If the New York Rangers want to maximize their roster, Alain Vigneault will have to make Marc Staal take a seat on the bench.
When Eric Staal signed a three-year deal with the Minnesota Wild on Jul. 1, New York Rangers fans were more than content to see him go. The former Carolina Hurricanes center was a disaster in the Big Apple, posting a mere six points in 20 contests in the regular season. He went pointless and was a miserable -7 in five playoff games with the Blueshirts.
It’s safe to say that his short tenure was a disaster from the start and there was no reason why Jeff Gorton would’ve even thought for a second to bring him back.
While it wasn’t tough to say goodbye to this Staal, saying goodbye to the other one would be much tougher (well, for the front office at least).
Yes, I’m talking about Marc Staal.
When the New York Rangers drafted Staal with the 12th overall pick back in 2005, the Blueshirts thought they would be getting a future stud who would be able to dominate defensively while putting up significant numbers on the other end of the ice as well.
He definitely was on track to do that. At 6-foot-4 and 207 pounds, Staal was able to establish himself as a premier defensive and physical threat right from the get-go. He continued to get better throughout his first four years in the NHL, especially offensively. His point totals increased each year, from 10 points in year one to 29 points in year four.
Another thing to add is that Staal was incredibly consistent. He played 321 of a possible 328 regular season games in those first four years.
Staal had already begun to establish himself as one of the league’s best all around defenseman before even reached his prime.
Then the injuries began to mount.
Staal suffered a concussion towards the end of the 2010-2011 season from his aforementioned brother Eric. It wasn’t deemed to serious at first, but he suffered major setbacks that forced him to miss the first 36 games of the season. He only posted five points in 46 games, but was much better in the playoffs, recording six points in 20 playoff contests.
He started to become himself again in 2012-2013. The Canadian put up 11 points in his first 21 games, the most among Rangers defenseman at the time. He then took a puck to the eye, abruptly ending his breakout season.
Staal hasn’t been the same player ever since that unfortunate injury. He put up only 14 points the next year, but bounced back slightly the next year by recording 20 points and playing solid defense in a contract year.
Then the dreaded extension happened.
Glen Sather nonsensically gave Staal a six-year deal, worth $5.7 million annually with a full-no movement clause. What in the world was he thinking? Yes, Staal was having a decent year, but come on Glen, six-years? That’s just ridiculous.
Staal has not lived up to his contract at all so far. The veteran lefty has gotten much slower, leading to big decreases in not only offensive production, but also defensively. The 29-year-old was repeatedly left in the dust last year in addition to his declining offensive game, leading him to plummet down Alain Vigneault’s depth chart.
That brings us to today. The Rangers have so many question marks defensively coming into this year, with one of them being what to do with Staal.
Let’s take a look at some options. Trading him would be virtually impossible due to his cap hit and no-trade clause. Buying out his contract is an enticing option, but Gorton has said he has no plans to buyout Staal. The most likely option would be to play him, and that is probably what will end up happening.
But should he?
The answer is no, and there are a lot of reasons why.
First, the direction the franchise would like to move isn’t in line with Staal’s current career. If we take a look at the projected roster for the Blueshirts, it’s evident that the Rangers are trying to get younger. Alain Vigneault’s squad has a surplus of players at the age of 25 or younger. Staal would only be making this team older, so why not plug in Dylan McIlrath to the everyday lineup?
McIlrath has a bright future ahead of him. The former first-round pick is a physically imposing defenseman who won’t back down from anyone. He has a good shot from the point, but still has work to do if he wants to become a top pair defenseman. He’s only going to get better if he gets playing time, so why have Staal take up his spot in the lineup?
Now it’s likely that many people will argue that Dan Girardi should be the man to take a seat after his atrocious 2015-16 season. Though, it’s possible that Girardi will bounce back this year. He played with a cracked kneecap for the second half of last year and even with how bad he was, the veteran was still +16 last year. Girardi deserves another shot this year, unlike Staal.
Taking Staal out of the lineup would also balance the defenseman out. Assuming Vigneault would add McIlrath to the defensive corps, there would be three righties and three lefties at the point for the Blueshirts, establishing better balance on the blueline.
Staal also isn’t getting any better. At 29, his best days are certainly behind him unlike McIlrath, 24, who we can only expect to improve.
Taking Marc Staal out of the lineup would be a difficult decision to make. His cap hit along with him being an alternate captain pretty much guarantees that he will be in the top six come Oct. 13. But if the New York Rangers want to be a better team next year and in the future, it’s vital that Staal find himself a comfortable seat on the bench.