The Methodical Retooling of the Rangers Defense

The New York Rangers Achilles heel, so they say, is their defensemen. Two of their top 4, Dan Girardi and Marc Staal had very poor seasons last year as we all know. Which leads to a seedy segment of “fans” that grab their torches and pitchforks to try and run them out of town.

There are two problems with that

First they are not, contrary to popular belief, the first two athletes to have down years, only to bounce back the following season. Second, they both have no-movement clauses. Which means they call the shots for the time being.

Along Came the Penguins

The NHL, like most professional sports, are a copy cat league. The Pittsburgh Penguins won the Stanley Cup in dominant fashion with quick, smooth skating defensemen. Kris Letang, Trevor Daly and a bunch of no name guys got the puck out of their zone with short, crisp passes to their very skilled forwards.

Transition has become the new rage. The Rangers have put together a deep group of fast, talented forwards. Their hope is to play fast in the same manner. This type of play does not fit the strengths of Girardi, Staal, and Kevin Klein.

To be fair, Staal and Girardi have been more than solid and have been big factors in the Rangers stellar record so far. Their best days as top pair defensemen were played for John Torterella, which probably aged both prematurely.

BUFFALO, NY - JUNE 24: during round one of the 2016 NHL Draft on June 24, 2016 in Buffalo, New York. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

BUFFALO, NY – JUNE 24: during round one of the 2016 NHL Draft on June 24, 2016 in Buffalo, New York. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

All Moves in Due Time

While the “torch and pitchfork” folks were demanding Dan Girardi be bought out and sent on his way, General Manager Jeff Gorton was too wise for that. Such a move would have hung dead money on the Rangers cap for 8 years. At the end of the current season, Dan Girardi can be traded to 15 teams, as per his contract.

Kevin Klein has no protection from a trade to any team. With an end of June expansion draft looming, moving these 2 players becomes easier. One of Klein, Anti Raanta or Nick Holden, are the most likely players to be lost to the Las Vegas Desert Knights. But there is also a chain reaction to consider. Other teams will lose defensemen and want to replace them. Which means trading will be rampant in late June and early July.

Shatty is the Man

Jacob Trouba, Cam Fowler, and Dougie Hamilton were all said to be available during the early part of the season. All are great fits for what the Rangers are trying to do. Most of the top hockey insiders had the Rangers in on all 3; and at the head of the line. But, none of the 3 were traded since the asking price pretty much was “your first-born and his twin brother”. Which brings us to Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk.
A right side defenseman, Shattenkirk is in the last year of a four-year contract. His family, die-hard Rangers fans, still reside in New Rochelle where he was raised. This past summer the Blues tentatively traded him on two different occasions. Once to Edmonton for Taylor Hall, and then to Arizona.

In both instances the acquiring team wanted a contract extension signed as part of the transaction. And both times Shattenkirk refused, that is why he is still a Blues player. It is well known that Shattenkirk had told his agent to inform the Blues he would only talk extension with one team, the New York Rangers. Shattenkirk’s hope is to sign a long-term contract and play for the team he grew up loving. He may also be willing to leave money on the table to sign with the Rangers.

Obviously the Rangers have had no contact with Shatty’s agent, but look no further than the players all of the insiders had the Rangers associated with and it’s easy to see a trend.

A Perfect Fit

A good way to describe the soon to be 28-year-old Shattenkirk, is a right-handed, younger Keith Yandle. It is very easy to imagine a Ranger defense with McDonagh, Skjei, Staal, and hopefully Shattenkirk and Holden next year. With, youngsters Sean Day, Ryan Graves and Sergey Zborovsky, all vying for a spot.

Jeff Gorton is a very shrewd, and creative general manager. He is not going to cut off his nose to spite his face. I have full confidence he will make the necessary moves to accommodate this player.

The Rangers mandate right now is to get faster and skilled all over the ice. They are almost where they want to be with the forwards, as the process continues on the defense. Meanwhile, St. Louis is having a strong season in the western conference, and have championship aspirations. Much like the Rangers did with Keith Yandle, the Blues will probably let Kevin Shattenkirk play out his contract and leave at the end of the year.

Not since 2011, when they signed Brad Richards, have the Rangers made a big splash in free agency. I expect that to change next summer, when some interesting moves are sure to happen.

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