The New York Rangers have only played three regular season games, and you may think this is premature, but Marc Staal’s struggles to date aren’t unique to this season. In a year that is all about development, it is a tough question that is fair to ask.
To his credit, David Quinn seems to recognize that the Rangers’ only permanent alternate captain hasn’t played well, as Staal has the lowest average time on ice, 16:34 a night, among Blueshirt defenders. In his career, Staal has never averaged less than 18:00 a game over the course of an entire season, so this is new territory for him.
The next logical step would be scratching Staal to either allow Tony DeAngelo to remain in the lineup on a normal rotation, or sub Fredrik Claesson into the lineup.
Fredrik Claesson, not qualified by Ottawa, is a good defensive third-pair defender who doesn't draw or take penalties. Should find a job somewhere, with any justice. pic.twitter.com/2Q0A0G0cmZ— Micah Blake McCurdy (@IneffectiveMath) June 26, 2018
DeAngelo only was inserted into the lineup because the Rangers dressed seven defensemen in their 8-5 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes. That may not be an ideal situation moving forward, which means a defenseman may have to come out of the lineup — and maybe that defenseman should be Staal. Scratching Staal would go beyond just his individual performance to date, but the impact he could be having on his partner Neal Pionk.
According to Corsica, Staal and Pionk have skated 34.52 together this season at evens. The pairing has a Corsi differential of 26 for and 51 against for a net differential of -25 and a 33.77 Corsi For percentage. They also have a Relative Corsi For percentage of -16.48, a Goals For percentage of 0, and a Relative Goals For percentage of -46.15. However, the pair’s PDO sits at 92.31 which suggest they have been a tad unlucky. Overall it has been bad, but it’s also a small sample, so it’s worth comparing to last season.
The duo skated together for 322.48 in 2017-18 at evens. They had a Corsi differential of 259 for and 366 against for a net differential of -107 and a Corsi For percentage of 41.44 and a Relative Corsi For percentage of -4.59. Staal and Pionk did however finish with a Goals For percentage of 59.09 and a Relative Goals For percentage of 19.09. Their PDO during that time period was 104.52, which may indicate that they were playing above their heads, and were due for a regression.
The question at hand is where to assign blame, and while I don’t want to absolve Neal Pionk entirely, he’s primarily played with Staal in his career to date. He’s also spent 121 minutes with Brady Skjei and 34 minutes with John Gilmour. This season is about development, and it is important that the Rangers find out what they have in Pionk because he’s currently ahead of DeAngelo on the depth chart, and they have a limited amount of time before their defensive prospects are pushing for a place in the lineup. It may sound like a cop out, but I don’t think the Rangers can find out what Pionk is truly capable of unless they set him free from Staal. We may find out that Pionk is an equally culpable conspirator, but that would require an extended furlough from Staal’s flank.
Before going any further, here’s how all Ranger defenders stack up from an individual perspective thus far 5v5.
As Adam pointed out in a notes column from the preseason, David Quinn is all about accountability. Thus far both Kevin Hayes and Shattenkirk have been sat down for extended periods during a game. In both those occasions it was to send a message, and it wouldn’t surprise me if Shattenkirk were to sit at some point too. Whether it would be for conditioning reasons coming off knee surgery or otherwise, as he needs to be better. Vladislav Namestnikov was a healthy scratch. Staal may be the defacto captain as the only player wearing a letter for all 82 games, but if he’s going to be used as an example, it only makes sense to sit him down in the wake of his struggles.
The team is in a tough spot because he is one of the most senior Rangers, drafted 12th overall in 2005 and a roster mainstay since 2007, plus he carries a $5.7 million cap charge for the next three seasons. He also wields an all powerful no movement clause.
The shame in all of this is that Staal’s abilities have diminished due to injuries that include a harrowing eye injury and three concussions. There is no doubt that he’s trying his best, but at this point in time there’s an argument to be made that others on the roster should be getting a chance. This is not to say that Staal hasn’t done some things right, but the bad has outweighed the good more often than not.
Things would be easier to juggle had the team not made a trade for Adam McQuaid who has since settle into a role on the top pair alongside Skjei. But this is the situation the team is in, and they need to come up with a plan to execute over the entirety of the season. This is not to say he needs to sit all the time, but finding a rhythm where he plays X amount of games and sits Y amount of games wouldn’t be a terrible idea.
Ultimately the team will need to find a spot for Tony DeAngelo, because he needs to be evaluated just like Pionk. At some point Libor Hajek will be ready for a call up as well, and that will mean opening up a spot on the left side. And those should be the priority considering this is a rebuilding team.
Quinn holding Staal accountable this early into the season would set the tone, and it would go a long way toward putting every other player on notice as well.
Stats by Corsica unless otherwise noted.