Retain or Release: Raphael Diaz

Raphael Diaz, in a lot of ways, seems inconsequential. After all the noise surrounding the Callahan/St.Louis swap, he was quietly shipped to New York as depth for a fifth-round pick. He played a handful of games in the regular season and then a few more in the playoffs. All without much fanfare. In that sense, the Rangers brought in a cheap rental for depth and he served his purpose. Now we move on.

Or do we? Diaz is an intriguing player for a number of reasons. Let’s take a look at him and then figure out if he’s worth keeping.

 

Vitals

Age: Turned 28 in January

Previous Contract: Two Years/ $1.225 million Cap Hit

Contract Status: Unrestricted Free Agent

Basic 2013-2014 Stats: 63 Games, Two Goals, 13 Assists (Four Games, Eight Shots in Playoffs)

Irrelevant Info Pierre McGuire Would Enjoy: Diaz’ father, from Spain, insists on spelling his son’s name as “Rafael.”

 

Why You Keep Him:

Raphael Diaz is in a number of ways similar to the 2011 version Anton Stralman. There isn’t a lot that stands out about his game, and the circumstances he has been in have led to him bouncing around, not getting a real chance to stay in the lineup consistently for one team and develop an identity. We all know how Stralman worked out once he got his chance with the Rangers. Granted, he was a few years younger than Diaz is and therefore had some development still in him, but I think there’s a very good chance that some untapped ability lies within Diaz.

Though he did not light the earth on fire, Diaz was perfectly okay in his games with the Rangers. Aside from one disastrous turnover in overtime of a meaningless game against Montreal at the end of the season, he didn’t make many mistakes in his own end. Offensively, he proved he was willing to unleash good shots from the point; particularly on the power play. He’s a good skater and moves the puck well.

These assets all contribute to some very nice underlying numbers. Among all UFA defensemen, Raphael Diaz ranked 9th in Corsi and 5th in Corsi Rel (how high his corsi is compared to his teammates). During his cameo in the playoffs, his Corsi Rel was an absurd +7.5%. Of course, this was very much influenced by the fact that he was playing lesser competition than other players on the team. Nonetheless, the point stands; Raphael Diaz was a positive influence in possession.

Another interesting stat that you might have not heard of is “SP/60.” The “SP’ stands for setup passes, and essentially measures how many passes a player makes that directly leads to a scoring chance. The “/60″ part is measuring those setup passes over the rate of 60 minutes. So a player who makes two setup passes in 20 minutes of playing time would have an SP/60 of 6. Among NHL defensemen who played at least 62 games this season, Raphael Diaz was third in the entire NHL in SP/60. As in, pound-for-pound, he was setting up more scoring chances than the likes of Keith Yandle, Erik Karlsson, Drew Doughty, and Alex Pietrangelo. Again, this is in large part because Diaz is facing inferior competition than those guys are. That doesn’t change the fact that he’s still ahead of literally every #4-6 defenseman in the NHL in that area.

Raphael Diaz is never going to put up great point totals, or be a true power play QB. The Rangers lack offense on their blue-line, though. Diaz’ possession and passing numbers are subtle but indicative of a defenseman who can be a positive offensively on the back end. Especially in what is an absolutely miserable free agent pool for defensemen, Diaz would be a real savvy bargain bin pickup by some team out there. Maybe that team should be the Rangers.

 

Why You Lose Him:

For starters, Anton Stralman is very obviously the priority here. Re-signing Diaz prior to figuring out Stralman’s situation would be some pretty poor administration. Not because you need to sign better players first, but because both specifically play the right side and what you do with one is principally influenced by/influences what happens with the other. By the time you do figure out Stralman’s situation,  Diaz might have decided to move on.

And if the Rangers do find a way to re-sign Anton Stralman, then where exactly are you playing Diaz? Surely he’s not going to sign on for #7 duties, and Kevin Klein is right there as the third-pairing, right-handed defenseman. You can theoretically move him to make room, but that’s not something that should be counted on right now.

Signing Diaz could also severely limit the ability for one of Dylan McIlrath or Connor Allen to make the leap into the NHL for next season. Both progressed very nicely in Hartford last season and both will make a big push for a roster spot right out of training camp. I’d also be surprised if at least one of them is not NHL-ready by December at the latest.

 

Keeping/Replacing Him:

There’s been virtually nothing said about Diaz’ future in New York one way or another, but that’s mostly just the nature of the business. Most journalists are going to dedicate their investigative efforts into bigger stories, like Stralman or Boyle or Zuccarello. It’s hard to figure out which way the Rangers or Diaz are leaning because he was here for a short time in a limited role.

In my ideal Adam Herman world, the Rangers find a way to re-sign Stralman. They trade Klein and his four-year, $2.9 million cap hit contract for a nice draft pick or prospect. The Rangers would certainly have leverage and Klein would be desirable, given this year’s awful free agent crop. Then the Rangers sign Diaz to a one- or two-year deal between $1.25-$1.75 million while forcing him to beat McIlrath and Allen in training camp for the third-pairing spot. If Stralman is not re-signed, then the Rangers could do worse than to sign Diaz to that kind of contract and move Klein up to the second pairing.

I have no idea if that’s desirable on Diaz’ end, though. He might want more money, or even likelier, more security in terms of contract length and a guarantee in playing time. If I had to put money on the line, I’d guess that Diaz does move on. Connor Allen is about halfway to 25 years old, and so I don’t think it would be completely premature to slot him into that 7th spot while of course leaving room for him to move into a full-time spot. Glen Sather, perhaps more than anyone, loves trading late-round draft picks for projects and depth, so that can’t be ruled out as well. Some free agents I’ll throw out there just for discussion (not necessarily players I’m personally endorsing) are Carlo Colaiacovo, Mike Komisarek, Matt Hunwick, Paul Ranger, and Chris Butler.

 

Previous “Retain or Release” Articles

Brad Richards

Derick Brassard

Brian Boyle

Dominic Moore

Chris Kreider

Mats Zuccarello

Benoit Pouliot

Dan Carcillo

Anton Stralman

 

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