Latest posts by Mike Valvano (see all)
- J.T. Miller: Requiem for a Captain Who Never Was - 02/28/2018
- As Sellers, Rangers Must be Patient and Embrace the Rebuild - 02/07/2018
- An Alternative, Youthful, Trade Deadline Approach - 01/25/2018
Every year around this time millions of Americans make resolutions and #newyearnewme trends. The Rangers, in their pursuit of postseason success, might as well follow along. With a few cliché resolutions and a #NewYearNewRangers approach, they may be able to get there.
Quit Taking Shots
Drinking less is a common theme for resolutioners and, while the Rangers will want to continue to “rip shots” on the offensive end, the defense must sober up.
On the season, the Rangers remain a top-10 team in shots against – ranking 9th at 29 shots per game. That number is actually better than contenders like Chicago (23rd), Pittsburgh (28th) and CBJ (11th). In 15 games in December, the Rangers shots against was a strong 28.33. However, their Fenwick Against per 60 (FA/60) is more concerning.
In December, their FA/60 ranked 19th at 41.64. In other words, teams were missing the net about 13 times per game, suggesting that the low shot totals are a bit luckier than face value would suggest (though you could make the argument that being in shooting lanes consistently, as the Rangers often are, causes shots to go wide). That number puts them in poor company. The teams worse in December were, in order, Vancouver (41.91), Dallas (42.33), Chicago (42.75), Buffalo (42.76), Pittsburgh (42.80), Florida (42.82), New Jersey (43.94), Toronto (46.01), NYI (46.98), Arizona (48.20) and Colorado (49.40). That’s a ten-team list no contending team wants to be a part of, despite the presence of Chicago and Pitt.
For the Rangers, this probably requires more offensive zone time, as they really haven’t been good at possessing the puck. They owned a mere 48.16% Corsi For through fifteen games in December.
To make a playoff run, teams can’t carry dead weight in their lineup. As real life gyms begin to over-crowd, the Rangers should be hitting the metaphorical roster gym to bulk up.
Jeff Gorton’s biggest test of his short tenure here will be addressing the defense before the trade deadline. As my colleague Phil Kocher mentioned here, there are a number of good targets out there, but the price makes everything tricky. Trading forward depth (especially youth, like J.T. Miller) could prove costly as bottom-six scoring hasn’t been good for this team lately. That leaves futures as the only option.
The concern with giving up futures is—perhaps unfairly—that doing so is measured by winning a Cup. Can a guy like Jacob Trouba or Dougie Hamilton, who may be had for a couple of good picks, be the final piece? Hard to say. But it’s difficult to imagine an upgrade on defense having anything more than a marginal effect if the Rangers cripple their forward depth in the process.
A byproduct of giving the defense corps a little juice is shedding a bit of dead weight. Presumably, that means reducing the minutes that Dan Girardi and Kevin Klein play, as neither has been particularly good this year. There are no anchors in the lineup this season—though Brandon Pirri needs to hit the net if he wants to avoid that label—but the defense (the right side in particular) leaves a lot to be desired. So, some gym time to beef up the blue line will be key in 2017.
With Dylan McIlrath gone and Tanner Glass buried in the AHL, the Rangers have formally ushered themselves completely into the new era of hockey that has no place for fighters. In fact, the Rangers are tied for dead last in fights this year with just four on the books. But, while fight totals don’t indicate too much in the Win-Loss column, this team does have the tendency to turn the other cheek. That was plainly evident when Henrik Lundqvist got mollywhopped by Cody Eakin.
While it appears that both Nash and Vesey were tempted to do or say something, and we know that guys like Klein and Kreider are willing to throw, this team has a bad—albeit impossible to quantify—habit of not protecting each other. They aren’t going to do it with heavy mitts, so there must be a team-wide emphasis on protecting one another.
We don’t know what’s said on the bench or in the dressing room, but on the ice, this team doesn’t seem to have much “fight” when rough stuff metastasizes. In the regular season, you can probably get away with that, but to prevent teams from taking liberties over the course of a playoff series* the team will have to make a conscious decision to be a better friend in 2017.
*Caveat: A good power play could have the desired effect, in singular games. Imagine if they called the slash on Kris Letang and the Rangers scored twice on a 5:00 advantage last season in game 3…
Beach Bods, Not Dad Bods
To keep pace in the Metro, the Rangers have got to stay hot. NHLers don’t have trouble picking up chicks and Dad Bods take up a lot less real estate in the NHL than the other major competitive leagues (LOL). But the Rangers’ division is loaded with teams whose bodies just won’t quit.
New York sits in third in the Metro and entered 2017 as winners of seven of the last 10 with 55 points. That would put them in first place in the entire Western conference.
If the playoffs started today, five teams from the Metro would be in the playoffs and, outside of Montreal, they might be the five best teams in the East. Columbus has earned the sash for Ms. December, as they’ve won 16 in a row, and the Rangers, Pittsburgh, and Capitals had won nine straight and taken points in 24 of 30 games, combined, before the loss to Buffalo.
While the Metro will eventually cool off a bit, the Rangers are going to have to hit the tanning bed, get some Botox, or trade for Hilary Knight if they want to stay hot enough to beat anyone in this division, come April.
Invariably, the Rangers’ only meaningful 2017 resolution is to win the Stanley Cup. Should they fall short of that, the other resolutions are relatively inconsequential. The schedule dictates that they won’t travel a ton of miles through the second half of the season, as they have just one trip to the West Coast remaining, but they’ll certainly want to book at least a couple of flights heading westward in June.
Despite the lofty goals that we Americans tend to set for ourselves, only 8% of us actually follow through with them. That’s elite goal-completing company. If the Rangers want to be an elite team and achieve their ultimate goal, which is, as it has been for the better part of the last decade, to win the Cup, they’ll need to make a few tweaks in 2017.
While 2016 featured a lot of good for the Rangers, they’re in a position where sticking to a few resolutions can make them serious contenders, if not favorites.