By Jacob Wallman
The New York Rangers sent a message Sunday, the day before the NHL’s Trade Deadline, acquiring Coyotes Defensemen Keith Yandle (largely considered one of the best players on the trading block) and Chris Summers, along with a 2015 4th Round pick for top prospect Anthony Duclair, defenseman John Moore, and the Rangers’ 2017 First-rounder and 2016 Second-rounder. By trading those picks and Duclair, who was possibly their best prospect, the Rangers (who have not had a first round draft pick since 2012 and will now not have one until 2017) are announcing “We’re going Stanley Cup or bust, baby!”. To find out if Yandle was worth the price, one question has to be answered: Does Yandle make the Rangers a Cup favorite?
What Does Yandle Bring To The Table?
While few doubt the offensive capabilities and power play prowess of Yandle, who has hit the forty point mark five times and currently leads all defensemen in power-play points for 2014-15, his defense and even strength play have come into serious question. Unfortunately for the Rangers, a look at the stats sheet not only seems to confirm those suspicions.
To put it nicely, Coyotes coach Dave Tippet (who, having coached Yandle since the defenseman’s second full season, is possibly more familiar with Yandle than anyone in the league) did not trust ‘ole Keith with a single ounce of defensive responsibility. In 63 games with the Coyotes this season, Yandle only played 6:46 of shorthanded ice time, which comes out to a pathetic average 00:06 per-game. Of the top 150 NHL defensemen in ice time this year, that is the single lowest average! It’s not even as if the Coyotes penalty is good; the PK unit that Yandle couldn’t even come close to frequenting is the 4th-worst in the league. This is also not a new trend, as Yandle, going back through the 2011-12 season, has only played forty-one minutes of penalty kill time.
I also looked at his even strength statistics, and Yandle doesn’t fare well there, either. His even strength relative Corsi (+.06) and relative Fenwick (+1.01) suggest that the team has been marginally better while he’s on the ice, even this small victory for Yandle is misleading. His relative Corsi and Fenwick actually seem quite low when one considers his zone start percentage (56.78%, which was the third highest of all Coyotes players with at least thirty games played, and the single highest of any Arizona defenseman with more than 25 games), which suggests that his defensive pairing was playing the easiest five-on-five minutes, and the presence of star defender Oliver Ekman-Larsson on the team’s first pairing, means that Yandle probably wasn’t facing the toughest opponents, either.
Over the last two seasons, the gulf between Yandle’s power play and even strength productivity has widened. The bad news is that, while 0f the 311 points Yandle has scored over his carreer, roughly 51.5% of them have come at even strength (which isn’t bad), only 37% of his points being scored in non-special teams play. The good news is that at least some of this can be attributed to the Coyotes mediocrity as a whole, and on Yandle’s increased power play production. In the last two years, his power play points-per 60 minutes has been a great 5.4, which is a big improvement on the mark of 4.0 that he’d put up in his career beforehand.
He’s dynamite on the power play, and all my criticism about his defense doesn’t change the fact that he’s a great offensive player. But did the Rangers need him?
How Does Yandle Fit With The Rangers’ Strengths and Weaknesses?
Funnily enough, they might not actually need his power play assistance that much. While Yandle is an incredible addition to any power play, the Rangers have had the fourth-fewest power plays in the NHL, and though the Yandle-led Coyotes power play percentage was fifth best in the league, the Rangers are only 3% behind to begin with. In fact, swapping the Rangers’ and Coyotes’ power play percentages would only result in the Rangers gaining five goals to this point in the season.
However, I do believe the addition of an offensive defenseman is important, even though the Rangers’ defensive corps, as a whole has scored around the same amount as their counterparts on the NHL’s other top teams. This is partly because defenseman Kevin Klein’s 26 points in 63 games aren’t reflective of his offensive play. Both Klein’s personal shooting percentage (which, at 12.7% is second among all defensemen with at least 50 games played) and on-ice shooting percentage (which at 11.3% is the 8th highest among that group) are unsustainably high, especially when you consider his career personal percentage (5.1%) and on-ice percentage (8.4%). Also, otther than Klein, only Ryan McDonagh is averaging over 0.34 points per game, so Yandle brings individual offensive skill that they didn’t have that much of before.
More importantly that helping this slight deficiency of the Rangers, I think Yandle fits very well into the team’s strengths. Though he spent most of his first game in New York with Klein, a two-way defenseman, I think that coach Alain Vigneault will eventually get past the fact that both Yandle and defensively inclined Marc Staal are lefties and put them together, and that the partnership will allow Yandle to do what he does best (and is really the only thing he does): offense.
Does He Make the Rangers a Favorite? Was He Worth It?
No, and no.
While he was a good pickup, Keith Yandle is too one-dimensional to be that big of an addition. If you thought the Rangers were a championship favorite beforehand, you still do, but if you didn’t think they were, you probably still don’t (which defeats the entire “Cup or Bust” purpose of the trade).
Yandle doesn’t make the difference between a Cup Contender and a Cup Favorite, and that’s why he wasn’t worth Duclair, Moore, a First, and a Second (which were, collectively most of what was left of the Rangers’ future).