There’s a lot of people who hate the preseason. Some talking heads have argued it should be cut in half so the Stanley Cup can be awarded a few weeks earlier. Others have suggested to shorten it simply because it’s boring.
While I agree the preseason has it’s drawbacks — and might actually be too long -- I think it’s a vital part of fleshing out a team’s opening night roster.
Sure, some teams have their 20 guys set from the get-go and don’t deviate at all from the strategy. I would argue more teams than not use these games to make critical roster decisions for the year. Do we need six games? Maybe not. But I don’t look at the preseason as just a warmup to the year.
The Rangers, especially this year, really needed these preseason games to figure some stuff out. There’s very few open spots on the lineup for a slew of talented players brought in this summer. Jeff Gorton was a busy man, and we were all eager to see which forwards would win the battles for the few open spots.
What we didn’t expect was to have a defensive battle surface as well, but one has.
If you had to pick a short list of the biggest standouts this preseason almost everyone would have Brandon Pirri, Adam Clendening and Mika Zibanejad on their lists. Zibanejad is a lock to make the team and always has been, but Pirri and Clendening have forced their names into the conversation with an unexpected fury.
If the preseason means anything at all both need to be on the opening night roster. Both have shown they bring something valuable to the table, and both have outplayed “trusted veterans” who Vigneault probably had penciled into the lineup before the fall started.
What’s the point of even putting them in the lineup if they don’t make the team? What more could either do to prove his worth? We’re talking about a coach who willingly played a deteriorating, injured defenseman all year and allowed a promising former first round pick to rot in the press box. We’re talking about a coach who willingly played Tanner Glass over Oscar Lindberg, Kevin Hayes (in the playoffs!) and in the past Anthony Duclair.
If Clendening isn’t in the opening right roster because Vigneault won’t sit Girardi and doesn’t want to stunt Skjei’s growth by giving him confidence issues it can be somewhat (read: not really, but kinda, more on this in a bit) defended. At least in the short term — and so long as Clendening isn’t waived and lost for nothing.
Pirri? There’s no reason he shouldn’t be playing — especially if Glass is the guy keeping him out of the lineup. Even Vigneaults “I want a defense/PK fourth line” spin doesn’t work because Glass brings neither of those qualities. (And since we need a constant reminder: Glass is a great guy, a fantastic teammate and has more heart than he knows what to do with. This is about the player not the person.)
If last year’s embarrassment hasn’t forced Vigneault to adjust then nothing will. If Pirri scoring four goals in the pre-season and being one of the team’s best forwards isn’t good enough to get him into the lineup then why even let him play the preseason games. Same for Clendening, especially since the Rangers could sit Holden without any real issue in terms of stunting a player’s growth.
The Rangers owe it to themselves to see what they have in Clendening. They let their power play quarterback walk without any real backup plan. Clendening seems to be a gift sent from the heavens to put a band-aid on that open wound, but only if he’s actually given a chance to play.
You can make a very reasonable case that Vigneault simply does what he wants. That’s not to say he doesn’t believe he’s doing the best thing for the team, but his talent evaluation skills are lacking, and last year nothing alerted him to that fact.
The preseason should be an audition for guys like Clendening and Pirri. This year they put on a hell of a show and deserve to be given a role on the team.
Unless the preseason was simply fodder and it didn’t matter what they did because Vigneault’s mind was made up in August.