The Rangers need defensive help. Most of that is because of the rapid decline of Dan Girardi, who continues to play on the top pair due to lack of other options on the Rangers. No matter where you sit on the Girardi spectrum, it’s tough to argue against Girardi being a shell of what he was five years ago. Players like him deserve a leash, but that leash should have run out two years ago.
Beyond his declining play, his contract is an albatross to the Rangers. He is signed for another three years following the 2016-2017 season, with a $5.5 million cap hit. The Rangers were able to get some cap breathing space in the Derick Brassard/Mika Zibanejad swap, but not enough to make an adequate fix to the defense. Even if the Rangers had the space to make an upgrade, there’s no room for additions. Something has to give.
While we could look at Kevin Klein as the obvious piece to go, his awful play has killed whatever trade value he had to the point where he’s been a negative asset for the Rangers all season. Klein, unless packaged with a forward, isn’t bringing back anything worthwhile (As an aside: He wasn’t bringing back anything resembling an upgrade before this season either). Plus, Klein actually has value to the Rangers as a NHL defenseman who can be exposed in the expansion draft.
Which brings us to the biggest wild card this June. The Rangers can only protect three defensemen in the expansion draft, and Girardi, Marc Staal, and Ryan McDonagh must all be protected. While that doesn’t have any impact on the current roster (Klein, Adam Clendening, and Nick Holden will be exposed), it does have a major impact on any potential trade.
If the Rangers land a defenseman without dealing one of Staal or Girardi, then that defenseman would need to be exposed. If the club is dealing any good forward off the roster to land this hypothetical defenseman, then that can’t happen. It would be a total waste. Yes, even if that defenseman is a pending UFA, like Kevin Shattenkirk.
In this scenario, the Rangers would need to find a trading partner for Staal or Girardi (unlikely), or bite the bullet. With Staal’s somewhat improved play and ability to not be a total anchor, the obvious choice is Girardi.
This is a topic that has been visited before, but since a year will have passed, the numbers for a buyout have changed:
- 2017-2018 – $2.61 million cap hit (down from $2.75 million)
- 2018-2019 – $3.61 million cap hit (down from $3.75 million)
- 2019-2020 – $3.61 million cap hit (down from $3.75 million)
- 2020-2023 – $1.11 million cap hit (down from $1.25 million through 2024)
Waiting a year gave Girardi a chance to bounce back, which he has not, while also removing an extra year of cap space. It’s certainly not pretty, but it’s the only way to improve the defense while not crippling the team. It opens the door to sign Shattenkirk in July as well.
Buying out Girardi was always one of the unspoken options that Jeff Gorton and Alain Vigneault would have to discuss if Girardi did not rebound. He has not. It’s unfortunate, since the guy has given everything to this team. However a tough decision needs to be made. If the team as a whole truly does come before the individual players, then the correct choice is becoming clearer by the day.