For a couple months, I’ve been piggybacking off Elliotte Friedman and our own Brandon Cohen on this weekly thought post. While I’d usually do these ad-hoc, I liked the idea of consistency and a common theme. This week, let’s continue our discussion on the Rangers offseason plans, but focus on how one decision will impact another, and everything is relative.
As an aside: I’ve been toying with the idea of adding this weekly post behind a Patreon for a couple bucks a month. Figure $2 a month for this weekly post. You’d wind up, on average, paying about 50 cents a week for it. Let me know your thoughts on that in the comments.
1. There has been a lot of digital ink spilled on toughness and grit. Makes sense, given how John Davidson and Jeff Gorton were let go. But toughness and grit are very subjective terms. The classic definition is hitting and being a pest. We’ve gone through that a few times already. But there’s also just being tough to play against, and having a team identity. The Rangers did not have an identity at all this season.
In addition, the Rangers did not challenge their opponents at all. They were inconsistent on the forecheck, allowed speed through the neutral zone, and backed off the blue lines. The back check was relatively non-existent as well, although that is partially due to being unable to catch anyone because of speed through the neutral zone.
2. You know what fixes both issues? The right coach. In theory, if the right coach is hired, the team becomes much more difficult to play against. If they are tougher to play against and stifling opponents, do we care how many hits they throw?
Do we have a conversation about grit if the Rangers don’t look so inept in two of three zones? I ask only because it seems we are focused on words and not process. The process is being difficult to play against, which includes being gritty in all three zones. Tenacious on the forecheck, coverage through the neutral zone, and stepping up on the blue line matter. That’s the system and getting buy in from the players.
3. Food for thought. Jesper Fast wasn’t your prototypical gritty kind of player. But he was very hard to play against. Look at a good amount of the big Rangers playoff goals during their runs. Fast was on the ice for a good amount of them. He’s a new-age grit guy not because of his physical “toughness,” but because he makes your life difficult on the ice.
These are the kinds of players that the Rangers should also look into. The Matt Tkachuk’s and Tom Wilson’s of the world are few and far between. But the Jesper Fast’s are out there. Look for good skaters who get in on the forecheck and backcheck regularly.
4. Lindholm also fits that need for a cost controlled middle-six center beyond next season. This is where things begin to tie in together. Ryan Strome’s next contract might be a problem, and it’s unlikely the Rangers will keep both him and Mika Zibanejad. Lindholm would fit that tough to play against player need, plus that new-age gritty type player.
But Lindholm likely doesn’t happen if the Rangers land Jack Eichel. You know what else doesn’t happen if the Rangers land Eichel? Keeping Strome.
In fact, no centers may happen this year if the price is wrong. In which the Rangers might change course.
5. The point of the first four thoughts is that they are all linked together. That’s something that I believe is missing from the comments lately. It’s the nuance behind some of the presumed Rangers offseason plans. We can talk until the cows come home about what the Rangers might do or are planning to do. But it is all relative to what the prices are and what the Rangers are willing to part with.
For example, most bets are off when it comes to Connor McDavid. I only bring that up because social media had its fun with the Oilers after they got swept. But the price for McDavid is not the price for Eichel. The price for Eichel is not the price for Lindholm. There’s a plan here.
6. Here’s an unpopular opinion: If the Rangers can’t get what they want for what they want to pay, then dare I say they will still be much improved next season? We saw the glaring system issues and the lack of consistent effort. Does that change with a new coach?
What about the deployments? Does a simple lineup change in the top-nine make all three lines more efficient? What about a swap of the top-four on defense? Or adding another lefty to PP1? These are all minor changes that can be done with the current top-13 in the lineup.
It doesn’t necessarily mean the Rangers will be better off beyond next season, given the expiring contracts, but it is something to consider.
7. Expanding on that, and perhaps the most important thing for the Rangers, is fixing the bottom players on the roster. A stopgap player or two on the blue line and someone who isn’t Brett Howden on the fourth line will go a long way to balancing this roster out.
Most importantly is that third pair. The Rangers got walked whenever it wasn’t the top-four out there. If there is on important thing in the Rangers offseason plans that few are talking about, it is fixing that third pair. Nils Lundkvist presumably goes a long way to addressing that, but the Rangers will need someone to play on that left side, A viable stopgap is fine.