Keith Yandle Is Living Up To Expectations
Despite some criticism from the masses, Keith Yandle has played well and is bringing offense from the blue line that the Rangers have not seen since the days of Brian Leetch.
Keith Yandle has played 17 games with the Rangers since he was acquired from the Arizona Coyotes prior to the trading deadline. That's not a great sample size to reach a verdict on an acquisition - those who prematurely lamented the Martin St. Louis trade last season learned that the hard way - but it should be enough of a sample to get a good feel for a player's strengths and weaknesses.
Though not to the radical degree that Martin St. Louis experienced last season, there's been some skepticism with Yandle's play since being acquired. The power play - an improved one was supposed be Yandle's biggest contribution - is a pathetic 4-for-40 since he was acquired. He's also had his share of lapses defensively, and has made some poor turnovers.
Nonetheless, Yandle has, almost quietly, played extremely well for the Rangers. Even if the power play has not improved (yet), Yandle has been producing offensively. Yandle has two goals and nine assists through 17 games, which extrapolates to 9.6 goals and 43.4 assists over a full 82 game season. The Rangers have only had one defensemen (McDonagh last season) reach 43 points in a season since Brian Leetch's departure in 2004. Over this small sample, Yandle had produced at the expected rate and then some. And again, this is without the power play functioning.
That still does leave questions about his defensive work. Here's the truth; Yandle is not a very good defensive defenseman. That's not to say he's awful in his own end; it's just not his strength. At all. Via Own The Puck, here is how Yandle stacks up in various statistics since 2012-2013.
The one to focus on here is the Usage Adjusted Corsi Against per 60 (UA CA60). Essentially, Keith Yandle is not very good at suppressing the opposition's shooting opportunities. This should not be a surprise to anyone because he's been this way for his whole career. Is it an issue? Well, kind of.
The reality of any sport is that there are very few players who are good at virtually every aspect of it; the Sidney Crosby's and Ken Griffey Jr.'s and Lebron James' are generational talents. For everyone else, it's a weighing of their positives against their negatives and then adjusting accordingly.
This is a concept that is seemingly accepted for some players and not for others. Dominic Moore is not a particularly great offensive player; He's averaged just 10 goals and 27 points per season over his career. Nobody really cares because that's all that's really expected from him offensively. His true value lies in his ability to be a shutdown, penalty killing center. Put him on the top line and give him power play minutes and he'd underwhelm significantly. But play him in the correct role and he becomes a massive asset to a team trying to win the Stanley Cup.
For whatever reason, offensive defensemen don't seem to get the same benefit. No, Keith Yandle is not Chris Pronger, but very few defensemen in the NHL are up to that standard. Like Moore, his weaknesses should not matter so long as you have other personnel to cover them and you play him in the correct role. Alain Vigneault is happy to let Ryan McDonagh and Marc Staal battle nightly on the left side against the oppositions' top scorers because that's what they're good at. The Rangers don't need Yandle playing those tough minutes. Vigneault and defensive assistant Ulf Samuelsson, thus, are free to deploy Yandle in offensive situations and against the other team's depth forwards.
Even still, Yandle is going to make some defensive mistakes. Again, it's a weighing of the positives and negatives. As long as Yandle is contributing to more goals for the Rangers than he is to the opposition, then it's a net positive for the Rangers.
Perhaps the most persistent critique of Keith Yandle is his proneness to turnovers. And the stats do back this up; Yandle ranks 11th in the NHL in giveaways this season. But that lacks some incredibly important context.
You see, to give the puck away requires having it in the first place. Keith Yandle is a positive possession player and he is a guy for whom tactics specifically designate as the go-to puck carrier. Thus, logic dictates, the more you have the puck, the more you're going to turn it over. And on the other end, someone like Kevin Klein won't have many turnovers because he has the puck a lot less than everyone else does in the first place.
This thinking is backed up in practice when you look at the NHL's leaders in giveaways this season, via NHL.com.
That's quite the list. The players range from very good (Trouba, Gaudreau, Goligoski) to the elite (Doughty, Subban, Tavares, etc.). And, as you'd expect, all of these players are good in possession and, for the most part, carry the puck an awful lot.
This is one of the reasons why the so-called "eye test" can be deceiving. The brain registers it as a pattern instead of as a trait of a large sample. Nolan Ryan is the all-time leader in walks in baseball not because he was a bad pitcher, but because it was a circumstance of pitching so many innings over his career. Kobe Bryant is the NBA's all-time leader in missed shots despite being one of the best shooters of all-time; it's simply the consequence of him attempting that many shots.
Again, it's a weighing of the positives and negatives. When you're possessing the puck as much as Keith Yandle is, and tasked with setting up so many passes on the rush, you're inevitably going to turn the puck over some of the time. Hopefully the NHL will soon introduce tracking data, and we'll be able to quantify things such as passing percentage like in soccer. That will give us a true idea of who is actually turning pucks over at a poor rate. Based off the information we have now, though, it appears clear that the few times in which Yandle makes a poor decision with the puck are very much undermined by the dozens of successful outlet passes or rushes up the ice.
Was the trade a smart move by the Rangers? That remains to be seen and will depend upon the Rangers' success in the next couple of years, the development of Anthony Duclair, and so on. When looking at Yandle in a vacuum, though, he has lived up to his end of the bargain. He's not a great defensive player, but the Rangers don't need him to be. And his offensive ability is unlike anything the Rangers have had on the back end since Brian Leetch.
The trade is still fresh as well. Give Yandle some more time to get used to New York both on the ice and off of it. Once he's ingrained into the locker room socially and gets comfortable with Alain Vigneault's tactics, he'll play even more confidently. And hopefully play even better than he already has. Nonetheless, Rangers management, as well as the fans, should be happy with what Yandle has already brought to the table.