When it became apparent shortly after July 1 that this was going to be the group the Rangers would forge ahead with, my theory on how the team would fare went something like this:
Without some of the heavyweights who comprised the core of the team the previous two seasons, I thought the Rangers were short a few important pieces, and shouldn’t have been expected to do much as a result. But I also thought the team would be more cohesive without as many egos in the dressing room. I thought less starpower would give way to more balance, and that a defensive-minded system and a world-class goalie would at least help make the team competitive.
Basically what I expected to happen was for the Rangers to start slow, perhaps feed off low expectations not unlike the way they did coming out of the lockout, and then grow into a playoff team as the season carried on.
So now here we are almost halfway through the season, and it turns out I was only partially right. The Rangers, at least record-wise, are better than their roster says they should be, but they’ve traveled a different trajectory than I anticipated. Rather than start slowly, they gathered momentum quickly, which probably inflated expectations both internally and externally. And now the team doesn’t appear to be handling those expectations well.
It’s all conjecture, of course, but the point is the Rangers are still what they are: a flawed team that has enough pieces to be competitive, but has minimal room for error. The mistakes have piled up recently, be it because of a lack of effort or an overall disconnect, and it’s come at the price of valuable points in the standings.
Can the Rangers’ slump be attributable to coaching? To a point, sure. If a coach lays out a system for his players and those players have strayed from that system, it’s the coach who ultimately deserves the blame.
And there are things Tom Renney could do differently, whether it’s holding certain players more accountable when they’ve played poorly, or in giving other players more of a chance than they’ve been given. If you want to take it a step further, you can blame the special teams problems and the abundance of too-many-men penalties on the coaching as well.
But those issues are only symptoms of a larger problem, and I maintain that Renney is merely scrambling to play the hand he’s been dealt. He’s not the one who signed the likes of Wade Redden, Dmitri Kalinin, and Patrick Rissmiller in July, nor is he the one who let Jaromir Jagr leave for Siberia when the forward clearly wanted to remain a Ranger.
So yes, there are steps now that can be taken to get this group of players back on track, especially when you consider it was a group that had no problem winning when the season began. But you could change coaches tomorrow, and many of the same problems would still be here.
In other news:
All of this courtesy of Gross, “who was at the skate”:http://njmg.typepad.com/rangersblog/2008/12/rozsival-back-gomez-out-with-flu.html#more.
Update, 4:34 p.m.: Of course a coach has a say in personnel decisions. This was never to suggest otherwise. But it still falls to the general manager to make the final call on acquisitions, and fit them into the larger framework of a team’s current and future needs.