Sometimes loyalty can get in the way of making smart decisions.
The Rangers were extremely loyal to Dan Girardi … and for good reason. Over his 11 seasons with the Blueshirts, he poured his heart and soul into the organization, and sacrificed his body time and time again.
Unfortunately, this type of physical sacrifice can take away important elements from a player’s game. As Girardi aged, his possession numbers began to drop and his lack of mobility became an issue that the Rangers couldn’t compensate for any longer with the quickly changing NHL landscape.
Over the last two seasons, the Penguins have shown the future lies in a mobile defense. Whom of which, are adept at pressuring the puck, maintaining good foot speed to challenge offensive angles in the defensive zone, as well as begin a transition towards offense. The Predators were extremely close to this same type of success using a similar formula, and the Senators came within an overtime goal of defeating the Penguins while riding the brilliance of Erik Karlsson.
Looking at Girardi’s metrics from this two-plus season sample, it’s pretty evident that even when paired with an elite talent like Ryan McDonagh, he just couldn’t compete at the highest level any longer.
While Girardi’s ratios weren’t horrific, the counting stats said otherwise.
When I looked at his even strength shot metrics, we can see that the Rangers relied more on Henrik Lundqvist and Antti Raanta to be extremely sharp in net. Girardi carried a .475 expected goal total even when paired with McDonagh at even strength. This number dropped to .439 without the Rangers captain. As we can see above, the Blueshirts struggled with the high danger area and struggled to clear the crease, a surprising total considering the reputation for the stay-at-home defensemen to win board battles and clear the front of the net.
While McDonagh carried a positive expected goal total of .523, and has consistently done so, this number jumped to .573 when separated from Girardi.
McDonagh goes from being an average defenseman to a dominant one when he doesn’t have to carry the defensive zone burden of clearing the zone by himself. While the pairing with Girardi made sense in a traditional mold, it created an extra responsibility to manage all the zone clearances, should it be from skating to transition or passing.
If the Rangers go with a more mobile defender, it not only can create a more solid defensive tandem, but it also can play to their strength of speedy forwards. The Rangers are deadly in transition and they have the forwards for an aggressive pressure forecheck like the Penguins.
With Lundqvist showing the first possible signs of a decline, the Rangers need to give him more support. You can’t ride goaltending alone to a championship anymore, and the Penguins proved that with no more than adequate goaltending to win back-to-back Cups.
While it hurts to say goodbye to a loyal Rangers veteran, the Rangers were wise to push aside loyalty to make themselves a stronger hockey team moving forward.