New York Rangers: What Is Wrong With Ryan McDonagh?
(Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)

If the New York Rangers have any chance of contending for Lord Stanley’s Cup this season, they must fix what’s wrong with Ryan McDonagh.

Excuses are continuing to mount for Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh. Monday night, in a disastrous performance against the Dallas Stars, the New York Rangers looked as bad as they have all season. McDonagh, once again, was one of the team’s most visibly bad players.

Ryan McDonagh has been very, very bad. He’s being beaten to the net by inferior players like Tom Wilson in Washington. He’s being outbattled for pucks along the boards and he is being dominated throughout the game by the opposing team’s top line. It seems like every single shift with the McDonagh line is spent in the Rangers’ defensive end.

Previous assertions of McDonagh being injured have been mentioned all year. But, the defenseman has had time off, been rested at practice, and genuinely seems healthy. What is the problem?

McDonagh has been making poor decisions when pinching all season, allowing odd-man rushes up the other end of the ice. He has followed his man to the point, without seeing any forward dropping in his place, and left Nick Holden alone in front with two opposing forwards. He’s allowing men to get behind him, screening Henrik Lundqvist and gaining position on him. On top of all of this, he has been playing poorly in transition defense and has even been caught puck-watching.

His issues go well beyond physical regression or potential injury. Not only have his offensive numbers been down, but his defense has been mediocre at best.

So what is he contributing?

Fans and media alike are continuing to make excuses for McDonagh, who has become somewhat of a fan-favorite in New York. He can do no wrong. But it is certainly evident that he is playing poorly; it can even be said that he is hurting the team!

Now, his defensive partner, Holden, is the worst defenseman on the team. He can not play defense, offense, skate, puck handle or pass. Of course, this holds McDonagh back as a defenseman. It results in him spending his entire shift in his own zone, constantly defending, blocking shots and battling in front of the net.

But, despite having a bad partner, everyone should expect more from the captain of the team. He has had slow and decrepit partners before, yet has still defended well and has managed to shine in New York.

Aside from goals, McDonagh has put up respectable offensive numbers this season, registering 15 assists and a plus-7 rating. He has had his average CF% of 48.4 while playing with a bad partner; it’s even up from his percentage last year, when he was visibly better, at 46.7.

But watching McDonagh defend tells another story. His defense has been concerning this season, and shows sign of regression. At 28 years old, this is a shocking notion, but is growing more apparent to me game by game.

If McDonagh continues to underperform, his future as a Ranger must be taken into consideration. He is on a team-friendly contract, at the moment, of $4.7 million per year, expiring in 2019-20 when he is 30 years old.

Signing him to a long-term deal after that, one in which he could be asking for between $6 and $7 million annually over the course of five or even six years, would be disastrous for the Rangers, who would have to consider rebuilding around that time. Prospects like Filip Chytil, Lias Andersson, Sean Day and Igor Shestyorkin will be making their presence felt at MSG by then.

Now, McDonagh could simply be nursing an injury that the fans know nothing about, while also struggling in head coach Alain Vigneault’s awful defensive system. All things must be considered.

A coaching change and new defensive philosophy could certainly help McDonagh, which should definitely be the first move before getting rid of him; I believe that I, and most Rangers fans, can agree on this.

The Rangers need their captain to be at his best in the face of adversity. Despite the bad defensive system, and his inadequate defensive partner, McDonagh, as an All-Star level defender and Rangers captain, has to endure, and overcome.

The defense is not deep for the Rangers. To be successful, they need McDonagh to be at his best. He needs to snap out of this funk fast, otherwise the Rangers will be playing golf and watching from home come playoff season in May.