On continuous improvement, and its impact on roster decisions

The Rangers Should Embrace the Mentality of Continuous Improvement

If you google the phrase “continuous improvement” you get the definition via Wikipedia right at the top. It goes as such:

“A continual improvement process, also often called a continuous improvement process (abbreviated as CIP or CI), is an ongoing effort to improve products, services, or processes. These efforts can seek “incremental” improvement over time or “breakthrough” improvement all at once.”

Most of us have probably heard of this term, either first in school at some level or eventually at our jobs. Some of us live this on a periodic basis or even daily if you’re in a quality-based role of some kind, and in the end, it is a war of attrition. In the actual life, I work as a salesperson in an industrial industry, so when I hear the phrase continuous improvement, I usually meet it with a moment of pause. Why is that? Well, to be frank, because it usually involves more work and/or changing something – and change can be uncomfortable. We’ll circle back on this.

On Saturday night at home against the New Jersey Devils, the New York Rangers lost a trap game. The Rangers got outplayed by an inferior team who, as of late, wasn’t playing that bad (especially in the case of Blackwood, who is likely the goalie of their future). After the game, the vitriol was up a bit on Twitter, as no player really had a great full 60 minutes – but one player was popping up more than usual, and that was Marc Staal.

We do not need to go ten rounds on Marc Staal’s effectiveness – the heavy majority of us agree he is not much of an NHL defenseman anymore. From that, I somehow ended up in an exchange where I was told that he’s going to keep playing anyway, and that people should just get over it. I didn’t reply, I had said my piece, but instead I figured I’d sleep on the thought and see how I felt in the morning. And now I’m writing this.

Whether it’s the Rangers, my other preferred sports teams, my career, who I associate with, or really any other facet of life; I don’t like just accepting the status quo. To be clear: this nagging feeling I’m writing about isn’t the fault of Vince or Marc – they’re seemingly great people and they have jobs to do. I’m merely a fan with a small voice and some people don’t mind hearing it.

Sports teams, including this Rangers group of management and coaches, constantly give us sound bites about continuously improving in one way or another. If that is the case, then why do we see little to no experimentation with the on-ice product with the visibly known below-average players? This would not be acceptable in most situations outside of sports.

For the sake of actual analysis, here’s Marc Staal’s 2019-20 5-game rolling average of on-ice metrics (Corsi, aka shot attempts, expected goals, and goals for – all in terms of percentage).

Three trends jump out to me:

  1. He did have two good stretches of games. Games ~15-26 and ~32-38 went pretty well in terms of expected goals trending up.
  2. He’s been mostly below average in terms of shots/chances all year (not a new development).
  3. He’s been visibly bad of late, and his goals for % rolling averages haven’t been above average in about 40 games.

Depending on the day, Quinn & co. talk about results dictating playing time. If that is to be the case, then what has Staal done lately to “earn” his playing time? If we were to take a continuous improvement mindset, then another LHD from the organization would get a shot in these last 14 GP. This experimentation should absolutely occur down the stretch, given that NYR isn’t playing well since the trade deadline and that their chances at the playoffs are 20-25% at best.

I’ll finish with this: the Rangers play of late is not exclusively the fault of Marc Staal (duh). There are a few other regulars who also should be feeling the hot seat (notably, Howden). The experience of trying to push for the playoffs is likely a good thing for this young core. That all said, NYR have some blind spots that can be addressed right now – and I don’t really accept the reasoning that it should wait until the offseason and/or next fall. That is the essence of trying to continuously improve; the effort to do so consistently.

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  • What current option do we have regarding replacing Staal? Don’t get me wrong, I think we need a better option, I am just not sure who is that option at the moment.

    It would require a call up, of which we only have 2 left. Is there someone at Hartford worth the call up?

    • As I mentioned in my longer comment, the best choice is likely Darren Raddysh. He is fifth on the team with 28 points and is +14. He is not considered a prospect, but is a veteran AHLer and the prospects are all struggling even at the AHL level.

  • Isn’t it amazing to be so blessed that all new facts fit your narrative? And it is not fair to say you have criticized Staal in the past; you have criticized him literally hundreds of times.

    I don’t really understand the charts. Marc Staal is +1 and has been very effective playing the right side on the PK. So he has not gotten awful results on balance. yes, the micro stats may predict it will fall apart in the future, but they have been predicting that forever and it does not seem to happen.

    As for earning his playing time, what are you proposing? Field twelve skaters instead of 18 to weed out the undeserving. Sure, it would be better to dress Ryan McDonagh in place of Staal, but hockey rules limit you to using players on your own team.

    Who would play in place of Staal? Hajek and Rykov are not close to NHL defensemen. The only true options are Raddysh and Ebert, two defensemen that I dare say no one here knows anything about. Personally I would not object to calling up Raddysh and seeing what he can do. Unfortunately the Rangers wasted two of their allowed call-ups and so there is a downside to this.

    The critical point though is that, excepting a number of the commenters, there is no understanding on BSB of what a good defenseman is. No one ever mentions the penalty kill. Isn’t that kinda key in evaluating defense? Adam Fox is not a superlative defenseman. He is a rookie who has thrived in a protected role. We think he will be really good when we take the training wheels of. What David Quinn is doing with Fox is giving him a role where he will succeed, something people have been clamoring about for years as the proper way to treat kids. And Marc Staal is one of the guys covering for Fox.

    Don’t get me wrong. Marc Staal is not a stellar defenseman. He does not earn his salary. He is not first pair. He has struggled since the all-star break. He may be no better than Freddy Claussen. But he is at least a marginal NHL defenseman and it is not entirely clear that there is even a seventh player in the organization about which that can be said.

    • Your evaluation of defensemen is preposterous, Ray. Adam Fox has been the Rangers’ most consistent defenseman throughout this season. His game is exceptional for a rookie dman. Across the league, Fox has won respect from players, coaches, and journalists for his play this season. It figures that you cannot see this reality. In your world, defensemen who never clear the puck or the crease, who cannot see or skate properly, who create negative situations for their team again and again when they touch the puck are considered good. In most other people’s worlds, these negative aspects make for bad hockey players.

      • “His game is exceptional for a rookie dman.”

        Exactly my point. Even you could not bring yourself to say that he is exceptional, only that he is exceptional subject to a qualification. David Quinn has sheltered Adam Fox. He has not been put out there against the Ovechkins of this world and he has not had to kill penalties. This is called limited responsibility. How has he handled that limited responsibility? Fabulously. We all (I think) expect that he will thrive in the future as his responsibility is increased. Perhaps most here believe he can handle the toughest assignments even now. But that is speculation and the dominant view at BSB through the years is that we want our kids to succeed, which necessarily means being carefully not to throw them in over their heads.

        The term “good hockey player” is a relative term and we tend to forget this. Compared to most people on this planet, every ECHL player is good. Compared to Victor Hedman, most defensemen are terrible. Let us suppose for the sake of argument that Marc Staal is the 200th best defenseman in North America. Since 31×6=186, that would mean that he should not be good enough to play for any NHL team. And indeed, whether Staal is #200 or not, if you got a chance to see #200 in NHL action, you would grimace. Even most legitimate third pair guys do not inspire confidence. BUT that does not mean you can upgrade because there are only 199 possible upgrades in North America and virtually all of them belong to other teams (and those the Rangers own are already playing). Libor Hajek, perhaps #300, is not an upgrade.

        Finally, Adam Fox is a major Ranger asset going forward. The Staal contract is a bad one and he will be an ex-Ranger come July 1,2021 (or sooner). These two guys should not be compared. They should be judged by entirely different standards. With Fox, the question is what is his long term role. With Staal, the question is whether there is a short term upgrade of low cost.

  • Staal has trouble trying to clear the zone. Any time he is forced to handle the puck and make a pass or skate it out the other team more times than not is able to pin the rangers in the zone.
    He is just old and slow and I would love to know for sure whether or not he has eye problems in the eye he took the puck to.

    • I would suggest that it’s quite the coincidence that after the eye injury his play diminished greatly. Oh wait, I have a Law degree and don’t believe in coincidences. 😉

  • We will need to live with Staal down this stretch until the Rangers are eliminated or Staal gets hurt. 2 call ups left- and I’m sure they want to give Kravtsov and a Young Dman a few games- once we are officially eliminated. We aren’t going to waste a call up on Raddysh. Ain’t happening unless, as I said Staal gets hurt. Some discussion today that Miller May sign a PTO, but doubt we would burn a year of his entry level to play the last 10 games with NYR. If Miller signs he will play 10 games with Hartford.

    This is the team we are going with down this stretch, like it or not.

    • Frank

      If Miller comes out, and signs a PTO, this doesn’t go against his entry level contract, which will continue to be three years. I can’t recall who the Rangers did the same thing with a few years back, but that is the case just the same!!!!!

      • I looked this up and believe that PTOs can only play in the NHL preseason. The AHL rules are much more lax. Anyway, Miller can certainly play for Hartford without burning a year, but I don’t believe he can play in the NHL without cost.

        The Rangers almost certainly will not burn a year for Miller, Lundqvist or Robertson. Robertson is more complicated actually but can’t play until his junior season is over.

        They are stuck with Staal or the current hartford crew.

  • If the Rangers bring up a young defenseman, then they could possibly make Marc the 7th Dman. However, I doubt that Quinn will play a new kid on defense so long as the Rangers have a prayer to make the playoffs.

  • STAAL-He plays because of Sather…period
    SMITH-Didn’t pan out and this one is on Gorton. But to Gorton’s defense he did make the fleece of the decade..Zibs for a crate of poland springs water. Gorton has done a great job IMO..
    HANK-Play me or trade me…….I think he goes..
    STROME- Has played recently with so little hockey IQ and somany penalties…I would not sign him.
    HOWDEN-A Quinn favorite. Why? Don’t know

    Start right here……improve your team……

    Can we revisit talks with Oilers? I have a proposition for them…

    • You state that you wouldn’t sign Strome — with no caveats. Please, spare me Rocky. The issue comes down to term, cap hit and whether or not there’s a trade clause. Yes he’s had a few bad games where his brain appears to be on hold, but overall he’s played well and has paired well with Panarin.

      • I wouldn’t sign Strome either, and I’ll be surprised if the Rangers don’t trade him. Terrible defensive player whose defensive laziness and lack of awareness is glaring.

    • I would really like to see a move to obtain Ryan-Nuget-Hopkins and have him as the 2C. Move on from Strome and if one or both of Miller and Lundqkivst sign, maybe this finally pushes Staal out.

  • And what’s even worse, is the MSG propaganda that keeps spewing the BS of how well Marc is playing.

    Either they’re stupid or they think that we are stupid.

  • The Rangers blueline has been under constant criticism on this blog for as long as I can remember. To get a true prospective you really have to watch the other teams play. There are defencemen out there playing on NHL teams who are much worse then both Staal and Smitty and yes many dmen that are much better.

    Where the Rangers need to improve is getting more bang for their buck. But continuing to develop home grown talent, out goes the expensive old for the cost controlled new. Further, when it comes to resigning upcoming free agents, they should be asking themselves is the player worth what they are asking for or can the club sign someone else more talented for the same kind of money.

    • There’s not a defenseman on the Rangers’ NHL roster who was acquired via free agency. Lindberg, Fox, Trouba, DeAngelo, and Smith were all obtained via trade. Staal is a homegrown Ranger product.

      Gorton extended Smith and Trouba, Sather extended Staal. The other 3 guys (Fox/DeAngelo/Lindberg) are providing plenty of bang for the buck. I’d argue Trouba has been decent if not exactly an $8 million player. The problems—as always—are Staal and Smith.

      Staal is worse than 95% of the defensemen in the NHL, and Smith is equally decrepit. I’d say Gorton is doing a solid job with what he’s been dealt. Once these 2 has-beens leave, both the financial situation of the team and the on-ice performance of the team will improve.

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