Over the last few weeks, I’ve been piggybacking off Elliotte Friedman and our own Brandon Cohen. This is a weekly thought post on Wednesdays going into detail about how the last week has played out. I’d usually do these ad-hoc, but I like the idea of a mid-week thoughts post. This week, let’s talk about balancing development and competing, and where the Rangers stand.
1. The balancing act the Rangers are going for it difficult to pull off. Half the roster is under 25 years old, but most of the top-six is in that 27-30 range. Eventually, the kids will need to be the top-six producers as the veterans slow down a bit. Kaapo Kakko, Vitali Kravtsov, and Alexis Lafreniere will need to eventually replace production from Artemi Panarin, Chris Kreider, and to a lesser extent since he’s just 25, Pavel Buchnevich.
To do this, the Rangers need to excel in development for them to reach their full potential. Two are top-two picks, and the other is a top-ten pick. All three are extremely talented and have top line potential. They need two things to hit that potential: Ice time to gain confidence, and ice time in key situations to gain experience. The former is easy to do. The latter requires a competitive team and, to be honest, them to fail and learn. You only learn by failing. I’ve never met a successful person who hasn’t failed more often than they’ve succeeded.
2. That is one of the key pieces here. A key theme around here with the prospects is putting them in a position to succeed. That means, to me, with the right players that help them grow their skill level and confidence level. It also means giving them legitimate ice time to get them experience. At some point, that is going to mean powerplay time. Specifically more than 20 seconds of powerplay time at a clip.
The thing is that balancing act. With the Rangers attempting to make a run for the playoffs, they need to lean on their top six, or top five with a rotating winger as the sixth. So how does David Quinn and company achieve that balance? There is no easy answer.
3. At some point, the Rangers are going to be mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. Their tragic number is four, meaning four games without points more or less eliminates them from playoff competition. The upcoming schedule isn’t too friendly, with the Penguins and Isles on a back to back, followed by another game against the Isles.
Yes, the Rangers do have the Devils for four in a row, but they will need to sweep that. But again coming right out of that is the Isles again and a back to back against the Flyers. Removing the Devils from the equation, it is very likely the Rangers go .500 against the Penguins, Isles, and Flyers. That’s three losses right there. Lose one against the Devils, and it’s mathematically over.
4. Another aspect to consider is the trade deadline. Will the Rangers get a decent offer for one of their depth forwards? Or perhaps even Ryan Strome? Or dark horse Pavel Buchnevich? I don’t think Strome or Buchnevich are going anywhere unless the offer is significant, but that may open up more ice time. The trade deadline is Monday, and we will have a clearer picture on the forwards.
Remember, the Rangers don’t have any cap issues for the next 2-3 seasons. They also have no issues with the expansion draft. They can make some moves now and still be set for a while.
5. Which brings us full circle to ice time. My guess is that after the Rangers are mathematically eliminated, we will see more tinkering. Perhaps we finally get that extra lefty on PP1, and hopefully it’s Lafreniere. That would balance out PP2 with Strome, Buchnevich, Kakko, and hopefully Kravtsov and K’Andre Miller. This kind of ice time matters as well.
Remember, at some point these kids are going to have to replace the production of the current top six. Their production likely won’t be able to continue at this pace through their 30s. “Likely” is the keyword there, because if it does, and the Rangers develop these kids to their full potential, then watch out.
Perhaps that is the best case scenario. Where the Rangers develop everyone properly and the vets don’t drop off significantly on their current contracts. That’s a multi-year Cup contending window. Which again brings us back to development.
6. So how do the Rangers, given their current situation, balance development and competing? Perhaps the answer isn’t a real answer. Maybe they just need to ride it out with current ice time, let the .500 Rangers team hit their tragic number, then adjust accordingly. The risk here is that the kids won’t be getting true competition ice time to fail.
7. It wouldn’t be a post about Rangers development without one point on David Quinn. There’s a lot of “what have you done for me lately” which focuses on each lineup decision in a vacuum. Without missing the forest for the trees, Quinn has done an ok job at moving the prospects along. There are obvious concerns with in-game deployment and decisions, which we’ve covered, and lineup/ice time decisions, which was the point of this post.
For me, my concern would be on the former, those in game management concerns. If the Rangers truly want to transition into competing, then Quinn needs to develop as a coach. No coach is perfect, but a coach can’t make the same mistake twice. We’ve seen a bunch of the same mistakes from Quinn though, which does beg the question if he is the proper coach for the *next* step of competing.
And don’t give me this Kris Knoblauch for head coach stuff. I disagree with Tyler strongly here. The ice time concerns were the same under Knoblauch as they were under Quinn. There’s just some short term memory at work here.
Some outside of the box thinking here – give me a great in-game tactician as head coach. Keep Jacques Martin to run the PK and defense. Give me a Bruce Boudreau type that excels with offense and the powerplay as the other assistant. Make this like a football coaching structure.