The New York Rangers At The Bye Week
Yes, you read that correctly.
At the urging of the NHLPA, the NHL has instituted a bye week for the first time in its 100 year history. Similar to the NFL’s bye week, each team gets their respite at different times. The Rangers last played Saturday night in Columbus(where they had a comeback for the ages) and they will resume play this Friday night at home against the young and exciting Toronto Maple Leafs lead by wunderkind Auston Mathews. The Rangers have played 42 games thus far. So this is, more or less, the halfway point of the season. Let’s review the team’s season to this point and preview what is ahead when they all come back from vacation.
If I would have told you in back in September that, as the calendar turned to 2017, franchise goalie Henrik Lundqvist would have played some of the worst hockey of his career, what record do you think the Rangers would have? If you knew the Rangers opening night line-up would have been depleted by injuries to a plethora of key players, would you have felt the Rangers first half would have been a success?
If you were told that long-time, stalwart defenseman Dan Girardi, who has struggled mightily in recent years, would continue his regression throughout the first half, would you think the Rangers would currently be in playoff position? Well, even with Henrik playing shoddy at times and even with a multitude of key injuries and even with Dan Girardi reminding us of Igor Ulanov, the New York Rangers find themselves tied for second in points and tied for first in wins in the entire NHL. It has been, without question, a very successful first half.
The depth of this hockey team has come to the rescue each and every time it seemed like maybe, perhaps, they were about to descend in the standings. Back up goalie Antti Raanta has been amazing and could probably start for half the teams in the league. His stellar play has allowed the coaching staff to sit Henrik Lundqvist for stretches while he works on his game and restores his confidence. Where would this team be without Nick Holden and his contributions from the blue line?
The obscure defenseman obtained from Colorado for a 4th round draft pick has been a godsend. His big goals and strong play in front of the net has mitigated the egregious play of Girardi. Up front, how about Michael Grabner? He leads the team in goals (19) and plus/minus(22). We knew from his days with the Islanders how fast he was but we had no idea that he would impact virtually every game with his speed and effort. Rookie Jimmy Vesey has made us see why so many teams bid for his services over the summer. The Rangers can beat you 5-4 and they can beat you 2-1. The team may not have a Crosby, Kane, Stamkos or an Ovechkin, but they most certainly have depth and in this case, depth is their superstar.
Credit has to go to General Manager Jeff Gorton. He signed Grabner and Raanta, traded for Holden, convinced Vesey to wear the Broadway Blue and made sure all of the team’s key young free agents re-signed with the Rangers. JT Miller, Chris Kreider, Kevin Hayes and Jesper Fast all wanted to remain in the Big Apple. It’s pretty remarkable that the team has such a good amount of quality young talent considering they have not had a first-round draft pick since 2012(when they drafted Brady Skjei and how good has he been!). Yes, Gorton inherited a quality team from long-time GM Glen Sather but he has done something that is very hard to do in sports. He has kept the team competitive while they re stocked on good young talent. I really hope Gorton gets consideration for Executive of the Year. He deserves to be in the discussion.
The coach, Alain Vigneault, in my eyes leaves a bit to be desired. He has had tremendous regular season success as a coach but he has yet to win the Stanley Cup. He needs to understand that the playoffs are becoming more and more a war of attrition. Having the most skill doesn’t get you to the promised land like it used to. You do need skill, but you also need grit toughness and players who are willing to spill blood and lose teeth to win. He seems to jettison players that lack in the skill department. You need to balance the skill with the heart and passion. Finesse may win you regular season games but come playoff time, finesse goes out the window. That is my number one complaint about the man they call “AV”. The first 42 games for the New York Rangers have been fun(for the most part). Not only do they win a lot but they are have also scored the most goals in the NHL. When was the last time we could say that?
As we look ahead to Friday night and beyond, the team should get back the injured players who have missed significant time. Rick Nash, Mika Zibanejad and Pavel Buchnevich are set to return to make the Rangers line up that much more formidable. Another positive about the next chapter of the season is the schedule is more friendly in terms of having more time off between games. That would allow players to be fresher and it will allow the coaches to spend more time with the team practicing and game planning. With the team’s depth passing several tests, with injured players returning to the lineup and with a less taxing schedule, logic would dictate the Rangers will continue their success and keep their lofty status as one of the elite teams in the east.
Hockey journalists all over North America keep saying the window for this team to win keeps closing. They add that Lundqvist is just about at the end of his time as an elite goalie and if they don’t win it all now, they’ll never win it with “The King”. I’m not sure if I agree with that because of the aforementioned young talent currently on the roster but I will say that it would behoove Gorton to go for it at the trade deadline. I can see him bringing back a Jaromir Jagr or perhaps acquiring a Shane Doan or Jerome Iginla. They have as good a shot as anyone. Adding a veteran player who can provide leadership and offense is what they’ll need as they begin their march towards hockey’s Holy Grail. This has been a fun, successful first half for my beloved New York Rangers. Let’s hope this has just been a precursor and the five months from now we will be preparing for another trip down the Canyon of Heroes.
Two of my biggest passions are sports and rock music. Both of which, I have many strong and at times provocative opinions on.
My favorite bands are AC/DC, Black Sabbath, Pantera, and 80s Metallica and well, I have to admit I listen to a lot of Kiss, too.
My teams are the Mets, Jets and Rangers(I know, they all suck)
I've never met a place for buffalo wings that I didn't like.
I am a customs house broker by trade but I have this yearning to express my views on a variety of topics and blogging has become a great outlet for my voice.
In the words of the immortal Bon Scott, "Lock up your daughter and lock up your wife. Lock up your back door and run for your life. The man is back in town, so don't you mess me around"