Love is blind: The irrational love affair with defensive liability Adam Clendening

Clendening! I thought Girardi was the only one who leaves his feet? (Getty)

I’ve heard this song before. It happened not too long ago when the Rangers were lacking in young talented forwards both on the big club and in the system. The name was Emerson Etem and he was being mistreated by big old mean, Alain Vigneault.

Etem’s Story

The Rangers were forced to part with the beloved Carl Hagelin due to cap constraints. In return they acquired Etem and a draft pick (Ryan Gropp). The kid had speed but never put together a consistent effort in Anaheim. Some blamed the Anaheim coach, others said the kid lacked the maturity to play at the NHL level.

Etem to Hartford (Getty)

In 19 games with the Rangers he amassed 3 assists. That’s it…3 assists. He was then traded to Vancouver for Nicklas Jensen and the same fans that are in love with Clendening, cried foul over Etem. They cited that Etem was getting good chances and was not being used enough. Bottom line AV was treating Etem unfairly and wasn’t giving him a chance.

Etem averaged around 11 minutes of ice and produced nothing of value to the scoreboard where it counts. His corsi was also 47%, so he wasn’t necessarily killing it there either. No, the whole misguided love affair was that he was young and AV was bad with kids, therefore Etem never realized his full potential.

To date, the Canucks traded him back to Anaheim and he is currently playing for the San Diego Gulls (the Ducks’ farm team).

From Etem to Clendening with Love

Here we are just a season later and the new stats driven love child is Adam Clendening. At least in his case, there is a little more statistical foundation for it. In 15 games, he has a goal and 7 assists. Furthermore, in everyone’s favorite stat (corsi) he is sporting a really good looking 56.6%, which is 9 points higher than Ryan McDonagh!

Well move over Brian Leetch…you may have some competition.

Almost every game you hear about his ability to make a pass out of the zone. Or how well he doing getting the puck into the offensive zone. You never hear about his softness in his own zone, his mistakes under pressure (i.e. see SHGA in TOR) or how his partners have to scramble to cover for him.

Here’s another thing the stat lovers choose to ignore because the numbers don’t fit their overall view of Clendening.

  1. Lowest starts in the DZ of all NYR defenseman (23.3%)
  2. Lowest TOI.QoC of all NYR defenseman (28:41)
  3. Lowest SV% of all NYR defenseman (89.19%)

Without going into a big explanation of fancy stats, the three points above can be broken down as follows:

  1. The coaching staff doesn’t trust him in the defensive zone
  2. The coaching staff matches him up against the opposition’s weakest players
  3. When he’s on the ice, our goalies seem to have a harder time stopping the puck
So Why Are Fans In Love With Him?


Imagine you are stranded on a desert island with 3 ugly sisters and a high powered telescope. Through the lens of the telescope you can see the island of Ibiza and all the gorgeous women in bikinis, but you have no way to signal for help off the island and you still need companionship. At this point you come to accept your situation and make the best of it. (For my lady readers, just flip the script to 3 ugly brothers if you like…I’m all about equality).

This is basically analogous to what’s going on with the Rangers blue-line.

Dan Girardi and Kevin Klein are not playing well on the right side, so Adam Clendening seems like the best option. After being alone on the island for awhile, one of those three ugly sisters/brothers is going to start looking really good…but they aren’t anyone on that island of Ibiza.

However in fairness to Girardi, he plays against the hardest competition on the team. Matter of fact, he leads in that category of all NYR blue-liners. That makes his SV% of 90.46 a lot more palatable than Clendening’s. Girardi also starts in the defensive zone 34.1% of the time. Only Nick Holden and Marc Staal are higher.

Bottom line, Girardi and Klein are not playing great but the love affair for Clendening is irrational once a larger and brighter light is turned on.

Clendening’s NHL journey (so far)

Let’s ignore the fact that this is the 24 year old defensemen’s 6th team since 2014. Also ignore he couldn’t stick with a defense starved Edmonton or Pittsburgh squad and let’s try to find out why?

In Chicago, he was a victim of talent overload and couldn’t find a spot. This caused a trade to Vancouver who was happy to land a much needed right handed young defenseman. He played well in his 17 game stint but somehow didn’t impress enough to stick on a rebuilding team. He moved on to Pittsburgh and then gets flipped to Anaheim, who never use him either and put him on waivers. That’s when the Oilers picked him up.

Is there any team in the NHL that screams “desperate for defense” more than the Edmonton Oilers? This is where Clendening gets his longest look (20 games) but ultimately can’t make it here as well. The NY native makes one more brief stint in Pittsburgh and is finally signed by the Rangers this past offseason. 54 games played, 2 goals and 11 points.

So What’s the Issue?

Well according to Rangers’ fans…nothing. Matter of fact he probably has become our best right defenseman according to them.

So what were the issues before?

Here’s some assessments of his game I found on Oilers Nation:

  • At most I see him as a depth defender to slot in the 6-7 spot, which is infinitely replaceable, and I’d rather have a guy like Pardy in that spot.
  • I like him with the puck on his stick in the offensive zone, and he is a nice passer. I don’t like the fact he gets knocked off the puck easily and is not a great skater.
  • Not a great skater, not physical, not dominant defensively and doesn’t produce enough offence. I see him as maybe a depth signing…
  • I think he is a good fit to finish off the season but there are no sure bets for next season. To change my mind he would have to improve his ability of getting shots through from the point.

The last quote was from former NHL defenseman, Jason Strudwick and at this point, they all seem to hold true this season with the Rangers.

History Will Repeat Itself

Just like Emerson Etem, history will repeat itself. Whether it be this upcoming deadline or this offseason, Clendening will not be on this roster long term.

He is a nice depth defenseman and can provide a temporary uptick in offense. He is not a longterm solution for one simple reason:

Clendening can’t play defense!

And as a defenseman, that is your first priority.

Now, I know many of you will be mad. Many of you will start posting charts on Twitter to make me look like an idiot. I get it….you’re mad!

I know many of you will just tear me up and chew me out over this…but don’t be mad because I turned the lights on in the nightclub.

The truth can be ugly sometimes.

Anthony Scultore has been covering the New York Rangers and the NHL since 2014. His work also appears at... More about Anthony Scultore

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