The other night the Rangers had one of their worst outings in the last couple of seasons. A 6-1 loss, to the Islanders no less, likely put the Rangers down for the count. Last night’s loss to the Flyers didn’t help either. Like clockwork, fans came out in droves evaluating the Rangers and assaulting coaching decisions, namely rookie ice-times.
To be fair, David Quinn nor Jeff Gorton shouldn’t be immune from criticism. There’s plenty to chew on this season, both good and bad. With that said, I feel a lot of the narrative being spun in media circles and online is missing a framework with which to evaluate this team. Hence, let me introduce to you a basic concept that is used in organizations to define business strategies, which can be, and often is, used in a sporting context.
This is a bell curve of the life stage of a business. Some sports organizations can move from development to growth to maturity rather quickly. Shrewd moves and lucky draft selections usually rocket teams through this process. Think Chicago, Pittsburgh, etc.
Other organizations seem to sit in one of these stages for years. The Edmonton Oilers come to mind as one of those teams who always seem to be in growth mode. On the other end, the Coyotes have been declining since the advent of cactuses (cacti?).
The key to moving up this hill, and staying on top of it, is having different strategies for each stage that you are in.
When you’re building, or rebuilding, the plan is usually to hire a coach with a history of developing players. Young, up-and-coming players are getting top 9 minutes and sprinklings of situational responsibilities (e.g., powerplay, PK).
Veterans, who have been to the dance, are usually brought in to take the hard matchups and show young twenty somethings how to go about their business like a professional. Hossa & Chicago, Thornton in the 6ix, & Maroon in Tampa are notable references.
Obviously, the goal here isn’t to get routed 5-0 every night for the sake of getting kids minutes (lol Devils), but to be competitive enough so that everyone is getting the experience they need. Balancing all that while being in tight hockey games is critical.
The Rangers have navigated that growth process reasonably well the past couple of seasons, despite crazy outside factors. When evaluating the Rangers, these crazy outside factors do play a role.
Maturity (aka window to win)
Things start to get interesting once that window to win opens. The margins for error get insanely smaller. Rarely do teams win championships with the same rosters and coaches that they had during growth mode.
Coaches are typically swapped during losing streaks or during the offseason when progress feels stunted (Bruce Cassidy has entered the chat). Some of those young players you thought were going to be part of the future are traded for critical depth pieces or utility players (e.g., PP quarterback, PK specialist, agitators).
This is the time when GMs earn their money. One bad move or mistimed coaching swap for a retread can derail any well laid plan. When evaluating the Rangers this offseason, Jeff Gorton’s moves will be front and center.
The curse of this stage is that many teams do not recognize they are in it. They think they can get back over the hump. However, botched moves leave them being the bridesmaid, never the bride. The Wild, Stars, Canadiens, Sharks, Flyers, and yes, even our beloved Rangers, usually fall in this category.
Eventually, teams need to be dismantled. You hope that those moves are done strategically.
Where do the Rangers go from here?
We’re halfway up the hill. Many have said next year is our year to compete. I disagree. Next year is our chance to get into the playoffs and hopefully win a round, maybe two if we’re lucky.
I don’t think Quinn is the guy to lead us to Lord Stanley, but I’m fine with him staying on another year, max. Jeff should not be making foundational changes to this roster this summer. A piece here and there is fine. Emptying the cupboard for Jack Eichel has Glen Sather strategy written all over it. And that’s how we end up always being the bridesmaid.
Long story short. Before you lament the trading of Lemieux, the TDA fiasco, or comb through ice-time charts with steam coming out of your ears, sit back and look at the bell curve. Re-evaluate and think like a suit. Maybe even dress like one too.