Low-Hanging Lineup Fruit

Generally speaking, the Rangers started this season playing some decent hockey for 20 games, then really stunk for the next 20, and lately have at least been competitive for the last six to eight contests (save Columbus and Boston, yikes). So a season goes, and while NYR aren’t expected to improve their standings position once the trades begin, there is possibly about another month where the roster continues to look as it is. The man who will stay, barring something drastic, will be David Quinn and his assistants, who are presumably still working under the guise of trying to win as many hockey games as possible. That is the theme of this article: what can be done, based on the numbers, to make this Rangers team at least competitive in their march to not making the playoffs.

Don’t get me wrong: I am pro-tank and do not think the Rangers are anywhere near being back into a win-now mode. The difference for me, though, is that I want Quinn to break away from the previous Rangers coaches mold of being unable to identify the weaker links on the roster. I do not think the Front Office is innocent in certain acts either, as there is little to no chance that the coaching staff and FO aren’t at least on the same page for the majority of decisions. Simply put, with the changes below I do believe the players will benefit from playing a role more suited for them, which in turn should help the team in the short term (potential trades) and long term.

The Forwards

  1. Stop playing Cody McLeod

We’ll start with the extremely obvious: Cody McLeod is not an NHL-caliber player. Even the one thing he’s supposed to do, which is to “protect” the kids, he doesn’t do well as he still ends up taking more penalties than he draws. He makes those on the fourth line worse, full stop.

data via Corsica

  1. Send Brett Howden to Hartford

As you can see above, so far Brett Howden and Boo Nieves have had similar results when it comes to shot share and expected goals at 5v5. So why should Howden go down and Nieves stay up? Howden can help the team in the longer term if he develops into something more than a fourth line center. Nieves, on the other hand, is an RFA that could maybe be an effective fourth line center at the age of 25 on a better team. The other reason is that NYR won’t just rid of Strome mid-season, so it’s another reason to Howden to go get bigger minutes in Hartford. Personally, the moment Hayes is back, Howden goes down, leaving the centers to be Zib-Hayes-Strome-Nieves.

  1. Find Buchnevich more TOI

Is Pavel Buchnevich having his finest season? No, and I think even he would agree with that to an extent. Is Pavel Buchnevich a fourth line NHL player? Hell no. Look, in his three seasons thus far, he clearly has offensive talent that when paired with other top-end players, the group tends to produce results. He is not immune from criticism of course, but I would be swapping him out with one of Vesey or Strome (in that order) in a heartbeat. Fast could also come down the lineup, as he tends to do well regardless of where he plays.

The Defense

  1. Re-think the pairings

One of the very apparent developments this year that Dave has been harping on is the Rangers tendency to give up the blue line when it comes to defensive zone entries. This has affected NYR’s shot share numbers, as their expected goal figures are higher than the shot attempts (meaning they’re letting up a lot of low percentage shots). When some zone entry and exit data was updated back on 1/14/19, the Ranger seemed to have two types of defensemen on the roster: those that defend zone entries well and those that can move the puck forward.

In the end, Ruff and Quinn need to avoid running back to what was the norm of the first half when Pionk is healthy again. I would like to see:

Shattenkik-Claesson (some proven success this year)

Skjei-Smith (2017 Playoffs)

DeAngelo-McQuaid (DeAngelo has proven he can generate)

The odds of this is low, because it would require NYR to recognize that Marc Staal is barely half the player he used to be, and that Neal Pionk cannot defend at an NHL level (yet… I guess).

  1. Bring up John Gilmour, ASAP.

Not only does Gilmour have some interesting comparables for what he did in his 28 games played last year, he also showed an ability to drive the play forward more than his teammates (positive relative numbers all around), along with an ability to create offense when on the ice. Ryan Lindgren may turn into something eventually given that he is only 20, but in similar AHL TOI this season, Gilmour is clearly bringing more to the table in terms of being able to produce.


  1. Lower the TOI of Neal Pionk and Marc Staal

Even though Staal looks better on the below Game Control chart, this is because when he’s away from Pionk his results improve. Yes, that is how much Neal Pionk is struggling with shots: even Marc Staal does better without him. As insinuated above, the odds of NYR coaches and management suddenly moving away from Staal-Pionk seems low, so if they can’t be sat, at the very least play them less so that they can maybe find a passably effective role.

data via Corsica

To conclude: the Rangers will lose plenty of games in the second half, especially after the sell-off of the trade deadline. This will be because the roster is not good, and that is largely out of the players control. That being said, one thing all of us fans should be keeping an eye on is if the coaching staff and management try to play the better players, rather than misusing them. That much they can control.

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  • “one thing all of us fans should be keeping an eye on is if the coaching staff and management try to play the better players, rather than misusing them”. That much they can control.

    How many times have we pointed this out under AV, and now DQ?

    The FO is behind this some how because they are pushing Staal down our throat since he signed that huge contract. The stats, and eye test both show us that Marc is washed up as a player, can’t see with one eye, and has had concussions in the past. Physically the guy is a mess, but he does have a big heart, while playing a very soft game.

    As for Howden, he should go to the Pack, get all the time necessary to develop into a real quality player, he has the tools for it.

    After the trade deadline, I can see Andersson coming back, playing more, even if that means he plays on the wing.

    I can’t wait to see what the team will look like at the end of February, especially the defense!!!!!!!!

    • We really need Andersson to turn into a good player. I have much confidence in Chytil, but not so sure about Andersson.

      • He may need a little time in the AHL, but I think he will be a decent players, in spite of the naysayers!!!!!!!!!

  • Staal is never going to sit, Buch is probably a 3rd line forward, but a good PP guy, Pionk will be 2nd pair and McQuaid will play. Howden won’t go down and Nieves might be traded.

  • Looking at the game control charts I’ve come to the following conclusions…

    1. McLeod has Quinn’s family held hostage somewhere and they will only stay safe if widdle Cody plays.

    2. Hayes is undeniably the best HOCKEY player on this team, maybe one of the best league-wide. So if and when they trade him they better get a return commensurate with that distinction.

    3. Lindgren is dashing my hopes (I know SSS) of becoming a shut-down second pair d-man already.

  • Look for Hayes to go to either Pittsburgh or Dallas for a first rounder and a future 3rd rounder. Can’t see us getting more than that for a pending FA.

    • I cannot see Hayes going to Pitt. Probably more than likely if Hayes does gets moved, it will be to a team that is out of the conference…..

  • Good morning folks…hope all are well and staying warm… in reading a bunch of articles about the Ranger pipeline of prospects…Igor, Kratsov, Rykov and M. Lindqvist were mentioned as the only prospects that could become mainstays, while the rest of the prospects were labeled borderline……K’Andre not included, (potential, but jury is still out)……Hajek reportedly having major issues and he is one of the prospects that the Rangers were counting on to be a staple of the Ranger defense.

    • If Andersson and Hajek don’t pan out, then that’s 2 major trades that did not live up to expectations.

      The 7 overall pick was the focal point in the Stepan trade and Hajek was a must in the TB trade.

      • I agree but I think the priority in the Stepan trade was getting rid of him before the NTC kicked in.

        • It was, no question, but the return turned out to be under whelming, especially with the addition of Raanta.

  • Nobody asked me, but: Buch should be trade bait, or an add on to increase the return on a bigger deal. Pionk should be back at Hartford until he learns how to play something resembling defense. McLeod deserves a retirement party, soon. Everybody on the team, except Staal and Lundquist (NMC clauses) is available, for the right return.

  • I want to give this bullshit op ed 100 thumbs down x infinity. You go use your stats as if you have the answer to all of the problems? Let me remind you the Ranger coaches have stat guys too. You are not in that room to go spew your mouth like you did in this article. Had you said this is in my opinion I would’ve gave you a thumbs up.

    No way Howden needs to be sent down, if thats the case so should 3/4 of the team. Let him learn and learning he is. You Pionk bashers…will you bash the subpar Leaky when he performs horribly in a game?

    Utter nonsense, next article

    • 1) The blog is written in the first person, meaning continually stating “in my opinion” is repetitive and therefore not grammatically needed.
      2) I would be glad to “spew my mouth” to any Rangers management on the above.

      Thanks for reading.

      • Nice job, Rob—the know-nothings are loud like empty barrels, but it’s all sound & fury, signifying nothing. You’ve done a good job responding to this arrogant moron, who as usual attacks you here without statistical evidence, while protesting against the facts that you offer.

        Love how Snowflake Leather gets all sobby with people calling Pionk what he is—a borderline NHL’er at best. It truly approaches surrealism when Leather brings up Lundqvist—a 14-year veteran of the NY Rangers—and compares a garbage rookie like Pionk to one of the franchise’s pillars over the last decade plus. Dry you tears, Leather—I’m sure there’s a place in Seattle for Neal Pionk.

    • Not so much bashing the young Bionk kid but he has parts of his game that needs some ironing out.

      I will no longer speakth of sir Lundqvist. I will withhold judgement of his play as not to offend the folks whom still remain in his past playing years and likely invested large sums of money in Lundqvist paraphernalia.

    • Bro, Pionk sucks, he’s really, really bad at defending, and when the offensive pts stop, like they have now, he’s not an NHL D man anymore.

      The early pts were nice and sparkly, but they have disappeared, and so has his use as a D man in the line up.

  • Fantastic article as always. I like how concise it is with each point.

    To me it is pretty clear that the Rangers strategy right now needs to be to clear as much salary cap as possible so that they are in the running next year for Panarin, Stone, and Karlsson. As of right now we have some nightmarish contracts/commitments: Staal $5.7m; Skjei $5.25m; Smith $4.35; Name $4m; Strome/Spooner: $4m; Gi: $3.65m; and Bellesky at $0.8. That’s $27.7m of dead cap next year. If we continue to roll out Shatt as a 3rd pairing dude, then inclusive of his $6.65 hit, it would be $34.4m. That’s horrific cap management and speaks to how poor our FO has been the last years.

    Now we cannot move on from the $4.45m associated with Gi and Bellesky, and I think Shatt should be given a bigger role on this team. But the rest including the hapless Pionk need to be moved as soon as possible.

    The fact is if our genius FO merely kept JTM and McD, we likely would be in the POs, or right there. We still have decent talent, and if they make the right decisions, we should be decent next year. Plus we have a bunch of talent coming through.

  • Arisrules

    You make some very interesting points, especially about cap management. With that thought in mind, why would anyone thinking soundly would ever consider Karlsson in the first place. He would turn into another Shatty, or even more expensive. He is having a poor season, after an injury season last year. I wouldn’t touch him with a 20 foot poll. The guy can’t defend, is smallish, soft, just doesn’t fit into the hard to play against category. Sorry my friend, as we say in Brooklyn forgetaboutit!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Need to package Hayes and B.Smith in order to dump some salary too. Zucc and Skjei for another solid early pick. Cleanse the team and get picks so we can grab another early round goalie.

  • Agree on most Rob, except that I would not send Howden down. He has nothing to prove there, as he’s just hitting a rookie wall here.

    But the kid still knows what to do, it’s whether the body is willing. Nothing for him to learn at Hartford.

    Buch should be in the top 6, anywhere else is ridiculous. The line up by ping pong ball lottery needs to stop. This isn’t college hockey.

  • I can see Gilmore being brought up if Pionk is sent down to make room. Don’t get me wrong I like Neil’s skill set I just think he has missed a step in the developing process.

    Buch needs some time on the top 2 lines so the organization can determine if he’s a keeper or if they should bail on him.

    The Rangers need a physical player on the 4th line. Cody fills that role well, unfortunately he has cement hands and two left skates. A younger more skilled version of McCloud should be on the Ranger wish list.

  • Nice post Rob.

    Again no trades. Just don’t see it happening. But I know I am wrong. Just know I am going to hate the return. So I am praying for no trades.

    I think Howden, Chytil, Lindgren, ADA should all be down in Hartford. They are the future of this organization and a winning culture should be built down in Hartford and when they can win at least one playoff round then bring them up. And in the meantime just sign free agent maybe players for league mininals. If your core guys can’t get it done so be it. But don’t teach the future kids about tanking a season cause you can’t handle the idea of getting traded for future assets. Zuc is a leader on this team.

    Right now the Pack is like the NHL team …10 points out from being dead last in the league except there is no reward for sucking in the AHL. So do the future a favor and send the talent that we have up here back down to learn how to win and to learn how to win together. Having all these kids ride the pine to lose isn’t helping the future. Just my opinion.

    I mean you have who on this team? Krieder, Zuc, Hayes, Fast, Vesey, Buch, Zib, Cody, Boo, Names, Strome. That is not a horrible group of players. You have 8 defenders so pionk and ADA go down to the AHL …no more to many D issues. And just fill in the gaps with guys that are seasoned AHLer’s that will never make a NHL roster. I think building that winning culture down in the AHL with these kids is way more important than winning a few extra games up here.

    It is hard to statistically analyze this season cause like you said there have been parts to the season. 20 game winning part, the 20 game tank part and now a 10 game compete part. I think at this point it is clear that Shattenkirk was a waste and is going to hurt for years to come. I think smith has been a victim of this roster more so then anyone else. I think with the right partner he could still be a asset but like ADA he has issues with the Refs and it costs him almost every game. I still haven’t figured out the McQuaid trade. Don’t think I ever will.

    And just how apparent is it that Zuc was tanking the first half of this season cause he didn’t want to be traded? In the last 5 games he has 4 goals 5 assists and is a +6. And he only has 24 points on the year. So almost half his production has come in the last 5 games. Yeah I didn’t see him tanking. No …way. You guys on here are so blind sometimes I just have to laugh. At least Walt saw it.

    Here is to no horrible trades over the next month!

  • Buch is a RFA this summer and after the way he has been treated since coming to NY, why would he sign anything more than a one year deal? If I was him, I would be looking for a change of scenery before the Rangers wreck his career. Beyond stupid how they have tried to develop him.

  • I don’t think Gilmour will ecer make it. He just can’t defend and gets faked out of his jock way too often.

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