You can only ignore text messages and tweets from Dave Shapiro for so long. I knew if I didn’t get off my rear, dust off my laptop, and start typing again, next thing I’d know Dave would be lurking outside my window Quagmire style.
Anyhow, the Blueshirts season is three games old and already narratives are being expounded about the Rangers defense, mostly in the form of demeaning Dan Girardi and pleading for Dylan McIlrath. And while the defense is certainly the area of the roster to keep tabs on while the season unfolds, the player I’ll be zoning in on is Keith Yandle.
The Rangers haven’t had an elite offensive defensemen since Brian Leetch. Many have tried to fill his skates over the last 15 years (e.g., Tom Poti, Wade Redden, Michael Del Zotto, etc.), but none have succeeded. While Yandle isn’t Leetch, having a d-man with his pedigree shouldn’t be overlooked for several reasons.
1) He’s A Potential Long-term Solution For The Power Play
Back by popular demand, we’ve decided to kick-start our annual player, coaching, and management report cards. As a reminder, these grades aren’t just based on stats, but also the execution of each personnel or player’s respective role within the organization. Obviously there’s some subjectivity here, but that’s what makes these interesting and conversational.
As always, feel free to post your own grades in the comments section below.
There’s no way to spin it. Girardi did not have a good season. While his effort was undeniably at a maximum, unfortunately his output was still a career low. This year was his worst statistical (scoring chance differential) season on record. What made matters worse was this came after a subpar performance in the 2014 playoffs.
It’s fair to point out that he may have the team’s toughest task with shutting down opposing stars and getting buried with defensive zone starts (after a whistle). However, he’s paid to break up those dangerous plays in the slot and this year he didn’t do that with any regularity. In general, I thought he just looked a step slower.
It’s almost unfair. Every article I read about coach of the year candidates, Alain Vigneault barely gets any ink. As beloved as AV is by the NY beat, outside of the metro, he might as well be a ghost.
Deciding who should be the coach of the year is almost an impossible exercise. No one really knows what goes on during film sessions, private meetings with players, etc. Despite years of detailing hockey tactics and systems, most who cover this game still can’t explain which coaches employ an overload and why. Instead, postseason wins and losses are unfairly the only metric.
Make no mistake though. Alain Vigneault is a very good coach. If it weren’t for Roberto Luongo becoming allergic to pucks in 2011 or matching up against one of the deepest NHL teams in recent memory last summer, AV would share more ink with Mike Babcock and Joel Quenneville.
It’s interesting. If you watched the Rangers play, while ignoring the rest of the conference, you might think they are destined for greatness. They’re playing uptempo hockey, bagging 2.92 goals per game. The power play is over 19% for the first time since Leetch was dropping knowledge on the NHL. Most importantly, they can just flat out fly whenever they play their game.
However, despite winning 15 of 18 games at one point, the Rangers sit in 8th place in the Eastern Conference. A playoff berth seems likely, but a chance to win the Cup still remains an elusive goal.
Tampa has our number. Ryan Callahan has dictated that much. The Bruins still manhandle us every time we take a trip up I-95. The Islanders have out scored us 13-4 this season. While we may be built for West Coast trips, handling our own conference is a different story.
We’ve seen this narrative play out before haven’t we? Popular players in contract years can never seem to avoid fan scrutiny, beat writer adoration, or trade rumors. It’s Cally, Girardi, Henrik, etc. all over again, except this season it’s Marc Staal.
Over the past few weeks, the conversation around Staal has started to heat up. He’s been described as ‘untouchable’ by some and a ‘tire fire’ by others. Somewhere between extremes is where reality usually lies.
Before we evaluate whether or not to resign, trade, or let Marc walk, we have to define what his role will be moving forward. From there we can analyze if there are adequate replacements inside or outside the organization.
Last spring Marc described his role within AV’s team concept to Steve Serby of the NYPost.
“Defensive defenseman. I take care of my own end … try to be great positionally and have a good stick, and make sure I’m getting out of my end quickly, not spending a lot of time there … get transition, give it to the forwards, and let them do their thing.”
Roles like these are always tough to quantify, especially for players like Staal who are typically deployed in their own end zone, against top scoring lines, and don’t contribute much offensively.
Fortunately, war-on-ice.com has begun tracking shots in the slot/hextally figures and scoring chances – long overdue in my opinion – which gives us a decent view of Staal’s effectiveness.
So far this season, Staal’s even-strength scoring chances against (per 60 minutes of playing time) is 25.60, which is right in line with his career average. However, his scoring chances for (per 60 minutes of playing time) is 24.80, which is well below his career average (27.9).
Obviously there are many factors at play here, but the macro takeaway is that he’s still solid in his own zone defensively, but perhaps not at getting the puck up ice. Whether or not this is a blip on the radar or a trend remains to be seen. However, it seems his play is heading in the right direction after a tough stretch between mid-November and mid-December.
With limited offensive potential, Staal’s value is ultimately going to be determined by whether or not GMs view him as a first or second pairing defensemen. If they believe him to be a first pairing defensemen, he could probably get $5.5-$5.9M per year for 5-6 years, which is about what most defensemen in his role and age range have been garnering (e.g., Seabrook, Girardi, Carle, etc.).
If they view him as a second pairing defensemen, he’s probably looking at $4.5M-$4.9M and a similar term. Again, this is looking at recent contracts for defensemen in similar roles and age range (e.g., Stralman, Tyutin, Goligoski, etc.).
I always get ragged on for suggesting that Marc could join his brothers in Carolina. I just have a hard time seeing him sign anywhere else if he doesn’t re-up with NY. The Canes defense is aging and mediocre. They don’t have any d-men (other than Falk) locked up long-term. More importantly, Eric and Jordan have NTCs.
Trading Staal pre-free agency would make sense, but I’m sure every GM is aware of the possibility he could head south this summer. Knowing this, the most we could probably get in return is a pick or a prospect, neither of which help us win a Cup this year.
As far as internal options go, McIlrath (currently in Hartford) is probably a bottom pairing defensemen if he even makes it to Broadway. John Moore still has a ways to go if we’re going to bump him up from the third pairing. Connor Allen (also in Hartford) is probably more of a backup for Moore than a replacement for Staal. Brady Skjei (NYR 1st rounder in 2012) is the likely replacement, but he’s still a year or two away.
The Final Word
Ultimately, if you don’t want to resign Staal for the terms described above, you’re probably looking at a stopgap solution via free agency or an offseason trade until Brady Skjei can take the reigns.
You know your team’s powerplay sucks when you can barely find clips of it in 31 games worth of highlights on the internet. I spent hours on the interweb for this post trying to find some highlights of decent powerplay scoring chances or big saves from opposing goalies. Unfortunately, they are few and far between. I guess that is the state of the Rangers man-advantage right now, not exactly YouTube worthy.
To date, the Rangers are clicking at 15.7%, which is good for 21st in the league. Unlike the last, I don’t know 15 years, the Rangers actually have some decent personnel to work with. You’d figure with the career powerplay points between Rick Nash (203), Martin St. Louis (311), and Dan Boyle (283), we’d be able to muster up at least a 20% success rate.
Yet this season feels different, not only in personnel, but in execution. We’re no longer short right-handed shots. We’re no longer reliant on dump and chase hockey to gain our entries. We should be better at this, but for some reason(s) we’re stuck in mediocrity — again.
Here are a few things AV and Arnie need to fix.
1) Too much puck possession
In the old days, before Corsi or Fenwick stats, possessing the puck actually meant holding on to it rather than ramping up shot attempts. If there’s one thing I’ve noticed with this year’s power play it’s that the Rangers hold onto the puck too much. They need to ditch their old puck possession ways and embrace this new definition of puck possession (shots!).
If you look at the top teams in the league in PP conversion, none of them are in the bottom third of the league in PP shots. The Rangers are ranked 20th. It’s not rocket science. You have to shoot to score.
2) We’re too predictable
If you flip through the heat maps (courtesy of sporting charts.com) of where successful teams score goals on the power play, they’re usually not confined to one area. I grabbed the Penguins and TBL’s scoring locations (since they also run variations of the 1-3-1) and compared them to NYR.
You can see the differences pretty clearly. Those teams have scored from everywhere and it’s because they can put pucks on net from anywhere. This makes it much harder for opposing PKs to defend when you have to respect the fact that a team can score from just about anywhere.
The Rangers on the other hand like to run the same play over and over and over. See these clips below from the Red Wings game. Not only are these from the same shift, they are from the same sequence! Three straight attempts that were mirror images of each other. No bueno!
3) Change the point of attack
The Rangers aren’t the only team to run a 1-3-1 power play. Far from it. However, they seem to be the only team that quarterbacks it exclusively from the point, which defeats the purpose of its design.
The best part about the 1-3-1 is you can queue it up from multiple positions (points, either boards, or below the goal line using the slot forward). Changing the point of the attack will not only get us away from these predictable rightwing perimeter shots, but it will also force the PK to change their defensive structure which inevitably leads to blown coverages.
Whatever the coaches implement, hopefully the Rangers start to put a few away on the advantage soon. The easy part of our schedule is ending soon.
Everyone always wants to talk about whether or not teams should be dumping the puck vs. carrying or if teams are out- shooting (possessing) the opposition. In reality, these things are just outputs. They are the end result of how well a team is executing the process. For many teams, part of that process is their neutral zone systems.
The general consensus among 1-2-2 coaches like Alain Vigneault, is that the game is often won and lost in the neutral zone. Therefore, an extra effort is placed on designing tactics to win this part of the ice.
So what are those tactics?
Aside from forechecking strategies, which we have talked about a lot in the past, the two other fundamental systems employed in this area of the ice are neutral zone counters and regroups.
Three hockey clubs in 47 years. The 2009 Penguins. The 1984 Oilers. The 1968 Canadiens. They are the only three hockey clubs in the Post-Original Six expansion era to win the Stanley Cup the year after they challenged for it and lost. Not exactly favorable odds.
Those three clubs weren’t exactly one hit wonders either. The Canadiens of that era helped brand their organization for a long time as the Yankees of the NHL. The Oilers of the 80s were the last of a dying breed in pro sports — a dynasty. Though they never lived up to their potential, the Crosby-led Penguins were at least expected to challenge for the Cup a few more times following their 2009 victory. They didn’t and now Bylsma and Shero are unemployed.
So will the Rangers defy history and do the unthinkable?
For several years now we have been nominating GMs around the league as the “worst GM in the NHL award”. Past nominees include Scott Howson, Pierre Gauthier, Greg Sherman, Paul Holmgren, and Darcy Regier to name a few. By the way, all have been fired or have lost their responsibilities. In other words, we may be on to something here.
Here’s how it works. We nominate the GMs (based on their risky trades, unspectacular drafts or financially unsound signings). You vote the winner. Got it? Good.
Here’s 2014 nominees:
In case you missed the gossip pages last week, Henrik Lundqvist is selling his Hell’s Kitchen apartment. The place is a 2,035 square foot penthouse duplex with 2 bedrooms and 2.5 bath, which will run you about $6.5 million. Not bad.
For more pics, scope it out below.