As the 2017-2018 season concludes, the question of why and how this New York Rangers team failed will be asked throughout the summer. There is plenty of blame to go around.
The New York Rangers are about to miss the playoffs for the first time since the 2010-2011 season. In an era where the top eight teams make the playoffs in each conference, what went so wrong during the year to bring them to this point?
The Rangers had 11 defensemen suit up on the blueline at different times this season. Ryan McDonagh, Nick Holden, Anthony DeAngelo, Steven Kampfer, Brady Skjei, Brendan Smith, Kevin Shattenkirk, Neal Pionk, John Gilmour, Rob O’Gara and Ryan Sproul.
Head coach Alain Vigneault was never able to find the right defensive pairing, changing the pairs in the middle of the periods or during practice, the defense suffered all season.
Poor passing, turnovers, and indecision were the keywords one would describe the players who tried so hard but failed more times than not. Kevin Shattenkirk played hurt most of the year until he had surgery in January, Ryan McDonagh had to deal with a new partner for what looked like every game. The result of which was a poor goal production (two goals) and lack of confidence and leadership.
Brady Skjei suffered through a tough sophomore season. It didn’t help that he also played with multiple partners. As the season began, it was believed that Skjei would be partnered with Smith as was the case at the end of last season. Unfortunately, for Smith, he was sent down to the AHL Hartford Wolf Pack due to his poor play.The 23-year-old Skjei produced five goals with 39 points last season, has only scored three goals with 17 assists this season. His plus/minus statistic is dramatically off from last year where he was a plus 11, this season he is a minus 18. In Skjei’s defense, he has had most of the young kids called up play as his partner, still the numbers don’t lie.
Marc Staal, Who at the beginning of the year was a question mark to make the starting six, has played solid on the blueline, continuing to do his best out there against the talented players of the NHL. But as the season has gone on, his play has diminished and most certainly will be part of a conversation to determine if the team should buyout the remainder of his contract.
Anthony DeAngelo, called up in January after he was sent down to Hartford earlier in the season, has played well for the Rangers. With Neal Pionk and John Gilmour joining the ranks the Rangers have shown promise in the backend of the team as the rebuild begins to take shape.
One statement can sum up the offense of this Rangers club. They lacked a big name goal scorer. A go-to guy the team could rely on for the big goal in a desperate time of a close game.
At the time of Michael Grabner’s trade to New Jersey, he was the team’s leading scorer with 25 goals. An interesting backstory about Grabner, he was originally signed to improve a bad penalty killing unit on the Rangers, his knack for scoring goals was the cherry on top of the sundae.
Rick Nash, was never the goal scorer the Rangers traded for. But he turned out to be great two-way hockey player throughout his time with New York. At the time of his trade, he had netted 18 goals on the year with 28 points.
Chris Kreider, was playing fast and hard, but suffered a blood clot in his arm and missed two months of the season. He recently returned but hasn’t found the net as much as he would like.
Newcomer Vladislav Namestnikov has scored twice since coming to the Rangers and along with Ryan Spooner (two goals, seven assists), the new guys are contributing since their arrivals in late February. The verdict is still out on if these guys can continue to put the goal light on in a consistent manner.
As for Kevin Hayes, Mika Zibanejad, Pavel Buchnevich, Jimmy Vesey, Mats Zuccarello, along with the everyday forwards it has been a disappointing year in the goals department. Then again these guys aren’t the big goal scorers the team should be relying on to win games. The team is front-loaded with too many second and third line players and not enough of talented top line players and those results are another reason why the team sits outside the playoff house.
Consequently, the offensive players lacked the everyday skill to help out on defense. Too many times the team was outnumbered in the corners, had point men left wide open, could not chip the puck out of their end near the blueline. All of these factors contributed to poor play by some very smart hockey players.
There is not much to say about Ondrej Pavelec. When he was in the lineup, he played fairly well. The key part of the above sentence is when. Pavelec only appeared in 16 games with a 4-7-1-1 record. He registered a .910 save percentage. It was obvious Alain Vigneault had no faith in the backup goaltender.
Henrik Lundqvist appeared in 58 games this season, so far. The 36-year-old started 56 of the 58 games he has appeared in with a 25-23-6-2 record and 2.92 goals against average. It is tough enough to play against the best players in the world, but to do so on a team that struggled game in and game out in front of you was way too much for Hank to handle. Along with the play in front of him, Henrik had several moments of poor hockey which didn’t help the Rangers situation.
The head coach is responsible to control the number of games his number one goalie should start, but Henrik wanted to play in about every game he could talk Vigneault into letting him play. The result was a tired goalie who had trouble focusing and frequently showed visible frustration with his team.
Alexandar Georgiev has appeared in six games and has three wins in his short time up with the Rangers. Georgiev appears to have a promising future ahead of him as a New York Ranger. His enthusiasm and energy have helped the Rangers produce a winning record since the trade deadline passed at the end of February (4-2-1).
Head Coach Alain Vigneault
Alain Vigneault is the one common factor in all the issues with the club. He has appeared to be conflicted all season long and most times you can hear it in his media sessions following a game. He preached team chemistry at the beginning of the season, yet he is the one responsible for the lack of said chemistry as he constantly changed lines and defensive pairings.
His baffling logic when he decided to bench players such as Pavel Buchnevich and former Ranger J.T. Miller for mistakes was the reason both of these players have had underachieving seasons.
On the other end of the spectrum, Vigneault would allow players such as Kevin Shattenkirk, who would make many more mistakes and bad decisions on the ice, would rarely get benched. The confusing messages Vigneault would put out took its toll on the psyche of the players.
He is the reason why many players struggled through the year based on how he played them or how he would line them up with other teammates. A perfect example of this is what happens to former captain Ryan McDonagh. He was expected to play with a different partner practically every game but Vigneault also expected McDonagh to perform offensively and defensively without a worry. This, in my opinion, was one of the reasons he now plays for the Tampa Bay Lightning (A.K.A Rangers South).
He showed no patience with the forward lines, giving them little opportunity to gel into a strong combination. He brought players in and out of the lineup without concern for the teamwork he was looking for.
He is a large part of the reason why the team has struggled and looks to be out of contention for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Vigneault’s lack of patience is another knock to the coach and his system. He tends to jump on a young player when a mistake is made without giving him the benefit of the doubt. How can a rookie learn when he is constantly worried about getting criticized and benched by the head coach.
General Manager Jeff Gorton
Jeff Gorton is not to be excused in any way. He may not be setting up the lines, but he has the final say with regard to player personnel.
The signing of players like Cody McLeod, Peter Holland, along with the demotion of Cristoval “Boo” Nieves turned out to be decisions that didn’t benefit the team. He seemed to be worried about marking a “big” trade through most of the season, that is until the “Letter to the Fans” was announced.
Once the organization sent out the letter to Ranger fans that they would be making changes to the team, Gorton began to do what was expected of him. To make the team better in the future. He made the trades that fans all know about. His next job will be setting up the organization for an extremely important draft in June.
Blame is a tough word to use when talking about a professional hockey club. The Rangers have not been in this predicament for a very long time as this scenario was something the team never anticipated. There is plenty of blame to go around.
It lands on everyone associated with the team. It’s easy to blame the goalie, the forward or the defenseman. Really though the blame lies with everyone involved in the organization. The GM, Head Coach and his staff, and every player that has donned the Ranger sweater this year.
In the end, it’s all about the team. Sure a goalie may get hot in stretches, a player could get on a goal or point streak but at the end of the day or in this case the season the organization is at fault.
The GM never addressed the scoring needs last summer, the coach never showed enough patience with his players, and the players, the real face of the franchise, were never able to achieve their goals of making the playoffs and striving for a Stanley Cup.
My dad always says this at the end of every season, except for 1994 “wait till next year”. Well, dad, next year may not be to fun either, but maybe it will be the start of a new opportunity to chase and win a Stanley Cup.
For now, the blame game is far from over, it just took a pause until the playoffs are completed. After that, the fans could see more trades, a different head coach and hopefully more wins.