It is no secret that during the 2017-2018 campaign, the Rangers lacked physicality, toughness, and grit. Alain Vigneault pushed a north-south, fast paced type of play. He encouraged speed and skill and when you opt to play that type of game, you can lose sight of tenacity.
However, you cannot fault Alain Vigneault for the Rangers’ lack of physicality. If you look at the Rangers team in recent years, you had players like Dan Girardi, Kevin Klein, Tanner Glass, Daniel Carcillo, and Ryan Callahan, just to name a few. Of course, the trade consisting of Ryan McDonagh and J.T. Miller only subtracts from the Rangers’ grit and the addition of Cody Mcleod did not help much.
In today’s NHL, teams have to be fast and every player must be able to contribute offensively. Fourth-line enforcers are disappearing, so now a player must be a jack-of-all-trades. They must contribute offensively, back-check relentlessly, and bring physicality. A player who exemplifies these qualities is the Rangers very own Mats Zuccarello. Although he is only 5’7″, he led the Rangers in points this season at 53, is defensively responsible, and always brings a tenacity to his game. Conversely, not all players are like this, and this was an issue for the Rangers this season.
The Rangers management are aware of the problem. On April 9th, Rangers General Manager Jeff Gorton was on ESPN’s The Michael Show, and said this when addressing the Rangers lack of toughness in 2017-2018 season: “I agree and it does have to be addressed. We do want to be a team that plays harder and in the last couple of months we were void in that area and it became more and more clear and it’s something that will be addressed.”
Now, I’m aware that the addition of one player will not remedy the lack of toughness issue, but it’s a start, right?
Enter: Milan Lucic
Let me start by saying that Milan Lucic is under contract until 2022-2023, however, he carries a six million dollar cap-hit, and had an absolutely abysmal season, so the Edmonton Oilers might be inclined to buy him out. This season, Lucic scored ten goals, and helped on another 24, for a total of 34 points, his lowest point total since the 2012-2013 season, when he was with the Boston Bruins. At one point in the season, he went 29 games without a goal, playing with Conner McDavid. However, he still managed to amass 80 penalty minutes, and brought physical play.
I think that if Lucic became a free agent, the Rangers would definitely consider offering him a contract. He would be a veteran presence on a young team at 29 years old. He would bring physicality with his 6’1″, 235 pound frame, and can provide some scoring.
After Mike O’Connell, the General Manager of the Boston Bruins was fired in 2006, Jeff Gorton became the interim General Manager. Gorton ran the 2006 NHL Entry Draft and selected Milan Lucic 50th overall. Gorton clearly likes Lucic as player because he drafted him, therfore, I can definitely see Gorton offering him a contract if he is indeed bought out.
To reiterate, the addition of one player won’t fix the Rangers issue of lack of physicality, but it is a much-needed start.