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Is Tanner Glass or someone like him a necessary commodity? My view

December 22, 2016, 8:21 AM ET [280 Comments]
Jan Levine
New York Rangers Blogger • RSSArchiveCONTACT
Since it's become the in thing to write that the Rangers' "passivity" is in dire need of an immediate infusion, far be it from me not to weigh in. This has become the latest cause celebre. While I don't disagree with the view, as you will see below, in terms of immediate or general needs for this team, adding some toughness falls behind several other concerns, led by the uplift in the top-four, right-handed defensemen.

Brooks continued this push by writing the following yesterday:

Of the many admirable qualities of this season’s team, playing with an edge is not among them. There isn’t a single player who forces the opposition to keep its collective head up, not a single player whose presence discourages opponents from taking liberties. More than that, not a single player who believes in payback

Four nights after no one lifted a finger in anger when the Stars’ Cody Eakin freight-trained Henrik Lundqvist behind his net in Dallas on Friday, no Ranger even thought twice about responding when Michael Grabner was kneed by Sidney Crosby midway through the second period in Pittsburgh.

And this about a month after no one interceded when Crosby jumped Ryan McDonagh and began throwing punches immediately after the Rangers captain had earned a major for boarding Conor Sheary.

The Rangers are a generally hard-working, buttoned-down team consisting of low-key, low-maintenance professionals. They go about their business admirably. But these low-key personalities have produced a collective low-key mentality on the ice. The Blueshirts continually turn the other cheek.

It is one thing to have the discipline associated with whistle-to-whistle hockey. It is another thing altogether to be passive. That is what the Rangers have become. They play with little fire. They play absent an edge.

All of the above is true. Teams are tough in one of two ways, but hopefully both, physically and mentally. I don't think any of us would really question the mental resolve of this team. We see it in the response to losses, given the winning record following a defeat, regardless if it was a one-goal loss in overtime or the shootout or a blowout. What an rightly be questioned - and Brooks has done it - is the physical toughness of the squad. If you look up and down the roster, who strikes you as physically tough? Chris Kreider clearly in one, but you don't want him dropping the gloves to show that toughness or defend a teammate. Kevin Klein is another one that comes to mind, seen in him coming to Brady Skjei's defense a few weeks ago.

But the question of physical toughness has changed over the years in the NHL. The role of the enforcer is mainly gone. You need players who are tough but if they can't skate and remain in the ice without constantly taking penalties, their value is close to nil. In addition, factor in the drop in fighting, and questions as to whether fighting really sends a message to an opponent, and it's diminished the role and need for the enforcer. But you still need someone whose physical presence can send a message to an opponent. First, that taking liberties won't be tolerated and second, their willingness to bang and bash on the forecheck could result in turnovers or faster than needed play - otherwise called skittishness - when chasing a puck in their own end.

How did Brooks end his column and what is his solution to this problem? Calling up Tanner Glass:

But the idea of promoting Glass — who ideally would step in for Marek Hrivik or Matt Puempel on the fourth line — or someone like him isn’t so much about adding a deterrent as it would be to send a message that even if the Rangers won’t hit first, they will at least hit back.

When the Rangers made their run to the Cup Finals in 2013-14, coach Alain Vigneault rolled four lines. Three of those lines were scoring options while the fourth was a momentum shifter and one whose energy carried forward to the rest of the team. Those lines were:

20 Chris Kreider - 21 Derek Stepan - 61 Rick Nash
67 Benoit Pouliot - 16 Derick Brassard - 36 Mats Zuccarello
62 Carl Hagelin - 19 Brad Richards - 26 Martin St. Louis
22 Brian Boyle - 28 Dominic Moore - 15 Derek Dorsett (Plus 13 Dan Carcillo)

Jesper Fast and J.T. Miller

If you look at the fourth line, all three of them played the style that AV loves, quick on the puck and through all three zones. What really turned the Rangers season in my opinion was the addition of Dan Carcillo, who opened the finals on suspension. Carcillo, besides scoring some key goals, was a pest who agitated opponents with his style of play and actions. He went over the line at times but at least in New York, he seamlessly fit into the Rangers' style of play. That fourth line was a huge component of the Cup Finals. Compare what the fourth was then to now and you see the marked difference to the two.

Partially due to the injuries, AV has now gone with a top-six and bottom-six alignment. But the bottom-six doesn't really stand out as substantially different from the top-six, save for less offensive talent. Part of the reason for this current alignment is all the injuries. When Rick Nash and Pavel Buchnevich and eventually Mike Zibanejad return, the top-nine will be basically set. This will allow moving Jesper Fast to the fourth line, where he is best suited.

Oscar Lindberg could be the fourth line center but what about the other wing? Hrivik or Puempel are fine but it's more of the same. Adding Glass or someone else of that Ilk would change up the dynamic and create a fourth line that is used to create energy and shift a game's momentum by the physical component and willingness to hit. This was the view espoused by Full Tilt Rangers in his blog.

Let me be clear, I am not advocating for Glass. I know his advanced metrics draw the ire of many. For those who aren't upset by that, it's his salary or lack of production or ties to AV that anger the rest. Personally, I actually felt he played better last year, which I know isn't a stretch when comparing it to 2014-15, but that's not to say he would be my first option for that role.

If New York opts to go this route, then target someone who can skate well enough to fit AV's system and isn't a possession nightmare. A few names that come to mind, dependent on where those teams are in the playoff hunt, are: first, an old favorite, Brian Boyle. Boyler's three year deal expires after the season. If Tampa is unable to get back into the hunt, then maybe they deal him. He can play on the penalty kill, take some draws and his size would help. He is not the most physical player but has shown a willingness to use the body. Second would be Lance Bouma in Calgary. Bouma has been injury prone but would check a lot of the boxes. Third, and my favorite but likely unavailable or would cost a ton, is Michael Ferland of Calgary, as he would be the perfect fit. Fourth might be Zack Kassian of Edmonton, as his contract expires after the year and also checks a lot of the boxes. Chris Stewart could be another but his skating isn't good enough for AV's system. Other slightly more pricey options could be Antoine Roussel and Patrick Maroon, each of whom are or have become favorites where they are, which could make it harder to acquire them. But Maroon's three year deal does expire in June. A name mentioned to me by Josh Khalfin, the twitter exchange we had drove a lot of this paragraph, is Michael Mersch from the Kings, who currently is in the AHL. Others may be available in the minors just waiting for a chance, so options exist.

In summary, while this isn't the primary concern, adding some toughness would not be a bad idea. But not necessarily to solely defend his teammates, but to provide a skill that is lacking; one whose physical presence can help change a game and create chances offensively. The fourth line in 2013-14 had that ability, which is currently lacking. Recreating a trio like that would provide the current roster with another way to change and win a game. But, my first focus would be on finding a top-four, RH defenseman and also shifting up the current pairings.

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