By now, we’ve seen the joint press conference where GM Jeff Gorton did most of the talking with Team President Glen Sather standing in support of the Rangers future. Even if the rare announcement which the team also tweeted as a press release to disenchanted fans was clearly for PR purposes following Jim Dolan’s latest fiasco that upset many season ticket holders, it was still refreshing to see the organization acknowledge the obvious.
The 2017-18 New York Rangers aren’t good enough to compete in the playoffs for a championship. Injuries aside to key players Chris Kreider, Kevin Shattenkirk, Pavel Buchnevich, Marc Staal and Jimmy Vesey, the writing has been on the wall for a while. With three losses on a four-game road trip, it was a hint of what was to come.
Since the break, they haven’t won a single game in regulation dropping four straight with two on home ice in ugly fashion. After getting beat badly by Toronto a week ago, they were blown out by a superior Boston club on Rivalry Night. The 6-1 drubbing may as well have been one of its worst installments beckoning to a darker time in Rangerstown.
This team isn’t easy to watch. There are moments where I barely pay attention to what’s happening on the TV. It’s depressing. A team that’s easy to play against without emotion isn’t what fans want to see. The product they’ve put out is the worst since the Dark Ages (‘98-04) Error. Yes. I misspelled it intentionally.
I went to last night’s game. It was the third time we left early. The first came way back in October against the Devils. There was another time they played so poorly, we went home after the second period. My family did last week as well. Could you blame them? When you’re bad, the opponent doesn’t take you seriously. Hence Boston played backup Anton Khudobin in the second of a back-to-back. The Rangers don’t have much firepower and are so inept defensively, it doesn’t take a lot to beat them.
Truthfully, they were fine in the first period playing the Bruins on mostly even terms except the scoreboard. Following a pretty Rick Nash goal in which he abused Zdeno Chara and scored his 16th to further raise his value for the trade deadline, the B’s took advantage of two Ranger mistakes. The first came from lost defenseman Brendan Smith. A awful turnover at the blueline resulted in a 3-on-1 rush that resulted in the tying goal on a rebound with Tony DeAngelo, J.T. Miller and David Desharnais all passengers.
The second was simply overmatched defenseman Steven Kampfer losing a battle that allowed Boston to keep the puck in. They got it to Chara for a bomb right through a Mats Zuccarello screen for a 2-1 lead.
Shots at the end of one were 11-11. The Blueshirts only totaled 11 more the rest of the game. The Bruins seized control by dominating the final two periods. They scored six unanswered en route to a easy rout for another win. They don’t lose games anymore. It’s easy to see why.
Henrik Lundqvist allowed a rare soft goal to Patrice Bergeron right through the wickets. He was anticipating a better shot high glove. But Bergeron missed with it deflecting softly off Nick Holden and rolled past Lundqvist like the Mookie Wilson ground ball through Bill Buckner. He admitted that the first two goals effected his psyche. He said he wasn’t aggressive enough on goals three and four before giving way to Ondrej Pavelec. That’s a pretty good indicator of how much pressure he feels.
Ryan McDonagh called it embarrassing and the worst game he can remember playing as a Ranger. He sounded depressed on the ride home. Who can blame him? He has to do too much for this team to win. He has no top pair partner with Holden coach Alain Vigneault’s choice by default. Holden likely will also go in the final year of his contract. So too should leading finisher Michael Grabner. But what about McDonagh, whose name has been mentioned with Tampa a likely destination? If they’re willing to pay the price, why not. He can reunite with Dan Girardi and play second pair with Victor Hedman and Anton Stralman top pair.
Mats Zuccarello is also available. But the market might not be as strong for the playmaking gritty forward who remains stuck on eight goals despite leading the team in scoring. Like McDonagh, his contract runs through 2019.
With Lundqvist all in, the Rangers can do what’s best for the future. That includes waiving Smith, who was a disaster in the first year of a four-year contract of over $4 million per season. He’s not been close to the same player they acquired last year from Detroit.
Smith got his new contract last summer and got married. He also attended seven weddings. Management was said to be furious with him. He came into camp out of shape and never recovered. They sat him out a bunch of times. Nothing worked. Now, he’ll clear waivers and go down to Hartford. Gorton teemed it “shock treatment.” If he rediscovers his game, he could still be part of the team next season. It’s not like someone is going to take their hands off the remaining three years.
For now, another young defenseman gets a chance to play. Neal Pionk was recalled from Hartford. He turned his season around. Hopefully, he can make a good impression with the big club. That should mean making his NHL debut Friday night at MSG against another tough opponent in Calgary. They defeated the Devils last night. They can score goals and are more physical than the Bruins, who could be the East’s best. But they’ll still have to go through Toronto, Tampa and likely Pittsburgh or Washington.
The thing about rebuilds is this. You can be successful if you promote young talent and give it a chance. Something Vigneault has been unwilling to do. Is he the right coach moving forward? Listening to Gorton in a interview with ESPN’s Michael Kay and Don LaGreca, it sounded like probably no. He hinted at Vigneault having to decide what’s best for his future. Even though he praised the coach for the good job he’s done in five years, it sounds like they might be overhauling the coaching staff following the season.
That’s also assuming the team doesn’t make the playoffs. It’s crazy to think they can given how bad they’re playing. They have only two points out of a possible 16 over the past eight games. Yet remain three behind second wildcard Columbus, who stayed there due to a Islanders’ 4-3 loss to the Sabres. The Flyers are up to 61 points and only one behind the Devils for third place in the division.
Somehow, the Blueshirts with 55 points and none since a crazy win at San Jose before the break, remain in play despite falling to last place in the Metro. It’s absurd. Nobody can put together a good stretch to create distance. The Devils have 62 points and are third. The Flyers have 61 and in the first wildcard. The Blue Jackets despite some awful losses including a brutal one to the Caps late in regulation remain in the last wildcard with 58. Then the Isles with 58 and Hurricanes with 57 followed by the Rangers. With 52 points, the Panthers are coming. They’re making a push.
None of this matters. Management isn’t fooled by it. They know the team cannot continue as it is. That’s why they’re willing to reverse course and sacrifice the present for the future. The days of throwing away first or second round picks are over. It’s now about recouping as many assets as possible.
No matter how difficult this might be, it’s for the best. I’ve been through the tough times before. Wednesday night was very familiar. It’s been a long season. Even Gorton admitted that.
For the younger generation who bleed blue, it’ll be harder. They haven’t been through this before. Not every rebuild happens right away. It’s gonna require patience. Let’s hope for the best.