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Keith Yandle trade rumor update and how Vigneault is wasting his talent

Bobby Bevilacqua

keith yandle profile good pic 1-5

Photo courtesy of MSG Photos.

For the past few weeks, trade rumors surrounding Keith Yandle have been flying around. He’s a UFA after this season, the Rangers don’t have much maneuverability under the salary cap, and Marc Staal and Dan Girardi are above him on the depth chart.

When the Rangers shipped Anthony Duclair, John Moore and some draft picks for Yandle, they got one of the best puck-moving defensemen in the NHL, a power play specialist, and a 50 point scorer. It gave Vigneault and the Rangers their best offensive-defenseman since Brian Leetch.

But flash forward to this season. Keith Yandle is a third pair defenseman. He averages 19:05 of ice time per game but plays under 17 minutes at even strength. He’s on the second power play unit and hasn’t been utilized with the best teammates.

For some reason, Alain Vigneault refuses to use his talented defenseman like he’s supposed to. Instead of using him on offensive zone shifts with the top two lines, which are more likely to score goals, Yandle gets thrown out on the ice with the third and fourth line regularly. He’s playing with worse teammates, and with guys who aren’t scoring all that much this year.

But he’s still scoring a lot of points, and crucial ones as that, such as the assist on the game winning goal by Jespar Fast on Monday. Through 42 games, he has two goals and 21 assists, more than Dan Girardi and Marc Staal combined, and he’s on pace for 45 points and an impressive 41 assists.

Out of all of the defensemen, Yandle is getting practically the least usage, playing with the worst teammates, and still having the best impact offensively and in relative Corsi (7.47). Obviously he gets more offensive zone starts than anyone, but it would be terrible coaching if you put a guy that’s great at generating offense in the defensive zone to start his shifts.

What’s even more baffling is the usage on the power play for Yandle. In Arizona, from the start of the 2013-14 season up until he was traded to the Rangers, Yandle tallied 57 points (5-52-57) on the power play in 145 games. His excellent passing skills and his smart shooting led to a lot of points and power play goals.

So it would make sense to put him on the first power play unit, right? Not in Vigneault’s eyes. Yandle’s getting the least amount of power play minutes since 2007-08, averaging just 2.27 minutes per game on the man advantage. This is partially due to the Rangers not drawing a lot of penalties this season, but it’s also because of his relegation to the second pairing.

Both McDonagh (2.32) and Boyle (2.62) get more minutes on the power play, and both are on the first unit. I don’t have a problem with Boyle there, because the Rangers power play has been at its best with him on the ice. And it’s hard to argue against the first unit, because they’ve been producing results, but it’s not unreasonable to think that they’d be even better with Yandle manning the point instead of McDonagh.

The usage of Yandle has been infuriating. The amount of times that I’ve seen a Yandle offensive zone shift with Tanner Glass, Dominic Moore and Viktor Stalberg on the ice makes me want to pull my hair out. He gets the scraps on the power play when the first unit doesn’t score. And then you have the case of Monday’s game against the Bruins, where the Rangers lost a defenseman (Girardi) for almost two full periods, and Yandle still only got 17 minutes of ice time.

The Rangers traded one of their top prospects and draft picks to misuse Yandle and give more ice-time to inferior defenseman having bad years. While Girardi and Staal should clearly be relegated to third pairing duties, it’s Yandle that has been stuck down there instead. He’s fifth in even strength ice time, rarely gets shifts with the top two lines, and still outperforms just about every other defenseman on the team.

Obviously, this would frustrate any player, especially one as talented as Yandle. So it didn’t come at a surprise that he pushed off contract extension talks. After manning the power play and logging over 20 minutes a night in Arizona, his drastic drop in usage may be driving him out of New York.

In an interview with WFAN, he did have some great things to say about playing for the Rangers.

“I love being here,” Yandle said following Sunday’s practice. “I love playing for this team, this organization. To come to work at MSG in front of the greatest fans in the NHL, it’s something special every night. Nothing has changed on that end. I’m having fun and helping my team win.”

That’s encouraging, but it saddens me to think that the Rangers are more likely to trade him than not. Unless Staal or Girardi are unloaded somehow, I doubt the team invests $5 million or more in their third pairing defenseman.

There have been some rumors lately, including one from Hockey Buzz and the notorious rumor spreader, Eklund. He stated that the Rangers offered Yandle and a strong forward prospect for disgruntled, former number three overall pick of the Lightning, Jonathan Drouin. He then mentioned the possibility of a package including Drouin and Stamkos. While none of this is confirmed, and Eklund has been right before, he spitballs a lot, so take it with a big grain of salt.

Expect the Rangers to explore the trade market for Yandle, and don’t be surprised if he is shipped out by deadline day. This is an unfortunate case of bad asset management and severe misuse of incredible talent.

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Posted on January 13, 2016, in In the Crease and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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