Keith Yandle appears to be a polarizing figure around the New York Rangers media. Most blogger/advanced metric enthusiasts seem to believe Yandle has been fantastic this year, by any standard. Some of the MSM seem to think Yandle has been a big part of the Rangers defensive struggles; reaching a head after Sunday night's win over the Flames when a select few referred to Yandle as a disaster (or some other similar adjective).
But is that true?
Yandle leads ALL Rangers with a +14 high-danger scoring chances differential. Kevin Hayes is second with 13. No other player is in double digits. (That's an issue on it's own, but let's circle away from that for now.) If Yandle was such a liability on the back end, wouldn't that number reflect that? If you move away from high-danger chances and isolate general scoring chances the numbers are similar. Yandle is a +22, second best on the team (behind Kevin Klein's +28) and miles ahead of Rick Nash (+13) in third.
If that's not enough evidence the possession metrics should back things up further. Yandle is second on the team with a +21 shot differential. Klein is first at +24 and Nash is third at +11.
On the flip side Dan Girardi leads the team (in the wrong way) with a -21 in scoring chances differential and also in possession sporting a team-worst -54 in shot differential. Marc Staal is the team leader (in the wrong way again) with a -4 high-danger scoring chances differential.
The conclusion we can garner from the above: Yandle is an offensive defenseman who drives puck possession and is a critical part of the Rangers' offense.
There has been a longstanding issue with fans anticipating Yandle was going to be the answer to the Rangers' power play woes. But this ideology is irresponsible when it's being thrown around by those who are paid to know the backdoor information and enlighten the masses when it comes to the team.
The Rangers' power play issues were always not having a big, booming shot from the point to wreak havoc on opposing penalty killing units. Yandle was never -- and should never be asked to be -- that player. Yandle has reached double digits in goals four times in his career but has never been known for his booming shot.
If Shea Weber or P.K. Subban are the heavy artillery on the battlefield, Yandle is akin to a sniper or a scout. He'll take his shot when he has it, but he's much more adapt at opening things up for someone else with his vision and passing. Yandle often anticipates the movement of the defense and unlocks soft areas of the ice to help the Rangers generate more scoring. But with a slew of pass-first mentality players on the ice, sometimes the work Yandle does goes unnoticed. That's not on him, nor is the blanket-blaming when people say "well, Yandle was brought in to help the power play and he hasn't done that so it's all his fault."
Still, Yandle has six points in 10 games this year; which is good for a 50-point pace this year. Small sample size, of course, but how is that on the list of things to complain about this year? Yandle leads the team with two power play points (he's tied with Mats Zuccarello, Derick Brassard and Dan Boyle, for full disclosure). Yeah, the power play as a whole has gotten off to a slow start this year, but blaming that on Yandle is insanity. Asking Yandle to be something he's never been is even worse -- and I do think some of this stems from the way this deal was sold when Glen Sather pulled the trigger last season to bring him in. Yandle has had his moments of struggles on the man advantage, of course (who hasn't), but there's far more good going on there than bad. He is just as he was advertised.
This isn't even to mention that Yandle had 11 points in 19 playoff games last year. With an injured shoulder that significantly restricted his movement and a team that couldn't find much offense when their most creative offensive player (Zuccarello) went down early in the extra season with a head injury.
While some will look any way but at the real problems on defense, Yandle should be exempt because he's earned it. He's been fine in his own end, has had the puck enough that the Rangers don't need to worry about defending as much when he's on the ice and he's producing. Dare I say he and Kevin Klein have easily been the Rangers best defenseman this year?
He did see a small blip in his possession numbers when paired with Girardi, but at this point we're going to have to see where the Rangers are going with that. Unless he's moved Girardi is going to be a drag on whoever he plays with and the other groups will need to compensate. Outside of those moments Yandle has been exactly what the Rangers want and exactly what they need.
Now if only they could fix their other defensive issues.