At the 2014 NHL trade deadline, the New York Rangers acquired defender Raphael Diaz from the Vancouver Canucks, and since that point, he has only traveled and practiced with the team. Diaz is a depth defender, but he was acquired for a reason.
Diaz has shown that he can be an average offensive defender, and that is something the Blueshirts could use on the back end. The Rangers have been in a state of flux over the past few games, and shaking things up could be just what the team needs.
Alain Vigneault needs to make decisions that can help his team win, so when should he give Diaz a shot in the lineup?
There is only one defender that Diaz could realistically replace, and that is Anton Stralman. The Rangers' other defenders have all carried their weight, but Stralman has been struggling as of late. Earlier this season, Stralman was an anchor that helped steady the waters during the Blueshirts' early struggles, but he hasn't been himself lately.
Stralman has been caught out of position, he has made costly turnovers and he has blown some assignments that have led to goals or quality scoring chances. It is safe to say that there is some pressure on Stralman as a pending free agent, and he could be feeling the heat.
It seems that Stralman's struggles coincide with reports from Larry Brooks of the New York Post indicating that he rejected a contract extension from the Rangers, so it isn't out of the question to suggest that the future is weighing on his mind.
Every player struggles from time to time, but the Rangers are at a crossroads.
With 12 games left in the regular season, the Rangers find themselves in third place of the Metropolitan Division with 74 points. They have a two-point lead on the Washington Capitals in fourth place and a two-point lead on the Columbus Blue Jackets in third, but Columbus has played two fewer games.
It goes without saying that points are at a premium at this time of year, and Vigneault needs to make decisions that help his hockey team. Diaz wouldn't be a permanent replacement for Stralman, but it would change the dynamic on the back end, and it would give Stralman a chance to see things from a different perspective.
|Assets||Is a smooth skater with puck poise and some offensive acumen. Moves the puck efficiently most of the time. Doesn't make a lot of mistakes when he has the puck.|
|Flaws||Lacks size and strength, so he can get knocked off the puck with relative frequency. Needs to be more assertive when on the ice, both on offense and defense.|
|Career Potential||Smooth, yet fragile puck-moving defenseman.|
The Hockey News
The report is pretty straight forward, and inserting him in for Stralman could work. Like Stralman, Diaz is a right-handed shot, and that is something important to note. The Rangers don't have many right-handed defenders who can play on the power play, so inserting him for Stralman could work.
While Stralman is unquestionably the better defensive defenseman, Diaz's offensive potential is higher. He is a smooth puck-mover and skater, and his offensive prowess could really help the lineup.
If this move were to happen, Vigneault could structure his pairings like this to ensure that there would be a solid balance.
|Ryan McDonagh||Raphael Diaz||McDonagh is a solid shutdown defender that could mesh well with Diaz's offensive skills, and he could cover for his defensive shortcomings.|
|Marc Staal||Dan Girardi||A reunion of the Rangers' former top pairing makes tons of sense with Diaz replacing Stralman.|
|John Moore||Kevin Klein||This pairing has been effective; no need to make any changes to it.|
Tom Urtz Jr.
What should Alain Vigneault do?
The above pairing features a nice blend of offense and defense, and it could really work for a stretch of games. Stralman would likely get his chance back in the lineup, but the move wouldn't be completely in vain.
It would be better to give Diaz some playing time and not need him for the playoffs than to sit him out and need to insert him in the lineup because of injury. There are virtually no negatives to giving Diaz a shot now, because he would be replacing a good defender that is struggling.
I am all for coaches letting their players "work" through struggles and slumps, but at this juncture, the Rangers need points and wins. Diaz isn't the savior by any means, but he is a decent offensive defender that may be able to open things up in a way that allows the team's offense to get going again.
The Rangers need to distance themselves from their divisional rivals, so decision time for Vigneault when it comes to personnel is slowly approaching.