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2018 Report Card: Ryan McDonagh

NHL: New York Rangers at Colorado Avalanche Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

It’s hard not to feel a bit bad for Ryan McDonagh. Sure, he’s living it up in Tampa now, but this probably wasn’t the way he wanted his last season in New York to end. A Blueshirt for eight years, captain for four, McDonagh deserved more than being traded at the deadline after a very disappointing campaign. It didn’t help that McDonagh himself didn’t play to the best of his abilities, but the fact remains that this was probably one of the most disappointing seasons of his career.

McDonagh’s been the crown jewel of the Ranges defense for years, but this was arguably his most underwhelming campaign by his standards. Injuries played a role in his performance (as McDonagh had trouble consistently staying in the lineup), yet there were too many uncharacteristic mistakes when he did find himself on the ice. As captain and entrusted as the number one defenseman, there were too many instances in which McDonagh seemed a little lost with the rest of the Rangers defense.

There should obviously be a lot of blame on others for the Rangers poor defensive play (starting with Alain Vigneault and the bad defenders he usually deployed), but overall McDonagh could have done better. Out of all Rangers defenseman who played in at least 15 games, McDonagh ended with only the eighth highest 5v5 CF% and 5v5 HDCA/60. For a team’s number one defenseman, that’s too mediocre. The only players who had lower CF% were Neal Pionk, Steven Kampfer, Rob O’Gara, and Marc Staal, which exactly a group you’d want to be lumped in with.

If the Rangers truly wanted to be successful this season, they would have needed McDonagh to play like a top defenseman in the league — whether or not it’s fair to set those high expectations, at the end of the day McDonagh did not.

But after all that negativity, that’s not to say McDonagh was bad for New York. And there’s no question that playing through injuries affected his season; it doesn’t excuse his performance, but it didn’t help it either.

There’s also the fact that the Rangers defense as a whole was a mess this season, so he didn’t have much support. McDonagh’s good, but it’s a lot to ask of any player to drag Nick Holden and the rotting carcass of Marc Staal up and down the ice. Even with Dan Girardi finally gone, McDonagh still ended up spending too much of his time with inferior players. He spent a combined 712 5v5 minutes with Staal, Holden, and Brendan Smith and posted terrible numbers with all of them. Together, McDonagh failed to post a CF% above 45% with any one of the three. But guess what happened when McDonagh got the chance to play with Kevin Shattenkirk? The pairing posted a sparkling 52.7 CF%.

There’s no consensus on how much affect the quality of your linemates has, but it’s reasonable to sympathize with McDonagh’s situation. Brady Skjei didn’t even make it in the table below because their pair didn’t reach the minimum ice time!

NYR Defensive Pairs

Pairings GP TOI CF% REL CF%
Pairings GP TOI CF% REL CF%
McDonagh - Staal 41 77 36.6 -10.11
McDonagh – Holden 42 546 45 -0.35
McDonagh - Smith 34 89 45 -0.74
McDonagh - Shattenkirk 33 56 52.7 7.47
*Data via Corsica

The same pattern emerges when we look at McDonagh’s splits between the Rangers and the Tampa Bay Lightning. Even though McDonagh’s ironically had to spend a decent chunk of 5v5 ice time with Girardi in Tampa, he’s also gotten the chance to play with Anton Stralman, who is an excellent defender in his own right. With the Lightning, McDonagh has the 46th ranked 5v5 CF% out of all defenders to play in at least 200 minutes. With the Rangers, McDonagh ranked 233rd. He also has the 18th highest 5v5 SCF% with the Lightning, compared to 196th with the Rangers. Once McDonagh got out of New York, his underlying numbers got much better.

People have also been focusing on McDonagh’s two goals throughout the year (slightly lower than his average), while neglecting the fact that he was still producing offense at a fantastic rate. Through 49 games, McDonagh’s 26 points pro-rate to around 44 points over 82 games, which would be tied for the 21st most out of all defenders. Out of all Rangers defensemen to skate in at least 15 games, McDonagh had the third highest 5v5 points/60 rate and second most total 5v5 points.

Overall, McDonagh’s last season with New York was a bit of a mixed bag. Yes, he could have done better but he still did a good job with what he had. The Rangers had huge fundamental problems that almost no one single player could have fixed and McDonagh tried his best. It’s a shame his time with New York ended poorly but he’ll still be remembered as a fantastic player that did all he could as the rest of the defense imploded around him.

Grade: B

2018 Report Cards: Marc Staal / Mats Zuccarello / Ryan Spooner / Rob O’Gara / Jimmy Vesey / Brendan Smith / Vladislav Namestnikov / Brady Skjei / Steven Kampfer / Jesper Fast/ Alexandar Georgiev / Pavel Buchnevich/ Ondrej Pavelec / Kevin Hayes / Mika Zibanejad / Alain Vigneault / John Gilmour