Through the end of January, it seemed to be a sure bet that the Rangers were going to trade Keith Yandle. The club has Ryan McDonagh and Marc Staal locked into long-term deals and have Brady Skjei –their 2012 1st round pick– knocking at the door. That’s a pretty crowded left side. Getting the most for Yandle, especially considering the cost, made the most sense.
Even before the season started, many wanted to keep Yandle and preferred to trade one of Staal or Dan Girardi. Yandle is one of the premier puck movers in the game, and both Staal and Girardi either were regressing prior to the season or have regressed since the season started. Either way, Yandle is a better option than both at the moment.
Now that the season is more than half over, we are seeing Yandle emerge as the best option on the blue line. He’s thrived in his recent usage (20+ minutes per game), and while he does make a gaffe here and there, the positives far outweigh the negatives.
Trading Yandle at the deadline represents a clear step back for this year’s club. Beyond that, it also represents a desire to hold on to both Staal and Girardi, despite their regressions and the changing landscape of what is expected from an NHL defenseman.
But more recently, trading Yandle now removes one of the few healthy defensemen from the lineup. McDonagh is out indefinitely with a concussion, and those are always tricky to gauge. Girardi has a fractured kneecap. Kevin Klein has a fractured thumb. That’s half the blue line.
Holding on to Yandle is also a risky proposition. The Washington Capitals are in a class of their own, and it looks like they will steamroll everyone in the Eastern Conference. Moreover, the Rangers have significant holes at forward and on the blue line that prevent them from being a true Stanley Cup contender. With minimal pieces to trade, it seems unlikely they can fill those holes for another run.
The best case scenario is holding on to Yandle and trading one of their aging, declining, and pricier defensemen to create room to re-sign him. However this seems to also be the least likely scenario.
There are rumblings that the Rangers fully intend to hold on to Yandle through the deadline. Those rumblings came before Dustin Byfuglien re-upped in Winnipeg, taking the best defenseman off the market. Yandle can and will fetch a premium –think first round pick and one young stud prospect or young NHL ready player– at the deadline if he’s dangled. He’s not only the best available defenseman, but the only game-changer available.
This is not a favorable position for new GM Jeff Gorton. On one hand, he has the best puck moving defenseman the organization has had since Brian Leetch, the only one capable of keeping some of the declining players afloat. On the other, he’s got an expiring asset that holds significant return value. This one decision could define Gorton’s GM career with the Rangers less than one year after it began."Should the Dustin Byfuglien deal change the Rangers' approach with Keith Yandle?",