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Let’s Experiment in EHM: Let’s Ruin the New York Rangers Part 1

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This week’s Eastside Hockey Manager experiment is the first of a two-parter to ruin Our Hated Rivals: the New York Rangers. This consists of the preseason and first three months and, so far, the Rangers are gloriously abysmal.

This is it so far.  And, so far, you love to see it.
This is it so far. And, so far, you love to see it.

Welcome to the fifth experiment in the Let’s Experiment in Eastside Hockey Manager (EHM) series. I hope you have enjoyed the Fourth of July. In last week’s experiment, a mostly Corsi-optimized team was constructed and won a Cup although they did not dominate like a WAR-optimized team. As it is Rivalry Week (technically, Rivalry Fortnight) on the SBN family of hockey blogs, I am taking a page from Football Manager fans online and so this experiment is to ruin Our Hated Rivals.

The Experiment

Re-do the 2019-20 season to make the New York Rangers as terrible as possible. Ideally without getting fired during the 2019-20 season.

The Approach

This is straight-forward as an experiment can get. Instead of making a team succeed, we need to make them as dismal as possible. Both in the short-term and in the long-term.

To start this one, I took suggestions from you, the People Who Matter, from the comments. There were really two suggestions, one I am pocketing for a reason to be named later in this post and one I utilized as much as I could. In order to maximize the community involvement, I will stop the game at January 1, 2020 and post the results - which is in this post - so we can all evaluate how they are and make further suggestions to screw over Our Hated Rivals as much as possible.

The limitation is to not get fired. I cannot guarantee this will happen although it could be argued I should have been fired already. I will add this clause to the experiment: If I do not get fired by the end of the season, I will resign and then run the game to see how long it will take an AI GM to return New York to the playoffs. That will give us a sense of how much long-term damage was done in addition to the short-term damage already done.

The Experiment In-Process Results: August 2019 to January 1, 2020

I started a new game for the 2019-20 season with the same base database I used in previous experiments but without modifications. As per alslammerz suggestion, I named the GM after the most notorious general manager in the tri-state area: Mike Milbury. Look at upon his works with the Islanders and despair. It was an amazing suggestion. At the start of every game in EHM, you get a message from the team’s board about their expectations:

The board expects a “respectable league position.”  Basements are respectable, right?
The board expects a “respectable league position.” Basements are respectable, right?

The fans were indifferent at the hiring of Milbury. They were going to get mad. Secret assistant GM alslammerz had a laundry list of suggested moves to kneecap the Rangers’ hopes before the season would begin. Here is what alslammerz suggested with my comments for each in bold:

Ruin the Rangers ideas:

Trades within the division, so as to strengthen the divisional rivals and weaken the Rangers. Also to be slightly realistic I tried to avoid the Rangers NMCs.

The first one that comes to mind seems more like a self-own than a rivalry week idea (sigh) but it’s trade Schneider for Igor Shesterkin. This way the Ranger tandem is Lundqvist and Schneider and carries a nice $14.5 million cap hit. Not sure if the money would work out, may need to have the Devils take on Strome for say, Kevin Rooney. (JF: Done. The fans and board were not happy about this move.)

Probably want to add a nice veteran presence on defense while cutting salary to make room for the goaltending platoon, so might want to send Jacob Trouba to Brooklyn in return for 36 year old Johnny Boychuk. (JF: Done. No unhappiness strangely.)

A no. 2 pick from the last season is ok, but a no. 2 pick with time to develop is even better. So Kakko heads to Philadelphia for Nolan Patrick. If we have to give up a prospect or pick to make that trade, we can. (JF: Also done - and Patrick is out for 6 months with a concussion. No unhappiness from the fans or board still.)

We don’t have enough LD on the team so we’ll need to trade a righty. Good thing we earned that extra cap space with the Trouba trade and the Strome trade, so we’ll trade Adam Fox for Jack Johnson. (JF: Done and without complaints.)

We need some versatility, and veteran presence, all while lowering the salary cap. So let’s trade pending UFA Jesper Fast to Columbus for Nathan Gerbe. (JF: Done and also without complaints.)

I’m a little worried about Carolina’s goaltending. At the very least they could use a solid prospect. So let’s trade them Georgiev for Anton Forsberg. He can lead the line in Hartford for us. (JF: This one could not be done. Carolina did not want to take on more salary despite Georgiev just making $792,000. I tried for Callum Booth instead. Nope. So I moved Georgiev to Colorado for prospect goaltender Petr Kvaca to get him out of here. The fans and board hated this one too.)

I’ll be honest, I hate seeing the son of Claude on the Rangers, so we’ll flip him to Washington for Garnet Hathaway, a slightly worse player with a slightly bigger cap hit. Honestly while we’re at it, let’s just add Filip Chytil to them for Nic Dowd. (JF: Done and done.)

Be sure not to bury Matt Belesky since we can afford that contract. (JF: Yes, I called up Beleskey. I made some other call-ups to fill out the roster such as Phil Di Guiseppe, Greg McKegg, Ryan Lindgren, and, for smaller purposes, Tim Gettinger and Michael Haley.)

Now that we’ve traded with everyone inside the division we can make our final trades. I think Brendan Smith is better as a LW so let’s trade Pavel Buchnevich to the Senators for Ron Hainsey. And Anthony DeAngelo had too good of a season in real life, let’s send him to Detroit for veteran journeyman Alex Biega. (JF: Both were done. I made Ottawa throw in prospect Maxence Guenette to make the deal less hate-able. The fans and board hated the DeAngelo-Biega swap.)

Now, alslammerz had a suggested lineup which did not have Brady Skjei, who was on the NY roster since this was the start of 2019-20. I thought about re-creating the Skjei trade in real life and then I realized if Carolina was not going to take on Georgiev, then they were not going to take on $5.25 million worth of Brady Skjei. I was also just barely over the cap after all these moves, so I improvised. I went to Minnesota and saw Jonas Brodin, who is a year older and $1.167 million cheaper. Minnesota would not accept Skjei for Brodin straight up. In an effort to sweeten the deal and hurt the Rangers’ long-term, I offered New York’s first round picks in 2020 and 2021 with Skjei. Minnesota accepted. Now I am just under the cap and the next GM has two fewer picks to work with. Predictably, the fans and board were unhappy about this transaction too. Given that the board and fans were fuming about only four of these deals, I felt things were going well. Thank you, alslammerz.

In terms of other moves, they were minor. There was a swap of prospects with Ottawa that the AI offered: defenseman Jacob Ragnarsson for goalie Kevin Mandolese. I said sure. Callum Booth was released by Carolina and so I offered him a NHL contract. Ahead of all of the European contract offers, Booth took the only NHL job and so I dumped him to Hartford where he is currently not that good in this game.

The summary of all of the moves:

The initial moves of Mike Milbury - with loads of thanks to alslammerz
The initial moves of Mike Milbury - with loads of thanks to alslammerz

The other suggestions came from acasser - and I will go over those later in the post.

The team went into training camp and I did not really do too much further to mess with the squad. I did utilize unit tactics to make every line more aggressive and more dump-and-chase happy. I did that for about a month into the season and then reverted to the default “normal” tactics. As it turned out, I did not need to sabotage the squad’s strategy or anything else to get the desired results.

First, the Rangers in this game suffered some significant injuries in the season’s first month. Artemi Panarin missed two weeks in October. Mike Zibanejad missed two weeks for back spasms in October. Nathan Gerbe was out for a week in October. That was the first line. Given that the other forwards feature - yes, feature - Kevin Rooney, Nic Dowd, and Garnet Hathaway, the offense was further worse. Ron Hainsey was out for three weeks, which gave Ryan Lindgren an opportunity to show how “meh” he was. The injuries helped “kickstart” a stunning nine-game losing streak to start the season. They finally got their first win - and first points in the stadings - against Tampa Bay on October 29, 2-1.

Second, I know there is variation in the game for how players performed and I, for lack of a better word, rolled some less-than-good performances from the few players I expected to be good. Zibanejad has not been that good. Panarin has not been a point machine. Some of the acquired players like Brodin and Hainsey performed worse than I expected. Younger players like Brett Howden and Lias Andersson have shown they are not NHL-quality players at the moment. The only players who have played very well so far in this season were Chris Kreider and Henrik Lundqvist.

So far in this experiment, Lundqvist is in the middle of the most interesting lesson so far. Lundqvist has actually been one of the better goaltenders in the entire NHL. A save percentage of 91.6% is not that high in real life but it is just outside of the top-ten in this EHM season. His average rating is 7.77, which is one the top fifty in the entire league. Yet, as you will see, his performances have not been enough to make this team competitive. These Rangers have made the least out of what their goaltenders have been giving. Yes, Schneider and his 89% save percentage is not that good but I have seen a lot worse from Schneider in other EHM games. The lesson: Good goaltending alone will not make up for a lot of sub-standard performances from the skaters.

Third, I actually had to put in a little effort to get the team some wins. As much as I would love to write that the Rangers are entering 2020 in the game with a record of 0-39-0, remember that I do not want to be fired in the middle of the season. I want to make it through the regular season. I am pleased (?) to state that even when I did so - things like scratching Rooney or Howden when they were battling to be the worst player on the roster - the Rangers kept taking ‘L’s like they were going out of style. Amazingly, the only time during the season so far where the board expressed their disappointment was when I defended Alex Biega’s performances to the press. Again, Howden, Rooney, and others were playing worse than Biega. But doing that took James Dolan’s attention away from whatever mess he was making with the Knicks and practicing with the Sure Shot band. Go figure. It also did not make Biega play any better. Regardless, the board has been very disappointed but they have not gone out of their way to warn me or give me the dreaded vote of confidence. Yet.

They did specifically note at the start of December to ignore the fans who have been calling for the end of Milbury’s reign since mid-October about when Panarin became hurt.

I think Milbury’s seat is warming up.
I think Milbury’s seat is warming up.

Anyway, that all said, we are currently on track to ensuring 2019-20 is a total disaster for the Rangers. Here is the team’s record as of January 1, 2020:

The Rangers are owning the basement!
The Rangers are owning the basement!

Ottawa is the second worst team in the NHL, they are currently on a ten-game losing streak, and the Rangers under Milbury are still sixteen points behind them. You can see from the goal differential what the problem is: scoring. There is not nearly enough scoring. The Lundqvist-Schneider tandem has been decent to even good, considering all things considered. But you are just not going to win many games when averaging fewer than two goals per game. And at 5-29-5, this team has not won many games.

The interesting thing is that a lot of the losses were not blowouts. A lot of 1-3s and 2-4s with an empty netter. Plenty of heartbreaks, but very few games where they lost by four or more goals. Occasionally, they would be shutout; more often they would just get one or two goals and that is it. But the team just does not have the firepower. Even with a first line of Panarin, Zibanejad, and Gerbe on an offensive attacking mindset, they just did not get it done. I did not have to go really off the wall and make Lundqvist play center or put out five defensemen on a power play or making everyone play ultra-defensive hockey with shooting very rarely or anything obviously terrible. Just letting AI David Quinn telling his team to play normally has yielded a record that is on pace to be one of the worst in Rangers’ history. A 19.2%

In terms of the players’ performance, read it and weep:

The Rangers players by average ratings so far this season.
The Rangers players by average ratings so far this season.

Just four players are averaging above a seven rating, which is considered to be the mark between good and not-quite-so-good. They are, in order: Lundqvist, Panarin, Kreider, and Schneider. Panarin at 7.29 is not bad for most, but for $11 million it is a disappointment. Especially since that rating comes with just nine goals, nine assists, and 59 shots in 31 games. Zibanejad below a seven is a surprise; seeing Brodin and Hainsey below 6.5 is a surprise, and Rooney and Howden worked their way up to averaging a six after weeks of being below it. There is just a whole lot of “meh” across the roster. That is a shame considering the goaltending tandem:

These goalies deserve a better team in front of them. They will not get it.
These goalies deserve a better team in front of them. They will not get it.

Lundqvist is doing the best he can and Schneider has not been horrid as a #2 goalie. Yet, they do not get the goal support they badly need. As a result, they have five wins between them. Which is fantastic from the standpoint of this experiment to ruin the Rangers. The worst ever season they ever had in an 80+ game season was in 1984-85 when they went 26-44-10 for a point percentage of 38.8% (and made the playoffs since they were fourth in the division) per Hockey-Reference. The worst ever point percentage season in Rangers history was way back in 1943-44 with an atrocious 17% but that was in a six-team league with 50 games. This 5-29-5 team is on track to rival them for worst of all time.

So far, so good at making the Rangers so bad. Thank you, alslammerz.

Your Turn for Part 2

Here was the other suggestion for how to ruin the Rangers from acasser:

If you’re looking to do damage to Our Hated Rivals for the long(er) haul, there are some pretty terrible contracts out there with a fair amount of term left on them. Guys like Cory Schneider and Johnny Boychuk as suggested above have two years left on their deals; bad, but something that a GM can extract himself from soon enough.

But if you’re looking to do some extended damage to Gotham? Aim for guys like Andrew Ladd, Frans Nielsen, or the comedy tag-team of Ryan Suter and the Six Billion Rupee Man. Those are contracts with many years left to run on them, for aging players whose play can be expected to fall off but whose contracts will continue to bring many happy returns for years to come, long after the Schneiders and Boychuks of the world have ridden off into the sunset.

I decided to not follow these because alslammerz’ suggestions put the team just over the cap and I had to improvise something for Skjei to make it all work. 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.

So I want to know what your ideas are to further ruin the Rangers. They are abysmal as-is and with a record of 5-29-5 just before the halfway mark of the season, I would like to know what you would like to see happen to inflict some long-term damage. I think it is more practical to inflict acasser’s suggestion of adding some longer team deals. But I want to know what you would like to see in specific. To help you out, here is the team’s situation in terms of contracts:

The Rangers’ contract situation as of 1/1/2020 in this EHM game.
The Rangers’ contract situation as of 1/1/2020 in this EHM game.

There are plenty of players that will come off the books in 2020. It may behoove us to extend some of these players or move them for players on longer contracts. Kreider, in particular, can definitely bring in a good package in return. Perhaps for one of the players acasser suggested. It is worth noting that Buffalo, Edmonton, and Washington are currently interested in Gerbe. For some reason, Florida is looking at Howden. Those are some places to start in terms of bringing in some longer-term players so the next GM does not have a lot of space to initially work with in the summer of 2020.

Of course, I want to know your other suggestions to make the Rangers even worse. I am thinking David Quinn should be fired, which would mean the Rangers would have to pay him $2.5 million each for the next three seasons. After all, he’s the bench boss for a team that is 5-29-5. Perhaps it would give Milbury some more life to stay on through the season. But maybe that record means he should stay as long as possible. I want to know you want to see and I will try to make it happen in the game. Please leave your additional ideas to make the Rangers suck even more than they suck already (and inherently) in the comments.

And if you have any additional suggestions for future EHM experiments, then please leave them in the comments as well. Thank you for reading.