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-

Dan Girardi

The story on Girardi is very similar to McDonagh.  He enjoyed a very solid season despite a small dip in form from the previous one.  He is most valuable in that shut-down role, and questions will continue to persist about his value to a new coach and a different system.  I think guys that can shut-down the top scorers of the opposition consistently, while playing big minutes, will provide serious value in any type of defense structure.  A-

Marc Staal

Staal started the year off playing phenomenal hockey.  He appeared to have put the concussion issues that plagued him last season, until he took a puck to the face.  He only appeared in one game after March 5th, and the Rangers suffered his loss dearly come playoff time.  I fully expect a rebound next year if his recovery is complete.  B

Anton Stralman 

Stralman had something of an uneven year in this lockout shortened season.  There were times I watched him play and thought he looked completely lost.  Other times, I felt like I was watching a legit top-4 D-man.  Regardless, he has emerged as a solid rotational defender for New York the past few seasons.  He can play top-4 minutes in a pinch, and is a solid option on the bottom pairing.  Hopefully the Rangers acquire the depth this off-season to play Stralman in the role he is best suited for, but he did a fine job this season.  Plus, he’s all about the hip check.  Which is awesome. B+

Michael Del Zotto

Speaking of uneven, DZ sure takes a beating around here.  His season was marred by inconsistency and a lack of offensive development.  Coming off a fantastic 2011-2012 season, the fans and the organization were surely looking for a step forward.  Del Zotto’s future with the Rangers is in something of a state of flux, but I’m betting he settles in as a nice complementary defenseman, but I think that “true powerplay QB” projection is quickly becoming a pipe dream.  C+

John Moore

John Moore was a revelation for the Rangers upon his arrival from Columbus in the Marian Gaborik trade.  His explosive skating and hard accurate shot endeared Moore to the fans early (not to mention his fighting prowess), and it seems that shot of confidence helped establish the young defender as a core piece going forward.  As mentioned before, it would be nice to have the depth to move him into a more prominent role at his own pace, but Moore is going to be very important for the defensive unit going forward.  A-

Steve Eminger

Eminger has been a reliable depth piece for the Rangers for the past several seasons.  He is ideally situated as the 7th defenseman, but he performed admirably, even in top-4 duty this season.  He isn’t the flashiest defenseman, but he gets the job done.  B+

Roman Hamrlik

Claimed on waivers after Staal went down, I understood the acquisition at the time.  That being said, Hamrlik was pretty terrible overall for the Blueshirts.  He had a few stretches of competent play, but it was a lot of slow-footedness and poor judgment.  D

Matt Gilroy

I kinda feel bad for Gilroy.  He definitely had a few boneheaded plays this season, but I thought overall he wasn’t that bad.  Clearly Torts didn’t trust him farther than he could throw him, so Gilroy didn’t get a whole lot of ice.  Instead of slamming him, since he only played three games after Feb. 26th, I’ll give the Bellmore, NY native an INC

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  • I want to see McIlrath given a legitimite shot to break the top 6. Our D could really use his toughness. Hope he progresses enough to get a good look.

  • Your rankings are fair, maybe a bit high for Strals, but that is a judgement call.

    Like stated above, I too want to see big McIlrath get an honest shot at breaking the top six this coming season. That big frame would be welcome, and the rest of the team gets some physical support but his being there.

    Now if we get Clarkson, McIlrath, with Dorsett, and Asham, I believe we won’t get pushed around anymore.

    On a side note, with Malkin signing, do you see where maybe the Pens let Dupuee walk, if so that would be a nice pick up!!

    • Dupuis sucks. Had his shot in NY. Like Antropov, Robitaille, Cullen, and many others. They cannot perform in a blue sweater. They go elsewhere and light it up.

  • I would love to see McIlrath step up and cement a role in the top 6. He will be one I will watch very closely in camp, but he needs to earn it. Many reports are saying he needs another half season in the AHL before making the jump. Either way, the Rangers need to bring some depth in for this season so they aren’t grasping at the waiver wire anyone someone goes down.

    You make an interesting point about Malkin, Walt. I can’t help but feeling like we’ve seen the Dupuis movie before, and in his prime. I think he definitely benefits from the system/personnel in Pitt greatly.

  • Pretty good rankings. Shows how one dimensional our D is though….no true offensive dman and not tough enough. As much as I like all of our D individually it is amazing that Moore is the only one who could consistently get a point shot through (Girardi’s goals this postseason were wide open shots). Get a puck mover and a crease clearer (would be awesome if McIlrath can make team out of camp) and our D would be top 3 in the league.

    • I agree that the NHL has moved toward specialization. I’d rather have a good group of homogenous defensemen than a mediocre group with the specialization, though. But you make a very good point, considering the special teams difficulties.

      • Staal – Big Buff (pp qb)
        MacD – Girardi
        Moore – Stralman

        McIlrath (mid season callup)

        The top 2 pairs are elite, 3rd pair not too shabby.

        • A potential trade for Byfuglien has taken on a life of its own in this blog. I just don’t see it. I think his reputation has been inflated (like his weight – he was over 300 lbs at the end of the season), and the consistency just hasn’t been there. He had his coach calling him out at the end of the season for “up and down” play.

          He would be one of, if not the best offensive Dmen on the team, but as a PP QB…Winnipeg had the WORST PP% in the NHL this season. No guarantee there.

          He has a cap hit of $5.2M(!) for the next 3 seasons, when he’ll be 31. That cap hit is a deal breaker for me, no value there.

          I just don’t see how it makes much sense when factoring in the cap hit and red flags with the weight and consistency.

          • All good points. Pickins are slim this year, and I don’t know who else we can get for MDZ plus a prospect or two. 5.2 is not that bad for a top pair guy in his prime, and with MDZ’s 2.5 gone (in my trade proposal) plus another 1.0+ for whomever else is included, it doesn’t do too much to our cap. But my main point is to get a RD top pair guy with some offense to play with Staal (who will hopefully fully recover). That makes Mac and Girardi a fantastic 2nd pair, with Moore and Stralman a waaay above average 3rd pair. That D corps is Cup worthy I believe.

          • why go for buff who appears to not even enjoy playing hockey at times. voynovs a righty who can shoot too and doesnt sink into the ice when he stands still and hes cheaper for the cap

          • Love Voynov but he’s a RFA. Kings will resign him for reasonable amt. No way they’d do MDZ for Voynov trade. That’s the right idea though IMO. RD with some offense completes our D.

  • Good write-up. Thought giving Staal a B for getting hit in the eye was a little harsh though.

    I thought signing Gilroy was technically a mistake, but Sather may just have been living up to a promise. In September, he seemed a reasonable low-priced option, but after his (-17) in Connecticut, it seemed clear that he was not the player we saw two years ago — and I think his Ranger play confirmed that.

    • I can see your point on Staal, Ray. He played in a few too many games for me to be able to rationalize an “INC”, but didn’t play enough to settle into the B+ to A range, either. I wanted to reflect his quality performance, but it still needed to be dinged for all the injury time, even if it wasn’t his fault.

  • I’m not sure about Girardi. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan and often apologize for him, but I think that some of his weaknesses were exposed this season. As soon as he was split from McD he became human, and I think makes me nervous (and makes me feel like McD is making him better.) If it were me, McD would be a straight A and Girardi would be closer to B+/B.

    I’m still a huge believer in MDZ. The kid is still only 23 years old, and even though his playoff performance marred his play for the year as a whole, I thought he was solid for the majority of the season. He had his up and down games, but a kid playing as an offensive defenseman is going to have those trends. To me, the coaching change is going to benefit him greatly. He’ll have learned a good deal about defense from Torts’ system, and now with the shift to a (hopefully) more offensive-minded system we should see him begin to work his offensive game better. Trading him now will be a mistake, I would bet tons of cash on that.

    Stralman was spectacular (for what I expected this season vs. what what I got). I barely noticed him, which–to me–was a great thing. He also showed flashes of offense that were very strong. I’d have loved to see him on the PP point more often.

    Moore was very good in his time, but made plenty of boneheaded mistakes. I think an A- is a bit generous there. He has nowhere to go but up, though.

    Eminger was also solid, and impressive in his ability to be unnoticable.

    Hamrlik was an important pick-up, just to prove that 39-year-olds are never the right band aid.

    I would really like Gilroy to get another shot under a different coach. He was never right for a Torts system, and I like the guy.

  • I’d say these are spot on. I was very disappointed with Hammer in particular. I spoke very highly of him in the comments when we first acquired him, but his skating was atrocious and the guy just was not made for Tort’s system. With all this talk about acquiring forwards, I really think we need a defenseman. Nothing flashy, but I’d love a defenseman who is similar to Stralman’s skill level as added depth.

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