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Alain Vigneault And Jeff Gorton Have To Fix The Defense

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The Rangers need to fix their biggest problem: The defense.

Dan Riedlhuber/Getty Images

That noise you hear is the alarm clock ringing. Actually, it's been ringing for a long time, but some people are only starting to hear it now.

The Rangers are fresh off a brutally bad Western swing that saw the Rangers lose a tough game to the Vancouver Canucks, a last-minute heart-breaker against the Edmonton Oilers and a tire-fire of a loss to the Calgary Flames. The problem hasn't even really been possession (like it was earlier in the year) or offense (Vancouver aside). It has, however, been the defense. Yes, the same defense we've complained about in this space, the same defense that some blessed as the best in the league and the same defense that Henrik Lundqvist and company bailed out time and time again earlier in the year.

This needs to be a wake up call to the brass and the coaching staff. Dan Girardi and Marc Staal are problems that have to be fixed. Soon.

In every meaningful category this year Girardi has struggled. And it's not just this year, it's just getting worse and worse as time goes on. He's sporting a 40.6% corsi (-181 in shot differential if you prefer it that way), is a -81 in scoring chances for and a -35 high-danger scoring chances. Some of the media is calling it a "slump" while conveniently ignoring the fact that Girardi's numbers have been getting worse and worse for years and aging defenseman never find a way to break the trend because time is a bastard.

Staal doesn't deserve to be left out of this, either. His struggles have also become more and more prominent, although at a lesser level than Girardi. And -- since I'm assuming both problems can't be fixed -- Girardi is the bigger issue right now.

Vigneault doesn't seem to notice, though. Travis Yost did a great piece about why some general managers struggle with evaluating players. In it, he used the Rangers coaching staff as an example of a team playing players in roles not suited for them. His chart is below (the X-axis is TIO in order from most to least).

Yost accompanies the chart with this:

If anyone cares to explain to me what's going on in New York, I'd love to hear it. The defenders getting the most minutes are getting absolutely crushed when they are out there. One would think this is the perfect spot for head coach Alain Vigneault to recalibrate and assess whether or not the current plan is working. I would, of course, argue that status quo is not ideal.

This problem has been a problem all year. I keep linking the article but I don't care -- we knew the Rangers defense wasn't holding up their end of the bargain even when the Rangers were winning. Or this article on it. Or this one.

Only now are some of the media recognizing that their senseless defense of Girardi might have been misplaced. Larry Brooks takes the first step in this story about maybe scratching Girardi:

McDonagh, meanwhile, hasn't been close to the ascending Norris candidate he was in 2013-14, when he dominated shifts at a time at both ends of the rink. How much is a result of the physical pounding he has taken in the interim and how much can be ascribed to the influence of playing with Girardi is impossible to measure, but it is time to take a measure.

The bold above is my emphasis. It's funny that Brooks says this, because we can absolutely prove (and have) the impact. The below should help solve some question's about Girardi's impact on McDonagh (Girardi's corsi is the ball and chain):

This is a classic case of someone getting to the right answer but for the wrong reason. In the story Brooks says scratching Girardi "is not a punishment." How? At what point does the evidence become overwhelming?

Want more charts about Girardi's struggles? Here's Girardi's HERO chart from 2013 to now, just to prove that there's been enough of a body of work to come to the conclusion that this isn't a slump:

The only category Girardi is preforming at the caliber of a top pairing defenseman is time on ice, which he doesn't control. His poor play is hurting the players he's partnered with (mostly McDonagh) and that's impacting the rest of the lineup. In the most meaningful possession metrics Girardi is below that of even a bottom pairing. And his limited offensive production can be replicated by others.

The obvious solution is to move Girardi to a new team. I don't care about the NMC; players with NTC and NMC get traded all the time (Marian Gaborik, anyone?). There are teams out there who would take Girardi in a heartbeat, not as many as a year ago, but some. Jeff Gorton needs to take advantage of this now, or else his hands will be tied with one of the worst contracts in the NHL for the foreseeable future. If Girardi doesn't want to go anywhere then he can sit in the press box. Hockey players are proud people, there's no reason to assume him realizing he's not in the plans anymore wouldn't motivate a move.

That's the long solution, though, and might take some time. In the short term Girardi needs to sit regardless of Kevin Klein's health. Send down Tanner Glass (and in this instance it's actually a numbers game) or cut bait with Jarret Stoll to make enough cap room for Brady Skjei to come up. Put Skjei and Dylan McIlrath (who has been fantastic) in the lineup and leave them there. Then when Klein comes back you sit Staal and evaluate.

Right now this team is not going to win a Stanley Cup, which is a problem. The most common response I get when I talk about the bad underlying numbers are "oh I guess the Rangers aren't going to make the playoffs then." That's not the point. Making the playoffs isn't good enough. Winning the Stanley Cup is the only option for success. And if the Rangers allow Girardi and Staal to be the reason why they don't keep Keith Yandle/key RFAs then they're effectively slamming the window shut.

That's the alarm clock ringing. Most people have heart it for a while. Some are hearing it for the first time.

Hopefully Vigneault starts hearing it now.