“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy” - Hamlet (Act I, Scene 5. Lines 167-8)
You may be asking yourself “what the hell does Hamlet have to do with the New York Rangers in late August?” Well, nothing, really but stay with me here; The New York Rangers, as of August 30th, have 16 forwards on their roster with only 12 forward slots available. The New York Rangers also have a big defensive issue in that they do not have many good defensemen on the roster. So, how should the Rangers manage these two separate but not mutually exclusive issues?
Well, that’s where our old Danish buddy Hamlet comes in.
The Rangers should try something radical, something that really hasn’t been tried to my knowledge in the NHL before. The Rangers should try playing four forwards and one defenseman at even strength. Now, before you jump down to the comments and tell me that I’m an idiot or that it’ll never work; a) duh and b) come now, you Horatios expand your mind and your ideas about how hockey should be played. There are more ways to play this silly little game of hockey than have been experienced so far. I am fully aware that this idea is radical and outside the box and that it would need a very specific set of variables to fall in line in order for it to work, but humor me, at least for the rest of the article.
This idea is predicated on two main points:
1) The Rangers misguided belief in Marc Staal and Dan Girardi
2) The Rangers have a glut of high skill forwards with no place to play them all
If the Rangers and head coach Alain Vigneault are going to continue down this path of using and trusting the Wonder Twins, then the entire offensive strategy needs to be “for the love of god, please out score the defense” and one way to do that is to limit the amount of offensive opportunities the Twins get. This 4 forwards, one defenseman premise is designed to do just that.
The way I would deploy this strategy is that I would only use this set up in the offensive zone (most of the time after an opponent has iced the puck), thus mitigating the amount of defense that fourth forward would have to play. I would also use forwards who I can trust will be able to handle just enough of the defensive side of things just in case the plays get hairy (this leaves out the younger players but I’ll get to them in a bit). It may sound and look really extreme, but at this point the Rangers need to do everything they can to limit the negative impact that the defense will have on this team.
Now, how would this set up look? Let’s say, for instance, a team ices the puck against the Rangers and New York has an offensive zone face off. Now instead of sending the usual 3-2 set up of the boards, they send out something that looks like this:
Chris Kreider-Derek Stepan-J.T. Miller
Rick Nash-Ryan McDonagh
Of course this depends on who was out on the ice before the icing and what not, but that looks like it could be hell to play against 5 on 5, especially if the opponent is tired after an icing call. Now for a couple of caveats to this; I would only use forwards that I explicitly trust or that have shown that they can handle nominal defensive responsibility on the penalty kill (i.e. Rick Nash, Derek Stepan, Michael Grabner, and maybe Nathan Gerbe). Also, this set up has a lot of potential to backfire spectacularly and would probably only be good in a controlled setting.
It’s been talked about ad nauseum this offseason about the plight of the Rangers defense and how the team has failed to address it through signings and free agency, though the front office has done a great job of adding more cheap skill to the roster in guys like Gerbe, Brandon Pirri, Jimmy Vesey, and Pavel Buchnevich. Now it seems like the only way the Rangers will reach the playoffs is by running a more offense friendly approach to their game while hoping Henrik Lundqvist continues to bail out the defensive issues.
Also it’s late August with nothing really interesting to talk about, so why not pose a more radical idea like this?