This article comes courtesy of an absolute no show by the Rangers in game 39 of 56 in their “playoff push”. The offense shriveled up, the top six could not score five on five, and bad reads by defensemen cost goals against. It’s no secret that the Rangers–despite exploding once in the previous 7 games–have a 5 on 5 offense problem. While it is awesome the power play numbers are regressing to more accurately depict the level of talent, there’s no question this is rock bottom at a time when the Rangers need to be essentially winning every game. Their division opponents are doing them no favors as teams like the Bruins, Islanders, and Flyers all gained points in the standings.
So the question remains: Do you make a push for the playoffs? You will most likely play Washington or the Islanders in the first round. Or do you take the remaining 17 games and make it all about putting the young talent on this team in positions to succeed?
When David Quinn was hired, the roster was in complete disarray. The team had just fired Alain Vigneault, sold off Ryan McDonagh and Rick Nash, and the turnover was beginning. Fast forward 3 years later, and there is clearly a better roster to work with now; particularly at forward with Artemi Panarin, Kaapo Kakko, Alexis Lafrenière, and Vitali Kravtsov. However, despite being 6th in the division at the writing of this article, David Quinn has decided that the best way to go about games is to load up his top six with his veteran players. This relegates kids into bottom 6 roles.
The ice times for this checks out as in particular. Kakko averages about 15 minutes a night, while 1st overall pick Lafrenière has averaged around 11 minutes a night. So what is going on here? How are two players; clearly the two most valuable draft picks in the history of the franchise, not being given the scoring assignments like Chris Kreider or Mika Zibanejad? Or even Colin Blackwell?
Quinn is not coaching to develop right now. He is coaching to win and make it to the playoffs. I understand the sentiment: It’s great experience for the players to make it into the playoffs no matter how far you go. This draft is not necessarily a heavy hitting one, so your first round pick isn’t a huge factor. Plus the kids can learn about playoff hockey and play on a big stage.
The problem is the Rangers, in this last little stretch, do not look anything like a playoff team. They are complacent, they are passing up high danger scoring chances for that one extra pass–which usually end up becoming turnovers–, and maybe the most damning, the Rangers are not deployed properly with their depth to sustain a playoff run. The Rangers, after last night, look like they’ve hit rock bottom.
So Quinn is not using the last little stretch to develop, but to win. The Rangers are beginning to look like they are running out of runway for a proper playoff push while the teams above them feast on each other and the Buffalo Sabres. What now? The time has come to focus on the development of the young players for the remainder of the year. It’s what this whole year should have been about to begin with, especially at forward with so many different players. There was a real possibility to not only develop, but win in the process. For example, the lines could have achieved both:
With the above, there is a chance we are not discussing development. There’s a chance we aren’t discussing rock bottom for the Rangers this season. Perhaps the Rangers are sniffing a playoff spot. Naturally this takes many things into account, such as production from Lafreniere and Kakko throughout the season. But if Quinn doesn’t do this sort of thing now to see where players like Lafrenière and Kravtsov fit on this team going forward, then he has failed in the department and goal of developing his young talent. Make of that what you will.