Puck moving defensemen series: New York Rangers

After racking up 102 regular season points, the New York Rangers were eliminated by the Ottawa Senators in 6 games in round 2 of the 2016/17 Stanley Cup playoffs. How did their D stack up this past year? Let’s examine.

***Note: for detailed methodology and other deep-dives, feel free to check out write-ups here.

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Rapid fire observations

+ Ryan McDonagh continues to log big minutes for the Rangers. While he faced the highest quality of competition and began 35% of shifts in the defensive zone (vs 28% in the offensive zone), his ability as a puck mover was not strong (PMF -1.33). Some of that can be attributed to the challenging assignments that AV trusts him with – but one can’t help but wonder if 6 consecutive seasons of big minutes + concussion history has started to take its’ toll.

+ Dan Girardi was paired with McDonagh for most of the season and faced equally tough QoC (also started ~35% of shifts in the defensive zone). Still, Girardi was replacement-level bad as a puck mover, posting a PMF of -3.53 – worst on the team.

+ It’s important to point out that both Girardi and McDonagh were tops on the team in terms of defensive ability (i.e., ability to minimize scoring chances, keep shots to the outside, etc.), leading the way with DAM (defensive ability metrics) of +1.16 (RM) and +0.54 (DG).

+ While Girardi brings defensive value, his poor ability to drive possession brings well deserved skepticism to the big contract he signed with Tampa Bay this off-season.

+ Marc Staal was average as a 2nd pairing defenseman in 2016/17. His PMF of -0.83 and defensive score of -0.54 are both in the 2nd/3rd pairing range. However, doing that while facing solid QoC and starting 35% of shifts in the defensive zone (vs 27% in the offensive zone) likely indicates Staal is more of an average 2nd pairing defenseman than a 3rd.

+ Brendan Smith – who was acquired from the Red Wings – played bigger minutes with New York than he did with Detroit. Given the small NY sample size, we used his 2 year average for QoC. In the past 2 seasons, he faced overall low quality of competition (but again, he played a bigger role once he got to New York). Smith was solid as a puck mover (PMF +1.2) but it remains unclear if he can be as effective in a consistent top 4 role.

+Brady Skjei was very good as a puck mover in 2016/17, leading the team with a PMF of +1.44. That said, he did that in a highly sheltered role (weak QoC and started more shifts in the offensive zone – 38% – than any other Rangers defenseman). As a team without a top puck-mover, the Rangers are hoping Skjei (still only 23 years old) can continue his development into a top 4 player.

Assessing the Shattenkirk deal

The Rangers signed Shattenkirk to a 4-year deal worth $6.7M per season. At first glance, this appears to be a great signing and excellent fit.

Shattenkirk posted a PMF of +1.75 in 2016/17, routinely moving the puck and driving possession for his teammates. That said, he didn’t face the toughest QoC and started many more shifts in the offensive zone (39%) than the defensive zone (28%).

Shattenkirk also brings much needed offense and powerplay ability to a team that desperately needs one. The Rangers sorely lack someone on the back-end to QB the powerplay. Expect Shattenkirk to take on this role day 1.

Shattenkirk was also solid at minimizing scoring chances by the opposition, posting a defensive ability metric of +0.37, akin to a 2nd line defender. Again, given his slightly sheltered role, it’s unlikely he’d be as effective defending 5v5 against better competition.

At $6.7M, he’s right up there with Karlsson, Pietrangelo, and Giordano. Although Shattenkirk isn’t as effective as any of those guys 5v5, he brings strong value to the powerplay and the “overpay” factor should always be factored in when targeting a guy in free agency.

Verdict

The Rangers had a successful 2016/17 and are likely playoff bound again next season. The addition of Shattenkirk is sure to bring firepower offensively and better puck movement in the top 4. Brady Skjei’s continued development is another thing to watch for next season. The two stanley cup finalists – Pittsburgh and Nashville – emphasized a strong transition game with solid puck movement from the back-end. With Shattenkirk, the Rangers will boast a more mobile back end in 2017/18.

 


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