Realistically Replacing Wade Redden

Wade Redden is not long for the blue sweater.  Most agree that signs point to him spending his better days in Connecticut.  The cap situation, now that Staal has re-signed, will leave little room for other moves other than the demotion of Redden.  Further, the addition of Steve Eminger, along with the invitations to Garnet Exelby and Alexei Semenov leave the Rangers options to fill up the back line positions.  While this all has led to much rejoicing among the fan base, jokes of Redden resembling a certain orange conical object are somewhat exaggerated.  At this time, we should take a look at what it will really mean to replace Wade in the lineup.

Since Redden joined the lineup forty two years ago, the Rangers have relied on him to suck up top 4 minutes.  Here's the breakdown of his ice time:

Total ES  5v5  Total PP 5v4  Total SH 4v5 Total Per Game
2008 1341.23 1265.22 293.33 271.35 174.63 165.24 1809.20 22.336
2009 1131.62 1089.00 22.60 22.60 159.67 157.50 1313.88 17.518

Redden's ice time was seriously cut under the Tortorella era, from 22+ minutes down to 17.5.  Still, that's a healthy dose of minutes that need to be replaced.   To maintain the status quo, it would obviously be important to replace those minutes, as best as possible, with equal or better production.  In order to figure that out, we need to know exactly what Wade did with those minutes.  We'll start defensively:

QUALCOMP SAON SAON/60 GAON GAON/60 SV% ON +/- ON/60
5v5 4 of 6 1126 28.697 77 1.962 0.932 0.280
4v5 5 of 6 230 42.759 19 3.532 0.917 -3.160

For comparison's sake, here's the rest of the team over this two year span, or simply when Redden is off the ice:

QUALCOMP SAOFF SAOFF/60 GAOFF GAOFF/60 SV% OFF +/- OFF/60
5v5 n/a
2363 29.450 197 2.455 0.917 -0.137
4v5 n/a
477 46.921 50 4.918 0.895 -3.836

Defensive numbers are the hardest thing to measure statistically at this stage of the game, but we can still make some notes here.  Redden's been on the ice for slightly less than 1 shot per 60 against, which doesn't mean much in the grand scheme of things, yet he's been on the ice for almost .5 goal less per game at 5v5.  Is this because Redden is secretly a defensive stalwart?  NO!  Hank, Valiquette, Johnson, Zaba, and anybody else thrown back there have posted ridiculously above average save percentages with Redden on the ice.   While there might be some evidence that a defenseman can affect this number (see this article by Vic Ferrari for more info), it is much more likely that the weak competition levels and some fortunate bounces are the only reason Redden hasn't been torched.

If we adjust Redden's rates down to the team average, we begin to see in the numbers what most anyone can see with their eyes, that Redden's defense just isn't very good these days:

GAON GAON/60 ADJ GAON Adj. GAON/60 Change ADJ +/- ON/60
5v5 77 1.962 93.873 2.392 +16.873 -0.150
4v5 19 3.532 24.109 4.482 +5.109 -4.110

Redden's numbers look somewhat pedestrian from this angle.  He is still slightly ahead of the team averages, but the gap has closed significantly, and when you factor in that he is not asked to handle the difficult assignments with any consistency, things are just poor. 

Worse than that, (no really, it gets worse), has been the lack of offense coming from Redden's stick:

SFON SFON/60 GFON GFON/60 SH% ON G/60 P/60 IPP%
5v5 1200 30.583 88 2.243 7.333% 0.076 0.663 29.545%
5v4 238 48.580 19 3.878 7.983% 0.408 1.225 31.579%

And the comparable numbers for Rangers defensemen:

SFOFF SFOFF/60 GFOFF GFOFF/60 SH% OFF G/60 P/60 IPP%
5v5 2440
30.409
186
2.318
7.623%
0.175
0.681
n/a
5v4 534
49.706
61
5.606
11.423%
0.401
2.447
n/a

Comparing to the rest of the team, his points look ok, as he's has had some bad luck when it comes to the team shooting percentage.  Consider, however, that guys like Sauer, Sanguinetti, Heikkinen, and Potter are contributing roughly 175 minutes of zero production to the team total, and it becomes that much worse. In addition, almost 300 minutes of PP time given to Redden has given the team 6 points.  Granted, most of that was two years ago, but it is still just terrible production.  Again, this is not Redden trying to score against a non-stop supply of Selke and Norris finalists.  Redden has played the dregs, and proven himself unworthy even against them.

Now that we've defined the bad, we can go back to the topic at hand.  Someone has to replace Redden's minutes from last year.  The 22 powerplay minutes are not a big deal, any of the players in camp can absorb those extra minutes. 

Instead, we'll concentrate now on the ~1130 minutes at ES.  These numbers would assume that everything would stay constant, which of course is not true.  For the purpose of this exercise though, it's good enough.  The four main candidates to replace him are Ryan McDonagh, Semenov, Exelby, and Eminger.  Let's have a look at what they might do with the time by looking back at what they've done the last 3 years.  We'll start with 5v5:

YEAR QUALCOMP NET SH/60 PROJ +/- /60 Goals/60 Points/60 Hits/60 Blocks/60
Redden 2008/09 5 of 6 0.927 0.004 0.076 0.663 3.593 3.324
Exelby 2007 5 of 6 -3.508 -0.015 0.136 0.544 7.077 5.509
Exelby 2008 3 of 6 -3.813 -0.017 0.000 0.358 9.184 6.021
Exelby 2009 6 of 6 -5.647 -0.025 0.097 0.340 10.138 6.292
Total -5.468 -0.024 0.072 0.382 8.298 5.812
Semenov 2007 3 of 7 -4.038 -0.018 0.108 0.757 4.294 3.041
Semenov 2008 7 of 9 -0.982 -0.004 0.000 0.670 5.186 2.935
Total -1.989 -0.009 0.073 0.728 4.870 2.973
Eminger 2007 8 of 8 -3.424 -0.015 0.242 0.849 4.580 2.155
Eminger 2008 3 of 7 3.512 0.015 0.157 0.679 3.011 4.653
Eminger 2009 3 of 8 -5.917 -0.026 0.000 0.561 4.987 4.840
Total -1.828 -0.008 0.178 0.739 3.940 4.544
McDonagh n/a 4 of 6 -1.172 -0.005 0.170 0.624 3.134 3.420

Legend here: NET SH/60 is (SFON-SFOFF)-(SAON-SAOFF).   PROJ +/- is the projected +/- per 60 for each player if they maintained those shot rates with goaltending at 92.0%, and team shooting at 8%.

It should be clear quickly that Exelby's most endearing qualities have nothing to do with his ability to play defense.  He is credited with hits at nearly twice the rate of any of our contenders, but he clearly does it at the expense of his defense.  The more hits he has, the worst his shot differential gets, meaning he's probably taking himself out of position too much for the sake of those hits.  His coaches have been slowly taking his ice time away as a result.  He brings a different element to this team, but different does not always mean better.

Semenov's been better than Exelby, but with only 67 games in the last 3 years, it's unclear exactly how much his numbers would still translate.  He got hammered when San Jose tried to give him better competition, but faired better when it eased up.   It's also not encouraging that he blocks shots at a rate less than Redden's, considering his size.   He did earn a spot last year, but competition is much stiffer this time around.

Eminger, on the other hand, did show that he could handle even 2nd pair competition during the 2008 campaign, but failed to translate that success to his time in Anaheim.  He's clearly the best offensive option of the bunch, even if his production has been slipping.  The question would be his defense, which is seemingly inconsistent.   He will not be asked, however, to take on the same level of competition he faced the last two years, so the easier assignments should help improve his numbers.

Obviously Ryan McDonagh does not have a history, so you'll probably ask yourself where his numbers come from.  They are the averages of 21 year old rookie defensemen over the last 3 years, using information I gathered in my story on young defensemen in the league.  They are a good baseline, but it's hard to make a definitive conclusion off of them.  There's no telling how exactly he will fair in his first NHL action.  Given his reputation, he'll almost surely hit more than his fair share, and he'll also likely outperform in his shot rates, but I would hesitate to say he'll score at an above average rate. 

Add it all up, and it seems the best chance at not creating a downgrade on defense is to play one of McDonagh or Eminger in the minutes left over.  There are also some X-Factors here, to steal Joe's term.  Pavel Valentenko could come in and surpass everyone.  Semenov can play his way right back in to a spot the way he did last year.   Tortorella could decide the value of toughness is worth the couple extra goals against (or is valuable when Booger is out of the lineup), giving Exelby a spot.  Finally, Matt Gilroy, who fell out of favor last year, could step up and take on some of those extra minutes himself, easing the burden on any of these four players.

What do you think?

(advanced stats credited to behindthenet.ca.   Ice time, hits, and blocks data from NHL.com)

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