For those of you who have been following Blue Seat Blogs for several years, or perhaps follow me on Twitter @thehockeysuit (shameless plug), know that I’m an eternal centrist. I try to see multiple sides of an argument no matter how extreme. Since the Rangers laid an egg to Pittsburgh – and probably even before that – fans have been asking whether or not the hourglass has run out on AV. The reactions to this question have been obviously polarizing.
Rather than give you my opinion and back it up with pretty gifs, or advanced stats, etc., I’ll share with you what the thought process likely is inside the walls of 2 Penn Plaza under different scenarios. From there, you all can form your own opinion on what the Rangers front office will likely do with AV. As always, please feel free to sound off in the comments.
For many years now on this site we’ve talked about the Rangers mediocre power play, what’s wrong with it, and what we’d do to fix it. Fortunately for the Rangers, recently history suggests that you can win a Stanley Cup without an elite power play. The LA Kings proved this twice (sad face), as have the Bruins and the Penguins.
The penalty kill is a different story. None of the clubs mentioned above had a PK rate under 83% in their Cup winning seasons; same goes for the Chicago Blackhawks and their runs.
This season the Rangers are only killing off 77% of their penalties, which is good for 26th in the NHL. That does not bode well for any team trying to compete for a Cup, let alone one currently in the top half of the League in minor penalties. And no, Eric Staal doesn’t help you there.
In order for the Rangers to have a fighting chance this postseason, the PK needs to get fix. Here’s three issues the Rangers need to address to fix the kill.
With the All-Star break in full swing, GMs from around the NHL will go on overdrive trying to find that missing piece. The goal is always the same this time of year. Improve now, improve for the future or for some teams, do a combination of both.
The Rangers needs are well documented at this point. To quickly recap, they could use another defensemen, a top 9 winger and perhaps some of their draft picks back. After all, they haven’t had a 1st rounder since 2012 and won’t have one till 2017, which is insane.
Anyway, with those goals in mind, below are some targets I would consider as the trade deadline approaches. As always, I’m happy to debate these ideas (civilly) in the comments.
It is often said in the sports business that the third season in a coach’s tenure is sometimes their most difficult. Players tend to tire from the same voice. A coach’s tendencies with x’s and o’s tend to become a little stagnant and predictable for the opposition. Players end up unhappy with their roles and can sometimes lose hope in gaining more responsibilities. The list goes on.
It is at this critical juncture, coaches need to find ways to make adjustments to their system and how they manage their bench.
The Rangers seem to be hitting that lull. Their scoring chance differential at even strength is a -128. That’s by far the worst differential this organization has had since they started tracking the stat 10 years ago. Whether this is due to players tiring of AV or not is anyone’s guess. Regardless, the roster is what it is and adjustments have not been made.
Part of my enjoyment of watching hockey goes so much further than whether or not the Rangers win or lose on any given night. Obviously, the goal every year is to win the Cup, as it should be. However, as I always say, for me it’s not just about the end results, but admiration for the process took to get there.
Mats Zuccarello is a great example of the process the Rangers took in putting together a team that has more or less been in contention for the last four to five years. Unlike others, he wasn’t a big money signing, where the Rangers just out-resourced a smaller market team for his services. Nor was he a shoe-in first round draft pick.
Signing Zuccarello was a gamble and his rise from an obscure Norwegian national teamer to a top six forward on a contending team wasn’t guaranteed. What Mats Zuccarello exemplifies is one way you can develop a skill player.
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.