Rangers midseason grades: The defense

The steadiest of the steady (Elsa/Getty Images)
The steadiest of the steady (Elsa/Getty Images)

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)

What more is there to say about Ryan McDonagh? The kid has solidified himself not only as the team’s top defenseman, but a Norris trophy candidate. His 23 points lead the defensemen, and he does this while facing the toughest matchups on the team (tied with Girardi) and starting the second-fewest shifts in the offensive zone (Girardi – 46.9%). He has also emerged as the top powerplay producer (1-7-8 with the man advantage) for a team struggling to get contributions from the point.

Grade: A

Dan Girardi (2-7-9, 50.0% Corsi, 46.9% OZ starts, 29.6% ToTm QoC)

Girardi has struggled this season, even if his stats don’t necessarily show his struggles. On paper Girardi is a solid defensive defenseman, getting the tough assignments and still managing to stay at the 50% puck possession line. On paper, it’s what you would want. But on the ice, we’ve seen something very different in the way Girardi has been playing. There are a lot of scoring chances given up because Girardi has been out of position, forcing himself to snow angel instead of cutting down the angle appropriately. That is what separates him from McDonagh (aside from scoring), his foot speed and skating is getting exploited in a new, non-shot blocking based defensive zone system. It’s not to say that Girardi is having a poor season, he’s just not having the season we have expected of our top shutdown guy.

Grade: C+

Marc Staal (2-1-3, 53.5% Corsi, 46.5% OZ starts, 28.7% ToTm QoC)

Staal is a tough one to grade. Although not relied upon to score, just 3 points in 30 games is a sharp decline in offensive production. Pre-2012 concussion, Staal was a borderline 30 point player, and was on pace for 40 points last season (prorated). That said, Staal has been one of the more steady defensemen for the Rangers when he plays. No longer relied upon to do the heavy lifting as a top pairing defenseman, Staal has been a solid second pairing guy. He is second among defenseman in puck possession (Anton Stralman leads the team) while still facing some very difficult competition. He’s prone to some major gaffes, but no defenseman is perfect. I just wish he would stay healthy.

Grade: B when healthy

Stralman (Photo: Getty)
Stralman (Photo: Getty)

Anton Stralman (0-4-4, 55.8% Corsi, 52.2% OZ starts, 28.5% ToTm QoC)

There has been no bigger surprise than Anton Stralman. Initially expected to be a bottom pairing guy, Stralman’s strong early season play —21 straight games as a positive relative Corsi— catapulted him to the second pairing with Staal. Although it isn’t showing up on the scoreboard (he’s not relied upon for scoring), his Corsi of 55.8% leads all Ranger defensemen. He is getting favorable zone starts, but he’s also facing pretty stiff competition, a by-product of moving up to the second pairing. Not without fault, Stralman’s play trailed off significantly in December before his wrist injury, with 11 of his last 18 games as a negative Corsi. His recent stretch of mediocre play has been very visible on the ice, as he has fallen victim to over using the snow angel as well.

Grade: B

Michael Del Zotto (2-5-7, 51.2% Corsi, 61.4% OZ starts, 27.9% ToTm QoC)

Although not as bad as everyone has made him out to be (far better than Justin Falk, on par with John Moore), Del Zotto has certainly struggled this year. He is second among defensemen in offensive zone starts (John Moore – 66.6%) but just fourth in Corsi. Relied upon to provide stability to the powerplay and generate offense while playing second pairing minutes, MDZ is third among defensemen in scoring. All of this has led to Del Zotto sitting in the press box for multiple games and non-stop trade rumors. His defensive zone play isn’t perfect by any stretch, but he isn’t the major liability that everyone assumes just by looking at his number.

Grade: C-

John Moore (2-5-7, 50.9% Corsi, 66.6% OZ starts, 27.4% ToTm QoC)

These numbers look familiar, don’t they? Perhaps the difference between Moore and Del Zotto is that MDZ was supposed to provide offensive stability and top-four minutes, while Moore was a relative unknown?

Anyway, Moore has tremendous talent and potential, but has yet to harness all of it. His numbers show he is still struggling with the offensive part of his game, and his play on the ice shows that he has been struggling in the defensive zone as well.

Grade: C, because less was expected of Moore, despite the similar numbers.

Justin Falk (0-2-2, 44.4% Corsi, 58.9% OZ starts, 27.0% ToTm QoC)

On paper, Falk’s numbers are rough. On the ice, his positioning and skating have been exploited numerous times. Simply put, both Moore and Del Zotto are better choices than Falk, who was slated as the 7th defenseman anyway. Falk does bring a physical edge to the game, and is certainly a better skater than Stu Bickel. As a #7, Falk is serviceable. Problem is that he’s being relied upon too much because of injuries and inconsistent play by Moore and Del Zotto.

Grade C, based on his role

Dylan McIlrath and Connor Allen receive incompletes, as they haven’t played enough games.

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      • I don’t think Staal diserves a B for his efforts. Maybe because of all the hockey he’s missed but we could make an excuse for all the D. Staal has gotten beat wide on too many occasions in man to man coverage. I’d give Staal a C+ and the plus would be for all the time he’s missed coupled with QoC and the mins played in a new system. Although Strahlman has slacked off a bit of late, he stepped up in a big way this season. Being 1 of only 2 righties on Defense makes his top 4 mins even more important. He’d get an A- for lack of offense from me.

        • I graded based on role on the team. Staal is now a 2nd pairing, not a top pairing. He isn’t perfect, nor is he what he used to be, but he’s still one of the best 2nd pairing LHD in the league. If not the best.

        • Pretty much agree with your assessment. Staal does not get a B (and not because he missed games). He needs to be way more assertive and has to contribute a bit more on the offense. I would have seen would the Rangers could have received from him in a trade early in the year. DZ needs to step up and show us (like Kreider has) why he was drafted so high.

  • The grading is fair, and about right.

    It would be interesting to see if they put MDZ on the left side for some 10 games, to see if there is a marked improvement in his game!! It’s funny, I remember him playing better in the 11-12 season, but he seems to have fallen back somewhat. Also, in the best interest of the team, and MDZ, I believe that a change of scene will work wonders for the kid.

    It appears that Mike has been in AV dog house all season, and even an article was written in the Post this morning about some so called sly remarks being directed at Mike, which AV denies!!

  • Girardi C-(at best!)
    McDonagh A-
    Staal (Incomplete)
    MDZ (C-)
    Overall, a C for the whole group. An average grade for a bunch of average, pedestrian defensemen. Its very troubling to see how much Girardi’s game has deteriorated this year. I don’t think the Brass was ready for that. MDZ has taken a step back. McDonagh is coming into his own. Stralman has played well; a lot better than I expected. Falk is what he is; no real complaints with him. I won’t grade Staal yet until I see him on a regular basis. I will say that before he got hurt again, he wasn’t very good; by his own admission. Overall, as a group, they have to pick it up!!

  • Girardi’s numbers are so good because he’s being carried through by McDonagh, I think that should factor in to McDonagh’s grade. A+++++++

  • MDZ, always playing out of position on the right side with a 51.2 CORSI & McDonough with a 51.3. Interesting. I knew MDZ was playing a more responsible defensive gm this year, if not having a great offensive year.

    That idiot Vigneault yesterday said MDZ struggled defensively the last 2 gms. Too bad Vigneault was in a coma the last 2 gms. The only goal scored while MDZ was on the ice when McDonough’s man skated around McDonough to score a goal. Vigneault is after Hagelin as well, who leads Rangers with 3 gms winning goals & 9 even strength goal. If MDZ is moved, Vigneault will chase Hagelin & Miller next, then he will be fired.

    • McDonagh has a 51.3% Corsi% while getting 47.4% of his starts in the Offensive zone. Del Zotto has a 51.2 Coris% while getting 61% O-zone starts…try again.

  • And give Ulfie an F for coaching a D that seemingly runs all over the place(overload?) trying to figure out where they should be. I think Steve Eminger was better than Falk, but Conor Allen will soon supplant both he & MDZ.

  • I would like to point out how the Flyers are now 2 points ahead of the Rangers with a game in hand. For all the NYR fans that said the Flyers would suck. This is what you get for overlooking a huge hockey market like Philly. True the Rangers should have 10 more points than they do but this Flyers team is young and talented with a Rich owner and deep pockets. Now that they have some momentum. That owner is gonna make a splash in a trade for sure. If Sather is sitting on his hands, he should at least drive up the price on whatever they go for. Toronto has said they want to shop Kadri. He’s a nice young player but is he bad in the locker room.
    Happy New Years to all. Thanks as always for reading my novels full of mixed thoughts.

  • I don’t think Stralman is that much of a surprise. He was fantastic in 2011-12, and really stepped up his game to fill the long-term absence of Staal. He was an integral piece of the playoff surge to the Conference Finals that year and chipped in offensively quite a bit.

    Best Free Agent signing for Sather in years.

  • Dave, CORSI is not everything, but MDZ has spent much of the season on the right side. Put McDonough, Staal, & Moore on the right side & see how their CORSI suffers. Since McDonough has a one tenth of one % edge over MDZ in CORSI, I think that edge would vanish real quick if youput McDonough, Staal, & Moore on the right side. If anything, Staal is protected as once a couple of years ago, Staal was put on the right side & teams just focused onStaal & he just couldn’t get the puck out of his own zone. In any case, Staal & Falk are living on borrowed time, probably Girardi & MDZ as well. Both Sather & Vigneault will be the death of us fans yet.

  • McDonagh is the best player on the ice every game. Enough said!
    Do not underestimate how bad Del Zotto has been. Left side, right side…he just sucks, can’t wait to see this loser shipped out of town.

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