Opening night for the New York Rangers is Thursday vs. the Nashville Predators, and on Monday a town hall event was held for season ticket holders. The panel included Head Coach David Quinn, General Manager Jeff Gorton and Team President Glen Sather and it was moderated by John Giannone.
The nearly 90-minute event spanned a number of topics and included some questions from those in attendance, and those who submitted them on Twitter. There were a lot of vague answers and some boiler plate language when speaking about the state of the organization, what they have done thus far in the rebuild and what they plan on doing.
There were a few specific things that stood out, and I will go into them below. If you are interested in watching or listening to it in the background, consult the embedded video below.
Writer’s note: I jotted down some memorable lines and notes while watching the event, and won’t be including any direct quotes from David Quinn, Jeff Gorton or Glen Sather. When referring to their opinions it will be in a broader context. Please consult the embedded video and audio clips as needed.
Addition of Adam McQuaid
This topic is interesting because he was acquired a few weeks ago at a point in time when the Rangers already have a bevy of defenders fighting for a job. Despite this, the team went out and added the rugged rear guard from the Boston Bruins, and the logic behind that acquisition was talked about for quite a bit on Monday.
Gorton made mention to the fact that he’s a strongy and gritty defender with size, and referred to him as a crease clearing defender who will make Henrik Lundqvist a little more comfortable in net.
Sather was asked about the physicality he brings to the game as an extension of a much larger discussion on its place in the game, and he gave a specific answer. He spoke on the fact that McQuaid is someone who has won a Stanley Cup, and a player he has watched for quite some time. Sather recognized that he brings and edge, but was prefaced his statement by saying that players on the roster need to be able to play, be able to think and be able to skate. He also said that McQuaid knows what his role is, and in the event that something happens on the ice, he has the ability to settle things down.
I brought this up in our BSB Twitter chat, and Adam correctly brought up that similar things were said about Tanner Glass. I agree with that assessment, and personally still feel that the Rangers were better off with the defenders they employed before moving assets for the veteran defender. I don’t like the move, but understand it based on the group’s comments in regards to patience and not wanting to push players too much too soon.
Libor Hajek is someone who probably could be in the mix, but there is clearly a plan in place that involves taking things slow so that each player is ready as possible before transitioning to the NHL.
My main concern is what will happen to Neal Pionk and Tony DeAngelo, because both should receive significant time this season. There are a number of questions that need to be answered about their respective games, and we won’t learn anything if either is a frequent healthy scratch.
Brett Howden Makes Team Over Lias Andersson
Both Phil and Adam have written great articles on the Lias Andersson demotion over the last few days, and understandably the topic was broached at the town hall. Gorton was quick to say that it is important not to put too much stock on who makes, or doesn’t make the opening night roster, because things can change quickly.
Fillip Chytil made the team last year, but was quickly sent back down to Hartford after two games before rejoining the team late in the season. Gorton specifically had this to say about how the organization will handle Andersson going forward:
“We like to think the next time he comes up he’s never going down again.”#NYR GM Jeff Gorton on Lias Andersson developing in Hartford playing top minutes.— New York Rangers (@NYRangers) October 1, 2018
Gorton also stressed that there are a ton of young and talented players in the system who can play an important part in what the team is looking to accomplish through the rebuild. It is all about timing, and certain players fit in at different moments.
Brett Howden was the player who ultimately made the team in place of Andersson, and it came down to the fact that the organization felt he was more of a two-way player whose versatility would allow for him to be deployed in a number of situations including killing penalties. Quinn was impressed with how he ended the preseason and made mention to his quickness in terms of playing, thinking and executing the game.
The overarching point was about finding the right situation for each player, and what is ultimately beneficial for them in the long run.
It wasn’t directly related to this conversation, but Sather talked about the need to take time with players. He drew on his previous experience mentioning that sometimes you have to wait and be patient, and that there’s a different timetable for each player.
This concept was talked about when the topic of hiring Quinn was brought up, and he made mention to the fact that he is known for his ability to relate to young players, earn their trust and in turn build meaningful relationships.
Brendan Smith’s Redemption and Return of Kevin Shattenkirk
Brendan Smith notably came into camp last year in terrible shape, and ultimately was banished to the AHL because he wasn’t at the level he needed to be at. This section of the event featured a number of comments an anecdotes including one from Sather.
The Rangers recently held a team event for the players and their significant others, and Sather marveled at how good Smith looked. He hadn’t seen much of Smith up close since he was demoted, and he felt like if he ran into him on the street it would be hard to recognize him.
Quinn has a long history with Smith, and mentioned that he tried to recruit him for BU, unsuccessfully, when Smith was 15. He also spoke of his experience coaching against him in the AHL, and feels that he’s a player who could have a big year for the Rangers. Quinn said that he’s not asking him to do anything he hasn’t done before, and feels he’s closer to the player he was for the team vs. the Montreal Canadiens in the playoffs after he was acquired at the trade deadline than he was last season.
The group also talked about Shattenkirk, and the fact that he’s healthy and in a position to make an impact. Sather interestingly mentioned that the Rangers probably should have shut him down earlier, and it was a case in which Shattenkirk wanted to do everything he could to help the team win before ultimately shutting himself down.
Quinn mentioned that having a healthy Shattenkirk and fit Smith could be like the Rangers adding two free agents, and he’s optimistic on what they can do this season.
There were a number of comments, questions and discussion related to the rebuild and the stage it is in. It was pointed at times toward what the next steps are, and decisions that have been already made. The biggest of these concerned Kevin Hayes and his contract status, whether or not the team will pursue free agents and if the team has enough talent to contend.
Regarding Hayes, the overarching talking point was how beneficial it was for both the team and him to go with a one-year deal. They have a ton of confidence in him as a player, and Sather feels he’s going to be in a position to earn a better long-term deal than Gorton offered him this past summer. Hayes is a player who wants to get better and win, and Quinn mentioned that he’s been vocal in the locker room regarding how the media has projected the team to be in 2018-19. Hayes feels the team has the ability to do things that may seem improbable, and overall there is an attitude of wanting to prove people wrong.
Free agency wasn’t discussed in particulars due to tampering rules, and Gorton summarized the discussion as the team having a big opportunity to do things because of their cap situation and the lack of long-term contracts on the books. He cautioned fans that players who are available and September and October in the final year of their deals aren’t always available come July, but the Rangers overall flexibility gives them a huge edge.
Vitali Kravtsov and Igor Shestyorkin were the two prospects mentioned the most, each being described as talented players in the KHL who should be in North America soon.
Gorton lauded the potential of Kravtsov as someone who looks really young, and could be a true force once he grows into his body. He also mentioned that Igor signed a KHL deal early on because he was able to make more money in Russia than Hartford, and it is hard to disagree with that logic. Overall they are very happy with what he has done, and he can’t get overseas soon enough.
He isn’t overseas anymore, but Gorton also brought up backup goaltender Alexandar Georgiev. The Rangers signed him as an undrafted free agent, but Gorton mentioned a story involving head of European scouting Nikolai Boborov. He said Georgiev was someone on the Rangers’ radar, and someone Boborov pushed hard for the team to draft. When he wasn’t drafted the team was lucky enough to sign him, and it was a situation that thankfully worked out for them.
The topic of analytics came up, and there was a different answer from Quinn, Gorton and Sather. The entire sequence is embedded below.
The takeaways here are that the Rangers still have a sophisticated stats package of sorts, for now, and Gorton made mention to metrics tracked that aren’t “blogged about.” He also talked about the eye test, and how at the end of the day it can be one of the best tools for on-ice evaluations.
Quinn was encouraging talking about his use of analytics by alluding to the work of Kathryn Yates while he was at BU. He added a qualifier though, mentioning how you need to be careful about how much information you give the players because there is only so much that can be absorbed.
Sather on the other hand went into a talk about Wayne Gretzky and Grant Fuhr being two of his worst “analytical” players while he was involved with Edmonton, but performance testing on a Vo2 bike is really a whole different discussion that doesn’t relate to the topic.
I completely understand and agree with the concept of testing players constantly and getting baselines on how they are doing from a health perspective. That is important and being in peak performance can translate to on-ice success, but this wasn’t really relevant to the question that was asked.
Overall the event saw the individuals on stage give some canned and/or generic answers, but the above are some things that stood out to me. This included a re-telling of the hiring of Quinn, what they were looking for in a new coach and how he is different than Alain Vigneault. There were also comments on the state of the team’s leadership group and how the process is still ongoing in terms of naming a captain.
These events usually draw mixed reviews, but I personally think that any attempt to answer questions and be transparent to season ticket holders who are committing thousands of dollars each year is a good thing.
I am not a season ticket holder, and I am interested to hear the thoughts of those who attended and those who decided to tune in to the live stream.