The fashion for which these 2016-17 New York Rangers are currently assembled won’t allow them to capture the Stanley Cup.At one point during the 1993-94 regular season, Mike Keenan relayed a very important message to his young, hotshot general manager. Iron Mike made the claim that his current, league-leading New York Rangers weren’t equipped to win the Stanley Cup.
Despite possessing a nice mix of young and veteran hockey talent, a group that had amassed the most points in the league at the time, Keenan asked Neil Smith to go shopping at the trade deadline. He did not believe his current roster could win the Cup.
Upon special request, the Rangers traded away young and athletic talent left and right. Out was the likes of Tony Amonte, Mike Gartner, Todd Marchant, and Phil Bourque. In came Glenn Anderson, Craig MacTavish, Brian Noonan, and, of course, Stephane Matteau. Smith unleashed serious youth (Amonte, especially) in favor of experience.
It worked. The rough and tumble tournament of the NHL was conquered by the Rangers for the first time in 54 years and without the likes of a MacTavish, Noonan (who actually scored the final goal of Game 7, not Mark Messier), and Matteau, New York would be working under their 76th season of Cup-less hockey.
Now, presently in the organization’s 90th season (as we’re reminded every game thanks to anniversary patches on ice and jersey), the Rangers find themselves in the same situation.
This time around, youth has very little to do with it.
This roster, as currently assembled, doesn’t possess enough grit, toughness, and defensive principle to get it done during the second season — a time for which officials allow much to go by the wayside and vanish into hockey’s thin air. Hooking, holding, interference — it’s all fair game in the playoffs. And when time is ticking in the third period, whistles get choked on more frequently than a snack on Rex Ryan’s dinner table. (Sorry Rex, but “let’s get a damn snack.”)
Make no mistake about it: this team is good. Nobody is looking to bash them while they’re a little down (3-3-1 in last seven games). We all know the offensive stats. Though they’ve only ripped seven goals over the last four games, the Rangers 3.67 goals a game mark is far and away number one in the NHL. Alain Vigneault‘s all-out speed and attack system is fully implemented and it’s paid off with 33 points and a first-place standing in the Metropolitan Division.
Jimmy Vesey and Rick Nash had themselves a night. Vesey on the PP gives the Rangers the lead. #NYR pic.twitter.com/3M1C7TidSr
— Elite Sports NY (@EliteSportsNY) November 30, 2016
These guys have the talent and ability to easily finish with the squad’s third Presidents’ Trophy this decade.
That doesn’t mean they’re equipped to handle the tournament.
New York has yet to win a game this season when they’ve scored less than three goals. Their record when scoring three or fewer goals is 3-7-1 which includes a 0-7 mark when tallying fewer than three.
This is a terrible sign. Through 16 games during the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the champion San Jose Sharks averaged a cool 3.13 goals a game. This led the league (of all 16 clubs). The champion Pittsburgh Penguins ranked second with 3.04. Third were the Chicago Blackhawks with a mark of 2.86.
A season prior, the Anaheim Ducks led the tournament with a mark of 3.56 goals a contest in 16 total games while the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs featured the champion Los Angeles Kings finishing first in goals scored with an average of 3.38.
The postseason is a completely different animal.
As pointed out by Joe Fortunato of Blueshirt Banter, opponents have seemed to figure out the Rangers offensive attack. They’ve clogged the neutral zone and played the slight interference game, especially as seen in the shutout at the hands of the Ottawa Senators. Possession metrics and even shots on goal results have been horrid as of late:
Here is a list of teams who have been worse than NYR in shot attempts since November 1st.
New York Islanders
— Adam Herman (@AdamZHerman) November 28, 2016
Worse yet, this is only November — a time for which speed rules the roost and penalties are called on a natural basis. When springtime rolls around, forget about it. The speed and attack New York lives on will suddenly slow down, through no fault of their own.
The most alarming trend, however, is the actual type of game these guys play.
Up and down the lineup showcases skill and pure speed. Open ice is the friend of Broadway and rough play can only be matched by a few (Chris Kreider, J.T. Miller, Matz Zuccarello to a pesky degree). What they’re missing isn’t a goon, a non-skilful type like Tanner Glass. What the Rangers are missing is physical toughness and a defensive presence that could seamlessly blend in with such a high-powered group.
The first place a player like this would be welcomed with open arms is along the blueline. Obviously, though, beggars can’t be choosers. A guy like Milan Lucic who not only brings a physical and defensive edge but a mental edge as well is the prototypical hockey player this lineup lacks.
Jimmy Vesey, Kevin Hayes, Brandon Pirri, Mika Zibanajed, Pavel Buchnevich — these kids are studs. But does this lineup present enough of a balanced contrast from one to 18 that could actually fulfill dreams of a championship?
It’s not the most talented lineup that wins the Cup. It’s the best lineup that forms the best team.
If the Stanley Cup Playoffs played out in the same fashion the regular season does, a firm answer of “yes” would come back in relation to the Rangers Cup chances. But because the playoffs play out like a demolition derby (rather than a hockey game at times), the firm answer at this present time is “no” — they aren’t true Cup contenders. Not yet.
22 years later, another skillful, top-of-the-standings type Rangers team is showing face in the NHL regular season. Can Alain Vigneault say the same things to Jeff Gorton that Iron Mike once said to young Smith?
This will be the all-important question from now until the trade deadline.
The New York Rangers organization can win the 2017 Stanley Cup. This roster, as currently assembled, simply cannot.