Latest posts by David Rogers (see all)
- Ondrej Pavelic Leaves Game After 1st Period with Knee Injury - 02/09/2018
- Play Along with the Rangers' Rebuild - 02/09/2018
- Salvaging the Season May Cost the Rangers - 11/30/2017
There will only be one stat in this article. That stat is 2-6-2, the New York Rangers’ record as of their loss last night against the San Jose Sharks. Head Coach Alain Vigneault is no longer on the hot seat, the flames of discontent have left nothing of his chair atop the team but a few smoldering embers. He is standing next to the ruins of the 2017/18 Rangers’ season with no line combination change, player benching or ability to revise the system that will have any effect.
Waiting for the result of their next game against the bottom-feeding Arizona Coyotes on Thursday night is unnecessary. A win against the worst team in the league does nothing to show that the Rangers can compete, even for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference this season, and a loss would just reiterate what we already know. Any trade that might temporarily spark the team at best would be a lateral move and at worst would sacrifice future assets the team will need if there is hope to do what is now inevitable – rebuild the team in a new image.
This change is a long time coming. Many believed that last season’s loss to the Ottawa Senators in the Stanley Cup Playoffs should have been AV’s swan song. His welcome had been worn out and while this team likely is not quite as bad as their record indicates, neither are they a team capable of carrying future Hall of Fame goaltender Henrik Lundqvist through the twilight of his career.
While it may be tempting for General Manager Jeff Gorton to try to pull the trigger on a trade that sends someone like J.T. Miller north to Montreal in exchange for young maligned center Alex Galchenyuk, such a move would mask the reality that his plan to rebuild-in-place was short-sighted without also moving on from a coach who has proven twice now that elite goaltending is necessary to mask the defensive shortcomings of his offensive gambling style of hockey. Lundqvist is still a good goaltender, but he is no longer the game saver required to win consistently in the kind of environment that has been created around him. Whether goals like last night’s bad angle backbreaker are a result of his trying to cheat because he has no faith in the team’s ability to defend against high danger cross-crease passes, or simply his diminished capacity, is irrelevant. The team as constructed can not win in AV’s system.
Since doing nothing is outside of the realm of possibility given the Rangers’ start, giving up future assets to try to recover the season would be a terrible gamble and a lateral move that would only mask the team’s deficiencies in enacting the current system. A coaching change is all that is left. It won’t likely matter for this season, but it is a chance to turn the page and begin the process of getting the Rangers back into competition as quickly as possible.
While Gorton will no doubt be tempted to go next to one of his assistant coaches, either Lindy Ruff or Scott Arniel, a better solution would be to try to find a rookie head coach. I have no great insight into who that might be, but it situates the Rangers in the best possible position. At worst, the team continues to struggle and lands a lottery pick in next year’s NHL Entry Draft. They have a rookie coach they can easily replace once they are ready to compete again and perhaps there will be better-established names available by that point. At best, and this is not outside of the realm of possibility, they pluck one of the next generations of great NHL coaches at the start of his career and maybe even turn this season around. Hey, we can dream, can’t we?
Regardless of how that turnaround looks, they must “play the kids”. It’s vital to the continued success of any organization in a salary capped league to have a continued stream of young, under-priced talent. At the moment, Pavel Buchnevich, Jimmy Vesey, Brady Skjei and Tony DeAngelo are the only roster players on Entry-Level Contracts. Vesey and Skjei will be up for new contracts next season, while DeAngelo and Buchnevich need second deals the following year. They have no rookie in the lineup at the moment. That needs to change at forward, defense and even in the backup goaltending position. None of the current Rangers’ fortune is Ondrej Pavelec’s fault, but Hank may be forced into a tandem situation sooner than a certain Russian goaltender, currently dominating the KHL, can come over to North America. In the meantime, one of Chris Nell or Alexandar Georgiev needs a trial by fire to see if they can be that player.
Something has to happen now to set the tone for the rest of the season. If the Rangers have any chance for a turnaround, that change has to happen immediately. Any move Gorton makes has to be at no cost to the Rangers’ future. The move with the highest reward and the most minimal cost is to relieve Vigneault of his coaching duties. #FireAV.