7 Thoughts From 7 Days: Stress free Rangers hockey is coming to an end

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 stress free Rangers hockey, and how it’s been refreshing, but it’s time for it to end.

1. This may be premature, given the Islanders’ current freefall, but I still don’t think the Rangers are making the playoffs. As it stands today, the Rangers are five points back but the Isles have a game in hand. The next two games are against the Isles, so that could certainly make things interesting. The best case scenario is the Rangers take all four points in regulation. That would put them one back. But again, the Isles have a game in hand. The Isles also have four games against Buffalo and New Jersey immediately following their set with the Rangers. Even if the Rangers win out, they’d need to make up three points in four games with the Isles closing out with that schedule. I’m just playing the numbers here.

2. But again, there is a lot of positivity about this season, even if the Rangers miss the playoffs. From a full team perspective, they stayed relevant through game 50 of 56, and possibly beyond. They did this with all the drama they went through. All the COVID complications up and down the lineup and coaching staff. And in the toughest division in hockey. The Rangers are a playoff team in any of the other three divisions. They are likely a playoff team in a normal season too. Remember that they are only playing 56 games, not 82. You never know what those 26 missing games mean in a normal year. This is a critical aspect that I think is being overlooked. This wasn’t a real season, with 82 games, proper divisions, and proper playoff scenarios. Yet it’s going to be May and the Rangers are relevant.

3. This is why I have been enjoying the stress free Rangers hockey this year with very few complaints from me (not others, just me). My complaints are systemic based (giving up the blue line, 4 righties on PP1), and the rest works itself out. No stress. No drama. Just hockey. It’s been great to watch and smile and enjoy the growing pains. But all that ends next season. This is a team that, in a real season, likely makes noise through the last game of the season. Maybe beyond. But next season, every game matters. Every single point they toss away will matter. It’s when the Rangers transition from rebuilding team to competing team.

*This does assume Jeff Gorton doesn’t do something astronomically stupid this offseason.

4. I truly believe many of the complains directed at David Quinn are skewed because of the shortened season. Would people be complaining about ice time if there were a training camp and the Rangers had 32 games remaining? Maybe. But I’d bet money they aren’t as loud. There are real concerns about systems and in-game deployments. But are people calling for his head if this wasn’t a weird season? This again goes to the stress free hockey thing for me. I see Quinn has the flaws, but I’m not sweating it yet. He will be back next season, and that will be the true hot seat season for him. If he wins, then we look back and laugh. If not, then I’d expect an in-season replacement.

5. Another thing about this stress free hockey. We’ve been enjoying it for three seasons now. To think the Rangers are where they are after just three years. It’s impressive. They got lucky of course, but every team gets lucky. Every team gets unlucky. That’s just how it goes. I don’t think any of us expected the turn to contention to take just three years. Think of how long it took the Penguins, who first drafted top-5 in 2002 to start their run. The Blackhawks truly bottomed out in 2004. The Kings had their first top-5 pick in 2007. Does this mean the Rangers are set for a Cup run? Likely not. But they certainly have that high-end skill and depth that wins championships.

6. What has made stress free hockey so fun has been the development. The Rangers have some seriously talented depth that has been looking like they belong. When you’re watching the kids grow into their own, and you see the improvements year over year, it makes you remember where the Rangers were just three years ago. Dare I say the rebuild, while having its ups and downs, has been overall fun?

7. But enough of the stress free Rangers hockey. I’m ready for the games to truly matter. I don’t mean barely clinging to slim playoff hopes. I mean every game mattering, and the Rangers getting into the playoffs and making some noise. Three years is enough stress free hockey. I’m ready to sweat it out in January, March, April, May, and June.

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  • Definitely has been fun, and I agree – I’m ready for more important games, too. Hope we haven’t used all our luck yet!

    Looking forward to beating the Kings soon enough…perhaps 4-1.

  • The Rangers are playing meaningful games right now and that is great for the kids to experience, I think we fall short…the math is stacked more against us than with us…

    My dislike for Quinn is his failure to realize that Blackwell played the best hockey of his life for a few months and now has fallen back to who really is…which is a hard worker but not one that really changes the game or deserves to be on a line with Bread.

    Julien Gauthier, if given the proper chance, the chance that he has bestowed upon Blackwell, will either shine or fall flat on his face…but at this point, we have no idea. And I am more willing to take a chance on a 23-24 year, 6’4 230 fitness freak than a 28 year old 5’7 180, journeyman.

    No need to even discuss Howden.

    • It’s been weeks since Blackwell was truly relevant on that 2nd line … and every game since then DQ moves Kravs up to the 2nd or 3rd line, for like 1 or 2 shifts. Why even bother? This has been a long time coming but Blackwell needs to be dropped to the 4th line, he’s not the future and I’m hoping he or Howden gets picked in the expansion draft — we must take DQ’s favorite toys away, it’s the only way to stop him from playing these 2 guys all the time.


      • We should’ve cashed in on Blackwell at the trading deadline I don’t understand that he was holding a place that one of the kids should’ve been in and now it’s very obvious next year Rooney Blackwell Howden that line should be all kids let them come in and play and grow if there’s not a spot on the first three lines somewhere for Gautier then put them on the third line with Morgan and maybe Ronning. We have nothing to lose with a line like that except find out what they can do

        • He satisfies a requirement for the expansion draft, like Rooney. This is why they signed these guys to 2 year contracts.

    • It’s where development and going for the PO longshot are at odds. Quinn’s afraid of that one rookie mistake that breaks the back of the final PO hope. But you are right, Blackwell is nice but not part of the future. Not with the young depth the Rangers have. I think to start next training camp everyone’s gonna have adjusted to what will be needed then and what is being deployed now (cough cough, Kravtzov on the 4th line… cough).

      • Thing is, Blackwell has been pretty ineffective the last few weeks. If he were playing up at the level we saw over a month ago I wouldn’t be so adamant about moving Kravtsov up … but DQ gets a notion in his head and he stubbornly doesn’t like to give it up unless forced to (like Howden getting Covid, JJ having surgery).

    • “And I am more willing to take a chance on a 23-24 year, 6’4 230 fitness freak than a 28 year old 5’7 180, journeyman.”

      Why? it all depends on the role. Who would you prefer – a plumber or a brain surgeon? Depends if you have a leaky pipe or a brain tumor.

      The Rangers have Pavel Buchnevich, Kaapo Kakko, Vitali Kravtsov at right wing. Who do you want as your fourth right wing? I want a guy who is reliable and has a low salary. High ceiling? Who cares, if he turns out to be great, we can’t afford him and he leaves. Low floor? Now that matters.

      Personally I think Gauthier maybe should have gotten more of a shot, but this was an incredibly unimportant decision. Already trying to develop four young forwards gave the team a summer camp look – five would have been even worse.

      • We need the surgeon. Gauthier is a former first round pick and an achiever in the ahl. Why would you keep him undressed and give up his value. He should’ve been playing all this time. It’s part of the future. Even if he was trade bait or expansion fodder. Blackwell is a good player but it’s not that critical that he plays. The kids have more upside. Plus gauthier is much bigger. And he’s a way better skater. Blackwell had hit a wall where as gauthier has further to progress. Really it should be Blackwell Rooney and gauthier on that 4th line.

  • Again our GOAL WAS TO REBUILD, an we have now proven to many Organizations in hockey HOW TO DO IT. I am so impressed with our front office, an the job they have done. This year we were in the toughest division team to team in the NHL. We have lost our most offensive defensemen, an still in the hunt for the playoffs with a young an exciting team. An the talent just keeps on coming.

  • 1 – per, NYR probability for playoffs this morning at 6.1%.
    2 – if the season was a full 82, Dave, do you think the Rangers make the playoffs?
    1-7 – I’ve yet to uncouple “stress” from “Ranger’s hockey!”

    • That is a very difficult question to answer. I still don’t think they are better than the Bruins or Islanders this season. I think they’d barely miss out.

      • Remember if it were a normal season 8 teams in the conference would make it. And they would play a normal schedule. I think the Rangers would be over 82 games one of the top 8 in the conference.

        • My thought process: Isles, Caps, Pens, Canes finish ahead of the Rangers in the Metro.

          In the Atlantic, you have Boston, TB, Toronto. Then it’s Florida with 69 points already.

          That puts the Rangers 9th.

  • I’m not as happy with this year as most are. I predicted at least making the playoffs (admittedly I was counting on Lundqvist to take ‘Washington out of the picture). Still with better coaching and less emphasis on development and more on winning, the Rangers still get there.

    I remember a game back in the 1960s. The Toronto Maple Leafs were the defending Cup champions, but they were in fourth place out of 6 teams. The All-Star game those days pitted the Cup champion against the all-stars of the rest of the league. Anyway, Toronto won. Having a real team is more important than having the best players.

    The Rangers seem more committed to having the best players than to having a real team — and as bad as the Rangers are, the people at BSB are even worse. The worst thing you can do to a hockey team is tell Kevin Rooney and Brendan Lemieux that they are not as good as Alexis Lafreniere – that their well being must take a back seat to his development. If and when Laf becomes a star, his teammates will figure it out and, if he is not a prima donna, be thrilled to share the ice with him.

    I still believe that Lafreniere in Hartford this season would have meant raising the Cup in 2021. And if Eichel comes on board this summer, 2021 was the window.

    Irony — many here believe the Rangers were not going to make the playoffs (and so DQ had as much success as possible) and yet want Quinn fired. The reality is that a coach is rated by what he has done and not what he will do; a team picks the right coach for 2020-2021 when choosing the coach for 2021-2022. So the belief that the Rangers overachieved guarantees that Quinn will remain.

    • It is ludicrous to suggest that we would have been better off having Laf spend the year in Hartford. And yeah, I’ll say it: Brendan Lemieux and Kevin Rooney, you are not as good as Alexis Lafreniere.

      • There’s some leaked footage from a breakfast meeting early this season:

        Quinn: Brendan, Kevin, there’s something I need to tell you. I know this may be hard, but I’m just gonna come out and say it. This kid Lafrienre, well, um, he’s a better player than you guys.
        (Lemieux and Rooney stare incredulously, in silence)
        Quinn: Enjoy the rest of your breakfast gentlemen.

    • Ray, I think the organization was pretty clear that player development was the overarching purpose for the season. They didn’t want to send Lafrenière to Hartford and wanted him to learn in the NHL like Kakko did last year. You can quarrel with that all you want, but that was their choice. They are building a real team, by having young players who are likely to be playing together for a long time play together from the outset. That is rather obviously what they are doing when they have so many start out in MSG and not in Hartford.

      I think that your faith that they would have raised the cup this season if not for Lafrenière to be pretty funny and based on very little. There were other challenges (Panarin’s leave, Zibanejad’ COVID-19) and better teams out there. Judging from what I see now, I think that the window begins next season. It wasn’t open this season.

      • The Rangers didn’t handle Kakko correctly last year. Doing the same with Lafreniere was insanity. People grow in Hartford. The Rangers are emulating the Edmonton model of player development, which failed until McDavid came along.

        The Rangers are fifth in the league in team +/-. Since the Rangers last won the Cup, only two teams have gone +20 without making the playoffs and none has gone +25. I got tired of checking, but quite possibly failing at +35 is unprecedented in the history of the NHL.

        Losing so many close games, not showing up for so many games, this is a team with great ability which has vastly underperformed. Brendan Lemieux quit. There are complaints about Rooney and Blackwell fading. This is exactly what happens when you put development before the team.

        Fact: 2014-2020, there were sixty goaltenders who played 100+ games. Henrik Lundqvist (who made $58M for those six years) was 40th in GAA. The goaltending change was night and day as Shesterkin is among the best. Panarin is as good a left wing as has ever played. Fox is a legitimate Norris candidate. Mika is phenomenal. This team has the elite talent to stack up against just about anybody. Last season I compared top to other teams (don’t recall if it was +/- or total points) but the Rangers narrowly beat out Boston for 2nd. [Tampa Bay was easily first.]. And the team truly has depth as well. Guys like Kevin Rooney and Brendan Smith aren’t great, but they are competent for their roles.

        The truth is that people have gotten so excited about Lafreniere, Kakko, Kravtsov, Gauthier, Chityl, Barron, Fox and Miller that they have forgotten about the Rangers.

        The idea that Boston, NYI, Pitt and Washington are better is a convenient narrative, but it is a deadly one. We may see Jack Eichel or someone like him to add that little extra elite talent, when elite talent is something they absolutely do not need.

        • Ray, much to your chagrin, they did put development first this season. That is the answer.

          Yes, the other teams were better. Not overwhelmingly better, but they are better because they do win those close games.

          • But your argument is circular. It was okay that the Rangers did not make the playoffs because the other teams were better. How do you know they were better? Because they won more games.

            One reason why the Rangers did not win those close games was because they did not regard winning as all that important.

            A key disagreement I have with people here is that I view development completely differently. Youngsters need to learn to respect their teammates. They need to learn to put the effort into every shift. They need to learn that the little things which deprive the opposition of opportunities are just as important as the big things. They need to learn humility. They need to learn to study the game, to learn how not to be beaten the same way twice.

            As for developing their talent, that’s just going to happen if the talent is what it is supposed to be. A few comments here and there are helpful. But we don’t need to maximize ice time or their points.

          • I disagree. The reason that they did not win those close games was because of inexperience. Not a circular argument at all. Some teams were more experienced and better at nailing down games.

        • The stats you put forward are fancy. But the fact is this isn’t an nhl constructed roster. It’s loaded with developmental paths for all the players. Even panarin and Mika and buch , strome kreider etc are developing this season, chemistry with each other and the youngsters to shake out who stays and who plays where and he’s gonna be captain etc.

          But it’s mostly about the kids. 4 youngsters on offense, should be 5 with gauthier. 4, and now 5 youngsters on defense. Plus Rooney and howden for better or worse were being trained and developed into legit penalty killers. But the roster isn’t constructed to battle the caps and isles for 7 games. Not yet. Because they want to develop the kids. And the rest of the players as well. Next year they will put together a roster that is more complete in terms of an nhl constructed roster. Bottom 6 veteran somewhere, vet dman possibly who’s won it before and adds toughness. Maybe a tough skater like a Martin type to help protect the team etc. upgrades in the middle etc etc.

          Next year will start the real climb up the mountain

          • I understand. The Rangers did not win the Stanley Cup this year because they chose not to compete for it. I just think it was a absurd decision and that the young players would have developed better on a Cup winner rather than on a summer camp team. Less ice time yes, but more opportunity to learn.

    • … and yet I believe they would have made the playoffs if there was no hit job on Panarin and/or if Mika had even produced 50% of what he’s normally capable of … and we really can’t judge what effect ADA’s banishment had on team wins and losses.

      Injuries, scheduling and Covid absences affect every team in the League, but we were hit with 2 “issues” that no team could normally expect — and the timing of Mika’s “symptomatic” Covid bout was quite poor.

      Lastly we can’t underestimate the benefit of a regular training camp and regular exhibition games on our younger players. We were the youngest team in the League up to the trade deadline, we might have benefitted the most from a “regular” season.

      So, am I happy with the season? Hell yes, this will make them stronger going forward. The “hunger” next season will be very very strong.

    • Your fantasy of Lafreniere in Hartford has no basis in reality.

      Per the CBA, any player under 20 who is loaned out must be returned to his junior club 1st. The QMJHL is having a season and had started even before the AHL even figured anything out.

  • It’s been fun because, even when they have bad games, there is hope. We know they are going through a process that keeps on improving. You cannot look at all of this young talent, all of which are developing on cue right before our eyes, and not have hope. To the good years ahead!

  • I wonder how much this is a coincidence since Jack Johnson went out of the lineup we are 18 and nine the third pair on Dee seems much more settled I wish she could finally put the kids in the right places on the lines but he hasn’t done that all year so we’ll see how this all plays out

  • The next 6 games is like playoff hockey. They have not been able to play with the big boys when the game meant something. Let’s see if they grown.

  • Dave, outstanding post and I wholeheartedly agree. I truly don’t get all this DQ hate ( I didn’t get the AV hate either…..just have to have someone to blame. Rangers win…it’s the players. Rangers lose…’s the coach. Good to see some things haven’t changed in three years! 🙂 ).

    DQ has had one LEGIT opportunity to coach a normal season, and that was his first year when the rebuild was in its infancy. So we have a head coach on his first NHL assignment….the Rangers were on a roll in late February/early March last year and then COVID hits. It sure felt like that the Rangers were on their way and would have had a great a chance to make the playoffs last year….which would have been incredible in his second year. When the team returned for the Bubble Playoffs, they had lost their mojo, Fast was hurt early in Game 1, Shesterkin was hurt, Hank’s playoff magic was gone…….that was that.

    So that brings us to year 3, with the youngest team in the league, no real training camp, and no significant opportunities to really have meaningful practices with the truncated schedule.

    Then on top of that, the meltdown of Trainwreck Tony, Mika’s post-COVID ineffectiveness, Shesterkin injured again, Putin targets Panarin. Indeed, even DQ’s own COVID exposure. And despite ALL that…. it’s almost May and they are still relevant.

    Not only are they relevant, but the young stars are blossoming. My goodness, I haven’t heard ONE word out here about the incredible season Fox has had. If we are going to blame DQ for shortcomings of other young players, why aren’t we showering him with praise for Fox, who may do something that no one other than Bobby Orr has done….win a Norris in his second season?!?! Why aren’t we praising DQ and his coaching staff for the defensive improvement? For the dramatic improvement on the PK? For the in-season improvement on the PP?

    There is a LOT to like here.

    Now, as I said before, I’m not at all sold on DQ as the guy who will lead the Rangers to the Cup. That is still TBD. But to me, by any reasonable evaluation, DQ has done a very good job under the most challenging of circumstances. He definitely deserves at least one more season…a full and normal season to really see what he can do. Then, as you said, if he’s not the guy for the Stanley Cup Playoffs phase, then you make a change.

    I have thoroughly enjoyed this season. As you said….stress free hockey. Low expectations. Just watch the team build and grow. Next year, assuming they make the right moves to improve the roster, the playoffs can and should be the goal. Then we will find out if DQ is anywhere near as good as AV was at winning more playoff series than any Rangers coach not named Lester Patrick. 🙂

    (Sorry, had to slip that’s in….which will probably get me many thumbs down. But it’s TRUE! History will not be rewritten). 🙂

    • Fox? Don’t go there EEE …. Fox is so hands down awesome at this point that he would have forced any coach in the NHL to ride him like a stud race horse. I’m not saying DQ didn’t coach him properly, but he never had a real choice when it came to letting Foxy play and develop.

      • “Don’t go there?” Come on tanto! This is what I mean which just makes me shake my head, whether we are talking DQ, AV or any other coach. Players play well, that’s all because of the player. If the player doesn’t play as well as expected, then it’s all on the coach. I just totally reject that narrative.

        DQ can and should take a bow for what has been a very positive season on many levels. He absolutely has earned at least one more campaign, hopefully a normal one. Expectations will obviously be a lot higher and it remains to be seen if he’s the right coach to take the Rangers to the playoffs and make a deep run. That’s unknown.

        • I don’t agree. I am not saying DQ should be fired. However, what the Rangers need going forward is certainly not what DQ has demonstrated so far. Is he actually a good competitive coach? His inability to prepare the team for the Carolina series was a bad sign. the fact that the Rangers were hurt more than others by the short camp, the unwillingness to share his authority with a captain.

          My point is that there are lots of little harbingers of the future that JG and JD can pick up on — and for all I know, there may be many they have noticed that weigh in his favor. As you well know, they have vastly more information than you and I do. I think it is wrong to assume that being the right coach for 2020-2021 makes a person the right coach for next year.

          For the record, I don’t consider coaching the best team in the history of the NHL to miss the playoffs to be a great achievement.

        • Fox has been pretty great from the first game he played — that isn’t coaching so much as it is talent and a high hockey IQ.

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