Oct
01

Rangers’ offense figures to be much improved, but what about the defense?

October 1, 2014, by

Dan Boyle will provide more offense, but he’s a downgrade from Anton Stralman in the defensive zone

Just over a year into Alain Vigneault’s tenure as coach of the Rangers, the team’s roster already looks dramatically different than the one he inherited last June. Granted, roster turnover is nothing new for New York, but the moves made over the last 15 months have Vigneault’s fingerprints all over them.

Black and Blueshirts like Brian Boyle and Ryan Callahan are gone and in their place are players with much more skill, like Dan Boyle and Martin St. Louis. Vigneault arrived with a reputation for being a proponent of analytics and a master of matchups, but his actual top priority since arriving in Manhattan has been far simpler: get the team to score more goals.

There’s no doubt the Rangers are better positioned to do that now. The new Boyle should provide a huge boost for the power play, prime spots have been opened for young forwards with scoring potential like Chris Kreider, and as we’ve seen in the preseason, there is plenty more offense on the way.

But on the flip side, the team’s defense is suddenly in question.

The downgrade from Anton Stralman to Boyle in the defensive zone figures to be substantial and top-pairing blueliner Dan Girardi looked like a shell of himself last postseason. Factor in the bullet holes the #fancystats crowd has put through Marc Staal this offseason and the mediocrity of John Moore, and suddenly what was once a team strength seems a little shaky.

And though the Blueshirts brought in defensive depth this offseason, it came in the form of quantity, not quality. Prospects Dylan McIlrath and Conor Allen figure to be next in line if any of the starting six goes down, but neither is proven or has a particularly high ceiling. The only defensive prospect with real potential is Brady Skjei, and he won’t join the team until next season, if then.

The once terrific group of defensive forwards is also much weaker, especially with Derek Stepan on the shelf. New York had one of the top checking lines in hockey last season with Brian Boyle, Dominic Moore and Derek Dorsett, but only Moore remains. He could be the lynchpin to the checking line this year, but it’s also possible that he’ll be asked to contribute in a top-six role, at least while Stepan is out.

The rest of the checking line could be comprised of some combination of Oscar Lindberg, Jesper Fast, Tanner Glass, Chris Mueller, Lee Stempniak and Ryan Malone. The two young Swedes are dependable in their own end, but will be learning on the fly in the NHL. None of the veterans have really been used in this manner before – with the exception of Glass, who has been crucified all summer. Indeed, this year it seems likely that the Blueshirts will forgo a traditional checking line in favor of four balanced units.

Of course, a questionable defensive team can be made to look great with Henrik Lundqvist in net, but John Tortorella’s Rangers thrived because of their team-wide commitment to protecting The King’s territory. In Vigneault’s second year, his foot soldiers will likely be much better at invading the enemy’s, but at what cost to their own?
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37 comments

  1. ranger17 says:

    Rhere could also be atrade before the real games begin

  2. MBN says:

    Almost sounds like you are saying that AV’s mantra is….”If we have the puck, you can’t score”.

    • Chris A says:

      That’s how all good teams operate now. As much as we loved the Black and Blueshirts, that team was never going to win anything.

      • Kevin says:

        Absolutely, and I think it’s the right direction. But I also expect a significantly weaker defensive team, which isn’t a good thing either

        • Dave says:

          I still think that 4th line gets the majority of the DZ starts. Glass-Moore-Fast. Can Moore and Fast cover for Glass’s defensive inefficiencies?

          • Puck Luck @Centerman21 says:

            I know this is an old post but I read last season that Ulf Samuelsson works with the defensive forwards like the 4th liners as much as he works with the defense. With 2 defensive specialists with him, I think he can get better defensively. He needs to be the Physical presence on that line. If he’s not the 13th forward he has to be the guy that makes the attacking team work for every inch of ice. Last season our fighters were too small. 1 Glass can sub for Carcillo & Dorsett. I think Glass should really be the 13th forward or be waived. Stewart in Buffalo would be a better bottom 6 fit on an AV led team. He fights & scores. His metrics weren’t nearly as bad in St Louis as Glass is.

        • Chris A says:

          That’s why we have The King backing all of this up, right?

          • Dave says:

            Still need to play well in their own zone. An All-World goalie can only do so much.

            • Chris A says:

              True, but it’s not like the Rangers lose Brian Boyle and all of a sudden turn into the Caps. All of the Rangers vets are responsible in their own zone.

              The only Rangers that truly scare me on defense are Miller and Kreider and whoever the 4th C will be, other than that I feel confident in all the Rangers forwards, yes, even Tanner Glass.

              • Puck Luck @Centerman21 says:

                Dom Moore should be 4C. He’s a great defensive Pivot. Why would that scare you? 4LW is a bigger Question. I think Fast & Mueller should be the 4th line wingers. One can play off wing on the left side and that’s 2 more righties than we had. Listen to AV talk on the Bleeding Blueshirts podcasts #25. He emphasised the importance of L/R balance.

        • Puck Luck @Centerman21 says:

          I honestly thought this would happen when AV was hired too. The team he acquired was a perfect fit for his uptempo strategy. He had the defensive horses to play that way. Along with a team loaded with talented skaters. I thought his Vancouver teams got worse as he tried to mold them. Defense wins championships. The Rangers were pretty good offensively but great defensively.

  3. Rangers Fan in Boston says:

    Kevin,

    You bring up a some interesting scenarios and narratives, but what’s your opinion on the direction of the team? Is this team, overall, in a better or worse place than they were 1 year ago? 2 years ago?

    • Kevin says:

      Honestly, I think it’s pretty similar. Weaker on D and down the middle, much stronger down the wings. Better depth overall up front, lots of good prospects. I do think the transition in style they’ve made was necessary though

      • Dave says:

        It’s actually a bit funny, C depth is a bit weaker on paper, but Miller has been phenomenal this preseason. I didn’t really expect that.

        The way I see it, Brass needs to replace BR’s even strength totals and Boyle replace BR’s PP totals. Miller replaces Brass’s ES numbers, and we are pretty much back to where we were last year.

        • The Suit says:

          Great article Kev. What’s interesting is that a lot of teams now and ditching dump and chase/zone collapse schemes for more puck possession. Everyone is trying to do the same thing. Will be interesting to see how AV stays ahead of the curve.

  4. RangerMom says:

    Yup. For all the hyperventilating about how good the team has looked in preseason (not here so much), no one seems concerned that we have some glaring weaknesses on D (including precious little/no depth). I’m thinking we need to do a deal to shore up the back end.

    • Chris A says:

      How much depth do you want?

      Staal is a guy that can seamlessly step into a #1 role if needed, while Klein can easily play 2nd pair minutes if needed.

      Granted the Rangers 7th – 10th options are underwhelming but what team doesn’t have that issue?

      • Kevin says:

        The heavyweights out west have solid vets sitting in the press box on many nights. And no, I don’t think Staal is an adequate #1 nor is Klein a second-pairing guy on a good team

        • Chris A says:

          That’s your opinion on Staal and Klein, I disagree, but I respect your opinion and I’m certainly not going to fight you on that.

          Where I think you are wrong though is the depth in the West. Looking at the rosters for the Kings, Blackhawks, Sharks and Blues, their 7th/8th D are not impressing me at all. They’re not significantly better than the Rangers group of Hunwick/Allen/Kostka/Kampfer/McIlrath. We’re talking about guys like Ian Cole, Michael Roszival, Scott Hannan, Jeff Schultz and Matt Greene (Full disclosure, I have no idea about the young Ds on those four teams, so maybe these guys are hardly going to play this year). None of those guys are world beaters, they’re just names we’re somewhat familiar with.

          The one team you are right about is Anaheim. Somehow they are stacked on the blueline and still have $10M in cap space. Of course, they are counting on rookie goalies so we’ll see how that works out.

        • RangerMom says:

          I agree, Kevin. MacD is a superstar. After that? Stacked up against the rest in the East, I think we do alright. But heaven forbid someone goes down. Right now, HUNWICK (who IS he?) is the frontrunner for 7th D. The rest are just not there, and there’s not a lot in the pipeline. We seem to have a wealth of good forwards — I say let’s make a trade.

      • Dave says:

        Klein is not a top four D. Rangers are top heavy there.

    • Kevin says:

      Not sure if they can get immediate help, but the excess of young Fs could be valuable to trade down the road

  5. Paco 33 says:

    Solid analysis but it may be too early to make a negative generalization about our defense from this time last year.

    On defense we’ve replaced Stralman, MDZ & Falk with Dan Boyle, Klein & someone who’s going to be at least as good as Falk (not exactly a lift). Girardi’s performance in the playoffs is cause for concern and Moore must show improvement but at least on paper this doesn’t seem to be much of a drop-off in talent – at least not yet.

    Up front, Glass for Dorsett is at worst a wash and is more probably an upgrade (the biggest qualm about Glass is his contract). B Boyle was very under-rated and his defense is going to be missed but some combination of Fast/Stempniak, who are solid two-way players, and Malone, who gives us the size we were missing last year may be enough to mostly compensate for his loss, as well as Cally’s. And MSL is pretty good getting back on D.

    We’ll be even faster than we were at this time last year, especially with Duclair. And we’re going to have a bit more size, especially with Miller and perhaps Hayes and/or Malone. While we’ll score more goals, defense is a legit concern. The hope is that a better PP, with D Boyle, will more than make up for any shortfall between a better O and perhaps a weaker D.

    But overall, this is a stronger, deeper, faster team than we were at this time last year – a team that made the Cup Final.

    • Fotiu is God says:

      Right-on, Paco.

      We’ve yet to suit up for Game One and today’s post is a tsunami of dread for our D. Which, coincidentally, runs completely counter to today’s TSN eval of The Blueshirts, which lauds our blueliners. (Did somebody miss their Zoloft?) I mean…

      No doubt, we’ll miss Stralman’s serviceability and calm demeanor on the backline. He was relatively solid through 80, then played beyond himself in the postseason.

      Inasmuch, living on The Left Coast means seeing a great deal of Dan Boyle. When you see his head-man pass, not to mention the QB skills on the power-play the loss of Stralman will become negligible.

      • Dave says:

        “Defense” does not necessarily mean “blue line.” Defense is team defense as a whole.

        • Fotiu is God says:

          Point taken, Dave.

          At the same time, team defense–especially given today’s puck possession and speed game–also encompasses transition from D to O, which is arguably the defining facet of Dan Boyle’s game.

          Stralman was as workmanlike and dependable as your pre Planned Obsolescence Volvo station wagon. (Think mid to late 80s.) Ultimately though, Stralman showed as much dedication to the venerable sweater as Capt. Cally did.

          Boyle’s more dynamic. Takes more chances. Can still go end-to-end. Moreover, he wanted to be here.

          • Dave says:

            Boyle will certainly add more offensive punch on the score sheet, but to say Stralman didn’t help the transition game is a misrepresentation of what he brought.

            Stralman excelled at making the quick, smart pass to lead the rush out of the zone. Nothing fancy, just move the puck up. It didn’t show up in assists, but it showed up in his #fancystats.

    • Dave says:

      Glass for Dorsett is not a wash, as I pointed out last month. Glass is atrocious. But again, I hope I”m wrong there.

      Boyle for Stralman is basically a wash, but Klein is a marginal improvement on MDZ. There are worse options than Klein at 6D, but he’s not exactly good, as Martin pointed out.

      Replacing Boyle with Fast is probably a net positive.

      Malone is a non-factor for me. Counting on him as anything more than a 13F is expecting too much. If he exceeds it, then great, I’m happy. Same goes for Lombardi.

      Team is faster, deeper at W (but not C), same at D for the most part. Stronger? Meh, call it even. They certainly have a lot of question marks in their own end.

      • Paco 33 says:

        Glass for Dorsett: We’ll see but AV’s earned the benefit of the doubt (and then some) and I find it hard to believe that he’s that wrong about Glass.

        Klein for MDZ: Klein just “marginally” better? I could not disagree more. It was a huge upgrade with our D being significantly better after that trade – one of the keys to last season.

  6. craig says:

    Girardi was banged up last year and will return to form this year
    Dan Boyle will do wonders for one of the worst PP in the league last year. That more then makes up for Stralman
    Our defense will be just fine

  7. supermaz says:

    Glass is a certain upgrade over Dorsett, and comparing MDZ with Klein is like comparing Ray Bourque to Bill Baker.

    • Joseph says:

      Yes we All loved those black and blueshirt but when they got down a goal or 2 that was it there was no comeback not with these guys they can explode with 3-4 out of no where they are never out of any games

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  9. Original 6 says:

    This is a salary cap dilemma. They would have preferred to keep Stralman. They couldn’t because of the cap. This is where we see how good Ranger management is. They need to keep developing players to fill gaps for players who become too expensive to keep (Bye, bye Hagelin. Hello, Jesper Fast). They also have to identify the correct prospects to keep and which to trade to fill roster needs, such as defense and maybe a center. Management will determine if the Rangers stay competitive year-over-year or if they will be in the buildup, tear down cycle.

    • John R says:

      I don’t think with Stralman it was about the money, I think it was the term. Stralman wanted 4-5 years, which:

      A) Is too much term to give him just bc he was really good in the playoffs. He was solid all year for us but you don’t get that many years for being noticeably good for one year

      B)It blocks a spot in the top-4, we’re already seeing this being a “problem” this preseason for our forward prospects not being able to crack a lineup with no room for them. What if Skjei keeps up his solid development? if we had McD-G, Staal-Stralman, he wouldn’t be able to push any of them down.

      By letting Stralman walk, and taking on Boyle, we pay the same money, sacrifice a bit of defense,gain some more offense from the blue-line, gain a power play QB that we’ve been looking for, and allow ourselves flexibility on the back-end for foreseeable future.

      I liked Stralman but I thought for the term he was looking for, it was the right thing to do to let him walk.