NY Rangers Midseason Grades: The Defense

An Historic Defense with a Glimmer of Hope

From the ten-thousand foot view, the performance of this New York Rangers defensive group has been historically poor. Even on the nights where it’s seemingly not entirely out of control, there are moments where shots and chances are given up that make someone watching wonder if that particular defensemen (because they’re all to blame to an extent, this year) has ever played the position in an NHL game before.

With that negativity out of the way, it has been better lately as of this writing (TUE 1/7)! And while a degree of it is certainly the establishment of the centers (Zibanejad-Strome-Chytil) for the forwards, the surprisingly stable and better play of Ryan Lindgren and Marc Staal has turned a historically bad group into a league average one. When that happens, the young and promising NYR forwards can suddenly run with almost anyone.

Alas, we must consider more than just the last 5 to 10 games played for the Rangers. Instead of posting specific charts about each player, I’m only going to post two at the beginning that best capture the high-level impact of each player in two different ways. You may have to do some scrolling back up, is all.

The below is in order of Even-Strength TOI…

Jacob Trouba

If you found this blog post and expected the grades to be weighted against the players cap hit, you may not entirely agree with my assessments (as the cap hit is technically a sunk cost in an economics sense, it was signed before this season’s play). Anyway, Trouba has been a mixed bag this season because while he has had a positive offensive impact at 5v5 and on the Power Play, he spent the first 20 games of the season lugging around rookie deadweight Libor Hajek. In the last 20, he’s been paired with Skjei and they’ve been just around league average in shots and chances, as opposed to being sub-40% with Hajek. I’m not giving Trouba a full pass, as there needs to be another level to his game during his TOI for him to really shine for NYR, but Hajek’s influence cannot be ignored. Grade: B

Brady Skjei

Let’s get the bad out of the way: Brady Skjei has never really been, nor will he every likely be, a net positive impact when it comes to defending without the puck at the NHL level. His bad plays look real bad, full stop. That being said, Skjei also makes a lot of routine and not-so-routine plays (especially with the puck) look extremely easy because of his skating ability. He’s been undoubtedly good this season at generating shots and scoring chances. During is ~15 game run when paired with DeAngelo, they managed to out-gun the opposition to be on the positive side of the shot and chance share – a difficult feat seeing as how much NYR was giving up on a nightly basis. While the boxcar stats might not be fully there yet, he’s showing signs of the 22 year old we were all so excited for in the pre-Ruff days of 16-17. Grade: B

Tony DeAngelo

Another tale of two halves, DeAngelo went from being a part of NYR’s best pair to date with Skjei to having to cover for Hajek and Staal. It started out much like last season for Tony with Staal, as very few defensemen in the league could cover up for Marc, however in the last 5-10 it must be noted that he’s been generating a lot of offense and Staal has been able to not be a liability (for the most part). They’ve settled into second pair minutes – let’s just hope it keeps working. No one has ever questioned DeAngelo’s offensive ability, as he’s on pace for a career high 58 points. As long as he out-generates the other team in terms of shots and chances, I’m ok with keeping Benoit Allaire a busy man. Grade: B+

Adam Fox

Adam Fox, individually, has arguably been the Rangers best defensemen of the season. Now, when you factor in that he typically sees second or third pair TOI, it could be argued that expectations should be measured. But then, we also finally remember that Fox is a 21 year old rookie paired with Ryan Lindgren who, on the season, is seeing the opposite impact effects even though they’re both on the ice together for most of the time. No need to drag this on further, except to say this: it is fitting that Fox has the 4th most TOI of NYR D-men at even strength, because himself and the three above are the four best. Grade: A

Ryan Lindgren

For Lindgren, his grade all comes down to relativity. Relative to the four defensemen listed above, Lindgren has not been as positive of an impact in his lower TOI. That said, relative to the other two LHD options that have yet to be mentioned in this analysis, he has at least shown some value at the NHL level in a limited role, especially in the last ~10 GP at EV and on the PK (his defensive impacts are league average, which for this NYR team is welcomed). His WAR/60 rating above is second because he has the 2nd highest on-ice shooting percentage behind Artemi Panarin, so we can likely expect that to drop by later this season or into next. In the end, his grade is more of a reflection of being the weaker half of a decent pair with Fox, but I could see him having a low-TOI future with NYR. Grade: C+

Libor Hajek

Remember the scene in Moneyball when Billy Beane asks Ron Washington what he thinks about putting Scott Hatteberg at first base? “The polite way to put it is that he lacks confidence.” Look, Hajek is 21 and has played 58 AHL and 32 NHL games, total. His 5 GP last year were with Neal Pionk and then he was thrown to the top-pair TOI wolves with Trouba and it became quickly apparent he was not ready for it. With Staal back and the team playing better as a whole, it would likely be best for him to go back to Hartford and gain some confidence back in hopes he can be a lower-pair TOI impact player with NYR. As with Lindgren, his grade reflects his results, not necessarily his future. Grade: D

Marc Staal

Look, we all know who Marc Staal is at this point. He looks slow, he doesn’t neccesarily make any interesting plays with the puck, and yet because of his overall service to NYR no voice associated with them (or near them, aka writers with access) would dare say the game has passed him by (even though it did anywhere between three and five years ago). That all being said, if he can be anywhere near an even shot and chance player while watching DeAngelo run around the ice and generate offense, I think that’s the best we can hope for. Grade: D+

Penalty Killer Bonus … Brendan Smith!

Brendan Smith should not be playing a bottom-six role as a forward for the New York Rangers in the year 2020. Inexplicably, David Quinn and Lindy Ruff (and maybe Gorton) do not trust him to play defense at even strength, but they will task him with playing Right Defense on the Penalty Kill. During these PK situations, less shots have been coming from his quadrant of the ice (box or diamond, aka the right circle) and overall his xGA/60 results rank 2nd best with the 3rd most TOI. Overall, I’d be willing to bet Smith would have a slightly better impact than Lindgren/Staal/Hajek as a lower-TOI D-man, but what do I know? Grade (Penalty Kill only): B

Have at it in the comments, and here’s to Igor and the “new look” NYR actually hanging with the Avalanche on Tuesday night.

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    • The problem is the Team defense sucks. The 3rd line is the worst in hockey, especially in the D zone. And the 4th line, belongs in the ECL.

      That’s the problem with this team.

  • PK – actual goals against per minute

    Trouba 0.179
    Skjei. 0.161
    Hajek. 0.119
    Smith. 0.101
    Staal. 0.092
    Lindgren. 0.085

    Fox and DeAngelo have played less than five minutes combined to date.

  • I would give Skjei a “C” at best. maybe a “D” is more appropriate. Anyone who gives him a “B” or better doesn’t know Hockey, or maybe not watching enough NYR games this season.

  • Lindgren’s is a hard checking, stay home D man, that’s his game. He plays hard and effectively when pairing with Fox. I would give a “B” and don’t forget he is a rookie. Hajek is an “Incomplete”, he’s been hurt and not played enough games.

    • Agree about Lindgren. An important thing to remember about both Lindgren and Hajek are that they are both second round draft choices. That means they are not presumed NHL players; they are maybes. Best guess coming in is that one will make it and one will not. I had thought Hajek was the more promising, but now am convinced I was wrong. Barring injury, Ryan Lindgren will be a top four NHL defenseman for many years.

      • Hajek only played 27 games this season, a total 32 NHL games with 5 from last season. He’s been hurt half of the first half…I wouldn’t give up on Hajek so quickly, I still think he is a top 4 defenseman in NHL when healthy.

        • I absolutely would not give up on him. As you said, we have seen relatively little. My point though was that there was never a reason to view him as a can’t miss prospect and we should be realistic. My current view is that he won’t make it. However, a more weighted assessment is that he has a 15% chance of being a truly useful player (and maybe another 15% of being a marginal NHLer) and a good organization doesn’t discard such a player.

          Of course, the two 15s are just my guesses and you and others likely have different numbers. However, the first number and even the total are definitely significantly different from 100%.

  • The analysis is I suppose best possible from a BSB writer. There is simply no understanding of what a defenseman is. You talk about DeAngelo covering up for Staal. No, that is not how the pair works. Staal’s job is to a certain extent to cover up for Tony’s weaknesses. A truly objective observer cannot help but see that Tony’s game has both more strengths and more weaknesses than Marc’s. Marc’s job is to facilitate a situation where Tony’s strengths matter and his weaknesses do not. It is fair to criticize how well Marc is playing the role, but the role should be understood.

    It is also fair to criticize the complementary pairings. Intuitively, I like Lindgren-Fox and Staal-ADA, and I think Fox-ADA is asking for trouble — BUT in limited usage to date, Fox-DeAngelo has done well I think. Perhaps using Staal-Lindgren as a shutdown pair and Fox-DeAngelo as an offensive minded pair may be the way to go. Leaving the Rangers sadly with a very expensive third pair.

  • One who thinks things thru would keep Trouba, Fox, ADA, Lindgren. Then he would get rid of Staal, Smith, trade Skjei, and continue developing Hajek. As for the grades given, I agree with Tony, it’s a good laugh for this snowy day here in central PA!!!!

  • This D has structural issues prevailing over anything else, you can admit positive side of ADA and Fox and mention Staal is zombie on ice, rest can not be measured personally

  • You can’t blame an entire defensive group. Coaches are an issue. and MGT needs to fix the nonsense too.
    Staal. Smith. and now it looks like Skjei too.


    way to nice a grading system, I could have used some of that kindness in my grades.

  • Skjei C, Trouba B+,Fox A,TD B+,Lindgren B, Stall D,Hajek D+,There is hope in the future.We will have a solid group of youngsters taking place of deadwood .2022 cup contenders.Stall and Hajek bring down their partners.

  • ADA is an A for God’s sake if Fox is an A.
    He’s earned the #1 PP unit. It was given to Fox and Trouba first. His D is much improved over last year and he is on pace for 60 points. He has been saddled with terrible partners and has covered up well for them. I like when they put the ADA Fox pair together. You can see ADA becomes more responsible.

    Trouba B, Skjei C, Lindgren C, Staal D+, Hajek incomplete

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