Musings

7 thoughts from 7 days: On balancing Rangers development and competing

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.

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  • While I am not a big DQ fan, he is doing something that goes mostly unnoticed. That is keeping his kids away from the other teams top defenders. This will allow the kids to gain a little confidence. In using Zibby and Strome’s line against the opponent top tier, this will allow our bottom 6 to generate some scoring chances.

    In the next 2 years, I suspect that some of our 3rd liners become top 6 players, spreading out the wealth of offense.

    I would like to see the kids get more than 10 minutes a game, but we are in a playoff hunt (at the moment).

  • An off the wall idea is to give the young players a chance to play on a better team. I’d suggest getting an upgrade on Hajek for the remainder of the season. The Rangers have I think a lot of cap space and plenty of money.

    Here’s a specific example (which won’t work). The Rangers trade a 5th or 6th round draft choice to Detroit for Marc Staal. Staal is better I think than Hajek, who is also not a prospect, but it allows the Rangers tp play their third defense pair more. And Detroit, which is going nowhere, doesn’t have to pay Staal for the rest of the year. I don’t think Detroit, a one of the rich franchises, would actually go for this unless they got more and I am not suggesting giving up even a third rounder. Plus I haven’t seen Staal this year. He seems average for Detroit but he may not be who he was last year.

    Anyway, there are two general targets of opportunity. Poor teams that are out of it and just want to shed salary to save money and competing teams that are up against the cap who need to rid of some salary to acquire a player they need more.

    For the same reason as this, I don’t think I would trade Smith for even a third round pick.

    • So you haven’t seen STALL but you propose bringing him back for a Snow Angel farewell tour?

      Uh, no…

      Personally, I think Hajek is holding his own.

      • You missed the point. My comment was not about Staal.

        Put another way, at the deadline, rather than trade Smith away, I would rather acquire a second Brendan Smith (at very low cost) to upgrade the third pair and give the young forwards a more reliable team structure. DQ obviously does not really trust Hajek.

    • So basically we’re trading a 2nd and a 5th or 6th to have Staal play 40 or so games with Detroit and 15-18 games for us. Brilliant! WTF … hajek has been fine, he’s no more gaff prone than Smith or Staal … at least I know he won’t try and go around the net twice with Sydney Crosby on his tail. lol

      • “So basically we’re trading a 2nd and a 5th or 6th to have Staal play 40 or so games with Detroit and 15-18 games for us.”

        You cannot think that way. It’s absurd. The Rangers did not trade a 2nd rounder to Detroit to get rid of Staal. They did it to make the cap numbers work. Mission accomplished. The current problem with the team is that the third defense pair is weak, forcing the top two pairs to be overworked and providing a poor environment for the young forwards to develop in. I think they have plenty of cap space and might get someone cheap that another team wants to unload. Staal was just an example of a defenseman who can probably still play and is not worth his salary. I pointed out in my comment that he was not the right example as Detroit won’t part with him so easily.

        As to evaluating defensemen, the knowledge at BSB is quite limited. I may point out that I have been saying for years that the Ranger defense is really only terrible because they twisted themselves in knots to accommodate Lundqvist and when he was gone, we would see a miraculous improvement. And guess what, that is what happened.

        ******************

        I hope a week from now, the Rangers are improved rather than weakened by trades. Kids learn by playing on a real team, not by being given ice time. I would not give up any first or second rounders certainly nor good prospects for short term gain, but I certainly would not trade good players because they are blocking lesser players. Colin Blackwell is probably better than Gauthier will ever be. And there is probably at least an even chance that not all of Laf, Krav, Chityl, Kakko will surpass him.

        • Staal is gone … end of story. He “was” a great soldier but I would rather play Hajek to up his value a little … besides, he hasn’t been that bad, you just need to make sure he isn’t drawing top or tough second pair minutes. There’s just no point to throwing away another draft choice.

  • Good point about giving your young players the chance to succeed. If Quinn were really doing this, the fans would think the kids were doing well and could handle even more than they were currently handling.

  • NYR need to use the trade deadline to accelerate their rebuild. Use Smith and maybe Blackwell or Rooney and some picks to buy a young center who has had some success at the NHL level. Not looking for Jack Eichel, but someone more like Brayden Schenn from San Jose. He won’t be traded, but someone like him.

  • Good point about protecting the kids from better defenders. But at some point, you have to play up to the next level to continue growing as a player.

    But the question, as you raised, is DQ the right guy moving forward?

    I say gimme some Gerard Gallant before Seattle scoops him up. I am actually surprised they have not already.

    • That’s where we might need to mix and match the lines better. You have 3 kids on 1 line instead of dispersing them across the Top 3 lines … 4 kids if you add Kravs to the mix. Each line should have 1 highly capable vet, it would make it easier for the kids to “step up” in class so to speak.

      • I got a kick out of watching the kid line last night, especially on the Laf goal where they cycled early in the shift, and then Kakko made the strong play on the wall. But I agree with you that a blending of the lines makes a lot of sense. That “odd line of Panarin-Chytil-Buch” as Ray described it in another thread is one I’d like to see, as well as a Laf-Strome combo.

  • Sorry Dave, but your ideas concerning mathematical elimination seem way off — if my math is right. If we beat Pitt next game we’re 7 points out with 1 game in hand on the Pens. Pens would have 16 games left, Rangers 17 — if the Pens go 8-8 the rest of the way and we go 12-5, we sneak in … The Bruins on the other hand have 20 games left as of right now, they would have to 10-10 for us to sneak by them.

    I know all these scenarios are unlikely (12-5) (8-8) (10-10), but for the purposes of utilizing the term “mathematical elimination” you see where I’m going with this. A couple of bad injuries, a few Covid protocols and all of a sudden a good team can find itself mediocre for a stretch of 10-20 games. If we beat the Pens in the next game, then the magic number (combination of Ranger losses or OTLs and the other team’s wins or OTLs) for the Pens to eliminate us is 26 points (33 games), the Bruins 34 (37 games).

    So beat the Pens, again!

    • Nitpicking. The term mathematical elimination is sloppy, but there may come a time when making the playoffs becomes unrealistic – even assuming that you win every game. And that is the point Dave is looking at.

      • Just trying to foster accuracy. I “try” to choose my words carefully so that they adequately describe what I want to say.

        • You’re right. I didn’t really crunch numbers to get to actual mathematical elimination. I was basing this off a 68 point pace for Boston, which is what MoneyPuck has them at.

          • I know Dave … not a slight on you because I know you’re trying to be REALISTIC about their chances and I agree with that approach because from a probability standpoint it’s more accurate. From a just the numbers point of view though, it’s inaccurate … and this year could turn out to be an aberration if all of a sudden say Marchand and/or Bergeron and/or Pastarnak and/or McAvoy get Covid …

            Also we’ll need to include the Pens … especially if we find a way to win the next game. Again, if say Sid and Guentzel succumb to Covid, all bets are off.

            Which leads me to wonder what the FO is thinking, barring some drastic losing streak they probably go past the deadline thinking they have a legitimate shot at the playoffs — it’s probably some combo of realistic probability and the mathematical certainty of elimination.

  • Not sure that I have agreed with many points

    6. Why development and competing mutually exclusive? You develop the players by showing the confidence and playing them in all situations. It took DQ 2 years to see that Butch can actually kill penalties. How long will it take him that Kaako and Kavs can do that too? My point is that DQ keeping both development and competition behind

    7. “what have you done for us lately”? Rather what have you done for us at all? This team with Trots or Tortorella (know not any people like him here) are not struggling but at the top of the competition

    The value of the coach and the system is greatly underrated. There is a saying of “being the coaches player” Who is DQ player? What does he love in players? And then why Gorton not delivering any of that? Tired hearing about how tough to develop top 2 draft choices in the draft

    • Au contraire! I think Torts is a great coach. He is a much better coach now than he was when he was with the Rangers in many ways. But with Torts you know there are going to be bumps in the road, even with the kinder, gentler and professorial, present-day Torts.

      I also remember when people were calling Barry Trotz dumb. Yeah, right.

      • Hard to imagine Torts being better coach. He got Rangers gig after winning the Cup.. Between Rangers and Jackets he had a stop with Vancouver where he was fighting opposite players. As far kinder version judge him by his players reactions. He is a discipline coach and not many players these days like that

        Trotz is a great coach. See the difference with Caps with him and without him, and Isles without him and with him

        • Torts has his own emotions under better control these days, and is generally even more protective of his players. That is why I referred to him as being kinder and gentler. He has always been a good tactician. He’s had a good stint at Columbus.

          • Some people here would disagree with you. They give Jackets no chance beating Tampa even though they were last team to beat them in the playoffs.

            He is a very good coach. He is very tough on his players. Reminds me of Herb Brooks and that is why I probably like him so much. But like Herb he needs his Patrick

        • Just for the record, since Torts left Vancouver he has won the Jack Adams’ trophy once, been nominated for another, and probably should have been more.

          His Columbus teams have always, always overachieved.

          Two years ago they swept the President’s Cup Lighting in the first round. The next year they lost Panarin :), Bobrovsky, and Duchene to free agency and he was nominated for Jack Adams.

          Perhaps you should judge him on his record, not his player’s reactions and not how he acts in front of the media.

          He surely is a no BS coach, but his teams play hard, tough hockey.

          Is he right for the NYR? Given the pseudo-Euro flavor the team has, probably not.

          But it sure as heck would be interesting…

          • I never said he was a BS coach. Quite contrary. He is an excellent coach with a good system. That is why he has been successful with every team he has coached . I said some players do not like his coaching style.

            He won Stanley Cup and that team was not the top team at the time.

            I was not happy when Rangers let him go especially to get AG. We know how it has all turned out

    • I miss Torts! He holds everybody accountable, his teams are hard to play against and they have their own unique identity — these things hold true regardless of the talent level of his teams. Issues? Many … but there’s basic honesty to his ways.

      • A rather classic Torts presser brought a smile to my face last year:

        “The question had been about his team’s lack of scoring opportunities and why the players couldn’t get out of their own end and create more chances. But John Tortorella was in no mood to give an in-depth answer.

        “I’m not going to break the game down at all,” said the Columbus Blue Jackets head coach. “Toronto played a really good game. We sucked.”

        Tortorella said it again when asked about Columbus’ competitiveness. And he said it once more when someone else asked about the Blue Jackets’ inability to stay out of the penalty box.

        “Toronto was really good. We sucked.”

        The ‘Toronto was really good. We sucked’ three timer had me and my daughter rolling.

      • He is a real good coach and very good human being. I met him once in his dogs charity event.

        I do not remember exactly why he was let go. But vaguely remember that he had reputation of not developing young players. Neither AG nor DQ have shown these skills either. I remember the young players who he did develop at his time – Callahan, Dubinski, Anisimov, Stepan, Mac, Zuck, Talbot. Besides Mac none was a first rounder.

        • Torts and his wife Christine run a foundation which promotes literacy and help for abused animals and pets and pet sheltering. Yes, John is an old softy!

          • Was exactly my point. There are not many great coaches around. I do not know who Rangers could replace DQ with. Remember when they were replacing AG they focused on college coaches. They lost on Dallas coach who was their first choice and hired DQ. No idea why they locked themselves on just college coaches?

            On the other hand I do not know many Scotty Bowmans around either these days. Nor Jon Coopers.

            They need a strategist, educator, system driven innovator and motivator. Easier said than done.

            I would certainly not eliminate european selections or assistants. Remember how most hated Sullivan here but he somehow managed to win couple of Cups by developing good young core.

          • Never hated Sully … his personality under Torts was somewhat muted. 😉

            Before going out and hiring a European Head Coach, which would subject the FO to a lot of questioning, they should look to an Assistant coach … but I agree, it’s a tough call right now as to who would fit your profile for the next coach.

          • Sorry. Did not mean you personally. He was responsible for special teams and he was not getting much love anywhere. Remember Larry Brooks article at the time when Pens hired him, making fun how stupid that move was. Larry Brooks knows as much about hockey as I know about break dancing

            Hiring the coach will not be easy. But having the current coach sets the expectations at the lowest. You start without setting any area or experience limitations. Set your values such as motivator, innovator, communicator. Basically the ones DQ does not have and interview the until you find the match. The ideal selection is someone most of us would not know who he/she is

            I just do not think Gorton is the man to do it based on his current history. Kind of funny how rebuilt was sold. Nobody from front office lost any jobs. Business as usual. Rangers hockey kind of rebuilt

          • Larry Brooks puts his finger in the air to see which way the fans (the generic ones) are blowing, then he just inflames them.Last year he said it’s imperative the Rangers resign Kreider, this season early on he said they have to trade him. The guy has no principles, no real hockey knowledge … and I will always cherish Torts’ take down of Larry in front of everyone.

          • Many sound like him. Experts pretend to be.

            Sullivan is just a good example of hiring someone nobody had thought highly of. Myself including. He must have checked Pens check boxes. Good for them

            I just do not see Rangers with the current management structure able to do that. There is not much accountability there. So Gorton and DQ not feeling pressure.

  • Any semi-reasonable chance of winning the Cup this year? No? Then the opportunity to fail in a serious situation means getting the kids the heck out there NOW. Development is the plan, period. Panarin knew what the story was when he signed, and Kreider did too when he re-signed, so I dismiss any argument of abandoning the vets. Heck, if they keep it together, they’ll benefit too by the kids getting a big bump in experience in the current scenario.

    • Why winning and development is mutually exclusive. You develop players by winning.

      As much as I would love to see all kids playing more with the current system and the coach it will not help. The talent is not being utilized and you can see them playing scared.

      Good thing they have a good goalie. Otherwise they would have even lost last night game

    • Winning is important to establish the proper culture, but you can’t discount or ignore the continued development of your prized assets.

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