New York Rangers 2016-2017 Season Report Card: Grading Every Single New York Ranger & NYR Team Staff At The End of the Regular Season. Plus: NYR/MTL First Round Preview!

The Annual BlueCollarBlueShirts.com NYR Report Card

NOTE: This blog is a monster of a blog, clocking in at 7000+ words. I probably could’ve broken it up into three separate parts, but I’m not really concerned about site hits or crap like that. After all, this is a fan blog, not a business. I know this is a doozy, so feel free to jump around, read it on the throne or read it in different sittings. LGR!

What’s up everyone and welcome to another blog here on BlueCollarBlueShirts.com. Before getting into the meat and potatoes of this blog, I just want to plug an appearance I made on “The Hudson Valley Hockey Podcast.” You can listen to it by visiting https://soundcloud.com/user-99641532/new-york-rangers-playoff-preview or by clicking:

I believe my interview comes on at around the 52:00 minute mark. Travis and I talk everything NYR vs Montreal and for the Edmonton fans that read this blog, we talk a little Oilers vs Sharks. Now back to your regularly scheduled blog.

As always, at the end of the season, I do a NY Rangers Report Card, looking at every single player, the coach, management and the owner.

Throughout the season, I usually do a quarter mark and half-way mark report card. I then like to compare what I said at those points in the season to my thoughts at the end of the season, to see the progression or regression of any individual. Due to a busy work schedule, I didn’t do a half-way mark report card this season. However, I did to a quarter-mark report card.

In this blog, I will show you what I wrote about a player on 11/27/2016, during my quarter-report card blog, in block quote. I will then follow that up with my final grade for the 2016-2017 season. At the end of the report card, I’ll give some of my final thoughts, heading into this Rangers vs Montreal first round playoff series. Simple enough? Let’s roll!

Will the 2016-2017 team be able to win the Eastern Conference like the team of three years ago? Time will tell.

RANGERS REPORT CARD AT THE 2016-2017 QUARTER MARK

Grades are given based on production, playing to their role on the team and contract. For example, I expect less from a fourth line player than someone like Rick Nash. After all, we are playing in a salary cap world, where teams are constantly giving up quality players, even players they drafted, to compete.

FORWARDS:

PAVEL BUCHNEVICH. Grade: Incomplete

It’s too early to judge the rookie Russian. I know that’s the point of this Report Card, but when you’re in and out of the line-up due to injury, it’s too small of a sample size. Before his latest setback, Buchnevich had 3 goals in 3 straight games and seemed to be putting it together. He is someone to revisit as the season moves along.

PAVEL BUCHNEVICH. GRADE: C+

Buchnevich didn’t have a complete season for the NY Rangers, logging only 39 games of a possible 82. Buchnevich was bothered by multiple injuries and spasms throughout the season. Some of this was adjusting to the more rigorous NHL game. There were also rumblings that the care/maintenance he received in Russia, wasn’t as good as the doctors in New York.

Buchnevich spent time on the first, second and fourth lines this season. He played with a variety of people on this team. He seemed to have his most success with Nash & Zibanejad. There were many times that Buchnevich missed open nets this year, only to stay with a play and make the other team pay. He did show glimpses of why the Rangers were excited to have him under their employ, but they were too far and in between.

To me, Buchnevich got his feet wet this season and you can only hope for better things as time goes along. With injuries and being scratched for maintenance issues, it’s hard to give Buchnevich anything higher than a C+ for this season. However, you can see the potential this kid has and you hope to see it all come together in the upcoming seasons.

JESPER FAST. Grade: C+

Fast has been shuffled in the line-up and hasn’t found the same spark that he had for periods during last season. If the season ended today, I think Lindberg and Fast would be the last two people the Rangers would be worried about replacing if they were drafted by Vegas. It’s a long season so hopefully Fast turns the corner and continues his improvement.

JESPER FAST. GRADE: C+

Fast played most of the season, with 68 games, but finished with only 21 points, which put him near the bottom of the list for most points. I know many Ranger fans love this kid, but like Buchenvich, I don’t think we’re even close to seeing Fast fully develop. As I stated on 11/27/16, Fast could be Vegas bound.

Coach AV teased around with Fast on the second and third lines this season. However, it was pretty apparent to anyone watching, that Fast was a fourth liner on this team. He was good in his role on the fourth line, but to expect magic to happen with a promotion is far-out thinking.

Fast also won the “Players’ Player” award, which means he is well liked by his teammates. While Fast does a lot of things well that don’t show up on the score card, I don’t think the Rangers would miss him either, especially if he is Vegas bound next season.

MICHAEL GRABNER. Grade: A+

Anything less than an A+ for a guy who was supposed to be the “poor man’s Hagelin” would be undignified. Grabner is one of the league leaders in goals. He’s been amazing and playing like he’s being paid Rick Nash money. Can he keep it up? We can only hope. As of right now, he’s one of the best pick-ups in all of hockey, along with one of his teammates, who we will get to below.

MICHAEL GRABNER. GRADE: A+.

Grabner had a great year for the Rangers and was a key on the successful third line. He finished with the second most amount of goals on the team. Just think, Grabner, who had 27 goals, could’ve easily surpassed 30 if he got a second of power-play time. However, AV decided to be loyal to his struggling veterans and Grabner got the short-end of it.

I was tempted to knock Grabner down a half grade & just give Grabner an “A”, because of how he finished during the stretch. We saw the Toronto Grabner, as he just couldn’t finish in front of the net. While he struggled a bit to finish, the fact is he still put himself in scoring position. When you think about the team-friendly contract Gorton signed him for, Grabner is one of the biggest steals of the off-season. You got more than what you expected out of him this year. I think Grabner could’ve had an even better season if got some PP time.

The playoffs could be a long season for the Rangers, meaning that the regular season is forgotten quickly. However, I do think the Rangers need to protect him, because with a team-friendly contract & solid production, Vegas will be all over him if he’s available.

KEVIN HAYES. Grade: A-

Hayes has improved ten-fold from last season. We all know about him losing weight and building muscle. Maybe he’s reinvigorated with long-time friend Jimmy Vesey on the club. Whatever it is, Hayes has made big contributions to the Rangers success this season. Let’s all hope Hayes grows into the player we all imagine he can be.

KEVIN HAYES. GRADE: A

Kevin Hayes had a career year for the Rangers. One of the team leaders in points, Hayes had the best season of his career. Whether it was shedding the weight, the addition of his good friend Jimmy Vesey or playing with a line that really complemented him, Hayes took a huge leap in the right direction this season.

Whether it be faceoffs, hitting, moving the puck, creating space, getting to the net, whatever, Hayes was one of the best at it on this year’s team. Could Hayes one day be the leader of this team?  If he keeps on producing like this, the sky is the limit. If there is any knock on the game of Hayes, you would like to see him score more goals, as he didn’t crack 20 this season. However, he did so many little and other things well, you can’t discount what he brought to this team.

OSCAR LINDBERG. Grade: C+

Oscar seemed like he was going to be a rookie phenom last season, but petered out as the season went along. Lindberg is another odd-man out, like Jooris, when the team is fully healthy. Perhaps time in Hartford would strengthen his game, because playing sparingly isn’t doing him favors now.

OSCAR LINDBERG. GRADE: C+

There were times this season where you didn’t even know Lindberg was playing. A regular contributor to the fourth line, Lindberg was somewhat streaky this year. He would have games where you forgot he played. Then, he would have games where he would score key goals at opportune times.

In November, I thought you could’ve moved him down and brought up Glass. As the regular season closes, if Lindberg wasn’t a center, I wouldn’t be opposed to scratching him for Glass in the playoffs. As it looks now, that’s what might happen to the Russian kid. Oscar has shown at times that he can really help this team. That just needs to happen on a regular basis.

You know what time it is.

JT MILLER. Grade: A-

Miller continues his growth and perhaps can become a cornerstone for this team in years to come. Not only is he becoming popular with the fanbase, he is producing points regularly. Miller is a steal for what he’s being paid and if he keeps this up, the Rangers may have to pay some coin to keep him here.

JT MILLER. GRADE: A

Miller had a strong year for the Rangers, even if he felt AV’s wrath. I can’t tell if AV tries to tough-love this kid or if AV is just too loyal to his veterans, that he won’t punish the vets, but will punish the young talent. Miller was part of the most exciting line this season, the “Hey, Grab Me a Miller” line.

Miller finished the season with the second most points on the team this year. Not bad for a guy AV had in his doghouse at times. Miller can play both ways on the ice and found great chemistry with his teammates.

While I knew Miller had a great season, when you compare his stats to everyone else on the team & you figure his contract hit, he was an absolute beaut this year.

RICK NASH. Grade: B

I would’ve given Nash a higher grade, but you know, $7.8M a season for a guy who doesn’t give you the same production as his peers making similar money will sour you on a guy. Nash is like Lundqvist, where at the end of the day, he will be judged on what he does in the playoffs. Nash can score 40+ goals a season, but if he turns up flat in the playoffs, Ranger fans will be enraged. However, for this report card, he’s played well, but can do better. He needs to convert on his breakaways.

RICK NASH. GRADE: B-

38 points for $7.8M is just not going to cut it. Sorry. Nash also fought with injuries this year, logging 66 games.

What I said in November applies here, Nash is just one of those guys that will be judged by what he does in the playoffs.

The Rangers MSG Networks crew has been on the money with Nash – Nash does so many things well, he’s a good defensive forward, plays both ways and is a force out there. However, so are many other players, and for a lot less money. For a guy like Nash, you hope that you chalk up the regular season as an exercise for the playoffs. If Nash comes up short in the playoffs again, I fully expect him to endure the wrath and ire of Ranger fans.

BRANDON PIRRI. Grade: A

Remember, contracts are part of my grading system. Like Grabner, Pirri has been an absolute steal and a feather thus far in the hat of GM Jeff Gorton. Pirri has been one of team’s best scorers and has assimilated well to his new environment. As many who have done it will tell you, playing in MSG is no easy task. Pirri has taken to MSG like a fish in water.

BRANDON PIRRI. GRADE: C-

What a fall from grace for Pirri. Pirri was one of the hottest Rangers to start the season. Then the cold weather came into NY and Pirri got cold as well. Pirri became a regular scratch over the course of the season and if the team remains healthy, I don’t see him seeing a second of action in the playoffs. I kinda feel bad for the guy, as it looked like he had the key to the city for a minute, and it just all came crashing down. I don’t expect to see him in Rangers blue next season.

MATT PUEMPEL. Grade: Incomplete

Can’t judge a guy off two games, but hey, he PUEMPED UP THE VOLUME against Philly. That was good!

MATT PUEMPEL. GRADE: B-

Brought in originally to replace Mika Zibanejad after Z-Bad’s leg injury, Puempel was always here just to eat games. If he turned into something else, great, but the long-term plan for Puempel was always to just hold a roster spot until the team was 100% healthy. Where I think Pirri was given a chance and had a dropoff, Puempel did his job well. That said, barring injuries, I don’t think we’ll see Puempel in the playoffs.

When you see me giving Puempel a B-, keep in mind I take into consideration a player’s role on the team. All Pump was here to do was to bide time for Z-Bad. Pump executed.

DEREK STEPAN. Grade: C+

Derek Stepan gets paid way too much money to not be scoring goals. He’s always been a team leader and you hope to see him finding the back of more nets as the season goes along. He’s done it before and there’s no reason to think he won’t.

DEREK STEPAN. GRADE: C+

For all the bitching and moaning about Stepan’s anemic goal scoring, he was in the top three in total points this season and was second in assists, behind team leader, Mats Zuccarello. That said, he is paid like a top 3 forward and his goal scoring is not there.

Stepan was brutal on the PP this season and at times, it cost the Rangers games. You do remember the stuff he’s done for you in the past, like play with a broken jaw and all that, but you have to look at each season individually. That’s why I get on Lundqvist so much.

Like Rick Nash, I expect more from Stepan in the playoffs. Unlike Nash, I’ve seen Stepan do it in the playoffs. That’s all I can hope for, because this was a down year for Stepan overall.

JIMMY VESEY. Grade: B

The Rookie who chose the Rangers is off to a solid start, perhaps potting the prettiest NYR goal of the season, against Holtby in Washington. Another steal of a contract for Gorton, although this one was handed to him on a silver platter. The World is Yours #26, let’s see what he does with it!

JIMMY VESEY. GRADE: B+

Whether it was the grind of the NHL season and having played so many games in a 365 day period, Vesey did taper off a little bit & found himself scratched by AV. That said, for a rookie, Vesey had a great year. The problem for Vesey, is that if you compare him to other rookies, he’s not even sniffing the Calder. Still, for a rookie, Vesey played on the second line for most of the year and held his own. Vesey would also get some first line and fourth line time as well.

There were also games this season that AV would just stop playing Vesey in the third period. It’s tough to say if it’s the schedule or Vesey’s play just declines as a game goes on. I would say the former. Vesey also showed some grit this season. Once he got into his first physical altercation, where he was told “You’re in the NHL now,” Vesey showed some moxie and got involved with some fisticuffs. Was he motivated by Tanner Glass? Who knows?

Like Buchnevich, this was a year for Vesey to get his feet wet. We hope the best is yet to come.

MIKA ZIBANEJAD. Grade: B+

Z-Bad, until his recent injury, had fans forgetting all about Brassard. Well until tonight at least! Z-Bad has been a perfect addition to the line-up. Another great pick-up for Gorton, even if the move was met with some outrage at the time.

MIKA ZIBANEJAD. GRADE B

A broken leg took some of the steam out of Z-Bad’s season, as he only played 54 out of 82 games. Z-Bad was in and out between the first and second line this season. When Z-Bad was first traded here, it was met with some hesitation. In year one, the Rangers clearly have won the Z-Bad for Derrick Brassard trade. Another feather under the cap of GM Gorton.

Production wise, Z-Bad has been pretty solid, even netting some OT game winners along the way. He’s been good at the dot too, which the Rangers needed after faceoff issues last season.

MATS ZUCCARELLO. Grade: A+

We all know I’m biased when it comes to Zucc. That said, he’s been the best player on the team. He scores. He passes. He is gritty. He will fight. Good things happen when he touches the puck. He is the heart and lifeblood of this team, and that includes Lundqvist. I’ll tell you what – as I noticed last season, I am starting to see more 36 jerseys than 30 jerseys at MSG these days. He’s the player the men love because of his play and the player women love for his looks.

MATS ZUCCARELLO. GRADE: A+

To me, the current reigning & defending “Steven McDonald Award” winner, Mats Zuccarello, is the heart and soul of this team. He may not have a letter on the front of his jersey, but he may be the best player game in, game out.  Zucc leads the team in both assists and points. With a catchy last name, NYR fans make sure to belt out a “ZUUUUUUUC” at most Ranger road games.

Zucc, who can’t be much more than 5’6″ on skates, seems to be involved in every scrap on the ice. He has no fear. As the leader in points this year, he also does a great job of setting up his teammates. There are flaws to his game, the biggest being looking to pass first than take a shot. He’s not selfish, that’s for sure!

To me, this Rangers team struggles immensely to make the playoffs without Zuccarello. Just imagine, Glen Sather toyed with the idea of trading him. If Lundqvist was to ever leave this franchise, I could see Zucc being the next face in all the advertising/promotional materials. He is beloved by all.


McDonagh & Girardi have pillared this Rangers defense for some time, but Brady Skjei could one day break into the ranks.

DEFENSEMEN:

ADAM CLENDENING. Grade: Incomplete

I liked what I saw out of the former Oiler in the pre-season. However, AV prefers Holden’s game. I don’t see it, but I’m also not around these guys on a daily basis like AV is. One thing that was recently mentioned on the Jim Cerny podcast was that Girardi was supposed to get more rest during the season so he would be 100% for the playoffs. Clendening got that one start. Girardi has been playing much better than last year, so maybe AV doesn’t want to disturb that. However, for this Report Card, it’s tough to judge Clendening on his limited ice time.

ADAM CLENDENING. GRADE: C+

How do you analyze Clendo’s worth this season? He was a healthy scratch most of the way, playing in 30 games, most of those starts happening whenever someone was injured. He has shown some offensive skill as a defenseman, but not enough to knock anyone off the top 6.

I don’t know if Clendo ever got a fair shake this season, but on a team stockpiled with high-priced defensemen and a kid showing the best offensive game for a D-man in a blue sweater since the days of Leetch, in Brady Skjei, this D is tough to break into.

DAN GIRARDI. Grade: B

The iron man of this team, Girardi is a veteran who has been through plenty of battles. He’s even scoring too. Girardi, along with Staal, Nash and Lundqvist belong on the Rangers Mount Rushmore of bad contracts, especially the way the last two seasons ended, but he seems healthy for the first time in years. Time will only tell if he can keep it up.

DAN GIRARDI. GRADE: B

I’m not as down on Girardi as everyone else. It’s funny, the people who say it’s sacrilege to criticize Lundqvist, are the same people who have no problem tearing down Girardi at every turn. Girardi had some injury issues this year, missing 20+ games. To me, despite his decline, he still belongs on the top pair. Everyone wants to talk about the little things Rick Nash does, but how about Dan Girardi? He usually leads the team in blocked shots per game. Even when he was dealing with a bad ankle, Girardi was still out there blocking shots with that same injured ankle!

What is sometimes lost on TV, but you notice better live, is Girardi’s ability to clear pucks on the PK. He is good at slowing people down as well too. I know every time he does get beat, which isn’t as often as you would think, out come the “traffic cone” tweets, but he has been more solid defensively this year than last year.

NICK HOLDEN. Grade: C+

AV is in love with the guy and Ranger fans are still trying to figure out why. We all heard the story about Patrick Roy raving to AV about him. We haven’t seen why yet. The Rangers are in desperate need of a blueliner and if they can get one, Holden would be the odd man out.

NICK HOLDEN. GRADE: B+

Give Gorton credit again. Holden worked out this season. Holden played 80 games, so he was durable this season as well. Holden split time on the second and third pairings throughout the season. He even had some Top 2 starts.

While I don’t see how he was the best d-man that Roy saw in Colorado, I do think Holden was good at his job and he certainly was an upgrade over the more porous Dan Boyle. Salary wise, Gorton came through again. I don’t know if Holden is here next year and really, the playoffs may swing that, but for this season, Holden was commendable in his role.

KEVIN KLEIN. Grade: B

Klein, who was never much of a goal scorer to begin with, shocked Ranger fans ever since being acquired for Michael Del Zaster. He was tallying goals left and right. This season, with his questionable hair style for a tough guy (Don’t tell him I said this though, I like my face in one piece!) has been solid defensively. Perhaps it’s hoping for too much to see the offense we’ve seen from him in seasons prior. Sadly, with the expansion draft coming up, I think this may be Klein’s last season as a Ranger. I hope I’m wrong.

KEVIN KLEIN. GRADE: C-

Tough season for Kleiner. Klein battled injuries throughout the year, playing 58 games. His defensive skills have eroded and his offensive output didn’t come close to his previous career highs in a Ranger uniform.

At the beginning of the season, I said I hope I would be wrong if this was Klein’s last year as a Ranger. Now, at the end of the season, I would question Gorton if Klein was a Ranger next season. It was a good run. If Klein does move on, his Ranger years will be remembered fondly.

RYAN MCDONAGH. Grade: A+

Full disclosure – I’m a big fan of Captain Mac. However, not only is he tallying points this season, he’s been a monster defensively. I almost knocked him down to just an “A” for that disgusting “fight” loss to Sidney Crosby, but I won’t hold it against him. He’s been great all season and I’m happy to call him “Captain”.

RYAN MCDONAGH. GRADE: A+

Team MVP & Rangers Captain, Ryan McDonagh had another great year. Logging 42 points, McDonagh’s biggest contribution to this team was his strong defensive play. While he won’t get Norris recognition, and that’s unfortunate, McDonagh shut down many stars of the NHL this season.

Some of the flak McDonagh gets is that he’s not vocal enough as captain. I’m not in the Rangers locker room, so who knows? I think many Ranger fans, myself included, were so spoiled by Mark Messier, who embodied the word “captain.” McDonagh was a beast for the Rangers all season. Just imagine this Rangers defense without him.

BRADY SKJEI. Grade: A-

Skjei not only gets a high grade for nearly averaging an assist every night & being an integral part of the defense, but he has a super team-friendly contract. We all said last year that once Dan Boyle was a goner, that Skjei and McIlrath would be a big part of this Rangers defense. While unfortunately, it didn’t work out for “The Undertaker”, it is working for Skjei, with 25% of the season down.

BRADY SKJEI. GRADE: A-

A solid year for the Rangers rookie defenseman, who looked deft with his hands, offensively. There are still holes in Skjei’s defensive game and things he needs to work on, but for his first full season in the NHL, Skjei put on a stellar campaign.

I could see Skjei getting Top 2 pair minutes in the playoffs, especially since he can help on the power play. The PP is something that has given the Rangers fits for years.

MARC STAAL. Grade: B-

Staal hasn’t been bad really, but $6.9M for a guy who isn’t doing anything superior to his peers making the same money makes you gassy a bit. Have I mentioned on this site how much I hate the NHL Salary Cap? Staal, like Girardi, looks healthier than last season, but I don’t think Staal has ever 100% recovered after the eye injury. At least it wasn’t Bryan Berard bad.

MARC STAAL. GRADE: C+

The steady decline of the third longest tenured Ranger continues. I said this after seeing Staal three rows away in Detroit – “You really don’t understand how much Staal has fell off unless you sit close and track him.” The contract is ridiculous, but as I’ve explained, I understand why Staal got it. (The short of it, for the people say I only get on Hank, is that Staal & Girardi got these first ever “life-changing” money deals. Hank already had one. Hank is also the one that made all the silly quotes like “I want a Cup in NY at all costs.”)

Staal has been left flat-footed and usually has the best seat in the house for opponent goals. While you can never question Staal’s drive or work ethic, at $6.9M/per, he’s a second pair defenseman on this team & not an elite D-Man in the NHL today. Granted, there are no NHL defenses that are perfect. Staal is exhibit A.


I wouldn’t mind seeing Allaire working with his goalie tandem of Raanta & Hellberg next season.

GOALIES:

HENRIK LUNDQVIST: Grade: B-

I know many of you probably just scrolled to this first, just to see what I would grade the overpaid one. He’s played well, but the same things plague him that I’ve been talking about for years. He’s not better than his replacements. He’s not worth the money. He’s too inconsistent. His contract sucks. He’s played well, but not as well as the other top starting goalies in the league. We all know his grade doesn’t mean shit. His whole career, as it’s been ever since he’s become an elder star in this league, is how he does in the playoffs. What should concern Ranger fans is that he struggles in games (usually benched) against the top teams in the league. His recent 10 games against Pittsburgh alone should scare NYR fans. The road to the Cup for the Rangers will go through Pittsburgh.

HENRIK LUNDQVIST. GRADE: C

Without question, this was the toughest season of Lundqvist’s career. He posted career lows in many pertinent stats and had another patch of terrible play, where we had the annual “Goalie Controversy” talk. Trust me – there hasn’t been a goalie controversy yet. However, if AV lifts Lundqvist and starts Raanta in a playoff game? Then you can talk about controversies.

If you’re a long-time reader of this blog or follow me on social media, you know my feelings on Hank. No need to regurgitate my speech from my soap box to you. It was a bad year for Hank, he’s ranked 20th or worse in every major stat, he was outplayed by his back-up again, he got creamed by every playoff team, was benched for periods of time this season, etc. He’s not a Top 10 goalie in this league anymore. He’s getting paid Vezina money (highest in the league) for pedestrian production. Will he redeem himself in the playoffs? I hope so. The Stanley Cup is the last thing that Hank needs to cross the thresh hold from a “great goalie” to a “legendary” goalie.

ANTTI RAANTA: Grade: A+

I can hear it on twitter already – “you only gave Raanta an A+ because you hate Hank, waa waaa waa!” Raanta has been phenomenal this season and has proved all my goaltending theories. Let’s just compare Hank and Raanta for a hot minute:

Better stats? Raanta

Do the Rangers win more games because Hank starts over Raanta? No.

Is Raanta a fucking steal for $1M a season? HELL YES.

I will always give the players credit, but I believe Raanta is playing his best hockey because he is under the eye of Benoit Allaire. Raanta did hit a rough patch at this time last season. Let’s see how he responds this year.

ANTTI RAANTA. GRADE: A+

What more do you need to see?

Raanta continued to have an amazing season for the Rangers. For a million a year, Raanta was far superior than the overpaid Lundqvist all season. Raanta had several stretches of multiple game starts this season. Some due to injuries to Hank. Some because Hank was playing terrible. In every situation, Raanta held the fort down and gave the Rangers a chance to win.

I know I’m not the only one saying it – Raanta should be starting in the playoffs. The Rangers have really been lucky to have elite back-up goaltenders these last few seasons. When you look at Talbot (led the league in wins with 42 this season) and with Raanta being in the Top 10 in the league in several stats, it really makes you wonder why money is being wasted on a player past his prime.


He may look like a Bond villain, but Gorton had a great showing this season.

Management

COACH ALAIN VIGNEAULT. Grade: A

Vigneault, once again, has this team at the top of the standings and setting all types of records. I hope for AV’s sake and mine too, that all of this recent success translates into the only thing that matters – the Stanley Cup. In AV I Trust!

ALAIN VIGNEAULT. GRADE: A

There is a huge “FIRE AV” train out there. That train kinda runs parallel to  the “TRADE LUNDQVIST” train I’ve been conducting these last three seasons. While it is a fact the Rangers get better goaltending for less money, there is no evidence to support that the Rangers are better without AV.

In four years, AV has finished like this:

  • Stanley Cup berth
  • President’s Trophy & ECF appearance
  • Three seed & first round exit against the eventual SC Champs.
  • First Wild Card & ???

Now, if you’re an AV hater, you can say the team has finished worse every season since he got here. That sad, he was riddled with some bad players & bad contracts, because of Senile Glen Sather. I’m not saying one player changes the entire dynamic, but when you’re going with Boyle over Stralman, Etem over Hagelin, trading every draft pick imaginable, etc, it all adds up.

It is tough to make the playoffs year in and year out. I mean, Sutter in LA just got fired and he won 2 Cups in this tough Cap era. The year the Rangers won the President’s Trophy, the previous PT winners, the Bruins & the defending Champions, the Kings, both failed to make the playoffs.

My biggest concern with AV is being too loyal, especially in the case of Lundqvist. I’ll get more into that in the playoff preview.

Overall, AV has this team in a good position to compete in the playoffs. It’s all you can ask for.

GENERAL MANAGER JEFF GORTON. Grade: A

I hated Sather. Despised him. I even hated his moves more than Hank’s contract. That said, his protege has done a lot of good work, despite the handcuffs of his mentor’s horrible deals. 25% into the season and fans have him as Executive of the Year already. While I would slow my roll on that talk, the fact is, Gorton has took some risks (Bailing on Yandle, trading Brassard, banking on Raanta) and cashed in. Gorton also dipped into some penny stocks and saw those stocks go boom in Pirri and Grabner. We still got ways to go, but at this point in the season, Gorton looks Golden.

JEFF GORTON. GRADE: A

In his first full season as Rangers GM, Gorton has to be in the running for the Executive of the Year award. There will be other contenders around the league for sure, but Gorton deserves a nomination. The players Gorton brought here worked out for the most part. When his star center went out with a broken leg, Gorton was able to fill the roster slot via a trade and acquired Puempel. The players Gorton walked away from during the off-season turned out to be wise.

Gorton also didn’t mortgage the future like his predecessor at the deadline. While the Capitals paid a lot for Shattenkirk (And really, the Caps had to, this is their biggest do or die season in the Ovi era), Gorton stayed put.

Gorton has this team in the playoffs and competing in the toughest division in hockey. It’s all in the hands of the players now. Gorton did his job.

TEAM OWNER JAMES DOLAN. Grade: F-

I’m surprised Dolan hasn’t figured out a way to have Isiah Thomas running this team. Dolan needs to go.

James Dolan. GRADE: F———————————————–

The worst owner in sports. His problems with the Knicks all season makes me feel bad for any diehard Knick fan. Dolan keeps selling properties off, because he’s hurting them by being the head of those companies. It’s time to sell the Rangers and the Knicks.

Tanner Glass was a welcome addition to the team, albeit way too late into the season.

EVERYONE ELSE, INCLUDING LATE SEASON ADDITIONS & THE DEARLY DEPARTED

Just a couple of thoughts on everyone else that wore a Rangers jersey this season:

  • Dylan McIlrath – I’m sorry it didn’t work out. A different era perhaps. You can’t question how much this kid wanted it. His style of play just doesn’t lend itself to this new NHL game.
  • Josh Jooris – On a team stacked with forwards, Jooris had to do a lot to break through the pack. It just didn’t work out. Jooris would’ve had to been amazing to take a job away from someone here.
  • Taylor Beck & Boo Nieves – only got a game or two each. Nieves has more hype to him. I don’t see either with the big team next season.
  • Marek Hrivik & Nicklas Jensen – the Rangers believe these two are better than Beck & Nieves. Hrivik probably could start somewhere else in the NHL.
  • Steven Kampfer – in the limited work he got this season, I thought he played well. Not a Top 6 defenseman on this team though.
  • Brendan Smith – he may be starting in the playoffs now. I think he’s too much of a liability because he commits so many penalties.
  • Tanner Glass – I saved the best for last. You know I’m a Glass Fan. He should’ve been up here sooner and I think he’s a contributor for this team in the playoffs. He just brings a game that no one else on this team can bring.

That wraps it up for the Report Card. Let’s take a final look at Rangers/Habs, as the puck drops tonight for Game 1.

Here is my heart predicting the Stanley Cup Finals.

The puck drops tomorrow on the best playoffs in all of sports – The Stanley Cup Finals. I gave a nice break down on the podcast linked above, as well as previewing this series for the last few blogs, but for the sake of this blog, here’s a few final thoughts.

When you compare these teams, just like in the 2014 playoffs, these teams are very similar. They are both built with goaltending a priority, have an elite defenseman and rely on speed & finesse to score goals. While there has been roster turnover in three years, these two teams remain similar.

While you know I’m scared of Lundqvist vs Price and have given you all the stats in prior blogs, the bottom line is Hank could have a 1.00 GAA for 4 games in this series and the Rangers could go home if they can’t score.

The key to scoring on Price, is easier said than done. Most of the goals Price gave up during the final stretch of the season came through the following four-step process:

  • CRASH
  • SCREEN
  • DEFLECT
  • REPEAT

This is where Kreider and Nash will have to come up big. These two will have to use their size and toughness to get in front of the net. Price can’t stop what he can’t see. You’re not going to get lazy wristers to go by Price, so you really have to work to score on him.

I believe the Habs have two advantages over the Rangers in this series – goaltending and coaching. Julien & Vigneault may be friends & have a storied history together, but Julien has had more success head to head. 2011 Cup, need I say more?

While the Habs have those advantages, I truly believe the Rangers are the better & deeper team, both offensively and defensively. The special teams are pretty even, but the Rangers just go on these miserable droughts of milk carton proportions. With Rangers needing goals at a premium, they can ill afford to go stone cold on the power play.

Hank is 2-8 in his last 10 in Montreal, two of those wins coming when Price was injured in the 2014 playoffs. The Bell Center has been the worst arena for Lundqvist in his career, statistically speaking.

For the Rangers, they will need to win the goalie and coaching battles. This will be key. Obviously, we are all rooting for the 2012 Lundqvist to show up, despite every stat, fact and trend suggesting otherwise. If that guy doesn’t show up and we have struggling Lundqvist, AV has to stop coddling the guy. Now is not the time to “figure things out.”

AV must be willing to go to Raanta, even for a Game 2 start. With the Rangers being shaky at home, I think they need to split the series in Quebec, before the puck drops for Game 3. If Hank has another 4+ goals allowed game in Game 1, AV can’t think “it was just one bad game.” You gotta give the keys to Raanta.

I know people are going nuts about the rumors that Glass will be on the fourth line and not Buchnevich. However, if the fourth line concerns you more than the goalie matchup in this series, your priorities are in the wrong spot. This series won’t be won because one teams fourth line was better than the other.

The Rangers truly need their stars to show up. You know McDonagh and Zucc will play their fucking hearts out. You need Nash and Stepan to finish. You need Hank to be the goalie you pay him to be.

That said, I agree with Glass playing, just because he brings something to this team no one else does. He will off-set Steve Ott. He will make sure Montreal doesn’t get dirty with the Rangers. You want to hit Zucc? Well here comes Tanner Glass to fuck your world up. You want to spear Miller? The Glassman will have a physical reaction to that. Plus, Buchnevich isn’t really scoring goals at a clip. He’s missed more wide open nets than he’s put the puck on at this season. I will take Glass protecting his teammates over a potential random point or two recorded by the Russian.

The real King was in NY today with the Cup to promote the playoffs. Will the Cup return to NY in two months? I fucking hope so.

Like Frank Sinatra once said, “it’s up to you New York.”

This is the match-up we all wanted. It’s the match-up we’ve known for such a long time. One storyline the media is trying to push is that the Rangers have been complacent for the last month, since they were basically locked into their seed. This is a veteran core. They know what’s at stake. The young kids on this team grew up dreaming of winning the Cup. They know what they are playing for. I don’t buy into the Rangers being “blah” because of the final month.

I hope the Rangers get off to a hot start and come home 2-0. I really hope, that on Friday night, at 10PM, I’m not thinking “I wish United dragged Lundqvist off that plane to Montreal.”

For those who have joined the Talbot bandwagon, the Rangers/Oilers play doubleheaders the whole way.

I believe the old tag line was “40 games in 40 nights.” My fingernails are missing, I’m waking up with diarrhea, no amount of beer will calm the nerves and I have a little sweat dribbling to my crack. It’s officially playoff time.

See you after Game 1 here. Thanks for staying through this massive 7000+ word blog! I know it’s a lot of scrolling!

Official series prediction: Rangers in 7, with Raanta winning his first ever Game 7.

LET’S GO RANGERS

Sean McCaffrey

BULLSMC@aol.com

@NYCTHEMIC on twitter

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