I'm sick of being close

The Rangers season ends with the same questions we seem to ask every year. Will Chris Drury finally break the cycle?

I'm sick of being close
Photo by Raphael Renter | @raphi_rawr / Unsplash

Editor's note: I promised myself that I would make the final story of the season free to all, to potentially draw more people into the site or give everyone a little taste of what you get for being a Full Access subscriber. So this is free to everyone. I was hoping it would be happier, but it is not. If you feel so inclined, you can subscribe the same way you joined or even throw the team a "tip" here that goes directly to supporting our writers. Thank you all for your support of this place, we will be back even if it's raw and shitty now.

Sitting in his locker room after the Rangers lost their Eastern Conference Finals series against Florida, Kreider sat at his locker and said the loss was "hard to process in the moment." The Rangers' longest tenured player – the only player who remains from that fabled plane picture in 2014 – has a lot more gray in his beard now than he did back then. He's seen five Eastern Conference Finals over his remarkable career. The Rangers have lost four of them, and the one and only time Kreider was on a team that won of them to go to the Stanley Cup? Well the Rangers lost that series anyway.

Teams of destiny might make things harder on themselves – God knows that 1994 team did – but they also do something else: They win. These Rangers did not win. They came close, but they did not win. The Rangers as a franchise really do not win. Sometimes they come close, but generally speaking they rarely get over the hump.

I am fucking sick and tired of coming close. Of being good but not good enough. I am sick of ending every single playoff run with a sleepless night and a pit in my stomach.

I am sick and tired of the same problems being the same killer year in and year out.

The Rangers got let down by two major things in this Eastern Conference Finals loss to Florida. The first – much like last year's embarrassing First Round oust – is the big names did not do enough when the Rangers needed them to. Panarin scored his only goal in what amounted to garbage time in Game 6. Zibanejad did not score once. Kreider scored only once. Fox – who was hurt – had seven points in the entirety of the playoffs. Trocheck and Lafreniere were the only sources of offense from round to round. A Rangers' defensive corps that scored 44 goals in the regular season scored just twice in their 16 playoff games.

The second thing was the power play running ice cold. 1-for-15 with the man advantage, with many of the big names above doing absolutely nothing to get it going. Some of this – most of this? – is attributed to Fox skating on one leg and his inability to move with the puck allowing Florida to press the shit out of the Rangers and force horrible turnovers. Some of it was Panarin being too passive, or Zibanejad simply not doing much of anything – unless it's throwing blind suicide passes that lead to chances the other way. Kreider can't tip in shots that aren't being generated from the point, and Zibanejad's refusal to light it up from his office and instead elect to make a cross-crease pass gives opposing teams another side of the ice they don't have to worry about. And Laviolette gets flack here for not trying to change things up in any way shape or form.

The Rangers, very simply, could not survive the power play running cold and the big guns generating nothing at 5v5.

And watching this all was the only other player who did everything he was supposed to do and more was Igor Shesterkin.

Does it sound familiar? It should.

This core, at least on its own, is clearly not good enough as constructed. Three goals total in the two "must win" games, and not being able to amass more than 25 shots in Game 6 fighting for their season is not good enough. The lack of desperation or killer instinct cost the Rangers at a time when they had everything seemingly going for them. Zibanejad cannot continue to no-show critical moments and, more importantly, be a net-negative when he isn't scoring. Panarin cannot score 120 points in the regular season and not have a point per game in the playoffs. Kreider gets a small pass since his Game 6 heroics avoided an even harder fall in the Second Round, but he is too important to be held off the scoresheet consistently.

The Rangers cannot continue to exist in a world where they waste elite – potentially historic – goaltending year in and year out as Cup windows pass them by. It happened once, it cannot be allowed to happen again.

This season finishes eerily similar to the way the Rangers lost in 2014. A team that is good enough to have the window open for a few more year – pending the right decisions are made.

And that is sort of where things take a turn. As you'll remember from that summer in 2014, the Rangers made about every wrong choice they could have made. They moved on from analytical darlings like Anton Stralman, Derek Dorsett, and Benoit Pouliot (although that one made sense based on the money Edmonton gave him), and doubled down on horrible hockey men players like Dan Girardi, Marc Staal, and Tanner Glass. The Rangers removed the pieces of the team that made them great and inserted players Alain Vigneault liked as people. The result was another Eastern Conference Finals run (a loss) the year after and then a disaster series of seasons that set the Rangers back to a level that everything needed to be burned down.

The major difference between this team and that team is the General Manager. It's also what – at least for right now – should give you the most hope.

Chris Drury is a man of action. Like or not, firing Gerrard Gallant was a ballsy move, one year removed from an Eastern Conference Finals run and back-to-back 100+ point seasons. The vast majority of hockey men would have given him at least one, and in the case of AV two or three, more years at the helm. Especially since Drury has just fired David Quinn to bring him in.

But Drury apparently learned a critical thing about hockey decisions: A year too soon is better than a year too late. And that line of thinking is going to become critical moving forward.

The Rangers currently have a 22-year-old first round pick who is starting to prove that he can be him. They have Adam Fox locked up long term at a reasonable contract. Braden Schneider is only 22 himself and had a fine playoffs. Miller was hot and cold, but is young and was saddled with Trouba when he was at his worst. Igor Shesterkin is Igor Shesterkin and will be around long term. Trocheck proved he is worth every inch of his contract. Cuylle got enormous experience this year and should take a major step forward next year. Othmann should push for a lineup spot next season and see third line minutes. Younger players (like Jones) should be mainstays next year as well.

That's the good.

The Rangers have an $8-million dollar third-pair defenseman at best in Trouba. Goodrow makes $3.6-million, and while he scored some huge goals in the playoffs that money is likely better spent elsewhere. Both players have extremely palatable buyouts all things considered if Drury wants to go in that direction. Although I would wager Drury could find a partner for either if he eats some salary – yes that includes Trouba. I think there are serious questions that need to be answered about Zibanejad being a long term solution to this team considering all the work and effort the coaching staff put into trying to help his 5v5 game without any success. That contract becomes a real albatross if the Rangers either don't unlock what's underneath or don't move him before it's too late.

Lindgren – as much as I love him and he's worked his ass off for this team – is breaking down physically and plays a style of game that doesn't work long term. Locking him up for years is likely a big mistake, and he likely has a slew of trade value if Drury wants to go in that directly. Kakko has probably played his last game as a New York Ranger. Getting scratched by Laviolette probably signaled the end for him, and while I think there's significant "under the hood" value for Kakko in what he brings to the table in terms of defense and possession, I don't think it matters. Kakko and Lindgren are both RFAs and the Rangers should use arbitration to lock them down to one-year deals to see if long term contracts are needed.

Then again, if the Rangers move on from one or both that's money that can directly go into a true first line winger the Rangers desperately need. I would also not be surprised if Drury kicks the tires on what Miller could bring back around the draft – although I would move on from him only if something substantial was coming back in return. There are better players to find money Drury will need.

Would some of that be ugly? Yes, many of these decisions need to be. The Rangers didn't get ugly enough in 2014 and really need to make sure they learn that lesson.

You root for laundry, and in moments like this that has to matter. Gery addicted to winning. Feelings need to be set aside – especially when you're using them to make decisions that don't make any logical sense. If you have to hold your nose to make hard decisions, then so be it. The other alternative is to do things the "right way" and continue to lose.

The Rangers lose. It is what they do. If you want to change that, then you need to change the way you do things, and Drury is in a position to do that.

We sit at the crossroads of years past. A decade ago, to be exact.

Will Drury continue the sins of his forefathers? Or is he a leader who understands what you want to do and what you have to do are two different things. If you are done feeling like this, of those sleepless nights at the end of the year, of that pit in your stomach, then you understand that you need to bend the arc. To change the way the organization normally does things.

No better time to do so than right now.

Somewhere between the finish of Game 6 against Carolina and the morning after, Chris Kreider drove home and his headlights ran over shadowed clumps on his lawn. The next morning he would put on headphones, turn on some music, and pick up the hats that had been left on his lawn from Rangers fans the night before – when Kreider scored a third period natural hat trick to propel the Rangers past Carolina to move to the Eastern Conference Finals.

Sometimes, those are the New York Rangers.

Two weeks after Kreider cleaned up his lawn, I returned home from Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals around 1:30 in the morning. My six-year-old daughter – who is truly starting to turn into a fan – heard me come home and met me at the top of the steps. As I lifted her into my arms, I asked her what she was doing awake.

"Did the Rangers win?" She asked.

"They did not," I replied.

"Ugh," she said as she threw her head back.

Most of the time, however, those are the New York Rangers.

Thank you for the ride, boys. Even if it ended like it always does.