon as one team does it, and there’s little or no response, more teams will exploit that.

    I personally prefer players like Lemieux who are not just there to fight and that’s it. But it is completely unfair to him to expect him to stand up for teammates every game by himself. My issue is with management. One or two more guys with just a little bite to their game, and you don’t need a designated fighter on the roster.

  • The Rangers are again one of the softest teams in the league and how they compensate for that is by signing over the hill punching bags. However, every team in our division is “heavy” and there in lies the fundamental issue with the Rangers . The Rangers have never had the ability to recongize, draft and develop players who play with an edge or mean streak. The kids they have drafted who have size are not mean by nature.

    Using the Islanders as an example. They have their 4th line, Johnston who is the heavy weight champ and can play, Boychuk, Mayfield and Pelech who are all thumpers. That is a lot to contend with and if you think you will make them pay on the power play…..then you should head down south on the Turnpike with AV.

  • Lots of good comments on both sides of this. Obviously, Kravtsov and Chytil are better overall players now than Haley and maybe McKegg. Two reasons I’m good with this roster are: 1) time in Hartford might do both young guys some good, and 2) like it or not, a physical deterrent is still needed in today’s nhl.

    Beyond that, the best team to ice is not just a collection of the best players available. Roles need to be filled. I’m really happy that it looks like we are filling them. Zib has been great at the face off dot. Trouba is commanding at the point with a heavy shot. Lemieux is going to be the most annoying guy in the league. We have elite skill with Panarin, and scoring depth too. Fast as a shut down forward. A little size and toughness to round out the lineup was missing, and you can’t just will it out of existing players . Really, Haley is a middleweight, not a heavyweight, but he’ll do in the fighter role. We still lack overall size, especially on D, but im hopeful and very excited to see what this group can do. Besides, Chytil and Kravtsov will be up sooner than later.

  • The Rangers just don’t learn.

    I’m still excited, but having Staal, Smith, and Haley all on the roster is beyond idiotic.

  • The rangers weren’t good during their good years at the front part of the decade because of tough guys Derek Dorsett, stu bickel, Brandon prust; they were good because those players were part of a tough lineup, not a bunch of softies with one or two players buried on the 4th line to “protect” them. Unless the threat your supposed “enforcer” poses is causing retaliatory injuries to opposing top line players, “deterrence” is a myth; and even then I’m not so sure, when you have guys being paid $1.5M to cheap shot softer skilled players, they’ll keep doing it, that’s the job, even if they have to answer to big bad Mike Haley.

    • Yep … it’s about developing a culture of toughness. They all need to evidence a bit of the warrior from time to time when called upon. Haley didn’t deter one fight in all the games he played … and his fights didn’t spur the team on in any significant way … in fact a couple of his fights really seemed to be pointless. We don’t need 2.0

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