Today at Blueshirt Banter we’re going to take a look back at what might be Kevin Klein’s last season as a New York Ranger. The 32-year-old defenseman is considering retirement with one year left on his contract.
Klein began the season on the second pairing with Marc Staal after missing the first three games due to back spasms. But Alain Vigneault separated the pair towards the end of October after the pair surrendered one too many goals against.
Nick Holden took Klein’s role on the Rangers second pairing on October 30th. From that game forward Klein struggled while trying to come to terms with his new role. That was only made more difficult by a back injury that he couldn’t seem to get away from.
Klein’s possession numbers and production both dropped last season. In the world of counting stats his offense dropped from nine goals and 26 points in 2015-16 to three goals and 14 points in 2016-17. Two of those goals were scored in one game against the Avalanche.
Klein’s inexplicable goal scoring prowess finally came to an end. In his first two full seasons with the Rangers he enjoyed a shooting percentage north of 10 percent. Last season Klein shot just 5.6 percent. That drop in production made the faults in his game far more conspicuous.
For the majority of the regular season Klein played with rookie defenseman Brady Skjei. That pair shared 476 minutes of even strength hockey, but there was no real sign of chemistry between the two. At least not the kind of chemistry we witnessed when Brendan Smith was paired with Skjei after the trade deadline.
Holden was the other Rangers defenseman that Klein shared a significant amount of ice time with. In a sample size of 144 even strength minutes Holden and Klein was more or less a disaster. Let’s just leave it at that.
Klein made a point of playing more physical hockey last season. That was likely influenced by his demotion to the third pair and his desire to earn more minutes.
No Rangers defensemen threw more hits per game or dropped the gloves more often than Klein last season. On a team that was frequently criticized for a lack of toughness, Klein regularly rattled the boards and stood up for his teammates. But that rough-and-tumble style of play may have come at a cost.
Klein battled with back spasms and other injuries throughout the 2016-17 season. Injuries are nothing new to the former second round pick of the Nashville Predators. Klein has yet to play 70 games in a season since becoming a Ranger in 2014.
Before his injury issues held him out of the lineup for an extended period of time Vigneault made Klein a healthy scratch to get Adam Clendening into the lineup. By December it was clear that Klein’s play was slipping. The same proved true for his hold on a roster spot.
“Right now, I don’t think my game is where it was last year,” Klein told Sean Hartnett in January. “I’m working every day to get that back and contribute where I can. I struggled at the start, then I started to get it back. Now, I’m playing a little bit less minutes. I’m trying to contribute where I can.”
How could Adam Clendening POSSIBLY do worse than this? pic.twitter.com/TaHVxzgFDA— Adam Herman (@AdamZHerman) April 17, 2017
In October Klein averaged 19:49 TOI/G. By December Alain Vigneault slashed his ice time to 16:55 per night. After the Smith trade Klein struggled to stay in stay in the lineup. He appeared in just 15 games after the All-Star break.
By the time the 2017 NHL Playoffs began Klein was demoted to the Rangers seventh defenseman.
Klein’s injury woes make grading his season difficult. But even when factoring in things that were outside of his control the 2016-17 season was a step in the wrong direction.
Klein lost the trust of Vigneault and lost his role with the team. He was definitely part of the problem with this year’s Rangers defense. Klein blocked plenty of shots and didn’t shy away from taking the body, but he also made far too many mistakes in his own zone. And unlike Dan Girardi and Staal, Klein didn’t have a letter on his jersey to protect him.
If this is the end of Klein’s career it will be disappointing. But the $2.9 million in cap space that Klein’s contract occupies can be put to much better use on a team that is already taking its first steps towards radically changing its blue line.