“Matteau! Matteau! Matteau! Stephan Matteau! And the Rangers have one more hill to climb baby!”
These were the famous words spoken by play-by-play announcer Howie Rose in 1994. Yes, THE Howie Rose formerly of the New York Islanders. Funny how things pan out in many people’s careers, no? But Ranger fans are now left with one question leading up to the 2016-17 campaign.
Will the Rangers be contenders to hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup?
Ever since the Rangers lost to the Los Angeles Kings in 2014 in the Stanley Cup Finals, many were left scratching their head. There were signs of an even stronger team in the 2015 season as they made it to game seven of the Eastern Conference Finals, but forgot to shoot the puck and instead lost to the Tampa Bay Lightning by the score of 2-0. This past year did not fare as well as they lost to their division rivals, the Pittsburgh Penguins, in just five games in the first round of the playoffs. Where are they left now?
The Rangers are left in the ninth seed at best at this very moment in time. But they can very well leap into the playoffs should they make minor tweaks that would evolve into major success. It comes down to changing the style of play along with one major roster move.
Recently, Rangers forwards Chris Kreider, J.T. Miller, and Kevin Hayes each filed for salary arbitration. This does not come as a shock to most, and this puts the team in a tough financial situation as they already have their backs against the wall by being nearly maxed out with the salary cap. A list of under achievers that are being “well taken care of” would include names such as Rick Nash, Marc Staal, Dan Girardi, and Derek Stepan. Thankfully Keith Yandle found his way down to the sunshine state as he could not perform at the same level of hype he received upon his arrival in 2015.
Let’s break down the Blueshirts major issues. They lack the shots on goal required to win an NHL game. Their physicality level is that of defenseless dog with its tail between its legs. Their play along the boards is a contributing factor to all their turnovers which segways perfectly into the next bullet point, their turnovers in the offensive zone. Puck possession is a proven trait of success, just not one associated with the New York Rangers. Lastly, most importantly, their special teams. Watching their power play or their penalty kill is worse that watching a movie with your girlfriend and her parents.
The Rangers can be successful with the team they have in place and with the coaching staff they have in place. It’s the style of play that needs to change. Luckily for the Rangers, they don’t have that one player that ruins the team like Carmelo Anthony does for the New York Knicks. Nash is certainly not that player as his defensive efforts have been superb in the past two seasons. The issue with the five-time all star is that he is paid to score, but he has not found the back of the net since his last 40+ goal season.
New York ranked 26th last year in shots on goal. The only teams behind them were the Ottawa Senators, Vancouver Canucks, Arizona Coyotes, and the New Jersey Devils. When captain Ryan McDonagh’s team found themselves on a power play, you’d have a better chance at putting on a soccer game and seeing more shots on goal. The power play is where they need their biggest improvement and that means they need to bring in a big physical body. Unfortunately for them, free agent and former Boston Bruins and Los Angeles Kings tough guy, Milan Lucic, signed with the Edmonton Oilers. So the team must go out and seek strength and a big fourth line body that could be thrown in front of the net on a power play and provide that bothersome presence they have not seen since the days of Sean Avery and Devils net minder Marty Brodeur.
They found improvement for the penalty kill by bringing in speedster Michael Grabner, former New York Islander. With Henrik Lundqvist between the pipes, you would assume their penalty kill was among the tops in the league, but not so much. They ranked the same as their power play, 26th of 30 NHL teams. It was a miracle the Rangers even made it to the playoffs with numbers like that, but we know it was the hot start to their season that kept them in the mix through all 82 regular season games, not to mention, the collapse of Carey Price and the Montreal Canadiens. They also finished with a ranking of 23rd for shorthanded goals as they notched just three tallies compared to the number one team, the Senators, who scored 17 shorties.
Tied for 20th is where they found themselves for shots against. Now, this may not be much to worry about while they have a Vezina Trophy winning goalie to back stop them, but it takes a hit to his durability and longevity. The Rangers need to turn things around and force the offense down the throats of the opposition. They need to put forth a west coast style effort game in and game out. A sense of urgency and near desperation would bring the Rangers to a land of opportunity that teams like the Chicago Blackhawks and the Kings are used to seeing.
With the roster they have now, as players contracts expire, and as players find themselves still as free agents, it’s time the Rangers make one major move. They must move Rick Nash at almost any cost. Rumors have been tossed around the water cooler that the Buffalo Sabres are heavily interested in his services. General manager Tim Murray of the western New York franchise, is currently less than pleased with their star Evander Kane and his constant run-ins with the law. There is word that a deal could be made pending the outcome of Kane’s issues with the law, which would send him and Cody Franson to Broadway in exchange for Nash. No Blueshirts fan would ever say no to this deal.
So, can the team in front of Lundqvist compete for a spot in the 2016-17 playoffs? Well, considering the improvements of nearly every team in their division through the recent free agency period, it’s not likely. They will most likely be a bubble team and you will probably see their same “dump-and-chase” antics, along with their less than satisfactory offensive efforts.
Free cookies to the fan that brings back the chant “Shoot the puck Barry, shoot the puck!”