Defense

Projecting the defense for the NY Rangers in the playoffs

Could there be a surprise on the blue line?

As Lindy Ruff departs the NY Rangers, focus is now on the Rangers defense in the playoffs. Ruff’s departure may not impact the system or the Rangers giving up the blue line by design, but it may impact the personnel used in the playoffs. Ruff certainly had his input on the defense pairs, and now Gord Murphy will have his own input.

Murphy spent the entire season in Hartford as an Associate Coach, and has worked with a few of the Rangers prospects that may be vying for a spot in the lineup. There is certainly an uphill battle for the kids, but there may be more open spots than expected.

The Incumbents

There are four players that we know for sure will be in the lineup. Jacob Trouba, Tony DeAngelo, Adam Fox, and Ryan Lindgren will probably get the most ice time among all Rangers defensemen. They are the four best defensemen on the team right now. Lindgren’s emergence and subsequent chemistry with Fox made the Brady Skjei trade easier to swallow.

While it would be nice to see DeAngelo and Trouba as a pair, the Rangers are fixated on three left handed defensemen.

Let’s also be real here. Marc Staal isn’t sitting. He will be in the lineup, likely paired with DeAngelo.

The Veteran Everyman

Brendan Smith has been a trooper for the Rangers. His contract is certainly a bad one, but at least he’s found a way to stay relevant. Bouncing from the fourth line to the bottom pairing, he found himself a home with Trouba on the top pairing after the Skjei trade. How about that?

Smith (and Staal) is not a part of the Rangers’ future, that’s obvious. This is where the Gord Murphy factor comes to play. If there is an open spot on the roster, you can bet that Murphy will look at some of the kids he watched all year in Hartford. If there is any top-six spot at risk, it’s Smith’s.

The Kids

Yegor Rykov and Libor Hajek are the two left defensemen that come to mind if Smith doesn’t win his spot outright in camp. Murphy has experience with both this season in Hartford, however both have had their own issues. Hajek’s issues are more well documented, especially at the NHL level, but Rykov struggled in Hartford this season. Remember he was a healthy scratch, but per Ricky Milliner, it appeared to be due to his adjustment to the North American game.

For either to beat out Smith, they are going to have to show that their struggles are behind them. Given the extent of Hajek’s struggles at both the NHL and AHL levels, that may not be in the cards this postseason. Based on people I’ve spoken to, Rykov may have the inside track, but it isn’t a guarantee by any means.

The Dark Horses

If you’re looking for dark horses that may make the NY Rangers playoff roster on defense, then start with Darren Raddysh. Raddysh had a solid season in Hartford this year, putting up 6-22-28 in 62 games. He actually led the Wolf Pack in scoring this season (Joey Keane was traded). He’s a RD though, so Smith’s spot may not be in the cards. He may be the first RD available as an injury replacement though.

Tarmo Reunanen, if he’s invited to camp, is someone to keep an eye on. Reunanen has put up solid seasons in Finland for the past two seasons. He doesn’t get the hype that some of the other prospects get, but he has the potential to be a steadying presence on the blue line. There’s a chance he’s already ahead of Hajek on the depth chart. If he comes over from Europe, that is.

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  • Have to agree with you about Reunanen, he’s a darkhorse candidate for the LD that rarely gets talked about. He could surprise and leap frog both Hajek and Rykov. In the end though, 2 years down the line it’s probably Miller and Robertson.

    • Good points Tanto!
      I think Miller is going to take a bit longer to get to the big club. I actually thought his game slipped a little bit at Wisconsin this past season. Maybe because he is a converted forward and he is still figuring out the nuances of the position.

  • ” Brendan Smith has been a trooper for the Rangers. His contract is certainly a bad one, but at least he’s found a way to stay relevant. Bouncing from the fourth line to the bottom pairing, he found himself a home with Trouba on the top pairing after the Skjei trade. How about that? ”

    How about that? LOL It’s too bad

  • If Murphy does have significant input maybe he has some influence on a ADA/Trouba pairing… But conversely do we even want to think about a Smith/Staal pairing even if it’s for only for 12-15 minutes a game? …. Scary, don’t you think? Might be (much) worse in the long run!

    • The problem is that if Staal and Smith are shelter, Trouba +20 mins a night, shutdown responsibility and PP/PK only increases. You can’t have that in the top 4 and Fox/Lindgren pair seeing 17-18 mins vs other top 6 lines. That would be a recipe for disaster.

      The Trouba/ADA pairing is troublesome. Back in Winnipeg he had Morrissey as a partner and didn’t normally see tough mins/matchups. Those two don’t even complement each other, they both play way to aggressive in the neutral zone and tend to get worst when lines go deep on the forecheck with the boards on them.

  • My presumption is that whether or not Reuanen comes over is a decision that has already been made – and since we have heard nothing, I presume the answer is no.

    The fact that Murphy knows what Raddysh, Hajek, Rykov can do does change things. Raddysh will get a better shot IMO because of this and likely will at least be the first injury replacement – a spot Hajek would have gotten had Ruff stayed.

    The forgotten man is Robertson. He is under contract for 2019-2020 and presumably can play (and will even still slide unless he plays ten games if I have it right). I don’t know if the Rangers have him in the mix, but why not? Hajek and Rykov are pretty awful at this point (though hopefully Rykov has a future) so except for Raddysh and maybe Ebert, the Rangers don’t have a bench.

    • Unfortunately you’re right about Hajek, I believe his failure to live up to his (falsely) perceived talent kept Staal out of the press box and on the ice this year.

      A competent Libor paired with DeAngelo would have made this defense considerably more formidable.

  • As always, the best players on the roster are guys who were meh at prospect camp before disappearing.

    Reunanen isn’t even break glass in case of emergency guy, Rykov spent more time on the side of a milk carton than Daniel Bernhardt.

  • KZB
    Panarin-Strome-Fast
    Lemiuex-Chytil-Kakko
    Howden-McKegg-Gauthier

    Smith-Trouba
    Lindgren-Fox
    Staal-ADA

    Shesty

    Book it.

    • Captain obvious 🙂 only Lemiuex is going to start this PO from pressbox 🙂 and Gauthier is going to play 3rd line

      • LOL, David said predict the D, so I predict the lineup.

        Th only player I see cracking the line up is Krav, and that’s if Kakko can’t go.

        No way is Quinn “experimenting” now. If they play, that is.

        BTW, your post above, I thought Trouba was on the right side in Winnipeg.

    • Smith and Trouba having very very good playoffs would be a serious contributor to us being successful ………….Lets Go Rangers !!!!!

      • Me too Raymond, but you know that DQ will not keep Howden out of the lineup.

        And putting Gauthier on the 4th line is rendering him useless. I would put him with Strome and Panarin.

        • I really don’t understand the fascination with Howden. If you just look at Chityl, Kakko, Kravtsov, Gauthier, Howden, Howden stands out as the guy who doesn’t have potential. He is a decent hockey player (heck any AHLer is), but he is not going to get better than he is now and he simply is not NHL quality now. He might actually be better than Kakko today, but Kakko is an important development project while Howden is not.

          • Raymond, I would rather play Gettinger than Howden. That’s saying something.

            Howden has zero possession skills, as he loses the puck easily. And he has flubbed many offensive opportunities when he played with Chytil.

            I would do this:

            KZB
            Panarin-Strome (DQ won’t put Chytil here)-Gauthier
            Lemiuex-Chytil-Kakko/Krav
            DiG-McKegg-Fast

          • Certainly an interesting idea. So far I like what I’ve seen from Gauthier.

            I may be wrong, but I actually like the Panarin-Strome-Fast line (not enough to pay through the nose for it though). Somebody on each line has to be defensively responsible though of course it can vary from rush to rush. Having Fast on the line creates a world in which that person never has to be Panarin and letting Artemi focus strictly on offense has really paid off.

          • IMO, Fast is useless on that line. He has no business being there.

            Jesper is a 4th liner, maybe a 3rd. Nothing wrong with that, other than when the coach miscasts him in a role that he does not belong in.

          • I can’t say you are wrong when you say Fast should not be on that line. However, I think the question is more complicated than you make it. Mind you, the way to handle it is to experiment with others in place of Fast and see what happens.

            What is definitely true is that the Panarin-Strome-Fast line is the most effective line that Panarin has ever been a part of. Why? Perhaps Artemi is just better than he ever was before and that is the cause – but he was awful good before and this massive improvement seems unlikely to me. It could be the Ranger system. It could be the defensemen, but again Columbus defensemen contributed a lot. Strome? Doesn’t seem likely. Fast did contribute to the line and while it does not appear that his contributions are what the line needed, maybe they were more valuable than they appear.

          • Watch Fast on that line, he basically just stays out of the way. he’s a grinder with some offensive talent.

            Put Gauthier there, who has size, speed, and goal scoring abilities, and the line is even better.

            I would rather see Chytil with Panarin but at least Strome has some offensive skill.

  • Are all of you nuts? 18 was solid the the 2nd half and was and had been a solid partner for ADA! He provides a safe space for DeAngelo to provide his magic….

    • There is a mantra here that Staal is terrible and has been for years. You see the Rangers have a problem on defense because their first string goal tender for the last fifteen years is a good shot blocker but does not help out the defense at all. Since you can’t criticize the King, they need a whipping boy and poor Marc is elected.

      With Shesterkin in goal, everyone is miraculously better.

      • That’s a good point Ray. For years though, Hank was that guy. The one that covered up many of the teams deficiencies.
        Staal found himself the position of “Whipping Boy” because he got that albatross contract. If he was even a positive influence in the defensive end, $5.7 mil now isn’t a terrible deal. He’s just not good at driving possession and he does little to help getting it back. His deal alone could cover 2 young RFA roster players. That matters to fans when there’s a cap on how much your team can spend. It’s not just that Staal is bad now that makes fans get on him.its that his contract (AAV) and NMC prevents the team from being able to bring in a replacement or fix other team needs.

        What’s messed up is that when Staal was in the last year of his previous contract, I was all for paying him. I had no idea he would regress to the extent he did after his eye injury and the concussion(s).

        • No, Hank never covered up the team deficiencies. In his prime long ago, he kept defensive miscues out of the net. He won games the team did not deserve to win. But there was never any doubt who was responsible for the team success. He made his teammates win, but he never made them look good (which is what a truly great player does).

          • No Raymond, just no.

            And to top it all off, Hank is a NHL HOF lock, and one of the greatest athletes to come through NY in NY sports history.

            He’s the best goalie of his era. If he played on the Canucks instead of Luongo, then Hank would have had at least 2 Cups.

          • If you use the stat high danger shots, you see that for years Lundqvist has been the worst goalie in hockey for allowing them. And it is quite clear – as other Ranger goalies don’t have this problem – that this problem is on Hank and not his teammates.

            Clearing the zone and moving the puck up ice is a six man job and Hank makes it a five man job. He simply does not help the defense.

            Yes, once upon a time (2005-2013), he was truly incredible at blocking shots; his value far overcame his weaknesses. And he is still decent at blocking shots, but that is simply not enough to overcome his shortcomings.

            Of course, most people focus on the shot blocking and so he is overrated and, as you say, a HOF lock. but the Hall is about opinion, not quality of play.

            He is the fifth best Ranger tender since AV took the helm. But the most incredible Ranger rookie ever! He was indeed a breath of fresh air for a struggling team and once upon a time, I loved hum as much as you did.

          • Raymond, I don;t know what stats that you are looking at, but Hank has been at the top of high danger shots stats.

            Read Travis Yost’s take on Hank, and you will get all you need to know.

            “He is the fifth best Ranger tender since AV took the helm.”

            I do not even know how to respond to this, lol.

          • “Raymond, I don;t know what stats that you are looking at, but Hank has been at the top of high danger shots stats.”

            Yes, this is exactly what I said. Lundqvist allows more high danger shots than any other tender – by far. Yes, he is pretty good at stopping high danger shots, but it is much better to simply not have those shots in the first place.

            Travis Yost gets to a place by using numbers he does not understand. What matters in hockey is wins and losses. For the goal tender, that is about preventing goals, typically measured by GAA and save percentage. By these measures, since AV took the helm, Hank has been outperformed by Talbot, Raanta, Georgiev, and Shesterkin (did beat out Pavelec). Yes, there is a problem with traditional stats because all teams do not provide goalies the same support. Heard a Bernie Parent interview when he was asked what made him such a great goaltender and he said the guys in front of him.

            BUT the goalie contributes to the mix of shots he gets and people like Yost completely ignore this. I can’t attend games in person and don’t know how vocal goalies are, but I know Jacques Plante would talk to his teammates. Good puck handlers make it so much easier to clear the zone and in fact, the fear of a Brodeur or a Rinne (or dare I say a Shesterkin) forces the opponents to contort their offense. Playing deep in the net makes Hank less able to stop goal mouth passes. And of course, the team by design gives up more shots from tougher locations in order to give him better visibility because he demands it.

            If you believe Yost, the worst defense in the league has consistently been that of the Rangers and miraculously this horrible defense somehow isn’t bad when Hank is not playing.

            Comparing Cam Talbot to Lundqvist: Was Talbot ever as good as peak Lundqvist – the guy we saw 2005-2013? No. Did Talbot maintain his peak as long as Hank? Absolutely not. Has Talbot declined more quickly? Yes. But the answer to the question of whether the 2013-2015 Talbot in his prime was better than the past prime 2013-2015 Lundqvist is actually yes.

            Finally, and this is more of a curiosity about the Hall of Fame. Change sports and consider Carmelo Anthony. Is he HOF? IMO, he ranks below you and me as an NBA player. At least in our cases, the coach would quickly learn not to play us whereas Carmelo had the opportunity to bury his team year after year. Yet I am not convinced that the HOF won’t consider him.

          • In Yost’s latest article on Hank, Yost posts Hank’s goals saved above the average. His last few years have been average, but prior to 2016, Hank was the best in the league, by far.

          • I read one of his articles a few years back and I thought it was just wrong. He claimed Hank saved a goal a game (which may have been true under Renney and Tortorella), BUT if you added a goal a game to the opponents, the Rangers would have been one of the worst teams in the league and they were not. Plus how does a guy save a goal a game and have a worse record than his backup. it just made no sense.

            In principle, goalie metrics seem like a good idea. But they are speculative and if they lead us to an absurd place, well …

            People like Travis Yost like them because they tell him what he wants to hear.

  • I wish Staal could at the very least be a steadying left handed defenseman. Staal was never IMO the best at handling & moving the puck up ice.
    He was at least able to play defense in a “Stay at Home” capacity. Now tho, it seems he gets bumped off like a fly and he gives up the puck whenever he tries to pass the puck up ice to a forward it’s picked off or off target and turned over as a result. Unfortunately, he’s probably gonna be better than one of the younger guys.
    Personally, I’d rather him sit with Smith in the press box so Tarmo Reunanen, Rykov, or Hajek could play.
    This team probably isn’t winning much. The only reason I say probably is all the uncertainty behind this “Return To Play” plan they came up with. I bet it’s gonna look more like hockey in October rather than January/February. So the Rangers could just ride a high Sh% and Sv% for a round or maybe even 2. I doubt even that could get them to a SCF with the likes of Pittsburgh, Washington, Boston, and Tampa Bay likely awaiting them in the Conference Finals.
    So let’s let the future begin sooner rather than later. They’ll get some much needed playoff experience and we’ll get a shot at top 5 or 10 draft pick.

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