Can Marc Staal Bounce Back?

Marc Staal had one of his toughest seasons as a New York Rangers defenseman last year, and at age 29, there is some concern about whether or not the veteran can return to being an elite shut-down defenseman. The issues in his game last season were similar to the issues that plagued Dan Girardi, as the two veterans struggled to make routine plays and often were a step slow against elite opponents. Staal could still be a helpful piece for New York, but he will need to do less, and fight through past injuries.

Fighting Injuries

Staal has worked through an injury caused by a puck to the eye, which was tough to watch. But if you look at his entire career, you’ll notice that concussions have also had an impact, particularly the one he received courtesy of a hard hit from his brother, Eric Staal.

Staal has been healthier these past two seasons, missing only five games in that span. Still, there’s no doubt that injuries of that magnitude can have a lasting effect on players. Skaters in the past have gone on to have success after concussions, but it is a difficult journey, to say the least. On the eye-injury front, the player that comes to mind is Bryan Berard, who was never quite the same after the injury, despite his continued efforts to play.

Injuries may not stop a player from continuing to play, but injuries of the like can certainly hinder a player’s development. This is why it could be hard to see Staal suddenly getting better after an off year. Just look at his offensive game before the injuries began, and then again after he had gotten through said issues. In the 2009-10 season, he had 27 points in 82 games. He followed that season by recording 29 points in 77 games. He then played 67 regular season games over the next two seasons and had 16 points combined. Staal’s numbers have come around a bit over the last two years, with 35 points combined, but there’s no denying that the offensive pop that would appear in his game from time-to-time in the past has diminished.

Keeping It Simple

Staal can still be effective; he just needs to simplify his overall game. He looks like he’s lost a step, and he’s not overly smooth with the puck. He can still have success if he just focuses on staying at home on defense and getting the puck up the wall to the forwards, however. The Rangers don’t need Staal to be an offensive threat, just a shut-down man. As for points, there’s plenty to be scooped up just by making simple plays.

Staal could also stand to be more physical, as he only had 65 hits last season. He will also need to minimize the giveaways; he had 49 last season, which isn’t bad, considering that he was fourth among Rangers’ defenders in the category. But if the goal is just to be reliable defensively, those turnovers won’t help. Two of the other leaders in giveaways on the Rangers last year were Keith Yandle (76) and Ryan McDonagh (67), but it’s understandable  for them, as both players often tried to make offensive plays from the back-end. Staal, on the other hand, may have tried to make too much out of nothing, too frequently.

My Take

Marc Staal has been a terrific Rangers defenseman for a long time, and I don’t understand why he gets so much heat from the fans. Sure, he had a rough year last season, but considering all he’s been through as a player, it’s not unexpected that he’d have an off year at some point. I think Staal will have a solid year for the Rangers, as it seems like everyone is now on the same page in terms of expectations. If he could just solidify his game in his own end, and not worry about the other side of the puck, then he could be a huge help to the Rangers and put last season behind him.