Archive for Defense
Through the first seven games of the season, the Rangers have tread water with a 4-3 record. Considering the injuries to Derek Stepan and Dan Boyle, that’s what most had hoped for. These are two significant injuries that compound the issue of significant roster turnover from last year. Those that have been with the club for a while need to be the anchors that hold the ship steady, and right now, the top three of Ryan McDonagh, Dan Girardi, and Marc Staal have been underwhelming.
The three of them combined have just five assists for the season. Defensive scoring is critical for successful teams, and while I don’t expect this to be an on-going problem throughout the year, it has been a problem nonetheless. While offense is an issue, the more alarming issue is the defensive meltdowns that led to three straight losses where the team allowed 17 goals. Evan Sporer at Blueshirt Banter wrote a good piece about shot quality, and how the Rangers defense was allowing quality shots. I’m not going to re-hash it here, but you should check it out, it’s a brilliant post.
This past offseason, the Rangers let Anton Stralman walk via free agency and a five-year, $4.5 million deal in Tampa Bay. They replaced him with Dan Boyle on a shorter term deal, two years at $4.5 million. While the move was hotly contested by many, and created a divide for the pro-Stralman and anti-Stralman debate, the fact is that Boyle was still a serviceable replacement, and someone who would certainly help the team on the powerplay.
But then, 40 minutes into the season, Boyle broke his hand. Mike Kostka and Matt Hunwick have been called upon to replace him in the lineup, paired with either Marc Staal or John Moore. For the first month of the season, the Rangers are replacing Stralman with the Kostka/Hunwick combination, and no matter which way you slice it, that was never part of the plan.
John Moore was the last regular from the 2013-14 varsity to sign a new deal for the upcoming season. That he wasn’t a priority speaks of the Rangers cap crunch but also of Moore’s uncertain future as well as his underwhelming performance as a Ranger. Although Moore has played well at times for the Rangers, it is hard not to expect more when you analyse his talent, size, pedigree and the need the Rangers have for another defenseman to step up offensively.
Had John Moore developed as hoped there’s every chance the Rangers wouldn’t have pursued Dan Boyle and would have had a sizeable chunk of cap cash to pursue a big name center this past summer but Moore didn’t develop into the two way defenseman both the Blue Jackets and the Rangers hoped for and Dan Boyle is indeed a New York Ranger. Meanwhile the Rangers have a merry-go-round at center in Derek Stepan’s absence.
Black and Blueshirts like Brian Boyle and Ryan Callahan are gone and in their place are players with much more skill, like Dan Boyle and Martin St. Louis. Vigneault arrived with a reputation for being a proponent of analytics and a master of matchups, but his actual top priority since arriving in Manhattan has been far simpler: get the team to score more goals.
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.