It’s trade season, and that means everyone and their mother has an idea of what the Rangers should do in order to improve the team. Whether this means buying, selling, or standing pat, we’ve all entertained various thoughts in our heads as to what could, should, or might happen.
Last week I wrote about how perspective matters and on the most recent podcast we talked with Sean Hartnett about how close this team is to contending (with the always intelligent Hartnett offering his opinion that the Rangers are a “tier 2” contender, just below the level of say, the Penguins). Prior to that I had written about how the Rangers could improve this blue line, floating the idea of acquiring Cody Franson and waiting until the summer for Kevin Shattenkirk. Some recent developments however, have changed my mind.
Let’s start with where things stand on Shattenkirk watch. The most recent reports are that the asking price is a 1st round pick and a prospect for the rental defenseman. It also came to light recently, via Bob McKenzie and Elliotte Friedman that Shatty had torpedoed several trades –contingent on him re-signing long term– with Edmonton, Arizona, and Tampa Bay, with the Lightning being the most recently spurned. TB offered him a 7-year, $6 million AAV contract, and Friedman’s thinking is that it wasn’t the money, it was the fact that he wants to go to the Rangers first or the Bruins second.
This brings us back to the price. The Rangers front office has allegedly balked at what St Louis wants for the righty d-man, but the fact that Shattenkirk is holding out can only help the Rangers position. The understanding around the league is that Shattenkirk is definitely going to be traded, given the way the Blue got nothing in return for David Backes and Troy Brouwer. If this is true, and Shatty is holding out on the Blues to trade him to the Rangers, then each passing day adds another level of urgency to the situation, forcing the price lower as the trade deadline approaches, because when the proverbial clock strikes midnight and the Blues run out of time, their worst case scenario of losing him for nothing in the summer becomes reality.
The other big news that’s changed my mind on things is that the Rangers are allegedly in on Brendan Smith of the Detroit Red Wings. Smith is capable of playing both sides, giving the Rangers some flexibility if they do end up acquiring him. Given the market for defensemen, it’s not out of the question that Smith could be had for cheap as a rental, and adding him to the mix if Jeff Gorton has also gone out an acquired Shattenkirk could give this defensive group the revamp that it needs.
Let’s say hypothetically you give up Klein, a first, and one of Ryan Gropp, a goalie prospect not named Shestyorkin (or maybe even him, because things could turn out fine in the future anyways), or Ryan Graves for Shattenkirk, maybe playing around a little bit with the prospect/pick situation to make things work. Then you go out and get Smith for a third round pick or some combination of lower picks. Suddenly your defensive pairs become McDonagh/Shattenkirk, Staal/Smith, and Skjei/Girardi, with Holden or Clendening as the extra. If AV really wanted to get saucy he could even sit Girardi. But who am kidding? That won’t happen.
With those pairs and this forward corps, and Hank as dialed in as he is currently and as he is sure to be for the playoffs, this team suddenly become the kind of top tier contender Sean mentioned on last week’s podcast. I’ve long been of the opinion that with this group of forwards the defense need not be spectacular, only passable, just like the Pittsburgh Penguins leaned on guys like Justin Schultz and Trevor Daley last year on their road to the Cup.
Those kinds of guys aren’t phenomenal, but they didn’t have to be. With a top pairing of McD and Shatty doing the heavy lifting (I also just think it would be such a treat to watch McDonagh and Shattenkirk together for 25-30 minutes a night in the playoffs given the season McDonagh’s been having and the kind of offensive ability Shattenkirk brings to the table) and the rest of the pairings relatively balanced, this team could really make it happen.
Because let’s be honest with ourselves, Hank’s not getting any younger and if Gorton can widen the window substantially this season without significantly altering the forward corps, then to me it’s a no brainer. I’m not too terribly worried about the future given the way Gorton turned the team around last summer, and this team is likely to still be in the mix next year anyways. With the right moves at the right prices however, this spring could be a season of big things for the Blueshirts.