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Change is coming for the Rangers, but how much is necessary?

Bobby Bevilacqua

alain vigneault on bench 12-2

Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

Since the Rangers were eliminated from the playoffs, the talk has been about the inevitable changes that this team will see happen this offseason. The Rangers themselves admitted that they will have to shake things up when talking to reporters on break up day.

“When you don’t meet expectations and don’t meet our fans’ expectations there are definitely going to be changes,” Alain Vigneault told reporters. “I think we’re at the stage now where we need to look at some changes. I think with any NHL team today status quo is not possible. You need to keep changing pieces, bringing in different players to add a different dynamic to your group. It is certainly time now to look into what we can do to improve, and that’s what we are going to do here moving forward.”

After a disastrous showing against the Penguins, where the team was totally outplayed and outclassed in a five game series, there is a need for change. Some things need to be shaken up and new players should be brought in or giver bigger roles. But a knee-jerk reaction to the loss could be the wrong way to approach things.

“Sometimes you overreact to a couple of bad results,” Henrik Lundqvist told reporters on break up day. “You need to analyze it the right way. We need to play better, there’s no denyting that and we all know we’ll change a few things here and there, but we can’t overreact to what’s happened either.”

Lundqvist’s statement addresses the weird situation involving the Rangers. They are not in a situation where they need to undergo a full rebuild. The team still has a young core of guys like Ryan McDonagh, Derek Stepan, Mats Zuccarello, Chris Kreider, Kevin Hayes and JT Miller, with lots of other young talent like Brady Skjei, Dylan McIlrath, Jesper Fast, and Pavel Buchnevich coming soon.

But the Rangers are not in a situation where one or two players will right the ship and help guide them towards another run to the Stanley Cup Finals. There are some serious issues and fundamental problems that need correcting, and that won’t be solved by ‘tweaking’ the team.

Retool, not rebuild.

The question of how much is really crucial here. Jeff Gorton has to toe a fine line between too little and too much change in the offseason. On top of that, he needs to make sure that he makes changes to the right area, and that he doesn’t correct what’s already fine.

For example, the Rangers’ forward group is actually pretty damn good. There’s a lot of talent in the top six and some great, improving young core players that are already there. Rick Nash had a good showing in the playoffs and can still be an impact player, JT Miller took a step up and turned into a 20 goal scorer, Chris Kreider came close to last season’s production, and Both Stepan and Brassard upped their goal numbers while also producing really solid stats. Mats Zuccarello enjoyed his best season as a pro with 26 goals and 61 points.

The fine-tuning here comes in the bottom six. Tanner Glass was used way too much (but that’s a coaching issue), and the team needs to decide on what to do with Dominic Moore and Viktor Stalberg. It might be time to let Oscar Lindberg step in at center, but retaining Stalberg would be really nice. Some fresh blood would be a welcome addition to the bottom six.

The biggest area of change needs to be on defense, which was the main reason for the team’s downfall this year. Ryan McDonagh was battered around and injured, Keith Yandle wasn’t always utilized properly, and Marc Staal and Dan Girardi both minutes and assignments that they simply aren’t capable of handling anymore.

On defense, and the rest of the team, the best way to go is start the youth movement. It’s time to take the young prospects, trust them, give them playing time, and strengthen the core that way. That means giving Brady Skjei and Dylan McIlrath ample playing time and opportunities, even though that may come at the expense of playing time for other veterans. It’s time to play Kevin Hayes in a top six role, and it’s time to trust Oscar Lindberg after a solid rookie campaign.

Which brings us to the coaching. I don’t think the coach needs to change, but the coaching philosophy may need a shakeup. Vigneault put a bit too much trust into his veteran players and his favorite players while sitting rookies and other players that needed playing time. Overall, he’s done an excellent job of mentoring the younger players and cultivating their talent (Miller, Brassard, Hayes, Zuccarello, Kreider, Fast, etc.), and it’s time for him to continue to do the same with guys like Lindberg and Buchnevich.

Some change needs to come in strategy as well, maybe in the form of new coaches to run the penalty kill and power play. Sometimes, a different viewpoint and mentality can really help a coach that has become stagnant in his ways.

The Rangers have a bit of retooling to do. They need to capitalize on their window while they can, and they have to try and get Henrik Lundqvist the Stanley Cup he deserves. But this isn’t a team that can afford to make big deadline acquisitions anymore. A youth injection, particularly on defense, and some new coaching mentality around Alain Vigneault could be all that this team needs.

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Posted on May 2, 2016, in In the Crease and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. I know Nash is still productive but at that price he needs to be moved. He doesn’t produce enough to eat that much Cap and he disappears against good team.

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