The case for eight defensemen

The preseason has concluded. We will see a big roster cut at some point between now and the start of the season, trimming the roster to 23 players (plus the injured Matt Beleskey and Boo Nieves). The major decision for the Rangers will be how many defensemen to carry to start the season.

When the preseason started, it was assumed that Tony DeAngelo was going to make the club. It wasn’t out of any expectation or performance related argument, just that the Rangers traded for him and he is no longer waiver eligible. Luckily, DeAngelo’s preseason play spoke for itself, and he certainly earned himself a spot.

The players competing for spots were presumably Adam McQuaid, Frederik Claesson, Brendan Smith, Neal Pionk, John Gilmour (since cut), and Rob O’Gara. The assumption would be at least one would stand out in preseason, like DeAngelo, and earn himself a spot. While neither Gilmour nor O’Gara were particularly bad in preseason, Pionk and Smith were simply a cut above them.

With Smith, Pionk, and DeAngelo all having solid preseasons, it’s safe to assume all three have made the cut. Put them together with Brady Skjei, Kevin Shattenkirk, and Marc Staal, you have your likely pairs to start the season. These are simply the six guys who played better than the rest in camp.

The conversation now shifts to Claesson and McQuaid. The latter was acquired in a trade where the Blueshirts gave up tangible assets. He was acquired because he is a guy who will compete in practice, whether or not he plays. He may not have shined in camp, but I fully expect him to make the club. He will get games, and I am definitely not looking forward to the “outrage” when he plays a few, but he will make the team. As for Claesson, he was signed as a free agent, and it is unlikely he would be claimed off waivers if sent down. That said, at just 25 years old, the Rangers would likely get value out of him in the lineup on occasion.

For starters, Staal is getting up there in age and hasn’t necessarily been effective in a while. I’m hopeful the new defensive zone system (more on coming soon) will bring out better performances, but either way he’s likely going to need a few games off here and there to keep the legs fresh.

Shattenkirk is coming off a torn MCL, and didn’t play much in the preseason. If I’m David Quinn, I’m easing Shattenkirk into the lineup to ensure his knee is healthy. Perhaps we see days where Claesson is in for Staal and McQuaid for Shattenkirk early in the season for these reasons. It would be a simple matter of keeping everyone fresh and healthy.

Keeping eight defensemen may not be viable as the season progresses, but to start the year there are certainly legitimate reasons to do so. It’s not like the Rangers would be blocking any prospect of significant value of NHL time. At least not yet. There is a strong case for eight defensemen to start the year, before injuries rear their ugly heads.

"The case for eight defensemen", 5 out of 5 based on 11 ratings.
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  1. McQuaid and Claesson make the team, although I would rather see 7 D. Cannot make a trade for McQuaid and cut him, and cannot lose Claesson via waivers for nothing. Puts the squeeze on Howden.

  2. Bet Claesson gets picked up by another team if he hits waivers. Have to disagree thoroughly that Marc Staal was one of the 6 best defensemen during the preseason, I’d rather see any other defender mentioned in this article take his starting role away.

    Off topic here, but the Flyers’ Jori Lehtera is under NHL investigation for being part of a cocaine ring in Finland. Now we all know why the Flyers were so interested in acquiring him, they hadn’t had the good cocaine connection since Mike Richards was traded to LA. Love how drugs—particularly cocaine, alcohol, and opiates—seem to follow the Flyers around. I’m sure that it’s a coincidence. The Flyers are a garbage organization, in an utter toilet of a city.

  3. My preference is that they keep 7 defensemen and attempt to send Claesson to Hartford. I thought he played reasonably well, but it would seem there must be an odd man out.

    With 7 defensemen they have enough to give Staal off days to keep his legs fresh and the same for Shatty. I’d rather that they keep a full contingent of forwards in order to get as many of their young forwards on board as possible.

    1. If Claesson desires to be in the NHL, he will be. He is cheap and if the Rangers put him through waivers, he should be claimed. Bigras will likely clear waivers as he is not good enough to play in the NHL. Staal, Smith and McQuaid may clear because their salaries may scare people away ( I know Staal has an NMC). However, the other guys will likely not clear.

  4. Pionk goes down to Hartford and waits for someone to get hurt or for a slot to open up thanks to a trade.

    Pionk isn’t going to play over the other 7 D already on the roster. Might as well let him play a bunch of games in Hartford instead of rotting away in the GMs box every night.

    It sucks, but that’s what happens sometimes. Playing in Hartford for two months isn’t going to ruin the kid’s career, and that’s a better option than simply losing players for nothing via waivers.

    1. I agree that it would be dumb to put Pionk in the press box on a regular basis. But my own suspicion is that Pionk is the second best RH defenseman on the team and will play.

      Why was McQuaid acquired anyway? Maybe he was acquired to play – but maybe not. Maybe he is just insurance if either Pionk or DeAngelo doesn’t work out. Better insurance perhaps than Kampfer or having to play a left hander on the right side.

      McQuaid isn’t very good and it was not unreasonable to hope that Pionk and DeAngelo would surpass him sooner rather than later – but kids aren’t sure things. Of course, I may be giving Gorton too much credit here.

  5. Considering eight defensemen as a long term solution, I really think a lot depends on Quinn. For the most part, coaches like Torts and AV liked to put their best six guys out there game after game and the guys in the press box get stale. Quinn may be comfortable shuffling. If he is, then eight is okay. Otherwise, it has to be a temporary solution.

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