Archive for Defense
With Marc Staal returning to the line-up tonight, speculation will begin (again) as to whether the timing of his return is right, and whether Staal will ever be able to return to his previous best. In addition to the obvious chase for a playoff spot, and the continued (prolonged) acclimatisation to the new coaching staff, the Rangers will need to treat the second half of the season as an audition of sorts for Marc Staal.
There’s no question that Staal – at his best – is an elite All Star calibre defenseman, capable of shutting down the league’s best scorers, while also contributing offensively. However there are a boat load of questions regarding his durability, the task of re-projecting his long-term potential, and subsequently measuring his relative importance to the Rangers. In addition, the club needs to consider the financial risks that come with committing to such an injury prone and potentially concussion-vulnerable player.
Suit kicked off our annual midseason grades yesterday with his review of Alain Vigneault and the coaching staff. As Suit mentioned in his preamble, we all hand out ‘performance grades’ around the mid-way point of the regular season and just after the commencement of the playoffs. As always, these grades aren’t just based on stats, but also the execution of each personnel or player’s respective role within the organization.
We do not take these grades lightly. Each grade is very well thought out. For the defense, I graded based on two areas: on-ice performance based on role on team, stats (both traditional and #fancy) based on role. It’s important to note that I stressed role on the team. This means that a player like Dan Girardi will be graded based on his role as a shutdown performer, and Michael Del Zotto on his offensive contributions.
A quick note about the numbers being used: Goals-Assists-Points, Corsi, OZone starts, Quality of Competition faced. Details here.
Ryan McDonagh (6-17-23, 51.3% Corsi, 47.4% OZ starts, 29.6% ToTm QoC)
Dion Phaneuf. Yes, I said it. The Rangers have a huge question mark in an area – defense – which on paper at least, they have had good depth. Michael Del Zotto is likely, barring a stunning turnaround, on his way out of New York in the summer (at the latest). Marc Staal’s long term future is full of doubt due to injury. That leaves –on paper– two key cogs: Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi. McDonagh is a stud, he’s a future, perennial Norris candidate if he gets some support; unfortunately Dan Girardi is no longer the guy to provide it.
Girardi’s game appears in decline, and yet he’ll still get paid handsomely in the summer, based on past achievements. His play this year has been underwhelming (on a team that, in his defense, has collectively underwhelmed) and he hasn’t been the same consistent presence we grew to appreciate, for the last two years. That’s a long time, playing under his normal assumed levels, to commit to a long term future at a big financial cost.
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.
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→
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.