As more defensemen succeed away from the NY Rangers, the seat under Lindy Ruff gets hotter

Ryan McDonagh, Kevin Shattenkirk, and Neal Pionk are all succeeding after leaving the Rangers

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.

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  • I don’t think it’s a tough decision at all, Ruff stinks and should be replaced. I recently saw that Pionk had 9 points already and against Tampa, Shatty’s name was called frequently throughout the game (For good reasons). He looked like a different player out there.

    Good read, It needs to be said louder and more often throughout Ranger land, “Ruff Must Go!”.

    • Don’t disagree – Ruff is a dog :). But what about Beuk? What about Ulf?

      Besides coaching – the main reason that others generally flourish when they leave has a lot to do with the depth of the talent pool and deployment – both when they were here and where they landed.

      The G-man is a great case – he was a #1D warrior until he wasn’t. But his deployment did not change because he was the best we had – sadly. He went to Tampa and was put into a position where he could succeed which was primarily as a #2D and played big minutes and was productive.

      McD – has played well in Tampa sure – but again he is a #2 LD behind Hedman. He does not have the burden in Tampa that he had in NY.

      Shatty – be careful with this one. He is scoring for sure. But he has been playing #1 RD and his defense has been exposed on numerous occasions and that is not going to stop.

      Pionk – can’t speak to how he is doing defensively in Winnipeg but he is scoring. OK – well we all know he can score, but how is he defending? He would seem to be a guy who could also be utilized as a forward ala Smith because he can play offense but struggles on D.

  • Ruff is a problem, but will be there for the entire year. DQ needs to take charge and force Ruff to change styles. Gorton must also see the numbers, but may feel it is DQ’s call.

    • Not to sure if you know what you are talking about.. Lindy ruff has been in hockey his whole life. Lindy also was a great coach.many years .Did you ever think that league is filled with players across the pond they will no play physical the game to me has changed not for the better. Playing defense you have to be physical .you can make someone be physical

      • Any good coach or manager needs to change their leadership styles or coaching styles based on the players on the team., The style that worked 20 years ago may not work when you are coaching millennials. These younger players were groomed on a fast, poke-check defense and NOT a physical defense, and therefore the coaching system used needs to change accordingly.

  • Dave

    To be fair to Ruff, whom I dislike his style very much, it’s wrong to compare the players mentioned and say they are better under the new team, and their coaches. Mac Truck goes to a Stanley cup contender, plays second pair behind Hedman, and has a quality group of d-men to work with, sure he’s going to look better. Same for Shattenkirk, who was an abject failure with us. He still can’t play defense, never could, never will, but looks better with Tampa. Pionk is also with a quality organization, where he gets help from their forwards, again he should look better than when he played for us. These guys were put in a situation where they could succeed, not the case with us.

    Now on to the question as to should Ruff be coaching our defense? The answer is not no, but hell no, he’s a poor teacher, and has devised a lousy defensive scheme. Why he was brought here in the first place is beyond me, but so be it. The sooner the Rangers get rid of him, the better for the kids, and the team’s defense. Some may disagree, but I never thought of Ruff as a quality coach when he was in Buffalo, and or Dallas!!!!!!!!!!

    • Hmmm, well, you can’t keep blaming all the players. But you have a good point about Tampa helping Mac & Shat. I am sure Trouba, Skjei and others would be playing better on that squad too.

      my concerns with the entire coaching has to do with effort, they don’t play 60, they take penalties and look unprepared, this doesn’t help the coaches look good.


      • Pas44

        What your talking about is a motivational thing, and that falls on the head coach, not the d-coach. It’s incumbent on DQ to get the team to play 60 minutes, or they sit for 60 minutes!!!!!!!!!!

        • I played for ccoach Quinn, he is best D Coach on planet. He needs to take control of his D immediately, I been meaning to write to him and will sooner rather than later. I been telling people for weeks “Ruff will cost Quinn his job”. Ruff was awful in Buffalo, he owes his career to Hasek!!! You guys have a good one in Quinn, he just needs to take over!!!!

    • Shattenkirk got such a raw deal with the fan base here. He took a discount to play for the Rangers and suffered a torn meniscus, during his first preseason here I recall. He tried to gut it out but it is impossible to play with such a damaged knee. Instead of getting any understanding half the fan base piled on that he sucked, seemingly unable to consider his injury as a factor in his mediocre play . He does not, he is a good 2 way defenseman. He is certainly not a shut down dman by any means but he is very good at getting the puck out of the defensive zone. I don’t totally blame Gorton for the buyout as it made sense relative to our RHD vs LHD (and not dumping the lesser Staal instead) but it was very predictable that Shatty would play at a high level if fully healthy again.

      Pionk is not playing that well. It is predictable that getting first pair minutes he would score – he always exhibited that skill.
      And his advanced stats are helped tremendously by the Jets outstanding forward lines that drive possession, especially when on ice with their top 2 lines. The fact remains that the Jets are in deep trouble with their compromised defense corp with Pionk and the others (besides Morriseey).

      McDonagh was always a stud; with an amazing skill set. He seemed a bit overwhelmed with the captaincy and having to carry the defense here. He is really shining only having to be Robin to Hedman’s Batman status in the Tampa D corp. Good for him.

      • McDonough is a stud, without a doubt. I think his career has been lengthened and enhanced by his trade to Tampa. So, whether or not it was a good deal for the Rangers, McDonough has benefitted. Good for him indeed. He is a class guy.

        Shatty was frustrated in New York and never got his footing after his injury. It was probably best for him too to move on. I doubt things would have improved for him nearly as well or quickly with the Rangers and his age was out of step with where they are heading.

        I think that the defensemen get too much blame by the fan base on blogs. Defense is a team responsibility, but the focus often seems to be what happens in front of the goalie without analyzing how the puck got down there. I am not sure of Quinn/Ruff’s system, but it goes without saying that forwards need to pick up their men and get back to defend, and need to possess the puck, if a team wants to be good defensively. Back when the Rangers were a decent possession team, they were better defensively. Perhaps the youngsters will learn to play team defense and perhaps the coaches will figure out how to teach it.

      • Orland, I have to disagree with you regarding Shatty’s stay in NY. Most fans wanted him here and loved the fact he gave the NYRs a hometown discount to sign. Who doesn’t like a local loyal player who wants to play here?

        That being said, his tenure here in NY was horrendous on the ice. Not only was he terrible in the D-Zone but his offense was almost laughable. I remember watching him towards the end of last season on the PP, where his slap shot was so weak he stopped taking it altogether and would instead shovel passes to the front of net. Zero confidence.

        I understand the injury, but at the same time he apparently didn’t alert the team about his knee until many months later. Last year he was consistently bad everywhere on the ice…and extremely slow. There was no indication he was going to ever bounce back based on his two year stay here. And Remember Trotz did not like him in DC after they got him from the Blues. I think he was healthy scratch during their playoff run.

        Nice guy. Nice local guy. But that doesn’t mean we have love him unconditionally despite his bad play. He wasn’t worth 6million or even 2 million per year during his tenure.

        • Shatty did what most athletes do – tried to minimize and play thru a significant issue. Not great but done with the intent to contribute to his beloved Rangers after returning home.

          I recall a game early on (Edmonton season 1) when his command of the puck and power play quarterbacking was something I had not seen since Leetch. I was so excited but the cortisone shots to his knee provided diminished relief and he become a liability with a big contract for the remainder of his tenure here. So I agree that he wasn’t worth much while here because of the injury. Seems crass and ill informed, to me, to pound away at Shatty and judge him without considering he was playing on one leg

          I would compare his skill set to Adam Fox. Not physical or fast but particularly good puck skills and hockey vision. I expected him to rebound if fully healthy and that is what he has done. Tampa got a bargain.

          • Orland

            “Seems crass and ill informed, to me, to pound away at Shatty and judge him without considering he was playing on one leg”.

            Wrong, wrong, wrong. I speak the truth about Shatty, he never could, and never will play sound defense. He played 3rd pair when the Blues traded him away, and the Caps, specifically Trotz stated himself that the guy sucked on defense. That my friend happened long before he came here, and got hurt. Your emotions are clouding your mind my friend, he stinks on defense. Call that crass, I call it telling it like it is!!!!!!

    • Hey Walt, spot on comments,once again your words tell the entire story. Not the normal knee jerk reaction.

  • Having a young team that fails to play 200′ of hockey would be a problem for most teams. Defense needs to be played by all of the 5 skaters and not just the 2 defensemen. All of these kids prefer to play hard in the offensive zone and skate back to their own end looking not to play defense, but to get in a position for a break out pass.

    Ruff still needs to go, as well as his system, but I think if all of the forwards on this team play some better and more responsible defense, we will be much better at defending.

      • If the players fail to play in the system consistently, where is the failure? If they played the system well against Tampa Bay and Nashville and won, what happened against Ottawa? Did the coaches change the system, or did the players fail to follow it? I’m not saying that the coaching is perfect, but to reflexively blame that for the inconsistent performance of a very young team is as short sighted as is overvaluing the talent of young players.

  • Ruff is another employee that is well liked by leadership and the only reason that he is still here. If there is one thing I do not like about the NYR leadership is that they stand by loyalty over ineptitude…..I hope JD lets him go after the season….We need a D coach that is not old school…

  • So let me see if I got this, It’s Ruff’s fault when the D-men give the puck away, it’s his fault when they fail to cover their man, it’s his fault when they get beat one on one, it’s his fault when they fail to block a shot. For guys who claim to know hockey this sounds dumb to me. A coach takes some blame but you people make it seem like we have the greatest defense in the world and it’s Ruff’s fault they aren’t playing well. A coach can only do so much and then the players have to go out and implement. If he was so bad why did they keep him as the coach? There is no way J.D. would keep him if he felt he wasn’t doing the job. The bottom line is this falls on the players!

    • This current system demands that the defensemen give up the blue line. This allows the opposition to gain more space and speed coming in, and gives them more time to survey the situation even if they elect to slow it down, making it harder for even the more agile defensemen to keep up with their marks – let alone the more slow-footed “lockdown” defensemen. They aren’t in the position to block shots – or better yet, to prevent quality shots, let alone steal the puck – they’re in no man’s land, and that’s because that’s what the coaches have mandated that they do.

      This current system demands that the defensemen force passes north/south through dangerous neutral zone areas rather than use their skill to carry the puck. This is especially a head-scratcher considering the Rangers can put an above-average puck-carrying defenseman on every pair (Trouba/ADA/Fox).

      Sometimes, the players have some great games where the guys can manage to execute in a system that puts them at a disadvantage to begin with. The system is a problem when it requires near-perfection to be simply adequate, however.

      If they don’t follow their orders, they run the risk of sitting/dropping down the order/getting minutes clipped. These factors also place more pressure on the forwards to act as defenders than many forwards are going to be capable of executing at a high level, compounding the problem.

      Ruff is a longtime member of The Fraternity of Good Hockey Men. He has friends in the front office. Maybe he’s got some incriminating photos of Dolan, or something – who knows. What we do know is that the performance of the defenses underneath him certainly is not why he is still employed as a Ranger. We know that defenders that have previously looked subpar under him have looked better away from him. We know that defenders who have previously looked better away from him look worse under him. We know that his longest stretch of success as a coach came on the back of a SIX-TIME (!!!) Vezina-winning HoF goalie.

      A good coach/system can do little to raise the ceiling of subpar talent, but a subpar coach/system can contribute a lot to lowering the basement of any level of talent. DQ is certainly not without blame here, nor was AV. No matter how you slice it though, Ruff has been a constant during this dark period of Rangers defense. They’ve already turned over the players. I’m sure you’ve heard the quote about the fish rotting from the head…that’s an old and popular saying for a reason.

  • Panarin’s play off the puck needs to become infectious to other forwards. The best hockey defense is an offense that hustles hard in their defensive responsibilities. How would this team be without years and even current outstanding goal tending.

  • Ruff has to go. I do not understand how you can be so clearly incompetent and unaccountable on this team. In my next life I want to work for the Rangers. Its like working for the Post Office as you will have a job for life. And while on the subject…has there been a worse era for NY Pro Team results and coaches? Fizdale. Worthless. Gase. Over his head. Shurmer: a career loser. His whole career. The Mets? Thank heavens the Yankees look to be professional and I still like Quinn and trust JD.

  • Here’s a summary of Ruff’s system
    Analytics test= Fail
    Eye test= Fail

    The players have changed and the defense still fails. As a coach you need to put your players in a position to succeed and they have not.

    My will/desire has to be stronger than your will/desire is not a solution.

  • I’ve said from day one that Ruff was the wrong person for the job. The defense will stink as long as he’s around.

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