Better Know a Ranger: Defense and Goalies (Part 1)

September 28th, 2015 at 6:00 am by Derek

The August doldrums are over, and training camp is upon us. To get you primed for a season that will take another two or three years off of your life, we’re doing position-by-position breakdowns of the Rangers’ roster. These opinions are trash so please disregard them immediately after reading.

Ryan McDonagh #27
Vital Info
Age: 26
2014-15 stats: 71GP, 8G, 25A, -2.0 Corsi% rel
Contract: 6 years, $28.2M ($4.7M AAV through 2018-19, UFA)
GOP candidate he’d most like to bang: Rand Paul

2014-15 Season Recap
McDonagh was expected to have a monster year after breaking out with 14 goals and 43 points in 2013-14 and leading the Rangers in scoring during their run to the Stanley Cup Final. However, his season was just kind of…okay? He took a bit of a step back in points, which is fine; he’s not expected to be an offensive dynamo. The bigger problem was (**EYE TEST ALERT, READ AT YOUR OWN RISK**) that he seemed to make a lot more silly mistakes defensively than usual, such as terrible giveaways in his own zone and at the bluelines, missing reads, injuring his star goalie, etc. Something just seemed off about him for most of the season. Maybe it was lingering effects of the multiple shoulder injuries he’s had the past couple years, including last November. Or, as Rangers fans on Twitter might have you believe, it was because he couldn’t handle the weight of the C on his jersey. Yeah, definitely option B.

2015-16 Season Outlook
Hopefully the injury bug is behind him and McDonagh can get back to business as usual this season. That, of course, means playing great two-way hockey while dragging around a giant traffic cone wearing a #5 jersey. I’m going to do my best this year to not think about how nasty a McDonagh-Stralman first pairing would have been. Those dudes were a 60% Corsi pairing and Sather let Stralman go for nothing! And he gave Girardi how much money? AHHHHH!!!!! *is dragged off kicking and screaming* 10 goals, 29 assists.

Relevant GIF
(via @myregularface)

Okay, so this GIF doesn’t have McDonagh in it, but this is right after his OT goal in game 5 against the Caps that kept the Rangers’ season alive. Sather has deservedly gotten his fair share of hate from fans over the years, but his goal reactions from his lair high above the ice are always a treat to watch. Look at the perfect high-five he and Jim Schoenfeld share here. You can’t teach technique like that, folks: it can only be learned through decades of experience in the game. One day Sather will be gone, and I will legitimately miss his goal celebrations.

Dan Girardi #5
Vital Info
Age: 31
2014-15 stats: 82GP, 4G, 16A, -5.7 Corsi% rel
Contract: God damn it
GOP candidate he’d most like to bang: Mike Huckabee

2014-15 Season Recap
Last year was more of the same from Dan Girardi: big minutes in all situations and not much in the way of results. The Rangers were badly out-shot and out-chanced with him on the ice, he was routinely taken advantage of by the opposition’s top forwards, blah blah blah. I beat poor Dan to death last year, so I feel like I should take it easy on him here and focus on the positives. He smiles a lot! His son is pretty cute! He genuinely seems like a great dude, so I feel sort of bad for dumping on him all the time. But then I think about plays like this, and all of that sappy shit evaporates:

2015-16 Season Outlook
There’s no reason to think that this season will be any different than the last several. He’s gonna get put up against the other team’s best players night after night, the Rangers are going to get their teeth kicked in while he’s out there, and the stats-inclined fans (including yours truly) are going to moan on Twitter. It feels like we’re all in a hockey-centric version of Groundhog Day, repeating the same day 82 times a year. At this point, I don’t know how I’d live my life without having Girardi to complain about. In a way, he gives me the stability that I need to get through the whole season. 5 goals, 18 assists.

Relevant GIF
girardi_burned(via @SBNation)

So, I did a Google image search for “Dan Girardi goal” hoping to find a GIF of a nice tally he had this year, but would you believe that the results were full of plays on which the opposition scored while he was on the ice? I was just as surprised as you are. Anyway, this sequence is vintage Dan Girardi. First, after a bit of jockeying for position, former Rangers darling Ryan Callahan pushes him out of the way like he’s made of papier mâché. Instead of staying on Callahan, Girardi decides to use his favorite move: sliding all around the ice! Watch as he takes himself five feet out of position, doesn’t block the backdoor pass, and gets back on his skates just in time to watch his former captain score the easiest goal of all-time on Lundqvist. Six years, $33M.

Marc Staal #18
Vital Info
Age: 28
2014-15 stats: 80GP, 5G, 15A, -4.3 Corsi% rel
Contract: 6 years, $34.2M ($5.7M AAV through 2020-21, UFA)
GOP candidate he’d most like to bang: Chris Christie

2014-15 Season Recap
After spending 2013-14 with Anton Stralman and all of his Corsis, Staal was left to play with mere mortals last season. He split most of the year playing with either Dan Boyle or Kevin Klein, and his on-ice results were pretty meh with both. Then, after some speculation about his future with the Rangers (he’s gonna sign in Carolina!!!), he inked a fairly large extension to keep him in New York for six more seasons. As with the Girardi deal a year before, the Staal contract was met with approval by the traditionalists and head shaking by the analytics crowd. The problem last year, as with every other season in which Staal had a non-Stralman partner, is that his solid defensive play is washed out by a glaring lack of offensive skill. There’s nothing wrong with defensive defensemen, but the problem arises when you pay them top dollars. Look at all the defensemen making $5M+ per year and tell me how many one-dimensional defensive guys you see. You can count them on one hand, and virtually all of them have laughably bad contracts. Staal’s skill set is still valuable on an NHL team in 2015, but it isn’t worth #1 defenseman money.

2015-16 Season Outlook
Can I just copy and paste Girardi’s section here? Staal will be passable, albeit slow, defensively, useless offensively, and people on Twitter are going to complain about his contract a whole lot. Again, there’s something to be said about the stability that a player like Marc Staal gives us as fans. And let’s not forget all of the neat Staal brother facts we’ll get from Sam and Joe during Rangers-Hurricanes games! 2 goals, 12 assists.

Relevant GIF
Well, look at that: a legit goal from Marc Staal! A pretty straightforward clapper from the point finds its way into the back of the net with a little help from Luca Sbisa standing still right in front of Ryan Miller’s crease. We get an excellent reaction from Miller, too. “Are we so bad that we’re letting Marc Staal score on us?” his shrug and head shake seem to say. Yes, I’m afraid so, Ryan. Don’t worry, Trevor Linden just gave your buddy Luca a shiny new three-year deal. You two have fun out there!

Dan Boyle #22
Vital Info
Age: Old
2014-15 stats: 65GP, 9G, 11A, +5.2 Corsi% rel
Contract: 2 years, $9M ($4.5M AAV through 2015-16, UFA)
GOP candidate he’d most like to bone: Ben Carson

2014-15 Season Recap
Dan Boyle was signed last summer with the hope that he’d rejuvenate a Rangers power play that went stagnant in the 2014 playoffs. His year got off to a rough start with a broken hand on opening night, and the boxcar stats just never materialized for the veteran power play quarterback. That, combined with some slow-footed gaffes leading to odd-man rushes going the wrong way, led to many Rangers fans making him the new Marek Malik/Michal Rozsival/Wade Redden ire magnet. There was some validity to their complaints: Boyle was the worst defenseman on the team in terms of FF60 RelTM power play by a fairly wide margin (and Girardi was first — go figure). Basically, his linemates were able to put a lot more rubber towards the net when Boyle was on the bench. The good news is that he was great at 5-on-5, putting up the best FF% RelTM among Rangers defensemen. Not getting good production on the power play was a definite letdown, but having a reliable top-four defenseman who can push play in the right direction is well worth $4.5M.

2015-16 Season Outlook
This year could be Boyle’s last in the NHL, so hopefully he’s able to finish strong. Guys at his age are always teetering on the edge of “still useful” and “horrible crap” (see: St. Louis, Martin), so it’s hard to say how Boyle’s year will go. Let’s be optimistic and say that he can replicate last season’s level of play: great at 5v5 (given cottony-soft zone starts, of course), decent enough on the power play to get mop-up duty on the second unit, and enough gas left in the tank for one more deep playoff run. 8 goals, 19 assists.

Relevant GIF
Boyle breakaway
Jeez, that’s a pretty, pretty embarrassing sequence for the Colorado Avalanche (which could have been said about 9,000 times last season). Four players went off for a line change, leaving one poor guy back to defend a two-on-one. Unfortunately for the Avs, that guy was Jan Hejda, who let Hayes totally torch him with a simple pass to Boyle. That’s a pretty sweet move by Boyle, too. You know how in any recreational sports league, there always seems to be the one old guy on every team who looks harmless, but knows how to pull off kooky shit in order to score? That’s what Dan Boyle did to Semyon Varlamov here. Danny boy is going to be smoking some 25-year-old junior hockey washouts in an Ottawa beer league in a year or two.

Next up on Better Know a Ranger: the final installment, defense and goalies (part two). Yes, there will actually be goalies in this one.

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