The Rangers have had a rough go on the injury report as of late. Out of all the sporadic games missed, the blue line has been the most in flux. McDonagh, Staal and Klein have all missed games in the past month and full health in the defensive corps hasn’t been the status quo most of 2016.
With the captain targeting a return on Thursday, that will make all seven of the Rangers defenseman active. The Blueshirts top five defensman are clear but does the best lineup involve Dan Boyle or Dylan McIlrath? Alain Vigneault has to take a hard look at whether the veteran Boyle is the seventh best player at a position with six spots available.
In the time that the Rangers have played with interchanging lines defensively, Yandle has excelled, McIlrath has stepped up and the rest of the core has been, to no surprise, solid and reliable. Boyle’s age and decline have shown in his increased exposure with decreasing offensive output. The statistics show it. He has had three points in 21 games since the turn of the year and his plus-minus of 3 is the lowest of any defenseman who has played a minute this season for the Rangers.
This most staggering and concerning at times when he has giveaways in the defensive zone. His insecurity with the puck has shown for those who have watched the majority of games this year. One just can’t feel as secure with the puck on his stick as it would with the five other starters. On the other hand, McIlrath comes with inexperience and his inexperience is a risk as the games only become more important going forward. One cannot envy this decision as Boyle does bring the intangibles of nearly 20 years in the league and lots of big games under his belt while McIlrath contributes physicality and has a likely advantage is upside.
This wouldn’t be the first time the Rangers have had issues with over the hill skaters. Be it Martin St. Louis at 39, Brad Richards struggling in the playoffs after an unreasonable workload in a mid-30s regular season or the dreaded Wade Redden experience, one must not look too far back to find examples of New York putting too much on the shoulders of players with too many miles. This decision could be pivotal as the playoffs creep ever closer.
The team has just over 20 games remaining to find what they have and perhaps the solution is to split time amongst McIlrath and Boyle, going with the hot hand, but the fact of the matter is that Jeff Gorton, Vigneault and all other decision makers should be open to Boyle not being the teams best option down the stretch.