Rangers final grades: Defense

May 29, 2012, by

Before we get to the report card for the Rangers blueline, let’s remember this: the Rangers enjoyed a spectacular season bested by only two teams in the entire league. A huge part of this success was because of the Rangers blueline. With that said, let’s look at the grades for the Rangers defensemen.

(p.s. if you missed it, here’s the Suit’s take on the top six scoring forwards this season – enjoy.)

Dan Girardi

For a significant part of the season Dan Girardi played like a Norris Trophy candidate. He was that good. Girardi enjoyed his finest season for the Rangers. With 29 points, a plus 13 rating, being an absolute work horse like few other in the entire league not to mention all the shot blocking, Dan Girardi literally does it all for the Rangers.

Aside from a very occasional stumble in the latter half of the season the only things that perhaps stop Girardi from being the perfect all round defenseman are his shooting percentage and lack of presence on the power play (1 goal). I really had to nitpick when trying to criticise Dan Girardi for this post. He is a richly deserved 2012 NHL All Star. Mid-season: A+/Full Season: A+/Playoffs: A+

Ryan McDonagh

When thinking about the biggest piece of theft in recent Rangers history it is prudent to remember Mr. McDonagh played just 45 games in the NHL (playoffs inclusive) before this season. With the Marc Staal injury someone had to step up and log big minutes this year and my word did McDonagh answer the call.

Like Girardi, McDonagh munched minutes, had some offensive pop to his game – that was more than could be expected for a first full year – and was physically impressive. That doesn’t even begin to do McDonagh justice when you consider his own shot blocking expertise, positional play and his ability to strip the puck carrier.

If there was a bone to pick with McDonagh’s season then it would be that he began to look tired in the playoffs (particularly offensively), which was likely due to the excessive workload. After 18 months as an NHL pro, McDonagh is a bona fide top pair defenseman. Thank you Bob Gainey and thank you Glen SatherMid-season: A+/Full Season: A+/Playoffs: A

Michael Del Zotto

Let’s not waste time regurgitating the unreasonable nicknames Del Zotto acquired prior to this season and the ridiculous trade requests from the less patient members of the fan base. For a vast majority of the year Del Zotto showed tremendous progress, impressive consistency and an impressive character to bounce back from a truly unfortunate sophomore season. Del Zotto displayed his offensive game once again with 41 points. He was among the league leaders in +/- for a long time.

And despite the stat being oft criticised – no mean feat for a man that was a combined -25 in 127 games entering the season – he showed a surprising level of physical play that was mostly devoid of previously unnecessary positionally sacrificing checks. Del Zotto couldn’t maintain his high standard all year. However, errors were more common toward the end of the season and his offensive game wasn’t quite as impressive as in the first half of the year. Tiredness? All considered, Del Zotto has re-established himself as an impressive young member of the Rangers. Mid-season: A-/Full Season: B+/Playoffs: B+

Marc Staal

I’m going to be somewhat harsh on Marc Staal because he has unbelievable talent. Staal missed a significant portion of the year with his concussion issues and naturally this has to be considered when judging the All Star defenseman. That said, Staal never seemed to get any real consistency in the regular season despite dressing for 46 games. With that in mind, it was encouraging that Staal improved in the playoffs suggesting he may get back to his best by the time next year creeps up on us.

This year Staal wasn’t his usual dominant self defensively. His decision making wasn’t as sure as normal and his offensive game – that had been growing in recent seasons – basically dried up. Despite all this, Staal came back to average nearly 20 minutes/game in the regular season and shot up to over 25 mins/game in the postseason. With a top four of Girardi, McDonagh, Del Zotto and a hopefully back-to-his-best Staal next season, will any team in the entire league boast a better top four? Mid-season: INC./Full Season: C/Playoffs: B+ 

Anton Stralman

Signed at very short notice after an unsuccessful pre-season with the Devils, Stralman was mostly a pleasant surprise as a Ranger after taking some time to enter and then solidify a place in the line-up. Stralman helped give the Rangers blueline depth when they lost Mike Sauer and while Marc Staal looked to regain game shape. He played a solid game offensively and minimized mistakes in his own end.

Averaging a healthy 17 minutes in the regular season, Stralman chipped in with 18 points and for the most part, was one of the few Rangers to actually raise their games in the playoffs. Even if it’s not with the Rangers, Stralman has done enough to not have to consider Europe for employment next year. Though, reports say he is considering crossing the pond for family reasons, which is too bad. Mid-season: A-/Full Season: B/Playoffs: B+

Stu Bickel and Jeff Woywitka

These two depth blueliners are bunched together here because both played on the bottom pair, both contributed at various times and both have (at best) question marks around their Ranger futures. While Woywitka likely won’t be back simply because of better options in the organisation, Bickel’s play started promisingly before dipping badly toward the end of the year.

Bickel hardly saw the ice when other blueliners were playing big minutes in the playoffs and his lack of polish, the occasional unnecessary fight and more talented options waiting in the wings mean Bickel might have to worry about his status with the club. At times Bickel looks like a promising, rugged depth defenseman, at others he looks a liability. Mid-season: B+, B/Full Season: C+, D+/Playoffs: C-, INC.

Steve Eminger

I’m really not sure what to say about Steve Eminger and that perhaps says a lot in itself. A season ruined by injury Eminger was often passed over by Tortorella for a man in Bickel who hardly saw the ice in the postseason. Eminger has played well in spots over the past two years for the Rangers, but if he wants a regular shift in the NHL next year (something that he is capable of), he won’t be back with the Rangers.

Drafted as an offensive blueliner, Eminger rarely threatened offensively and rarely stood out in general. Was it because of his injuries? We’ll never know. Mid-season: B/Full Season: D/Playoffs: INC.

Tim Erixon

When the Rangers opened their season in Sweden way back last October, Erixon made his NHL debut amid much anticipation. That said Erixon was drip fed minutes and certainly looked like he needed seasoning when judging his 18 game ‘season’ with the Rangers. Erixon was a quality player at the AHL level with 33 points in 52 games, which likely would have been even better were it not for injuries upsetting form and momentum. At times Erixon looks composed on the puck and his passing and skating ability, not to mention his additional experience gained from this year, should give him a strong chance at starting with the Rangers next season, depending on how the Rangers offseason plays out. INC.

Mike Sauer

If Mike Sauer returns next year and is able to play close to his 2010-2011 form, then the Rangers truly will have an embarrassment of riches on the back end even if Dave, Suit, myself or any of the Blog team suit up as the sixth defenseman. Mind you, I can hardly skate and two members of our group grew up playing in net.

Sauer was an unfortunate victim of a Dion Phaneuf hit that has left a huge cloud over his future. Once considered injury prone, Sauer had begun to establish himself as a good quality top four NHL defenseman until that hit. Sauer can’t be accurately measured by his 19 games this year, but by the heavy minutes the rest of the top four had to play in his absence and the tiredness they would eventually show. INC.


The grades above tell a story consistent with the Rangers season on the back end; the top four blueliners were a distinct strength while the bottom pairing (for various reasons) was in an almost constant state of flux. With more consistency in the bottom pair next year – perhaps through Sauer’s return and Erixon’s emergence – the Rangers could possibly boast the best blueline in the entire league, offering hope of another deep post season run.


  1. MBN says:

    Overall I agree with the season ending grades, and the playoff grades. I would have given Stralman a higher grade for the playoffs, but that is really nit-picking.

    The key next year is finding a 3rd pair that Torts trusts enough so that the Girardi-McDonagh pair, or whomever is the top pair, does not play 25+ minutes a night all season long. If we come out with a 3rd pair that gives a solid 15-17 minutes a games, we really will be tops in the league on the blue-line.

    • Seahorse says:

      i agree completely, look at how a couple more games of rest for lundqvist this year bested his performance. just taking off that wear and tear of playing 5 d-men in the playoffs is a necessity

  2. TommyT says:

    Another awesome write up guys!!! I am already sick of reading trade MDZ posts and sign Shultz.. why not keep him and sign shultz what a brilliant idea.

  3. Comnsnse says:

    Calling McDonagh a “theft” by the Rangers implies so actual sagacity by Sather. Please spare us that indignity,Bob Gainey is the culprit,in order the deal was dollars,Higging and MCdonagh a throw in! MDZ had a great seson showing more heft,smarts and toughness. The Rangers simply need 1 clear out D,hopefully McIllrath. Their problems are with the collection of third line forwards. I’d still put Staal in a deal and allow Erixson to replace him,particularly if he’s bulked up a little. And keep Stralman,he’s 25,mobile and would be an excellent 6 at a fair price.

    • Justin says:

      Firstly, A+ for word usage (sagacity). Second, I think it’s unfair to completely discount Sather’s desire for McDonagh’s inclusion in the Gomez deal. To simply dismiss it as a “throw in” is something we cannot back up with any factual basis and for all we know, McD could have been a point Slats had to fight for.

      I can see your argument for the fan base/media overblowing our organizational depth/talent, but let’s keep the argument fair and based on tangible evidence.

  4. Walt says:


    This would be a nice d-core, with interchangeable parts. One stay at home, one offensive d-man, per line. The Schultz kid could QB the PP, and then have MDZ QB the second unit!

    We don’t need any additional d-men for now, just get a sniper, or two, and re-sign Biron for another year.

    This would be a nice line up:


    Four very good lines, with sound offense, and defense, on all four lines. The second line, we’ll call the the speed line, would be tough as hell to defend against. The third line is your utility line, PK, also get some PP time, and defend as a checking line as well. The 4th line would be our energy line, that can add some scoring, PK, and chip in some scoring. All these lines are also interchangeable, Boyle to the third line, AA to the fourth,etc. Even Torts could play around with these lines without screwing it all up!

    AA has to get some weight on him, get in the gym, along with Tim, Hags, and Kreider.

    • Rickyrants13 says:

      Your lines seem good on paper, But the Rangers can not go into another year with not one player on their top 6 that cant knock someone on their azz. And as of right now Hags and Step do not score enough to make up 2.3rds of your 2nd line

      • Walt says:

        The sniper on line 1 is Parise, and line 2 is Kreider.

        Gabby, BR, Cally can all pitch in on the scoring side as well!

        • Rickyrants13 says:

          None of what you said addresses the lack of size up front. And so if Gabbs or Kreider get locked down. We have no scoring???

          1st and 2nd Lines should be made up of Scorer, power forward, Playmaker.

  5. Ray says:

    Generally good analysis, but I have one big quibble. For the playoffs, I’d give Girardi a B, hardly an A+. (agree with your season grade though!) He had a few nice rushes, but his defense was uninspired and at times careless. Unlike the other members of the top four, he always had an excellent left defenseman working with him. One key problem with the Ranger defense corps, which no one is addressing is that the Rangers have three top quality left defenseman and, if Sauer does not return, only one on the right. Del Zotto was impressive early, paired with Sauer, then Stralman, but was not nearly so effective when he started jumping back and forth.

  6. Walt says:

    The other day I inquired about Jesper Fasth, just read that he signed with the Rangers, looking forward to seeing this kid on the ice. They say he is a good two way player, typical Swede, and that’s not bad!!!!!

  7. Zen says:

    Agree mostly, but thought that Staal was clearly an A during the playoffs and MDZ was more of a C-. Del Zotto regressed badly in the Devs series and might be the reason we lost some of those close games. He was unbearable. I wouldn’t be shocked if they used him as trade bait after that performance, despite the good season. You just can’t make those types of glaring errors in the NHL, no matter how skilled you are.

    • Jackson says:

      Staal’s awful pinch in game 6 that left MDZ to deal with that 3 on 1 is seared in my mind. That and his pinch from the opening minutes of game 5(i think) that also lead to an odd man rush and a goal. He made some great plays too, but not enough to make up for it and give him an A.

    • Rickyrants13 says:

      All of them made misstakes in the playoffs But lets not lose our heads here. MDZ is a baby in this league. And we must not forget that.

      Lets stop giving up on these kids so soon. Most have 3 to 5 years before they reach their prime

  8. RagsGolfin says:

    Hey how about Girardi leaving Henrique wide open for the OT goal that sent the rangirls to Westchester Country Club?


  9. Ray says:

    McD from time to time pulls a move at the offensive blue line that makes me think of Leetch. Those fakes he pulls on opposing players at times are sweet.
    That kid is going to be a massive force in the NHL.

  10. Rob sahm says:

    Man if sauer was healthy we would not have burned out girardi and mcdonugh

  11. becky says:

    Don’t forget DG’s offensive dominance in the playoffs….. 🙂