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Credit where credit is due—Larry Brooks sure knows how to beat a drum. Especially if that musical number is designed specifically to create outrage. His latest pen project is no different. The problem is, it’s often a false outrage as was exactly the case in his column call to the Rangers’ front office.
Brooks rattled his snare loudly in support of recalling veteran forward Tanner Glass, citing all the traditional talking points or “admirable qualities” that are normally bandied about when talking up NHL tough guys. Qualities like “playing with an edge”, “player who forces the opposition to keep its collective head up”, “discourages opponents from taking liberties”, and “who believes in payback” among others.
None of these qualities are quantifiable, which is why they’re anathema to the analytics crowd, but NHL traditionalists and blue collar fans do tend to think favorably of them in spite of this.
As Brooks put it himself:
The Rangers are a generally hard-working, buttoned-down team consisting of low-key, low-maintenance professionals. They go about their business admirably. But these low-key personalities have produced a collective low-key mentality on the ice. The Blueshirts continually turn the other cheek.
It is one thing to have the discipline associated with whistle-to-whistle hockey. It is another thing altogether to be passive. That is what the Rangers have become. They play with little fire. They play absent an edge.
Glass, if you recall, was re-assigned to the Rangers AHL affiliate, the Hartford Wolf Pack, back on October 21st where he’s been playing out the final year of his three-year contract, skating in 17 games thus far this season. He has just two goals and three assists for a total of five points in that span, including 23 PIMs. He’s also been a willing combatant, as is in his nature, in three fights since joining the Wolf Pack. One was against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins right wing Patrick McGrath, and the other two were against Toronto Marlies left wing, Rich Clune, and defenseman, Andrew Nielsen.
The problem is, he was re-assigned for a reason. That reason goes beyond just dollars and cents. His $1.45M AAV—only $950K of which comes off the Rangers cap with him playing in Hartford—certainly factored into the Rangers decision to cut the veteran forward who has skated in 500 NHL games in his career, but it wasn’t the only factor. His actual value (or lack thereof) as a player, beyond his willingness to fight, has been called into question for years, even before the Rangers signed him in the summer of 2014.
There are three key factors to his game to consider when determining whether Glass warrants a return to the Rangers lineup—production, analytics, and the composition of NHL rosters (particularly divisional rosters) that he would potentially be playing against.
In 500 NHL games to date, he has a total of 23 goals and 67 points. That’s a career average of 0.13 P/GP. In a league that values competent, scoring forward depth more than ever, he’s already behind the eight ball in this regard.
He is, however, an extremely effective hitter and an adequate penalty-killer.
In 2015-16, his last season with the Rangers, he ranked fifth in the NHL among players with a minimum of 50 games played with 3.9 hits per game played. He was also 17th league-wide in total hits on the season with 224. His closest peers that season were Washington Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin (225), defenseman Luke Schenn (234) who split time with the Philadelphia Flyers and Los Angeles Kings, and Winnipeg Jets defenseman Dustin Byfuglien (222). He was also just ahead of then Colorado Avalanche defenseman Nick Holden (217), who, of course, is playing for the Rangers this season after being acquired in a trade this past summer.
In the 57 games he played that year, he was also seventh among Rangers forwards in total shorthanded time on ice at 25:16, averaging just 0:26 SH TOI/G. Only one Rangers regular and regular penalty-killer, Oscar Lindberg, played less time overall (22:40) and averaged less SH TOI/G (0:20) that season.
The general problem with Glass from a production perspective is that he doesn’t actually produce much offense and the areas of the game in which he does produce—predominantly the hitting department—come away from the puck. That’s an odd category to champion when it’s effectively the only category to champion (in his case). Forechecking is important, as is body checking. They’re designed to cause physical turnovers as a means to regain possession of the puck, but as the analytics will show in just a moment, Glass just isn’t very effective at achieving this. His hitting is designed purely to inflict physical pain. Sure, there’s value there, too, but not nearly as much as more effective body checking that leads to regaining the puck.
In terms of analytics, he’s a black hole of a player. Glen Miller of the Hockey Writers actually wrote a great piece on this back in May of 2016 that goes into great depth regarding the seemingly never-ending battle between analytics and “traditionalists”, but sharply illustrated the analytics case against him:
In terms of Corsi, Glass placed 350th of 360 forwards who appeared in at least 500 5v5 minutes this season in Corsi For % (CF%) at 42.58%. Puck possession results in more quality scoring chances for and fewer quality scoring chances against. This is borne out by Glass’ ranking of 326th in High Danger Scoring Chances For % (HSCF%) with a 43.94%. This essentially represents the advanced stats case against Glass: His team doesn’t have the puck and allows far more dangerous scoring opportunities when he is on the ice.
Worse yet, according to these numbers, nearly every Rangers teammate performed better in terms of puck possession when not on the ice with Glass than when they skated with the rugged forward. As an example, Dominic Moore, Glass’ regular pivot on the 4th line, finished with a Corsi For % five points better when he was not with Glass.
These are not good numbers. At all. Though the Rangers as a team have found success in spite of south-of-50 CF% numbers, Glass’ CF% is well below the 50% threshold, and the fact that his own linemates and teammates score significantly better percentage numbers with him off the ice really puts the finishing touches on him as a player from an analytics perspective.
As I mentioned above, the goal of a forecheck or body checking, in general, is to regain possession of the puck. No matter the number of checks he throws a game or even in a season, Glass still ends up on the wrong side of the margin in terms of how effective those checks are at helping his team regain possession, which neutralizes whatever value traditional hockey folks think that checking has in games.
This brings us to the final category in which Glass needs to score big to warrant a return.
At the end of the day, both production and analytics could theoretically be of little or less concern if the case for Glass’ addition could be made as a counterweight to the roster composition of the NHL, particularly the composition of the Rangers Eastern Conference rivals. But, unfortunately for Glass, his addition really can’t be made as a counterweight because there is little weight to counter anymore. Over the last number of seasons, fighting is down in the NHL by a wide margin.
In a piece written back in April of 2016, CBC Sports’ Jonas Siegel laid it all out:
Fights have plummeted nearly 50 per cent from only five years ago, according to HockeyFights.com, a stunning reversal for a league that has long contemplated fighting’s place in the game.
The NHL is on pace for about 300 fewer fights from the 2010-11 season, a 47 per cent drop, and nearly 400 fewer scraps from the more 730 of two years before that. In fact, the NHL is likely to see fewer fights this season, about 345, than the 347 during the lockout-shortened 48-game campaign in 2013.
Given that NHL fighters tend to only ever fight other NHL fighters, the absence of potential opponents only works against the idea of bringing him back. Especially when he’s considered to be one of the “good guy” fighters who respects “the code”. It’s not like he’s going to effectively bait opposing star players into dropping their gloves instead.
Simply put, who is he going to fight, exactly?
A quick look at the other Eastern Conference team rosters among clubs currently in a playoff position only questions Brooks’ rally for “more mean” that much more. Among the seven other clubs currently in playoff position (Pittsburgh, Columbus, Montréal, Philadelphia, Washington, Ottawa, and Boston) only the Senators are top-ten in the league in fighting majors this season. The next closest club is the Bruins at 13th, followed by the Philadelphia Flyers at 16th. The Penguins, Rangers, and Blue Jackets, who lead the East in that order, are 25th, 29th, and 17th in fighting majors this season.
Only the Senators’ defenseman, Mark Borowiecki, and forward, Chris Neil, make an appearance among the league-leaders in NHL fights this season according to hockeyfights.com’s leader list.
If fighting was as important as Brooks believes, why is the East, and the dominant Metropolitan division in particular, so largely devoid of it?
Sorry, Tanner, but all-in-all, you’re too far below standard to warrant a return to the Rangers.
HockeyFights.com’s Chris Phillips did show that fighting is up ever so slightly this season but with the caveat that it’s still well down over the last decade. That minor uptick in frequency isn’t enough to ignore all the other drawbacks to Tanner Glass as a player, and the success the Rangers have found this season isn’t worth partially sacrificing to appease traditional beliefs.
I don’t like watching the Rangers turn the other cheek any more than Brooks does, but the answer to that isn’t to bring in demonstrably bad players just because they’re willing to hit back. The answer is to prove why hitting back doesn’t actually matter anymore, or to, at the very least, ask far more competent players to come to the aid of their teammates’ honor instead. Players like Chris Kreider, Kevin Klein, and J.T. Miller, who while they’ll never be confused for regular pugilists, do have some history with dropping their gloves. This would be a fine middle ground between traditionalists, who I’d argue overvalue fighting and hitting, and the analytics community, who undervalue both.
Glass’ time as a Ranger is over, and should remain over. Perhaps they can find him a trade to get him back into the NHL closer to the deadline for presumably one last run as he looks ahead to Unrestricted Free Agency this summer at the age of 33, but that run is best suited for another club who will no doubt learn the same hard lesson the Rangers did. Glass’ presence might be welcomed by old-timey team runners and players in the dressing room who still appreciate traditional hockey beliefs, but those beliefs come at a negative cost to their own chances to win games. Especially when those beliefs are in defense of a player like Tanner Glass. He just doesn’t offer enough.