On June 30th, 2009; the Rangers sent center Scott Gomez, along with prospects Tom Pyatt and Michael Busto, to Montreal in exchange for winger Chris Higgins and defensive prospects Pavel Valentenko, Doug Janik, and Ryan McDonagh. Including the 12th overall pick from the 2007 draft was a head scratcher at the time for Montreal, especially when you consider the player they were getting in return. At the time the trade was lauded as win for the Rangers as it got the team out from the Gomez contract, added a shoot-first winger in Chris Higgins, and gave the Rangers the cap space to sign Marian Gaborik. Now, with the value of hindsight, there is a good argument to be made that this trade is one of the greatest trades in New York Rangers history.
Ryan McDonagh made his NHL debut on January 7th, 2011 and since then he has arguably been the best defenseman the Rangers have had (long-term) since Brian Leetch. The left handed defenseman immediately made an impact with his smooth skating and high hockey IQ, playing primarily with Michael Sauer as the two young defensemen learned how to play the NHL game. After Sauer’s unfortunate head injury (courtesy of a hard hit from Dion Phaneuf), Ryan McDonagh was paired with the right handed stalwart on the blue line, Dan Girardi and the two have been nigh inseparable since.
However, him being stapled to Girardi is a problem, as it is becoming clear that the Rangers are wasting the career of one of the best defensemen in the NHL.
Now before we go on, let’s make one thing clear; Ryan McDonagh is a very, VERY good defenseman. He’s not quite in the Erik Karlsson, P.K. Subban, Brent Burns range, but he is still a top defenseman in this league. Let’s look at his career numbers in handy dandy chart form:
As you can see, over the course of his career McDonagh has been able to put up strong expected goals and scoring chance numbers, but he has seen a steady decline in his possession numbers – at first glance that may trigger some warning bells and clutching of pearls, but as we should all know by now, McDonagh isn’t solely at fault for this drop off. Let’s take a look at the numbers when Ryan McDonagh plays with each of his defense partners as opposed to how he plays away from them, plus how his defense partners fared in his absence. (Minimum 300 minutes played with McDonagh)
As you look at this chart, keep in mind that McDonagh has played 6,639 minutes with Dan Girardi at 5-on-5 of his 8,254 5-on-5 career time on ice. Forcing McDonagh to play with Girardi has a clear, tangible effect on the play of the Rangers captain. Also, while we, rightfully, harp on the loss of Anton Stralman to the Rangers blue line, check out McDonagh’s numbers with Michael Sauer. All of that production in just 533 minutes of ice time at 5 on 5, such a shame.
We can also see what kind of an impact McDonagh has on the Rangers defense by looking at the same group of players’ numbers when they are not along side the smooth skating two-way defenseman.
Without Ryan McDonagh, Dan Girardi is barely a NHL defenseman. It’s kind of incredible, really, and it goes to show why the Rangers need to act this offseason to rebuild the blue line around their all-world captain. Especially with the emergence of puck moving defenseman Brady Skjei this past season, the front office has to be smart and look at all of the available evidence to see what has to be done in order to not only get the Rangers into the Stanley Cup Final but to sustain that level of play for the next few years.
We all know that the Rangers have already wasted the prime of the greatest goaltender in the franchise’s history, but for them to squander another great talent that fell into the lap would be another shame and black mark on the organization’s record.