Tuesday, June 02, 2015

N.Y. Rangers: There's a Canadian Goalie in King Henrik's Court


NEW YORK RANGERS: If Mike Ritcher needed The Messiah, what can Glen Sather possibly offer The King?

The Rangers season is over.  At least three generations of Rangers fans will pass the summer months wrestling through a full gambit of emotions, only to return in October still shaking their collective heads over what transpired, (or didn't) in Game Seven against Tampa.

Two years into a new system, the organization is once again at a crucible.

I agree with Coach Vigneault, and with the general consensus of the players: to use their words, I believe this team still has a championship core.

For how much longer is debatable.

The Rangers must nevertheless take stock after falling short in the 2012 conference finals against the Devils, in the 2013 semi finals against the Bruins, in last season's Stanley Cup finals against the Kings, and this year's conference finals against the Lightning.

Henrik Lundqvist

Placing blame on Henrik for any of the Rangers' failures is not only misguided, but ignorant as well.

We'd have to weed through the recurring defensive breakdowns in front of him, the team's ponderous neutral zone neutrality, their physical inhibitions in the offensive zone, and revisit the decision making process of a certain head coach before even contemplating pointing a finger at Lundqvist.

Since the salary cap era started in 2005, there's been a range of very good, to rather extraneous goalies that helped their teams win a Cup.  Count Cam Ward/Martin Gerber, Marc Andre Fleury, Chris Osgood/Dominik Hasek, Jean Sebastien Giguere/Ilya Bryzgalov among them.

In each of the Rangers last four post-season eliminations, Henrik Lundqvist was opposed by Martin Brodeur, Tuukka Rask, Jonathan Quick, and Ben Bishop - again, very good to pedestrian...

The other two goalies in this year's Final Four were Frederik Andersen of the Ducks, and Corey Crawford of the Blackhawks, whom merely add to the hodgepodge without enhancing it.

You can rank all those goalies any way you chose.  It makes no difference to me, because in my opinion Henrik Lundqvist has never been an issue.  Henrik was/is as good, if not better than any one of his contemporaries.

Maybe that's just partisan Rangers bluster on my part, or maybe not.  Regardless, my point remains.   The King can hang with anybody, and so I suggest we seek elsewhere to uncover why this team keeps falling short of the Cup.

  • My ire lies with the team's forwards, my issue is with the team's softness, and my specific problem with Game 7 was Coach's failure to properly adapt.  Therefore, I view elimination as a failure on the Rangers part, more than a Lightning victory.

However, the Cam Talbot led proletariat are getting restless, and making themselves heard.  They're enraged by Ben Bishop's two shutouts and three victories at MSG, which goes in hand with Henrik's perceived failure to defend their house.

I'm not in favor of trading Henrik Lundqvist.  In and of itself, retaining him is a no-brainer.  But if you allow yourself to expand your mind, there are reasons why dethroning The King actually makes sense:

  • Cam Talbot becomes the starting goaltender.  Pondering a trade of Lundqvist is only possible with a quality goalie ready to step in.  Take an honest look at Cam's performance and potential, then revisit the record of several goalies who've played on recent Stanley Cup winning teams in order to justify such a downgrade.
  • Time slows for no one.  The King is now 33-years old.  The Rangers can still sell high, and Glen Sather can still potentially plunder a team in exchange for Henrik's services.
  • The Rangers potentially clear up considerable salary cap space - at least short term.  They need to come up with more money for Derek Stepan...again, figure out what to do with Carl Hagelin, invest money into the 3rd and 4th lines, etc., or, overspend on another front line scoring threat. They also need to address the 3rd defensive pairing.  You get the picture...
  • Most importantly, if the Rangers trade Henrik to a really crappy team, perhaps they can obtain (or recoup?) a pair of #1 draft picks, or a comparable package of picks.  Trading for prospects shouldn't be ruled out either - Ryan McDonagh, after all, was acquired through a trade.   Any transaction involving Henrik, though, would need to be inspired by theft.  Anything less should prevent Sather from ever agreeing to such a deal.

During Henrik's time, the Rangers tried trading for potential premium forwards, and tried signing others as free agents.  To date, none provided a franchise lifting post-season performance the Rangers have lacked, but not for a lack of money.  By and large, most of Sather's big money acquisitions have just grossly underachieved.

So let's face it, Mark Messier aside, NHL history says the Rangers need to secure a franchise forward like most other NHL teams go about it; they need to draft one with a very (very) high selection, something the Rangers have long lacked.  Unless the Rangers plan on spending a few years in the cellar, drafting will remain relatively inconsequential and middle of the road.

The Rangers have not had a top five draft pick in this new century.  You have to refer back to 1999, when they used the 4th overall pick of the draft to select Pavel Brendel.  He still stands as the Rangers highest ever pick since they won the Stanley Cup in '94.  With the 9th overall pick of the same draft, they selected Jamie Lundmark - hardly franchise altering picks to say the least.

Since then, the highest the Rangers ever picked was 6th overall in the 2004 draft, when they selected goalie Al Montoya (just prior to King Henrik beginning his reign at MSG).

They did not have a #1 pick in the 2000 and 2002 entry drafts, although it was their great fortune to draft Henrik Lundqvist in 2000 with the 205th (7th round) overall selection.  More recently, they failed to own both a #1 and #2 selection in the 2013 draft, and lacked a #1 pick in last year's draft as well.

In the 12 years between 2001 and 2012, the Rangers averaged the 14th overall selection.  Here is a list of their hits, and mostly misses:

2000 - No #1
2001 - Dan Blackburn #10 overall
2002 - No #1
2003 - Hugh Jessiman #12
2004 - Al Montoya #6, Lauri Korpikoski #19
2005 - Marc Staal #12
2006 - Bob Sanguinette #21
2007 - Alexi Cherepanov #17
2008 - Michael Del Zotto #20
2009 - Chris Kreider #19
2010 - DYLAN McILRATH #10
2011 - J.T. Miller #15
2012 - Brady Skjei #28
2013 - No #1, No #2
2014 - No #1

That list is less a product of Glen Sather's scouting department, and has more to do with the Rangers consistently making the playoffs during the salary cap era starting with Tom Renney and through the present time.  Being good, but never good enough, commits you to a vicious cycle of mid-round and otherwise ordinary drafting, or worse (see 2012-2014).

This is not an endorsement to trade Henrik Lundqvist.  The most likely scenario is just the opposite; Glen Sather trades Cam Talbot.  In a perfect world, we keep both.  But, in the new NHL, smart sacrifices must be made for the sake of advancement of the team.

The Rangers have youth, they just happen to be on the team already.  Otherwise there's nothing coming over the horizon that remotely resembles an offensive hero.  Instead, they have Dylan McIlrath, a big tough blueliner whom Alain Vigneault seems to have little use for.

Sometimes you just have to step back, and rethink things.


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