The New York Rangers are a highly skilled team. However, do they have the grit and jam to compete in the Stanley Cup Playoffs?
The New York Rangers have constructed a roster that, at this point, includes a bunch of skill and speed that fits the bill of a classic Coach Vigneault squad. Over Vigneault’s four years on Broadway, he’s led the team to three seasons over 100 points and an average of 48 wins a season.
Clearly a lot of regular season success, yet year in and year out, the Rangers seem to fall short come playoffs. This begs the question, what is wrong with the roster year in and year out? Sure, regular season success is all fine and dandy, but you ask any NHLer on why they play the game and the answer is to win a cup. One area that seems to be lacking for the club is the lack of physicality and grit over those years. The type of hockey changes in the playoffs and there is no denying that, and in that change of hockey, we begin to see different kinds of players come to the forefront for their clubs.
The Rangers are a skilled club that does most of their damage off the rush using their speed to create odd man rushes. However, come playoff time, the game changes and teams are wiser with their changes, much more tenacious on back checks, and keep a skater higher in the offensive zone to prevent odd man rushes. The teams who previously have had success in the playoffs feature players that have the ability to both still score off rushes, but also the ability to play below the face off dots, possess the puck deep in the offensive zone, and play strong with the puck.
Two of the most frustrating cases in this would be Kevin Hayes and Chris Kreider. They both possess the size, speed and strength to absolutely dominate the goal line. But for whatever reason, they’re unable to do so. Kreider’s feet seem to move too fast for his body and he often over skates the puck. Kevin Hayes falls over if there’s a stiff breeze. It’s painstakingly frustrating to watch. The best player on the team that’s able to do this is 5-foot-6 Zuccarello! It’s quite hard to figure out.
Now, the NHL has changed over the years and I am not suggesting the Rangers go out and sign a bunch of thugs and goons that play five minutes a night. That NHL is long gone. However, there are still quality players who fill big time needs for teams’ bottom six forwards.
AV likes to deploy four lines and roll his lines. More skilled players earn more ice time on power plays, other quality forwards earn extra ice on penalty kills. Again, this very much so fits the modern NHL as there are no teams that have fourth liners that only play five minutes a night.
I also understand that things like “fancy stats” have infiltrated the NHL over the years and things like Corsi and Fenwick have become driving factors in free agent signings and lineups. There is no denying that these stats are important and for those who don’t quite understand what Corsi is, in layman’s terms it’s basically a measurement of shots on goal and how a player performs on the ice. If he’s out on the ice for more shots on goal for his team his Corsi stats will rise. If he’s on the ice for more shots on goal against his team, his Corsi stats will fall.
What’s wrong with the current way these things are headed, are that teams will invest EVERYTHING in these fancy stats. They let the fancy stats do all of the talking but for people who actually understand the game of hockey, it’s really not. Yes, fancy stats should be evaluated and used as a tool but it should not dictate every move a team makes. There are still things that go unnoticed on all stat sheets that help teams win.
Again, this is not a call for the Rangers to add goons and fighters to their roster, they tried and failed with Mike Rupp. However, there are players out there who can play Vigneault’s system, while still adding a grit and jam element to the club. I think players like Zucc and Fast do what they can, and JT Miller has the ability to play physical, but when he starts doing that, his offense seems to disappear.
Another quick note for you Corsi guys, young superstars Patrik Laine and Jack Eichel both posted under 50 percent Corsi, but I’m sure none of you would complain if they were Rangers? That’s what I thought. Players like Michael Grabner, and Jesper Fast are fantastic, and this is certainly not a call for their roster spots, but adding someone like David Desharnais for the fourth line, doesn’t seem to add up if we are consistently complaining about this team being too “soft.”