Lindy Ruff joined the Rangers prior to the 2017-2018 season. In the time that Ruff has been with the Rangers, we’ve seen three blue liners either traded or bought out by the Blueshirts: Ryan McDonagh, Kevin Shattenkirk, and Neal Pionk. Every single one of them, at least partly, succeeded away from the Rangers.
Starting with Ryan McDonagh, the first to depart via trade, his first full season away from the Rangers and Ruff saw him put up a 50.06 CF% and 52.60 xGF%. Those numbers were up significantly from his last season with the Rangers, where he was a sub-50% in both stats. Now of course quality of team plays a role here, and if it were just McDonagh then it would be easy to overlook. After all, that 2017-2018 Tampa team was solid.
Neal Pionk, the second player to be traded, was visibly and statistically awful with the Rangers. He could move the puck, but when it came to defensive zone coverage he was a nightmare. We can all agree there. Yet this year with Winnipeg, playing top pair minutes, Pionk is putting up a 52.30 CF% and a 46.54 xGF%. While the expected goals is still awful, a sign that he is still struggling with limiting quality shots, the quantity of shots he is allowing is down significantly.
And now Kevin Shattenkirk, who was bought out by the Rangers this summer before signing with Tampa. Shatty is thriving in Tampa, with a 51.34 CF% and 53.24 xGF% while getting, you guessed it, top line minutes with, again you guessed it, Ryan McDonagh. Some of this is finally getting his right knee function back, but he looks like a whole different player out there.
None of this is to say that the Rangers made the wrong moves. All three were moved for specific purposes in getting the Rangers to the next level. This is more of an indictment of Ruff, who has never had a good history with defense in his career. It also doesn’t help that the Rangers are currently on pace to be a historically bad puck possession team. As in, bottom-five teams in the post-lockout era. None of this should be surprising though, as the defense has been a nightmare for quite some time.
Not lost on the fans is that defensemen that come to the Rangers seem to get worse. Shattenkirk and more recently Jacob Trouba have struggled mightily since coming to a Ruff-led defense. Rangers veterans Brady Skjei, McDonagh, and Brendan Smith all fell off a cliff once Ruff got his hands on them. If players succeed everywhere but on Broadway, there’s something wrong on Broadway.
Which brings us to Ruff and his place within the organization. It is unclear if he is still in his defense role with David Quinn that he had with Alain Vigneault, especially since both David Oliver and Greg Brown have specialized in developing defensemen in their prior positions. However the one constant over the past three debacles, where the Rangers have been almost historically bad, has been Lindy Ruff.
Do we know the inner workings of the locker room and the coaching staff? Nope. But are we able to logically deduce what potential issues are based on statistical and visual evidence? Absolutely. At some point, the Rangers are going to have to make a tough decision with Ruff. The seat is growing hotter as the defense continues to flail. Something has got to give, and it has to be soon.