Column Ideas for Ranger Beat Writers

This post is a brief list of things I think Ranger beat writers could write a column about. I have decided to write this because the collective output of the team's beat writers recently has evinced a distinct lack of column fodder. Larry Brooks wrote a whole column of short blurbs that he really should've just tweeted. (Larry has the soul of a poster, though his real Twitter account is pretty boring.) Vince Mercogliano and Mollie Walker are doing practice recaps and Howden puff pieces. (We're talking about practice? Practice?). I refuse to subscribe to The Athletic, but I'm sure Carp's story is no different. Collectively, this seems pretty lame, because for the first time in years there are actually things to write about with respect to the Rangers. They're sort of good now, whereas for the last two years the only topics anyone could write about were incredibly bleak.

1. The Rangers Should Probably Re-Sign Brendan Smith

The left side of the Ranger defense is not so great. Ryan Lindgren is putting together a great second season — props to him — but K'Andre Miller has cooled off since his scorching start and the rest of the left-sided defensive depth looks a bit like the aftermath of a Medieval viking raid. Between Jack Johnson, Tony Bittetto, and Libor Hajek, the Rangers have zero NHL-quality characteristics in the third LD spot. A Frankendefenseman combination of their options would also have a Corsi percentage of 40.

Brendan Smith, on the other hand, was enjoying a bit of a renaissance before he moved over to the right side of the third pair. Putting aside for a minute that Smith was never actually that bad, his season was shaping up to be his best in years and maybe ever. The Smith-Johnson pair — and we know who was driving it — put up exemplary numbers in limited minutes. His pairing with Trouba also worked really well, and that's important. Trouba is a massive expense and disappointment, and given that he is very literally untradeable, the Rangers have to get everything they can out of him at the lowest possible cost. Insomuch as chemistry exists, what Trouba needs isn't someone who can rush the puck up the ice (like K'Andre Miller), it's someone who can play defense. Despite his size and propensity for hits, all of Trouba's career value comes on offense. He's not much of a defender, though he is a physical one. Smith fits the bill, and they worked okay together last year too.

So take a look at the free agent market. I won't take this step-by-step — see the title of the post — but there isn't a better or more positionally versatile defender on the market this summer who will be available at lower cost than Smith, whose reputation has taken a massive, albeit undeserved, hit. He's a good defender who probably won't cost much — seems simple to make a case in about 600 words and get done with your Monday.

2. What's Wrong with the Ranger Power Play Part I: They're Running a System Last Seen During the Reign of Domitian

If you watched a lot of hockey before high-definition television was invented, you might have noticed something about the Ranger power play this season: they've incorporated aspects of a 2-3–type scheme into their system. My cable package has NHL Network, so I see some other games and highlights in addition to seeing all the other teams the Rangers play. It's possible that I'm wrong, but trust me when I tell you no one else is trying this. The league — the entire league — abandoned this system years ago because it's so blindingly obvious that you score more goals with a 1-3-1. (I'd bet it's because the system encourages lots of point shots, but that's beyond the scope of this FanPost.)

David Quinn has revived it. You understand why — it's hard to fit Zibanejad and Panarin on the same half-boards, and in theory this could get them both in shooting positions on the same side of the ice — but the returns have been awful.

A Ranger beat writer could use his or her access to the team and its coach to ask some questions about this remarkable development. What is the thinking behind going back this deep into the bag of tricks? Even if Quinn just lies about it like he did with the team's "Let's Concede the Blue Line" defensive strategy the last two seasons, that would be illuminating. This is nuts. Someone should look into it, though not me.

3. What's Wrong with the Ranger Power Play Part II: Putting Two Defensemen on the Power Play Concedes All Scoring Opportunities

The second power play unit has scored just one or two goals this year, which seems pretty bad. There's a very simple explanation for the lack of goals — the team sends out two defensemen on the second unit, and neither of them can shoot very well. Whether it was Trouba and DeAngelo or is now Trouba and Miller, this just doesn't work. When you run a system and two of the guys on the ice aren't a threat to score—though Trouba and Miller are both more than willing to fire limp slap shots—the defense actually outnumbers you because they've got four players to defend three scoring threats. Shuffling the personnel, as the team has done incessantly all year, will not fix the fundamental problem.

Quinn does have a good defense to this point. When the second unit comes out, it will have the puck until the power play expires. And when it expires, better have two defenders out there! Putting another forward on the second unit might help them score a goal in the remaining games this season, but they might also concede one. I think the percentages still justify trying it. (The coach could also instruct the players to skate the puck out of the zone and get a change when time is running out.) Our theoretical beat writer could look up the numbers and ask Quinn about his choice here, which is obviously a calculated decision to avoid the risk of a shorthanded goal.

4. Why Isn't the Team Looking to Upgrade the Third Pair?

Many of the Ranger beat writers stridently insist that Chytil and Kakko cannot be allowed one extra red second of ice time because the team is in the playoff hunt and taking away K'Andre Miller's power play time is simply news impossible to break to Ryan Lindgren. He'll spontaneously combust, maybe, or start to cry. If this is the case the Rangers need to improve at the trade deadline. More specifically they need to find an upgrade on Libor Hajek. Getting someone better than Hajek would probably cost something like a seventh rounder, or a prospect on the order of Ryan Gropp's fourth cousin's wife's nephew.

A beat writer could survey the league for competent third pair defenders and identify four or five the team could realistically target. Old friend Fredrik Claesson has four games players this year and would surely be available. Any other lefty could allow Brendan Smith to stay on his preferred right side — that's why he gets the big bucks — and a righty could push Smith back to the left, which might result in him playing much better hockey. Given how committed everyone is to the belief that the team is capable of overtaking the Bruins, it's strange that none of the people who analyze the team for a living haven't suggested a move of this nature.

5. Filip Chytil

The Ranger beat writers have been writing a lot about Filip Chytil. Unfortunately it hasn't really been interesting. The issue here is that somewhere along the way Brooks got fed some information from the organization (probably from Quinn; I don't watch press conferences) that Chytil wasn't passing enough, and therefore isn't a center. Part of this is sort of true, historically — Chytil was a league average passer the past couple of seasons, though he was a bit better as a rookie and is anyway is borderline elite at generating zone entries and exits.

The other part about not being a center is insane, and maybe someone from outside the Post can write an article about the actual facts of the matter. Unbeknownst to large portions of the fanbase and all parts of the broadcast team, Filip Chytil is having a great year. It's easily the best of his career, which shouldn't surprise anyone given how aging usually works, but the degree of dominance early on was basically stunning.

There are probably three or four columns here. First, why is everyone missing the good season? You could title this column "Filip Chytil's Quiet Breakout" and not work the rest of the day. There's a lot of crazy stuff going on, including apparently that the Rangers think passing is more important for centers than outscoring the other team by huge margins and maybe some collusion between the Post and the Front Office, you could probably think of a few other things — bam, column. One might note, in another column, that under the most commonly used publicly available WAR model, Chytil is running about even with Ryan Strome on a per-minute basis.

Next, why has Chytil slowed down lately? I know the answer to this, as does everyone who watches the team play except David Quinn, but it would be nice to see some discussion in a newspaper. (Hint: it's not the injury). Filip Chytil now takes basically all of his shifts with Libor Hajek. The two of them on the ice together...some historical background here.

Chytil is from Kroměříž, which is well into the Czech southeast and nearing the border with Slovakia. Hajek is from Smrček, about 60 miles north and west, and if you look at a map you'll that it's roughly in the east-central region of the Czech Republic. In 1993, you may recall, the nation of Czechoslovakia dissolved peacefully, the back half of that coalition having declared independence in 1992. And when you watch these two kids play together you understand why the Slovaks up and left. I've begun to worry about separatism in the Zlín Region, the administrative unit subsuming Kroměříž among other small cities.

Yes, WOWYs are outdated. But Chytil is 20% better in xG terms without Hajek. Hajek actually has better numbers apart too. It’s a combination that is not working. And Chytil’s numbers with basically anyone else not named Jack Johnson are sparkling. He has xG percentages above sixty with close to half the team. It makes you see think (see point 6) that maybe the Rangers should’ve signed a halfway competent 7th defender this year, because the splits are large enough to lose hockey games.

6. The Left Defensive Depth

Coming into the season the Rangers had a clear defensive depth problem. If anyone got hurt or, say, did a bit too much tweeting, they were going to have to play Jack Johnson all the time. After DeAngelo left, Brendan Smith was forced to the right side — which he loves, sure — but at the expense of his third pair left spot opening up. Bitetto and Johnson battled for a bit, and then the spot was "won" by Libor Hajek. The problem is even worse than it looks because K’Andre Miller wasn’t a lock to be a useful NHL player this year.

That raises the question: Why did the Rangers not sign a defensemen who could play third-pair quality hockey? It’s a question a beat writer could ask about, and then write a column expanding on the new information gleaned. I get that everyone wanted to do Jack Johnson a solid, but this is a hockey team and it seems important to find out why all the left defenders they have around are bad.

It raises questions about the team’s evaluation process. How did they scour the Earth for defensemen and come up with Tony Bitetto and Jack Johnson? This is the kind of thing you might ask the team’s scouts, or scouting director, or their analytics people. Was it really all because Coach Jacques vouched for the guy? That can’t be true, and if it is you could write a column about it.

7. Summing Up

There are lots of things you can write about with respect to the Rangers. This is not a complete list; you can put more ideas down in the comments. Why has K'Andre Miller regressed to mediocre #4 status? Any chance Jake Trouba might start looking like an eight million dollar player? How's that Chris Kreider deal looking? Any concern that Mika Zibanejad's underlying stats are awful, with so little time left to decide whether he's going to be the team's top paid center for the next seven years? What does Kaapo Kakko have to start doing to bring his on-ice scoring (300th in relGF%) in line with his massively improved shot shares (8th overall in relCF%)? Are the Rangers working on a long-term extension with Adam Fox? These are questions that seem interesting, and then maybe the lineup for tonight can just be tacked on to the end of the article.