One of the signs that an organization is healthy and developing young talent is a strong minor league affiliate. The New York Rangers are in trouble if you look at the Hartford Wolf Pack.
The bad news is that the Hartford Wolf Pack are mired in last place in the Atlantic Division of the American Hockey League. With the AHL in their All-Star break the numbers for the New York Rangers farm club are pretty bleak.
Their record is 19-21-5 meaning that they are one of only four teams in the league below .500. Their 43 points puts them in a tie for 27th out of 31 teams. They are 12-8-2 at home and are 7-13-3 on the road.
They are 26th in the league in goals allowed and are 19th overall in goals scored. Their power play and penalty kill are mediocre. They are riding a five game losing streak and they’ve lost seven of their last nine.
Now, full disclosure is required. I haven’t seen a Wolf Pack game and all of the information in this article is based on statistics and newspaper accounts of the games. There is no doubt that the team is trying to win. Being unable to watch Wolf Pack games is an issue, but the numbers don’t lie.
The season so far
For the season, the Wolf Pack are 19-21-5. They have had three five game losing streaks. In November, their best month of the season, they went 6-3-2. Every other month of the season they have been under .500.
On a positive note, of their 26 losses in regulation or overtime, 14 have been by one goal. On the negative side, they have lost 12 games by three or more goals.
It’s not that call-ups to the parent club have crippled the Wolf Pack. Steven Fogarty, Tim Gettinger, Ryan Lindgren, Boo Nieves and Matt Beleskey have all spent some time with the Rangers, but most have returned to Hartford with only Nieves seemingly up for good. The Rangers have bolstered the Hartford roster since the beginning of the season with Lias Andersson and Vinni Lettieri, two players who made the big league roster out of training camp. They’ve also sent Alexander Georgiev to get work in the AHL when the schedule allowed it.
One of the attributes you want to develop in the minor leagues is a winning culture. Since finishing first in the Northeast Division in 2014-15, the team has been just awful. They bottomed out in 2016-17 with a 24-26-6 last place finish. After that season there was a management shake-up. The Rangers named Chris Drury general manager of the team, replacing Jim Schoenfeld. At the same time, the Rangers fired longtime coach, Ken Gernander. He was replaced by assistant coach Keith McCambridge, the current coach.
Drury outlined his philosophy in an interview with the Hartford Courant. “First and foremost, it’s a development league,” Drury said, “but at the same time, you try to balance wins and losses. With the AHL, I’m a big believer in our guys to play in meaningful games. We’re certainly going to set the bar high. Part of getting to the next level is not only becoming the best player you can be individually, but also learning how to win, be a great teammate and develop leadership skills.”
One and a half years into his tenure, wins are still hard to come by. No doubt that one of the issues was the change in bench leadership in New York. Before the 2017-18 season Drury acknowledged that the team would be built around Alain Vigneault’s system in order to make the transition from Hartford to New York as seamless as possible. One of the results of the accession of David Quinn is that the Wolf Pack, not just the Rangers, have to learn to play a new system.