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Addressing the state of the Rangers defense and new trade rumors

Bobby Bevilacqua

dan-girardi-hi-five-line-10-23

Photo courtesy of MSG Photos.

The topic of discussion for the Rangers seems to consistently be about the defense and how the current group of guys is seemingly not enough to win the Stanley Cup. Aging veterans and a lack of a true puck-moving defenseman have made things hard on the Rangers.

On Sunday, Dan Girardi made his return to the lineup against the Coyotes and wound up scoring the game winner on a bullet of a shot from the point. As a result on him returning, Adam Clendening was scratched. There’s been a lot of bad blood on Twitter between bloggers and fans about criticizing Girardi, so I’d like to clarify my stance.

I don’t think Girardi is awful and I don’t think he’s worthy of a healthy scratch. But I do think that he has to stay on the third pairing with sheltered minutes. He’s certainly capable in that role, but simply cannot fulfill the duties of a top pairing defensemen getting big minutes anymore. It comes with age and that’s expected. Also, nobody that criticizes wants him to do bad or is happy to see him struggle. It’s just more frustrating to see him struggle in a role that he shouldn’t be placed in, which isn’t his fault.

I’m okay with Girardi in the lineup, as long as Holden sits. Because he’s virtually the same player except seemingly somehow less impressive and also a poor possession player. You can’t have both of them in the lineup because it winds up being too much of the same. They both fulfill the same role as a rugged, veteran, shot blocking defenseman and it forces guys like Holden to play on the power play, something he doesn’t excel at.

Clendening is the closest thing this team has to a puck moving, possession driving defenseman (leads NYR in CF%) and he deserves to be in the lineup. Especially because of his play on the power play and how his presence helps other Rangers defensemen.

On top of not having a puck moving defenseman, Clendening’s absence had an effect on Ryan McDonagh, although the captain still had a good game. With Clendening out, that means McDonagh has to get heavy minutes in all three strengths, which can potentially make him tired and less effective in the later stages of the game. It also meant that Holden had to get some power play time at the point, which was a disaster. Because of the lack of another puck-moving defenseman and the increased responsibilities, it’s not a surprise that we saw McDonagh’s CF% plummet (Note: The entire team’s CF% was low for this game but McDonagh’s drop is still notable.)

Because of this imbalance and Alain Vigneault’s unwillingness to trust Clendening in a bigger role, the Rangers have been linked to a trade for a defenseman for quite some time now, but Pierre LeBrun from ESPN shed some light on the situation and said that he thinks the Rangers will do everything that they can to add a top-4 defenseman between now and the trade deadline.

Nothing new here, but it means that the Rangers are definitely talking to teams around the league about potential trades. There’s been a ton of rumors with the Ducks about potentially Cam Fowler or someone else like Sami Vatanen, as well as some links to Jacob Trouba. And most recently, Bob McKenzie has heard conflicting reports about the availability of Dougie Hamilton and whether or not he is available.

Any of these names would be a good add for the Rangers. The big thing is finding a partner for Ryan McDonagh. I have been quite impressed with the improvement of Marc Staal this season and he’s made me confident in the fact that he can bounce back and be a top four defenseman for this team that play 20+ minutes a night. The Rangers will be fine with a pairing of Staal and Klein as long as they trade for a partner for McDonagh.

A Trouba-McDonagh pairing would help alleviate a lot of the depth issues while also giving the team a young talent that can pack an offensive punch. Vatanen is on a friendly contract, naturally plays the left side and also can contribute over 30 points a year, while Fowler is better defender but plays the left side. McDonagh could move to the right in that case. And if Dougie Hamilton is actually available, the Rangers need to be in on that trade. He’s a true power play quarterback that would help the transition game and he’d be pretty good in his own zone as well.

This offense is good enough to carry the team for a little while so that Jeff Gorton doesn’t need to hit the panic button and trade right away. The team has time to scout their own players and other defensemen, and see who they’d be comfortable parting with to acquire a true top-four talent. But if this team wants to make a serious playoff run on the back of this impressive offense, the team needs a true partner for Ryan McDonagh.

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Posted on October 25, 2016, in In the Crease and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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