As the offseason continues, there seems to be a common trend in the emotional comments on this site and on social media. It’s that the Rangers are bad, soft, and need to change many things. This couldn’t be further from the truth. A contender isn’t built overnight. It takes time, even with top picks. They were put on a course, and they are staying that course. Believe it or not, the Rangers don’t need to overhaul the roster to compete. In fact, only a few minor changes are needed.
Complete system buy-in
By hiring Gerard Gallant, the Rangers have already checked off one of those three boxes. David Quinn was likely not the coach that could get the Rangers to the promised land. Looking beyond the obvious faults, this was his first NHL coaching gig. How many first timers win Cups?
But getting into the details and beyond the emotion, the biggest concerns were with the system. He micromanaged offense and coached veterans as if they were prospects. By itself, that’s not going to go over well, especially when one of them is a perennial Hart candidate. We saw those emotions boil over in several interviews, mostly by Ryan Strome. Kudos to him for breaking the vanilla NHL interview and actually speaking his mind.
In Gallant, the Rangers have not only a coach that has a history of getting his players to buy-in, but a coach who has systems that actually work at the NHL level. Less micro management of offense, and more aggressive on the forecheck and in the neutral zone. By itself, this makes the Rangers tougher to play against. It’s a more north-south type of style, instead of the east-west the Rangers had been playing.
Worth noting that the Vegas team he coached wasn’t this bruising, gritty team like the Bruins. They were very skilled, with some guys here and there on the bottom-six that threw the body. Ditto his teams in Florida. But we covered that already.
The fourth line matters
Most of Gallant’s teams have had skill in the top-nine. They’ve also had a dependable two-way fourth line that, when needed, did throw the body. Ryan Reaves and Shawn Thornton (Deryk Engelland was a defenseman) were those bruisers, but they were somewhat dependable. This is one area where the Rangers might see some change, but it’s not a wholesale change.
On paper, a fourth line of Colin Blackwell, Kevin Rooney, and Morgan Barron gets the job done. They would be dependable in three zones and could chip in offensively. This would also end the Brett Howden experiment, which is needed. The Rangers botched that one by rushing him and thinking he, like Lias Andersson, could bypass the AHL and jump straight to the NHL.
If this is where the Rangers want to add another “tough guy” piece, then by all means, go for it. If a guy like Reaves or Thornton alternates time depending on opponent, then that’s just smart matchup hockey.
As an aside, the Rangers were true competitors when their third line was Benoit Pouliot-Derick Brassard-Mats Zuccarello. You know what sounds awfully familiar? Chris Kreider-Filip Chytil-Vitali Kravtsov. An overhaul of the Rangers roster isn’t needed based solely on that.
The third pair matters
The Rangers trotted out Brendan Smith, Jack Johnson, and Libor Hajek regularly last season. Smith is far and away the best of that bunch, and that’s not saying much. Adding two of Zac Jones, Nils Lundkvist, and Braden Schneider solidifies a bottom pair that got walked regularly last season.
If you’re thinking toughness, then let’s remember the Rangers do have Ryan Lindgren and Jacob Trouba. Both throw big hits without getting caught out of position. I’m also all-in on Brendan Smith as the 7D on a $1 million contract. He’s exactly what you’d want in that role, especially if you’re thinking of adding that enforcer type at forward and can’t quite find that right deal or price.
Only small moves are fine
Replacing the bottom pair and the fourth line with actual players impacts 5 of 18 players, or 28% of the lineup. That matters. Also add in the penalty kill factor, and you’re talking more minutes than you might think.
This doesn’t mean the Rangers *won’t* make big moves, it’s that they don’t *need* to. This makes a world of difference when addressing big rumors like Jack Eichel. If the price and situation are right, then make the splash. If not, then the big “need” of center depth can be mitigated by strong wings.
The need to overhaul the Rangers roster based on the last week or two of the season is an extreme overreaction. The right system and a few shrewd moves to improve roster depth is all they need. It’s unlikely what they will do, but this team is much closer than you might believe.