Trying to make sense of this blue lineOctober 28, 2016, by
Yesterday, the New York Rangers waived Dylan McIlrath, with the intention of sending him down to the Wolf Pack. As you can imagine, this sent fans into a bit of an uproar. After all, Josh Jooris was just diagnosed with a separated shoulder and was destined to hit LTIR. This would have given the Rangers more roster flexibility with the imminent returns of Pavel Buchnevich and Chris Kreider. The Rangers didn’t have to make a move.
As of this writing, there are still several hours left in the waiver period, so we are not yet sure if the team will lose McIlrath for nothing yet. There seems to be no consensus on the likelihood of a claim (I tend to think there is a good possibility of one). If McIlrath sneaks through to Hartford that will be some grade A depth in the minors in case of future injuries, and additional ice time can only help his continued development. If he is claimed, it will highlight some poor asset management on the part of the organization, especially since he did not have to be waived at the moment.
Pat did a nice job yesterday of breaking down his proposed tweaks to the blue line, so I’m not going to rehash his analysis of who is best suited to make up the day-to-day defensive unit. My thought on the matter is more conceptual. At this point in the season, most stats are victimized by small sample size noise and are hard to rely on about performance. We lean more heavily on the eye test, but contextualization is important.
We all know this team can score. Since this forward group was assembled, most knowledgable folks have forecasted this ability. However, as we move further and further into what I have affectionately dubbed the “speed and possession era”, we are still acquiring information about what drives indicators of success.
There has been some quantitative data suggesting that forwards drive possession and scoring chances with more significance than defensemen, contrary to logical deduction. Defensemen still need to drive defensive zone transition, but a healthy back check seems to help more than previously thought. I suppose the question raised by this theory, is that, if forwards are responsible to help with defensive zone transition at a higher level to overcome poor defense, will there be a bunch of tired bodies on the ice come, say, February?
With McIlrath out of the daily lineup picture, the real decision comes down to Adam Clendening and Nick Holden. Clendening could represent an undervalued asset that the Rangers could turn into a massive bargain. Holden is a fairly vanilla defender and presumably a good solider that coaches feel they can count on to make the safe play. From here, we get into an analysis of Alain Vigneault’s assessment of his defenders. For all his modern systems, he still seems to favor that steady veteran blue liner over the puck-moving youngster. I’m not sure if that will change anytime soon.
For what it’s worth, I have not been impressed with the steadiness of Holden thus far. Far too many egregious turnovers for someone who’s core skill is the ability to make safe, reliable plays. I see no reason for him to be in the lineup over Clendening, at the moment.
Obviously a trade is another wrinkle. A move for a Trouba, Hamilton or Vatenan shakes things up considerably depending on who is involved. The other possibility is a trade of someone like Holden to help a team in expansion draft trouble. For example, as of this writing, Carolina would have to expose Justin Faulk to the expansion draft. That is insanity. They need someone like Holden to protect a franchise player, which could drive his value up.
While having a jumble of good forward options seems to work for AV, I don’t think this type of flexibility on defense works for his particular coach. I believe the front office needs to sort out who they feel are the top six defenders in the organization and those players need to play. We likely won’t see this shake itself out for a little while, but until then, it certainly give fandom something to get worked up over. Here’s to hoping we don’t lose McIlrath for nothing this afternoon."Trying to make sense of this blue line",