Archive for Players
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.
Earlier this month, I used Josh’s PSAM tool to help determine a rough estimate for Keith Yandle’s next contract. The conclusion: Expect him to get at least $5.75 million, but probably closer to $6 million over a long term contract. This puts the Rangers in a pretty pickle, as they already have $54.775 million committed to just 12 players. If the cap goes to $74.5 million, then that’s $20 million to re-sign key players.
In addition to Yandle, whom I believe to be the Rangers top priority this summer, the club has to deal with expiring contracts for Chris Kreider, Kevin Hayes, J.T. Miller, Dylan McIlrath, and Emerson Etem, in order from likely most expensive to likely least expensive. Kreider alone will likely get Justin Abdelkader money, which is around $4.25 million. That makes things even tighter.
So the major question looming over this team is: Will they be able to re-sign their most important defenseman beyond this year?
Although Derek Stepan’s injury has caused some issues for the Rangers, with lines being shaken up and a lack of offense jump being evident from time to time, the lack of one of their top offensive players hasn’t been entirely disastrous due to the recent play of Derick Brassard. While Brassard has always been an important part of the Rangers’ top six his significance has been drawn into high relief by Stepan’s absence. Brassard has responded with merit by stepping up his game and contributing at a time when the Rangers need him the most.
Starting with the stats, Brassard’s possession numbers have been pretty good for a team that’s otherwise struggled with offensive production this season. In the five games since Stepan’s been out Brassard has an even strength CF% of 48.8, as well as a relative CF% of 2.06%. Although at first glance these aren’t phenomenal numbers once again its worth noting that the Rangers have struggled with possession, as well as the fact that these numbers are brought down by two clunkers (at least where Brassard’s concerned) against Philadelphia and the Islanders; he’s got a CF% above 50 in their other three games the Rangers have played since Stepan’s injury, against Carolina, Colorado, and Ottawa. On a similarly positive note, in those same games he has a scoring chances for% in all situations of 53.96%, with his relative SCF% being 10.62%. If the Rangers have a want for offense in Derek Stepan’s absence it certainly doesn’t have much to do with Brassard.
When the Rangers traded Carl Hagelin for Emerson Etem this past summer, it was seen mostly as a cap move. The Rangers could not afford a $4 million third line player, and needed someone cheaper with more offensive upside. Etem is certainly cheaper and definitely more skilled, but it came at a cost of certainty. Etem has been a relative unknown for his short career, and his time in New York has continued that trend.
Josh touched on this yesterday, and I have to agree that the usage of Emerson Etem has been highly questionable. Before even getting into the numbers –which aren’t all that good, to be honest– you have to at least wonder why the team would target Etem and not use him. Hagelin had significant trade value, and the club targeted Etem for a reason. Trading for him, and then not playing him over some of the other players on the roster, deserves some questioning.