God I hate the Islanders. It bugs the living hell out of me that the darned Fishsticks are back in the NHL semifinals for the second straight year. But honestly, as much as I can’t stomach watching their success, they deserve every single bit of it.
They are one hell of a team.
There is no flash…..except for Mathew Barzal….there is only substance. They remind me of the John Tortorella Rangers before they traded away Marian Gaborik. They simply go about their business with an intensity that the Rangers are just too young to have at this point.
But here’s the thing. The Islander players who are performing at the highest levels are those that have been groomed from day one with the team. Casey Cizikas since 2011, Josh Bailey since 2008, Brock Nelson and Scott Mayfield since 2013, Barzal and Anthony Beauvillier since 2016. None of them have ever played for another NHL team.
So what can we learn? Patience for one thing. The idea that the Rangers are simply going to make the leap to contender with a bunch of players who have one to three years of experience is simply not rational. The fan vitriol for players like Filip Chytil and Brett Howden is just not warranted at this stage in their careers. If the Islanders gave up on the players listed above would they be where they are now? Hockey teams, more than any other professional sports team, need time to grow and gel together.
I jumped the gun as well, thinking the Rangers were a playoff team this year just based on the talent they had accumulated over the past three years. What the Islanders have shown all Rangers fans is that it will take more than just talent to reach the playoffs, let alone to compete in them.
What it will take
It should be more than obvious to any Ranger fan that has spent any time at all watching this year’s playoffs that the level of intensity seems out of reach at this point for the current Ranger squad based on what we witnessed over the last two weeks of this past season.
That’s not to say that the young players on the team can’t evolve. It will just take a few years and a couple of playoff appearances to learn how to play in the playoff cauldron. Kaapo Kakko is a big boy, he will become a big man. Same goes for Alexis Lafrenière, Filip Chytil and K’Andre Miller. We have to remember that they are still very young, kids even, and they are playing against very big men. When their confidence grows the team will excel.
What Chris Drury needs to do is parse out some of the other young talent and fill in the blanks with players who have character, grit and determination. It won’t be easy and it will take some time, and Ranger fans should get used to the fact that they may be watching one or two players who “Got Away” really excel across the league in the coming years. But that’s the price that must be paid. Let’s hope Drury is willing to pay it.
Mr. Drury should explore options in Ottawa (Brady Tkachuk) and even ask Dallas if they may be willing to part with Jamie Benn. I wouldn’t expect either ask to gain any traction….but it can’t hurt to try.
Former D-Men on display
Watching the playoffs, one can’t help but notice all the former Rangers who are populating bluelines for teams in the tournament. They are:
Ryan McDonagh – Playing as well as he has ever played, he is a beast for the Tampa Bay Lightning. McD is clearly the one that got away. It just seems like the Rangers put too much too fast on McDonagh who never really took to the role of team captain on Broadway. It was just too much to ask for the soft spoken defensemen. He is clearly excelling in the role of Tonto to Victor Hedman’s Lone Ranger. It’s a damn shame really.
Nick Holden – A third line pairing with the Vegas Golden Knights seems to fit Holden just perfectly. He chipped in a goal in the game six clincher against the Avalanche and has been playing a really physical style for the knights.
Neil Pionk – Played a very solid first round against the Edmonton Oilers and their powerhouse combination of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. Seems like he played about 30-minutes a game. He was always out there. The Winnipeg Jets had their legs cut out from under them when Mark Scheifele was suspended for four games against the Canadiens, otherwise we may still be watching Pionk play.
Ryan Graves – Like Pionk, it seems like Graves was always out there for the Avalanche. I don’t know if he was ever the same after Ryan Reeves went all WWE on him in Game One of the series but he’s still really young and will only get bigger and better. How the Rangers let him go for absolutely nothing is a true mystery.
Then there is Brady Skjei – I don’t like to criticize NHL players. They work way too hard to get to where they are for someone like me to be highly critical of their play. Hockey is really hard. That being said, the Rangers saving five million dollars in cap space by moving Skjei to Carolina AND getting a first round draft pick in the deal is one of the greatest trades ever. To say Skjei struggled against the Lighting would be an understatement.
All told, that’s not too bad of a defensive line-up made up of former Rangers. Look for more current Rangers defensemen to be moved this summer and this list getting longer.