It’s no secret that the New York Rangers blue line has undergone a major renovation this off-season. In fact, only two Blueshirts “veteran defensemen” remain, Ryan McDonagh and Marc Staal. With the rest of the defensemen having at most a full season with the Rangers under their belt, 2017-18 marks a welcome new age for the Rangers defense.
New York Rangers Blue Line is the Biggest Change on Broadway
Updated Blue Line Spells Change for Staal
Marc Staal has spent 10 seasons in the NHL, all with the New York Rangers. Staal’s tenure with Manhattan’s hockey club makes him the longest tenured player left besides Henrik Lundqvist, the cornerstone of the franchise.
However, it has become evident within the past several years that Staal’s game has declined, especially since his gruesome eye injury versus the Flyers in on March 5, 2013. Additionally, Rangers management realizes that Lundqvist deserves better than the blue liners that have been in front of him. This triggered this off-season’s defensive overhaul, starting with Dan Girardi being bought out of his contract and then Kevin Klein retiring to the Swiss League. With only two or three solid years left in the King’s career, the Blueshirts need to bring him home the ultimate prize, the Stanley Cup.
Marc Staal Minutes
Staal had his second lowest average time on ice of 19:11 last season, lowest since his rookie year. Additionally, he’s making countless mistakes throughout the last several seasons. One being infamously poking Hank in the eye in the 2015-16 postseason, giving him a black eye and impeding his goaltending performance. Additionally, his play in front of the net has been careless and flimsy. Staal continues to get completely steamrolled by younger and stronger defensemen of the NHL’s future.
With Brady Skjei’s elevated role, Brendan Smith’s extended contract, McDonagh’s tenure as captain continuing, and the much anticipated acquisition of Kevin Shattenkirk, Staal’s minutes will see a drop this season. It could easily be as much as two minutes less on average. As Staal’s career continues to take less and less impressive turns, retiring is not too far away for this Staal brother.
It was the move that the doubters and pessimists thought impossible, but it happened. Kevin Shattenkirk signed with Rangers as a free agent for a steal of a deal. Shattenkirk signed on for four years for a total of $26.6 million. The hometown glory of being a Ranger is what ultimately swayed Shattenkirk to the Blueshirts but the Blueshirts needed his prowess on the power play desperately. The Rangers sat 17th on the power play by the end of the 16/17 season.
Shattenkirk is expected to play on a pair with Ryan McDonagh as a USA power-duo. Shattenkirk earned 14 points in 19 regular reason games with the Capitals and six points in 13 postseason games.
Another element adding to Staal’s diminished role will be the strength of Smith and Skjei. Skjei was one of the top rookies last season, a Calder snub, earning 40 points in the form of five goals and 35 assists. The Minnesota native also racked up 42 penalty minutes in his 80 games. Skjei is the future of the Rangers defense, no doubt.
As far as Brendan Smith, a late season trade with the Red Wings in exchange for multiple draft picks, his grit was a missing key element for the Rangers blue liners. Smith’s ability to drop the gloves adds a crucial edge. Additionally, with some talent to boot, Smith has a clear advantage. In fact, he adds the toughness received from Tanner Glass without needing to call up or use Glass at all.
Should we mourn Marc Staal’s diminished presence on this year’s blue line? Absolutely not. The Rangers defensive overhaul was long overdue. Now the Rangers have a stronger shot at being a Cup contender than their the last two seasons.