Deep dive: An honest look at the Rangers roster right now
The term, “team composition” is one used a lot among team executives and coaching staffs. When putting together a team, especially in the off season, they want to check as many boxes as possible in order to have the most competitive team.
The composition of a finished product involves many things; depth, play-makers, shooters, leaders, skill, grit, are just some of the ingredients needed to build a successful team. Top teams will always fortify at the trade deadline with the thought of a long playoff tournament on their minds. The better a team, the more likely that team will add depth at positions they feel vulnerable at. When that team heads into the playoffs, as many eventualities as possible(injuries, illness, and suspensions), are covered. All of this in the name of bettering the composition of the team.
Where the Rangers Are Now
The team composition of the Rangers as of August 2, is not optimal. There is one area that is lacking and problematic. And others that are overstocked to the point of hindering advancement and improvement. Things that will make it harder to have the team excel. Let’s look at it by position, excluding in goal where Henrik Lundqvist and Ondrej Pavelec are not a concern.
Getting rid of Dan Girardi was supposed to solve all of the problems, right? As it turns out, not quite. Kevin Shattenkirk joins incumbents Ryan McDonagh, Brady Skjei, Brandon Smith, Marc Staal, and Nick Holden. Where does that leave young newcomers Anthony DeAngelo, Neal Pionk, and Alex Berezgalov?
In the case of Berezgalov, he has an out in his contract where he can return to the KHL if he isn’t in the NHL and gets sent down to Hartford. Can any of these young players beat out an incumbent? Possibly, but remember coach Alain Vigneault is very partial to veteran defenseman. This logjam of players leads one to think there may be too many players for too few jobs.
Now, injuries can thin the herd, and give someone a shot. But short of that, it will be an uphill battle for the 3 young defensemen. Let’s not forget Sean Day will also be in camp trying to win a job, and at worst will be a phone call away in Hartford. With his skill set, he will be NHL ready sooner, rather than later.
If the staff leans to staying with higher priced vets, it could stifle progress of some or all of these kids. Coaches don’t just hand kids jobs and responsibilities. Look no further then last year’s playoffs when most thought Skjei and Smith were outplaying Staal and Holden but were still behind the veteran pair in minutes. There was much speculation that Holden would be traded to fill another hole, and he still might. If that were to happen it would open a top 6 spot for healthy competition.
This dynamic is not good for team growth. It’s great to have depth, but too much depth will stifle growth. Also, it would be very naive to think Staal and Holden would both be cast aside by this management group. They will want one or both on that pairing. It would also be naive, to think that their salaries won’t have an effect on their place on the roster and place in the pecking order. Remember, Staal can’t be waived.
If all of their top wings besides Jesper Fast are healthy, they have 7 top 6 wings for only the 6 spots. Rick Nash, Mats Zuccarello, Chris Kreider, J.T Miller, Jimmy Vesey, Michael Grabner and Pavel Buchnevich should all be on the top 3 lines. Some would argue that Grabner should not, but his speed and chemistry with Hayes and Miller led to a great 27 goal season, and a solid playoff season. Placing him on the fourth line is doing the opposition a favor. Grabner is also a super defensive player that keeps opposing defensemen honest.
Buchnevich and Vesey are players that spent time on the fourth line, but to get better they must be top 9 forwards getting more minutes and power play time. The idea of shifting Miller to center was floated by GM Jeff Gorton. This idea had freezing cold water thrown on it by coach Alain Vigneault, who thinks Miller is not suited to play center at this point in his career. Would they trade a wing for an established center? There is a lot of sense in swapping a surplus wing and/or defenseman for a center. Another thing to address with this group of wings is there isn’t very much of a mean streak in any of them. Having players that bring different things to the table is a much better for team composition.
At present, the Rangers have 3 centers on their roster. Mika Zibanajad, Kevin Hayes and David Desharnais are the Blueshirts pivots, as they cross their fingers and toes and hope they all stay healthy. All three missed significant time due to injury last year. This means the lack of depth is a huge problem.
Cristoval Nieves, the Rangers most established AHL center, missed half a season due to concussions last year. And, his ceiling is probably as a fourth line player. First round pick, Lias Andersson turns 19 this October. He could get a look, but to ask someone his age to play a grinding 82 game schedule is a lot.
Now consider an injury to either Hayes or Zibanajad. Imagine their lineup for a 4-6 week injury to either? A player like Tyler Bozak or Vincent Trocheck would greatly improve team composition. The team would have a solid group at each position, and have room for younger players to compete and excel at positions.
The Rangers current team composition threatens to detract from their season, and badly needs to be corrected. Jeff Gorton himself declared after losing Derek Stepan via trade to Arizona, and Oscar Lindberg to Las Vegas, that he would seek centers via trade and free agency.
He signed Desharnais to be a 4th line center, and has drawn a blank at fortifying their biggest hole from large quantities on defense and an extra wing. Even if Andersson blows away expectations during training camp, there will still be a logjam on defense that has to be addressed.
It is possible Staal and Holden can sense the challenge of the youth and hold off their challenge. It is also possible the youth plays as well, and gets sent down because they can be. In my opinion, Gorton got off to a great start in diversifying the team a bit and opening some cap room. But when he stated he would fill a center spot thru trade and then didn’t, he gave the fan base and media something to point to as an unfilled deficiency.
The fan base will also be clamoring, for right or wrong to see Pionk, Day and DeAngelo play over Staal and Holden. And by not moving either, he has placed a target squarely on his back, and Vigneault’s also.