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Marc Staal Situation Is Coming To A Head Sooner Than Expected This Season

The veteran defender will be a healthy scratch for the second game in a row.

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New York Rangers v Vancouver Canucks

Marc Staal sat out Tuesday vs. the Tampa Bay Lightning as a healthy scratch for the first time in his career, and will do the same on Saturday vs. the Nashville Predators.

The 13-year veteran was not happy about the situation, and it is going to be interesting to see how things progress.

Staal’s scratching has been a long time coming, as he’s been one of the league’s worst defenders over the last few seasons. Last year Staal appeared in 79 games, despite ranking pretty poorly among main stay defenders. In 2018-19 there were 187 defenders who appeared in 41 games (half a season) or more, and here’s how Staal ranked in key categories compared to them.

  • CF% — 42.68 | (181/187)
  • GF% — 42.18 | (162/187)
  • xGF% — 44.91 | (166/187)
  • TOI — 1259.88 | (75/187)
  • ATOI — 15.94 | (125/187)

This season things haven’t been much better, although the sample is much smaller which can skew the results. Plus, we have to acknowledge issues with shot location data that impacted expected goal models in games before Oct. 16. With that said, here’s how Staal ranks among the 207 defenders with at least 50 minutes of 5v5 time this season.

  • CF% — 33.50 | (206/207)
  • GF% — 36.25 | (177/207)
  • xGF% — 37 | (200/207)
  • TOI — 135.68 | (164/207)
  • ATOI — 15.08 | (125/207)

I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that the Rangers’ defensive woes apply to more than just Staal — these are team-wide issues. But on an individual level, Libor Hajek’s Corsi for percentage ranks 207th, while his partner Jacob Trouba is 205th. In Hajek’s case he’s a young defender trying to get adjusted to the NHL level. The results — and his subsequent impact on his partner thus far — are understandable. But Staal will be 33 in January; he’s a veteran whose best days are far behind him.

He’s already unhappy about being a scratch once, and if the Rangers decide to move forward with him as a seventh defenseman who rotates in and out of the lineup frequently, it wouldn’t be surprising if the career Ranger asks for a trade in an effort to spend as much of his remaining career on the ice and not in the press box.

I say if, because right now it appears David Quinn hopes to find an opportunity to get him back in the lineup soon.

Via the New York Post:

I can sit here and tell you how much respect I have for [Staal], how much I like the guy, and that’s all legit and true, but it doesn’t make anybody feel any better. Those are always hard conversations. I have a lot of faith that he’s going to get back to doing what he needs to do to be in the lineup consistently. He’s an important part of our team.

I understand why he said what he said, but if the kids play decent hockey and Staal struggles when he comes back in the lineup; a long-term decision will have to be made.

But if he eventually asks for a trade — something he’d be well within his rights to do — finding a suitor willing to take on a player in decline that makes $5.7 million a year would be difficult, if not near impossible. Worse players with worse contracts have been dealt before, but I think if there had been interest in someone like him he’d have been traded this past summer.

Even if the Rangers were to retain half, $2.85 million would still be a lot to pay a defender of Staal’s caliber when you consider the amount of journeyman defenders who are usually available off the waiver wire.

It is entirely possible that both parties find a way to make this year work somehow based on what Staal has meant to the franchise, but I can’t see this rolling over into 2020-21 due to the team’s aspirations and financial situation.

Tampa Bay Lightning v New York Rangers Photo by Jared Silber/NHLI via Getty Images

As it stands, the Rangers will already be paying Kevin Shattenkirk $6,083,333 not to play for them next season. I find it hard to believe they will head into next season willing to have Staal as a scratch more often than not, or willing to hurt the team by having him on the ice.

It wasn’t too long ago that the team made the difficult decision to buyout Dan Girardi, the player honored the same night Staal was scratched. I don’t think the Rangers have the appetite to buyout Staal, and this is more so a comment on how they’ve handled situations like this. But they may have no choice, at which point they’d be hit with $3.5667 million in dead cap space in 2020-21 and $1.06667 million in 2021-22 per Cap Friendly.

The Staal situation isn’t unique to the Rangers, as around the league teams have scratched veteran defenders who were struggling to perform. In October of 2018 the St. Louis Blues sat down Jay Bouwmeester for the first time in his career. As well know it was temporary, and Bouwmeester went on to play an important role in helping the franchise win the Stanley Cup for the first time in the team’s history.

This season, Brent Seabrook became a healthy scratch in consecutive games for the first time in his career, something he wasn’t all too happy about either — although, he clarified that he wants to remain a member of the Blackhawks.

His situation is dicier as the three-time Stanley Cup champion is making $6,875,000 a season until 2023-24. That is something that will put the Blackhawks in a bind, and the bonus structure of his contract makes it a tough poison pill to swallow.

With that said, right now the Rangers don’t know what Hajek or Ryan Lindgren are capable of long term, and that’s why they need to play as many minutes as possible this season. I’d argue they don’t fully know what Brady Skjei can be for them, and that is why this season is so important from a development perspective. Heck, they even have long time defenseman Brendan Smith moonlighting as a forward, while killing penalties as a blue liner.

Tampa Bay Lightning v New York Rangers Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

It is unfortunate that Yegor Rykov hasn’t played for Hartford yet due to injury, as he’s another player the franchise needs to learn more about. Once healthy and up to speed, I’d imagine he rotates in for one of Hajek and Lindgren if they are struggling for an extended period. This would allow the Rangers to have a better handle of some of the players in front of them, because there are others on the horizon who could eventually push them out.

K’Andre Miller is looked upon as a prospect who can be a big part of the future of this franchise on the left side, but the current Wisconsin Badger a year or two away.

Matthew Roberston of the Edmonton Oil Kings also falls into that boat, as does Zac Jones who is off to a great start at UMass-Amherst. The long story short is that the Rangers have a lot of work to do, and based on where they want to go, things would be a lot easier without having to worry about Staal.

This is because the Rangers need to not only balance the defenders they have playing in the NHL, but also have the room and opportunity for evaluation in Hartford. If a prospect like Miller is ready to turn pro next year, things are complicated if the team is still evaluating a Hajek or a Lindgren, and could lead to an awkward shuffling of players. Marc Staal still being around would only add to that.

It is unfortunate that he has suffered the injuries he has because by all accounts he’s a great human being that was a very good defender for the Blueshirts who logged important minutes during the Black and Blueshirts era.

But the Rangers have eyes on the future, and have already made a lot of difficult decision already. There’s no easy or magic solution to be made, and it will be fascinating to see how things unfold in the coming weeks.

Stats via Evolving-Hockey.