What’s up everyone and welcome to another blog here on BlueCollarBlueShirts.com. In today’s blog, I will be giving out my grades on the 2017-2018 New York Rangers, at the half way point of the season. For the Rangers, with 42 games played, they are currently sitting in fourth place in the Metropolitan Division. If the season ended today, the Rangers would be the number 1 wild card in the Eastern Conference.
As stated in every blog all season, it’s a long race and the standings will constantly change every night. However, for right now, these Rangers are a playoff team and control their own destiny. It’s all you can ask for.
What has amazed me more this season, than in seasons prior, are both fans and the media alike, doing the doom & gloom, after every loss. I just don’t get it. I mean, with four Stanley Cup victories in 90+ seasons, did you really have expectations of this team winning the Stanley Cup this year? I’ve been on record, since day one of this blog, that I don’t think the Rangers can win the Stanley Cup when their goalie is their highest salary cap hit. That said, anything can happen in the playoffs, as we’ve seen time and time again.
“Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.” – George Santayana
When this season started (and you can check the archives on the right hand of the site for all my past blogs) I felt the Rangers were a fringe playoff team at best. I felt that they should’ve rebuilt entirely or not at all. When you deal Dan Girardi and Derek Stepan, you’re admitting that it’s time for a change. It’s why I thought the Rangers should’ve moved on from this core altogether or not at all. By staying with Lundqvist, Marc Staal and Rick Nash, you’re trying to keep pieces from this current era and trying to rebuild on the fly. As I’ve always said, you can’t half-way rebuild a house.
When you look at the last five seasons, it is looking more and more like the sequel to the Emile Francis era, rather than 1994. The Rangers, while masters at making money, are ignorant at building a Cup winning team. Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, yet the Rangers continue to think Lundqvist, Nash and Staal are key to a Stanley Cup victory. That’s yet to be proven.
As we sit at the half-way mark of the season, outside of the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Rangers are as good as any team in the Eastern Conference. With the “anything can happen” vibe to the NHL playoffs, it’s why I have said the Rangers should be BUYERS and not SELLERS, come the trade deadline.
Face it – if you think that a 36 year old goalie, with a lot of miles, in Henrik Lundqvist is the answer, you’re not in a rebuild mode. You’re in a WIN NOW mode. While I don’t agree with keeping Lundqvist, it’s hard to argue that he’s not the team MVP, as I write these words on 1/11/17. You could make a case for Michael Grabner, but in my opinion, Lundqvist has been a bigger factor.
I make no bones about it – if it was up to me, I would’ve traded the bad long term contracts, got young and rebuilt. I would’ve bought out CZAR IGOR. I would have Lettieri, Chytil, Andersson and Pionk up here on a full time basis. However, that’s not what the Rangers have done. All I can do from my couch (or seat in the arenas) is root for the team and root for the team I shall.
While the Rangers have been one of the hotter teams since Halloween, what can’t be forgotten is that they were one period away from a complete dismantling. After a horrid start, Larry Brooks of the NY Post & other reporters, reported that if the Rangers lost the 10/31 game, to the Vegas Golden Knights, then coach Alain Vigneault would’ve been fired. Instead, in perhaps a fortunate gift from the hockey gods, VGK, due to injury, were forced to start their fourth string goalie. In turn, the Rangers mounted a third period comeback, won that game, went on a win streak and would play themselves into a playoff position.
The Rangers, at the bye week, despite three terrible consecutive games (one that produced a shootout win) are still a playoff team. Whether they can hold that spot remains to be seen, but obviously, this is a franchise predicated on making money. Having no games in the playoffs is counter-productive to making money. Coupled in with the fact that the Eastern Conference boasts only one dominant team, it would be silly to give up on these guys now.
Winning a Stanley Cup is a topic for another conversation, but you can’t win a Stanley Cup if you’re not in the playoffs. This team, under Coach AV, whether they are a future “one and done, let’s chew gum” playoff team or not, should be good enough to make the playoffs. When I do a report card at the end of the season, it wouldn’t shock me if some of the players on this report card are no longer here and we get some new faces. Who will those players be? Only time will tell. However, for now, let’s look at the Rangers, before they embark on their toughest stretch of the 2017-2018 season.
Before getting into the meat and potatoes of this blog, the report card itself, it’s time to plug my most recent blogs. I’d like to thank the Vegas hockey community for really getting the word out there – my Vegas blog was the most read blog of the regular season. One thing I’ve always noticed doing this site – people want to read about experiences and not look at charts all day. Anyway, here are my 5 most recent blogs:
The Vegas Golden Knight Experience Through the Eyes of a Rangers Fan: Hockey The Way It’s Supposed To Be, The T-Mobile Arena Is a Full Bars Experience, Vegas Embracing Hockey, How The Golden Knights Are Doing Everything Right, Rangers Busting Like a Degenerate at a Cold Blackjack Table & Much More, with Pictures, From Las Vegas
NYR/ARI 1/6 Review: Super Sunday Sized Edition! Lundqvist Carries NYR To Victory; Tames Desert Dogs, NYR Nears The Break, Chris Kreider Possibly Done For The Season, Be Fair to Duclair, ANDERSSON 3:16 Says Eff Your Silver, Trade Rumors, JT Miller is Donzo, Rick Nash, Pretending that NYR are Sellers, The Fake News NYR Media (Hello Hartnett), My Vegas Trip Thus Far & Much More
NYR/BUF 1/1 WINTER CLASSIC Review: JT Miller Turns Citifield into Miller’s Park; Rangers Get The Much Needed Two Points, Ranger Fans Brave Extreme Temperatures, “Pond Hockey”, Grabner For the All-Star Game, AV Wacks Lettieri, The Lundqvist Love Affair, NBC & NHL Drops The Ball in the Ballpark & Much More from a Visual & Gimmick Spectacular
NYR/DET 12/29 Review: Rangers Come Up Short, Lose a Game Reminiscent of the Dead Wings Era, Vinni Lettieri Shines in NHL Debut, Lundqvist, Arniel & Futile PP Costs NYR Another Point, The Insufferable Joe Micheletti, Chris Kreider’s Health, The WC, & Much More From a Preseason-ish Feeling Game
NYR/WSH 12/27 Review: King Ondrej The Giant Shuts Out The Capitals With a Monumental Performance; Rangers Keep Pace in the Division, The Excruciating NBC Broadcast, Kreider Rumors, The Blueballed Blueshirt Rick Nash, AV’s Decisions Pay Off Again, Fire Arniel & More From an Exciting Victory
RANGERS REPORT CARD AT THE 2017-2018 Mid-Season 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. To ignore the cap hit of a player would be foolish, which is why it’s considered in these grades.
PAVEL BUCHNEVICH. GRADE: B+
The Rangers sophomore right winger, who I affectionately refer to as a “commie” on this blog, has grown considerably in his second season in the big time. He is currently third on the team with goals (11), fifth on the team with assists (15) and third on the team in points, with 26 points. Many Ranger fans have a love affair with the Russian, and scream bloody murder any time he’s benched. We have not seen the best of Buchnevich, and I think it will come in future seasons. He is capable of cold spells, but who on this team isn’t? He’s definitely played above his contract, but at times, doesn’t show the fire he needs to have. In turn, he’s been a scratch for AV. Buchnevich, like all of these guys, needs to show consistency in that department. However, it’s worth mentioning, is it fair for Buchnevich, who is third on the team in production, to be bounced around on every line and into the press box? Surely, if the Russian can find time upstairs, then Rick Nash deserves to be watching the game next to him.
PAUL CAREY. GRADE: B
Going into this season, I wasn’t sold on Paul Carey at all. In fact, if the Rangers moved him tomorrow, and kept Miller or Hayes at center full-time, it wouldn’t bother me. That’s how you could open up a roster spot for Vinni Lettieri, who I think should be on the team for the rest of the run. However, one can not dispute Carey’s contributions to the team this season, even if he’s a “one season & done” Ranger. Carey has been a factor on the Rangers fourth line, where he has 10 points. In many games this season, the fourth line, with Henrik Lundqvist, has contributed to many victories. Carey has played above his contract this season. While I don’t see him breaking out as top guy for the team, he’s more than excelled in his role. In the past Dominick Moore was the fourth line center & occasional winger and for the Rangers, Carey has been a slight upgrade this season.
DAVID DESHARNAIS. GRADE: A
I hope people don’t see the Grade of “A” and immediately wig out. Consider that Double D is only a million dollar cap hit, and that DD has played on the first line and on the PP, then you have to realize that Double D has provided much value, for the dollar, for the Rangers. The Rangers have seen 19 points out of this center. While the Rangers, admittedly, have been weak down the middle, Desharnais has given them more points than one would’ve thought. Playing on the PP may be an indication on why the Rangers PP has been anemic this season, but I would put more of the blame on DD’s higher paid teammates. Like Carey, a perhaps “one and done” Ranger, you can not argue that DD has overproduced for this team.
JESPER FAST. GRADE: B
I hope there is one day where Fast puts it all together. Fast, who started the season on the IR, rejoined the team and found himself up and down the line-up. He’s played a lot on the second line, but has logged minutes once in a while with the 10/13/40 line as well. The Swedish right winger has shown flashes of brilliance at times, but like many of the players on this club, can go games where you wonder where he is. Like other Rangers on this team, Fast is pass first, shoot maybe, and that needs to change. He is playing better than his salary, but then again, so is everyone, when compared to another right winger on this team, in Rick Nash.
MICHAEL GRABNER. GRADE: A+
If it was up to me, Michael Grabner would represent the Rangers in the All Star Game. Currently the team leader in goals scored, Grabner is the only one that has any relevance of consistency on this team. For 1.5 seasons now, he’s been a team leader in goals and the most aggressive player to the puck on the team. His speed has been a factor in his success. He’s part of the best line on the team, with JT Miller & Kevin Hayes. When you hear people talk about rebuild, it’s Grabner that could bring back the most in a potential trade, due to his team-friendly contract and production. I don’t see 40 being moved, because this team needs to fight for the playoffs and without Grabner, they greatly lessen their chances. If it wasn’t for the heavy workload of Henrik Lundqvist, he would be the team MVP. As of right now, he deserves the Steven McDonald Award.
KEVIN HAYES. GRADE: B-
Kevin Hayes is a player that will bring up contradicting opinions from Ranger fans. While you can’t deny he’s been on the best line all season, he will drive you mad with his pass first, shoot never offense. He’s left too many goals on the ice, with his passes to nowhere. Then again, he scores at opportune times, is part of the PK, great defensively and is able to create space. While the stoner jokes are appropriate, you hope to see Kevin Hayes eventually ride a high and put some goal scoring together. He is someone that many good teams would covet for a playoff run and for the Rangers, they hope to see him part of their next run, hopefully this Spring.
CHRIS KREIDER. GRADE: C+
Up until his blood clot, Kreider was one of the more better point producing Rangers, but there were too many times where you had to really check to see if 20 was on the ice. There were games where he would crash the net and become a factor, but there were more games where you just wondered if Tortorella was right on this guy. I don’t know if Kreider will play again this season. For his sake, I hope he doesn’t rush a comeback and takes care of his health. Life is worth living and playing hockey isn’t worth years on your life, and that’s coming from a heavy bottle hand & smoker!
JT MILLER. GRADE: B
The hero of the Winter Classic, there have been many times this season where NYR fans were happy about “MILLER TIME.” Along with Grabner & Hayes, Miller has been on the top line and has provided many big moments this season. He’s also versatile and able to slot into any position for Coach AV. Miller has been here for a while, so I don’t think you can afford him the same pass he once got, similar to the pass you may sometime give to Vesey or Buchnevich. The Rangers need more goals out of Miller and like everyone else on this team, Miller needs to be alive in the first period.
RICK NASH. GRADE: D+
Rick Nash is the hardest player to grade. He is easily the best third liner in the NHL, but he’s paid like a Sidney Crosby, like a Patrick Kane or like an Alex Ovechkin. While Nash does everything well, does the little things and valuable to the Rangers PK, for $7.8M a season, he is a FAILURE. While he makes good passes, drives to the net, kills penalties, on the PP unit and great defensively, the bottom line is he’s paid to score goals and he doesn’t. That’s what I’m judging him by. His 9 goals and 8 assists is a joke. While he’s better than his stat line suggests, he’s still a major cap hit on this team and you can get better production for less. Rick Nash, like many ex-Rangers before him, is high money, no production. SAD!
BOO NIEVES. GRADE: C
Nieves was a late call-up, but he was called up when the Rangers started to get hot, as he was called up for the Florida road trip, which the Rangers swept. He’s part of a strong fourth line, but with only one goal, you’d like to see more production. He’s fine for his role, but as Ranger fans, we have to hope that the best is yet to come. For a player that is 6’3″, I’d like to see more physicality on the ice from him.
JIMMY VESEY. GRADE: A-
With 9 goals and 7 assists, you might think I’m over-grading the sophomore from Harvard, but to me, Vesey has been one of the stronger players all season. Like every one else on the team, not named Vinni Lettieri, Vesey will always make the pass over taking the shot. However, Vesey has been one of the more aggressive players all season. For a guy who looks like he isn’t old enough to enjoy a beer, Vesey hasn’t been scared to mix it up with other teams. The former Hobey Baker award winner has shown mettle and like the other young studs on this team, I think the best is yet to come. For now, Vesey is over-producing for the money and is one of the more consistent players on the club.
MIKA ZIBANEJAD. GRADE: B+
Zibanejad missed time this season, due to concussion. I still don’t think he’s 100% recovered, as he seemed absentee until recently. He has the second most amount of goals on the team, with 13 goals in 33 games played. That stat doesn’t make the team around him look good at all. He’s the number 1 center on the team and has played like one, from time-to-time. While his production is great on the Rangers, it isn’t that comparable league-wide. Still, he’s one of the better players on this club. You just hope that these concussions fade away, as it most likely will be problem, not only for the team, but for him personally, as his career grows.
MATS ZUCCARELLO. GRADE: A-
Where does the time go? The Norwegian, once baby faced, is now one of the elder statesmen on the team and the alternate captain. As stated numerously on this blog, he’s perhaps the biggest fan favorite these days, as I see more 36 jerseys at Ranger games than 30 jerseys. With his chantable last name, the ZUUUUUUUUUC chant is one that is heard both at MSG and on the road. He leads the team in points, with 31 points, recording 8 goals and 23 assists. While you can’t knock Zucc’s passion or willingness to fight, especially at his size, the knock you can put on him is his stubborness to shoot. There is no other Ranger on this team, that is more capable of making the extra pass to nowhere, than 36.
NICK HOLDEN. Grade: D+
What’s that expression, “if you have nothing nice to say, don’t say it at all?” Holden, who started his NYR tenure as a point getter, was an absolute trainwreck in the playoff series, last season, with the Ottawa Senators. Rather than turning the corner, Holden doubled-down, and has been a defensive liability all season. It amazes me how Brendan Smith, who has a huge contract, consistently is scratched, yet Holden remains. I don’t question AV much, but AV must see something with Holden, who logs top pair minutes with Ryan McDonagh. I miss you Dan Girardi.
STEVE KAMPFER. GRADE: B
If it was up to me, Kampfer would be playing over Nick Holden on this team. To me, he’s better defensively. While Holden is easier the better offensive option, his turnovers outweigh his offense. Kampfer has been a better lockdown defender, but since Lundqvist doesn’t like him, he doesn’t play as much. Kampfer is fine in his role, but perhaps would find a more fulfilling career elsewhere.
RYAN MCDONAGH. GRADE: C-
Trust me, that C- grade hurts me more than it hurts you. I am a huge Mac Truck fan, but quite simply, he hasn’t a good season. When it comes to the All Star Game, defensive defensemen make the game and McDonagh has been a feature there. When it comes to the Norris, offensive defensemen get the nod. However, the only nod going on for McDonagh, is when he watches Micheletti’s head nod up and down a Swedish penis. I don’t know if the Captain is playing through injury or what, but this is his worst season as Ranger. He has no goals, and while able to shut down top forwards in the league (as he did with Ovechkin), is constantly being burnt defensively and more than capable of turning over the puck. I hope AV or someone is able to get 27 back to his game.
KEVIN SHATTENKIRK. GRADE: B-
Shattenkirk is a much contested player among NYR fans. I just don’t get some fans, who did you expect Shattenkirk to be? You had to know he wasn’t a defensive lockdown specialist. No, he was signed to provide points. Shattenkirk has been top 3 in the league, when it comes to defensemen scoring. He’s number one on the Rangers in that department, with his 5 goals and 18 assists. While he is a defensive liability, I expected that. However, with the Rangers PP being abysmal, something I put more on Scott Arniel than 22 himself, Shatty is here to quarterback the PP. While he has more success than the last two Rangers to wear the 22 before him (Holden and Dan Boyle) the Rangers PP simply needs to produce more.
BRADY SKJEI. GRADE: B
One of the more consistent players on the team, Skjei is still turnover prone, but then again, the other team is paid to create offense too. Skjei’s 13 points aren’t shabby and he’s shown a tendency to shoot the puck more than some of the Ranger forwards. You would like to see him grow more defensively, but as a young player on this team, that may come in time. Currently on the second D-pair, logging most of his minutes with Shattenkirk this season, I don’t know if he can stop some of the better offenses in the league. However, he’s been fun to watch and like many on this report card, the best should be yet to come.
BRENDAN SMITH. GRADE: C
“Thank you for taking Brendan Smith off our hands.” – a Detroit Redwings fan to me, last season, at the Joe.
I thought in Smith’s limited minutes with the team, last season, that the Rangers may have had something. When he signed a huge contract with the team in the off-season, I thought that Gorton was nuts. Then again, I’m just a beer drinker who loves watching the game, and not someone who has lived inside of NHL locker rooms. That said, Smith has been a disappointment this season, very much so, where AV has constantly made Smith a healthy scratch. Smith needs to figure it out and figure it out fast, before his name gets lumped in with Wade Redden.
MARC STAAL. GRADE: B-
Deep breath time: Marc Staal has been the Rangers best defenseman all season. Is that possible? Look at the competition and think about it. While never an offensive threat, Staal has done a lot of good things defensively this season. While I would’ve traded/bought him out before giving Girardi that treatment, Staal is having his best season since his injuries. There is no denying that his contract sucks, but you can’t say he’s been a horror show either. Staal is still logging 18+ minutes a game for the Blueshirts and helping to stop elite offenses in the league.
HENRIK LUNDQVIST. GRADE: A
No one will ever accuse me of being the biggest Henrik Lundqvist fan, but even I can’t deny the impact he’s had on the team this year. While I will never appreciate his diva behavior or crybaby antics, he’s stolen many points for the team this season. My biggest knocks on him, besides his terrible contract, are his league leading “most goals allowed in the first two minutes of a period”, most two goal blown leads and his ability to lose his stick more than any other goalie. That all said, he’s also been a rock for this team and playing his best hockey since perhaps the 2013-2014 season, if not his Vezina winning 2011-2012 season. As stated at the top of this blog and really in every other blog I’ve done, I’d trade him tomorrow, but for his work this season, he’s arguably the Rangers MVP and like many years past, the best player on the club. The biggest question still remains – can Lundqvist carry this team to a Stanley Cup? There is no denying this fact – Lundqvist has been the most consistent Ranger all season.
ONDREJ PAVELEC. GRADE: A-
Like Henrik Lundqvist, Pavelec has been one of the stronger players, in his role, for the New York Rangers. Going into the season, I didn’t see him being able to do what Talbot or Raanta did, but goalie guru, Benoit Allaire, cementing his place in the HHOF, has turned Pavelec around. Pavelec, coming off the worst season of his career, looks like he could be a starting goalie again in this league. If Talbot or Raanta mean anything to you, then it’s very easy to see Pavelec starting elsewhere next season. Lundqvist has started 83% of the games this season, with 35 starts in 42 games. That’s a heavier workload since the days of Marty Biron as 30’s back-up. I think Pavelec’s true test will be in the second half of the season, where more back-to-back games are on the schedule. However, if the first half of the season is any indication, Pavelec should keep the Rangers in any game he plays.
THE INCOMPLETES (Players with less than 10 games)
Filip Chytil – I don’t think he ever got a fair shot at it. He played in the season opener, a period in the second game and then was quickly sent to Hartford. I don’t know how you could learn anything in that amount of time. He’s been solid in Hartford and could be someone brought up, should another injury occur. While Andersson got headlines for his hatred of losing, it was Chytil who was the better prospect, at season start.
Adam Cracknell – a player that Lindy Ruff, who a lot of NYR fans want to replace AV as HC, went to bat for. He didn’t amount to much and was quickly dropped after four games. Waste of time.
Anthony DeAngelo – I still don’t know why the Rangers dealt for him, outside of trying to dump Stepan’s contract. DeAngelo may never play for the Rangers again. He didn’t do much with the minutes afforded to him and isn’t that great in Hartford either. I suggested NYR trading DeAngelo for Duclair, and while it’s a long shot, I think DeAngelo would benefit from another change in scenery.
Vinni Lettieri – called up recently, I thought Lettieri should’ve been on the team from day one. However, we all know AV and his tendency to always go with veterans over new blood. I hope Lettieri stays with the big club, because the sky is the limit with this kid. The Rangers need someone who isn’t afraid to shoot and Lettieri is that guy.
HEAD COACH ALAIN VIGNEAULT. GRADE: B
Many fans want AV out of here, but how can you argue with his success? Once again, despite his GM, he has this team in the playoff hunt. People can start their #FIREAV campaigns all they want, but I’m part of the #EXTENDAV movement. My biggest criticism on AV is the fact that this team comes out too flat for too many first periods. However, these players are paid a lot of money and shouldn’t need a Big League Chewing coach to tell them to do their fucking jobs.
ASSISTANT COACH SCOTT ARNIEL. GRADE: F-
Fire him ASAP. His PP has sucked ass for way too long. There is no way to validate his job. Coaches are judged/hired/fired based on production and Arniel isn’t getting results.
ASSISTANT COACH LINDY RUFF. GRADE: C+
I don’t know why NYR fans want him over AV. It’s not like he’s Scotty Bowman. He’s not even Peter Laviolette. He’s the third defensive coach, in as many years, for NYR and once again, the D is a liability for the club. It’s tough to give a fan favorite high marks when he’s not getting quality defense game-to-game.
GOALTENDING COACH BENOIT ALLAIRE. GRADE: A+
Henrik Lundqvist is playing the best hockey of his career since his Vezina season. Ondrej Pavelec, who struggled in the AHL last season, has been tremendous. One of the reasons I’ve always felt that you could deal Lundqvist & that contract is because you have Allaire.
Going into the second half of the season, the Rangers schedule is much tougher than the first half. For starters, the first half featured many home games. The Rangers will play more away games in the second half. Included in those road games are the Western Canada trip, the California trip, more back-to-backs and they finish the season with four straight road games, against Metropolitan Division opponents. If you’re a pessimist, the Rangers blew a ton of opportunities to give themselves wiggle room, before the the schedule turned. Now, they must play well to keep pace.
When the season resumes for the Rangers, this Saturday, they will take on a desperate Islander team, who always play the Rangers tough. 24 hours later, they are off to Pittsburgh, against another team that seemingly has the Rangers number. In what will be an on-going thing, you will have to keep track of Lundqvist starts, as he’s already playing more games than anyone thought he would.
The biggest story, of the second half of the season, will be how the Rangers handle the trade deadline. Again, I don’t see the Rangers breaking up the team. I see them trying to add. Who they add, who knows? Evander Kane? Ryan Nugent-Hopkins? The problem for the Rangers, like 29 other teams in the league (Tampa gets the pass) is that they need a defenseman and a center. Those players don’t grow on trees, so it’s tough to envision the Rangers getting someone that big. Perhaps the best player they could get is Max Pacioretty out of Montreal, but as I talked about on this blog already, would Montreal even trade with the Rangers?
For the Rangers, I think they need to look within. Maybe give Chytil a chance. With Kreider out, give Lettieri more minutes. And for the love of fuck – PUT GRABNER ON THE POWERPLAY!
The season resumes this Saturday with the Islanders. See you after the game, here on BlueCollarBlueShirts.com
As always, thanks for reading and…
“LET’S GO RANGERS!”
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