Thursday, October 28, 2010

What Goes On In Hartford/Connecticut? Do Our Prospects Advance There?

Normally at the pro levels I am first looking to the player themselves if there is a problem with their play because coaches in many instances can only do so much and it is the players job to execute whatever game plan and role set out by the coach.  That is true for me until I see a pattern develop in which many people on the same team are having similar problems and then you either wonder if the coach lost the room or if he just is not good enough to help his players get over the hump.  In my take on the Grachev move I made reference to Hartford becoming a place where prospects seem to go to stall in their development.  Frankly I think Gernander and his staff do a lousy job in developing our prospects and I think that is evidenced in the lack of advancement players under his coaching making in their games.  Very few of the guys we send there can come up and be regular contributors at the higher levels.  To me this has been true since he took over as coach in 07 and the only prospect that has really come through the Hartford system under Gernander and made it full time for the Rangers is Anisimov and Sauer is showing he is ready for a 3rd pair role.  This trend of development failures has only gotten worse in my opinion since Jim Schoenfeld left his role in Hartford altogether once Renney was fired.

In a couple of different conversations I have had since the news of Grachev’s recall the suggestion that part of the reason he is being called up is to get NHL instruction that he isn’t getting in Hartford.  That to me is very disturbing, but I also find it to be very accurate, and completely indefensible for a team like the New York Rangers to accept substandard coaching at any level.  I understand that we have a history of not holding anyone accountable under this ownership regime, but right now is too critical a time in the youth/homegrown movement of this franchise to let it be killed by a lack of viable coaching/talent development in our farm system.  This season we have Grachev, McDonagh, Valentenko, Zuccarello, Weise, Kundratek all NHL caliber prospects to different degrees under the tutelage of this group of coaches.  Not to mention within the next two years the possibility of the AHL club playing a role in developing Kreider, Horak, Werek, Hagelin, Bourque, Christian Thomas, Dylan McIlrath.  The future viability of this organization and this entire movement towards building from within will be shaped by the next 3 years of prospect development and I don’t see results that make me feel good from this staff.

Last year in Hartford we had 2 of our at the time top 4 prospects in Grachev and Sanguinetti and neither progressed in their game at all to the point that Grachev was playing as a shell of his talent and Sangs was shipped out without ever earning a role in the NHL for us.  Now it is entirely possible that Sangs was just a bust who they sold high on getting a 2nd rounder and was never as good as the draft hype on him.  The flip side of that is he had two full seasons in the AHL with this staff supposedly developing his all-around game and what impact did the “teaching” going on there have? 

This year in the small sample we have Grachev again, MZA, McDonagh, Valentenko, Kundratek  regarded as NHL prospects all of whom to varying degrees are off to slow starts.  Statistically Tank is off to the best start at +5 while McDonagh statistically is off to the slowest.  McDonagh and Kundratek are both adjusting to pro hockey and yet they are stuck together as a pair so that will intensify any early season struggles for either or both.  Injuries have been a problem in Hartford specifically the Dale Weise injury but when all the top prospects including a couple who played excellent hockey in the preseason are struggling at what point do the coaches get considered? 

From a fan perspective it is easy to assume the problem with a prospect is based on the prospect because of the limited exposure to how they are playing other than the box-score and the statistical lines we are given.  On the NHL level it is easier when we see the team to notice which screw ups are on the player, which are on the coach and which are on both for failing to adjust to what is going on.  I cannot say for sure that Gernander is the problem in Hartford, as the prospects could all be overhyped and underachievers, there could be a mixture of poor play and bad coaching, but what is clear for me is that something in the equation needs to change.  One of the biggest failures of this organization the last dozen or so years has been the lack of real accountability anywhere in it from the Owner to the GM, to the coaches to the players and until we start with accountability being instilled in our future prospects by guys who actually are held accountable by those above them, what changes?  For me all that changes are the names and the faces, but not the results.

The trend across the NHL has been when coaching changes are made to look not at re-tread coaches but to the AHL to get the brighter minds up to the biggest level and change the mentality in a room while having coaches who had experience dealing with and developing young players at the NHL level.  Randy Carlysle (Ana), Joe Sacco (Col), Scott Arniel (Clb), Todd Richards (Minn), John MacLean (NJ), Scott Gordon (NYI), Cory Clouston (Ott), Dan Bylsma (Pitt), Todd McLellan (SJ; AHL, then NHL assistant), Davis Payne (Stl), Guy Boucher (TB), Bruce Boudreau (Was) all fit that model and I dont believe Gernander ever will.  So why don't the Rangers as an organization with the resources we possess have a higher caliber coaching staff handling some of the "most fragile" assets we possess?

Over the past five years the transition from big names to development has been an ongoing process with still much wasted money on the big names.  Out of this “youth” movement or as I like to think of it homegrown player movement we have seen Lundqvist, Staal, Girardi, Del Zotto, Dubinsky, Callahan, Anisimov, Stepan hit the NHL and show themselves as core type players.  Many of the followers of this club, including myself, have been saying this season, wait two years when all these guys are here followed by a series of varying prospect names.  We talk about how when the reinforcements arrive for those already here and in combination with losing weighty salaries this team can contend again.  The problem is in order for this to fully pay off in the Rangers contending again it will be the development of all the rest of the prospects coming through the line and I have not seen enough evidence that this coaching staff does enough on the teaching and development side for me to be comfortable trusting that future in their hands.

Ok, have at it in the comments