It has been a little over a year since the Rangers got defenseman Jacob Trouba from the Winnipeg Jets. At the time of the trade many Rangers fans thought that Jeff Gorton had completely robbed the Jets and many Jets fans were underwhelmed with the return. The Rangers essentially acquired Trouba and Brendan Lemieux for Neal Pionk and two months of Kevin Hayes. Pionk was a right handed defenseman and was not going to be someone we used on the roster with Tony DeAngelo having a spot, along with Adam Fox and Nils Lundkvist coming up soon; the position was already loaded. So Gorton could afford to give up Pionk especially since he was getting a proven defenseman in return and Pionk was coming off his first full season. I remember seeing fans on Twitter say that Pionk’s advanced analytics were terrible, with pictures of heat maps and bar graphs that I don’t think I will ever understand. And the fact that Trouba was coming off of a 50 point season it seemed as if this trade was a slam dunk win for the Rangers. So far however, it is very much the opposite.
Pionk turned heads in his first season in Winnipeg, where he played 71 games, scoring 6 goals to go along with 39 assists for 45 points which was tied for 11th among defensemen. He also improved defensively with a +10 rating compared to a -16 last season. As Pionk took a big step forward from last year, Trouba took a large step backwards with the Rangers. Trouba’s point total was basically cut in half as he only had 27 points in 70 games. He was also a -12 compared to last season’s rating of +8. He only had 8 points on the power play this season while he had 18 last season. Part of that was because he was not playing on the Rangers’ top power play unit, instead playing second line minutes but since the Rangers relied heavily on the top line featuring Panarin and Zibanejad, Trouba did not have as much ice time on the power play, especially towards the end of the season. The Rangers did however use DeAngelo on the top power play unit and he had 19 power play points in his career year. There is a clear difference between each of the players’ last two seasons and I believe a lot of that has to deal with defensive coaching.
If you watched any Rangers games this year you can see just how awful they are defensively, especially towards the beginning of the season. However, the Rangers’ defensive core was among the league leaders in points percentage, which is a large reason for why they had a positive goal differential as a team and a total plus/minus rating of +21 among defenders. It wasn’t until the end of the season where the Rangers started to play as a team and play for their goalies. The only reliable defenseman the entire season was Adam Fox, who was ironically a rookie. Also, Ryan Lindgren was a solid defensive defenseman once he was called up in November. Oh yeah, he was also a rookie too. Trouba stepping up at the red line rather than at his blue line, Brady Skjei looking completely lost on defense, and d-men stepping up in the offensive zone leading to far too many odd man rushes. These are all the things I noticed that were very common which explain just why the defense was so atrocious. And for this I blame Lindy Ruff. For some reason, when he joined the Rangers back in 2017-18, the best defensemen like Ryan McDonagh and Kevin Shattenkirk got inexplicably worse and the Rangers suffered as a result. Take a look at the table I made below.
Of course under Alain Vigneault the Rangers had very good teams and the defensive core was at its strongest from 2013 to 2017. Assistant coach Ulf Samuelsson did a lot in helping create one of the strongest defensive cores in the league and even Jeff Beukeboom did well in his one season as an assistant coach. However, once Lindy Ruff joined, the team did a complete 180. The Rangers went from a +37 goal differential in 2016-17 to a -35 in 2017-18. Yes this was the year the Rangers began their rebuild but it wasn’t until the end of the season that they decided to blow it all up. They still had a great forward core and they had McDonagh and free agent acquisition, Kevin Shattenkirk on defense. I’ll agree that it was the weakest team they put out under AV but it was still a team that was expected to make the playoffs. With Lindy Ruff’s system Shattenkirk, although he was injured for most of 2017-18, was definitely not the same player; the one the Rangers thought they were getting. McDonagh was not as good as he was in previous years and this is emphasized by the fact that he was a +38 in his first full season with the Lightning. Shattenkirk immediately returned to the player he once was as soon as he joined Tampa Bay scoring 34 points with a +22 rating. Need more proof that Ruff was the reason for our lackluster defense? As I said before Trouba went from a great player to a mediocre one in one season while Pionk went from a mediocre defenseman to a really good player once he was traded. Ruff has never won the Stanley Cup, although he came really close in 1999, but Brett Hull ruined that when he scored in overtime. I believe that Ruff has only one thing on his mind:
But in all seriousness, Ruff joining the Devils is great for the Rangers because they can find someone else that can help mold the young defense core and possibly turn them into the best in the league.