Marc Staal has been a career New York Ranger, and prior to the past 4-5 years, a relatively beloved one at that. Staal made the immediate jump to the NHL for the 2007-2008 season after two more seasons in the OHL, and he made an immediate impact. He was the first home grown guy to make an impact and really paved the way for others in the runs the Rangers had in the early 2010’s. However as the NHL has evolved and as Staal has aged, he’s become less effective and more a liability. Unfortunately, gone are the days of watching him one-arm Alex Ovechkin to the ice as he crosses the high slot.
Staal has been below replacement level for quite some time now and unfortunately hasn’t gotten better with a coaching and deployment change. Perhaps part of this was due to the combination of Alain Vigneault and David Quinn still insisting he be out there in high pressure situations (see: 2017 playoffs). The thought process was sound, but it is now a full two seasons later, Staal two years older, and a new coach with a simpler system. Staal is still down right bad. And it is rough to watch for a career Ranger who has given everything to this team.
How bad, you ask? Well, it’s real bad.
Staal has been so bad that he single-handedly takes double-digit shot share down with him while he is on the ice. This is also an over simplified version. Here’s the full version. The Rangers average 18 shot attempts for fewer and 15 shot attempts against more when he’s on the ice. The team CF% goes from 32.5% with him on the ice to 46.8% without him on the ice. The team xGF% jumps from 30.7% to 40.6% with him off the ice. Sure, the team is still bad without him on the ice, but that’s one helluva negative impact when on the ice.
Even for those who aren’t overly stats inclined, it’s clear as day while he’s on the ice. The Rangers are pinned regularly in their own zone when he’s out there. It’s no coincidence, and it’s just a disaster for a guy who is playing 33% of the defensive ice time right now (15 minutes a game with him out there, 30 minutes without at even strength). Also worth noting that this is all at even strength, so penalty kill (where Staal plays) and powerplay (where he does not) are not included here.
If the Blueshirts are intent on holding players accountable for poor play, then Staal’s name should be at the top of the list. He, on his own, is making the Rangers a bottom-ten team. If the Rangers want to win games, then the decision to bench him is clear. They have the cap space to eat his salary in the press box, and Brendan Smith has been producing better numbers all along anyway.
There are two sides to the fence here. The first is that this is a rebuilding season and the Rangers are tanking, in which Staal’s presence is a frustrating need. We don’t know how he is in the locker room, but in this scenario he’s eating ice time while other kids develop in the AHL. The second is that the coaching staff believes he is part of the solution, and they need him to win games. To that, see the last sentence of the above paragraph.
If the Rangers intend to win games this year and put a team on the ice that isn’t bottom-ten or bottom-five, then the biggest difference maker decision is to scratch Staal, as painful as it sounds. Move Smith back to defense where he belongs, and you have yourself a lineup that still isn’t overly great, but won’t get as caved on a nightly basis as we’ve seen.
The Rangers have a history of loyalty to their players, and it is showing with Staal. This is the hardest part of the rebuild, saying goodbye to players that have spent their careers in New York. They’ve done it already with Mats Zuccarello and Ryan McDonagh. It’s time to do the same with Staal.