In conclusion of Rivalry Week (or, more accurately Rivalry Fortnight), this is the conclusion of the Eastside Hockey Manager experiment to ruin Our Hated Rivals, the New York Rangers. Last week, I showed off how abysmal we made Our Hated Rivals from the suggestions offered from a prior post. By January 1, 2020 in the game, they were decidedly in the basement with a record of 5-29-5. They were sixteen points behind Ottawa, who lost ten games in a row at that time. They scored just 66 goals and allowed 129. They were without a first round pick in 2020 and 2021. New York was gloriously terrible. I asked you, the People Who Matter, for further suggestions to ruin the Rangers, particularly in the long-term. This post details what those were, what was done to achieve them, and concludes the experiment.
The Continued Reign of Intentional Error of Mike Milbury
Mike Milbury is the in-game name of the GM of Our Hated Rivals and Mad Mike went mad in January. First on the list was a move I decided upon myself. After going 5-29-5, I figured it was time to fire David Quinn as head coach. This made sense. He would not be the first fired head coach in this 2019-20 EHM season (I think he was third), but you could not argue he was not getting the job done. The question then became: Who would replace David Quinn?
In EHM, staff has attributes similar to players where they help determine their effectiveness at their job. Like with player attributes, they are on a scale of 0 through 20. Believe it or not, Lindy Ruff - then and still an assistant with NY in-game - did not have the worst attributes for a head coach. The other assistant coaches had decent to good attributes - with one notable exception: Benoit Allaire.
Allaire is a goaltending coach in real life. Fittingly, he has great stats for coaching goaltenders. He’s an 18 in coaching goaltenders. That puts him among the best in the world. And he has some great stats in other useful categories like adaptability (16) and coaching youngsters (17). He is also good in determination (14). However, he is utterly bad when it comes to coaching forwards (5), coaching defensemen (5), and man management (5). This makes sense. He’s a goaltending coach. He should coach goaltenders. He was hired to coach and train goaltenders. So, of course, I chose him to be the new head coach of the New York Rangers.
Allaire wanted around $2.3 million per year for a nice total contract of $6.9 million. I disagreed. Since the board allowed me to spend even more, I gave him even more. If you do not use your budget, then your budget will likely decrease. So I gave him the maximum possible deal. Eventually, he took it. In the meantime, the Rangers kept on losing games and barely scoring any goals. They even lost some real heartbreakers, like a 2-3 loss to St. Louis where Tarasenko scored with 14 seconds left in regulation. In the interim, Milbury wheeled and dealed to bring in the players that the People Who Matter wanted to be brought in. First, from EliasStillRocks:
Matt Tennyson…. Robert Bortuzzo…. Frederic Claesson? They certainly won’t help.
On January 6, I moved a 20-year old rising defenseman in Hartford in Joey Keane to New Jersey for 29-year old Matt Tennyson. Of course, Tennyson went right into the lineup. Thankfully, Tennyson did not have an expiring contract; he was signed through 2020-21.
On January 8, I attempted to move Garnet Hathaway to Carolina straight up for Frederik Claesson. They were not interested. After adding New York’s third rounder in 2020 and in 2021, they took the deal. Claesson entered the lineup.
Bortuzzo was a bit tougher to get. He was doing fairly well for St. Louis. But I wanted to make it happen; especially since he was not on an expiring contract. I kept trying to move Matt Beleskey since the board, who was mad at me in January, wanted Beleskey gone. He did not go. This may shock you, but no one wanted him. On January 25, I figured it out. Alex Biega, who was on an expiring contract, and prospect Karl Henriksson were sent to the Blues for Bortuzzo. This was actually an upgrade for NY if you ignore that Henriksson turned out to be a decent player. Bortuzzo, of course, entered the lineup. I went with seven defensemen regularly, which was fine since the fourth line was a trio of bad hockey players playing badly.
I think they could use a little stability in goal….how about going younger and getting some control by taking on Martin Jones (who is hopefully as awful there as he is in real life)
Martin Jones was not as awful in EHM as he was in real life. But he was not doing so well in EHM to be called anything but halfway decent at best. Further, his contract is absolutely awful in real life and in EHM. Jones is signed through 2023-24 with a cap hit of $5.75 million. I had to get him.
I could not make a deal including Cory Schneider work for San Jose. They did not want Schneider posting an 89% save percentage (Jones was at 90.5%, if I recall correctly, which is not much better) and his cap hit was too cost prohibitive. I realized that younger and cheaper players would get it done. I noticed that Lias Andersson was putting up Kevin Rooney-like performances amid the constant losses in Manhattan. So I put a package led by Andersson to San Jose. A package of Andersson, Vinni Letteri, Ryan Lindgren (who played with NY and was arguably their second best defender in-game), prospect Olof Lindblom, and the Rangers’ first rounder in 2022. San Jose sighed and took the deal. The board and the fans were very unhappy. But I made TheJRod2006 happy. That is what is important. I also decided to keep Schneider up with New York because, hey, you could need a third goalie. Now the Rangers had $20.25 million worth of goaltending on their active roster. Brilliant.
I decided Jones need to play right away. He managed to play at about the same level as Schneider with an 89% save percentage in eight games. Also brilliant.
Third, alslammerz, the architect of this terrible roster in Part One, had this to say:
Again, I was using CapFriendly so didn’t realize Kreider was a pending UFA in game. Whoops. I probably would have flipped him then for Okposo or someone but originally I thought his actual contract in real life might turn into the types of albatrosses we were going for.
Chris Kreider was one of the few Rangers who were good in the first half of this team with just five wins earned in the 2019-20 season. He was on an expiring contract, which would make him perfect trade bait for a name player. I did try to move him for Okposo. While he did have a long goalless streak, he did break it in December. I also learned he was racking up assists and playing very well for a Buffalo team that was fighting for the division title (and finished three points behind Toronto, who won it). In short, Buffalo was not giving up Okposo. So I went with Plan B, which I alluded to in Part One last week when I wrote why I did not incorporate acasser’s suggestion of adding Ladd, Neilsen, Parise, or Suter:
Now that the season is part of the way through, it could be easier to cram in a contract like Ladd, Nielsen, Suter, or Parise (that is who acasser refers to as the Six Billion Rupee Man). The same logic also applies to players like Okposo ($6 million, three seasons left, and he has been on a 20+ goalless streak in this game), Abdelkader ($4.25 million, three seasons left, has ten points in 41 games), and (this will be tough) Mats Zuccarello ($6 million, four seasons left, has been good for the Wild though). I already dealt away the team’s first round picks for 2020 and 2021, but we still have other picks and prospects (Kravstov) to move.
As the team won just one game in January and the coach already fired, I was feeling the heat from management. James Dolan took time away from ruining the Knicks and practicing with The Sure Shot to express his disappointment in my management. I naturally ignored the displeasure and got to work on trying to bring back a beloved Ranger. A former Ranger that got things done. A former Ranger that Ranger fans liked a whole lot. And a former Ranger who was 32 and signed a massive deal with Minnesota that had four more seasons on it at $6 million. It was time to bring Mats Zuccarello back to Manhattan.
On February 6, after the team won a game and lost some shootouts, the deal was struck. After rejections for trying to include players the Wild did not want or extra picks, I found what they wanted. I sent Kreider, K’Andre Miller, and Hunter Skinner to the Land of a Thousand Lakes for Zuccarello. Mats was back in the familiar confines of Madison Square Garden. And I made a mistake.
No, the fans and the board did not rage about the deal. What I did not do was make enough cap space to continue with Zuccarello on the roster. My decision to keep Schneider on the active roster cost me and I forgot to move him to Hartford to make the money work. I waived him, but I failed to move him down. I learned that the game will make automatic transactions to be cap compliant. So they dumped Schneider and Claesson to Hartford. I think this triggered the board to be especially mad. For after this incident and a bad loss to Buffalo, I received an not-so-subtle message:
On February 7, I received an ultimatum. The fate of Mike Milbury was up to the players, now with Zuccarello and coached by Allaire, to beat Los Angeles.
They did not. As they did in many games, they lost the lead and lost the game outright in the second half of regulation. They also got significantly outplayed as suggested by being out-shot 41-23.
On February 9, Mike Milbury was fired.
The goal of the experiment was to make the Rangers as terrible as possible; ideally without getting fired. Well, we got fired through making them terrible. As of this date, the Rangers had a record of 7-40-6 with 89 goals scored and 179 allowed. They had 20 points, 27 behind the 30th place Ottawa Senators. That is a point percentage of 18.5%, which is woeful and pitiful. Artemi Panarin was the team’s leading scorer with 13 goals and 27 points in 46 games. The best player was Henrik Lundqvist with an average rating of 7.67 to go with his Actually Good in EHM save percentage of 91.3%. We never got to see Nolan Patrick play. He was day-to-day in recovering when Milbury was fired.
Here is the summary of the damage done to the roster:
And the books (note: EHM could really improve in how they present the salary cap.)
The Remainder of 2019-20
While I was hoping to make it through the 2019-20 season, getting fired in February after the team won just 7 games and I capped them out is still remarkable in retrospect. The Rangers would replace Mad Mike ten days later in the game. You even know who he is: Brent Sutter. And he would go on to continue the legacy of Milbury and even kind-of give to acasser what I could not.
But first, the 2019-20 season had to be wrapped up. As expected, the Rangers finished in last. They legitimately put in one of the worst seasons in franchise history. Curiously, Sutter made no additional trades at the deadline. They just rode it out and ended with this in the standings:
The Rangers “bounced” up to win five more games and lose eight more games beyond regulation to get up to 38 points. They dragged their point percentage up to 23.2%. They even broke the 100 goal plateau. It turned out that Zuccarello was a really good get for NY as he put in 26 points in 30 games. That helped Panarin and Mika Zibanejad go on a scoring tear in March. Allaire started Lundqvist more than Jones, which also helped. Still, we ruined the Rangers’ 2019-20 season and did so in a massive fashion. That goal was achieved, even though Milbury was canned in early February.
As per Part One, this was going to be the part where I was going to retire anyway and then see how long it would take for the Rangers to return to the playoffs. It is one thing to ruin a season. But if they recover and be one of the sixteen out of thirty-one teams to make the postseason in a few years, then one has to question how much they were ruined. I am happy to report that Mike Milbury set up Brent Sutter to be an arguably detrimental GM for Our Hated Rivals.
The Long, Long, Long, Long, Long Road to Recovery
One of the many quirks about EHM is that the salary cap remains flat throughout future seasons. It was $81.5 million in 2019-20 and it would stay that way for the entire future. This also meant that minimum and maximum contract amounts would remain the same. As would the draft format and so forth. This meant that AI GMs would have the same limits in future years. Brent Sutter did not know how to handle these limits based on what he accomplished. I was amazed at how Milbury-esque he turned out to be. Here is a quick summary of the Sutter Reign of Unintentional Error:
2020-21: The Rangers let a lot the expiring contracts from 2019-20 go, signed a bunch of free agents, and made only a few trades. What they did trade included several mid-round picks from 2021 and 2022. This left NY with just three picks in each round. And their signings took them to the cap ceiling. The Rangers did improve over 2019-20 by quite a bit. They still missed the playoffs by a lot, but they did not finish last in the East with a record of 28-44-10 for 68 points. They finished two points ahead of Ottawa. It was a step in the right direction.
2021-22: Sutter saw that Henrik Lundqvist retired so he went to free agency for a goaltender. He signed a 30-year old Petr Mrazek to a seven-season contract for just over $63 million. Yes, he made Mrazek a $9 million goaltender. He barely finished above 90% save percentage in each of these seasons. Sutter also dealt a second rounder in 2022 for Tom Wilson and his massive deal ($5.17 million per season). So the Rangers had just two picks for the 2022 draft until they later acquired a second later on in the season. He also decided he needed to keep Jonas Brodin and his sub-seven average rating for a long time. Brodin received an eight-season extension for a cap hit of $4.17 million. This, among other moves, meant they were capped out. Jack Johnson and more late picks were dumped for Troy Stetcher’s cheaper but still not-worth-it deal. In-season, Sutter traded Artemi Panarin away to Vegas for Kaiden Guhle and Joshua Roy, who both would go onto be great players - but Panarin was the fall guy I did not expect to see given his contract. All the while, the Rangers stunk on the ice and returned to 16th in the East with a record of 27-45-10 for 64 points. Ottawa earned 76, so the Rangers really did fall. But at least they were not near the cap ceiling by season’s end. (Aside: The Devils did very well in the early part of this decade and were a game away from winning a Cup. Stupid Anaheim beat them seven.)
2022-23: With all of this cap space created, Brent Sutter decided he needed to fill it in the Summer of 2022. He decided in August to move a second rounder in 2023 and a second rounder in 2024 for Shea Weber. It is not quite Ryan Suter, but the spirit is here, acasser. Weber was 36 and still had four seasons left on his deal with a per-season cap hit of roughly $7.857 million. Sutter also decided spending millions on an aging Phil Kessel was worth it too. Allaire was still the head coach for the whole season by the way. The Rangers finished in the Eastern Conference basement again with a record of 26-45-11 with 63 points.
2023-24: Allaire was let go and Peter DeBoer came in. Sutter was not as wacky with the signings and the trade. But the team was still quite terrible despite the efforts of Wilson, Weber, Guhle, Jordan Greenway, and Zibanejad - who signed a fat extension amid all of this losing. This did not overcome bad depth, bad defending beyond Guhle and Weber, and a sub-90% save percentage from the Mrazek-Jones tandem. The Rangers finished with even fewer points: 51 points from a record of 21-52-9. At least they had their first rounder (and at this point, the players are increasingly generated players by the game so I do not know them.)
2024-25: Sutter’s big prize in free agency was an old Max Pacioretty for about $3.3 million and an old Erik Haula at $4.25 million. Neither were good. But Sutter did make a deal that would work out for the Rangers. They moved a package to bring in Kailer Yamamoto, who would go on to be one of the best players for the team for the remainder this entire simulation. The Rangers improved by eight points to finish with 58; their record was 21-45-16. An impressive tank job by Carolina was the only reason why they did not finish last in the East.
2025-26: Sutter splashed the cash in free agency to bring in Anthony Duclair (which went very well) and Artturi Lehoknen (which did not). He also hit the waiver wire. In EHM, the AI will waive players with expensive contracts they cannot live up to and the teams can barely afford. Sutter thought to pick up an expensive Andreas Athanasiou ($3 million each for the next two seasons) and Adam Larsson ($4.51 million each for the next two seasons) among others. So the team was at the cap ceiling and still stunk. They improved to 64 points - but finished last in the East again at 29-47-6.
2026-27: Sutter brought in a new head coach in Duncan Keith, brought back Jacob Trouba for over $8 million each for the next two seasons, and brought in Dmtiry Orlov for $7.645 million for one season, and made a bunch of deals that amounted to very little. I guess with Weber then off the books, it was time to spend. The Rangers went 25-45-12 to finish with 62 points and last in the East again. Sutter was out. In came Garth Snow as GM.
Amazingly, Sutter would make moves similar to Milbury. For every expensive deal he moved out like Johnson or Panarin, he would turn around and make a ridiculous signing like Mrazek for seven years or extending Brodin for eight. He sought out older players and gave them expensive one or two year contracts. Jones played out his contract. Zuccarello played out his deal. While the only remaining Rangers from the Milbury era by 2027 was Zibanejad, the influence was absolutely there. The amazing thing was that while he was not as disastrous as we were in 2019-20, the Rangers remained at or next to bottom in every season under his reign - and he kept his job through it all. They finished with fewer than 70 points in each season. It is remarkable that he was not fired earlier.
2027-28: Snow dumped Keith for a re-gen named Matis Clark as head coach. He re-signed Yamamoto to an actually fair deal, brought in Robert Thomas during the season to improve them, extended Guhle, and made a bunch of moves to move things around while maintaining some level of cap space (e.g. trading away Trouba in the last year of his deal). The last remaining Ranger to remember Milbury was Zibanejad and he was dealt away in 2028 for two prospects. With Mrazek nearing the end of his contract, the Rangers were well under the cap. The team was still very bad. They finished last in the East with 60 points and a record of 25-47-10.
2028-29: Snow replaced Clark with a non-regen Brett Leonhardt as head coach. The GM was more aggressive to improve his team and brought in Phillip Danault, Darnell Nurse, Nino Neiderreiter, Adrian Kempe, and J.T. Miller among others. While older, they were productive. OK, Niederreiter was not. But Snow exercised smarter cap management as only Yamamoto and Guhle had contracts go beyond two seasons. The Rangers would actually improve by a great deal in this season and not finish last in the East. They finished 11th in the East with a record of 33-36-13. With 79 points, they were still 20 behind the final playoff seed in the East. But it was their biggest improvement since Milbury took over. The stains of the Milbury and Sutter pasts were starting to be cleaned off.
2029-30: Unless I missed it in 2028-29, Dolan was replaced by someone named Kaden Hermann. Dolan was in his mid-70s and perhaps wanted to play out his days playing with the Sure Shot instead of being a chairman of a bad hockey team that missed the playoffs. By the way, they still were a bad team. A lot must have went right in 2028-29 as largely the same roster were ten points worse in 2029-30. They fell to 15th in the East with a record of 25-41-16. Only New Jersey, who cratered in this part of the decade, finished below them.
2030-31: Snow reloaded again and found more success akin to what happened in 2028-29. Yamamoto, Duclair, and Thomas returned to form. Josh Roy was very good again. Some of the game-generated players were actually good (especially the goalies) to join Nurse, Jake Virtanen, and Brandon Montour. Really. The Rangers bounced back in the standings to finish the season with a 36-33-13 record for 85 points. Yes, the Rangers finally achieved a points percentage of over 50%. They were in 12th, but tied with two other teams for 85 points. Progress was marching on.
2031-32: Snow was melted in this season. That is to write he was fired. I guess Hermann was more demanding than Dolan. Brian Leetch stayed on managing director the entire time. In any case, Snow was out and Kyle Raftis (I guess a generated staffer?) is in. GM #3 to try to get to a postseason that we ensured would not happen in 2019-20. Duclair was gone, but Yamamoto, Roy, and Thomas were still key parts of the forwards. As was a re-gen named Patriks Zabusovs. Combined with further good goaltending by made-up players, the Rangers stayed about the same. They finished 13th in the East with 83 points from a record of 34-33-15.
2032-33: Now most of the league were re-gens but the Raftis-managed Rangers still tried to soldier on. They did not change much and, as such, not much changed. They missed the playoffs by quite a bit but a strong conference meant their 79 points earned with a 38-41-3 record was good for 15th. Even with a 15-1 shootout record. The Devils were sadly way at the bottom with a Milbury-esque season where they earned 42 points.
2033-34: Raftin somehow kept his job longer than Snow despite performing a bit worse at this point. While Yamamoto and Guhle rebounded in their thirties, the squad of generated players were still lacking. Of note is that Rafkis brought back another player Milbury traded way back in 2019: Brady Skjei. Despite being 40 by the end of the season, he had two more seasons to go. I guess longevity was his strength. The Rangers were near the cap floor and the floor in the Eastern Conference standings with 75 points earned from a 31-41-7 record. The Devils finished above them, by the way.
2034-35: In the final year of Yamamoto’s contract, a signed Jesse Puljujarvi (who spent a lot of time in New Jersey), a 41-year old Skjei, and a new head coach in Michael Chiasson (he replaced Leonhardt), the roster finally achieved the goal. It took 15 seasons after Milbury for them to finish in the top half of the East. It was not easy and it did not happen until the final few weeks of the season. But with 99 points from a record of 44-27-11, they made the playoffs since being utterly ruined in 2019-20. They finished seventh in the East. They finally would play games in mid-April. But not May. Tampa Bay, led by Vasilevskiy (who turns out to enter the argument of best goalie ever) and Lafreniere (yes, they won that lottery in 2020), swept them in four games. The experiment was to see how long it would take after 2019-20 for the Rangers to return to the playoffs. I got my answer. 15 seasons since Milbury. I could finally stop simulating entire seasons.
We really ruined the Rangers. Not only did we put together a roster to really wreck their 2019-20 campaign, but the AI could not bring them out of it until over a decade later. The Rangers got to witness Vancouver winning three Cups, Florida winning twice, Tampa Bay winning twice, Philly winning one (led by Conn Smythe winner Kappo Kakko), the Devils coming within a game of a Cup (stupid Anaheim), Toronto, Chicago and Detroit winning one each, Calgary and Colorado earning championships, and Nashville getting their first ever Cup while they were on the outside looking in. Funnily enough, the one season they got in, the Isles took home Lord Stanley’s Cup.
Granted, their continued failures were extended by the computer. Eventually all of the deals we forced upon the Rangers either expired or were moved away. We do have to give some credit to AI Brent Sutter did a lot to compound the damage with loads of ugly contracts and sticking with some bad players with bad deals over others. I’m still amazed at the decision to trade for Shea Weber on top of that Mrazek contract and extending Brodin for eight seasons. Sutter continued what we did with Milbury. Snow was starting to overcome it and then management kneecapped themselves with firing him for Raftis. While Raftis did build the roster that got them back to the postseason, they slid back to do it and I honestly expected another GM to come in to make it happen.
The real-world lessons here are obvious. Management absolutely matters for a team’s success. With the Devils giving Tom Fitzgerald the full position, it will be his decisions that will determine where the team goes in the next few seasons. And even if they turn out to be the wrong ones, it is up to the owners and upper management near their level to make sure they hire the right GM to right the wrongs. Spending your way out of it through free agency or hoping to hit big on the draft alone is not likely to get it done. It is important to do well on all fronts and it is important cut loose anything that is not working out, whether it is a long contract or a player recently brought in by that GM. I agree with David Blitzer from the press conference that the players will decide if the team is good. They are the ones on the ice. Identifying which players will lead to the most success is the responsibility of management. When you intentionally or unintentionally splash the cash and acquire players who will not, then the team could suffer for a long, long time. And the New Jersey Devils in real life have arguably suffered quite a bit since the beginning of this decade.
All the same, this extended run of futility further justifies that we can call the experiment a success. While Milbury was fired in February 2019, we ensured that season would be a total failure. The Rangers continued to be failures throughout the following decade and a half. We ruined the Rangers in the short-term and medium-terms and the AI continued that in the long-term. They were uniquely terrible in 2020 and stayed terrible up until the 2034-35 season. Thanks to alslammerz, acasser, EliasStillRocks, and TheJRod2006 for helping to make the Rangers suck like few teams have ever sucked in the past.
Your Turn & Next Time
Thank you for reading through this longer-than-expected post. I did not anticipate the Rangers being playoff-less for 15 seasons after our Milbury experience and beyond. What is your reaction to how badly they became and how the badness persisted? Please let me know in the comments.
The next experiment comes from a suggestion EliasStillRocks had a while back:
Just a suggestion…. If you’re trying to make a near-perfect/excellent-playing team using GAR/WAR, you should try to do the complete opposite as well. Make the worst team possible filled with NHLers, and with reasonable amounts of rookies and/or AHLers (1-3 max on the team), and see how they fare in a full season. My guess would be that they still perform admirably, but are in the bottom third of the standings. Who knows, maybe they shock us?…. but probably not.
As we have had a team optimized for WAR, we will run a team that is WAR-minimal. CJ actually put such a roster together that can be used so we will use that. While there were calls to not use the Devils, I would like to use them again as the WAR-optimized team did so. I do not want to introduce different staff and systems to see how this team would do; I want to be able to compare this minimal squad with the optimized squad and see how much worse they would be in a simulated season. So we will do that for next week’s experiment.
If you have any additional suggestions for future EHM experiments, then please leave them in the comments as well. Thank you for reading.