Like it or not, the Rangers need to re-sign Neal Pionk

The Rangers have a problem evaluating defensemen. That shouldn’t come as news, as most NHL teams seem to have this problem as well. The biggest gap between stats and on-ice value is with defensemen, and it’s really not that hard to provide examples. Marc Staal is still a valued defensemen despite his stats. Adam Clendening is a stats darling and can’t keep an NHL role. Those are just two examples on the Rangers, but there are countless examples like this.

Despite the gap between stats and eye test on defensemen, the one thing that we’ve seen from the Rangers this season is a constant desire to give Neal Pionk top pairing ice time. Pionk, if you recall, got off to a great start on the score sheet, which masked a lot of poor possession stats. Then the scoring dried up, the possession numbers stayed the same, and the rose colored glasses came off. His issues in the defensive zone were front and center, despite the MSG hype machine.

Let’s put this bluntly: Neal Pionk is bad. He’s the worst defenseman on the team when it comes to xGF% at 44.44%, a full 2% lower than both Brady Skjei and Staal. It may not seem like much, but over the course of the season it’s about –if my math is correct– about 18 less expected goals for and 8 more goals against. That’s a net difference of 26 goals. That’s…not good.

Pionk is one of those rare players that actually didn’t need me to go through the stats, since it seems that the general consensus is that he’s bad in his own end. Since he’s not scoring anymore and hasn’t really driven offense all year, it’s easy to say he’s not doing anything offensively either. Compounding this is that, in a rebuild, improvement and development is what you want to see. We haven’t seen any.

The fourth image from Rob’s tweet here really highlights how bad it’s been. Pionk is the worst defenseman at defending zone entries. He’s not exactly excelling at driving zone exits or controlled entries in the way that Tony DeAngelo does, so we can’t point to a specific aspect of his game that has been a net positive. Part of this is on David Quinn and his insistence on playing Pionk over 20 minutes a game against top competition. Rob has said it many times, the Rangers play better when he’s getting third pair minutes. That is not a coincidence.

Despite all that, the Rangers still need Neal Pionk for two reasons:

  1. They simply don’t have anyone who is a legitimate part of the future that is ready for NHL work. Libor Hajek is still unproven. Ryan Lindgren was unimpressive during his first cuppa. Yegor Rykov is a wild card. Neither Nils Lundkvist nor K’Andre Miller are coming over this year. The Blueshirts need bodies. Pionk is a body. The need for bodies only intensifies if the Rangers are able to get rid of one or more of Kevin Shattenkirk, Brendan Smith, or Marc Staal.
  2. There is an expansion draft coming in 2021. As it stands today, only Brady Skjei will be signed for the draft. The Blueshirts need two bodies signed through 2021-2022 to expose to meet expansion draft rules.

The good news is that Pionk’s lack of points, pedigree, and consistency means he won’t cost much term or actual dollars to re-sign. The undrafted free agent will get a contract and will make more than his $925,000 salary with the Rangers for a few more years. Whether you like it or not, the Rangers need to sign him to at least a three year deal to ensure they have a body to dress nightly and to expose in the expansion draft.

Now, whether or not you think the Rangers value Pionk as a defenseman, despite everything said above, is an entirely different conversation for another day. That day, though, is at least three years away. His next deal isn’t the killer. It’s the one after that.

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    • I think Halverson would be a mistake. He is the Hartford goalie and will get plenty of work and a chance to show his stuff with a team he knows and which is actually making a solid effort – and they need to decide whether to offer him a new contract. In NY, he costs Georgiev playing time.

      • They’re going to qualify him if only for exposing him.

        You call him up because you’re trying to catch Jersey.

        Everybody plays to win, you sometimes have to play the players that can’t get you there right now.

  • I don’t think the big concern is signing Pionk. A bridge deal is fine. I think the big concern is overpaying like they did with Skjei. We all know Jeff likes his $4M contracts.

  • “Rangers need to sign him to at least a three year deal to ensure they have a body to dress nightly and to expose in the expansion draft.”

    It’s a sad day when you know that you have to sign a player, who everyone knows can’t defend, and gets manhandled like a rag doll, just to expose him to the expansion draft. I’m afraid that DQ will play this kid top pair minutes, along with Staal, which will assure us another lottery pick next season!!!!!!!!! The only good thing about that is the draft will be deep again………………………………….

  • Pionk’s paragraph 1 salary is $832k according to CapFriendly, so his qualifying offer only needs to be $873,600.

    He is arbitration eligible, but is no longer eligible for a two way contract. Max contract offer can only be 2 years.

    So if the Rangers can’t extend him for 3 prior to qualifying him, I could see them walking away if the award got to $3.5mm threshold.

      • You can’t walk away unless he’s awarded over $3.5mm.

        So that’s the tap dance: getting him for enough years to expose him in the expansion draft. You only need him for 2 years and can be exposed as a RFA.

    • The $3.5mm has cap escalators, sofinal number would be a little over $4mm, which gets into Skjei territory.

  • When that time comes, I’m more likely to dismiss Pionk’s early numbers and see what his numbers are under Quinn after the team fully adjusts. It is a little unfair and honestly just downright irresponsible to judge Pionk and write him off after 34 games of bad possession numbers. This is a season to learn and to grow. There’s nothing wrong with seeing what the kid’s got.

    • I have to agree. Although I must fault Quinn for overusing Pionk–the kid was playing top line minutes and getting the toughest assignments. It is possible that he may be hitting a wall after a tough season. He is young and capable of learning. He is pretty savvy and capable of smart plays which makes up for some of his lack of natural ability.That being said, in order to become a useful player he needs to become better in his own end just like DeAngelo has been improving.

  • Pionk needs a defensively minded partner. This would allow him to learn and to grow his offensive game, which is pretty good. I agree with signing and preparing for the expansion draft because you do not want to allow any of our new picks to be subject to the draft. Pionk did have pretty bad numbers and since we do have to protect some others, he my be out in a numbers game.

  • To put it bluntly, bottom pair D-men on a team near the bottom of the standings are a dime a dozen. There’s no need to keep Pionk if another warm body becomes available. We could sit him and call up Gilmour without skipping a beat.

  • I’m guessing the premise behind the article is two things:

    1. Zero replacement level left-handed defensemen will be available as a UFA
    2. Since zero replacement level left-handed defensemen will be signed since no one will be available, we have to resign Neal Pionk.

    I’d argue both of these premises are 100% false, since one Fredrick Classeon is available to be signed. Signing Pionk and further blocking better options is bad.

  • Re-signing Pionk is good for a rebuilding team. What needs to be figured out is when are the next wave of defenders is going to be ready for the NHL squad. If 2 are ready next year, then you do not go overboard on the signing, If only 1 is deemed ready, then you sign him to a simple deal that will allow us to expose him in the draft. We need to stop thinking like a sub-500 team with our players. Look for someone better at every position. We have 6 so-so defenders.right now. It would be great to improve the defense with youth and real quality, which may make Pionk odd man out

    • The only thing the “need” to do is improve the defense. Not sure re-signing Pionk helps that cause. We also “need” to add some top offensive threats if they want to compete again. A lot will be learned at the FA period and at the draft. Will Gorton try to gather more picks, or jump up to the top 3? Will he buy Panarin? If we start next year with a similar roster, then we are going through another rebuild year, so then add Pionk back into the mix.

      I think there is a sense that losing is okay now. Losing is never OKAY. The brass needs to add players and make this team competitive again. We have tried to restock the cupboard. Now how about re-stocking the team for a playoff run. Two years of no playoffs is enough.

      • It is not just about making the playoffs though. It is about winning them. One should not compromise the future just for a first round exit team. And while the situation with the defense is unclear, the biggest issue is the forward corps. The defense has Miller, Lundqvist, Rykov, Hajek, Lindgren, DeAngelo, Skjei – and maybe Day and/or Keane will pan out. That may mature into a quality unit, with the present veterans as placeholders.

        The forward situation is very different. Excluding the fourteen guys on the current roster, what do the Rangers have in the pipeline – basically Kravtsov. That’s it. Oh, we may have hopes that Elmer or Meskanen or Gettinger will make it, but really after Kravtsov the cupboard is bare. And the fourteen guys currently in NY are on balance a poor unit and do not really have a great future. We hope from more from Chityl, Buch, Andersson and Howden down the road but even peak performance from this crew is not going to be great. Unless the Rangers look at their defense prospects and see less than we do, they need to address the lack of real hockey players up front.

        • This explains how DOOMED we are. 2023 is when we get a chance to sniff the playoffs again. Our forwards suck and our defense sux, other than that, things are great!

  • I don’t like Neal Pionk, BUT I did run some simple PP numbers. A simple exercise – take the number of PP goals the unit scores when a player is on the ice and divide by the number of minutes the player plays. There were fourteen Rangers on the ice for one or more goals and those who only saw futility did not play much (Brady Skjei led in TOI with 12:44 and Fast was a distant second at 7:04).

    The PP leader at .176 was Neal Pionk, followed by Zucc (.161), Kreider (.149), Buch (.147), Zib (.141) and Namestnikov (.138) – with the next person down at .121. DeAngelo was only 10th at .100 and Shattenkirk 14th and last at .066.

    So, just looking at the three defensemen, Pionk has been on the power play ice six minutes for every goal, ADA ten minutes, and Shattenkirk 15 minutes. And of course Skjei has not been on the ice for even one goal – nor have Staal and Smith with less than five minutes ice time between them.

    One conclusion we can draw is that DQ has been justified in his belief that Pionk is a top line PP performer. OTOH, goal-based numbers say he has been atrocious on the PK.

    Personally, I disagree with the premise that circumstances justify a bad signing. The question with Pionk is whether or not he will get better and by how much. If he can become a competent third pair guy and power play ace, he will be an asset.

    If anyone cares, the other numbers were Chityl (.121), Hayes (.118), Strome (.112), Howden (.077), Spooner (.073), Vesey (.071).

      • I don’t understand what you are saying. Shattenkirk was third in ice time, Pionk seventh for example. Vesey played more than Buchnevich.

        • He was scoring early before he got hurt. If you want to see who’s driving what, look at primary points per 60.

          • Does someone even keep track of primary points per 60 on the power play? And why are primary points such a big deal anyway? One of the most valuable PP performers is a player who just stands in front of the net and does nothing except hinder the goalie.

            Anyway, I am not claiming that Pionk is a good player – or even a particularly good offensive player. I was solely looking at the power play and the numbers say that when Pionk was the defenseman on the ice, the Rangers had a very good power play and when any other defenseman was on the ice, they did not. It is true that Pionk often had the advantage of playing with Zuc, Zib and Kreider, but the contrast is startling.

            Personally I had two takeaways from these numbers. First, there is one aspect of his game that Pionk was good at. Second, Shattenkirk was shockingly bad. Incidentally, I did not compute these numbers to prove a point. I believe my motive was to see what DeAngelo’s numbers looked like on the power play. While I have gotten to see few games, my impression was that ADA, who is obviously talented offensively, didn’t look smooth on the PP and I was curious what the numbers would look like.

          • If it is a cost control deal, I think the Rangers should sign Pionk for the same reasons they should sign Gilmore…. depth in the organization. Sign them to 2 way deals and bring them up when you need them.

  • Has anybody really noticed just how bad Pionk is on defense? Although, I like his offensive side with his speed and his slapshot, it seems he is on the ice almost every time the opposition scores. Not physical enough to neutralize the bigger forwards (at times bounces right off them), and caught out of position continually. Gilmour should have been given a chance months ago. Hopefully he is better then Pionk on defense. He is as fast , if not faster a skater, and as much as a threat on offense. Although the same height, six foot,he outweighs Pionk by ten pounds. Maybe some of these lightweight defenseman should hit the weight room just a little more often. I know we need speed on defense, but not at the expense of bouncing off bigger opponents.

    • He’s not. Gilmour had better possession numbers last season than Pionk, but his GF% was 8 points below Pionk.

      High event hockey doesn’t make for good hockey.

  • It’s funny reading some of the negative comments here… The very same negative comments from the very same people who have written off so many other Rangers in their first years. All to be proved wrong in time.. I guess being able to judge talent early isn’t for everybody ?.

    Chicken or the egg guys..

    This kid (barely a rookie), shows alot of promise and was arguably our best defensemen in the first 1/4 of the season. However, being that the team is thin to begin with, he gets overused and eventually gets hurt and sits over a dozen games and is never the same again… yet.

    I can guarantee many of you would be singing a different tune if Neal Pionk played on a deeper team on its 2’nd pairing – not having to deal with the opposing team’s top lines night after night, shift after shift.

    Neal Pionk is VERY good Dave.. You’re so wrong on this one!

    • He ain’t that good, once you remove the rose colored glasses. He is young, yes, but not good compared to others on this team. That says that Skjei, Staal, Shatty and Smith are all better defenders – a sad group to be compared to. I have no problem giving him another year, but only if he comes cheap. Also do not mind signing him for 3 years to cover us for the draft, but not because he merits a 3 year contract, because he does not.

  • The Rangers don’t have to do anything now in anticipation of the expansion draft. There’s plenty of time to sign any number of players who could be exposed in the draft. Sorry Dave but that’s a piss poor reason to sign the guy to a 3 year contract. That said I have no objection to signing him as long as the cap hit is somewhere under $1.5m — and to be honest, even that might be a tad too much, but to see how he might develop defensively at least. I would say the same for Gilmour because at least with both of them one end of the ice seems to be developed already. The question comes down to whether the other aspect of playing defense, defense don’t you know, can be developed enough to make either of them “acceptable”.

    • I agree wholeheartedly concerning the draft. One can always find players to expose. My worry about the draft is that it won’t hurt at all – if protecting eleven players allows you to protect all of your talent, you just don’t have much.

      I cannot see Gilmour staying. I am not criticizing what the Rangers have done. I really don’t know whether they have handled him correctly or not. But, putting myself in his shoes, he is a two time AHL all-star who has not really gotten a shot at the NHL. He is a UFA. He is going to be looking for a team that will give him a fair shot. I don’t think it matters whether the Rangers want to keep him or not. He has to be going elsewhere.

      • All I know is that Gilmour has looked bad defensively in the pre-season games, I mean really bad — offensively though he’s gifted. Maybe the Rangers should have sat more of the vet d’men like Shattenkirk, Staal and even Brady plus Pionk while seeing what a d’man like Gilmour could do.

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