How Should the New York Rangers Best Use Martin St. Louis in 2014-15?

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How Should the New York Rangers Best Use Martin St. Louis in 2014-15?
Len Redkoles/Getty Images

Martin St. Louis has been an elite player in the NHL for quite some time, but he is no longer the young speedster he was earlier in his career. The sage goal-scoring winger is by no means on the verge of retirement, but the Stanley Cup Final reminded everyone that St. Louis was 39 and not 29, which is the age when he last played for a Stanley Cup.

The only reason that needed to be pointed out is due to the fact that St. Louis is one of the few players in NHL history to dramatically grow his offense after turning 30. It seemed like St. Louis could only go up, but at this point, it seems St. Louis is more likely to maintain production than increase it.

The Rangers expect St. Louis to be one of their offensive leaders, but there needs to be a strategy in place so that Alain Vigneault can get the most out of him. Heading into the season, St. Louis is slated to be a top-six winger, but is this the best way the Rangers can use him?

The answer to this question is both yes and no. Yes, St. Louis should be relied on as a top-six winger in terms of scoring, but he shouldn't be used in a top-six role when it comes to even-strength minutes.

That may sound like a contradiction, but after digging into some data, it may become clearer for you.

Scott Levy/Getty Images

The 2013-14 Rangers were not a conventional team under Vigneault, as the Rangers' new bench boss utilized players by deploying them in the zones in which they were most effective.

Overall ice time didn't matter much; Vigneault would give players ice time where it mattered. This was an effective strategy in which Vigneault managed ice time, and it is something that should continue this season with St. Louis.

When you think of top players in the NHL, you think of players that log big minutes. These are the players that coaches want on the ice for a third of the game, and if you look at the data, you will see that most of the top-scoring forwards were in the range of 20 minutes per game.

NHL's 80-Point or More Scorers in 2013-14
Player Goals Assists Points T.O.I.
Sidney Crosby, PIT 36 68 104 21:58
Ryan Getzlaf, ANA 31 56 87 21:27
Claude Giroux, PHI 28 58 86 20:26
Tyler Seguin, DAL 37 47 84 19:20
Corey Perry, ANA 43 39 82 19:28
Phil Kessel, TOR 37 43 80 20:39
Taylor Hall, EDM 27 53 80 20:00

NHL.com

Forwards such as Sidney Crosby, Ryan Getzlaf, John Tavares, Jonathan Toews, Anze Kopitar and various others were averaging 20:00 or more.

Ranger forwards, on the other hand, had limited ice time when compared to the rest of the NHL. Top scorer Mats Zuccarello averaged 17:08 per game, and Brad Richards led forwards with 18:41 a game.

While this column is about St. Louis, I am going to bring up the Rangers' use of Richards last season as a case study that can illustrate what the Rangers could and should do with Marty.

Rebecca Taylor/Getty Images

Richards finished the season with a meager 51 points while playing 18:41 a game. The figure seems low for a near $7 million player who for all intents and purpose played 19 minutes a game. 

While that may be the case, digging deeper into the data tells a different story that can become applicable to the usage of St. Louis.

Last season, Richards only played 14:58 at even strength, with the remaining 3:43 per game coming during special teams situations. Of that 3:43, only one second was on the penalty kill.

During even-strength situations, Richards totaled 32 points, and when you think about it, that isn't a terrible number for almost 15 minutes a game.

It is fair to say that was par for the course, especially when you consider Richards is a 34-year-old scoring forward in a bit of a decline. His other 19 points came on the power play, an area Richards spent a lot of time on. 

Brad Richards' 2013-14 Production By Situation
Situation Goals Assists Points T.O.I./G
Even Strength 15 17 32 14:58
Power Play 5 14 19 3:40
Shorthanded 0 0 0 0:01
Total 20 31 51 18:41

NHL.com

Vigneault did this for a reason, knowing Richards could be more effective on the power play than during even-strength situations. The strategy was effective because he led the team in power-play points at 19 despite spending less time per game there then he did at even strength.

That is impressive when you consider there are far more five-on-five situations than five-on-four, five-on-three and so on. Richards had a skill set that, believe it or not, suited him for the man advantage, and Vigneault played to his strengths.

With this in mind, the Rangers should follow a similar plan this year with Martin St. Louis. To reinforce that notion, here is some data from the last five years breaking down St. Louis' production at even strength and on the power play.

Martin St. Louis' Production Last Five Years
Year PP Goals PP Assists PP Points Even Strength Goals Even Strength Assists EVEN Strength Points Total Points
2013-14 9 12 21 20 26 46 69
2012-13 3 17 20 14 26 40 60
2011-12 4 12 16 21 37 58 74
2010-11 4 37 41 27 31 58 99
2009-10 7 30 37 21 35 57 94
Totals 27 108 135 103 155 259 396

Hockey-Reference

As you can see, St. Louis has performed well at even strength over the last five years (from age 34 to 39). He also has some decent power-play numbers while racking up big assists totals, and that is where he is a big offensive asset.

The Rangers may not have Steven Stamkos, but they have a Rick Nash, a Mats Zuccarello, a Chris Kreider and many more offensive toys that should help St. Louis maintain his ratios.

In fact, he should be more efficient in New York with multiple options at his disposal. While it remains true that St. Louis has been a great threat at even strength, it could make sense to ease him into a role where he sees more power-play time.

It would make sense for the Rangers to try and play St. Louis in the ballpark of 16:00 to 18:00 a game. Of that total, 13:00 to 15:00 should be at even strength and the remaining time on the power play. 

In fact, when calculated to production per 60 minutes, St. Louis has actually faired better on the power play, according to Behind The Net.

Martin St. Louis Points Per 60
Season Even Strength Power Play
2013-14 2.10 4.45
2012-13 2.77 5.13
2011-12 2.32 2.86
2010-11 2.74 4.86
2009-10 2.50 5.21

Behind The Net

It is fair to say that the percentages are a bit skewed based on the differentials in time spent on the ice, but the point still remains that St. Louis is coming in at a high number while on the power play.

With that in mind, it makes even more sense to transition St. Louis into a role in which he will remain fresher throughout the year. He won't exert as much energy skating in special teams situations.

He would still finish among the team leaders in minutes, but a situational deployment of ice time in October to March will ensure that he has enough gas for April through June.

In addition, St. Louis would still have the opportunity to be efficient during his time on the ice in even- strength situations, but increased power-play time and high-percentage scoring situations would enable him to maintain his normal point totals 

It is no secret that St. Louis is an impressive physical specimen, and his fitness habits allow the 39-year-old to be one of the healthiest players on the planet. 

This is all true, but over the last few years, the playoffs have shown that elite older players tend to lose a step. It happened with Jaromir Jagr in 2012-13, Teemu Selanne during this past postseason and St. Louis during the Stanley Cup Final.

St. Louis is a fit player; he is an elite scorer and a player who can be a difference-maker for the Rangers. However, he can make the biggest impact possible if his minutes are controlled based on situation and if there is a deployment plan put in place. 

Should the Rangers try and split up St. Louis' ice time?

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While St. Louis' production in the regular season is important when it comes to securing a playoff spot, it is fair to say that at this stage of his career he is more valuable in a playoff setting.

Alain Vigneault knows what he is doing, and he surprised many last year by taking the Rangers to the Stanley Cup Final in his first year with the team. St. Louis is ready to enter his 16th season in the NHL and his first full season with the Rangers.

After playing in his first Stanley Cup Final in 10 years, it is evident that St. Louis will be motivated to do whatever is necessary to ensure a repeat trip to the Final.

However, at this point, all parties involved should be motivated to ensure that vintage St. Louis will be ready for that exact moment should it come into fruition.

The Rangers saw what happened last season, and as the old adage goes, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." 

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