Over the past two years there has been a large contingent of people, both in the media and in the fan base, who have looked upon Pavel Buchnevich and his struggles with a smirk at best and outright glee at worst.
Buchnevich has been fancy stat darling over the course of his career, like Adam Clendening before him or Anthony DeAngelo right now. Which means, of course, there’s plenty of opposition from those who think the statistics have no place in the game, or just want to combat the blogs and podcasts who do see the value in players who don’t bring the “face punching” to face punching hockey player.
Things with Buchnevich seem to have reached a critical state, highlighted by David Quinn electing to use an 11F/7D strategy he “doesn’t love” for the Rangers’ 1-0 loss to Philadelphia on Monday. Adding even more insult to injury was Cody McLeod being one of those 11 forwards. Adding even more to the pile was Brett Howden spraining his knee in the first period and the Rangers playing the final 44 minutes or so down to ten forwards.
After the game I tweeted the following:
So here’s the thing: NYR 100% were the better team and deserved to win that game. But it’s also true that when you don’t put skill players in your lineup you give yourself a disadvantage, and NYR needed offense tonight— Joe Fortunato (@JoeFortunatoBSB) January 30, 2019
Trying to illustrate to the people who keep pointing out that the Rangers are not actually better without the “floaty,” “doesn’t play defense,” and “isn’t a tough enough player” (among other things of varying insanity) 23-year-old. The responses were what you’d expect, and I’m now positive a large portion of this fan base and about two thirds of the media would have run Marian Gaborik out of town if he was drafted and came up through the New York system because he was too soft. Hell, he even got that when he was here as an established 40+ goal scorer. So did Rick Nash.
The New York Post wrote two articles on the subject Monday, with Larry Brooks claiming this scratch was an “air raid siren” in Buchnevich’s ear and Brett Crygalis surprisingly taking more of a “this is a way for Quinn to get to him, not give up on him” approach.
I understand why Buchenvich can be frustrating, specifically to a guy like Quinn who demands both hustle and grit. Buchnevich is not an “in your face” player, and he never will be. If Quinn’s ultimate goal is to get him to be that kind of player, better to cut ties now than go through another year of nonsense. That said, it sure feels like this is far more about Buchnevich’s hustle than anything else. Especially considering the Rangers are coming off a bye week, and Buchenvich was a game removed from a two-goal outburst against Carolina.
Even with his struggles, Buchnevich is scoring at a 40-point pace and is fifth on the team with nine goals in 32 games. In what has clearly been a down year from him in terms of underlying metrics he’s still sporting the fourth best relative goals for percentage among forwards. Only Jimmy Vesey (I am also surprised), Chris Kreider, Kevin Hayes, and Jesper Fast (yep, surprised about this as well) are ahead of him. To put it in perspective, Buchnevich’s relative GF% of 5.91 is over twice as good as Mats Zuccarello’s (-2.78) and Mika Zibanejad’s (-3.17). His -2.16 expect goals for percentage is a 9th best among 17 forwards -2.16, which is far higher than Brett Howden’s -9.33, Ryan Strome’s -5.42, Boo Nieves’ -3.88, and Vesey’s -2.5.
The point isn’t to take shots at guys like Nieves and Howden (who should be playing in a development year) but more to prove that the people who are claiming Buchnevich’s “horrible in his own zone” defense is the reason aren’t exactly sure what they’re talking about. Statistically speaking, according to Corsica, Buchnevich has a 5v5 goal differential of -1 (14 GF | 15GA) which is fifth best among Rangers forwards. Hayes is a team best at +10 (28 GF | 18 GA) and Namestnikov is -13 (17 GF | 30 GA. Hockey is largely won by goals for and against, so Buchnevich is “horrible in his zone” takes are grossly overstated.
Howden has seen himself moved up to the top six despite drowning the past 20 games or so. Vesey escaped being a healthy scratch despite his struggles multiple times. Same goes for Neal Pionk. Why? Because they all play a harder style of hockey, and thus are seen as “hustling” when in reality it’s just the way they go about their business. Buchnevich and Filip Chytil have gotten themselves into hotter water with Quinn than any of the above mentioned kids, mostly because they choose to do their work on the outside more than the inside of the ice. Chytil is starting to become more asserting in that regard — and with his lower body strength he should be — but Buchnevich has never been comfortable there, and at this point probably never will be.
The silver lining, if there is one, is despite this being the same result as Alain Vigneault — which again, every Buchnevich detractor will gleefully tell you — there are differences. For Quinn this appears to be about effort, and perceived hustle. And while still a very foolish reason to literally remove a forward position from your lineup to prove a point, it’s far different than Vigneault’s “we’re a better hockey team with Tanner Glass in the lineup than we are with Buchnevich.” That said, it’s damn near February and we’re still seeing decisions like this being made, so perhaps I’m giving him too much benefit of the doubt.
All that said, let’s walk into the deeper end of this pool. Buchnevich, at this stage, deserves blame here as well. I gave him a pass willingly with Vigneault because we knew the message was never been conveyed from coach to player on what the expectations were and how to get a more consistent role. The difference here is drastic: Buchnevich himself has admitted he and Quinn have had long discussions about what the coach wants from him, and the fact that Buchnevich has yet to provide it for him is alarming. Some of it could be the fact that Quinn wants a more rough and tough style that Buchnevich isn’t comfortable with, but effort in practice is black and white. And based on the timing of this decision, and the severity of it, it’s a safe bet that’s what the final straw was here. That doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of his attitude toward criticism and coaching — although that’s literal speculation that has no proof.
That said, the people who continue to say “well it’s Buchnevich’s fault” while talking strictly about his on ice play need to read the below:
Asking Pavel Buchnevich to elevate his play while playing alongside a struggling rookie center and a literal black hole winger is like asking me to fly a plane simply because I know how to drive a car.— Blueshirts Breakaway (@BlueshirtsBreak) January 29, 2019
Quinn was hailed as a developmental coach, one who knew what buttons to press and which buttons to leave alone. Jake Reiser and Jeff Cox came on the podcast to talk about these skills specifically. And yet just a few months later Mike and I are getting (fairly asked) questions on this week’s Off The Post that asked if Quinn valued character over output. Based on everything he’s saying to the media, Quinn hasn’t given up on Buchnevich yet, and just wants more out of him. “Sometimes you need to regress to progress,” I believe was the comment made about the situation.
Maybe Buchnevich needs to be coddled. Maybe he needs to be scolded privately then given a chance to fly for a few weeks no questions ask. If Buchnevich doesn’t provide in a top-six role where he isn’t losing ice time late in the game and is getting run at 5v5 as well as the power play then this is a different discussion. Putting Buchnevich on the fourth line with Cody McLeod doesn’t fix anything. I’d wager a bet McLeod’s anchor would be heavy enough to bring down Connor McDavid’s stats noticeably as well.
There are people out there who will viciously attack anyone who dares say Libor Hajek isn’t having the season the Rangers expected him to this year, while at the same time flash a smile about Buchnevich because this proves he isn’t good despite what the stats tell you. To those people who feel Buchnevich may be what he is at this point, Tom posted an interesting stat yesterday.
For those who have said Buch is what he is at this point— Tom Urtz Jr. (2019) (@TomUrtzJr) January 29, 2019
Through their first 147 games played
PB: 31-47-78 0.53 P/GP - 14:20 ATOI
CK: 35-38-73 0.50 P/GP - 13:50 ATOI
The age range here is practically the same as Kreider’s first game in this range is at age 21 and 264 days with the last game being age 23 and 302 days. Buchnevich was 21 and 179 days in his first game and 23 and 277 days in the last one. Linemates certainly are something to be considered here, but it is notable in the context that Kreider is having a season where he’s finally putting it all together after a number of prior season in which fans wondered if he was able to. The key here is that there’s still time, and that no rash decisions should be being made in regards to his future.
Hopefully Quinn realizes the buzz surrounding Buchnevich is nonsense, and that in a year where the final results don’t matter he should be given a chance to fly. Saying the Rangers are desperate for higher-end talent but not giving Buchnevich the benefit of the doubt doesn’t work. A “change of scenery trade” involving Buchnevich will more than likely bring back a worse player and the deal (hopefully) doesn’t even exist yet.
Quinn has tried his approach on Buchenvich. Maybe it’s time to adjust it.