Is it time to send Libor Hajek back to the AHL for a bit?

Rookie defenseman is struggling

If there is one thing we know for certain, it is that coach David Quinn will be changing the lineup around after last night’s drubbing by the Ottawa Senators. Marc Staal, who has been a healthy scratch the past three games, will likely get back into the lineup. At this point, it’s a matter of whom he will replace.

While the optimal decision is keeping Staal out and moving Brendan Smith back to defense, if a lineup change needs to happen, we should live in a reality where Smith is a forward for this team and Staal is back in the lineup (more on that in a future post). That means it’s one of Hajek or Ryan Lindgren coming out of the lineup.

Beyond the obvious decision that needs to be made, it’s about the best situation for the kids to develop. For Hajek, he’s been getting caved in from the get-go and he has looked lost at times. He’s sporting a team worst (non-Staal division) 37.91 CF% and 34.53 xGF%. This is all while playing predominately third pairing minutes and getting 15 minutes per game at even strength.

Rob brings up more evidence that Hajek has been struggling. The team just has better numbers when Hajek is off the ice. This more or less comes down to role on the team. Like with Neal Pionk last season, Hajek is being force fed top pairing minutes and he is barely keeping his head above water.

The heatmaps show how much Hajek is struggling. When he’s on the ice, the Rangers wind up with -24% below average shots for and return to an average team when he’s off the ice. There’s also a 9% net difference in shots against. With more than 10% of the season gone, we are beyond small sample size risks and starting to recognize trends. The fact remains that Hajek is struggling.

But the question isn’t whether or not he’s struggling. He is. The question is whether or not he’s best served getting top pair minutes in Hartford or being dropped in the lineup at the NHL level. Last season, when he was paired with Pionk and playing third pairing minutes, he excelled. That was only five games, but the difference is striking. The other issue with sending him down is roster construction in Hartford.

As long as Brady Skjei continues to struggle, the Rangers are going to have issues filling out that top pair. It means someone is going to be overwhelmed. Does it make sense to have Hajek, one of the centerpieces of the Ryan McDonagh trade, struggle in that role? Or does it make sense to have Skjei adjust? Or just let Staal ride it out? It’s not an easy decision to make.

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  • Staal plays, Hajek is a healthy scratch, Zibby 1C, Chytil 2C, Howden 3C with Strome on the wing. Smith and Fast to the 4th line with Lias. McKegg sits.
    Hank plays, Georgi watches. More moves to come after the game

  • For whatever reason, Quinn and Co have given Hajek and Howden long leashes and they are completely unwarranted. Both have been horrible.

    Simply replacing Hajek with Smith and running a left side of Smith/Skjei/Lindgren would be a massive improvement. Hajek and Staal are not NHL-caliber players, and do not deserve any playing time.

    As an aside, the fact that the Rangers specifically targeted Hajek in that horrific McD/JTM trade (look at JTM’s return for TBL, but also how JTM has been playing for Vancouver) is a horrific mistake.

    • “For whatever reason, Quinn and Co have given Hajek and Howden long leashes and they are completely unwarranted.” Which is it, “Give the players long leashes” and let them develop in the NHL, or (in the case of Chytil and Kravstov) send them to the AHL?

  • Staal will replace ..random non North American skater..

    What did they expect after giving him top minutes with Trouba who hasn’t been awesome.

    Look at that names gets top line minutes and delivers.

    In game adjustments were non existent.

    Quinn is in over his head maybe he can use a two week conditioning stint in Hartford to get his hockey sense back.

  • Staal will replace a random non North American skater

    Nevermind Trouba sucked just as bad.

    Or that names on a top line delivered points.

    Quinn is over his head and should be sent down to the A for a 10 game reconditioning stint.

  • Put Lindgren with Trouba, send Skjei to Hartford, let Hajek play on 2 or 3rd pair. Otherwise he is being told “your a first pair defenseman or your in Hartford”, why not let him work his way up from lower pair with the Rangers.

    • skjei would have to clear waivers. not sure the rangers FO is there yet that it would rather lose skjei for nothing. plenty of fans would disagree at this point.

  • The game before this one, Hajek and Lindgren were deployed during most of the 6 on 4 during the last minute of play vs. Nashville and collectively kicked butt against some high-end Preds offensive talent. That’s the eye test.

    The analytics are ugly no doubt. But, how much uglier are they than say, Staal? If the intent is to develop the kids, then develop them where it can best be accomplished, wherever that is. Except for the KHL.

    It really comes down to expectations. They are higher this year with good reason. But the team is really young and needs experience – especially with each other. Maybe you can send Hajek down and bring up Keane (5 goals already?) for a look-see. And does anyone know the ETA on Rykov?

    They are not going to win the Cup, so get used to the ride. Maybe it is time to start putting together some slogans. “Quit for Quinton” comes to mind.

    • Keane is a right dman, if Hajek goes down to the AHL they’ll have to put Staal or Smith back there instead and scratch DeAngelo.

  • My eye test says that the kid has had some up, and down games. Surprise, that’s normal for rookies, and he really hasn’t been as bad as some here think. If they play anyone else but Marc Staal, and sit this kid down, well he’ll have to work that much harder to prove he earned his spot. If Staal plays over this guy, he’ll never see another game because Staal’s an organizational favorite, even if his play requires a wheel chair to assist his game. Leave the kid be, he’s an improvement over Marc!!!!!

  • I don’t think so. He looked good against the Predators and at other times and bad against the Senators. It happens. Maybe you give him a couple of nights off like Staal and then bring him back. I see no reason to yo-yo him.

  • Considering the whole team stunk for the first part of these Oct games, I’d like to see those heat maps across the wins they just had. My guess is they’d look different, and probably tell more of an up and down story to his game…ya know like a rookie. Funny thing about analytics, you can pretty much use them to shape any narrative if you slice them up different ways.

    After seeing the improvement in Chytil’s game, I’d like more of these guys to spend some time in CT. Hajek, Howden, and Andersson could all use some work down there IMO.

  • Just seeing Detroit recalled McIlrath. That will give us something to talk about I he plays…

  • If someone plays bad they should get sent to the minors? Do you want Truba to be sent down? Truba has had some nasty games, yet we know he is OK. The only person to be sent to the minors is the coach!

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