When Dan Girardi received his six-year contract extension as the trade deadline loomed on the horizon two seasons ago I was convinced that it meant the end of Marc Staal in New York. Staal has not been the same player since his terrifying eye injury in early March of 2013 and the 2014-15 season was the last year of the 28 year old's contract with the Rangers. Locking up Dan Girardi at an AAV of $5.5 million had left very little cap flexibility for the Rangers and the emergence of Ryan McDonagh as one of the best defenders in the league has reduced Staal's role from what it once was. However, just 5 days after his birthday, Staal signed a six-year extension with the Rangers on January 18th with an AAV of $5.75 million. With the signing Staal joined Henrik Lundqvist and Derek Stepan as the Rangers with the longest contracts- each of them have deals that will expire in the 2021 offseason.
Yep, he's a turtle.
In a frank analysis of the Staal contract Ryan Lambert of Puck Daddy addressed Marc as being both a scoring and possession anchor. Lambert eloquently argued that Staal was and is overvalued by the Rangers. This, of course, is not exactly "news" to those of us who have been paying close attention to his play.
"The Rangers have invested $11.2 million against the cap to these two defensive defensemen for the next five years — Girardi's will expire the year before Staal's would — whose numbers don't back up the cost. (The Maple Leafs made a similar mistake in extending Dion Phaneuf for big money.) Which is a long time to invest in guys who are going to spend the majority of those contracts on the wrong side of 30." -Lambert
Alright, enough grumbling about the Girardi and Staal contracts, it's time to take a look at how Staal performed last season. As we move forward you should keep in mind that I'm evaluating him on his 2014-15 cap hit of $3.75 million, not next season's cap hit of $5.5 million.
So what were the expectations for Staal headed into the 2014-15 regular season? Well, with the departure of his defense partner from the previous season,the scoring and possession-driving Anton Stralman, Staal was paired up with Dan Boyle at the onset of the season. However, with Boyle's broken hand knocking him out of the lineup in the first game of the season and the juggling of the defensive pairings after the acquisition of star defenseman Keith Yandle, Staal ended up splitting time with Boyle and Klein as his partners for the majority of the season. Staal was expected to eat up tough minutes, have a modest impact on the offense, and hopefully find a way to drive some possession despite the absence of Stralman.
Last season only Dan Girardi had a worse SAT% than Staal's 46.79 which should not come as a surprise because no two Rangers started in their own zone more often than Staal and Dan Girardi did. Applying metrics to defensemen is pretty tricky and hardly fool-proof, so I have to make sure we all keep in mind Staal's role and how frequently he was asked to take on the Alex Ovechkins of the league while in his own zone both at evens and on the penalty kill. Although McDonagh received more ice time, the Rangers' captain also enjoyed being sheltered and given some offensive zone starts that Marc Staal rarely got to see.
In 2014-15 Staal missed just 2 regular season games which is noteworthy because with his injury woes in the previous 3 seasons he had missed 63 regular season games. Staal managed to pick up 20 points on the Rangers' blue line (tied for third on the team) which was a 6 point bump up from 2013-14. He ranked third among Rangers' blueliners with 21:08 TOI/G (77th in the league among defensemen)and was third on the club in SH TOI/G behind the Blueshirts' top pairing. As expected at the onset of the season, Staal was seldom used on the man advantage and racked up just 9:31 of power play time last sesason. I know that people hiss like a vampire catching a beam of sunlight when the term "shutdown defenseman" is used, but Staal certainly fits a lot of the criteria for it.
He can also, on occasion, do things like this.
Is it asking too much to see more of this? Mmn, probably.
I still have dreams of Staal joining in on the offense and on rushes more often, especially with that long reach of his, but with Dan Boyle and Keith Yandle on the roster and Ryan McDonagh being deployed in the offensive zone significantly more than Staal was and ever has been, those dreams are unlikely to come to fruition. The Staal and Boyle pairing was a noteworthy step down from the Staal and Stralman pairing, but that is neither Staal nor Boyle's fault. Staal's season was a war waged against tough minutes, questions about his health, getting comfortable with both of his new defensive partners, issues with inconsistency, and up until January the uncertainty of his future. I certainly wouldn't call it a "smashing success" and there is plenty of room for criticisms of his play, but Staal was relatively solid on the Rangers' back line last season.
I'm sure there are those of you who consider my evaluation of Staal to be unnecessarily harsh, especially when compared to my ebullient praise of Rick Nash's play in the regular season in my last report card, but I'm not really all that frustrated or disappointed with Staal or his play. I'm mostly just frustrated with his new contract. Marc Staal is now the 19th-highest paid defender in the league (he was 18th at the time of the signing) and although he plays a lot of tough minutes, he simply isn't an elite defenseman. The main reason he received a "B" instead of a higher grade from me is because he's overpaid for how one-dimensional and inconsistent his game is. In the middle of the season, especially in the weeks leading up to his contract signing, Staal was on top of his game and looking very sharp. However, there were plenty of stretches throughout the season where he looked shaky and mistake-prone.
I may be going out on a limb with this one, but I think his play last season was as good as it has been since his eye injury which in all likelihood was the reason that the Rangers made him their highest paid defensemen. As I said earlier in this piece, we have to be honest about what we were expecting out of Staal last season and what his role on the team was when we grade him. What did Staal give the Rangers last season? More or less he gave the club exactly what we all expected him to, which was pretty darn good for his cap hit of $3.975 million. It's just a shame that he got that 40% raise in January.
As always, thank you for reading. Let's go Rangers.
What grade would you give Staal for his play last season? Is he unjustifiably overpaid for his role and the quality of his play? Will we see Staal play any better than he did for the Rangers' last season? Let me know what you think in the comments section.