As the NHL Trade Deadline continued to creep closer and close it became increasing clear Jeff Gorton wasn't willing to let this group go into the playoffs as is. He was in win-now mode, while also admitting what he had wasn't really poised to win now.
He made the big splash he didn't have to make -- but this wasn't the type of deal where the Rangers forced a big name into the mix just because he's a big name. Eric Staal fits, and he was expensive (especially as a pure rental), but it's a great move that makes the Rangers much better than they were. And if Gorton either wasn't going to or wasn't able to fix the defense, bringing in a player who can possess the puck doesn't hurt anything.
Here's the rub: Gorton did his part, now it's time for Alain Vigneault to do his.
The Rangers are so entrenched in their win-now mentality they can't afford to not win the Stanley Cup this year. Staal is surely walking at the end of the year, Keith Yandle most likely can't be kept because of the Rangers non-existent cap space, Chris Kreider might be sacrificed because of it as well and the Rangers are going to have to fight for every dollar with Kevin Hayes, J.T. Miller and Dylan McIlrath (if they even want to keep him). That doesn't even include finding money for Dominic Moore or Viktor Stalberg if they want to keep them in the fold, too.
That's not to say Gorton doesn't have intentions of trying to move one of the big-money contracts this summer to free up space to fix all those problems, but this is the picture as it's currently painted.
So if Gorton went for it this year, Vigneault has to follow suit. This means once everyone is healthy Tanner Glass needs to be a spare part if included at all. He's not helping the team win and he's not someone the Rangers should be throwing onto the ice in such a dire situation.
It also means Vigneault need to use Yandle. Like, actually use him. When Ryan McDonagh was injured Yandle was playing 22-25 minutes a night and seeing a lion's share of the power play minutes. With the entire defense healthy (McDonagh returned to action February 25th) Yandle played 16:54 against St. Louis and 16:25 against Dallas. In both games Yandle didn't play the most power play minutes on the team for a defenseman.
That's unacceptable. Yandle is not a third pairing defenseman, and he's here because he's a power play specialist. He's having a near-historic year in terms of offense on a team that's done everything in their power to keep him from seeing the ice time he deserves and has gotten in the past. He will finish the year with the least amount of power play time per game he's ever seen in his career by a mile. The usage doesn't make sense, Vigneault isn't asked about it and he does it time and time again.
No more excuses. Not anymore. The Rangers have traded away too much the past three years to walk away from this empty handed. And if they do walk away empty handed then they better have given it their all and lined up their best players to do so.
Vigneault has historically played favorites throughout his career -- a trend that followed him from Vancouver. He leans on veterans and snubs rookies despite them playing better than the players he leans on. He has contorted his lineup to allow Glass to play a prominent role, thrown other skilled players under the bus publicly while turning a blind eye to his struggling favorites and scratched/benched youth as punishment for poor play while allowing his guys enough leash to hang the entire team.
It was this thinking that helped sink the ship last year. Dan Girardi got torched by the Lightning's triplets line, and Vigneault never deviated from that matchup (when he had control at least). Glass and the fourth line got demolished as the playoffs went on, and the Rangers -- despite some pretty massive injuries -- still came a win away from facing Chicago for the Stanley Cup. That's how close the Rangers were, and with the razor's edge the playoffs is won and lost on, Vigneault should have gotten far more heat for his lineup decisions then and he didn't. That trend followed as this year started.
Had Gorton of allowed this team to go in as is it would be different. He didn't, and now that the team is once again sitting with their cards face up and their chips in the middle of the table things need to be different. It's not Vigneault's job to make friends or play his favorites, it's his job to put the best lineup out there to win the Stanley Cup. Sitting Oscar Lindberg, Jesper Fast or Viktor Stalberg to make sure Glass can play doesn't do that.
Vigneault doesn't have a choice with the defenseman he has (let's be honest, McIlrath isn't getting involved unless someone gets injured) but he does have a choice on how to allocate his ice time. Yandle needs to stop being treated like a second class citizen and utilized to the team's strengths.
The Rangers are going for it again this year.
It's time for the coach to get behind them.