Dark days


Contrary to what you may believe, the Rangers are not the worst team in hockey. Nor, for that matter, are they even below .500.

But if you were to take the temperature of the team after an otherwise non-descript off-day practice, you’d almost get the sense the Rangers still haven’t won a game.

Among the signs:

  • A sign on the board outside the Rangers locker room announcing individual player meetings with Tom Renney (with the exception of Brendan Shanahan and oddly, Thomas Pock).
  • A morose Renney lamenting the team’s defensive struggles and hinting that jobs remain very much in flux.
  • Even a discordant note from the usually upbeat Jaromir Jagr. Asked if the team still felt it could beat anyone on a given night, the captain replied, “Not the way we’re playing right now.”

    What’s going on here? Are the Rangers closing up shop and relocating to Winnipeg? Will I next see Tom Renney when he’s fixing my sandwich at Subway (“Dagnabit Renney, what part of ‘no mayo’ didn’t you understand?!”)?

    There are two ways to look at this team on the eve if their last home game prior to a four-game week-long swing on the West Coast:

    One, the Rangers have played mediocre hockey and are destined for a long, torturous season.

    Or two, the Rangers have played mediocre hockey, but are still 4-4, and likely to figure out whatever ails them at this early stage.

    Maybe it’s my sunny disposition — which, granted, can in part be attributed to an alarming intake of caffeine — but I can’t imagine this team is going to struggle like this all season. Outside of some notable exceptions, which we’ve discussed here at length in recent days, it is a group too talented, and already too aware of what is causing it to play so poorly.

    As is the case in any recovery program, admitting you have a problem is the first step. If nothing else, today was evidence of as much.

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    1. Sam — I like everything you reported here…As you said, ackowleging the problem is a biggie..And being pissed about it and considering making changes and changing jobs is also the correct way to be looking at it…instead of hoping it will change…They will get it turned around, but it all has to start with the D—as we all know…..

      The no meeting with Pock is kinda odd…Hope he already had his..We try to sneak him through waivers and he will be spending the rest of the year in St. Louis or Washington…Sending Rachunek or Malik down to the minors (and exposing them to waivers) is a much better option..(especially if somebody claims one!)

    2. Oh mama mia, the Rangers shouldn´t be relocated to Wínnipeg, there is even more cold in winter than in New Yórk…:):)

      I heard about Las Vegas bidding for an NHL team, when the city of Pittsburgh wouldn´t decide against building a new arena, so that would be even a better place for it and that would be much more comfortable to me…..

      And of course for Baby Koala too….:)

    3. THANK GOD!…. I hope all this has a possitive effect on the team rather then discourage them…. I mean this can mean one of two things… a lack of confidence, or an urgency to play better… I’m hoping for choice number 2… And i don’t know about you Sam, but Renny never came across to me as a hard ass (for lack of better words) One on one meetings? hmm I like it… Shake EVERYONE up… I don’t know what makes Shannahan and Pock any different… that’s the part I disagree with, talk to EVERYONE…. even if you’re going to praise what their doing, let em know one on one. Glad to see he’s really doing everything he can to straighten things out…. Now if he can just figure out how to finalize the line combos and the defensive pairs, THAT’D be something haha

    4. De-fence is key to a winning hockey team. The Rangers had that last year when they were going good. They don’t have it now. They stole the two points in Toronto after a run of losses. Toronto is no great shakes on de-fence either. Amid his myriad of shortcomings de-fence was Renney’s forte last year. So there’s hope. I trust the word backchecking was mentioned in the conversations with the forwards. On the other hand the best defence in the world can’t cover for a shaky goalie. Henrik is running 28th in GAA and 31st in save percentage. He’s perfect in shootouts so that indicates he’s not lost his touch completely. And he withstood the Leaf onslaught in the third period. Is he part of the solution or part of the problem? Glad it’s Florida coming in, not Buffalo.

    5. Sam –
      I don’t like to be repetetive of others’ comments, but in this case it’s desrving. You do a great job covering the Rangers and keeping this blog. Following the team is so much more interesting when we have a steady inside look at what’s going on in practice, the locker room, etc. Thank you and keep up the good work.

      On the Rangers, there are two ways to look at what you wrote in this post: First, the team is only eight games in, so now is the time to experiment, analyze and do whatever is necessary to fix what is not working. On the other hand, the team is only eight games in and as you point out, playing .500 hockey. Isn’t it a bit much (and too early) for the team to be moping around with dour expressions and having individual meetings with the (morose) head coach? I mean, what you wrote is something I expect to see about a third of the way or halfway through the season when a team is still struggling to find itself while playing on the cusp of a potential playoff spot.

      I know major problems do not fix themselves, but overanalysis and overreaction is usually overkill.

      Diehard fans are the one’s who fret after each loss, and yell about each missed check. The players and coaches are supposed to be level headed and see things clearly. I’m not saying they are overreacting here – only that they might be. Renney certainly has a better handle on this team and where it stands than I do. But clearly Renney sounds miserable, and (maybe as a result) so do the players.

    6. I like the idea from Tom Renney having ths kind of one one dialogue with the players, working a kind of psychologist, remembering the player of their special assigments especially on defense or reducing the higher pressure they probably feel, when they had almost no pressure when everybody picked them last of the whole NHL last leason…

      It becomes more and more popular that sport teams hire such specialist, trying to improve the psyche of their players. This becomes more and more important in these days…!!!!

      I always try to speak with Baby Koala one on one but with few or no success at all….

      But that´s a different story :):)

    7. Sam,

      I find Renney’s manner quite strange through this ordeal. The defense has been bad since game 2. But Renney’s only change in defense has been the benching of Pock, who was at worst no worse defensively than and other d-man, and the continued play of rachunek, who should’ve been benched for pock.

      Granted, he took Malik out for a game, but that was overdue.

      Until management, including Renney, makes some substantial changes to back up their rhetoric, I’m not buying a dime of it.

      Ivan Baranka and Tom Pock could play D for this team, at least as well as malik and rachunek – and there’s no legitimate reason why they shouldnt be given a shot if the veterans are struggling.

      Renney can talk all he wants about accountability and what not, but it is obvious to any observer who sees the unimpressive characters of hossa, rachunek, betts (on the second line???), and malik trotted out their every night that he is just paying lipservice to the idea of shaking up the team.

      If I could have you ask renney one reasonable question, it would be this…

      “Tom, what can marek, karel, and marcel provide for you that the younger, and presumably more energetic pock, baranka, immonen could not? Those vets aren’t playing as well as you’d like them to be. Isn’t there some advantage to getting the younger guys in there who would feistily fight to keep their jobs in ways you don’t see the the three aformentioned vets doing? We understand this team wants to stay competitive, and has to have the right young-old mix, but you acknowledge yourself that the rangers are in a rebuild. What part of “keeping mediocre vets up while not giving young guys a chance” correlates to “rebuild”???

    8. I guess I read your report differently from everyone else Sam, it sounds to me to be a case of the Rangers and Renney not really having any idea what to do at this point, and perhaps running out of things in their bag of tricks.

      To be honest I think the problem is pretty simple, even if the solution isn’t…goaltending. I have found teams often go only so far as their goaltender will take them, big saves and keeping those tough shots out give a team more confidence at both ends of the ice. With the way the goaltending has been the players are less certain about where to go on the ice and maybe think their game through more.

      This can quickly escalate, and things that were once easy, become much more difficult to execute. And when hard work goes unrewarded (i.e. the team gives up an “easy” goal) then the desire to work hard weakens too…allowing for more goals to be scored.

      Okay…so it really isn’t that simple either. But it’s certainly a significant contributing factor…that and a forward corps who have struggled to backcheck effectively.

      It does still trouble me though that instead of looking to Hartford for answers (or at least some energy) the Rangers seem to be content to rearrange the deck chairs … the next move you’d expect (and you’ll pardon by long time jaded view of the Rangers) is that they’ll try to look outside the organization for help.

    9. Rachunek was one of the top 4 defensemen in the entire RSL last year. He is 27 years old.

      Suggesting the team expose him to waivers — nevermind hoping he gets picked up — is incredibly short-sighted, IMHO.

      I can accept (barely) that people are willing to part ways with him after seeing him play only 8 games with a completely brand new team, under a completely different system, in a completely different league, on a different size ice surface.

      What I can’t fathom is that people don’t see that he has value — if not to us (as I believe), then to another team.

    10. Folks —

      I don’t like to make a habit of pointing out that my competitors are smarter than I am, but I do think it’s worth mentioning a point made in a recent column by Larry Brooks.

      It goes like this: the Rangers don’t want to look like they’re wasting the heavy salaries they’re using toward the salary cap, so it’s easier to justify sitting a lesser-compensated player like Pock as opposed to Malik or Rachunek.

      Stupid? Yes. But — and this is just me talking now — if that were the case, the pressure on Renney would be coming from above.

    11. If you still working the phones with other managers of weblogs from other NHL teams, please bear in mind, I don´t want to be traded to teams like Atlanta, Nashville, Washington, Columbus, Anaheim ( since they are not longer the Mighty Ducks any more !!!), NY Islanders or Philadelphia…

    12. Alex,

      Under Glen Sather, the Rangers have shown an unwillingness to send players down to the AHL…and if you’re not going to waive them, there are few options for the coach.

      One can certainly argue about how much influence Tom Renney has on personnel moves…but I for one don’t know one way or another.

      And for the rest of you, a “useless” stat of the day:
      Karel Rachunek has a plus/minus rating of -16 in just 20 games with the Rangers since he was acquired in 2004.

    13. Sam, modesty won’t get you anywhere in life.

      While Larry Brooks’ theory is possible, I’m not sure that I buy into it anymore. Glen Sather and the Dolans have never been shy about “wasting” money before, so why would it matter now? Especially when the amount you’re wasting is so small in the grand scheme of things. They certainly weren’t worried about buying out Bobby Holik’s contract.

      I would actually think the embarassment of losing would be a greater incentive to these guys than whether a $2 million a year guy sits or not.

      It seems to me it’s a two-fold problem. Glen Sather has never appeared to be a guy who likes to let any asset go for nothing…he’ll try and make deals, or even let a guy become a free agent before he’ll let an asset that he believes has value go to the market. You could I think argue that when he took over that there was little asset value in the organization and through his management they have created value.

      Given the limited roster size, and an unwillingness to waive players (thus risking losing them for nothing), plus the added risk of having to pay half their salary if you’re trying to bring them up again as well as more confidence in veterans over unproven players.

      While Renney has relied on younger players moreso than some of the coaches before him, I think he has also shown an unreasonable amount of confidence in certain veteran players at the expense of younger players whom he appears to be more critical of.

    14. The defense is not the problem. Goaltending is not the problem. The TEAM is the problem. They are not playing as a cohesive unit. Puck support is virtually non-existent, and no one knows where they’re supposed to be at any given moment, or more importantly, where their teammates are. That’s what’s causing these botched passes and giveaways, not to mention the bad penalties. Players are hesitating that one extra second to figure out where their teammates are, or taking the high-risk pass because no one is making themselves open to accept the low-risk one. Not a single person on this team — including Shannahan — has been exempt from making extremely bad passes or turnovers. The defense get all the blame because the goals are going in. But keeping the puck out of the net is a 6-man job. The sooner the team starts playing that way, the sooner things will turn around.

      As for calling up guys from the Pack… Renney is extremely gifted at developing talent, and there’s no way he’s going to sacrifice kids to the wolves yet. Given the lack of support from their teammates on-ice, why expose them to the criticism that’s sure to come when the inevitable happens and they mess up as bad or worse than the current crop of vets? The best way to develop talent is to set players up to succeed. Throwing Baranka out on the ice the way the team is playing right now is just setting him up for failure.

      Finally… a bit of perspective: We’re only 8 games into the season. There’s plenty of talent on this team and it’s lead by a guy who did an excellent job pulling a disparate group of guys into a smart-playing, cohesive unit last year. Why not give them a few more games to pull it together before calling for people’s heads?

    15. Toby – A couple other useless stats for the day…

      Michael Roszival was a +35 last season. Marek Malik a +28.

      Karel Rachunek was +55 in NHL play coming into this year.

    16. laurie–if you think that defense isn’t the problem then you haven’t been paying attention. and i don’t care what rachunek did in the RSL, in the nhl he is garbage. when the rangers join the RSL what he did there will matter, till then he should be dumped ASAP

    17. alex–its been a problem all year but you can’t panic after game 2. part of sticking with the guys was renney trying to let things straighten themselves out instead of panicing…remember that almost the same blueline was the 4th best in the league last year. they overacheived big time but it wasn’t unrealistic to hope that a few would get it together and then you are talking about fixing 1 or 2 guys not all 6.

      but now that the first full month of the season is almost over patience starts to run out and you have to seriously think about the other options.

    18. sam–playing those bigger salaries to justify them is stupid but it isn’t completely due to the cap either. that was the rangers MO before the lockout too feeling that they had to play the big salaries even though it hurt them…

      but that is only an issue under the cap if you plan to keep the guy that gets bumped from the lineup. yes it looks like you are wasting cap room by having malik and ozolinsh sit in the press box while pock and baranka play. but why would you keep those 2 if they aren’t good enough to play?? you waive those 2 guys and then they count nothing against the cap and there is no issue.

    19. Leetch3 (or can I just call you Brian?) —

      One would think you wouldn’t keep a guy who isn’t going to play. But maybe there’s something to the fact that the Rangers don’t want to admit just yet that they’ve made foolish choices with some of these guys. Not saying that’s the case, but could be.

      Also, there is this: you have a Malik or an Ozolinsh or whoever. Suppose there’s even the slightest chance you could get something for them in exchange as opposed to just dumping them. I can’t imagine they’re very marketable if they’re not even cracking your lineup in Game 8 or 9 of the season.

      Tell me I’m wrong. I could be.

    20. Laurie – The reason Rachunek was +55 coming into this season was because he was coasting on the Ottawa Senators blueline while they were racking up Presidents Trophies, and believe me not much credit was due to Karel. Being from Ottawa and watching basically every Sens game for the past 10 years, I would know. He was about as useless as Brian Pothier was for the Sens last year(despite having a solid plus minus, what a surprise for a guy on a team averaging over 5 goals a game). All that to say that I really regret taking Rachunek in my hockey pool this year lol, I should have made this reasoning earlier.

    21. Pierre – My point in posting those +/- numbers was simply to illustrate that they are useless. I was simply refuting Toby’s assertion that Rachunek being ‐16 in 20 games as a Ranger means something. Do I think Rachunek’s as good as his +55? Hell no! Do I think he’s as bad as his ‐16 as a Ranger? Nope. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not calling Karel Rachunek the second coming of Brian Leetch. My point was, very simply, that he has value — at the very least in a trade — and therefore should not be summarily “dumped” after 8 games.

    22. Whoa! Apparently the blog doesn’t agree with me either as it’s crossed out half of my post. Ah well!

      _*Techie note:* laurie stumbled upon one of the typographic niceties of our blogging system … it converts text surrounded by dashes into strikethroughs. Normally, this can be quite handy. If, in the meantime, you’re fond of the almighty dash, we recommend using this chunk of code: — &mdash — in its place. Just add a ; to the end of that and the strikethrough should never darken your door again. *C.V.*_

    23. The Rangers record must be looked at from the standpoint of pre-Olympics and post-Olympics. Because it is a tale of 2 cities. Before the Olympics the Rangers were 35-23 (OT losses incl.) After the Olympics the Rangers were 9-15. And then you add the 4 losses in the playoffs, and you have 9-19 to finish the season.

      So, with the 4-4 this season, the Rangers are 13-23 overall since the games in Torino ended. THAT is why the coaches and players are in a concerned mood. The Rangers have not been a good team since Feb.11, over a span of 36 games, and that IS cause for concern.

      The new NHL is geared toward speedy, mobile younger players like the Buffalo Sabres and San Jose Sharks have. And old, slow defensemen like the Philly Flyers have are dinosaurs. And the Rangers also have several of those old, slow defensemen. The Rangers don’t have enough diligent backcheckers among their forwards, or enough forechecking board-workers in the offensive zone. So, they were depending on the puck-possession skills of the Jagr line, and the superb goaltending of Henrik to get by. But, since the Olympics, Henrik has been human, the Jagr line has been made less effective by opponents tactics, and everything else remains about the same. Shanny has added some scoring, and has been a great addition. But the Rangers are giving up too many goals mainly because most of the defensemen and many of the forwards are being exposed as the dinosaurs they are in the foot-speed and backchecking departments.

      The Rangers could get younger and faster by promoting some of their prospects, and I wish they would. Other teams have no problem using kids in key situations, and playing them 20 minutes a game. And Sather used kids in Edmonton, because he had to with his budget. But since coming to NY, Sather has had a preference for older, more expensive players, and he has bought into the b.s. that you have to have big names on Broadway to sell tickets. But the fans know better than that. And at the trade deadline in ’04, the Rangers SUPPOSEDLY were going to go with a youth rebuild, and the fans welcomed that. And they have drafted some good players. But they are so reluctant to let them play in NY that I think some of the kids are getting discouraged by being held back. Just as it serves no purpose for kids to go back to juniors when they are ready for the next step, it also serves no purpose for kids who are ready for the NHL to go back and stay at Hartford forever.

      Renney and Sather have to put sentiment aside, and move out some of the slower, unproductive vets, and replace them with younger kids from Hartford. Better backchecking, fewer hooking penalties (which slower, older players do to compensate), a more mobile defense corps, and a less-under- siege, more confident Henrik will bring the Rangers closer to the team they were before the Olympics.

    24. laurie I made no assertion of any sort, just posted that Karel Rachunek was an impressive -16 in just 20 games with the Rangers. You can draw your own conclusions if any…

      Here’s another stat to draw conclusions (or not) from…the current leaders in penalty minutes for the Rangers are Matt Cullen and Jaromir Jagr (along with Ryan Hollweg).

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