Happy March! New month means a new 20 Rangers Thoughts column from yours truly covering all things from the previous month. The last month flew by and saw the Rangers go 5-6-1, keeping them towards the bottom of the East division. Once again I am not one for a long introduction, so let’s get into some analysis.
1. Let’s get Mika Zibanejad out of the way. Seemingly after every game he got a decent shot on net, everyone declared him “back.” The reality is him being “back” will be when he regresses back to a normal shooting percentage. However, since the 24th against the Flyers, I’ve liked his game. I think he’s getting close.
Still, there’s little to no time to be patient with him. If the Rangers want to make the playoffs, they need to win, and they need to win now. They cannot afford to have Zibanejad put up as many pointless games as he has been.
2. Regardless of how the rest of the year plays out for Zibanejad, I do not believe he is the long term answer at 1C. I said that before the season as well. Let me be clear, Zibanejad is a 1C talent. However, he will demand a long term contract and his injury and concussion history is far too troubling to give him what he will demand. I expect to see him in a different uniform when his contract expires, unless he is willing to extend for four years or fewer.
3. The Rangers really did miss Filip Chytil. March will be a big month for him to show just how valuable he truly is.
4. I give Ryan Strome a lot of flack, but the guy is doing his job. Stats are good, underlying numbers are good, would like to see fewer penalties, but he’s a fine 2C on a fine contract. He’s not a long-term piece, but for now he’s fine.
5. Last month I covered the atrocity that was the Ryan McDonagh trade. This month I want to talk about the Rick Nash trade. What a wonderful trade that was. The Rangers got a legit top four defenseman in Ryan Lindgren, Ryan Spooner who turned into Ryan Strome, and a first round pick that was leveraged to get K’Andre Miller. What a trade.
7. I am not on the “David Quinn should be fired” train for a variety of reasons. One, I don’t think the Rangers need to make the playoffs this season. If they do, great. If not, it’s fine. They would get trounced in the first round anyway.
Two, the youngsters are developing. Maybe not the way we’d like to see on the scoresheets, but they are developing.
Three, I do not trust the team will make a better hire next go around. Bruce Boudreau would be a nice fit, as would Gerard Gallant, but those are guys you get when you want to take the team to the promised land. The Rangers aren’t quite there yet.
Let David Quinn finish the development phase for this roster, then reconvene when the team is taking the next step. That’s my plan.
8. All of that being said, David Quinn brutally botched the loss against the Flyers on the 24th. The team clearly needed to shorten the bench and he refused to. The team clearly needed PP1 to play more and he refused that. Quinn might be doing a decent job developing players, but his in-game management needs a lot of work.
9. Speaking of PP1, I’m fine with Colin Blackwell playing on it, but I do think Alexis Lafreniere is a better fit. Additionally, I do not understand what the Rangers are doing with PP2. Anthony Bitteto should never go anywhere near a power play unit. Brendan Smith as well. I understand there were injuries, but goodness gracious, give Julien Gauthier a shot. Or Phil Diguiseppe. Or….anyone who has a semblance of offense in their game. Good grief. And if the PP2 is going to be that bad, play them for 15-20 seconds, not a whole minute.
10. I have no idea how much the team did or didn’t like Tony DeAngelo, but this team looks like a tight-knit group right now. I love seeing that. The players seem to genuinely want to play with and for each other. That’s important as a team on the rise.
11. Random, but is anyone missing Lias Andersson these days? Andersson has one point for the Los Angeles Kings in a fourth line role. He’s simply not an NHL-level talent. I’ve said it for a long time, and I stand by it.
12. I’d love to see Morgan Barron get a run with the big club but the team can’t fit it into the salary cap. If my understanding is correct, Tarmo Renaunen can join the team. I’d like to see him get a few games in the NHL.
13. I have nothing to say about the Artemi Panarin situation other than I hope his family is safe.
14. Igor Shesterkin looked fantastic in February. I was disappointed to see Alexandar Georgiev get the start in the last game of the month, but I do get it. Georgiev needs to play some games, and I appreciate the team trying to not overwork Shesterkin like they did Henrik Lundqvist in the past. I’d give it a 60/40 split this season, then 65/35 moving forward for Igor’s long Rangers career.
15. I do not believe fans should be allowed in the building until everyone is fully vaccinated, but the sounds of fans cheering on the Rangers did bring a smile to my face.
16. Last season the Rangers were 13-12 in one goal games. This season, the Rangers are 2-8. That’s the difference between us talking about the Rangers as a top team and a bottom team in the division. Brutal.
17. Day games are miserable affairs.
18. March will be a huge month for the Rangers. 16 games, 11 of them on the road. For this team to have any shot at the playoffs, they’re going to need to become road warriors. I’m very intrigued to see what’s coming. Alexis Lafreniere is playing his best hockey. Kaapo Kakko and Filip Chytil are returning, with Jacob Trouba coming back soon after. This team has the talent to make a run, especially when the one-goal game statistic regresses a bit. By this time next month we should know where the team stands.
19. Jeff Gorton did a phenomenal job filling out the edges of the roster this season, Jack Johnson not included. Colin Blackwell and Kevin Rooney are guys who are contributing and very easily could have been useless enforcers or poor possession players instead. I’m very torn on my overall assessment of Gorton. He’s a good drafter, but he also got gifted Kakko and Lafreniere. He’s been decent at free agency, but also got gifted Panarin. He’s made some decent moves, but also some poor ones.Where I land is he is a decent GM who won’t surprise you with an absolutely horrendous deal, and won’t stun you with this incredible coup. All in all, that makes him someone we don’t have to worry about.
20. I leave you with a piece of trivia. There are 18 skaters (note, NOT goalies) in the NHL today who were originally drafted by the Rangers. Name them all.
Three Stars of the Month: