Archive for Players
One of the major questions facing Jeff Gorton this offseason is what he will do with defenseman Keith Yandle. Yandle is headed for unrestricted free agency, and will likely come in at a price that the Rangers cannot afford. While Yandle has been the focus of the blue line at the deadline, the injury to Ryan McDonagh may open up a need for an upgrade.
It’s not expected that McDonagh will be out much longer, as he does not have another concussion. The Rangers dodged a bullet there, and assuming Yandle continues to get more ice time, then the improvement we’ve seen from them recently should continue. However there is always room for improvement, and the focus is on three players that have been the subject of the most debate this season.
Through the end of January, it seemed to be a sure bet that the Rangers were going to trade Keith Yandle. The club has Ryan McDonagh and Marc Staal locked into long-term deals and have Brady Skjei –their 2012 1st round pick– knocking at the door. That’s a pretty crowded left side. Getting the most for Yandle, especially considering the cost, made the most sense.
Even before the season started, many wanted to keep Yandle and preferred to trade one of Staal or Dan Girardi. Yandle is one of the premier puck movers in the game, and both Staal and Girardi either were regressing prior to the season or have regressed since the season started. Either way, Yandle is a better option than both at the moment.
Now that the season is more than half over, we are seeing Yandle emerge as the best option on the blue line. He’s thrived in his recent usage (20+ minutes per game), and while he does make a gaffe here and there, the positives far outweigh the negatives.
It’s amazing how quickly public opinion can turn on a player. Last year Kevin Hayes could do no wrong, aside from faceoffs. This year, he’s the worst player on the team and needs to be traded. I find this to be humorous, because these are not only opposite ends of the spectrum, but incorrect talent evaluations. It’s one made from subjectivity, not objectivity.
In reality, Kevin Hayes is just fine. Hayes has seen better performance in relative Corsi (up to 3.0 from 2.2 last season), shots on goal (on pace for 144 this season, to 111 last season), and assists (on pace for 30 assists to 25 last year). People are focusing on his seven goals, which is down from last year. But in reality, I think it’s just unrealistic expectations that are causing all this unwarranted hate.
Early in this season the Rangers defense was in crisis, hemorrhaging shot attempts on a nightly basis and struggling to breakout of the zone cleanly. It was obvious during this period that Dan Girardi and Marc Staal were struggling, but perhaps most surprising of all were captain Ryan McDonagh’s struggles. Of course lately we’ve seen the Rangers tightening up their blue line, with their overall possession game trending upwards and their dangerous habit of giving up massive amounts of shot attempts evening out to reasonable levels. As the Rangers’ process has improved overall, so has the situation of their captain, sort of.
Let’s start with the obvious: Ryan McDonagh has seen less ice time with his usual defense partner Dan Girardi, and his game is better for it. While CF% alone isn’t perhaps the best way to evaluate a player, it is pretty notable that McDonagh’s CF% is 40.5 when the two are on ice together and 55.1% otherwise. Kevin Klein’s play this season has allowed the Rangers the option of splitting McDonagh and Girardi up, and the benefits are plain to see.
We’re at the halfway point of the 2015-16 season and one thing that’s been readily apparent about the Rangers so far is that their often vaunted defensive game has struggled. Although the team has improved considerably in the recent weeks, it’s no secret that their defense corp is not what it once was, with injuries catching up to Marc Staal and Dan Girardi. Even Ryan McDonagh has struglged at times. One bright spot along the Rangers blue line however has been Kevin Klein, who not only has improved since last season but has stood out among his peers and helped to stabilize the Rangers’ defensive play.
Klein’s play has improved considerably this season in almost every area, with the stats to show it. Last season he posted a high-danger scoring chance against rate of 11.7 per 60 minutes, a scoring chances against rate of 24.3 per 60 minutes, and a Corsi against rate of 56.2 per 60 minutes, all of which have improved to 9.9, 23.3, and 51.5, respectively. Although he doesn’t have quite the same point production that he had last season, the scoring streak he went on last year was driven mostly by an unsustainable shooting percentage, so tightening up his game defensively is noteworthy. While the improvements may be in some respects modest, it’s plainly evident in his positioning and decision making that he’s operating at a higher level this season than last.
When the season started, many anticipated that J.T. Miller would be third in the pecking order behind Chris Kreider and Kevin Hayes. Certainly a solid player, but by no means someone that the Rangers should be counting on daily. He needed to take the next step, but was really looking at a third line role. Forty-two games into the season, and Miller is very clearly having the best season of that trio.
For starters, he leads all three in goal (8), assists (12), and points (20). He’s also the overall team leader in CF% at 50.06%, the only Rangers forward above 50% for the season. But it goes beyond the raw numbers, he’s playing a better all around game, not just with the puck. He’s better in his own end, making smarter passes, is more engaged, and making smarter plays getting to the net and getting the puck to the net.
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.
One of the more perplexing stories this season has been the usage of Keith Yandle. Less than a year after the Rangers paid a steep price for the All Star defenseman, he has been relegated to bottom pairing and second powerplay minutes. When he was acquired, Yandle was supposed to be the guy that helped bring balance to the Rangers powerplay and provide more offense from the position. He’s also the only pure puck without gray hair on the roster.
The general counter argument to giving Yandle more time is that he’s not good in his own zone. And yes, to an extent this is true. He’s not someone you want going up against Sidney Crosby. However you can’t, with a straight face, say that Yandle’s mistakes have been more costly than anyone else’s on the current blue line. They’ve all had their issues in their own end. This is about getting the most out of your very expensive asset, and utilizing him in a manner that gives your team the best chance to win.
Alain Vigneault stunned fans the other day when he called out Kevin Hayes’ work ethic and performance of late while confirming that Hayes would be a healthy scratch for the Rangers’ ECF rematch against Tampa Bay on Wednesday night. Given the kind of controversy this decision has provoked, it’s worth taking a closer look at some of the underlying numbers in evaluating Hayes’ status as a healthy scratch.
On a basic level, when looking at Hayes’ Corsi this season through 37 games as compared to last season through 37 games, this move is a bit of a head scratcher. Although Hayes’ CF% this year so far at 47.7% is lower than it was last year through the same amount of games, when he posted a 50.8%, it’s worth noting that the Rangers’ possession numbers have been tanking this whole season, and that Hayes’ relative numbers are actually better than they were last season. Looking at the relative numbers Hayes has a 1.2 relative CF% this season as opposed to 0.7% last season, making this move questionable from a shot generation perspective, given the Rangers’ struggles in that department.
This past offseason the Rangers were forced into a difficult position, as the salary cap forced them to part with Carl Hagelin. Hagelin was a fan favorite, but at $4 million he was a luxury the Rangers could not afford. Such is life in a cap world.
This offseason, the Rangers may find themselves in a similar situation with Chris Kreider. Kreider is an arbitration eligible RFA coming off a deal that comes with a $2.475 million cap hit ($2.6 million in salary this season). He’s due for a pretty hefty raise, as noted by the Justin Abdelkader contract signed this year. His down year certainly works in the Rangers’ favor, but Kreider is still going to get around $4-$4.5 million for his next deal.