Archive for Defense
Rangers fans were buzzing on Tuesday night. It wasn’t just because hockey was back, or that the Chris Kreider-Mika-Zibanejad-Pavel Buchnevich line seemed to be clicking either. It was watching Adam Clendening’s performance. Clendening stole the show, as his poise with the puck and ability to make smart passes to start the breakout both at even strength and on the powerplay impressed many.
It impressed so much that Dylan McIlrath seemed like an afterthought. McIlrath didn’t have a bad game either, scoring a goal that demonstrated how far his skating has come. He wasn’t perfect, and neither was Clendening, but after one game it seems like Clendening is now the front runner for the last spot on the blue line over McIlrath.
But does it have to be that way? Why can’t we have both?
The mandate for Jeff Gorton this offseason was clear: retool the Blueshirts while extending the window to win the Stanley Cup. Though many of us believe that Gorton’s troops will struggle to reach that goal with the defense as currently assembled, he has certainly begun executing a significant makeover.
Up front, Gorton has stockpiled a young group of forwards that stacks up with any in the league. New York will have one of the NHL’s youngest rosters this season with room to grow for many key players still 25 years old or younger including Chris Kreider, Brandon Pirri, Kevin Hayes, Oscar Lindberg, Jesper Fast, J.T. Miller, Mika Zibanejad, Jimmy Vesey and Pavel Buchnevich – not to mention 26-year-old first-line center Derek Stepan.
The Rangers did a lot to improve this offseason. They completely retooled the bottom-six forwards and the penalty kill, and it appears they used some form of advanced statistical analysis in their decision making. While it appears the Rangers are set to have a better showing from their forwards, the defense remained largely untouched.
As it stands today, the Rangers will have substituted Brady Skjei for Keith Yandle and Dylan McIlrath/Nick Holden for Dan Boyle. Based off Alain Vigneault’s previous history, we are looking at these defensive pairs:
Much to the dismay of about half of Rangers fandom, the Keith Yandle era is over in New York. After dealing his rights to the Florida Panthers for a sixth and conditional fourth round pick on Monday, the Cats came to terms with Yandle on a seven-year/$44.45m contract yesterday. His deal includes a no movement clause for the first six (!) years of the deal, with a modified no-trade clause in year seven.
We all knew going into his big contract that Yandle would not come cheap. We also knew that his gross misuse over the past season would likely lead to his exit. The cap hit for the deal is a pretty representative $6.35m, but it was the term that really knocked me over. I certainly did not expect Yandle to get max term, but in a barren waste land of free agency and Alex Goligoski already off the board, I feel like the Panthers did what they had to do. Read More→
Former Rangers blueliner Jeff Beukeboom is likely the fan’s choice to replace Ulf Samuelsson and he’s the emotional choice to be the Rangers next assistant coach thanks to all his obvious connections to the big club. Emotions aside however, and Beukeboom is indeed the right choice, and for several critical reasons.
Continuity is something that’s a common theme in successful organisations and Beukeboom knows the organisation better than maybe anyone else – certainly better than any other assistant coach candidate. It can only be seen as an advantage that he’s so familiar with the club, with the systems and with the majority of the blueliners in the organisation.
Beukeboom has been with the WolfPack since 2012 and will know better than most how the Rangers can best integrate Dylan McIlrath (assuming he is even retained – which he should be). Beukeboom will know Brady Skjei well from their time together last season so he’ll surely be able to help accelerate the Rangers top prospect into a top four role. He’ll also know how far away fellow blueline prospect Ryan Graves is from being NHL ready following his own solid introduction to pro hockey.
The evolution of sports is an interesting beast. Forever embedded in the American (and Canadian) consciousness, competition and loyalty can breed life long interest and devotion. People spend countless hours over countless years watching their idols. The love of the sweater eventually outlives all the players you grew up watching and those who have long faded into oblivion. As players come and go, the game changes around them. Some embrace the evolution, some fail to evolve and their time within the game draws to a close.
The evolution tends to come in common themes. Players get bigger, faster, and more skilled. They are better trained, with their talented cultivated from younger and younger ages. The game itself develops more specialized roles for players and matchups and statistics become more prevalent. Trends emerge, science is tested and every team tries to gain that competitive advantage.
Evaluating defensemen has always been a tough proposition for teams. It’s a tough proposition for anyone, really. There is so much that goes into the position. Skating, positioning, reads, hockey IQ, passing, shooting, physicality. The list goes on and on. But unlike forwards, who also need these skills, success isn’t necessarily tied to on-ice production.
Plus/minus, hits, and blocked shots are the traditional ways of viewing defensive success. After all, if you’re not allowing goals, blocking shots, and delivering hits, then you are doing the things that a defenseman should be doing. It’s a fairly simple theory, but it also represents an antiquated view of the game. Much like how pitcher wins is viewed in baseball. These are stats that are kept, but not very useful ones.
The biggest topic of this offseason will be how the Rangers address their precarious cap situation. With minimal cap space and several key free agents to sign, the Rangers are in a tough spot. The club has some rookies ready to take the next step, but it isn’t enough to fill out a lineup. Nor is it enough to contend for a Stanley Cup.
The elephant in the room of the cap strapped Rangers is the $11.2 million in cap space committed to Dan Girardi and Marc Staal. It doesn’t take a great hockey mind to see that both were pretty terrible this year. We know it. The team knows it. The players know it. It’s just a simple fact. The big question is whether or not the team thinks this is a one-year blip on the radar or a sign of things to come.
Raphael Diaz was recalled by the Rangers yesterday, much to the chagrin of many fans, as Dylan McIlrath seemed to finally be getting a legitimate chance with Dan Girardi out of the lineup. The hope was fair, as McIlrath really had done everything he could to warrant a longer look with the team. Alas, he was limited in his playing time in Game Two, and only saw ice time late because Kevin Klein was in the box.
This led to the speculation of the Diaz recall, and to be fair, Diaz is an NHL defenseman. He’s another one of those guys, like Matt Hunwick, that floats under the radar because he isn’t flashy or physical. He just moves the puck up the ice and starts the breakout. Couple that with his skating ability –which is significantly better than McIlrath’s– and you have a guy that is exactly what the Rangers need.
Over the course of the season, we, along with many other folks, have beaten to death that the Rangers defense is not what it used to be. While we’ve addressed some of the root causes, we have not addressed what specifically changed from last year. The personnel is the same. The system is the same. So it’s fair to expect similar results.
As with anything in sports analysis, it is very rarely one thing. A culmination of factors can conspire to change something that once appeared static and reliable.
First, let’s take a look at age. The average age on the blue line is 29.7 years old. That is not a young group. Dan Boyle’s spritely 39 years obviously skews things a bit, but Ryan McDonagh and Dylan McIlrath are the only members of the defense significantly under 30 (Yandle is 29). Especially for the less mobile defenseman, there are a lot of miles on those bodies.