New York Rangers Report Cards Part 4: Management
Dec 15, 2016; Dallas, TX, USA; New York Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault watches his team take on the Dallas Stars during the third period at the American Airlines Center. The Rangers shut out the Stars 2-0. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
This is the final release in a 4-part series of report cards for the New York Rangers provided here at the Blue Line Station. In this edition, we will review the management and coaches of the 2016-17 New York Rangers.
The New York Rangers ended last season in an uninspiring fashion, losing to the Stanley cup winning Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round of the Eastern Conference Playoffs. Heading into the 2016-17 season the Rangers had numerous personnel changes.
Key departures to the team included offensive leaders Derick Brassard and Keith Yandle, as well as defensive specialist, and clubhouse leader Dominic Moore. This year’s team has a newfound youth and focus on skill, such as Jimmy Vesey, Brady Skjei, Brandon Pirri.
Let’s take a look at how the coaches and management have done their part to improve the team.
Dec 17, 2016; Nashville, TN, USA; New York Rangers left wing Jimmy Vesey (26) prior to the game against the Nashville Predators at Bridgestone Arena. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
In his second season since taking the reins from Glen Sather, Gorton has put together a special group of players. A season after seeing the Rangers exit the playoffs too early for his liking, Gorton went out and replicated his team in the mold of the Pittsburgh Penguins, fast and skilled.
His goal when recruiting this offseason was to create a team that rolls four lines capable of scoring, while being cost effective. The result is a team leading the Metropolitan Division and Eastern Conference.
Players such as Brandon Pirri and Michael Grabner were signed to shrewd deals and both have contributed as sources of secondary scoring.
Gorton also extended the Rangers key restricted free-agents Kevin Hayes, Chris Kreider, and J.T. Miller all to team friendly contracts.
But the prize of the offseason was Harvard prospect Jimmy Vesey, who committed to the Rangers after declining to sign in Nashville or Buffalo.
Gorton has had mixed results on the trade and waiver front thus far in 2016. Mika Zibanejad, acquired for Derick Brassard, has the makings of a superstar. However, he is out recovering from a broken left fibula.
Gorton also was able to scoop Matthew Puempel from the Senators, a former 1st round pick. On the other side, Gorton lost Keith Yandle (trade – 6th round pick and a conditional pick) and Dylan McIlrath (waivers) for next to nothing to the Florida Panthers.
Apr 13, 2016; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; New York Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault reacts on the bench against the Pittsburgh Penguins during the second period in game one of the first round of the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs at the CONSOL Energy Center. The Penguins won 5-2. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
The New York Rangers head coach returned for his 4th season after being knocked out of the playoffs by the eventual Stanley Cup winners. He has been consistent in New York, leading the team to 3 playoff appearances, including a trip to the Stanley Cup in 2014. This year has been equally impressive, as New York is tied for first in the Metropolitan Division and Eastern Conference.
Alain Vigneault’s biggest vice throughout his coaching career has been his inability to put faith in his young stars. During his time in Vancouver players such as Ryan Kesler and Cody Hodgson expressed displeasure with Vigneault’s tendency to shelter offensive talent. Much of the same has followed him to New York with the likes of Kevin Hayes and Dylan McIlrath.
Thus far in 2016 Vigneault has shown an increased ability to adapt to his players, and the league’s, trending skillset. He has given Kevin Hayes and J.T. Miller increased roles and has allowed rookies Jimmy Vesey and Pavel Buchnevich spots in the top-6.
However, Vigneault has also had down moments, benching Miller, Vesey, and Mika Zibanejad for stretches in the third period. He also continues to rely on aging defenseman Dan Girardi too much, but until the Rangers have more options on the defense his selection is slim.
May 22, 2015; Tampa, FL, USA; New York Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault (top right) talks to linesman Shane Heyer (55) as Rangers left wing Carl Hagelin (62) and Rangers center Derick Brassard (16) and assistant coach Mike Sullivan listen in game four of the Eastern Conference Final of the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs against the Tampa Bay Lightning at Amalie Arena. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports
The last remaining member of Alain Vigneault’s original bench crew, Scott Arniel is having a resurrected season of his own. 33 games into the 2016 season and the Rangers are in the top-10 of the NHL on the power play. But, being the right-hand man to the coach has its benefits and downfalls, and Arniel has often caught negative attention as a part of Vigneault’s regime.
The Rangers power play was league average last season, owning an 18.6% conversion rate. However, the unit often lacked flow and dependability and was without a true scoring option. With Keith Yandle departing, expectations were low coming into the season.
This year’s unit is converting at a 21.4% clip, thanks due in part to the new additions to the Rangers forward group. Mika Zibanejad, when healthy, and Brandon Pirri have created a dynamic shooting duo on either side of the ice for the first unit.
Fellow newcomers Pavel Buchnevich and Jimmy Vesey have also seen success with the man advantage. This unit has a chance to further improve when Ryan McDonagh is relieved of being the workhorse on the back end.
Nov 21, 2016; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; New York Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault (L) instructs his team during a timeout against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the third period at the PPG Paints Arena. The Rangers won 5-2. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Jeff Beukeboom came into the season as a fan favorite, known for his hard-nosed play during his time in New York. His no-nonsense style transferred to his coaching ability early in his coaching career with Hartford. Beukeboom was highly regarded with the Rangers up-and-coming prospects, including now Florida Panther Dylan McIlrath.
The Rangers struggled last season when down a man, ranking in the bottom-5 of the NHL on the penalty kill. The 2015-16 unit, which was plagued with detrimental play from Dan Girardi and Marc Staal regularly, killed a paltry 78.2% of their penalties. Other members of that group that have departed include Dominic Moore, Viktor Stalberg, and the demoted Tanner Glass.
This year’s group has been among the league’s best, ranked 3rd in the NHL as of December 17th. Marc Staal has seen his penalty killing abilities rebound and the addition of Nick Holden has been a given the team an unexpected lift, while Ryan McDonagh continues to lead the kill.
To further sweeten the deal, increased responsibility to J.T. Miller (2 shorthanded goals) and Kevin Hayes (1 SHG) has given the Rangers a scoring threat on the penalty kill they did not possess last year.
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