Optimizing the left defense

Getting the best out of the rest of the season

When the New York Rangers traded Brady Skjei, they did so with an eye on the future. Skjei’s $5.25 million cap hit may have posed a problem this offseason as the Blueshirts look to bolster the roster and/or extend some key RFAs. That is good planning. The downside is that it left a hole on the left side.

As discussed on the Live From The Blue Seats podcast on Monday, Skjei, no matter your personal opinion of him, was a minutes eater who had decent chemistry with Jacob Trouba on the top pair. It wasn’t perfect. They weren’t a league best top pair, but they got the job done, playing 20+ minutes a night. Since the trade, Skjei has been replaced by Brendan Smith.

Charts from

Suffice it to say, all three left defenders have been struggling. Only Ryan Lindgren is holding his own. Marc Staal has been bad, and the pairing with Tony DeAngelo isn’t saving him anymore. Brendan Smith only has a few games under his belt on defense, so most of his line can be ignored. Worth noting that he is trending up since the trade deadline.

So how do the Rangers optimize this disaster?

Change up the pairs

This is the easiest route to go. Clearly what the Rangers have now isn’t working anymore. While you can expect Lindgren to rebound based on his prior performance with Adam Fox, the other two pairs are suffering greatly. It’s a question about balance or top-heavy. At this juncture, given the depth and quality of their opponents going forward, depth may be the best option.

Lindgren, clearly the best LD right now, might be able to hold his own with Trouba on the top pair. If that’s the case, then maybe DeAngelo functions better with Smith on his side. Smith is clearly a better option than Staal.

That leaves Fox and Staal. Fox is the best defenseman on the team right now, so if there’s anyone that can carry Staal, it’s him.

Move a LD to the right side

I’ve been beating this drum all year. The purpose of moving someone to the left side is two-fold – it gets your better players more ice time, and it puts more offensive minded players in a better position to provide more offense. The forehand is in the middle of the ice, instead of up the boards, opening up sight lines and better passing angles.

There are really only two choices here, Fox or DeAngelo. Given Trouba’s propensity to stay at the blue line to unleash his slap shot, either one fits with him on the top pair. Trouba is also more likely to be back on defense, meaning he can likely cover a little bit if someone is caught. That is what brings me to DeAngelo. But again, either works here.

That would leave DeAngelo-Trouba, Staal-Fox, Lindgren-Smith for the time being. Of course, this is because you likely want to avoid a Staal-Smith pairing. Again, not perfect, but at the very least better than what has been out there the past two weeks.

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  • I just thinking out loud here but what about putting Fox on the left side. He has the vision and the hockey IQ to adapt in any situation IMHO. Fox and Trouba as your first pair. Lindgren and Tony D as your 2nd.

    • There isn’t a real good reason to break up Lindgren and Fox who work so well together, Tony D should move to the left and play with Trouba.

      • I like Tony D with Jake as well. That’d be an offensively skilled, good-skating pairing with a bit of snarl to it.

  • We need a #1LD, and the only rostered player who that can currently be is Lindberg. With all the youth in the pipeline, I do not see us trading for an experienced LD in the near future. Staal is a placeholder who plays 15 adequate minutes a night. I think we try to move Lindgren up to 1LD, put Fox with Tony and find a bottom pair that does not include Marc Staal.
    The quandary you face is D.Smith, M.Staal & Hank. Who do you buy out?

  • Another reason to consider moving a RHD to the left side is for next year as well. For all the talk about defense prospects Lundquist is the best and only one who is likely to be good enough to play well in the NHL over the next two seasons, and he is a RHD. So far Rykov is a bust. Hajek has less than 10 points in 80 AHL games – he has never been very good at Hartford. K’Andre Miller has the best shot at making it but his sophomore season did not track well given his great freshman year – he is may be a couple of years away. Matt Robinson looks good but is also at least a couple of years away. Zac Jones may have a shot but we won”t know for a couple of years also.

    ADA has played LHD in his career. He should be tried there this season so that option can be assessed for the future.

    • Excellent commentary. You can’t force a square peg into a round hole, but sometimes the peg is not square. When DeAngelo has played the left side (with Fox on the right), the results have been good.

      On the what might have been department, Tortorella had a top four with three LHD. He forced Del Zotto to play on the right side and he simply could not adapt very well, eventually getting traded. Torts never considered putting the veteran Marc Staal on the right (seniority has its privileges). Well, this year, Staal’s best results have come on the PK, playing the right side with Lindgren on the left. Could the 2012 Rangers have won the game if their second defense pair had MDZ on the left and Staal on the right? We’ll never know.

      Experimentation is good.

  • “Skjei, no matter your personal opinion of him, was a minutes eater who had decent chemistry with Jacob Trouba on the top pair. It wasn’t perfect. They weren’t a league best top pair, but they got the job done, playing 20+ minutes a night.”

    Actually no – not at all. +/- does not tell you how good players are, but it does tell you how successful they are. Skjei was -6 and Trouba is -12, the worst numbers on defense excluding Smith who likely amassed most of his negativity as a forward.

    As has been true since McDonagh’s departure, the Ranger top defensive pair has gotten eaten up. This isn’t to fault Skjei and Trouba. There is no compelling evidence any other pair could do better and they were certainly superior to Staal-Pionk, last year’s attempt — but no, they did not get the job done.


    Perhaps letting Fox and Lindgren play the shutdown role should be considered, but DQ has mostly tried to shelter Fox. For the most part, I have seen no evidence why that should be, but I must say Fox did have a number of horrible lapses last night.

  • The NY Rangers hopefully will make the playoffs and not The over rated Islanders Potvins.
    They suck big time.

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