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Time For A Change?

Posted By Dan Rakusan On Feb 17 2009 @ 6:18 pm In New York Rangers | No Comments

The New York Rangers are still in a playoff position as of this writing, but things have taken a nose-dive for the team.  After leading the Atlantic Division for the better part of the first half of the season, the Rangers have tanked hard, and can only thank a strong start to the season for their current positioning within the Conference.  What's the problem?

It's easy to point out the loss of Jagr to the ever-enigmatic KHL (Kontinental Hockey League) in Russia.  Yes, the Rangers definitely miss their superstar.  But beyond Jagr's departure, people seem to forget the loss of Straka, Shanahan, Hollweg and Avery, the latter apparently soon to make a comeback with the Blueshirts.  Also gone is under-appreciated defenceman Fedor Tyutin.  Christian Backman never really seemed to fit in, so we'll omit him from the list…

Of course, many believed the additions of Nikolai Zherdev, Dan Fritsche (now dealt to Minnesota), Markus Naslund and Wade Redden would offset those losses.  However, it isn't looking like a successful transition at this stage.

Naslund has been okay, leading the team in goals scored with a paltry 17 (as a reference point, consider Mike Green of the Capitals has 22 as a defenceman!).  Zherdev has been the team's best player over the span of the season to date, with 44 points, which simply isn't good enough in a highly competitive NHL landscape.  Wade Redden?  Well, he's certainly earning his whopper of a contract with 2 goals and 17 assists, along with a -10 rating.  Please note, I'm being sarcastic.

This team is currently in epic FAIL mode.

3 consecutive losses and a record of 2-6-2 over their past 10 games has seen the Rangers plummet to within 5 points of being on the outside looking in, at least where playoff aspirations are concerned.  They are only 2 points ahead of Florida (yes, I said Florida) and Buffalo, who hold down positions 7 and 8 in the Conference respectively.  It's frightening…

So, is it all on the players?  No.  Tom Renney, as good a coach as he is, simply doesn't seem to be getting anything out of his players right now.  Clearly with the lack of pure scoring talent, Renney has implemented a defence-first system that appears to be stifling guys like Scott Gomez, Chris Drury, Markus Naslund and Nik Zherdev.  That's saying nothing about Brandon Dubinsky, who has clearly taken a step back in his development.

Those players aren't built to play defence.  They're offensive forwards who are at their best when given some autonomy in the gameplan.  Obviously, they suffer tremendously when the team's system calls for more impoetus on backchecking than fore-checking and attacking, and that leads us to where we are today!  The Rangers aren't scoring, and as a result, there is a ton more pressure on the team's saviour, Henrik Lundqvist, who is showing signs of not being able to carry the load on his own.

So, what does the team need to do?

Well, getting Avery back into the mix will help, as the Rangers have shown quite clearly that they are not a team you need to be afraid of playing against.  Outside of Colton Orr, and possibly Erik Reitz and Paul Mara, nobody will make opposing players pay the price.  There is nothing to fear when you're coming into the Rangers' zone, and that's been exploited by such fine franchises as the St. Louis Blues of late.  It is unacceptable, and it falls to the coaching and management of the team.

Tom Renney doesn't seem able to implement a new system.  He needs to open the offensive talent floodgates, to let the stars be creative and loose.  Maybe at first this will mean more goals against, but I promise you it will lead to more goals for in the long-run.  He needs to loosen the reins, and allow Nik Zherdev to showcase his incredible one-on-one skills.

Renney also needs to work directly with Wade Redden, who is the poster-boy for “overpaid underachiever”.  This may involve benching Redden, but I can't see how that would hurt the team.  He is one of the worst first-passers I have ever seen – something that was masked in Ottawa by a good system and better defensive depth.  He provides nothing in terms of physicality, as I can't remember the last time I heard an announcer say “and ________ gets hammered into the boards by Redden”.  He is often victimized on his ill-timed pinches into the offensive zone, leading to countless odd-man rushes against the Rangers…  Simply put, he's a $6.5M per season pylon.  Anyone want to trade for him?  We'll throw in our first rounder, and take on only a 6th rounder in return!!!  Please?

Anyway, back to Renney…

Renney was blessed for the past few seasons, because the team's chemistry was excellent, and there were enough stars on the team to get the job done offensively.  The success of the offence, plus the emergence of Henrik Lundqvist as one of the best keepers in the league, made a relatively “no-name” defence corps look well above their level of ability.  However, things have changed, and Renney isn't adapting well.

Have the players tuned him out?  Nobody but the people in the dressing room can say for sure, and I doubt they'll offer that information up voluntarily.  My guess is 'no', but while they might be drinking the Kool-Aid, they're doing so reluctantly.

Now, supposing Renney is allowed to stay on, what is the future holding for GM Glen Sather?

Sather is responsible for the monster salaries offered up to Drury, Gomez and Redden.  I can't possibly believe he is stupid enough not to realize those were huge mistakes.  The team really only needed one of Gomez or Drury, likely Gomez, and really didn't need to shell out the retarded cash to Wade Redden, who had been slumping for the previous two seasons and had fallen dramatically out of favour with even the most staunch Ottawa Senators apologists.

It is my belief that Sather will have to work some magic at the trade deadline to help inject some guts into this team, otherwise he'll be replaced in the offseason.  I don't believe he'll be fired before then, but shortly before the draft would seem to make sense, assuming the Rangers complete the tank job and fall out of the playoff picture entirely – something I dread, but have accepted as a possibility.

Renney is likely in his last season as head coach, and for that I fault Sather as much as Renney.  Basically, Sather didn't give Renney the players he needs to perform at his best.  Renney is a team coach, not a player coach.  He is good at working parts into a whole, not making individual parts excel.  He isn't the type of guy who can bring out the best in the squad Sather has assembled, and I don't fault him for that.  However, often times it is the coach who pays the price (see Michel Therrien, Craig Hartsburg).  It is a logical first step, but one that usually begins a complete franchise overhaul.

Is it time for the Rangers to blow up the team?  If so, how can they get out from under the massive contracts?  In this time of economic crisis (anyone else getting sick of that?) it is unlikely another team would want to take on Drury, Gomez, Redden or even Michal Rozsival.  Rozzy is about the only one of those four who is even coming close to earning
his money, but he's the biggest target for fan disapproval for some reason.  Redden's starting to hear it now as well, and for that, I'm not going to chastize the fans.

Anyway, I'd like to hear your opinions on what moves the Rangers could make at the deadline to right the ship, if it's at all possible.  Fire the coach?  Make a trade?  Both?  Neither?

Until next time,

Na Zdravi!


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