Archive for Analysis
Over the weekend, news broke that Keith Yandle has put off extension talks with the Rangers. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, as Yandle’s minutes since coming to New York have been minimal. He’s been relegated to third pairing and second powerplay time, after playing 20 minutes a night in Arizona. You can make the case that the Rangers have a deeper defense than Arizona, which is true, but you cannot defend playing inferior players over Yandle on a nightly basis, especially when you consider the cost to acquire him.
Yandle cost the Rangers Anthony Duclair, a first round pick, a second round pick, and John Moore. Moore was included to make room for Yandle, and the first/second round picks are the cost of doing business in the NHL. The biggest piece was Duclair, who is having a great year in Arizona with a line of 12-11-23 thus far. He was a first round talent that fell to the third round, and the Rangers got 18 games and one-and-a-half seasons of a misused Yandle for him. Horrible asset management. And that’s not even the crux of the issue.
The Rangers victory over the Dallas Stars on Tuesday was a real feel good victory all around, but was notable in particular for the way in which they won, playing some of the most complete hockey we’ve seen from them this season. The Rangers once again out-possessed their opponent and kept dangerous scoring chances against to a minimum, areas that were particular challenges for them earlier on in the season.
The big win was also notable because of whom they were playing and whom they play next; the Dallas Stars are at the top of a competitive Central Division and the Rangers play the league-leading Washington Capitals on Saturday. There are a few aspects of the Rangers’ game against Dallas on Tuesday that might be cause for some optimism ahead of Saturday’s matchup, despite the previous result against Washington.
If you’ve been following me on Twitter for a while, then you know I’ve been spending a good amount of time lately trying to tie the possession stats to systems. I think it’s the next step in the evolution of the hockey stats, since systems play a huge role in the game. It starts with personnel decisions, can a player play within the coach’s system? If not, see if you can leverage that to get a player who can.
After personnel decisions, it gets to executing the system. Defensive coverages, forechecking, gap control, assignments, etc. A lot of this is factored into the overall hockey IQ of a player, but certain unteachable skills should be factored in. Using Dylan McIlrath as an example, he’s not the best skater, so you would think he’s not a great fit for Alain Vigneault’s man-coverage in the defensive zone. But he uses smart gap control to compensate for his skating.
After an incredible run to start the season, the Rangers have crashed back down to Earth, and hard. They are 2-5-1 over their last eight games. The goaltending has still been solid, but not playing to the .960 SV%, and the even strength scoring has dried up. Those paying attention to the numbers early on knew this was coming, so I’m not all that surprised by this skid.
As noted many times, the Rangers were riding ridiculously high and unsustainable shooting and goaltending. It wasn’t even just in the numbers, just check out the gif archive for Henrik Lundqvist at nyrgifs. Look at the types of saves he had to make. That wasn’t sustainable. The play around him was crumbling, and he almost single-handedly guided the Rangers to the hot start (16-3-2).
Over the Thanksgiving holiday, I had the opportunity to attend a Niagara Ice Dogs (OHL) game in St. Catherine’s, Ontario. Their opponent that night was none other than the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, who happen to roster one of the Rangers’ better goaltending prospects. Brandon Halverson, the Rangers 2nd round pick in 2014 has been a darling of scouts the past few years, and many have tapped him as the heir apparent to Henrik Lundqvist. Expect to see him in net for Team USA at the World Junior Championships this year.
After getting an up close look at the Traverse City, Michigan native, I wanted to share my impressions and dig a little deeper into Halverson’s game. I’m not going to use my normal scouting format, as this is really a one game snapshot and not intended to be a comprehensive scouting report. I would need to see much more of him to feel confident painting broad assumptions on his skill set.
For the past year, I’ve been theorizing that the Rangers may have a higher shooting percentage because most of their offense is based off turnovers and creating rushes. In theory it makes sense. The Rangers pressure teams in the neutral zone and high risk area between the defensive blue line and the top of the circle, force turnovers, and then transition to offense.
This type of game requires a specific skill set up and down the lineup. It requires positional awareness, speed, quick passing, and elite finishing. It also requires faith in goaltending, as any mistakes lead to scoring chances against. In theory, a team that executes this properly should have a higher shooting percentage, since rush chances are generally perceived as higher quality chances.
What a strange ride this 2015-2016 season has been so far. After last night’s victory over the eminently talented St. Louis Blues, the Rangers sit just two points behind the mighty Montreal Canadiens for the best record in the entire NHL. However, it has not been a stream of endless adulation and bold championship predictions on Broadway. In fact, most pundits expect the Rangers to take a severe step back due to their unsustainable combination of low possession and high PDO.
Be sure to check out our “Metrics we use” tab for useful information on possession statistics, but PDO is much simpler. Basically it creates a “normalized” statistic by combining shooting percentage and save percentage and theorizing they will both regress to a league average of 100. The theory is that over time, unsustainably high or low shooting and save percentages will regress to the mean, and performance can be predicted to improve or decline as regression takes place. It’s hockey best attempt at quantifying “luck”.
The Rangers are probably the most hotly debated 10-2-2 team that I’ve ever come across. There are those that believe the Rangers are the best team in the league. There are others that believe the Rangers are a product of unsustainable goaltending and shooting percentage. The reality likely falls in the middle.
The Rangers are probably one of the deepest teams in the league at forward. They have four lines that can score and play two-way hockey. They can skate, score, and play defense. Their rush-based offense has again turned turnovers into scoring chances and goals. The goaltending is elite, not much else to say there. The biggest questions are on the blue line, and it’s something we’ve covered here a bunch of times.
It has been a strange start to the young season for the New York Rangers. It has been wildly varied in fan and media attitudes toward the talent level, personnel and performance of the team. I have been thinking more and more recently about the intersection between many of these concepts, and I’m going to try to keep my thoughts as organized as possible, so they don’t devolve into a jumbled mess.
Eleven games into the 2015-2016 season, the New York Rangers are sitting pretty. They are 7-2-2, which puts them in a virtual tie for first place in the Metro Division –the Caps have one game in hand– and second in the Eastern Conference. The Rangers are scoring (31 goals) and their goaltending has been superb. Their defense has been shaky though, which is a bit of a concern.
Folks are pointing at the Rangers’ lack of possession, but the overall season number is skewed by a poor first three games. The team hemorrhaged shots, and it skewed their overall numbers as a team. But at the individual level, we get a clearer picture of who is struggling, who is unlucky, and who might be due for some regression.