New York Rangers, Mats Zuccarello
Photo by Bergen Record

New York Rangers coach Alain Vigneault needs to set a new trend with how to utilize his defense to keep everyone fresh for the long haul.

By Steven Cifuentes

The New York Rangers are currently in a great position when it comes to their surplus of NHL ready defensemen. They have seven serviceable defenseman and only need to fill six spots each game. While some may look at this as a problem, I see it as a way for Alain Vigneault to become the Greg Popovich of the NHL.

Popovich has mastered coaching a veteran team and making sure they are fresh for the playoffs.  What New York Knicks fan isn’t angry when they show up at MSG, for a game vs. the Spurs, and Tim Duncan is still in San Antonio.  Popovich doesn’t care and neither should Vigneault.

Most teams have a set six defenseman rotation that they hope will survive the season and the majority of them will play 80 plus games. We all know that is a pipe dream and due to the vigorous demands of an NHL season one or more defenseman will get hurt.

Why not try to avoid the predicament of forcing yourself into having to play a cold seventh defensemen, when injury strikes, by rotating all seven defensemen and keeping everyone fresh?

The Rangers do not need to look too far to realize how a team can be affected from the long regular season and a long playoff run. Last year the Rangers defense did not fail them, as much as the Rangers defenseman’s bodies failed them.

The injury list read like a MASH unit by game seven vs. the Tampa Bay Lightening last season. Dan Girardi grade one MCL sprain, Marc Staal hairline fracture ankle, Keith Yandle AC sprain and Ryan McDonagh fractured foot. That is your top four defenseman all trying to play through fractures and sprains at the most important time of the season.

My plan, if I was hired head coach of the Rangers, for this season is to play your core six guys, but when you have a back to back scheduled pull Girardi out and put Dylan McIlrath in the rotation. When you see Staal slow to the puck one game, next game take Staal out and sit in the press box for a game to get recharged.  Not only will the players being rested benefit, but the sixth defenseman that is sitting in the press box as a healthy scratch will stay fresh, and in game shape, in case someone goes down with an injury.

Will this plan allow the Rangers to avoid a serious injury again? Of course nobody can predict the future, but if these spot starts by McIlrath can give a much needed rest to a top six defenseman why not give it a shot.

During every post game press conference all I hear is that Yankees manager Joe Girardi feels a certain player needs a day off. If a baseball player needs a day off, for what they do, hockey players need a week off.

The daily grind and physicality of baseball does not compare to what hockey players goes through. Yes baseball is played everyday, but there is zero contact and if you go hitless one game did you even break a sweat?

The Rangers core defensemen are not getting any younger and don’t even get me started with how old Dan Boyle is. The Rangers need to start a new trend and give their veterans maintenance games off.

While it may be hard to get a hockey player to agree he needs a game in street clothes. If it keeps a guy fresh for the long grind of the regular season and playoffs, I say give it a shot. Hopefully this will avoid the entire defensive unit needing surgery and walking boots by the end of the season.

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Founder of New York Hockey Message board on Facebook. If you want to know one man's opinion of Rangers hockey, great and awful, he is the man to seek out. Steve is a self proclaimed obsessed Rangers Fan. Steven's perfect romantic evening is a Beer, Wings and a Ranger game on TV with his girlfriend. Girlfriend is optional of course.