Mailbag Monday: Potential trades, defensive miscues and is this the real Rangers?

Bobby Bevilacqua

Rangers celebrate a goal (great shot) 10-30

Photo courtesy of MSG Photos.

Welcome to Mailbag Monday, a series where I take questions from you, the reader, and give my opinion. This is the first mailbag article during the regular season, and it couldn’t have come at a better time.

Emotions are running high after the Rangers failed to win a game during their three game road trip. They’ve won just two of their last 10 games, have had countless defensive breakdowns, and are seeing their flaws exposed.

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Without further ado, let’s get started.

Why does AV keep playing McDonagh and Girardi together when they aren’t playing well together? If accountability means anything, will Girardi get benched? – John Wilshynsky

dan girardi full body 10-25

Photo courtesy of MSG Photos.

I think the main reason why Vigneault has stuck with the McDonagh-Girardi pairing is out of necessity. Remember, in the game that Kevin Klein went down with his oblique injury, he was on the top pairing with McDonagh for that game.

In Vigneault’s eyes, nobody else can occupy the right side on the defensive pairing because there isn’t anyone with more experience/talent to deal with that role. Boyle has been playing much better lately, but may not be able to handle to rigors of top pairing duty. I would love to see Dylan McIlrath get a shot on the top pairing, but he is still earning the trust of the coaching staff.

Girardi is there because he’s been there before. He’s played with McDonagh, he has handled 20+ minutes of heavy duty hockey before. He really shouldn’t be up there though because he seems worn down and tired, both mentally and physically.

Personally, I would have the pairings look like this;

McDonagh-McIlrath, Staal-Boyle, Yandle-Girardi

McDonagh needs to be separated from the ball and chain that is Dan Girardi, and McIlrath has been sound defensively, but has also surprisingly been a pretty good possession player, especially when it comes to limiting shots from the opposition. Staal and Boyle work well together, and Girardi on the third pairing would give him sheltered minutes and Yandle could handle all of the outlet passes.

As for the second part of your question, I can’t say for certain if AV will bench him. Definitely not permanently, but maybe for a game or two every once in a while. If anybody on this team need rest, it’s him. Also, Dylan McIlrath should be an everyday player, and not constantly sitting in the press box.

Can the Rangers defense turn it around or does a move need to be made? – Jake Treccapelli

I do think that the defense can turn it around, but I also think a move needs to be made. But not necessarily a move for another defenseman.

Let’s get this straight. The Rangers don’t have the best defensive corps in the East, like many people said last season. But they’re not this bad. The games in Edmonton and Calgary were an anomaly. Girardi and McDonagh had the worst games of their career in Edmonton, and Girardi struggled in Calgary too. But they had a string of decent games before the road trip.

The mistakes are mostly correctible. McDonagh is a fry cry from his rising Norris candidate self from 2013-14, but I don’t think he’s regressing or getting worse. He’s just going through a rough stretch. Girardi and Staal have a lot of hard and heavy miles on their body, and they’re at the age where defensemen like them (physical, shot blocking) start regressing.

Girardi and Staal also have long-term contracts with a lot of money that will handcuff the Rangers when it comes to signing and retaining their young talent that need new contracts, such as Miller, Kreider and Hayes. Realistically, at least one of those contracts needs to go, and I think Staal is better than Girardi.

So in that sense, a move needs to be made. A team that needs defensive help would probably take on the contract, perhaps a team like Edmonton that has a load of cap space and is surprisingly competing for a playoff spot. This would be a great chance for the Rangers to recuperate some draft picks, get some prospects, or get a depth winger that they so desperately need for the second line.

The reason they don’t need to trade for a defenseman is because their solution is already in house. Dylan McIlrath is ready. He’s proved himself. He’s not a big goon on skates that can’t skate. He’s an NHL defenseman. Also, Brady Skjei is an option. Many people believed him to be NHL ready before the season started, and Ryan McDonagh played just a half season in the AHL before making his debut.

Is it time to trade Chris Kreider? – Jason Fristensky

chris kreider stickhandling 10-7

Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

Keeping with the trade talks, this is another thing people have discussed at length. If the Rangers are unable to unload one of the defensive contracts, there is no way that they can keep JT Miller, Kevin Hayes AND Chris Kreider. There’s just no room. So you have to think about who has the most upside.

Kevin Hayes has the most upside. He’s been quiet lately, but we all saw what he can do in his rookie season. The kid has eyes in the back of his head, and he has an impressive ability to hold on to the puck and make some great passes. JT Miller has shown flashes of brilliance and signs of being a 40-50 point player.

Chris Kreider is intriguing. At his best, he seems like he can be one of the best power forwards in the entire league. He can blow by defenders with his speed and then hold them off with his strength before making a great deke and scoring on virtually anyone. When he is on his game, it’s a joy to watch.

But when he’s at his worst, he’s a nonfactor on the ice, and potentially a detriment. Recently he has taken a lot of stupid penalties, and he’ll be unnecessarily over-aggressive at times. He’ll still use his speed down the wings, but take shots from the boards instead of cutting to the front of the net. This has happened for a lot of this season, and it’s concerning.

I’m torn on this one. On one hand, I see the potential and talent that Kreider has and with some more work, he could be really good. But on the other hand, maybe he won’t grow any further. Maybe he’s just a 17-20 goal player. If Kreider commands a lengthy contract for around $4.5 million, Gorton probably won’t be able to fit it under the cap. If that’s the case, he might be better off getting something for Kreider.

If the right package is on the table, one that helps the team right now (since you are losing a goal scorer), I’d probably take the deal. I think Kevin Hayes has more upside and JT Miller is more consistent. It’s a tough pill to swallow, but Kreider may not become the 30+ goal scorer we had all hoped he would become.

The losing streak seemed to start when Stepan (and Klein shortly after) got hurt. Are those two really that important to the team that the Rangers can barely win games without them? Or is it just a coincidence? – Alex Weber

It’s not a coincidence. Both of these players are extremely important members of the team. Having both of them out for an extended period of time is a big reason why the team is struggling.

Before his injury, Kevin Klein was the best defenseman on the Rangers. He was able to make outlet passes and transition without frequently turning the puck over, can play upwards of 20 minutes a night against top competition, and he was one of the few players over 50% corsi for a while.

He did mostly everything right, can score from the point and solidified the top pairing. Without him, Dan Girardi has had to fill that role, and he hasn’t done it well. When Klein comes back, Girardi can get bumped down and McDonagh will finally be separated from him.

Stepan is so important because he is skilled in all areas of the game. He’s a 50+ point scorer, a penalty killer, a power play point man, and a three zone player. Without him, the Rangers don’t have a top six. They have a top three and a bunch of bottom sixes. I love Oscar Lindberg, but Stepan is a big reason why the second line succeeds.

Stepan makes players around him better. This happened last year too. I don’t have the exact record, but the Ranger were practically a .500 team without him on the ice. The same thing is happening this year.

The Rangers will be far better when both players are back and healthy. They’re skating, but still some time away from playing in the game. The losing streak is also due to regression in PDO and other stats, but Step and Klein’s absence plays a role.

A lot of your early season article alluded to the Rangers not playing well, but finding a way to win games. Are we now seeing the real Rangers? I understand two of their top D are currently injured and that’s contributing to the current situation.

Follow up: Is Hank getting exposed as being in his declining years without a strong defensive corps in front of him? – Stephen Rocco

No, I don’t think this is the “real Rangers” per se. I think what we are seeing is a slump, a mass regression of the absurdly high PDO we saw the team post over their win streak and through the first 21 games of the season.

They weren’t playing well, they weren’t driving possession and they were still making mistakes defensively, but it was masked by ridiculously good goaltending. I always point to the game against the Predators. The Rangers scored on three of their first seven shots on goal, and the Predators would finish with 31 shots and a ton of shot attempts but were shut out.

Games like that were happening all of the time. The Rangers would get outshot and had minimal possession and sustained attack, but happened to score frequently and had their deficiencies masked by Henrik Lundqvist. Those numbers regress over time and we are seeing it now.

The defense also isn’t as bad as it is lately. They’re certainly not the best defense in the league, but it’s a solid corps. Klein being out really hurts and Girardi has been playing hurt for the last few games (he’ll sit Tuesday).

Good teams have gone through a funk almost every season. The Kings and the Blackhawks all had stretches of 9+ games where they barely won and played bad. Then they won the cup. So I’m not convinced that the Rangers are a lost cause, and I think this team will get better around Christmas time.

For the second part of your question, Henrik is not declining in my opinion. He hasn’t been at his best in some of his recent games. But he was unbelievable to start the season. He’s the biggest reason why the Rangers were 16-3-2 to start the season. And despite the team’s overall regression, his numbers are still some of the best in the NHL, and that’s with him facing a lot more shots than a good majority of the starting goalies in the NHL.

I truly think that Lundqvist can be just like Martin Brodeur in the sense that he’ll still be a good and effective goalie when he is 39. That’s how old he was when the Devils made the Stanley Cup finals in 2012.

Hank isn’t declining anytime soon, and he’s masking the issues of the defensive corps in front of him, not the other way around. Expect him to be relevant for the rest of his contract years.

Posted on December 14, 2015, in In the Crease and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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