Why Dressing Tanner Glass Matters
Dressing Tanner Glass every night apparently isn't important because the team is winning. Except that's not true. Here's why.
It's been a hot button all year. It started when the Rangers signed Tanner Glass to a three-year contract this summer and continued to surface as Alain Vigneault twisted and contorted himself to find different ways to keep Glass in the lineup every game.
Other people pointed out what most of us already knew: Glass is a Vigneault favorite from when they were together in Vancouver, and Glass gets held to a different standard.
This was very, very evident when Vigneault sat a streaking J.T. Miller to insert Lee Stempniak for Saturday's 3-1 win over the New Jersey Devils. And it was also quite clear that very few beat reporters seem to care that Vigneault is dressing an inferior lineup every night.
Vigneault was asked why he sat Miller after the game, and his response was that Miller could have played better against Washington and that it was the "right thing for the team." Pat Leonard at least realized the insanity in this response:
Vigneault adds Miller "could have played better" against the Caps & thought Stempniak playing was the "right thing for the team" #NYR ????— Pat Leonard (@PLeonardNYDN) December 28, 2014
Leading goal scorers in this Rangers eight-game winning streak: Rick Nash (six), Derek Stepan (four), J.T. Miller (three) #NYR— Pat Leonard (@PLeonardNYDN) December 28, 2014
While others didn't seem to think it mattered because the Rangers have been winning with most saying some variety of "the Rangers have won eight in a row and the fans are upset about something which is absurd."
And right there is the problem. Look, I've been a sports writer for a newspaper with an editor and deadlines to meet. I've been at games that finish 20 minutes before my deadline and having to scramble to get quotes and write a cohesive story in a criminally short amount of time.
I 100% understand that sometimes post-game scrums are not the times to ask certain questions, especially when your back is against the wall with deadlines. These guys have jobs to do, and asking about Glass isn't exactly something that's going into the next morning's paper after a 3-1 win over a division rival. I get it.
The other side of the coin, though, is the thought process above is maddening. It's essentially "the Rangers just won eight games in a row so you shouldn't question anything about the team until they start losing again." Except the question wasn't asked once when the Rangers were struggling and it was the right time to ask.
The bigger issue is many people in the room seem fine with saying "it's just the fourth line" and "Glass is going to be on the fourth line and that's just the way it is" without asking any questions. But it's not just the fourth line, anymore. Hockey doesn't work that way. Last year's run should have shown everyone that and at the very least made it a subject worth broaching with the head coach.
And it's not just a matter of some fourth liner filling a roster spot. On Saturday it came at the expense of a young kid who finally seemed to hit a groove at the NHL level, who legitimately helped the Rangers win a few games during this streak and who probably had his confidence shaken by sitting for no reason.
JT Miller's response in an uncomfortably tense convo this morning simply was: "Whatever is best for the team. I just hope we win." #NYR— Pat Leonard (@PLeonardNYDN) December 27, 2014
In a few weeks Glass will dress at the expense of prized prospect Anthony Duclair who is currently lighting it up for Team Canada at the World Junior Championship. And the writing seems to be on the wall that Duclair will probably be sent back down to the junior level -- since he can't get into the lineup because of Glass -- despite the fact that he's very clearly capable of playing in the NHL, learning at this level and becoming a major asset to the team.
It's Vigneault intentionally dressing an inferior lineup and holding Glass to a different standard, something very obvious by the continued mistakes by Glass -- most recently think of the weak backcheck on the Devils goal Saturday -- that get overlooked for him but would signal an instant seat on the bench / healthy scratch the next game for guys like Miller, Duclair or now Stempniak.
And, of course, it's the refusal to dress a fourth line comparable to last year, despite how vital last year's bottom group was to the team's overall success. Jesper Fast - Dominic Moore - Stempniak is a line that can succeed and flourish in situations similar to last year's fourth line usage. Glass has already shown this year he's incapable of such, which isn't his fault, but it is the reality of the situation.
That's why dressing Tanner Glass every game matters. That's why it's important despite the Rangers being on an eight-game winning streak. Sure, the Rangers are winning right now and everything is sun-soaked and warm. That's fantastic. But there are short term (the risks that come with dressing an inferior lineup) and long term (hurting the development of the youth that is sitting in favor of Glass) implications to him dressing every night.
So no, it might not be the highlight of a 3-1 win over the Devils on Saturday; but I do think it's worth a few deeper questions than just "why did you decide to sit Miller?"
And even if that's not the setting, then Sunday's practice or the pre-game skate today when Glass continues to dress is the right time. Questions line "Glass surrenders the most shots per60 on the PK and has horrendous possession numbers this year, is there something else he brings that makes him more valuable than younger guys like Miller or Duclair?" aren't earth-shattering or unexpected.
Vigneault is not a bad coach. Far from it. And despite the Glass situation I still believe he is absolutely the right coach for this team and can help take the Rangers to the next level. But this is a blind spot for Vigneault that we don't fully understand and won't fully understand until he has to answer for his decisions.
So yes, it's an issue that matters even if the Rangers are winning. Expectations aren't just "make the playoffs and see what happens" anymore. Last year's run to the Stanley Cup has set the bar. OK isn't good enough. Dressing the best lineup night in and night out is the only way to reach the standard of last year -- especially if the goal is to surpass it.
That's why the question is important.
Even if no one is asking it.