Sometimes the New York Rangers just can't get out of their own way.
OK, sorry you're right. A lot of the time the New York Rangers just can't get out of their own way.
On Thursday it was rumored, and then announced, the Rangers had come to terms with free agent forward Daniel Paille. Paille, to that point, had spent 31 games in the AHL registering four points.
The deal is a two-way deal (100K in the AHL and 575K in the NHL) but based off Alain Vigneault's comments about it, it doesn't seem like the initial plan is for Paille to see any AHL time at all. And with Chris Kreider suffering from neck spasms, Paille might play in the very next game.
"We got (Paille) for a particular role--he was an excellent fourth line penalty killer in Boston, & our PK needs some help"-AV #NYR— New York Rangers (@NYRangers) January 21, 2016
This move is puzzling for a lot of reasons. The biggest of which is the validity of the claim Paille can actually help with these problems, but we'll get there in a minute. With this signing the Rangers essentially ignored bigger, more damaging problems to fix something they perceived to be a big deal even though the bigger issues they're ignoring are probably causing the problem they just tried to fix.
Confused? Let me clarify.
If you were to look at the Rangers biggest problem it would have to be their defensive issues, starting with the insane regression of Dan Girardi and Marc Staal. Girardi has, far and away, the worst possession numbers on the team and his constant mistakes and gaps in coverage have killed the Rangers all year. Despite this, he's second on the team in PK minutes with 2:50 a game (Ryan McDonagh leads the way with 3:02). Not far behind him is Staal, coming in with 2:10 a game (third most of the defense, fifth most on the team).
Wouldn't a logical solution be to increase Kevin Klein's penalty kill minutes -- who has had a resurgence this year -- and McDonagh's at the expense of Girardi and Staal? Oh, but you don't want McDonagh to be tired from all that extra work? Then maybe take away his power play minutes on the top pairing and replace him with Keith Yandle; who was brought in at an enormous cost for that very reason.
That doesn't even count the reality of Ryan Bourque sitting in Hartford despite his skill set being perfectly compatible with this very problem without wasting another roster spot. It's also worth noting that Oscar Lindberg has seen just 0:29 worth of PK time a game even though he's more than capable of handling a bigger load on the penalty kill.
Or that Viktor Stalberg, who is statistically one of the best penalty killers the Rangers have, is 12th on the team in PK TOI per game with 1:08. That's just two seconds a game less than Chris Summers got in his three games on Broadway.
If the penalty kill was such a problem why wasn't a different unit formed or a spark created internally? Why were the same groups being thrown out there time and time again despite it not working? And why is someone who isn't familiar with the system and hasn't cut it at the AHL level the solution to this problem?
Vigneault loves his veterans, sometimes to a fault -- here we are back at that getting out of their own way thing -- and this is another example of Vigneault (and Jeff Gorton, obviously) wanting a "veteran presence" rather that giving a kid a shot. When Bourque played in the pre-season he lasted to the very end of cuts and didn't look out of place at all. I'm struggling to understand why he's not a factor in these discussions.
Moving on from that, why was Paille the solution?
Paille's possession numbers were marginally better than Tanner Glass' numbers last year -- which is to say really bad. If he's really coming in to help shore up the penalty kill unit shouldn't he be better at both suppressing shots and controlling play? Shouldn't it have been a major indictment that no team wanted to sign him this summer? If that didn't scare then Rangers away then shouldn't his totals at the AHL level do so?
It's clear the Rangers have a vision for what they want, but I'm struggling to see what it actually is. A young kid with tons of potential in Emerson Etem was never really given a chance, benched for incredibly long stretches and eventually traded when his value was at its lowest point. Yandle just started (literally the past two games) seeing top-pairing minutes on both the power play and even strength. Girardi and Staal continue to be leaned upon for big, crunch time minutes in key games. Girardi remains paired with McDonagh despite overwhelming evidence he's damaging the captain's play which is hurting the team. Dylan McIlrath can't get consistent ice time despite outplaying 50% of the defense, and only certain players are held accountable for their actions.
On the ice this move will most likely mean very little. If Paille is coming at the expense of Jayson Megna, as expected, then it probably doesn't impact things all that much -- which will be the excuse everyone makes to those looking at this from an advanced stats perspective.
That's not the point.
What this move represents is the point. This move is yet another blow to the ideology the Rangers younger core can turn the ship around. It's another blow to the logic screaming the brass in the face that this team, as constructed, cannot truly be expected to win a Stanley Cup this year without get lucky. It's another blow to the team prioritizing marginal issues over the bigger, harder problems that are the biggest holes in this sinking ship.
Does the move itself matter? Not all that much, no.
Does what the move signifies matter?
More than anything.