Rangers need to focus on improving the lackluster Wolf Pack

Springtime has hit the capital city. A longtime ago, Wolf Pack fans geared up for post-season action. Fast forward over the years, and that has changed.

No more annual playoff appearances, no more exciting winnable seasons. Time has changed for the Wolf Pack franchise, from being known in the league as a tough opponent to play to now simply being a breezy cake walk.

This reputation can change as the Rangers must reconsider their thinking on assembling the 2019-2020 roster. Former head coaches Ken Gernander and Keith McCambridge faced a tough task create a winnable team with holes on the roster.

Last season was no different than the previous four seasons. The team developed prospects in a losing culture. The Pack were bottom in the basement once again. After completing the 76 game schedule Hartford produced a record of 29-36-7-4 for 69 points. This established the second time in franchise history with a point percentage below .500 (.454). The first time was in the 2016-17 season as that group went .355.

Goaltending Had False Hope

Huska (Wolf Pack)

Originally with the dual of two veteran goalies, Dustin Tokarski and Marek Mazanec, the goaltending situation in Hartford looked solid. Despite the rough start to the season with Dustin Tokarski, the duo was solid in the early stages.

However, the situation became disappointing as the season progressed. Even Alexandar Georgiev was disappointing in net with how he performed in his brief stint. In the 11 games played, he went 2-9 with a 3.66 goals against average and a 0.883 save percentage. You cannot fault Alexander Georgiev since it was a combination of weak defense and not playing up to expectations.

Keith McCambridge used his two veterans incorrectly as well. He stayed with one of the veterans until they were cold and looking at the season, neither really got hot. That was understandable, but to have a goalie not play for long stretches wasn’t helpful.

Eventually Hartford had a goalie carousel. They traded both vets and brought several goalies for the remainder of the year. Brandon Halverson and Adam Huska stood out in the end.

In total the franchise had six goalies in net throughout the season. The inconsistencies throughput the roster led to struggles in the crease. Yet coming into the season, expectations were that the goalies were a strength. Boy, I was wrong.

Managements and Player Comments Regarding the Season

Hartford had exit interviews last Tuesday as the players head off to their summer destinations with lots to think about. The Wolf Pack won 10 games from February to April. The first axe was on coach Keith McCambridge and assistant Joey Mormina immediately after the season concluded.

“One of the assistant captains, Rob O’Gara, was sidelined for much of the second half with back spasms was very disappointed. “When you work with someone who has helped you and you develop a relationship with them, it’s never fun to see them go through something like this. We do develop a family atmosphere and (McCambridge) was very honest with me, which I appreciated, and he helped me because I struggled a lot early on trying to do too much. I got to be in a good spot where I was playing some good minutes, and then I got injured, but I appreciate he gave me a leadership role this season.”

Rob O’Gara, Howlings.net

Vetearn Rob O’Gara had a few comments regarding the firing. In the AHL, developing close relationships with players is key. I sense this was a loss to him, but not all players feel the same way. This is business as we must improve our franchise regardless how impactful a coach is. We need a coach who is open to his players along with insightful on making the team better as a whole.

“It’s tough. You feel really bad, and you wish you could have done more for the team as a whole. It’s not fun for anyone,” Shawn O’Donnell said. The 30-year-old completed his third tour of duty in Hartford. “One thing is we had a lot of (personnel) turnover and it’s a part of the league. You look at Hershey. They had very few changes in the second half of the season. We had changes on an almost a weekly basis.”

Shawn O’Donnell, Howlings.net

Another veteran, Shawn O’Donnell relates to the Wolf Pack fan base concluding the season. Losing is a tough feeling for everyone. Teams who had dismal seasons wished they could do better. Ultimately, the team was limited and the blame has to shift onto management. Gerry Cantlon reiterated that the issues is simply more than just coaching and roster personal.

“The season result was not all McCambridge’s fault, nor was it his predecessor, Ken Gernander’s, fault either. Asking a head coach to turn lemons into lemonade is what was asked of both men. The Wolf Pack have hit bottom and have been cresting at the bottom of the division and the entire AHL for almost five years. They have not made the playoffs in six of the last seven years. That’s an organizational failure, not just a coaching problem. “

Cantlon, Howlings.net

The Rangers have to rethink their strategies regarding the farm team. I continue to say the same words almost on a yearly basis. You cannot have a strong franchise (New York) without building up the entire organization. It has to start in Hartford. All the teams who perform well and make the playoffs have one thing in common, a impressive AHL franchise who also wins plus make playoffs. Home growth players are one of the best you can do. We want the Rangers rebuild perfected so the organization can be strong for many years to come, rather than brief stints.

The proof is exists on why the AHL is important. Look at the Bruins and Providence, Carolina and Charlotte, Washington and Hershey, Bridgeport and Islanders, Tampa Bay and Syracuse, San Jose Barracuda and San jose Sharks. I can go on and on at the trend. Develop your prospects with a winning culture. Develop them wanting to win games. You develop them hungry for post-season action to include further development. That’s what the AHL is about, development. The Rangers record for development has been lacking as of late. I’ll leave a few more comments for your reading pleasure below.

“There have been some moments to celebrate the signs of player development, but those are few and far between and what has seemed to become a trend, change is in the air again.”

Canton, Howlings.net

“Clearly, the Rangers talent evaluation process is broken. A major shakeup is needed to achieve better results so necessary changes in the scouting department will likely happen.

“The Rangers are on the hook here as they await the naming of a new president of the team to succeed Glen Sather. That fortunate soul will have to pick through the debris in New York and Hartford and try to plot a forward course. The Rangers clear indifference to Hartford has to end.

Winning and the playoffs were once synonymous here. Over a 14-year consecutive stretch where the team made the playoffs and competed at the top end of the AHL. Winning and playoffs still matter. The Rangers have to decide if they care to accomplish that objective here. “

Canton, Howlings.net

Defensive Errors Costs Games


The blue line had an abundance of issues. The Wolf Pack were 29th in the league for goals against at 266. That equates to 3.5 goals against per game in 76 tries. Goaltending and defense goes hand in hand.

The defense in Hartford struggled on a nightly basis with multiple errors that were common. Keith McCambridge had failed to address that portion of the group as there was no progress. The constant roster changes did not help the team either which was also a factor on defense.

To put this in perspective, John Gilmour was the best defenseman for Hartford. Despite registering 54 points, he was a -11. You would think he would be well in the positives, but the Pack cannot simply protect the lead or keep anything out of the net.

Trades Harmed Offense

The forward group also had issues. There were moments where the club was able to score consistently to streaks of going goalless. The players that performed were let go throughout the season which is unusual. The Rangers blew up the roster and did not focus to improve it this season.

First it was Cole Schneider, then Peter Holland. At the times of each trade, they were the top or the second top point producer on the team. Their veteran presence benefited the prospects as well. Simply to have lack of leadership in the locker room or a guiding light for the prospects is unacceptable.

Looking Ahead

The Rangers have a list of tasks to accomplish if they want to see improvements in Hartford. If they do not address every area of the roster, then we may be right back where we are, bottom of the Atlantic Division.

  • Find a developmental, winning head coach plus assistant coaches.
  • Finding the right veterans who can perform on a nightly basis and nurse the prospects.
  • Find at least one veteran goaltender to show the ropes to Adam Huska and quite possibly Igor Shesterkin.
  • Sign a few AHL proven defenseman to boost the blue line.
  • Develop a wining culture that enhances competition between players who wants to play for a playoff spot.
  • Make the Wolf Pack a team that is feared for by opponents. Not a team that is known to be terrible and is a cakewalk to play against.

Ricky Milliner is a Hartford Wolf Pack season ticket holder. While growing up, he discovered hockey by attending a... More about Ricky Milliner

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