Of the two darlings in the preseaon Brandon Pirri might have stood out the most. Oh don’t get me wrong, Adam Clendening was doing wondrous things, too, but it was Pirri who was scoring every night. Pirri who seemingly couldn’t stop. And Pirri who was forcing his way into a forward lineup loaded with skill.
The hot start to the preseason carried over to the regular season.
In his first game he had a goal and an assist. All told he posted a 4-2-6 statline in his first seven game. I gushed about Pirri’s impact in the notes after the win over Boston in late October:
Pirri has four goals in seven games, and brings a level of offense to the bottom six I don’t think the Rangers have had in a long, long time. This is a really big deal for a team who is relying so heavily on its forwards.
To date? Six goals, eight assists and 14 points in 40 games. To color the photo even more: No goals the past 10 games. One goal the past 23 games. In those 24 games he’s had four points.
Goals are sometimes hard to judge a player by. Not that you can’t look at the bottom-line stats but sometimes a lack of goals doesn’t tell the whole story. With Pirri it’s more than that, though. Pirri isn’t really doing much of ... well, anything on offense.
Here’s Pirri’s career shooting statistics (I combined stats by year, since he’s been on a few teams):
Now, a player having more goals and a higher shooting percentage the more they shoot isn’t anything new or groundbreaking. Despite Tom Renney’s attempts to devise a way to score on the power play by only passing, you have to shoot to score. Period.
Games are impacted in a variety of ways. You can be a great possession player. You can score. You can set up goal scoring chances. You can do a lot of things.
Pirri was brought in to be a goal scorer. Or, at the very least, an offense generator. That doesn’t exactly mean he needs to score 20 goals to be effective, but it does mean he has to generate shots — which created rebounds, or blocks or opportunities.
Pirri’s 1.53 shots per game is his lowest figure since he’s been a consistent force in the NHL. This doesn’t even take into account (although the number is reflected by it) how many times he’s missed the net — which has been often.
Simply put: Pirri isn’t getting the job done.
With Rick Nash, Pavel Buchnevich and Mika Zibanejad returning, the Rangers have a logjam of forwards. I’ve advocated at least thinking about trading Michael Grabner (since good players are going to have to sit when they all get back) but there’s going to be casualties.
Pirri is rapidly becoming one of those casualties. Marek Hrivik is far more valuable on defense than Pirri is, despite his lack of offense. (Plus, his possession numbers are crazy.) Jesper Fast brings more to the table overall, and Oscar Lindberg would (if he could ever get his offense going) but at worst his defense is a big upgrade.
So to simplify: If Pirri isn’t scoring it’s a problem -- but if Pirri isn’t even generating shots it’s basically a death-blow to his Rangers career.
Pirri might not even have time to turn things around, since the Rangers might be fully (or mostly) healthy come Friday night’s game against the Maple Leafs.
The spiral can be attributed to a lot of things. I’m not buying the Alain Vigneault reason — although maybe it was a factor earlier in the year — because Pirri has to know he’s on borrowed time. He’s a streaky forward. He’s always been a streaky forward. And all the excitement about him (which I had tons of) came from a place of a 25-year-old restricted free agent with oodles of talent. A guy who, if he could figure everything out and return to that 20-goal guy, would be a steal.
Now he might be at the bottom rung of the ladder to send back to Hartford. In fact, I’d be somewhat shocked if it was anyone other than Pirri. The Rangers could probably move him for a mid-level pick or prospect. His age and history might be enough to entice another general manager to take a shot, but my guess is we’re not talking about anything significant; even as part of a package.
It’s a sad fall for Pirri. Normally a player who was expected to add offense not living up to the hype would be damaging to the team.
Thankfully the Rangers have a ton of skill that this probably doesn’t matter.