Over the weekend, news broke that Keith Yandle has put off extension talks with the Rangers. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, as Yandle’s minutes since coming to New York have been minimal. He’s been relegated to third pairing and second powerplay time, after playing 20 minutes a night in Arizona. You can make the case that the Rangers have a deeper defense than Arizona, which is true, but you cannot defend playing inferior players over Yandle on a nightly basis, especially when you consider the cost to acquire him.
Yandle cost the Rangers Anthony Duclair, a first round pick, a second round pick, and John Moore. Moore was included to make room for Yandle, and the first/second round picks are the cost of doing business in the NHL. The biggest piece was Duclair, who is having a great year in Arizona with a line of 12-11-23 thus far. He was a first round talent that fell to the third round, and the Rangers got 18 games and one-and-a-half seasons of a misused Yandle for him. Horrible asset management. And that’s not even the crux of the issue.
It’s not just me around here who thinks Yandle has been misused or that the Rangers need to adjust playing time either. Suit wrote a pair of posts about it. Justin alluded to changing up ice time in his most recent post as well. Every BSB writer has said something about this on Twitter. The one thing we all seem to agree on is that the Rangers have absolutely wasted Keith Yandle.
Time Wasted at Even Strength
First things first, it’s very clear Yandle is the Rangers’ best puck mover on the blue line. He doesn’t panic with the puck, and he usually makes smart, crisp passes to lead the rush out of the zone. He’s had a few blunders, but every one has bad passes. And for every bad pass Yandle makes, I can count at least three for two players getting significantly more ice time: Dan Girardi and Marc Staal.
Let’s get into that ice time and deployment first. Below is Yandle’s usage at even strength:
Yandle clearly gets the worst teammates to play with, but yet he still has the greatest positive impact on possession among all Ranger defensemen. He leads the team in relative Corsi (7.47), with the next closest being Dylan McIlrath at 5.94. He and McIlrath are also the only two defensemen above 50% Corsi. The Rangers simply do not move the puck well without him on the ice.
People will point to the offensive zone starts and say that Yandle is sheltered and not a good defenseman. Simply put, you don’t have a guy who is this good at generating offense starting his time in the defensive zone. It’s terrible coaching. He’s not the best in his own zone, but you deal with those issues as long as he’s generating offense. In the new NHL, the best defense is comprised of a mix of your solid defenders like Ryan McDonagh, and your puck movers who can calmly collect the puck and move it up the ice. Yandle is the only player the Rangers have that fits the latter skill set.
Below is a chart I used once before, about how Yandle’s presence on the ice is always a net positive on his teammates and defense partner:
Yandle influences every pairing he’s been with in a positive manner. Heck, he even drags Girardi from the anchor spot in the bottom left towards the breakeven red line. Every time he’s on the ice, he’s making his teammates better. If you can deal with Girardi passing the puck to Alex Ovechkin from time to time, then you can deal with Yandle making an errant pass from time to time.
If you want to look at this from a broader team perspective, and not just on the defense, check this out:
That’s Yandle in the top-right in blue, meaning he has the largest influence of this team being “good” when on the ice. In sharp contrast, look at the red “93” in the lower left. That’s how bad the Rangers are without Yandle, by far the largest swing on the roster.
Let’s get to scoring, and how Yandle influences the Rangers there as well:
This is a new chart I’m using, and it shows how big of an influence Yandle is to getting offense from the blue line. He has by far the most number of primary assists (blue) among the defensemen. The lines coming from either side show his greatest benefactors. The biggest benefactor of his assists? Mats Zuccarello. Zuccarello leads the team in goals. That is not a coincidence at all. Heck, Yandle even got Tanner Glass a goal.
Based on this, you’d think that Yandle would get more time, but he doesn’t. At even strength Yandle is fifth (!!) in ice time at 16.14 minutes per game. Girardi (16.75), Staal (16.69), McDonagh (16.57), Klein (16.43), Yandle (16.14), Boyle (15.43), in that order. So much for playing your best players the most.
Wasted Time on the Powerplay
The above was just at even strength. The powerplay usage is even more perplexing. Yandle is currently getting the least amount of minutes with the man advantage since 2007-2008, averaging just 2.27 minutes per game with the man advantage. Part of this is due to the Rangers not drawing as many penalties this season, but most of it is due to his demotion to the second pairing. Both McDonagh (2.32) and Boyle (2.62) get more minutes per game with the man advantage.
In terms of actual powerplay production, Yandle leads all three defensemen in powerplay points with eight (1-7-8). Boyle and McDonagh both have lines of 2-5-7 in more playing time. It’s tough to really argue with the success of the first unit, as McDonagh and Boyle have done a solid job generating results. However this again goes to process over results, as results can be skewed by a lucky bounce here and there. Here’s the usage for all three players on the powerplay:
Yandle gets the worst teammates on the powerplay and the worst zone starts, yet he’s still the best puck mover. Boyle is a close second, and surprisingly enough McDonagh actually has a negative relative CF% on the powerplay. That more than likely has to do with his numbers being compared to Boyle and Yandle than anything else, though.
So on the powerplay, despite the lowest minutes –and a 5.3 P/60 rate, his highest since 2007-2008– and worst usage in terms of teammates and zone starts, Yandle still outperforms Boyle and McDonagh. More evidence of a wasted asset.
The Rangers dealt their best and perhaps most explosive prospect for a defenseman that was brought in to stabilize the blue line. He’s done just that. However despite his solid play, Alain Vigneault insists on giving inferior players having bad years more ice time at even strength and on the powerplay.
When all is said and done, the Rangers will have sent Anthony Duclair to Arizona for a year and a half of great and misused Yandle. They’ve let bad contracts and questionable lineup decisions get in the way of winning. If accountability is key, then why are the Rangers wasting perhaps their best asset on the blue line?