This Rangers era needed to end this wayIt had to end this way in order for the Rangers to move forward. The Blueshirts were obliterated out of the Stanley Cup playoffs after a period of relative playoff dominance since 2012. Yesterday’s embarrassing debacle was the exact thing the fans and GM, Jeff Gorton needed to sell the hard decisions looming for this team starting this summer.
John Tortorella brought accountability and a ferocious work ethic to the identity of the Rangers in his tenure. That culminated in an ECF loss to the NJ Devils in 2012 and a lot of strained relationships with players like Marian Gaborik and Brad Richards along the way. This ultimately led to his dismissal after an untimely exit against Boston with coveted star winger, Rick Nash in the fold. He was supposed to win it all in 2013 and instead his players turned on him.
One man’s loss is another man’s gain as was the case for Alain Vigneault. The Rangers group he inherited was a little more experienced and loaded with young talent. Henrik Lundqvist was very much peaking as was the play of veteran defensemen, Dan Girardi, and Marc Staal. Sure, players like Brad Richards and Martin St. Louis were on the tail ends of their careers, but that was offset with the promising play of Derek Stepan, Mats Zuccarello, Derick Brassard and Chris Kreider. AV’s more skilled approach brought the team to a Stanley Cup Final and a loss last year in game 7 of the ECF. Still, no championship.
So where do the Rangers go from here? I guess that depends on what is really the problem with the Rangers? Sadly, there are no definitive answers.
Is it the coaching? Maybe. Vigneault is stubborn and isn’t one to change or tweak things too easily. Some believe he is a detriment to developing talent and point to Emerson Etem and now Kevin Hayes as a shining example. They also conveniently ignore the success of J.T. Miller and how much ice time he gave a young Brady Skjei in this 1st round against Pittsburgh. Still, it was also his stubbornness that got the Rangers to the closest they’ve ever been to a Cup since 1994.Is it Rick Nash? While it may be unfair to single out one player, Nash is paid top dollar and was brought here to take the Rangers over the top. Sadly, he didn’t perform well in the playoffs, and even though he improved his post-season scoring since the ECF last year, he isn’t that type of player. No, he isn’t a Mark Messier type and no he isn’t even that formidable an offensive player. Nash is a solid two player but he can easily be stopped and kept to the outside on most nights. Sadly, he isn’t the offensive force like an Ovechkin, Crosby, Kane, Stamkos or Malkin. Those players can grab hold of a game an own it by sheer will and skill, which is something Nash can’t do.
Is it the overall lineup? I think this the deeper issue and one that will be difficult to fix due to the cap and the contracts in place. I don’t have an issue with Tanner Glass on the 4th line. He was actually the only truly physical forward the Rangers had. Just look at the Penguins lineup that just trounced the Rangers. They had a blend of skilled and physical forwards that was very effective. Bryan Rust and Conor Sheary killed the Rangers with their physical play. The problem isn’t a player like Glass, but an aging Dominic Moore and coupled with at one time Jarret Stoll surely didn’t help. But the issues go deeper.
Eric Staal was a complete bust after being acquired for a prospect and two 2nd round picks. At the time, it seemed great but the Rangers haven’t done much to set themselves for the future. But for me, that’s still 3-4 years away to worry about because Pavel Buchnevich is on the way and we now see that both Skjei and Dylan McIlrath can become everyday blue-liners. Sure, E. Staal will likely not be retained but I don’t think any of us will really notice he was even here.
We can go on and on about the lineup construction but we already know that some of the players will not be back here next year. Dan Boyle will not be offered a new contract. Dominic Moore will not be offered a new deal, especially with Oscar Lindberg ready to take on 4th line duties. Viktor Stalberg is up in the air, but there are players in Hartford ready to take his role on for less.No, the real questions are with the defense starting with Keith Yandle. The Rangers must retain him but we can expect him to get offers of 6 million and up. In order to re-sign him, Jeff Gorton will need to convince Dan Girardi and/or Marc Staal that the Rangers are going in a different direction and they need to waive their clauses. Hard sell for sure but they need that money.
Same with Rick Nash. Gorton will need to get him to submit his list of teams and trade him at the draft. Move up to the first round if you can Mr. Gorton and use that 8 million to lock up your RFA’s, Miller, Kreider, Hayes and McIlrath. Of course, you can always use Hayes as a trade chip for draft picks as well. No doubt, we need to restock prospects.
As long as Henrik Lundqvist mans the net for the Rangers, you can’t sell the fans on a rebuild. However, you can reboot the team and shake up the core to let them know this is a new era and debacles like that against the Penguins won’t be tolerated.
Jeff Gorton now needs to show us all this is his vision of the Rangers. That could mean the end of AV as coach, but he won’t replace him unless he can get someone in here with a similar resume. There are some free agents he may go after up front to make up for the scoring loss of Rick Nash, if he chooses to remove his salary as well.
All these changes wouldn’t even be considered had they lost a game 7 heartbreaker. After a 5 game blasting, everything is on the table. This is going to be a difficult offseason, but I believe the Rangers can still walk away from it in good shape. Matter of fact, I think they can step ahead into next season as contenders again.
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