A successful New York Rangers offseason key to contending for the playoffs

By Julia Capitelli
jeff gorton chris drury
Mar 17, 2021; New York, New York, USA; New York Rangers associate general manager Chris Drury works the bench during a game against the Philadelphia Flyers at Madison Square Garden. Due to the NHL COVID-10 protocol, the Rangers coaching staff were not available for tonights game. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Bennett/POOL PHOTOS-USA TODAY Sports

New York Rangers President and General Manager Chris Drury has made his offseason plans fairly clear. The Rangers need an experienced coach, more grit, and a few key players added to the lineup.

A successful offseason should ideally put the team in a position to compete for a playoff spot next season.

New York Rangers hiring the right head coach is top priority

Owner James Dolan has been direct in communicating his feelings about the Rangers’ culture. The culture created by the prior management group apparently just wasn’t what he had in mind. He selected Drury who will be looking for the next coach.

David Quinn seemed to have established a culture with a certain degree of stoicism. The coach rarely showed emotion behind the bench; it took something extreme to get a real reaction out of him. This bled into his players and led to a decrease in physicality and overall grit.

Yes, as the 2020-21 season progressed the Rangers were more willing to stand up for one another but that wasn’t always the case. The Rangers have been called “soft” and accused of having no sandpaper. While they will need to bring in additional players to resolve the issue, it is also going to have to become part of the Rangers overall game. They need a coach that will enforce this and instill a culture of physicality along with finesse.

While there are still plenty of young players on the roster, the focus is starting to shift away from player development and towards playoff contention. They need a coach with winning playoff experience. Gerard Gallant seems to have been the most popular name floating around of late and the Rangers already conducted an interview with him. However, he’s coaching Canada at the World Championships and so far they’re under performing. It should be interesting to see if this at all impacts the Rangers’ decision. It would be recency bias but still could be a factor.

Rangers’ need for grit is apparent

New York Rangers offseason
May 5, 2021; New York, New York, USA; The game between the Washington Capitals and the New York Rangers starts with a line brawl one second into play at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Bennett/POOL PHOTOS-USA TODAY Sports

The Rangers’ system currently favors a finesse style of play that isn’t going to get them very far. Finesse can work in the regular season, but certainly not in the playoffs (i.e. Edmonton Oilers). They need to add another element to their game, and Dolan and Drury would like for that to be sandpaper. While it is up to the future coaching staff and the players on the current roster to find a willingness to play physically within the team that’s here, it would also be productive to bring in additional pieces.

Larry Brooks brought up Nazem Kadri as a possible target. While he may be serving an eight-game suspension for an illegal check to the head and is a repeat offender, the Rangers should still consider him. The right coach may be able to get him calm down and use his physicality in a more productive manner. He could center the third or fourth line.

Every successful team has at least one player that is known to be a nuisance for opponents; it makes them harder to play against. The Rangers don’t currently have someone who plays that role and are in turn not very difficult to play against. They do have Ryan Lindgren, but he isn’t quite on Kadri’s level when it comes to physicality and can’t shoulder this responsibility alone especially being the number two defenseman.

Is it time for the Rangers to name a captain?

During his end of season media availability, Mika Zibanejad expressed his confidence in the Rangers’ “leadership group.” Several Rangers throughout the season have spoken about the closeness of the team and how they’ve grown together this year. Does all of this imply that a captain isn’t necessary? It’s certainly possible that the Rangers feel perfectly secure without a labeled captain, but all successful teams in the NHL right now have one. Every team in the playoffs this year has one. If the Rangers are really looking to be a playoff team, they likely need a captain too.

Though the team was able to work through their on and off-ice drama this past season as a group, there were times when one player seemed to step up as a clear-cut leader. Whether that was Chris Kreider in the absence of Artemi Panarin or Jacob Trouba when the Rangers were struggling with effort, the team seemed to respond. This young team needs structure. A leadership group consisting of four alternate captains can work, but as a whole they may react better to a single captain. It’s not a matter of the others stepping down once a captain is named. It’s simply a matter of structure. A chain of command even.

So the question is: who should be the captain? Chris Kreider seems to be the obvious choice on the surface. He’s the senior-most Ranger who has proven he can be a leader both on and off the ice and who enjoys and values mentoring younger players. But the problem with that is Kreider can disappear for days or even weeks at a time. Towards the end of this season, for example, he experienced a major slump. Kreider has always been this kind of player, therefore it could pose a problem in his being captain.

Both Zibanejad and Trouba also have shown their leadership qualities. But neither to the same extent as Kreider. There’s also the option of waiting another few years for Alexis Lafrenière to mature. His leadership qualities have been at the forefront of the discussion about him since before the 2020 draft. It’s possible the Rangers organization would still prefer to wait for him to be ready for the job and delegate the alternate captain responsibilities to other younger players like Adam Fox.

Will there be significant changes at center or on defense?

The Jack Eichel rumors have been prominent since last offseason. But will the Rangers make a move for him this summer? A deal for Eichel could include younger players that not too long ago seemed like key assets. Filip Chytil and Vitali Kravtsov are some names that have been mentioned. One would have to believe the Rangers would be willing to trade both of them to acquire Eichel. They currently have Zibanejad and Ryan Strome lining up as one and two down the middle with Kevin Rooney, Filip Chytil, and Brett Howden moving in an out of the third and fourth center spots. If the Rangers can get Eichel and play him on the top line with Zibanejad on the second and Strome on the third, they would suddenly be a lot deeper.

Competition with other teams could get in the way of the Rangers’ landing Eichel. It’s possible that Buffalo would rather trade him to a team out west due to geographic rivalry within New York. Another team may also be able to put together a package that is more appealing to them. In this case, the organization should be considering other free agent center options as well.

After being promoted to President and General Manager, news came out that Drury plans to add a veteran defenseman to the roster. They could choose to re-sign Brendan Smith, but that wouldn’t be an addition. A veteran defenseman would ideally provide playoff experience. It would also be helpful if such a defenseman brought a physical presence. With three of the top four defensemen being just second and third year players, another veteran could be a helpful guide.

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