Category: Defense

With more physicality needed, it’s time the Rangers tried Dylan McIlrath

Is Dylan McIlrath ready?

Is Dylan McIlrath ready?

Alain Vigneault commented after the Rangers’ turgid performance in Tampa on Monday that “Nobody touched a soul”, referring to his team’s lack of physicality. This has been an underlying issue for large parts of the season so far. In the mean time, Michael Del Zotto continues to be, at best, inconsistent (and the subject of countless traded rumours in the media) and John Moore also has yet to find his game consistently. As you can see, there is plenty of room for improvement on the blueline.

While the Rangers forward unit appears to be more settled with the demotion of JT Miller (who simply needs playing time at this stage), despite the relatively decent performance of the blueline corps, the Rangers appear in need of an injection of physicality. Is it about time they took a look at Dylan McIlrath?

Mcllrath’s development curve is trending in the right direction. While in Hartford the big, bruising 1st round pick has begun to add an offensive dimension to his game but perhaps more appropriate is that he also leagues the American Hockey League in penalty minutes (with 102 penalty minutes in just 18 games) and if you check the box scores regularly enough, you’ll have noticed a few majors along the way.

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Dan Girardi’s uncertain future could hold up a Michael Del Zotto trade

Dan Girardi’s struggles may extend Michael Del Zotto’s tenure in blue

Despite all the recent trade rumors swirling around Michael Del Zotto, the young D-man may remain a Ranger beyond this year.

I’ll spare you the argument that Del Zotto is still very young for a defenseman at just 23 years old, because frankly I don’t buy that as an excuse for his erratic play any more either.  But though Del Zotto hasn’t lived up to expectations, he is still pencilled in as a top-four defenseman in New York’s short- and long-term plans.

That matters because another key member of the top-four, Dan Girardi, is set to be an unrestricted free agent in July.  And the way things are going, Girardi might not be back.  Girardi has been better than Del Zotto this season, but not by much.  He’s coming off a down year under John Tortorella, so Girardi’s struggles can’t be blamed solely on the coaching change.  No, at 29 years old, it’s likely that we’ve already seen the best of Girardi, and quite possible that he’s begun his decline. Read more »

The Michael Del Zotto rumors and the search for a right handed defenseman

AP Photo/Kathy Willens

AP Photo/Kathy Willens

With Michael Del Zotto sitting out tonight against Montreal as a healthy scratch, the trade rumors swirled again. This time Renaud Lavoie, a reporter from Montreal, noted that he is hearing Del Zotto could be had. Suit covered the possibility of a trade, specifically a Del Zotto trade, last week. Without rehashing the entire post, the trade rumors are a bit ill-timed. While it it likely the Rangers are willing to part with Del Zotto, it is unlikely they will just trade him. They will need something they can use in return.

Of course, they need a right-handed defenseman. That is the return they want. Preferably a puck moving right-handed defenseman, but one that can play 18 minutes a night will suffice.

The problem with this is that any RHD is a coveted player. They are about as rare as the legitimate top line center. It doesn’t mean they can’t be found, it means that teams aren’t really willing to trade them.

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Dan Girardi’s motivation to be better

Dan Girardi has been poor so far.

Dan Girardi has been poor so far.

Dan Girardi has had an atrocious start to the season but yet is one of the key players the Rangers will have to rely on to turn their difficult start around. While plus/minus is not a particularly accurate statistic, his minus 7 rating is a bad indicator and Girardi’s decision making, positioning and overall game thus far have been far from his usually consistent and reliable standards.

The Rangers have appeared all at sea in their own zone so far this season but a quick turnaround from Dan Girardi and in net, Henrik Lundqvist would see fortunes quickly reversed. Perhaps no two players can individually aid the team more, immediately. With both All Stars in poor form the Rangers have required help in other areas and have failed to receive it (goodbye Martin Biron).

Girardi should be motivated. With Girardi approaching unrestricted free agency, a bad season from the veteran blueliner – and subsequently the Rangers overall – could see the long term marriage come to a separation next summer. Prior to this season Girardi stood to command a significant raise on his current $3.4m salary (3.325 cap). Defenders that can play twenty five minutes a game, play physically and chip in twenty to thirty points a year can command quite the financial return on the open market.

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Best case/worst case scenarios for Ranger defensemen and goalies in 2013

How good can Ryan McDonagh be?

Defensemen

Aaron Johnson

Best case: Johnson is an adequate depth defender and is significantly better than Stu Bickel in spot duty.

Worst case: Johnson is no better than Bickel and the Rangers are back where they were last year if top-six blueliners get hurt.

Anton Stralman

Best case: Stralman continues to be an unsung hero for the Blueshirts and finally earns the attention he deserves with a standout campaign, including some gaudy power play numbers.

Worst case: Stralman’s hold on the #6 job loosens and Justin Falk pushes him for playing time. Read more »

Is there space for McIlrath?

McIlrath

When will McIlrath be intimidating NHL forwards?

The Rangers drafted Dylan McIlrath 10th overall in 2010 and ever since, media and fans have been waiting for his arrival. While McIlrath is now completely healthy and at Rangers camp looking to make the team there doesn’t appear space in the defensive unit even though his style is an absolute need.

The Rangers are blessed with a strong top four when Marc Staal, Dan Girardi, Ryan McDonagh and Michael Del Zotto are all fit and able. With Anton Stralman a solid depth option it leaves a whole raft of ifs and buts to scrap it out for the 6th and 7th defensive spots. McIlrath will be fighting it out with Aaron Johnson, Danny Syvret, Justin Falk, John Moore and even the likes of Stu Bickel for a roster spot.

The problem here is not ability. John Moore aside, McIlrath has much more upside than any of the other options who are realistically in the frame for the top six. McIlrath needs game time. The Rangers top four will eat up the vast majority of ice time and given his lengthy absence last year the last thing the Rangers want to do to with McIlrath is curb – or stall – his development by offering up five or six minute cameos.

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What does a healthy Marc Staal mean to the Rangers?

Can Staal get back to his dominant old self?

Can Staal get back to his dominant old self?

It’s hard to count on a player that hasn’t played a full season since 2010. It’s hard to rely on a player that has been told he’ll never truly be 100% again. It’s also hard to know where to begin with a player who has seen Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi (by necessity) pass him on the depth chart. Marc Staal is a luxury. It’s this fact that should make Rangers fans giddy with excitement.

In the 2012/13 regular season the Rangers were 11th overall in goals against despite just half a season from Staal, an underwhelming season from Girardi, a yo-yo like year from Del Zotto, all the while incorporating John Moore into the line-up and enduring re-treads such as Roman Hamrlik. In short, the Rangers defense was in a giant state of flux last season and they still were around the top third in the league.

The season before, Staal again only played approximately half the year and the Rangers were second in the league defensively. A lot has to do with John Tortorella’s system but also the players at his disposal. If the Rangers can count on Marc Staal playing twenty minutes plus per game the Rangers will possess a dominant defense this year, especially if Alain Vigneault’s approach generates more puck possession. If Staal is back close to full strength the Rangers may have the best top four defense in the league.

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Who will be the first injury call ups?

Think Miller is the first call up? Think again (Seth Wenig/AP)

Think Miller is the first call up? Think again (Seth Wenig/AP)

One thing that we can be sure about next season is that there will be injuries. If we learned anything from this postseason, it’s that you can never have enough depth, because you never know when the injuries will begin to mount. It was one area that Slats worked very diligently to address this offseason, and he did a mighty fine job at doing so.

For the sake of this post, we are going to assume a few things:

  1. The entire roster is healthy. The point is to see who would be the first call up following an injury from a roster at full strength, then work our way down.
  2. Arron Asham and Darroll Power will be in the AHL. It’s a cap thing and a roster space thing at this point. The same goes for Aaron Johnson.
  3. Chris Kreider makes the opening day roster. J.T. Miller, Oscar Lindberg, and the other kids people might have penciled in, do not.
  4. No trades from now until the season starts.

These aren’t exactly ground-breaking assumptions, just things we have been able to infer from the roster moves so far.

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Rangers regular season defense roles and usage

Defense usage chart

Defense usage chart.

Last week, we looked at how John Tortorella used his forwards from a matchup perspective. Since AV is very similar to Torts in the way he utilizes matchups and zone starts, we figure it’s good to know how players were deployed, as it will likely remain the same under AV. This style plays to the strength of certain players, and particularly keeps the weak defenders away from big draws in the defensive zone. Explaining how players are deployed is tough, but luckily Rob Vollman has HockeyAbstract.com, where we can create player usage charts.

The Y axis is Corsi Rel QoC, the X axis is OZone start percent. The size of each bubble represents the average TOI per game (larger bubbles for more ice time), and the color represents the RCorsi (red is bad, blue is good). The chart is broken down into four quadrants, which tells us how each player was deployed: Shut Down, Two-Way, Less-Sheltered, and Sheltered. Put it all together, and you get how each defenseman was deployed on the ice, for how long, and how effective they were at driving puck possession.

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Falk an upgrade on Eminger; Syvret means the end of Gilroy, Hamrlik

So long Emmy, it's been fun (Photo by Mike Stobe/NHLI via Getty Images).

So long Emmy, it’s been fun (Photo by Mike Stobe/NHLI via Getty Images).

Over the past two days, Glen Sather has made two minor trades to acquire much-needed depth defensemen in Justin Falk from Minnesota and Danny Syvret from Philadelphia. Defensive depth was clearly an issue, as the Rangers were exploited against the Bruins without Marc Staal, and hopeless once Anton Stralman went down. They needed to address this, and they have done just that.

In Falk and Syvret, the Rangers get two young(ish) defensemen –both left-handed shots– who are on the cusp of cracking an NHL lineup. Falk has more NHL games under his belt, but both are capable of dressing in a pinch and holding their own. Neither is going to wow you, but they are certainly better than what we saw from Roman Hamrlik (or what we didn’t see from Matt Gilroy). It is likely that Falk and Syvret will mean the end of Hamrlik and Gilroy on Broadway. However, Steve Eminger is a curious case.

Warning: #fancystats coming up.

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