Big Ben Whitney: Big Changes for NY Rangers; The Russians are Coming, Viggy Gone

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MADISON SQUARE GARDEN, NY – There has been some big New York Rangers news over the past few days; Alain Vigneault is gone and they are bringing back Russian exile Ilya Kolvachuck. If you think I’m talking Rangers because I don’t want to face up to the ugly play of the Yankees, you’d be right. But still, things are happening on Broadway.

One of the Igors

Ilya & a Bunch of Igors

The Rangers tore it down in mid-season and switched the sign on the door of the Garden to “Rebuilding.” So what’s the first off-season move of a rebuilding team? Sign a 35-year old who’s been out of the NHL for five years. Duh.

What’s with the Rangers bringing in so many Russians lately? Between Kovalchuk, Namestikov, Buchnevich, Georgiev. Shestyorkin, and Rykov, the Rangers have almost as many Russians on the payroll as Trump. Ok, not that many, but a lot. This team has more Igors than a 1930s horror movie marathon.

Nyet Pucks!

I felt bad for Hank at the end of the season. Sure, the team in front of him was not good, but he did not play well down the stretch. Playing in his first ever meaningless games must have been jarring, but it was an uneven season for The King. The team looked energized when Alexandar Georgiev was in there, I’m sorry to admit. 

Has anyone seen this man?

But Georgiev is not even the top Russian goalie prospect in the system. Highly regarded Igor Shestyorkin has dominated in the KHL for the last two seasons. His contract expires and he can come to the Rangers at the end of next season. Goalie progression is hard to predict, but he looks to be on track to take over for Hank. It’s hard to see Lundqvist lasting for the three more expensive years on his contract.

Stockpiling Young D

Marc Staal wasn’t a problem this year, but he still has three years left on a big money deal. The same is true of Kevin Shattenkirk and the imposter who kidnapped Brendan Smith. Brady Skjei will need a raise, so there isn’t much room to maneuver.

Neil Pionk seized his opportunity late in the season and must figure into the team’s plans. With the plethora of d-men they got in deadline deals, it might take a few years to sort through that log jam. And though several are promising, none of these young D-men looks destined for superstardom.

But the upcoming draft is loaded with potential stars on D. With the strange NHL lottery system, the Rangers have about a 6% to chance to get each of the top 3 picks. After that it goes in reverse order of how you finished. So the Rangers can pick first, second, third, eighth, ninth or tenth. I think. Don’t ask me to explain the NHL’s dumb lottery system, but there’s a good chance they’ll walk away with another talented defensemen.

The consensus top pick is Swedish defenseman Rasmus Dahlin. He’ s got it all – skill, speed, size, and instincts. There are so few of us. It sure feels like a while since a New York team got any luck in a draft lottery.  So we fixed one lottery in the 80s, haven’t we suffered enough?

Oh by the way,  the Rangers have three first round picks and seven picks in the first three rounds. Don’t blow it, Jeff Gorton.

Adieu Alain

It wasn’t all Vigneault’s fault, but it was time to move on. A.V. is a the Andy Reid of the NHL, though a much less slovenly version. He’s a good coach but he probably won’t get you to the mountaintop. The Rangers came pretty close and might have snatched the cup from the Kings if not for a few bad breaks early in that series. 

In 42 career games, Vigneault had 2 goals and 82 penalty minutes

His weaknesses are well documented. The big one for me was his stubborn insistence on giving key minutes to declining veterans over more talented youngsters, hampering the development of several promising players. One of those was Skjei, who was forced to watch helplessly while Nick Holden and Staal flopped around the goal crease while Ottawa scored tying and winning goals in the playoffs last season. And J.T. Miller spent more time in the dog house than my dog Chief. 

With the rebuild in effect and plenty of young talent in the pipeline, they need someone who can nurture these youngsters and let them learn on the fly. Not someone who will bench them for each mistake and not play them in key spots.

Finding someone better than A.V. won’t be easy. It feels a little like the Tom Coughlin situation with the Giants. Everyone felt like it was time to move on then too. Be careful what you wish for.

Come back tomorrow for Angry Ward, who is definitely not a Russian bot. You can follow us on Twitter at @BenWhit8, @MeetTheMatts, @Matt_McCarthy00, Instagram @MeetTheMatts and like our Facebook page, Meet The Matts.

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About the Author ()

Ben Whitney comes from journalistic stock. Aside from his brothers, rumor has that his great-great grandfather was the youngest brother of Eli Whitney and covered the earliest "rounders" games. Big Ben is also another New York Rugby Club player/pal of Different Matt, Short Matt and Junoir Blaber. He likes film noir discussions, has twin girls and took up ice hockey after retiring from rugby.

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