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Category: Defense

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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Is Ballard worth the risk?

Is Ballard worth the risk?

Is Ballard worth the risk?

With the NHL draft behind us, the attention turns to the free agency period beginning on July 5th. In the mean time, teams begin to offload salary and make roster changes in anticipation of auction season. One of the moves that has already been made has seen Vancouver place Keith Ballard on waivers (regular waives, not buyout waivers). While the Rangers have already attempted to add blueline depth by adding Justin Falk, the Rangers could consider taking a risk on Keith Ballard.

Ballard has been a marginal player for the Canucks despite having a cap numbing $4.2m cap hit. His contract doesn’t come off the books until after the 2014/15 season. That said, Ballard is only 30, can skate well and is a solid player at both ends of the rink when he’s on his game. Much of the decision here depends on the organization’s intentions with Michael Del Zotto (once again thrown into the rumour mill by Brooks) and the health of Marc Staal. With Mike Sauer no longer in contention, the Rangers would really solidify their blueline if Ballard would pan out.

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Rangers final grades: Defense

Defense was a hallmark of the 2011-2012 New York Rangers.  It was arguably the key ingredient in their run to the Eastern Conference Finals.  They had an unwavering commitment to shot-blocking and solid play in their own end.  Even without a ton of roster turnover, the unit was not as proficient as they were last season, but still had a solid campaign overall.  Let’s look at the individual contributions of each blue liner…

Ryan McDonagh

McDonagh experienced a slight drop off from his 2011-2012 form, but overall showed off a much more well-rounded game.  Although his point totals remained very similar to last season, he showed an increased willingness to jump up into the play and be more involved in the offense.  He still plays a top-notch, shutdown defensive game and can eat workhorse minutes.  As his offensive game improves, he could develop into a Norris level defenseman.  Let’s not forget, he’s only 24.  A-

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Estimating Ryan McDonagh’s next contract

Ryan McDonagh is going to be the trickiest RFA to sign.

Ryan McDonagh is going to be the trickiest RFA to sign.

 When news broke yesterday of Roman Josi’s new contract with the Nashville Predators ($28 million over 7 years), focus immediately shifted to Ryan McDonagh. After all, McDonagh and Josi are very comparable players. They are both coming off their ELCs. They are both top-pairing defensemen. They are both arbitration eligible. Most importantly, they are both likely to receive some attention on the RFA market.

However, that is where the similarities end. Josi has just one lockout-shortened full season, and 52 games in his rookie year last year. He has put up lines of 5-11-16 and 5-13-18 in each of those seasons respectively. Meanwhile, McDonagh has an extra full season under his belt, and has a 30 point season as well. On paper, McDonagh is the more credentialed defenseman.

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Michael Del Zotto is safe in New York, for now

Del Zotto needs to improve, and he will be given the time to do so.

Del Zotto needs to improve, and he will be given the time to do so.

Michael Del Zotto is a whipping boy for many, and his underwhelming season hasn’t helped him convince certain groups of fans –and media– of his long-term future being in New York. That said, Del Zotto is here to stay for the foreseeable future.  Depending on how the offseason plays out, the Rangers are not exactly blessed with a ton of offense from their blueline, emphasizing the need for an in-form Del Zotto. Unless John Moore’s development is a lot quicker than anticipated, Del Zotto remains the number one offensive blueliner in New York.

Then there is the relatively painful, drawn out contract situation that went on last offseason. Glen Sather doesn’t go through such a protracted –at times public– negotiation if he doesn’t a) believe the player is the right fit for the Rangers, or b) he doesn’t have viable alternatives. Del Zotto should factor into both aspects, as there are a clear lack of alternatives at any level of the Rangers system. Should Del Zotto find some consistency, his game fits well with the Rangers current DNA.

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Stay or go: Steve Eminger

(Photo: Blueshirts United)

If there’s one problem that has plagued the Rangers longer than the broken power play, it’s a lack of depth on defense.

You’ll never confuse Steve Eminger with a Norris Trophy candidate, but the 29-year-old has provided tremendous support for New York’s top blueliners over the last three seasons. Whether Eminger was asked to sit in the press box or absorb major minutes in the stead of an injured member of the rearguard, he has shown up ready to do his job. You can’t ask for more than that from a guy that made $750k last year. Read more »