Archive for Defense
With training camp in full swing, we had a bit of a preview into how Alain Vignault will deploy his defense pairings. Group A had Dan Boyle and Marc Staal together, essentially Boyle subbing in for the now departed Anton Stralman. John Moore was also in Group A. Group B had Dan Girardi paired with Ryan McDonagh, as per usual, and also had Kevin Klein. Both groups had kids vying for an NHL roster spot.
Leaving the kids out of this for a moment, as it is unlikely one of the kids will break camp with the big club unless there is an injury, all signs point to AV keeping McDonagh-Girardi as his top pair and Moore-Klein as his third pair. That of course leaves Staal and Boyle as the second pair. It’s what makes logical sense given the departure of Stralman, and keeps the lineup relatively balanced.
But some, including myself, have wondered how McDonagh would fair without Girardi. It’s no secret that Girardi draws mixed reviews among fans. His playoff performance against the Kings was woeful, as his footspeed was exploited on numerous occasions. But, he’s the longest tenured Ranger, rarely misses a game, and has that “warrior” factor in the sense that he’s probably made of robot parts. The fact that he’s never had a serious injury with the number of blocked shots is astounding.
As the lone RFA from the Rangers that is not arbitration eligible, the John Moore contract renewal falls at the bottom of the to-do list for the Rangers. Moore’s contract will become more of a focus after Chris Kreider, Derick Brassard, and Mats Zuccarello all sign, but that doesn’t mean Moore is forgotten about. If you remember Glen Sather’s history, he waits until August to get his non-arbitration RFAs under contract.
As for Moore, he’s coming off his ELC that paid him $810,000 in salary, with an additional $125,000 available in performance bonuses. The 23-year-old defenseman played the majority of his time on the third pairing, splitting his time with Michael Del Zotto and Kevin Klein. Moore played his weak side before the Del Zotto/Klein swap, moving to his strong side once the right-handed Klein came on board. Moore also put up career highs in goals (4), assists (11), and points (15) this season while averaging between 11-13 minutes per game.
Dan Girardi – What a roller coaster year Girardi just completed. He looked totally lost at the beginning of the season (like several Blueshirts), but quickly turned around his game and played like his old self during the second-half. Management was convinced that Girardi’s early-season hiccups were an anomaly and rewarded him with a six-year, $33 million contract, essentially choosing Girardi over captain Ryan Callahan. But Girardi again looked like a liability once the playoffs started, culminating in his train wreck performance (mixed with a healthy share of bad luck) during the Stanley Cup Final that left many fans calling for a trade. Girardi had no more than a dislocated finger during the playoffs, so his pylon-like play should raise eyebrows given the substantial financial commitment New York made to him just a few months prior. Nevertheless, Girardi has been a tremendous player for the Rangers during his eight-year career, and, just as Brad Richards did at the start of this year, Girardi seems likely to bounce-back from this most recent embarrassment in a big way. Grade: B-
Anton Stralman – For almost his entire tenure in blue, Stralman was the most underappreciated player on the team. But thanks to his particularly stellar play during the postseason and some gushing comments from talking heads and bloggers alike, Stralman is now viewed as a must-keep player by many fans. Advanced metrics make Stralman look like a true stud, but he’s been a very good second-pairing defender, not necessarily a $5 million a year blueliner. Stralman contributes next to nothing offensively – though some argue that his possession metrics suggest he was a victim of bad luck and believe Stralman actually does far more to help the attack than his point total indicates. Stralman has certainly emerged as a very good defender, but he seems like a guy that was underrated for so long, he’s now overrated. Grade: A-
So far in the playoffs (a few hiccups aside) and after every additional game, Anton Stralman is getting more expensive for the New York Rangers to retain. As such, the team should already be considering moving on from the solid yet unspectacular blueliner.
If rumours are true that Stralman rejected a three year, $9 million dollar deal from the Rangers back in March, then he’s already auditioning for July’s free agency. Over the past few months Stralman’s value certainly won’t have lessened and Stralman’s agent will also know about the general lack of quality blueliners available this summer. It should certainly be a seller’s market (and another reason the Rangers need to handle Marc Staal’s contract situation as a matter of priority).
If a trade was judged purely on previous production there would have been a lot more complaints the day the Rangers traded away Michael Del Zotto for Kevin Klein. Luckily, the Ranger fan base is (on the whole) more informed than that.
Looking back at Glen Sather’s acquisition of Kevin Klein, it would be easy to assume Sather gave up on Del Zotto (which was true to an extent) but a more appropriate way of looking at it would be how Sather was able to BETTER balance his defense when he brought Klein on board.
While Klein’s 6 points, +4 rating and 36 hits are not jaw dropping numbers the good ol’ fashioned eye test helps to review his game. Klein has generally impressed with his decision making and ability to make a solid defensive play consistently. His positioning has been consistently good and his ability under pressure has been strong. Klein has no problem taking a hit to make a play and has been a solid addition for the Rangers. No longer do Ranger fans hold their collective breath like they did when Del Zotto wandered around his own zone.
When Anton Stralman rejected a three-year, $9 million offer from the Rangers over the weekend, a lot of fans were outraged. This would be the fourth Ranger this season to “reject a perfectly good offer.” Henrik Lundqvist’s negotiations took a while before he re-signed, as did Dan Girardi’s. Ryan Callahan’s never materialized, and he was shipped to Tampa Bay at the trade deadline.
Unrestricted free agency is a tricky beast. Market value is generally determined by comparable contracts, but the player has all the leverage. As we saw with Cally, teams will be willing to give him seven years and $6 million, which makes his value higher. It’s best to view this objectively, which is tough considering how much we all love the Rangers.
When it comes to Stralman, and in particular defensemen who are not relied upon to produce offensively, market value is a little more difficult to determine. Using point production isn’t the best indicator of value, so we have to be a little more creative.
Per Larry Brooks, Rangers defenseman Anton Stralman has rejected a contract extension from the Rangers worth $9 million over three years. Stralman, who signed as a free agent during the 2011-2012 season, has a line of 1-7-8 in 63 games this year while playing on the second pairing with Marc Staal. The recent acquisition of Kevin Klein –couple with Stralman’s poor play lately– has moved Stralman to the bottom pairing with John Moore.
Stralman is on the final year of his deal that pays him $1.8 million ($1.7 million cap hit). Despite the low offensive production, Stralman is the team leader in relative puck possession (+7.3% Corsi relative). He starts 51.2% of his shifts in the offensive zone, which helps his puck possession stats a bit, and has seen the fourth-highest quality of competition among defensemen (which makes sense based on his usage).
The rejection is a bit….confusing. Then again, Andrew MacDonald turned down $4 million a year from the Islanders. So what do I know?
When the Rangers sent a 2015 5th round pick to Vancouver for Raphael Diaz, many wondered where he would fit in. The Rangers seem set in the top-four with Ryan McDonagh, Dan Girardi, Kevin Klein, and Marc Staal. They also have a fairly effective third pair in John Moore and Anton Stralman, although that pairing has been rather inconsistent of late. With Justin Falk serving as the backup, the acquisition of Diaz –at least on the surface– seemed odd.
But this isn’t an acquisition that we should sleep on. Aside from the obvious depth issues (Falk would be getting at least 10 minutes a night if there were an injury to one of the top-six), the Rangers are one of the worst in the NHL at getting production from their blue liners. Diaz isn’t just some scrub pick up. He’s got more points than Moore, Stralman, Klein, Falk, and Staal. From offensive production alone, he’s already third among Rangers blue liners.
When the Rangers made their Michael Del Zotto for Kevin Klein swap with the Predators, they gave up on a frustrating offensive talent and went with the less able but more reliable stay at home, physical type. What they also did was commit to a player whose size and physical ability is likely to be on the Rangers blue line for several seasons. They also committed to someone that inadvertently may be a road block for one of the franchise’s key draft picks, Dylan McIlrath.
While Klein doesn’t possess the same potential snarl or size as McIlrath, the additional four years (at $2.9 million per year) means the Rangers have solidified their third pairing with the type of player they’ve needed for what seems like generations. Is there still room for McIlrath? With his skating ability still his biggest question mark, Mcllrath’s future is at least partly dependent with how Klein acclimatises to New York, with the initial solid performances promising.
Anyone watching the Rangers to begin the year wouldn’t have foreseen this (individual) turnaround. Anyone paying close attention to the Rangers’ popular no. 5 for most of last year wouldn’t have predicted this scenario either. However, without doubt – thanks to the impressive turnaround in his play – Dan Girardi has become an essential, can’t-be-allowed-to-leave piece of the Rangers puzzle.
Girardi was error prone throughout the Rangers indifferent start to the season. Rather than being part of the solution he was part of the problem. However, the past two months have seen Girardi return to being the indispensible, minute eating, shot blocking rock on the Rangers blueline. Over the past ten games, only three times has Girardi had less than 3 blocked shots. Only twice over the same period has Girardi not being credited with at least two hits. He’s back to his shutdown best.
Girardi’s return to his old form has coincided with the Rangers extended hot streak and has helped the Rangers really develop a core to match even the best teams in the league. With Henrik Lundqvist’s return to form, three capable offensive lines, strong special teams and a dominant top defensive pair (Girardi and Ryan McDonagh), the Rangers are becoming a team no one will want to face come playoff time. This all brings us to the already much discussed free agency and Girardi’s opportunity to cash in.