The trade deadline has come and gone, and the Rangers made their big move on Tuesday, not yesterday. That big move was acquiring Brendan Smith for a pair of draft picks. They made three other minor league moves, but nothing that moves the needle or even impacts the Rangers that much. The focus is on Smith, his impact, and how the Rangers fare for the rest of the season. So let’s get into it.
1. The Smith trade is an upgrade on the current defense. Smith, despite being a lefty, is a RD and has history with Ryan McDonagh, as they were paired together at Wisconsin. That leads me to believe that Smith will get the top bidding even when Girardi returns. That is dependent on how well McDonagh and Smith play together, but at this rate anything is better than Girardi on the top pair. So in that regard, the Rangers have a major net positive.
2. If and when Girardi returns, I’d expect him to go to the third pair with Brady Skjei. It’s the best spot for him in the lineup. It’s also the only thing that makes sense right now, because the Rangers will not be successful in the playoffs with Girardi getting significant minutes every night. He’s still a good shot generator, but he simply cannot skate well enough anymore to prevent top players from going right around him. It’s a sad truth of the 2017 version of Dan Girardi. That said, with him on the third pair, Kevin Klein’s spot is in the press box.
3. Speaking of getting paired with Brady Skjei, I expect Klein to replace Adam Clendening when ready. Despite Clendo’s good play, Alain Vigneault likely won’t keep Klein out of the lineup at his expense. But the defense pairings slated for tonight’s game are the best we’ve seen all year. It’s unfortunate that it took a pair of injuries for that to happen, but that’s how it works sometimes. And it’s worth noting that without Smith, the Rangers would still be running with both Girardi and Klein in the lineup.
4. The rumor is that the Rangers are going to look to re-sign Smith at the end of the year. That makes sense, and he would likely come cheaper than you think. He’s one of those guys that does the small things right but doesn’t show up on the score sheet. Think Anton Stralman before he exploded for points in Tampa Bay. But because he doesn’t put up the points, his cost will be lower. He’s likely a $3-$3.5 million player for three years. If he’s playing effective minutes in the top-four, that’s a bargain.
5. The $64,000 question is whether the Smith trade did enough for the Rangers to truly compete with Washington and Pittsburgh. The answer is a very simple no. This trade moves the needle enough to give them a much better shot of getting out of the Atlantic should they get the top wild card spot, but it’s not enough to beat Washington and Pittsburgh. Both teams have comparable forwards and significantly better defense. The Rangers still hold the ultimate wild card in Henrik Lundqvist, but I still don’t think he’s enough to beat either team in a seven game series.
6. Warning: Expect Pierre McGuire to lose his mind on the Wisconsin connection between Smith, McDonagh, and Derek Stepan.
7. As for the rest of the deadline, there wasn’t much available that would have helped the Rangers out. With Kevin Shattenkirk off the table, there weren’t many viable options for the price. Maybe 39-year-old Mark Streit? I don’t think that’s a good fit. But no other defenseman that was moved was a good fit. Perhaps for the best. Sometimes the best trade is the one you don’t make.