Are the Rangers Still Cup Favorites?

By: Cullen Raidna

After winning the President’s Trophy this season it was obvious that the New York Rangers would be one of the favorites to win the Stanley Cup this June. While they handled a very much depleted Pittsburgh Penguins team in the first round, they proceeded to defeat the Washington Capitals in seven games, and now find themselves down two games to one in the Eastern Conference finals to the Tampa Bay Lightning. The question everyone wants answered is: Are the Rangers still a favorite? They have the defense and the goaltending to do it but can they? My answer is simple: no, and here is why.

We all know the saying: “Offense wins games but defense wins championships,” In a year that offense has been down, finding a way to put the puck in the net has become something that teams have to try a little harder at. Yes, the Rangers defensive core is one the best, or perhaps the best in league. In fact, in this year’s playoffs the Rangers rank fourth in Goals against per game at 2.20. The problem the Rangers have is offense. They come in tenth out of 16 teams that make the playoffs in goals per game at a 2.20. The top four teams in this category? Three of the four are still contending for the Cup: Anaheim at a staggering 3.73, Chicago at 3.00 and their current opponent, Tampa Bay, at 2.94. While all of these teams rank below New York in goals against per game, the difference lies in the offensive fire power that each of these teams possesses. The Rangers have just two players that have double digit points this post season. Tampa Bay has four players in the top ten, including playoff points and goals leader Tyler Johnson, with 18 points and twelve goals, not to mention his hat trick in game two of this series. Among the two Western Conference teams, Anaheim has two players in the top ten, and Chicago has two and has one outside the top ten with eleven points. Last series they went up against NHL regular season goals champion Alex Ovechkin, and assists leader Nicklas Backtrom. While the Rangers held these two in check, the problem still remains to be their offense. While the Rangers won the series, they were out-scored by Washington 11-10. In just three games this series the Rangers are being out-scored by a staggering 13-9. Even in the Pittsburgh series, while outscoring the Penguins 11-8, the Rangers struggled offensively. Yes their defense is phenomenal, as well as their goaltending but, plain and simple, if you cannot score you are not going to win hockey games.

The Rangers special teams numbers are not all that great either. They hold a very low penalty kill percentage at 80%, while Tampa Bay owns the fifth best power play at 22.6%. The Rangers also hold an average power play percentage at 20.4%. Both the Penguins and Capitals sit in the top five penalty killing teams in the playoffs this year. Even Tampa Bay holds a better penalty kill than the Rangers, at an 82.1%. A big contributor to this problem is their super star Rick Nash. Nash has just two goals in 15 games this post season. He has zero points on the power play and only seven points overall. Not exactly the production the Rangers were looking for after his 42 goals during the regular season, six of which came on the man advantage. Another issue has also been the play Martin St. Louis. The veteran has only six assists this post season. In the 2003-2004 Stanley Cup run with the Lightning Marty had 24 points in 23 games. In 2006 despite only playing five games he still managed to score four goals. His measly six points in 15 games this post season is not the production the Rangers need from a guy who has 89 points in 103 career playoff games.

One thing that has been proven this season is that if your big time scorers are not producing, you are not going to win games. The Pittsburgh Penguins struggled down the stretch because Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin were not producing like they should be. Tampa Bay was able to knock off a Montréal team with world class goaltender Carey Price because their big producers in Tyler Johnson, Nikita Kucherov, and Steven Stamkos where not held off the score sheet consistently. This continues to be the case as Kucherov and Johnson are off to phenomenal starts this series. Unless the Rangers can find a way to produce more offense, and get production from Rick Nash and Martin St. Louis, they can kiss their Cup dreams goodbye.  

A Change in the PAT

By: Jacob Rayyan

On May 19, the NFL voted to move the point-after-touchdown opportunity back to be snapped at the 15 yard line. This change was one of the three proposals brought forth by the owners to the league. With NFL kickers making over 99% of their PAT kicks in the last five years, per, it is fair to say that the PAT has become one of the more boring parts of the NFL game today. Commissioner Roger Goodell and the NFL are committed to putting an exciting and entertaining product on the field, one win which the fans are clearly and continuously interested in what is happening in the game.

Moving the PAT to the 15 yard line now means that after every touchdown, the kicker will need to make about a 33 yard field goal. While this is still a totally reasonable kick and should be converted well in the 90% range, it does add more suspense to what is otherwise a meaningless part of the game. While many critics argue that there was no need to change the system, using the quote “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it,” ultimately Goodell felt that it was time to do away with the easy PAT attempt and to make it more of a challenge.

While I like the change and think it is a step in the right direction in keeping the game exciting and suspenseful, I would have liked to see the NFL go a little farther in its efforts to keep fans interested. One of the proposals was a much better way of doing things than the system the NFL adopted. The proposal set forth was similar to the current one in that the PAT would be moved back to the 15 yard line, however the difference is that the two-point conversion would be moved to the one yard-line as well. I think this proposal was much better for the league in a lot of ways.

In an effort to promote excitement, nothing would have been better than the previous proposal I just mentioned. This surely would have had NFL teams clamoring and debating on whether or not they would go for the two-point score, or be more defensive and opt for the field goal instead. The NFL is a copycat league in that once a few coaches do something, it is not long until league wide adoption occurs. Think of a scenario where, if the proposal had been passed, you see offensives experts such as Sean Payton and Chip Kelly putting in entire pages in the playbook designed to score two points each and every time they score. Surely, the rest of the league would adopt those plays and make them their own, ensuring that the game becomes much more exciting at the end of every touchdown, rather than many fans (including myself) looking away from the TV or quickly taking a break from watching the game. Head coaches would feel pressure from fans, owners and GM’s alike to put together creative and effective plays at getting the ball into the end zone,otherwise they could be seen as weak and unable to rise to the challenge.

Another side effect of the league adopting this rule system would be that the value of running backs would spike up to more historical levels. It is of no surprise to everyone that in this modern era of pass happy teams, the traditional NFL running back is becoming less and less valuable. However, if a scenario arose where a big brusing fullback could come in a few times a game and run an iso right up the middle, as teams should do at the one yard line(except for the Seahawks), suddenly, the modern NFL running back can have some relevance again and be looked on as an important offensive position again.

Overall, the league made a smart, safe move by moving the PAT back to the 15 yard line. This makes the PAT an unautomatic play that will force the fans both at the stadium and in their homes to pay attention in case they miss something big. With the league also adopting the rule that if the defensive team scores from the play, they get two points, anything is possible. I still believe, however, that the NFL could have gone one step further and move the two-point conversion attempt to the one yard line, essentially ensuring that more teams will opt to go for the two-point conversion instead of the PAT, making the game instantly more exciting to watch. I think early on, many will view this as a good decision by Goodell and the league, until ultimately the league and owners become bored with the system, as they were with the previous system. Until then, let’s see now how the game is affected by the new rules announced by the league. 

Does Tom Brady Deserve the Punishment?

By: Jacob Rayyan

On January 18th, 2015 the New England Patriots played the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC Championship game. When Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was intercepted by Colts linebacker D’Qwell Jackson, Jackson took the ball to his equipment manager as a souvenir. It is reported that the equipment manager was the first to notice that the ball Jackson intercepted was underinflated. From there, league officials reportedly found eleven of the twelve footballs used by the Patriots that half to be under inflated( that number however was changed to one rather than eleven). From there, the media blew open the reports during the two week hiatus between the AFC Championship Game and the Super Bowl, all the while the league said that they would address the issue after the Super Bowl to prevent distractions for the Patriots.

In the Well’s report released last week, Tom Brady, NFL Posterboy coming off another Super Bowl victory, was cited to have ‘probably known’ about the ball boy deflating footballs. While this report was not very conclusive, it was enough for the league determine that, by the team at least being aware of what was occurring, the integrity of the game had been compromised. Whether you believe that Brady should be punished for his actions or not, the NFL does not take kindly to events that challenge and threaten the integrity of football. This, ultimately is what caused Brady to be punished for his actions. It was not the fact that the outcome of the game was somehow altered by deflating the balls a few PSI below regulations, the Patriots outplayed the Colts in that game in nearly every facet; it was the simple truth that the rules were broken, and because of that someone has to get punished.

The NFL announced that Tom Brady will be suspended for the first four games of the season. Besides other punishments to the franchise including a one million dollar fine and the loss of the upcoming year’s first round draft pick, the biggest discipline handed down by the NFL will be the loss of Brady for the first quarter of the season. This will seriously hinder the Patriots chances of making the postseason, at least early on, as the Patriots play two teams (Steelers and Cowboys) that were playoff teams last year. Assuming the Patriots go a totally reasonable 1-3 in Brady’s absence, suddenly every game from then on would be a near must-win situation for the team.

I believe that while Tom Brady deserved to be punished, a four game suspension is too strict. The NFL understandably wants to set a precedent, but derailing the team's playoff chances before the season even started is not the means to do it. A much more suitable punishment for Brady was to get a two game suspension, ensuring that this behavior does not happen again, all the while giving the Patriots a chance to overcome the punishment and remain in playoff contention.