Addition by Subtraction

One of the starkest anomalies of the 2018-19 Rangers season was a 12-game stretch that lasted from early January to early February. From games 42 through 53, the Rangers went 6-5-1 with five regulation wins and one overtime loss. They were a 50% Corsi (shot attempts) team at 5v5, which is average, while being nearly a 53% Expected Goals (scoring chances) team per Corsica – which, season-long, is a top-10 figure for an NHL team. How did this happen? In short, the Rangers did start creating more offense, but the massive turnaround was the limiting of shots and chances against.

Now of course a few caveats apply: the competition the Rangers faced was mixed and it’s certainly possible for a team to just play better or worse for as small of a stretch of the season I am referencing. What is most curious to those who follow the Rangers daily, however, is what personnel was being used during this timeframe. Of note, Neal Pionk was out injured for five games while Brett Howden (both to be looked at more later) missed four. When they returned, they were eased back in TOI-wise, with Pionk playing 3rd pair and Howden seeing 2-3 less minutes per game (along with the 4th line at the time, which included Cody McLeod). Furthermore, Tony DeAngelo replaced Pionk when he was injured, which sparked his solid second half performance. Marc Staal was paired with DeAngelo and the two were playing 2nd and 3rd pair minutes. Finally, Kevin Hayes also returned to injury, and this coincided with Quinn and Oliver giving the top-six more TOI per game than at any other point of the season.

To summarize: the role of injuries guided Quinn & co. to a lineup that saw some of the worst defensive players of last season (Pionk, Howden, McLeod, Staal) either out of the lineup or playing less, and their TOI was replaced by average or better players (Hayes, the top six, Smith, Nieves). To me, this all tracks with the phrase “addition by subtraction.” While the infusion of top-tier youth and potential UFA signings will be headline news this summer, the Rangers also have an opportunity for improvement by either removing or limiting the impact of players that visibly struggled last season.

In late April, Evolving Hockey updated their RAPM data to include the 2018-19 season (all data below is from the site). What the hell is RAPM? Check out the link, but the key paragraph is here:

“So let’s summarize what the RAPM coefficients are. They are offensive and defensive ratings for each player that are isolated from the other skaters they played with, the other skaters they played against, the score state,  the effects of playing at home or on the road, the effects of playing in back-to-back games, and the effects of being on the ice for a shift that had a faceoff in the offensive or defensive zone.”

Taken originally from the NBA/basketball data, RAPM is lauded by public analytic communities because while it isn’t a one-number/catch-all metric, RAPM consolidates key aspects of each sport that provides a good starting guideline to compare players. In the end, RAPM quickly identified a few Ranger players where the “addition by subtraction” mantra could apply.

To begin, I chose to sort the Defense and Offense by their Expected Goals (xG) per 60 impact and then also consider Corsi (shot attempts) in secondary analysis (xG and Corsi have a correlation of about 80% since 2007). Given that we’re focusing on “addition by subtraction,” this would mean Neal Pionk, Brendan Smith, and Marc Staal should be on the chopping block first. Let’s look at how each player has fared in the last four years of RAPM data, first with Neal Pionk.

Yes, Neal Pionk has only played 101 NHL games in a higher-TOI role while playing against higher-TOI forward competition (who tend to be better, on average). He’s also done so on two below-average NYR teams while playing a lot of Marc Staal. With all that said, though, he ranks dead last in Corsi percentage at 5v5 for Defenders who played 100 games in their first two seasons in the last five years. It seems wild to have to type this out, but Pionk should not be confused with Charlie McAvoy, John Klingberg, or Will Butcher. I’m not saying a lot of people are, but the major risk here is that Rangers management (and some fans) seem to think he can become that. The odds of that at this time are, simply put, low.

Back to the data though, where I used Butcher as a comparison, as Butcher came out of college like Pionk, is a similar age, and has played in a similarly bad team at higher TOI. To understand the chart: 0 is NHL average, meaning the further away a players rating is from zero is, the more impact they have while on the ice in the category. As we can see with Pionk, he is giving up shots and chances at a well-above average rate, while generating shots and chances at a below-average rate. This is the opposite of Butcher, who slowed down this past year in terms of shots and chances for, however he still gave up less than he helped generate.

To cut to the chase: Pionk has not showed he can be an effective high-TOI Defenseman in the NHL yet. He should be considered a third-pair option at best next fall, if not starting in Hartford (especially with the Adam Fox developments as of late).

In a briefer review, here’s Brendan Smith and Marc Staal:

Both defenders are under water, with Smith doing better in the Corsi (shot) department than Staal. Both defenders are also clearly declining, which is not news, however how or if this will be handled by the Rangers FO remains to be seen. Personally, because of his better skating ability and results at limiting more shots against, I would lean to keep Smith around as the bottom-pair D. Yes, Staal has his NMC, however given that the theme here is “addition by subtraction,” all creative solutions to removing him from the roster should be considered.

Let’s move to the NYR Offense.

To start with good news here: McLeod and Spooner are already gone. Howden, in year one, struggled in his own end after receiving likely more TOI than he deserved due to a hot scoring start. That said, he did generate offense at an average NHL pace, so given that there is little chance he starts in Hartford to work on his defensive responsibilities, I am a fan of moving him to the wing in the bottom six as Dave pointed out in his report card. Lias Andersson also struggled in year one, and despite being yo-yo’ed around the lineup, he did not do as starkly bad as Howden. He’ll also be around in the fall in a bottom six role but should likely stick at center. This brings us to our first higher-TOI player: Ryan Strome.

Strome generated about the same amount of offense as he did the last two seasons, but instead of scoring 8-13 goals has he’s done previously, he scored 18 (all-situations) while shooting 22.5% with the Rangers (very low odds to repeat). He did not provide defensive value to make up for this, so this makes him a prime candidate to be replaced by incoming youth and/or a buy-low UFA. Maybe in a perfect world, Gorton could recoup a 2nd or 3rd or make him a part of a deal to aid the defense. Either way, committing to him in his age 26 season would likely not be wise.

The final noticeably negative name to discuss would be Jimmy Vesey.

Vesey is very much a winger who clearly has shooting talent but needs good linemates to get him the puck and help drive play forward. Put another way: he’s a passenger on most lines. He generates an average amount of offense while giving up an above-average amount of chances. To his credit, he did shore up the Corsi (shots) against this season. The reason I mention him last is because true shooting talent is hard to find and keep around in today’s NHL. While it would be nice to have a more complete player (like Fast or Namestnikov) with the same shooting ability, that will be difficult to find. Unless NYR gets an offer that clearly overvalues him, Vesey can still bring more value than Strome, for example.

In the end, without assuming which additions or re-signings that will be made, here’s what my NYR lineup would look like come the fall of 2019 with just the subtractions mentioned:










While who will fill in the X’s will be heavily debated, I do believe that the simple goal of removing or limiting the impact of some of the worst performers last year will lead the Rangers to incremental success.

Show More
  • Great article Rob. Thank you. How about:



    Smith gets bought out. I did an armchair GM on Cap Friendly and the Rangers could easily sign Panarin and sign their important RFAs for next year. But they do have to decide on Kreider this offseason, whether to extend him or trade him.

    • Thanks. I disagree with keeping Strome around as I think he can be replaced by an average or above average guy who generates more offense. Hajek will likely get a long look out back, I just didn’t include him because while his short stint was impressive, we need to see more of him to be sure. The Smith buyout from a cap sense makes sense, no argument, but in a perfect world for me it’d be him over Staal in the lineup is all.

      • Yep, agree on Strome, Lias needs to build confidence and show his purported skill as a center-man isn’t a fallacy.

        LOVE the idea of Names as the second line center. He can be a one year place holder for a Chytil.

    • Not a bad line up though I would prefer Staal get bought out over Smith. Kreider is going to be an interesting story line going into the off season. If they can’t come to a reasonable extension then he has to get traded.

    • Krieder is a goner. No way they resign him at $6.5M. He only shows up 50% of the time. He and Lias for a middle first round pick. Then we have additional Cap space to pay real scoring forwards. Talk about addition by subtraction, maybe we throw Smith in the deal too.

  • Super article again and this just underlines that what needs to happen for this team is obvious to everyone except for the FO. Unfortunately they will basically do the opposite of what is recommended here and we will extend this unnecessary tank for another year or two.

  • howden has never had great standing on this site but the dismissal of a 21 yo rookie (same amount of points as chytil) bc of poor excel formulas is just mystifying.

    if he was taken by the organization would the view be different ?

    because if you are taken 7th overall but skate slower than Cody mcleod you have folk bending over upside down to defend you .

  • Everyone who has a brain in their head knew that Pionk, along with his partner Staal were a disaster waiting to happen. Marc may be a challenge to trade, and a buyout is out of the question, so he stays for another year. Pionk has a perceived value, why keep him with the laundry list of d-men who can play some defense? Get what we can for him, and Shatty as well, both are defensive liabilities. Of the three S’s, I’d keep Smith because he can fill in the blanks for you in an emergency. He can play both sides on defense, and wing on a checking line. I suspect JG knows this, and will make the shrewd move to improve this team!!!!!

  • One thing that I believe would be an interesting follow-up to this is to chronicle Hank’s season by the deployment of Staal/Pionk at 5v5 and PK.

    It’s pretty clear to me that Quinn ran Hank into the ground the 1H (he admitted as much) and that as Hank was tiring, the whole thing fell apart with Staal/Pionk out there masquerading as NHLers.

    The other thing that I find fascinating is that in the 1H of the year, Hank’s GSAA stats were very good to excellent at 5v5. However, his PK stats from the start of the year were very poor, which is odd because historically he’s also buoyed our PK. Our weak PK was one of the biggest Achilles heels of this team and really reflects poorly on the coaching staff.

  • I would think that the front office sees this data too. That said, they have to deal with training a young player to play their way but pair him with an over-the-hill defender. Pionk’s numbers show him to be a 3rd pair defenseman getting 10 mins TOI a game. Anything more than that has to be put on the coach.

  • Rob – very good and sobering analysis. Illustrates that this team still has a ways to go to truly be competitive again.

    And I appreciate your comment about Hajek. Had a disastrous 1st year at Hartford- a total flop. Then had a brief call-up where he “didn’t look out of place.” Many are ready to pencil him in this year as a top 4 dman – ridiculous. I think he is a legitimate prospect but he will have to earn his way on team in the preseason and to get significant playing time – otherwise he needs more seasoning in Hartford where he can show he is at least a solid AHL dman.

    I gotta believe the team has sobered up about Pionk. I would be surprised if he can stay out of Hartford. He needs to learn how to play D, if possible. and he’ll be 24 before the season starts. Fox and others I’m sure have passed him on the prospect totem pole.

    I still think Rangers are better off letting the bad contracts amortize out another year. Don’t think buyouts make sense at this time.

    • I’d like to think so on Pionk – the key is asset management. They’ll more than likely resign him, which is fine if he’s used to acquire another asset (even a lower pick) or starts the year in Hartford, to your point.

    • If Rob’s chart can be believed, adding in the Fox signing, the Rangers should perhaps rethink the RD situation. The chart suggests that Shattenkirk is actually good and so is ADA. Throw in Fox and the Rangers almost have RD taken care of. You do want two out of three on the PK and so far ADA has been hidden from that role and Shatty has seen relatively little time. But if that can be solved, the defense problem becomes just a LD problem – and the Rangers need not worry about Pionk (who was not a PK solution in any case).

      • I think that Shatty, ADA & Fox (at some point) may all be relatively good Dmen. However they are all similar in that they are very good puck movers, not great defensively and all are relatively small for defenseman. So it’s not just an LD problem by itself but finding the right LD’s who can pair effectively with 3 relatively similar RHD.

        • Shatty will be gone by the time this becomes “necessary” … and ADA can handle himself just fine, I suspect Fox’s d’ isn’t as bad as some suggest (besides he has the puck all the time lol).

    • Very detailed well written article. Young players do tend to improve their defensive game with time, but I agree Pionk has his work cut out for him. I was surprised that Shats numbers were as good as they were as it always seems like he is on the ice when the opposition scores. But he did seemed to improve his game as the season went on.

      I always been a huge Staal fan, but injuries has taken its toll on this old warhorse and it may be time to put him out to pasture.

  • On Ice net expected goals for per 60? Bullshit! Fast better than Zbad, Zucc, or anybody? What kind of bull chart is that? Charts that have no dissemblance to truth should be burned. Fast on 3rd line again? 3 x 3 = 2000.
    Fast has 1038 minutes in the games. 8 goals in 66 games. Divide time 1038 minutes by 8 goals you get .00770713
    Zbad has 1686 minutes in the games with 30 goals in 82 games. Divide time 1686 minutes by 30 goals you get .01779359

    Are the calculation correct? We are discussing time on ice and how many goals so .007 is better than .01?

    • Sorry I didn’t define exactly what “on ice net expected goals” is. The net xG numbers represent a rate (per 60 minutes of 5v5 play) of goals that the player would be on the ice for – not goals that they individually would score. There is a separate figure called “individual expected goals” where it considers the players rate of shots and the location they’re coming from that leads us to that number.

      • This is a key point. You don’t need to score goals, you just need to be part of a team that scores. When I was looking at numbers and trying to understand why KBF was a much better one than KBZ, I theorized that defensive responsibility was critical. Having Fast on the ice allows Zibanejad and Kreider to sell out and focus almost exclusively on putting the puck in the net. With Buch in the play of Fast, the primary defensive responsibility falls to Mika and so the Zibanejad of the KBZ line is an inferior offensive player to the Zibanejad of the KBF line.

        Jesper Fast is not a finisher and you cannot win without finishers. But non-finishers can be excellent complementary players.

    • I am sorry, I still don’t get it. I just don’t see Fast as a scoring threat in any way.
      PDO Goals For While On Ice at Even Strength for Fast is 8.2 while Zbad has a PDO of 9.9.

  • Groan — addition by subtraction is sometimes valid, but mostly it is a silly idea. It should not be mentioned on BSB.

    The underlying analysis is good, but the diagnosis of problems is not. The problem at forward is really easy to diagnose. The Rangers played Cody McLeod and Connor Brickley. They used a defenseman as the twelfth forward. We saw lots of Nieves, who should be a career AHLer. We had lots of Lias Andersson, interestingly the worst plus-minus player in the history of the Wolfpack. Why? The Rangers simply did not have twelve NHL caliber forwards. Bad players were not beating out good players for jobs, there just weren’t good players around — and the great success was when Zib and Zuc were playing 25 minutes a game.

    On defense, the chart says there were only two good defensemen. And it says that Skjei and Staal are roughly equal. Yes, it is clear that Quinn is overestimating the value of Pionk, but again this is not an addition by subtraction issue. IF IF IF Fox, Lindgren, Hajek look like they belong, we can worry about whether or not they will get to play, but we are not there yet.

    The truly funny part of the story is that there is an actual case where addition by subtraction might be relevant. There is a very real chance that the Rangers will give their third best goaltender 50+ starts next year. Obviously we don’t know that Georgiev will be better than Hank (as he has been two years running) or that Shesty will be an immediate star, but these are possibilities. And we don’t know how many starts Hank will get, but limiting him to 52 is much easier than limiting him to 25 — and note his playing time was only severely reduced after the season was declared over.

  • We need to stop worrying about winning a few more games here and there, that shouldn’t be the primary goal here. The goal is to grow as a team so that 2-3 years from now we win consistently — and with that in mind yes you need a few veterans on the team to set the example, but you don’t need 3 of them back on d’ taking valuable ice time away from players that will form the future core … and we don’t need 6 of them up front. So yes, a little subtraction this year helps, then a little more the following year. By the time the Expansion draft comes around the oldest vets should all be out and the future becomes the present. Besides, there are good, bad and meh vets — I don’t see a 30+ year old Justin Williams on the team.

    • You are better than this comment. I think you are missing a key point. Player development and letting kids have ice time in the NHL are not the same thing. The latter is the simple-minded approach a coach who doesn’t grasp what player development means takes. First of all, throwing guys in over their heads does them no good. There are much better off playing in the AHL and studying how good players play. Second, players should earn ice time. One thing players need to learn is to work hard. And they don’t learn that by being penciled into the lineup without merit. Third, if a player does belong in the lineup, he should be playing seriously and that means having good teammates. If you want to develop Filip Chityl, it does matter if he is playing with Ryan Strome or Vinni Lettieri. it does matter if the team has defensemen. To give an extreme and not presently relevant example, you want to have a real goalie. Imagine how demoralizing it would be to a Fox or DeAngelo or Hajek if every mistake were punished by a goal. To a lesser extent, that happens to everyone when you have crappy teammates.

      Fourth, one has to figure out who exactly is being seriously developed. Oversimplifying, the Rangers have two groups of prospects. There are the guys who are expected to make the team and the guys who are not. We don’t know exactly who is on which list, but I suspect that currently Meskanen, Gettinger, and Day are on the second list. What do you do with these guys? Simple, you play them in the AHL, you coach them as well as you can, and you hope that they can take their game to the next level and prove you wrong. What you don’t do is let them clutter up the NHL roster and deprive the top grade prospects of their focus.

      It is often said here that we need see what some guys can do. We don’t need to see anything; we are not coaches and we make no decisions. Hopefully the Ranger brass can tell if Hajek or Lindgren can play in NY without actually seeing it. They have a huge amount of information from Hartford play and practices. Letting a guy skate 100 minutes in the NHL does not give a good evaluation – the sample size is just too small.

      • Wouldn’t you think that the Hartford coaches could determine what players will develop into solid pros. The coaching at Hartford must have really been ineffective if hockey talent isn’t evaluated very well. For example, Libor Hajek looked like the second coming of McDonagh in his brief stay with the Rangers. Did the Hartford coaches think so? Maybe I’m looking through rose colored glasses. I just hope that better coaching at Hartford will develop more players. Either that or we just don’t have very good good players.

        • No, Hajek did not look like the second coming of McDonagh. He played a very small number of games in a sheltered role and did not embarrass himself. That in itself is not a trivial accomplishment, but it only suggests he may be an NHLer. It proves nothing. We will see in the coming year.

          But yes, my contention is that the Hartford coaches should know how good their players are.

      • No, I’m not better than that comment Ray. 😉 All I’m saying is that YES we need vets on the team but NO we don’t really need quite as many as we have. I’m not advocating moving a great number of them, I just advocating opening up a slot at forward and on d. I mean look at our “adds”: Kravtsov, Kakko (or Hughes) and Fox … then look at prospects that suffered in terms of ice time/games last year: Andersson and Hajek.

        The FO has to make some reasonable assumptions here going into next season, like AT LEAST one of Kakko and Kravtsov will make the team, but probably both. These are not ordinary prospects, they are potentially special players that have been playing against MEN for the last couple of years. On d’ I would say Hajek is pretty much ready, he did nothing but impress in admittedly a small sample size … Lindgren was kind of close, although he would still benefit from a lot of ice time down in Hartford. Fox is ready, he did nothing but dominate the NCAA 3 years in a row … and has looked real good in International competition. Now sure, any one of these players may benefit from a little time down on the farm, but I can’t imagine any scenario where any of these players (aside from maybe Lindgren) spend a whole season down on the farm.

        • Suppose I have 3 young forwards I know I want to play, two more I am not sure about and two long shots. Then I want ten veteran forwards, three of whom I am willing to bench or put through waivers. My three young “stars” will play. If the remainder are not ready, I have 13 forwards. If the two maybes come through, then I dispose of two of my vets. If the two long shots come through, I find a way to trade some more. It is easier to dispose of talent than to create it.

          The Rangers were a perennial playoff team. They collapsed in 2017-2018 as I predicted they would because of Lias Andersson. Instead of having a good forward corps, they left a place open for someone who was simply not ready and they ended up hopelessly thin up front. It is insane to insure playing time for “prospects” by making sure that you have no other options.

          Andersson and Hajek did not earn ice time last year. At Hartford, Andersson was -24 in 36 games, a performance unequalled in Wolfpack history. Hajek also struggled, though he may have had a bad partner. But you do not build a team by insisting that players are prospects when all the evidence points the other way.

          Yes, a bad coach can play the wrong players — but you don’t win by giving him fewer options. In that case, you win by getting a better coach.

          • Blaming the collapse of 2017-18 on Andersson is one of the greatest stretches in the history of stretches. One 18 year old forward is not the difference between “[i]nstead of having a good forward corps … they ended up hopelessly thin up front”. If that were the case I’m sure there wouldn’t have been a full rebuild. No, the issues with that team went much deeper, all the way back to the season before when we lost to an inferior team like the Sens. Coaching and leadership had a lot more to do with it.

          • My point is that if you back yourself into a corner so that undeserving kids play, you have lost the coaching and leadership game.

            It wasn’t Andersson – it was a building a forward corps intentionally so weak that it should not have been able to keep Andersson from playing – just so the trade and draft pick would look good.

            And the Rangers didn’t lose to Ottawa; Lundqvist did.

  • We know how Smith, Shatty, Stall and Pionk play. We need to see how some of the highly touted rookies play at the NHL level. I am not saying start 3 rookies next year, but we need to give then 10 game tryouts to see if their talent can match the speed of the game,

    If you lose Pionk and Smith, you lose guys who played parts of over 100 games. Their replacements might not be good out of the box, but as far as future planning is concerned, we need then to start logging NHL minutes to see their readiness.

  • Shattenkirk and Pionk need to be first 2 out the door. You watch these playoffs and you see there is no place out on the ice for those types. I firmly believe 22 has played his last game for us already

    • This should not be another year we miss the playoffs. Granted we are not that deep, but are the Islanders a stacked team? No, they play a solid defensive scheme with a hot goaile. I think we can equal their mark next year if we add some talent to the offense and trim some fat from the defense. It is time we look to get more depth and skill. We are getting 90 points next year. 2 defensemen got to go and 2 top forwards (in addition to Kraftsov and Kappo) have to be added.

      Doesn’t AV need Fast in Philly? Is Panarin worth it? Is this the year Trouba puts pressure on his current organization? LGR!

      • Why not Sal? I could live with that as long as I see the promise of the rookies and the improvement of the other young prospects. We’re not the only team in the East that will improve over the summer and I wouldn’t just yet count on these youngsters putting us over the hump.

  • Just saw this short storry on Hank on

    “Henrik Lundqvist reiterated his desire to finish his career as a member of the New York Rangers, but told Expressen, a newspaper in Sweden, on Monday he isn’t sure if that will happen.

    “I don’t know if I’ll stay with the Rangers my entire career,” said the 37-year-old goalie, who has two seasons remaining on a seven-year contract he signed Dec. 4, 2013. “I have two years left on my deal and it has always been my goal to stay with the Rangers, but once you get up there in age you never know. I know what I want, but if the club has other ideas I know I’ll have to listen. You can’t just do your own thing.

    “Sometimes the dream might not work out in the end … we’ll see what happens. Right now all my focus is on the upcoming World Championships…”

  • Back to top button