And now we move onto the defensemen. When the Rangers signed Matt Gilroy to a two-year deal in the summer of 2009, it was assumed that there would be a period of adjustment for him. An undrafted rookie defenseman who had only played defense for a few years at ANY level, there were sure to be some bumps in the road. And that’s what the 2009-2010 season was. Tortorella gave him time to get acclimated to the pro environment, and when he needed some extra development time, he was sent down the the AHL. But this season was a whole different story. His room for error was much lower, with no excuse of adjusting to the pros existing and multiple defensemen competing for ice-time. Gilroy’s contract is up at the end of the year, so he needed to have a strong enough year if planned on receiving another contract from the Rangers. Let’s look at how he did:
What We Expected
In general, we wanted Gilroy to come into training camp and beat out his competition. The year before, though Gilroy did have a good preseason, he was inserted into the lineup by default, given that his only competition, Alexei Semenov, didn’t even sign a contract with the Rangers. This year was different. Steve Eminger has been an NHL defensemen for multiple years and Michael Sauer and Ryan McDonagh were both prospects with plenty of staying power. We needed Gilroy to be more consistent offensively. Last season, we saw flashes of great offensive talent from Gilroy, followed by streaks of irrelevance. The reality is that Matt Gilroy is never going to be GREAT defensively. His potential value to a team is in his offensive talent. That being said, he was an absolute disaster defensively in his rookie year. Of course, part of that was just growing pains, and transitioning to the NHL, and that was fine for his rookie year. But for this season, there wouldn’t be much wiggle room. Gilroy needed to prove to John Tortorella that he could be relied on to have regular shifts and make basic plays in the defensive zone. Finally, he needed to prove he could deal with the grind of a full season. He scored four goals in the first two months of his rookie season and didn’t put another puck in the net the rest of the way. His conditioning and confidence deteriorated as the season went on, and Tortorella had to lower his minutes from the usual 18+ all the way to 13.
How He Did
Well, hard to determine. He not only earned a spot on the roster out of training camp but started the season in the lineup. Things then went downhill from there, at least for a while. Gilroy wasn’t trusted with any more than 12 or so minutes per game. He didn’t register a single point until the middle of November, and didn’t score a single goal through his first 20 games. If he isn’t producing offensively, then he’s worthless to the team. Gilroy eventually starting becoming a healthy scratch, with Michael Sauer skyrocketing above him on the team’s depth chart and with Tortorella sticking with Eminger, who was surprisingly solid. After going two weeks without playing a game, a Michael Del Zotto injury in late December opened up a chance for Gilroy to get back on the ice. Del Zotto was having struggles of his own, and there were rumors of the Rangers questioning his maturity. Gilroy made the best of the opportunity, producing two goals and an assist in two games. From there, Del Zotto was sent down and Gilroy was back in the lineup. Up until early February, Gilroy didn’t get any less than 14 minutes in a single game. But by the end of the season, he was once again rotated out of the lineup. His play dipped a bit, and the acquisition of Bryan McCabe made him the odd man out for much of the time, though he did play some games in place of Eminger, or a hurt Marc Staal.
By the end of the regular season, it was the same feelings we had at the end of the year before; Gilroy was good on some nights and a mess some others. On a team with incredible defensive depth, it’s a lot harder to justify giving him a roster spot. It was in the playoffs that Matt Gilroy might have saved his chances of getting another contract from the Rangers, and perhaps even saving his NHL career in general. John Tortorella made the skeptical decision to play Gilroy in Game One of the first round of the playoffs instead of Steve Eminger, and after Gilroy scored the only Rangers goal of the game, Torts never looked back. Gilroy did not have a bad game the whole series and was the only Rangers defenseman to consistently create any offense. There was also a distinct lack of defensive zone screw-ups. At the time it mattered most, Matt Gilroy, in his first NHL playoff series, played the best hockey of his NHL career.
Final Grade: C+
In the NHL, if you’re not a very good offensive defenseman, then you have to be at least reliable defensively to warrant a spot on the ice. Gilroy was a good player for many games, but putrid for others, and that’s not being reliable. Still, he was much better late in the season this year than he was in his rookie year, and definitely showed more confidence in his own zone. It wasn’t a BAD season for Gilroy at all, just not one to be satisfied with.
Gilroy is a Restricted Free Agent, but it’s unlikely the Rangers will give him the necessary 2 million dollar qualifying offer to maintain his rights. While he did enough this year to prove he can have value to a team, he isn’t worth a 2 million dollar cap hit. Supposedly the Rangers will instead offer Gilroy a multi-year deal with an annual salary that is “much lower.” In essence, Gilroy will have to take a pay-cut to stay with the Rangers, and if he doesn’t accept that then he will become an unrestricted free agent. You have to wonder what team will offer Gilroy that kind of money, though, so his best bet might be to stay with the Rangers. If the Rangers can get him on a manageable contract then you have to believe it’s worth giving him another chance. At worst, he’s a great call-up option, and this year he showed us reason to believe he would be a good 7th, maybe even 6th defenseman next season.