One of the less talked about narratives of this season has been the New York Rangers unheralded blue line, particularly their ability to provide offense. When most people think of d-men with offensive ability, they always tend to think about players with big point shots or nifty powerplay quarterbacks.
The Rangers don’t really possess either, at least in the traditional sense. And yet if you look at the stats and project them against a full season, you’ll find that the Blueshirt’s blueline has quietly put up a decent amount of points in this abbreviated season.
Had this been a full 82 game season, Michael Del Zotto would be on pace to put up 35-40 points (again), as would have McDonagh. Girardi is creeping up on 30 pt territory and Marc Staal was on pace for a 40+ point season. All of these players have had to carry the weight defensively at various points during the season either because of zone starts or because of top flight match-ups. And yet these core d-men all still found a way to potentially clear 30+ points.
And who the hell knows what John Moore could accomplish with a full season on Broadway.
If you look around the conference, particularly those in the playoff picture, few teams have the kind of blueline depth we have. The Penguins have a bit of a drop off after Kris Letang and Paul Martin. The same applies for the Capitals after John Carlson and Mike Green. The Islanders aren’t much without Mark Streit patrolling the blueline. The Bruins have some depth after Chara, but not to the extent we do. Toronto, Montreal, and Winterpeg all have their stars, but I’ll take John Moore over any of the players they have on their 3rd pairing.
At the end of the day, you have to give credit to this coaching staff. No one thought Staal would be anything more than a defensive defensemen. McDonagh was tabbed a second pairing defensemen by most scouting reports. Even Girardi was thought of as just a shot blocker and nothing more just a few short years ago. Torts, Sully, and Schonie have molded these guys to be more than what the experts predicted these kids would become. To think some of them still haven’t reach their peak yet is quite enticing.
The one thing that ties all of our defensemen together from MDZ right on down to Eminger is skating. Skating is something Torts has preached since he was first handed the job four years ago. Rozi, Mara, Morris, even Redden were all good defensemen in their own right, but they didn’t fit the Rangers team template. This coaching staff wants our defensemen to be aggressive.
The staff wants them joining the rush, pinching off the blueline, forechecking, all the while being able to get back into position and not sacrificing d-zone play. You can’t be great at those things without being strong on your toes, but they have and they’ve gotten the job done. Not one of our core blueliners are less than solid in our defensive zone. Even Stralman has become a much more competent player in his own end zone than he was in Columbus and Eminger has been eating minutes and we got him for Voros, who was like Avery without the fashion sense.
When it comes to the defense, this organization has drafted well, traded well and has filled in the gaps with capable free agent signings. Finally, coaching has made it all work together. Should the Rangers go deep in the playoffs, don’t underestimate the blueline. Hank gets all the praise. Forwards get the headlines. But the defense is still this team’s backbone and should be for the foreseeable future.