Even after a career year, Tony DeAngelo wasn’t just identified by his play last season. Baggage has followed DeAngelo throughout his career — baggage the New York Rangers were keenly aware of when acquiring him. But because of his on-ice potential, which they finally saw more than glimpses of these last two seasons, they invested in the defender.
Until now, that is. The Rangers placed the right-handed on waivers Sunday.
The difference now, unlike last year, is that his play isn’t enough to mask his off-ice incidents, which have become more untenable than ever. And teams typically only grow a conscience when there isn’t high caliber play to defend its decision making since winning is, and always will be, the highest priority.
The Rangers are DeAngelo’s third NHL team since the Tampa Bay Lightning drafted him in 2014 despite noted ‘character’ flaws, including suspensions for abusing officials and using a slur against his teammate while with the Sarnia Sting of the OHL, marking two instances of him breaking the league’s harassment, abuse, and diversity policy. Following the draft, then general manager Steve Yzerman acknowledged DeAngelo’s past, their expectations, and no tolerance for any further improper conduct.
While DeAngelo made an impact offensively with Tampa Bay’s AHL affiliate, he found himself as a healthy scratch on numerous occasions and was traded to the Arizona Coyotes in 2016 before ever reaching the NHL. He made his debut in November of that year and just a few months later, those disciplinary issues reared their head with a three-game suspension for ‘Physical Abuse of Officials.’
That offseason, DeAngelo was on the move once again, this time to New York, along with the seventh overall pick, in exchange for Derek Stepan and Antti Raanta. DeAngelo played eight of the first 10 games to start the 2017-18 season before being sent down the AHL. While the move was perplexing at the time, and appeared to be poor asset management given their rebuilding state and the blue line around him, controversy once again followed. This time, for his interactions with fans on social media.
Eventually, because of injuries, DeAngelo was promoted to the NHL, though his stint was short-lived after sustaining an injury of his own that ended his season.
The following season, DeAngelo had a ‘clean slate’ under a new head coach in David Quinn. Stylistically, the defender fit Quinn’s playing style between his puck possession game and bite. And Quinn’s hands-on, communication-based approach appeared to be the right fit to help him reach his potential and stay accountable and disciplined.
The process hasn’t been perfectly smooth; DeAngelo’s discipline, or lack thereof, has become a liability at points, as has his defensive game. And those on-ice missteps were typically handled swiftly, whether he was benched or healthy scratched. But the reward of play-driving and power play impact appeared to balance the risk of his flaws for the team.
The heat maps below help reflect both sides of his game. The top row represents his offensive impact, where red areas show where more offense is generated. The bottom row is the defensive zone, where red once again shows where more offense is created — and therein lies the problem as offense is created on both ends with the defender on the ice.
His future in New York was already in question because he doesn’t suppress much offense against, let alone the ever-growing baggage he carries.
Jacob Trouba’s signed for another six seasons, four of which have a no-movement clause, at $8 million on average. Adam Fox surpassed DeAngelo on both ends of the ice on the right-sided depth chart, and will likely be in for a significant raise in 2022. DeAngelo, on the other hand, just signed his third contract, a two-year deal worth $4.8 million on average. His next contract could be even heftier if his offensive production continued, but that’s quite the investment for a defender who is a liability on one side of the ice and likely has to remain third on the depth chart because of the concerns in defensive usage. A team can’t afford to spend that much on a defender whose usage has to be so carefully monitored, nor one who requires a strong defensive presence on his pair to stay afloat.
In an effort to balance the defense, and potentially boost DeAngelo’s value to the team, the coaches attempted to shift him to the left. The experiment was short-lived due to poor performances in training camp, which put his future even further in question as the Rangers have a right-handed defensive prospect in Nils Lundkvist who is projected to become an impact NHL’er.
And then of course, there’s the rest of the package that is Tony DeAngelo. His social media presence more than just crossed the line, but absolutely plowed through it. The defender’s viewpoints are dangerous, between promoting conspiracies about the United States’ election being rigged and denying the catastrophic impact of COVID-19. That was until he announced publicly that he was leaving Twitter for another platform in Parler.
The team not only supported DeAngelo, but at times, expanded his platform, which may have enabled his behavior.
That is, until, this season.
A player’s off-ice actions can be ignored or pushed aside if their on-ice play drives a team closer to winning. Last year, DeAngelo did that with his offense — especially when deployed with the team’s elite play-making forward, Panarin.
That said, it does have some legs. DeAngelo with Panarin the rangers are FEARSOME offensively, generously score- and zone-deployed, outscore opponents 31-16. Dominant. pic.twitter.com/LFUeOFMZcf— Micah Blake McCurdy (@IneffectiveMath) January 31, 2021
DeAngelo then stood out for all of the wrong reasons in the team’s Return to Play. But it was only a three-game sample after a long layoff, and he wasn’t the only member of the team to struggle.
This season, however, has been a different story. In Game 1, DeAngelo’s overreaction to a hooking penalty led to a second minor for unsportsmanlike conduct — something that was particularly noticeable in an empty arena.
As a result, he sat the following game. And because the team performed so well in the game he sat, the defender missed the next game as well.
When DeAngelo returned, he was missing something that was essential to his game last year: a role on the first power play unit. Fox, the sophomore that already jumped him on the depth chart at even strength, became the first unit’s quarterback. And because of his two-way abilities, particularly defending the blue line to keep play in the offensive zone, he’s rightfully remained on the first unit ever since. DeAngelo joined the first unit, in addition to Fox, the last two games, and finally earned his first point there against the Penguins on Saturday.
As a whole, the team actually hasn’t allowed as many shots or quality chances with DeAngelo deployed — the few that they have allowed, though, have stood out for all of the wrong reasons. And he hasn’t been driving play at even strength. While his partners, a rotation of Jack Johnson and Brendan Smith, may be dragging him down, his salary does dictate the expectations for his level of play.
One point in six games surely isn’t enough for a defender who brings toxic energy into the locker room.
The Athletic’s Rick Carpiniello reported an altercation after Saturday’s loss between Alexandar Georgiev and DeAngelo. That came shortly after an on-ice miscommunication between the defender and netminder just before the Penguins’ game-winning goal.
The following morning, DeAngelo was put on waivers, potentially ending his career in New York. If unclaimed, he could be assigned to Hartford, the taxi squad, or remain on the team in the hopes that this pushes him to change his ways. Quinn has already noted that he will not be in the lineup Monday night, regardless.
Should DeAngelo receive yet another chance?
Players with fewer issues, but often less perceived upside, usually don’t. There’s only so many positions available at the NHL level, which should be a privilege. DeAngelo’s already received numerous chances in the league, and in New York specifically.
Teams don’t always jump to make a change after there’s some sort of internal altercation between players, such as a fight at practice.
This incident, however, is just one piece of the puzzle.
This situation has forced the Rangers’ hands more than ever with DeAngelo. And this time, he isn’t playing at such a high level to vindicate his antics, as it often does in hockey. So what comes next?