I was away in Bermuda when the Rangers announced a one-year deal with former Stanley Cup Champion Jarret Stoll. As a result, I never really wrapped my hands around a deeper analysis article for you guys. I also wanted to wait until training camp to see if this was the team the Rangers were going to go with to kick off the year -- half expecting a potential trade to shake up the forwards.
Here's the thing about Stoll: Three years ago he was an exact example of a bottom-six depth player you want on your team. He has size, can win faceoffs (although as we've gone over, this isn't really that big of a deal), kill penalties, handle himself in his own zone and add offense.
Today, however, those numbers have declined pretty steadily. Here's Stoll's HERO chart from 2010-2012 against his chart from 2013-2015:
Notice the differences? With slightly more difficult usage (the bar at the top indicates where a player spent more time when deployed) Stoll can still help limit shots against like a quality bottom-six player, but his ability to drive possession has taken a pretty heavy hit. His offenseive productivity has also taken a hit, which is to be expected for an aging, grinding player.
I think the word "intangibles" gets used to the point where anytime it's used now it's basically someone who doesn't believe in advanced metrics using it as a defense against someone who does. I disagree with such a black and white landscape of judging players.
I do believe that certain "intangibles" are useless. Being a physically tough (read: fighting) player doesn't add anything to a team, but it's often a skill that's looked at as an "intangible." Being a "great guy in the locker room" is nice but it's not an "intangible" that should earn a player playing time over a better player -- unless that player is a true locker room cancer, which is rare.
Rangers Training Camp Battles
Here's a deeper look at some of the training camp battles you're going to be seeing when camp opens on Thursday.
But some intangibles are real. Being a Stanley Cup Champion is an intangible. Knowing what it's like to be in a locker room of a team who hoisted The Cup and having that experience can be invaluable. Being a guy who can win a faceoff when needed is an intangible. Those things are real and they're useful.
However, the fact of the matter is -- much like last year with Tanner Glass -- there are better options on the team this year than Stoll. Oscar Lindberg has already shown at the AHL level that he can probably duplicate (if not exceed) the offense Stoll is going to theoretically provide while adding more on the defensive side of the puck. Lindberg can also win faceoffs (again, not incredibly important) and he was used in almost all situations last year. He's taken some significant strides the past few months, and he obviously has the trust of the organization since they agreed to a two-year, one-way deal with Lindberg.
This is going to be all speculation, but I'm under the impression the Rangers had to give Lindberg a pretty good pitch to make him take a deal worth less than his QO. Since Lindberg must pass through waivers if he does not stick with the big club this summer, the Rangers are essentially going to make the decision about whether or not they want to keep him in the organization -- there's virtually no chance Lindberg passes through waivers, especially at that contract.
Lindberg is a very, very good defensive player who is a shark at the faceoff dot. His offense was always a slight concern when he made the move to North America, but he's had back-to-back impressive years in the AHL, finishing last year with 56 points in 75 games and then notching 16 points in 15 AHL playoff games. You should be excited about Lindberg's potential addition to the organization next year, even if he starts things off on the fourth line.
I should add, I have no issues with Gorton taking a flyer on Stoll. Like I said above, he does bring things to the table the Rangers could use, especially with younger players on the team. In my head, though, a perfect roster has Stoll on the outside (as the 13th forward) looking in -- subsequently relegating Glass to the minors.
If Stoll is taking a guy like Lindberg's roster spot I have a problem with the decision making process (this is assuming, of course, Lindberg doesn't unexpectedly crash and burn at camp). If Stoll takes Lindberg's spot and that relegates Glass to the minors then it's a pretty significant upgrade while still not allowing the Rangers to take advantage of their lineup.
Gorton absolutely deserves the benefit of the doubt, but it remains to be seen how much of last year's head-scratching lineup decisions were because of Glen Sather or Alain Vigneault. There were other, better options who were on the market when the Rangers landed Stoll who eventually signed with just as cheap (or even cheaper) deals. But again, if this was purely a "get a veteran in the room to provide injury help and play as a spare forward" this isn't even a conversation.
However, there's a logjam at forward now that's going to sort itself out in camp. There's too many forwards competing for too few spots, especially at the bottom six level. Something is going to have to give, and with the Rangers where they are in terms of the salary cap I'm expecting a move at some point during the preseason.
Time will answer all of these questions, of course. Camp opens on Thursday and we'll begin to get a much better idea of how things are going to stack up. Until then this is all just speculation.