Thursday, November 18, 2010

New York Rangers: More Than the Name Must Change in Hartford/Connecticut

I am not a huge proponent of the win/loss record in the AHL because to me it is about development, but there comes a point where if you continue to lose that kind of mentality gets immersed into the young players you are supposed to be getting ready for the next level.  You never want the future of your organization to come from a culture of losing and while I have been talking about how bad things are in Hartford for a while now it is time for a change.  Over the last 13 games the club is 1-9-2-1, scoring a grand total of 23 goals in that span, and 7 of those came in one game.  That means for the other 12 games there has been a total of 16 goals scored or an average of 1.25 goals a game and you thought the Rangers NHL offense used to be bad.

I understand that in the history of the Wolfpack Ken Gernander has been Mr Wolfpack and I respect all that he has done on and off for that franchise throughout the years.  I also understand that this club is a mish-mash of talents and personalities that has led to a chaotic environment, so the job for Gernander is not easy.  All of that said there has been a sense in the past week of holding players accountable by shipping Dane Byers, the captain of the club at the time, off to Columbus and now with the coming transition to the Connecticut Whale it is time to cut ties with Mr Wolfpack and start fresh.  There must be accountability for the awful performance of this club over this extended a stretch of time not to mention the fact that all the “top prospects” that were sent there are struggling either under the system or the leadership.  

The Rangers currently have at least six prospects in Hartford, many their first year, that are deemed to be NHL prospects within the next couple years (Evgeny Grachev, Mats Zuccarello, Ryan McDonagh, Pavel Valentenko, Tomas Kundratek, Dale Weise (injured)) and other than Weise the rest of the group does not seem to be progressing as the season is wearing on.  As I said before the AHL for me is a transition between the junior ranks and the NHL where more growth in a player’s game needs to happen and if it was frankly I would not care about the lousy record other than not wanting losing to be an accepted outcome by these young players, but it isn’t.  Over the last few years the only players who have come through the Hartford system and been able to stick with the NHL club have been Artem Anisimov and this season Michael Sauer.  For the amount of highly thought of prospects that have been there that is not enough production from what is supposed to be a place of development and instead has become a place where only the baseball equivalent of AAAA players seem to thrive.

As the Rangers problem last year, the main problem I am hearing about in Hartford is the lack of defined roles and consistency in who plays with whom.  When you are dealing with young players already having to adjust to beginning their professional careers the last thing they need is to be jumped from place to place and have even more learning to do.  The biggest difference for me in the Rangers this season is that despite the injuries there is a sense of stability in that some guys are going to play with other guys, there is a system in place of how to play and each player knows what their specific role and position is.  Now is the time to do that in Hartford as well because this is not working and like it or not the coach is always the first one to take the axe, see Scott Gordon with the Isles.  It is certainly possible that every prospect currently in the Hartford system was overrated before they got there and a product of the NY hype machine, but it also entirely possible that Gernander isn’t the right man for the development job and we need a new guy with some new plans to try to sort this thing out and save the year of development for all the prospects that are already there while creating a foundation for those due in there next year.  

If they do fire Gernander I would look at a guy like Doug Gilmour, outstanding NHL player, put in his dues as an AHL assistant and has been Ethan Werek’s coach in the OHL for nearly two years now and has significantly aided in Ethan’s development.  Another sort of off the wall idea would be if Messier wants to get into coaching which he must have some inclination to do since he is coaching the Canadian junior clubs let him go down to the AHL and work with the kids to teach them what it takes to be an NHL player.  Personally I would much prefer the Gilmour route, but it is an idea.