When the Rangers signed defenseman Matt Gilroy out of Boston University in 2008, many thought they were getting a bonafide top-four defenseman. The general consensus was that Gilroy would be on the top-four pairing and quarterback the powerplay back to respectability. This was solid logic, as Gilroy captained the BU team to a national championship, and was their best defenseman during that run. It didn’t take Gilroy that long to produce in the NHL, scoring a goal in just his third career game. After his first month as a pro, Gilroy had three points (2-1-3), and was a +5 rating. While it wasn’t the offensive production many expected, he emerged as a solid two-way defender, averaging close to 17 minutes per game.
Unfortunately for Gilroy, he struggled mightily after that first month. The truncated NHL schedule (due to the Olympics), coupled with the fact that Gilroy had never played more than 45 games in a season, really started to take its toll on the young defenseman. His production slowed to a standstill, and his +/- rating dropped from +5 to a +1 before he was sent to Hartford in December 2009 to reassess his game. After a five game stint with the Wolfpack, he was re-called by the Rangers. Both sides hoped he had worked out his kinks in the minors.
Gilroy would play in 39 more games after being re-called, he would not score a single goal in that span. In fact, he would finish with a dismal line of 0-9-9, and a -3 rating in those 39 games before finding himself as a healthy scratch in lieu of the veteran Anders Eriksson, who was acquired at the trade deadline and called up from Hartford. When all was said and done, Gilroy’s rookie season was a bit of a head scratcher.
Many, including myself, blamed Gilroy’s lackluster rookie season on lack of conditioning in preparation for the vigors of an NHL season. The NCAA season is roughly 40 games, and is spread out over six months. The NHL season is 82 games in that same span. Gilroy’s rookie season was also during the Olympics, which forces the schedule to be much more compact with fewer days off between games. Many college players who jump straight to the NHL hit this proverbial NCAA wall, and it appeared Gilroy had done so as well.
Coming into the 2010-2011 season, Gilroy was coming in as a bottom pairing defenseman, who was seemingly on the bubble. He had to compete for the final two or three spots with newly acquired Steve Eminger, and rookies Michael Sauer, Ryan McDonagh, and Pavel Valentenko. McDonagh and Eminger were already written into the lineup by many, with Eminger being the veteran presence and McDonagh being the highly touted rookie out of Wisconsin that the Rangers were desperate to sign. In the end, McDonagh and Valentenko were a little too raw to play in the NHL, and the final three spots were awarded to Eminger, Gilroy, and Sauer.
When the season began, there seemed to be a rotation between Sauer and Gilroy for the final spot in the starting six. By the end of October, it was clear that Eminger and Sauer would comprise the bottom pair, and Gilroy was destined for the press box. Gilroy has seen some action since, but it has been as an injury replacement. Deserving or undeserving, it seems Gilroy has a permanent place in the press box. The deserving or undeserving part has been a hot topic for many Ranger fans.
To be rather blunt, the coaching staff knows more about the performance of their players better than fans do. As we saw with Petr Prucha, who was the eternal scratch before being traded to Phoenix, most of the time the coaching staff is right. Prucha was a former 30-goal scorer who seemed to have lost his game. When he played, he played hard. He always gave a solid effort, but the production wasn’t there. It seems both Tom Renney and John Tortorella were on to something, as Prucha now plays with the San Antonio Rampage. He wasn’t even claimed on waivers. Ironically enough, Prucha has found himself on a team with Ryan Hollweg, Jed Ortmeyer, and Al Montoya.
Gilroy’s situation isn’t all that different from Prucha’s. When Gilroy plays, he plays hard, and seemingly does a good job on the ice. In fact, his 1.1 GVT isn’t the worst on the team (Eminger – 0.1), and is only 0.3 behind Michael Del Zotto. However, what the coaches see in Gilroy is not what they are looking for. Although Gilroy has been decent, the Rangers needed someone who would throw their body around, which is why Eminger has been receiving so much playing time. The drop off between Gilroy and Eminger, if any, is negligible at best. So the Rangers coaching staff went with the more physical of the two. It has worked out fairly well thus far.
As for Gilroy, his best opportunity to play for the Rangers will be a long-term injury. His trade value is minimal, but he could be used as a piece to something bigger. For now, it seems that fans are going to have to trust in Tortorella’s decision to keep Gilroy in the press box. Gilroy can be a good piece for a team in need of a defenseman, but that team is not the New York Rangers.