The New York Rangers have multiple holes they have to begin to fill for next season. Is an offensive defenseman the primary need? Or is there more to it than that?
The New York Rangers had one of the worst defenses in the entire NHL last season. On par with lowly teams like the New York Islanders and Edmonton Oilers, their schemes, deployment, and actual players all proved to be incompetent at the NHL Level, as goaltender Henrik Lundqvist was often peppered with shots game after game.
Many critics of the 2017-18 New York Rangers claim that the team is in desperate need of an offensive defenseman. These critics also feel that this is the draft year to find that offensive defenseman.
But, personally speaking, an offensive defenseman does not fix the New York Rangers. Their holes go beyond something that a skill player on the back end could fix. It is the culture that needs to be adjusted.
The next generation of Rangers stars are rising through the ranks. Players like Filip Chytil, Lias Andersson, and Neal Pionk are among the more impressive rookies. Other youngsters remain developing in the system, while NHL prospects such as Pavel Buchnevich continue to find their way in the NHL.
The previous generation was a far grittier one. Ryan Callahan, Brandon Dubinsky, Dan Girardi, and others personified the John Tortorella system of grinding, physicality, and character.
This group, to say the very least, lacks the character necessary to become a contending team. Now, beat writers and analytics-driven bloggers will tell you that grit and character are irrelevant components of championship teams. Skill, according to these critics, is all that is needed. But, being a successful NHL team goes beyond that.
Sean Avery, in an interview with Doug Williams, critiqued the Rangers’ lack of character both in this past season and in recent years. He believed that the fans were often unmoved by the Rangers style of play and that the crowd hasn’t seem fully engaged in a very long time.
This could not be more of an accurate evaluation. While the older Rangers personified skill, leadership, and character, this recent generation represents a more robotic mindset, not possessing enough mental fortitude to endure the struggle of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. You could say that a team emulates the character of its coach.
Now, the Rangers can add both skill and character simultaneously coupled with a solid veteran presence to guide the youth, but a culture change seems to be the most pressing of needs.
As I have had more time to reflect, the Rangers locker room has been left gutted by the 2018 NHL Trade Deadline and traumatized by the rule of the incompetent and characterless Alain Vigneault.
While Lias Andersson and Brett Howden show promise as rookies regarding leadership and character, the rest of these youngsters could use an infusion of these attributes as well.
A player like Evan Bouchard, a skilled offensive defenseman in this year’s draft, could fall to the Rangers at the nine spot. Lauded for his leadership prowess, as well as skill set, maybe he can correct both the need for an offensive defenseman (who has two-way qualities), and address the need for another leader in the locker room.
J.T. Miller made the situation all the more glaring to fans. While the forward possessed great skill, he was deemed to be a possible distraction in the locker room by Larry Brooks. This, according to Brooks, could have fueled the talks that resulted in his departure.
The Rangers of previous years would have never had that problem. It can be ascertained that once the proper foundations for leadership, character, and determination in the locker room are established, the rest of the players will fall like dominos. The Rangers lacked that foundation to tip the dominos.
The fact of the matter is that the Rangers need more than an infusion of skill to ameliorate the issues from the previous season. While they lack superstar power, they lack locker room fluidity, which is just as vital of an attribute to a contending team.
These are issues that should both be addressed in the offseason.
And, for those who continue to implore readers and fans to live and die by advanced statistics, look at “Rangers South,” or the Tampa Bay Lightning. Many analysts of the team, including their own head coach, have praised the impacts of ex-Rangers players. Dan Girardi, the former enemy of Rangers stat hounds, has been one of the individuals that has been seen as most responsible for Tampa’s success.
If you continue to doubt my assertions, look to the opinions of Lightning fans and bloggers, who have found a great degree of respect for the former “character” Rangers and their importance to the culture of the team and their collective playoff run.