General manager Jeff Gorton deserves credit where credit is due for how he handled the New York Rangers’ cap in the 2016 offseason. With limited resources, he was able to skillfully retain key restricted free agents, add depth up front and on the blueline and make a significant move at center. Thus far the Rangers have reaped the benefits of Gorton’s maneuvers with players such as Michael Grabner, Brandon Pirri, Jimmy Vesey etc., but one player brought into the fold this summer has been grossly underutilized.
Adam Clendening is in a situation in which he has been set up to fail. That may seem like a harsh critique, but it is the honest truth. Since the preseason Clendening has shown an ability to skate and distribute the puck on offense while simultaneously limiting chances on defense. The 6’0″, 196-pound native of Niagara Falls, NY is at the ripe age of 24 and should have appeared in more than six games to date.
He started the season strong averaging 17:20, 19:12, 14:48 and 20:45 in his first four games and then his minutes decreased to 11:55 for a reason that hasn’t been made known to the public. Clendening’s next appearance saw him record an assist in a victory against the Winnipeg Jets and he finished the game with 16:31. That game was on November 6, and Clendening hasn’t *played since.
The reason for the asterisk is because Clendening dressed for the Rangers against the Edmonton Oilers during New York’s Western Canada road trip, but he spent the entire game on the bench.
— Tom Urtz Jr. (@TomUrtzJr) November 14, 2016
That situation was troubling for a number of reasons, because it seems as if Clendening was being singled out whether it was intentional or not. After the contest head coach Alain Vigneault explained that he envisioned that Clendening would get in the game only if the Rangers went on the power play. At no point did he consider adjusting his strategy, even though the Rangers were in the second game of a back-to-back and were getting atrociously outshot by a rested Edmonton squad.
At this point you might be saying that it is somewhat rediculous to be talking about a sixth/seventh defenseman in such great detail when the Blueshirts are atop the division and second in the Eastern Conference. That is all good and well, but the Rangers have a serious problem on defense that could negate the good that has been the forward group.
There is no disputing the fact that Dan Girardi is 32 years old, and struggles to put together a consistent effort each and every night. He has on and off games, with more of his games being of the off variety. His mobility is greatly diminished from years of blocking shots and playing physical hockey, and he finds himself caught out of position with greater frequency than ever before. Originally the team wanted to periodically rest Girardi to keep him fresh, but that hasn’t happened as planned because he is still being utilized in a top pairing role.
— Larry Brooks (@NYP_Brooksie) November 7, 2016
This is something that represents a huge risk for the Rangers, because they will not win a Stanley Cup with him on the top pair. Furthermore, it is unfair for the team to ask Girardi to play a role he is no longer capable of filling. The NHL is a speed game, and Girardi isn’t fleet of foot.
In terms of possession, Girardi is at a Corsi For of 197 and a Corsi Against of 254 which breaks down to a split of 48.56 for and 62.61 percent against per sixty minutes. That differential is worst on the team and right behind him is Kevin Klein, the Rangers’ second pairing defender on the right side. His split is a Corsi For of 235 and a Corsi Against of 275 which breaks down to a split of 51.49 for and 60.25 against per sixty minutes.
When it comes to shot prevention, things are even worse for Girardi and Klein. Thus far Girardi has a SF/SA (shots attempts for/ shot attempts against) split of 113 for and 126 against which equate to a rating of 27.85 for and 31.06 against per sixty minutes. In simple terms, when Girardi is on the ice the Rangers have the puck less and are forced to defend shots rather than push the play and generate offense.
Klein’s break in terms of SF/SA is a split of 121 for and 147 against which equates to a rating of 26.51 for and 32.21 against. Once again, when Klein is on the ice the Rangers are chasing the puck more than they are forcing the opposition to chase them.
Given this information, there is no logical reason why Clendening hasn’t seen more playing time, especially in situations such as the second game of a back-to-back. While I understand the sample size is small for Clendening, here is a look at his metrics in each game he’s played this season at even-strength.
This is a lot to take in, so I will hit the high points. In every game Clendening has played, he has had a positive Rel.CF% and Rel.SF%. That’s very impressive and speaks to the fact of the value he plays when he is on the ice and when he is off. For example, the Rangers’ collective CF% and SF% while Clendening was on the ice vs. the New York Islanders was 73.91 and 71.43 respectively. Those numbers were worse by 32.74 and 28.19 respectively when he was off the ice. Granted that was an extreme situation, but you can see that Rangers are better with him on the ice versus when he is off. At even strength his average Rel.CF% is 14.883 and his Rel.SF% is 16.435, and those numbers indicate he is routinely providing a shot prevention and puck possession service for the Rangers.
So what does all this mean? Simply put, the Rangers have a solid asset on their bench that is going to waste. At the very least Clendening should be spelling Klein or Girardi at times, but he’s good enough to fill a normal role. He is the perfect foil for a defender like Brady Skjei, and if the Rangers played it right the pairing could become a fixture for the next few seasons given each’s age. In no way is Clendening the savior, but he’s shown he can be an NHL defender with the Rangers. It isn’t going to work if he is playing only so often, because that will lead to a situation in which he will be unable to establish a routine. That is the situation Dylan McIlrath was in, and he’s no longer with the organization. In even simpler terms, the Rangers know what Girardi and Klein can’t be. They have an idea of what Clendening is already. If anything he deserves a chance to have an expanded role until he proves otherwise.