Making sense of the defensive options

So far in this young training camp, Rangers fans a have been treated to a new-look defense.  Youth and mobility have been the themes of these new additions, but there are still a few hold over veterans who aren’t an obvious fit for the roster and some question marks about some of the younger guys the organization has brought in.

Just to qualify this discussion, it has been two pre-season games.  At least for the young guys, the sample size is far too small to draw any reliable conclusions about their effectiveness or ability to thrive against full-time NHL competition.  We haven’t even seen Alexei Bereglazov yet.

However, we do have plenty of sample on Marc Staal and Nick Holden.  I have no doubt Jeff Gorton tried to move one or both of these guys in the offseason.  The problem is any team with a defensive need is in a staring contest with Vegas and their 17 defensemen that they will need to pass through waivers.  This has undoubtedly discouraged other clubs to either take on salary or provide meaningful compensation in return for either player.

We have seen flashes of ability from Neal Pionk and Tony DeAngelo so far this pre-season.  With the top four of McDonagh, Skjei, Shattenkirk and Smith pretty well set, the bottom pairing can see a number of permutations.  Most of this would depend on the coaching staff’s evaluation of Bereglazov’s ability to make an impact at the NHL level, but his out-clause to the KHL will certainly play a role.

You could let Pionk start in Hartford and roll with Staal and DeAngelo as the bottom pair, with Bereglazov as your seventh defenseman.  You could see if the young Russian would be willing to start the year in Hartford to get used to the North American game while running Holden as your seventh defenseman.  Gorton could obviously swing a trade for Holden once the Vegas music stops and teams are still in need of a defenseman.  Having what appears to be five players for three line up spots can create a ton of options.

Now, the bigger question is, what does the front office do if they decide the younger players are the best way forward?  Well, you could always try to bury Staal and Holden in the minors.  It would offer minimal cap relief, but the Rangers have some breathing room.  Staal would almost certainly pass through waivers, as no one is taking on that contract, as/is.  Holden might get claimed by a team not willing to provide any value for him, but needs a warm body.

You could also make the kids force the issue.  Start both Pionk and DeAngelo in the minors (with Bereglazov as the seventh D) and let performance dictate who sticks on the roster as the season goes along.  I’m not a big fan of this approach, as points in October count the same as points in March, so I would want to put what the organization believes is the best team on the ice as early as possible.

What do you think, how would you approach dealing with Staal and Holden, absent a trade?  Do you think the young guys are ready for an 82-game grind, even in sheltered minutes?  How do you think the relationship the leadership group has with Marc Staal will affect Jeff Gorton and Alain Vigneault’s decision making?  What would your opening night defensive corp look like?

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  • I saw Bereglazov in TC….not impressed one bit…he has to really shine over DeAngelo, Graves and Pionk…Because those 3 are miles ahead of him…he can go back to Russia for all I care….rather see those 3
    He was lostttttttt out there

    • Bereglazov is good in his own end(positioning, stick work) once the opponent gains the zone, but wasn’t very steady on his reads in transition: don’t know if that was the smaller ice forcing him to think faster, but it wasn’t pretty.

  • Have to believe that Gorton is on the phones all day. Staal isn’t going anywhere, so in the end, Holden will be put on waivers. Pionk and DeAngelo are 6&7.

    Only other scenario I see is if a offensive player with big salary becomes available and Staal goes the other way to offset the Cap. I suspect we would have to also move someone else of value. Chances of this before the season are very slim.

  • To me, the pivotal question is: what do we do with Bereglezov?

    Absent a trade, I literally do not care what happens to Holden/Staal. No one is going to take Staal, and Holden has some value, but what’s most important is the youth. Therefore, if we can’t trade Holden, waive him.

    Pionk looked great but I’m sure he could use a little more conditioning.

    Tony D looked ready and has played a handful of games already in the NHL.

    So if Bereglezov looks good in preseason, and is willing to go to the AHL: send him down with Pionk, waive/ dump Holden, keep Graves up and rotate him with Staal.

    If Bereglezov won’t go to the AHL and looks good: waive/dump Holden, send Pionk and Graves to the AHL, rotate Bere with Staal.

    If Bereglezov looks bad AND won’t go to the AHL: cut our losses with him, waive Holden, send Pionk down, rotate Graves with Staal.

    Either way we’re dumping Holden, sending Pionk down, keeping Tony D up, and rotating Staal with either Graves/Bere.

  • I say go with 2 of pionk bereglazov and deangelo for the third pair put the other in Hartford have staal as your 7th d since u can’t trade him and then trade holden for anything… now i believe nick holden is a good defenseman, he was one of our best all last season and I will be fine with him being on third pair if they can get rid of staal but I think this teams shot at a cup will be with a young third pair over staal and holden

  • Ideal top 6:

    7th D–Staal
    Nick Holden held as trade chip for later in season.
    Pionk as midseason callup or earlier if Bereglazov or DeAngelo falter. Not even that Bereglazov has looked that good, his spot on roster is more due to KHL out clause.

    Realistic Vigneault top 6

    7th D–Holden
    Tanner Glass hired as AV’s personal valet.
    Bereglazov 1st injury/insurance callup, Pionk 2nd.

    I still think that Holden can be flipped for a pick later in the season. Staal not so much.

  • It’s been 2 preseason games and we all need to remember this is AV so we should all assume that unfortunately staal and holden will be on the opening night roster.

    I’m ready for this defensive overhaul, my top 6 would be:

    7th d = Bereglazov

    Either send Holden to the minors or trade him. Either sit Staal in the press box as the 8th dman every single night, ask him to waive to go to the minors or maybe he agrees to waive the no move if he knows he won’t be playing.

    Assuming everyone saw those first 2 preseason games, Staal and Holden are not better than these young players. We saw that last year and its already clear this year. We have the cap space so if Staal wants to stay on the roster and be a healthy scratch every night then so be it. Just because he makes over 5 million a year doesn’t mean he should be playing.

    • Pionk reminds me of Ryan Ellis a bit which I love but I think one more summer of working out would do him justice in this league. He looked to be in pain anytime he had to take a hit, Ihope DeAngelo impress enough to move up with Skjei at some point.

      • Yeah I think that’s fair but I still think he’s better than our other options. He’ll do a better job of avoiding checks. Have to remember that Monday was his first NHL action, he was just getting his feet wet. I believe he’ll adjust. I honestly just can’t fathom having Staal and Holden on the ice.

  • DeAngelo is ready for the big show even if his defensive zone play needs work, his skills are too good to waste in the AHL. Pionk might need to get stronger. Bereglazov might need some time in Hartford and at this juncture the jury is out on his overall skills.

    I’d have DeAngelo and Staal/Holden as your 3rd pairing with Staal/Holden as the 7th D while Pionk, Bereglazov and Sean Day play in Hartford. If they manage to shed Holden then bring up the one of the three young guys from Hartford that they believe to be ready for the big club. They want to get something for Holden eventually so I doubt that they bury him.

    • Neglected to include Graves in the Hartford crew and as a potential call-up. So they have four potential defensemen to bring up if they shed Holden and by some miracle shed Staal.

  • I wish we could get a look at B Smith in tonights game. I thought his skating looked bad as if he didn’t train well enough, the playoffs already worn him out or maybe he just didn’t have his skating legs yet. I know he took a hit for one of his assist but the guy was skating over pucks and having it bounce off his stick that night. I’m calling it early that Smith might not be it for a top 4 option. I hope to see DAngelo and Skjei play amazing together so that it could give a few after thoughts to the AV that if Smith is a no go then he has options rather than sticking Holden up there.

  • For me, this would be my scenario without a trade of Staal or Holden or waivers.

    Pionk has looked real good.. but I think he needs a little more time

    Bereglezov from what iv’e seen and doesn’t matter to me he can go to
    Hartford or back to the KHL.. We have plenty of D-Men.

    DeAngelo looks like a keeper

    Graves I would like to see crack the top 6, he brings that little extra nastiness we need.

    Staal 7th D.

    Pionk 1st call up due to injury or inconsistent play.

    • Good catch. I suppose the tactic would be to accept the assignment or rot in the press box. At least he would be playing in the minors.

      • Benching him is a little bit tricky though. It can be viewed as a way to force him to waive his NMC. The NHLPA will sue on his behalf if he so desires. If the third pair the Rangers run out there is lights out, then there shouldn’t be an issue. But if it looks more like a contract move than a hockey move, things won’t go so well.

        • Name a precedent in the NHL for the NHLPA getting involved in a player’s benching. I sure don’t know of any. All the NHLPA cares about is that the player’s contractual payments are made in full, and that the medical care needed by the player is fully taken care of while the player is under contract.

        • So your saying that the team does not have the right to put out on the ice the best product they feel they have

  • In my humble opinion, D’Angelo will be in the top 6. Two things make me believe so: 3 left handed shots in the top 4. AV loves balance and D’Ang will provide AV this. Trading Stepan created a large crater in the middle; right or wrong, Gorton is going to want to see a key piece in the lineup (w. Andersson) to justify trading a top player. Have a feeling this will be a mandate of Gorton to AV unless D’Angelo is utterly terrible. #6 will be Staal. Too much AV loyalty, too much $ to sit in the press box and he gets the nod over Holden because of this. Pionk will need some seasoning in the AHL but as we know, injuries/trades could bring him back to NY sooner rather than later.

    • I get what you are saying, but there should be No such thing as too much money to sit in the press box. It is a pathetic excuse by the team to play an inferior player just based on salary. In no other place in business would a higher salried be allowed to continue working on a project if they are not good enough employee to handle the responsibility.
      Bill Bellichek does not care how much you make. he cares about winning, and it is that mindset that has made his team one of the longest running dynasties in modern day sports (and I hate the team).
      We need to forget about the albatross of a contract Staal is earning and play our best 6 players on D. See if Staal realizes he can make more money by showing he still has game on another team in the long term rather than sit and collect pay before saying goodbye to the NHL…as Dan Girardi proved, there is still money to be made outside of NYC

      • Took the words right out of my mouth.

        The notion of “too much money to sit in the press box” is bs.

        Winning teams play the best players. So if we’re going to be a winning team, Staal should never wear a ranger uniform again.

      • The comment about Belichek ignores the fact that NFL contracts aren’t guaranteed, but NHL contracts are. When the Patriots cut a player, in most cases his salary comes off the books, opening up space for another player. NHL rules are such that there’s no way, barring a debilitating injury or illness (get well, Brian Boyle), that a player’s salary can be avoided.

        • I agree joe about that difference…but their are two facets two this.
          The first is for the front office to stop the blind loyalty contracts based on past performance.
          The second to is take the net product of the front office’s decision (both good and bad) and field the best team they can night in and night out, because once the roster is set it does not matter how much each player is making.

          We unfortunately failed miserably (by we I mean Mr. Cigar) on the first. But failing on the first does not mean having to endure the most amount of pain on the 2nd.

          I also would be fairly certain that Bellichek would not play a person he did not seem fit on his roster, regardless of contract, if he had a better alternative…with or without the guaranteed contract in place.

      • Don’t disagree. Just basing this on past AVs past usage of players (Girardi, Glass)…his loyalty blinds him. But, I still think Staal has more to offer than Holden – – if the choice is between those two. Just think the other kids – -Pionk, Day, Graves, Bereglazov, will need additional time before they make the big club.

  • Justin, Staal has NMC, you can not bury him in minors 🙂

    The approach keep Staal as #7 or #8. Bury in minors or trade Holden….

    MacTruck – DeAngelo

    Skjei – Shati

    Smith – Pionk

    Bereglazov… if he performs well keep him as #7 if not back to mother Russia….

    Next year trade Smith and prepare for raise of Graves or Day, buy out Staal….

    • I believe that unless Gorton makes something magical happen, Staal and Holden will both be on the squad at the outset of the season. Hopefully only one of them will be on the third pair. Ideally I’d love to see Staal and Holden as 7th and 8th defenders, but I doubt that will happen. This is especially true of Holden because sitting him would reduce his trade value.

      Because he is not likely to be tradeable, sitting Staal might make more sense because his value doesn’t seem to matter. While I’d rather see two young defenders on the third pairing, I believe that we are likely to see Holden or Staal taking one of the spots.

  • I think we are tending to greatly overrate Bereglazov as a prospect. It is not at all clear that he will ever be good enough for the NHL. He is unlikely to be a star. This is important. It means you don’t twist yourself in knots to keep him happy. Yes, it would be nice to let him play in Hartford and see what develops. But it is better to let him walk than saddle yourself with a #7 defenseman who isn’t any good.

    • Bereglazov shouldn’t be written off like that. He’s played 3 full years in the 2nd best hockey league in the world–that’s not meaningless. As is the fact that he’s projected to be on the Russian national team. As is the fact that he has won a championship in the KHL. He’s not really a rookie like guys coming up from the AHL or US college programs.

      This guy’s not a star, but his size (6’4″, 195) and rangy body type could be an asset for NYR. Coming from a winning organization is always a plus in my book. And I’d argue it’s nearly impossible for Bereglazov to be worse than Marc Staal.

      • There’s a difference between writing a guy off and being unwilling to tie yourself in knots.

        The Staal comparison is not an issue. The Rangers are locked into Staal unless he agrees to something. Not that the notion that being worse than Staal is nearly impossible. I know I would be worse (and I’m not good at impossible things) and I believe you would be as well. Even if Staal were the worst player in the NHL, it would still be true that few people on the planet are as good as he. And among those not as good would be a good portion of AHL dmen.

        • My opinion would be that Staal is the knot that has tied things up for NYR. The only way for them to improve & seriously contend is by keeping Staal in the pressbox. A Russian d-man costing $925K is not the problem here.

          And c’mon dude–of course Staal is better than us. But he’s also way more expensive than you & I would be, hahaha! I’d happily sit in the pressbox at a fraction of Staal’s annual cost.

  • I don’t get your Vegas numbers. As I read capfriendly, they have 12 defensemen that need to pass through waivers and Hunt, Castro look like the kind of guys that clear all the time. If they keep seven guys, they could lose three to waivers (by keeping 8, they could cut it to 2). And Engellund is 35. They are hardly all top guys or prospects. GMs waiting to see how Vegas shakes out are being foolish.

    The real issues with trading Holden are whether the Rangers need him and if others think he can play. Also, the Rangers do not yet know if they NEED another forward or would like a kid in return.

    It is important to have perspective. The Rangers are the 29th ranked organization prospect-wise and would likely be 30th without the likes of Andersson and Chytil. The notion that Graves, Pionk, Bereglazov, Day are all ready to step in and have an impact – or even are sure things down the road -runs counter to the perceived strength of the organization. Not saying that one or two won’t pan out, the defense glut is a myth. The organization is weak and they have goaltending and forward prospects.

    • There are 11 guys vying for 7 spots on NYR’s defense–if that doesn’t qualify as a glut of defensemen, then the word “glut” needs a new meaning.

      • There are 11 guys that you think are vying for slots. There are maybe 12 guys who think they are vying for slots. But this is almost certainly not how AV and Gorton see it. At this time, I do not believe that either Day or Graves is in the mix. Except for the out clause, the same could be said of Bereglazov. The fact that Kampfer is in the mix does not scream glut to me.

        • Then don’t use a term like “myth” to describe the fact that the Rangers have a ton of NHL caliber defensemen right now. Given the post-expansion state of this league I’d say the Rangers currently have at least 9 defensemen who could be legitimately called NHL dmen, and that includes Staal. That’s a situation that maybe one other team (besides Vegas) in the whole league has. Add in the relative readiness of kids like Graves and Pionk and the result is…well, a glut. And I’m not counting Sean Day in this group either.

          • Your 9 seems to include Bereglazov and Kampfer. Bereglazov is not an NHL caliber defenseman and Kampfer is really an ideal #8 defenseman.

            I believe that in the view of management, the only guys who should be playing are Staal, Holden, and DeAngelo. OK, so that’s three guys for two starting positions. I don’t consider that a glut and since you think two of the guys are not really good enough, you shouldn’t either.

            Incidentally, I do think Holden makes too much money to sit in the pressbox and believe that if AV decides on a Staal-DeAngelo pairing, Gorton will look to trade Holden.

            Seriously, Graves is a two year AHL veteran who wasn’t an April call-up. Pionk is another college defenseman in the tradition of Gilroy and Bodie. A little more seasoning and one or both might make it – or not. But the Rangers are in the same position as all but the most bereft organizations. If all the prospects come through, there will be a glut. But that seldom happens. My own hunch is that Crawley is a better bet than anybody not named Day (and Day is presumably not ready).

          • Day is more ready than Pionk; better skater, similar traits in the O-zone, bigger, stronger, better D-zone work. If they needed him in NYC right now, he’d get the call: but they don’t, so he won’t. Right now it’s a matter of Hartford vs Windsor.

            Graves is better than Bereglazov; might be battling both Staal & Holden for 3rd pair, though the incumbents will have the advantage.

          • Do the math, Ray–11 defensemen who can play at the NHL level is a massive surplus of defensemen. I do think Holden, Staal, and Kampfer suck but they obviously have to be included as NHL dmen in the new post-Vegas Knights version of the NHL. I don’t care how you phrase it; that’s a ton of defensemen. It’s literally ignoring reality to insist that having this many dmen doesn’t qualify as a surplus. Not gonna keep repeating this same argument, if you need to rebut you’re on your own from here on out.

          • I should just point out that there are two numbers of NHL defensemen. There are the guys you want to see on the ice and there are the guys that are good enough that they don’t make the coach shudder.

            You want the first number to be 6 or 7 (I agree that 8 is sort of a glut). However, because of the possibility of injuries, you really want the second number to be at least 10. The more the merrier in this category although you certainly don’t want too many guys with low ceilings like Kampfer and Chris Summers.

            We agree that the Rangers have enough bodies in the marginally competent category. No doubt we will continue to disagree on how many of the defensemen SHOULD be playing on a good NHL team.

            In the end, when Pionk and Graves get sent down, I will see it as them not being good enough and you will see them as blocked by a numbers game. And it will be quite hard to prove either of us is wrong.

      • Ah.

        I disagree with the prevailing sentiment here that a Holden trade is waiting on Vegas, believing that the move is not being made because Gorton is unsure if he needs Holden or what he wants in return or both. So I was quibbling with your evidence.

        Unfortunately, I wasn’t literal enough. You really meant 17 to go through waivers (which is obviously absurd), but I interpreted it as 17 who were not waiver exempt (so they waive 17-7=10), which is merely extremely unlikely.

  • We can trade Smith for a profit creates LD space.

    we roll
    on the right
    Graves is the actual regular 7th both sides, rest for whole corp all year

    Holden, ask for and get a favor for a future favor, and he briefly goes to the A while we trade him

    Staal, it is tricky, but we don’t have to play him, only pay him. He can be a healthy scratch every game, As long as he is not being pressured he can’t dictate to the team that he be playing.

    There are 2 other choices.

    See if we can get Detroit to do a deal with us we can live with, not a hockey trade but a $ deal, and expect the cost of them taking Staal off our hands will require us to eat about 3m min in salary as cap relief to Det. They would have option to buy out next year, so the right deal makes sense for them. But it has to work enough to be worth their while.

    Rangers prob have to move Nash for cap relief after they squeeze that, but moving him as a rental makes sense. And Staal sees what is going on, he can read the handwriting on the wall. He’ll want to stay close to CT digs, but that is not happening unless NHL awards the state a franchise. He can control things but he can’t control getting bought out. If that happens, it costs him $, and it may happen sooner than later, so his best play is to play ball, and hope he sticks as a 3rd LW playing 10 mins game w/a swift RD opposite.

    The other option is to play Staal at 3LD for only 10% or so of games, vs cherry picked opposition. And then give him another 40ish games max at 4LW with linemates who do the stickhandling, let him just stick check and do grunt work. That MIGHT get him thru this season w/NY.

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