It may be just five games into the season, but David Quinn has already sent a message. When he sat Kevin Shattenkirk for a game after a poor start to the season, the message was clear. It doesn’t matter your contract status or the role you are supposed to have on the team, if you are playing poorly you will sit. Shattenkirk and Neal Pionk have already received that treatment, so it’s not a message to just veterans or kids either.
One action is all well and good, but the true test will be whether or not Marc Staal sees the bench at some point soon. Despite all hopes to the contrary, a new coach and system hasn’t helped Staal this season (yet). He’s been on a tremendous slide for quite some time now, and there appears to be no bottom in sight. He’s the longest tenured Ranger, he’s an alternate captain, and he survived last year’s purge. Is that all enough to keep him in the lineup?
If we are to believe that Quinn’s benching of Shattenkirk and Pionk was a sign of things to come, then one would think that eventually Staal will get the same treatment. But if we know one thing, it’s that someone of Staal’s reputation, tenure, and alternate captain status may lead to him remaining in the lineup, for better or for worse.
At the current moment, the only player who is seeing regular press box time that ideally should be playing is Tony DeAngelo. Luckily for Staal, they are not in direct competition with each other (handedness, role, etc). The Rangers are pretty thin on the left side right now, but the case can –and to be frank, should– be made for Frederik Claesson to get a longer look. He was steady and solid in his Rangers debut. He’s only 25 years old, and he plays a subtle, quick transition game that is needed in the NHL.
It’s just five games into the season, but Quinn may already be facing a very difficult choice. Does he bench Staal for a game in favor of Claesson? Does he keep Staal in the lineup because of off-the-ice reasons? If we are looking at optimal lineup and growth opportunities, then the decision is clear. However this is a rebuild year. If there is something we are not seeing –mentoring, for example– then the decision is not so clear.