After yesterday’s surprising win, the Rangers’ 2021 season has come to an end. On the ice, the season went as expected. The Blueshirts were up and down all season, putting in streaks of greatness and streaks of frustration. At the beginning of the season, that’s what we here expected. Others may have expected playoffs, but many things needed to go right. Off the ice drama extended throughout the season, and most likely played a role in the Rangers falling short. But with a bright future and a new front office, the question is: Where do the Rangers go from here?
The front office shakeup left us with more questions than answers. Most answers will come in some time, and before we know where the Rangers are going, we will need to understand Chris Drury’s master plan.
Figuring out where the Rangers go from here will be a direct result of how these exit interviews go. For those who weren’t around in 2013, the exit interviews were the direct reason why John Tortorella was fired and Alain Vigneault was brought in. The message with Tortorella had grown tired and the players were sick of it. Does the same fate await David Quinn?
But don’t make the mistake of thinking the exit interviews won’t impact the players too. Drury was instrumental in bringing in Quinn, so unless there’s another mutiny, Quinn will likely stay. That means, as Drury and Jim Dolan have alluded to, roster changes. Both want will to go with the skill. There is a balance to be had.
Skill and will balance
I also wouldn’t make the mistake that Dolan is interfering the way he does with the Knicks. At least, not yet. I don’t think there’s enough evidence to support that. Personally, I think Dolan was looking for an excuse to get Drury in as GM and found it, then used the media to control the messaging out. They’ve done that in the past, as recently as January.
The skill and will balance likely won’t come at the expense of the core future of the team. It will come at the expense of those who are deemed expendable. One thing to keep in mind: All three of Mika Zibanejad, Ryan Strome, and Filip Chytil play the same style of game. That makes the Rangers predictable down the middle. Given the glut of high skill wingers, center is a position I think Drury focuses on. However that is just my guess.
Food for thought: Both Jack Eichel and Elias Pettersson play that same style down the middle. Aleksander Barkov, though, does not.
To keep those who are concerned about the future calm, let’s remember how excited Steve Valiquette has been on the broadcasts. It’s clear he and Drury are friends, and it’s clear that Drury will take the Rangers in a different direction. Given the front office construct, the one area for Drury to improve the Rangers significantly is analytics.
Currently, the analytics group with the Rangers is just four people, headed up by Jim Sullivan. They are a voice in the room, but not one that is overly relied upon. No analytics group that had a true voice would have dressed Anthony Bitetto, Jack Johnson, and Libor Hajek on the same blue line all season. That’s all the evidence we need, to be frank. You can agree with the players themselves, but from an analytics perspective, no group would have suggested that.
I’m going to go full Q for a moment. Given the friendship and excitement from Vally, and that this is an area for improvement for the Rangers, I would not be the least bit surprised if Vally’s Clear Sight Analytics –currently used by a few NHL teams– gets “hired” by the Rangers. Jeff Gorton wasn’t a big analytics guy, and it looks like Drury is. So for those concerned about the “will” players, know that Drury is looking at the numbers.
Tying it together
So where do the Rangers go from here? I think it is safe to assume the Rangers will shake things up in the front office first, before addressing roster issues. It lays the foundation for Drury to leave his mark. But I do not believe the roster will have significant turnover. Not yet, at least.
The foundation does matter. And that is where the Rangers go from here. It will be business as usual until Drury makes his mark behind the scenes.