Part 11 in a series analyzing the New York Rangers.
The traditional numbers are not going to be of any help to Brendan Lemieux in negotiating a new contract and neither are the more esoteric ones. Six goals, 12 assists, 42.2 percent Corsi, on for 19 goals for and 30 against at full strength. Yikes.
But there is one stat that the winger’s team — the off-ice one captained by his agent and father, Claude — should be pleased to present general manager Jeff Gorton, and, should it get to that, an arbitrator, to highlight his contributions.
That highlight is the penalties drawn versus penalties taken stat that reveals Lemieux’s effectiveness as an agitator. Because even accounting for those times that referees whistled The Son of Pepe off the ice for imaginary infractions and those times that the fine officials gave opponents two or three whacks at No. 48, Lemieux drew 19 minors while taking just seven himself at even-strength for a plus-12 that led the Blueshirts.
This is no small thing for a player who lives life on the edge with a target on his back. There were times that Lemieux’s antics did not particularly help himself, but they obviously did not hurt the team on any sort of cumulative basis.
Of course, maybe he should have kept his elbow to himself in the final minutes of regulation of the final game played by the Rangers in Colorado on March 11 before this coronavirus-induced break in the action instead of senselessly finding Joonas Donskoi’s head with it on a drive-by that honestly had nothing to do with the play.
Lemieux is going to be suspended. That has been determined by the league. The sentence will be set when the NHL establishes its guidelines for resuming the season. Lemieux, fined $2,000 for his elbow on Cody Glass on Dec. 9, is considered a repeat offender after having been suspended two games with Winnipeg for — guess what? — elbowing Vincent Trocheck in the head in a game in Helsinki on Nov. 2, 2018.
So what does this mean? If the league returns for some version of a regular-season completion, maybe a three- or four-game suspension. If the league resumes with an expanded playoff format that includes the Rangers, probably one or two. If play does not resume until next season, probably four to six games.
You can argue with the propriety of tying the penalty to the calendar and the significance of the games, but the NHL has done that for years. The presumption is that measure will apply to this sentence.
So, if Lemieux led with a plus-13 in the penalties drawn/taken category, which Ranger was next? Why, Mika Zibanejad with a plus-10 (15/5) at five-on-five. The club’s laggard? Yes, Ryan Strome, a minus-14 somehow drawing only three minors while taking 17 at full strength. And no, the center will not be highlighting this number in his arbitration brief, should it come to that with No. 16.
Lemieux was not able to produce as he did the previous year both in Winnipeg and in New York following his deadline acquisition in the Kevin Hayes trade. That may have something to do with the fact that his 2018-19 shooting percentage was a rather wild 17.9 (12 goals on 63 shots) as opposed to this season’s measly 7.0 percent (six goals on 86 shots).
The season was actually fractured for Lemieux, pre- and post-broken thumb he suffered on Dec. 27 that caused him to miss about three weeks. Before the injury, Lemieux had posted 13 points (5-8) in 38 games. After he returned on Jan. 19, he recorded just five points (1-4) in 24 games the rest of the way.
He just didn’t seem to be getting there on time, as often. His hands betrayed him when he did get to the front. His work off the puck suffered. David Quinn used him on the second power play as a net-front presence and disturber about as long as he could and also had him on the penalty kill unit.
Last March, when Chris Kreider went down for three games with a hamstring problem, Quinn elevated Lemieux into the vacant spot on the unit with Zibanejad and Pavel Buchnevich. The winger did fine. But this year, when Kreider sustained a broken foot in Philadelphia in Game 64, Lemieux never got a sniff of that rarefied air.
Instead, he remained locked onto the fourth line while Philip DiGiuseppe, who’d spent the season’s first four months at Hartford before an early February recall, was awarded the assignment. Lemieux in fact played the final 17 games on the fourth unit, primarily with Greg McKegg and Julien Gauthier, after spending most of the year on the third line.
There is value to Lemieux, who has personality and is popular in the room, and who never misses an opportunity to come to the defense of an opponent. The Rangers need him and they need the abrasive element he brings. But they also need him to be better. They need some numbers beyond penalties drawn and taken.
Lemieux could use them, too.