New York Rangers

Klein Injury Illustrates Need to Restructure Rangers’ Defense

Kevin Klein is out indefinitely with a fractured thumb and it couldn’t have come at a worse time.

The New York Rangers occupy a playoff position within the Metropolitan Division but the spread from second to fifth in the division is razor thin.

 

The Rangers’ spotty defense has been documented for the entirety of the season and the right side, Klein excluded, is by far the team’s biggest weakness. Dan Girardi is no longer a top-four defender, and his lack of mobility has been exploited by the opposition on an increasingly regular basis.

Dan Boyle is 39 and likely to retire at the end of the season, or at the very least leave the Rangers.

Dylan McIlrath is a major bright spot for the team, and a player who should already be seeing more regular ice time, but his injection into the lineup isn’t going to do much. It won’t be due to a lack of ability on the part of McIlrath, but because it is unlikely that he is going to see the same amount of minutes as Klein.

According to War on Ice, Klein’s time on ice per game at even strength is 16.9 minutes, which ties him with Ryan McDonagh. Here is how Klein ranks by situation, juxtaposed by his expected replacement.

Recent history suggests that Girardi will inherit the lion’s share of the new minutes up for grabs, and McIlrath will get the leftovers.

In a perfect world, Klein should be playing on the top pairing, McIlrath on the second, and the third pairing would be a rotation of Girardi and Boyle. However reality indicates that going forward there’s a good chance the pecking order on the right side will go from Girardi to Boyle to McIlrath.

It goes without saying that the loss of Klein hurts the Rangers right now, but there’s a chance his absence will provoke a reaction move that hurts New York in the long-term. As the trade deadline draws near, the Rangers will likely be shopping for additional defense. What the Rangers can’t afford to do is overpay for a fringe defender with NHL experience for the sake of adding “veteran presence”.

However, they do need to make some sort of move.

With Klein out and McIlrath back in, the Rangers lack a spare defender who can be strategically placed in the lineup. Dan Boyle’s shortcomings have been a popular focal point by a number of the local media, and while they may be slightly overblown, it would be foolhardy to dispute that some time off every few games wouldn’t be beneficial to his overall success.

The veteran puck mover can be a real asset when he’s at the top of his game, and to achieve that level he can’t be playing every night. In the AHL, the Rangers have defenders who can be called up such as Brady Skjei, Raphael Diaz or even Ryan Graves, but none are a perfect fit for the role that needs to be occupied by Klein.

Klein’s injury could prompt a trade that adds a top four defender to provide temporary defensive depth, but it wouldn’t be the right move at this point in time. New York has a number of fatal flaws, and dealing future assets to put a Band-Aid on an oozing wound is counterproductive. Making such a move would also mean McIlrath is likely banished to the press box upon Klein’s return, and that would hinder his development.

McIlrath was drafted in 2010, and has had nothing but bad luck as he develops. He’s finally reached a point where he’s healthy and can make an impact, but unfortunately he seems to be in Alain Vigneault’s doghouse, despite out-performing other players on the roster.

Overall, Klein’s injury puts the Rangers in a very difficult spot. They are going to be without their top right-handed defender, they are probably going to have to give more minutes to an inferior defender which may prompt general manager Jeff Gorton to make a reactionary move.

Wednesday was a rather rainy day in New York for the Rangers, and while they say that when it rains it pours; at least it isn’t snowing… yet.

 

Stats via War-on-Ice.

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