Lindy Ruff’s time on Broadway is up, the New York Rangers must move on

DETROIT, MI – DECEMBER 29: Assistant coach Lindy Ruff of the New York Rangers watches the action from the bench against the Detroit Red Wings during an NHL game at Little Caesars Arena on December 29, 2017 in Detroit, Michigan. The Wings defeated the Rangers 3-2 in a shootout. (Photo by Dave Reginek/NHLI via Getty Images)

New York Rangers assistant coach, Lindy Ruff, is the last remaining representative from the Alain Vigneault Era. It’s time for him to go.

It was somewhat of a surprise that Ruff survived the complete overhaul of the New York Rangers coaching staff at the end of the 2017-18 season. Ruff spent the last two seasons overseeing the Rangers’ defense first under Vigneault and continued under Quinn with mediocre results.

While Ruff boasts many wins over his tenure in the NHL, it is also true that his teams have historically been defensively dismal. Many have argued that the Rangers kept Ruff on to help transition David Quinn into the world of coaching on a professional level. As a concept, this sounds great, but this decision came with the price of continued defensive turmoil.

Almost every defenseman on the Rangers roster in the last two seasons has seen a regression in their play. Who’s to say that starting over from scratch would not have yielded better results?

Now that Quinn has a year under his belt, and with close to nothing seeming to change defensively with Ruff’s continued presence behind the bench, it is time for Ruff’s stint on Broadway to come to an end.

Breaking it down

The Rangers bleed shots. There were a combined 20 games this season where Henrik Lundqvist and Alexandar Georgiev faced 40 or more shots on goal.

In one game against Toronto, Georgiev made 55 saves letting in just one goal and helping the Rangers to a 4-1 win.

In total this season, the Rangers collected the third-most shots against and had the ninth-most goals allowed in all situations the NHL. The numbers shorthanded are even worse. They recorded the third-most shots against and fourth-most goals allowed in penalty kill situations.

As mentioned, many of the Rangers roster players’ games have suffered under the direction of Ruff in the last two seasons. Veterans like Brady Skjei and Kevin Shattenkirk seemed off all season. Brendan Smith continued to not remember how to play hockey. Marc Staal, who had been struggling since before Ruff joined the team in 2017, was as bad as he’s been.

However, the more frightening repercussions come in the cases of declining play in players who do not have as much experience in the NHL.

The best example of this throughout 2018-19 is Neal Pionk. It seemed that based on the raw ability Pionk had displayed in his brief stint in the NHL the season prior, there was a chance for him to be molded into a solid NHL defenseman.

However, Pionk’s play was abysmal on the Rangers’ end of the ice this year. He finished boasting some of the worst defensive numbers in the league.

While his play on the defensive end was by no means perfect last year, his ability to position and anticipate alongside his skating ability helped him in dangerous situations.  This season, Pionk, simply, seemed like a different player. In almost every rush on the defensive end, he looked stone footed and lost.

While some of this blame for the lapses in play can be placed on the players and some can be blamed various external factors and the adjustment to and direction from the brand new coaching staff,  Ruff must take responsibility as he makes the highest level decisions impacting the defense and the system they are playing.

Final Thoughts

With all the anticipation over what is to come for the New York Rangers this summer, the team needs to ensure they give themselves the best opportunity to succeed, and this starts with the leadership.

Refreshing the staff and hiring David Quinn, Greg Brown and David Oliver who all brought a new approach and abundant experience working with young players was a great start. It changed the way the offense played, and will surely drive long term change within the organization.

The Rangers have the number two pick in the 2019 Entry Draft and a good amount of cap space to work with prior to the July 1 deadline. With John Davidson now leading the charge (with a go-ahead  from Jim Dolan) the Rangers have a better opportunity to complete the rebuild and become a Stanley Cup contender again in the near future.

All this being said, trends like what we’ve seen in the Rangers’ defensive breakdown cannot be tolerated. Leadership that doesn’t take into account their players’ natural ability and then tries to force them into a system where they do not fit is dangerous for all defensemen — especially for the younger ones as it can throw their development off track.

On top of this, the Rangers offense should not need to play catch up in every game, and the burden of keeping the team in the game should not be placed on the shoulders of Lundqvist and Georgiev alone.

Management needs to take the last step and replace Ruff with a coach that has a direction and vision that aligns with the talented players they have available. If the Rangers truly want to turn this team around in the next year or two, they need to solve the defensive problems. While that includes collecting assets to build upon those players they have, change needs to come from the top.