Let's be clear, I always felt the Vancouver Canucks were a soft team playing in a weak division. The Rangers generally never had any problems defeating them. Now we've switched coaches, and I feel Vancouver stands to benefit more.
I'm still not sure John Tortorella should have been fired. Whether he deserved to get fired is a different matter. He did. The players exit interviews obviously spoke loudly and clearly. In hind sight, if you didn't arrive upon the Rangers rebuilding effort via the initial two talent waves, there was a certain degree of paralysis by analysis players suffered in trying to adjust to John Tortorella's system; whether home grown or imported, Kreider, Gaborik, Nash, Richards - you name it.
Generally speaking, all Torts had to do was allow his skilled players to be just a little more creative and free with the puck, and not preoccupied with committing a mistake. The grunt mentality was perfect for a group of raw kids in need of a system and structure. But Torts didn't bend with the addition of supposedly higher end skilled players. His system in effect dumbed his stars down. I'm interested to see if and how the Sedin brothers adjust to him and his grinding style. To an extent, any good coach adapts to his players, except John Tortorella.
I'm additionally not entirely sure what happened last season, and ponder whether last year was just a minor setback, a step backwards, or an indication of things to come? In other words, was last year the beginning of another downturn? So soon? The Rangers lost something more than just a playoff series. The Rangers clearly were not a harmonious group following the work stoppage. In the three previous years, they gained considerable forward momentum. Last year however, they struggled through unforeseen consequences of a roster upheaval. Despite that, I still knew the Rangers identity under Tortorella, albeit last season, Glen Sather apparently began changing it.
Enter Alain Vigneault - he will supposedly allow more creative freedom on the ice. Only in this case, you should really say hello to western style hockey. Expect our blue liners playing further away from net, and expect Henrik Lundqvist to face many more shots. I'm also terribly interested to know how many shots Rangers players will be blocking now? I'd venture to guess the total will drop by at least half.
Mix all that in with smaller goalie pads, and smaller nets this season, and instead of torturous 2-1 games, I guess we should expect more thrilling TV friendly 4-3 games then? In Alain Vineault's defense, perhaps he will finally establish a third and even a fourth forward line, and actually stick with them, with adjustments as needed along the way, unlike Torts who consistently formulated his lines as the game went along.
The Rangers are now a full two seasons away from being the toughest, most fighting penalized team in the league. The first game against the vastly improved Philadelphia Flyers will demonstrate how well this style doesn't play on this side of the Mississippi, and I'm not looking forward to it.
And so, this is how the 2013-2014 regular season starts, acquiescing to players and allowing them take more chances on the ice. Okay, but I still believe you can't give players everything they want.
How I Long For A Return To The Patrick Division:
What in the name of Lester Patrick is this Metropolitan Division? I get the league needed some minor re-alignment, but this is by far the worst shake-up since I became a hockey fan over thirty-five years ago.
- METROPOLITAN DIVISION - NYR, NJD, NYI, Pittsburgh Penguins, Philadelphia Flyers, Washington Capitals, Carolina Hurricane and Columbus Blue Jackets.
If you're old school, you might like having the Caps back within the division as it was back in the Patrick Division days. But all this means life just got exponentially tougher for the Blue Shirts. Only the top three teams clinch playoffs spots. The rest fall into the field. Say hello to the other new division foes, Carolina and Columbus.
The 800 Pound Gorillas In The Room:
- Brad Richards - where do we go from here? Coach Alain decided playing wing on the first line along with Stepan and Nash is the place for him. Otherwise, he might be the most expensive question mark in the league. He is certainly by far, the most disappointing Ranger. The Blue Shirts are capped-out to high hell, and his salary is officially an albatross. A solid turnaround performance would go a long way towards getting the Rangers back in the playoffs, but until proven otherwise, the consensus says Brad Richards is done.
- The Salary Cap - Derek Stepan barley got in, and Henrik Lundqvist's deal looks to becoming a problem. Glen Sather has no flexibility. Fire Glen Sather!
- The Power Play - supposedly Alain Vigneault is going to make a difference, and teach the Rangers a better life through successful power plays. Good luck with that coach.
- Casualties - Captain Ryan Callahan and Carl Hagelin are both coming off shoulder surgery.
- Rick Nash - over the course of a full season for a change, will he be the player the Rangers thought they were acquiring? Under Alain Vigneault, the answer is maybe.