So far in this young training camp, Rangers fans a have been treated to a new-look defense. Youth and mobility have been the themes of these new additions, but there are still a few hold over veterans who aren’t an obvious fit for the roster and some question marks about some of the younger guys the organization has brought in.
Just to qualify this discussion, it has been two pre-season games. At least for the young guys, the sample size is far too small to draw any reliable conclusions about their effectiveness or ability to thrive against full-time NHL competition. We haven’t even seen Alexei Bereglazov yet.
However, we do have plenty of sample on Marc Staal and Nick Holden. I have no doubt Jeff Gorton tried to move one or both of these guys in the offseason. The problem is any team with a defensive need is in a staring contest with Vegas and their 17 defensemen that they will need to pass through waivers. This has undoubtedly discouraged other clubs to either take on salary or provide meaningful compensation in return for either player.
We have seen flashes of ability from Neal Pionk and Tony DeAngelo so far this pre-season. With the top four of McDonagh, Skjei, Shattenkirk and Smith pretty well set, the bottom pairing can see a number of permutations. Most of this would depend on the coaching staff’s evaluation of Bereglazov’s ability to make an impact at the NHL level, but his out-clause to the KHL will certainly play a role.
You could let Pionk start in Hartford and roll with Staal and DeAngelo as the bottom pair, with Bereglazov as your seventh defenseman. You could see if the young Russian would be willing to start the year in Hartford to get used to the North American game while running Holden as your seventh defenseman. Gorton could obviously swing a trade for Holden once the Vegas music stops and teams are still in need of a defenseman. Having what appears to be five players for three line up spots can create a ton of options.
Now, the bigger question is, what does the front office do if they decide the younger players are the best way forward? Well, you could always try to bury Staal and Holden in the minors. It would offer minimal cap relief, but the Rangers have some breathing room. Staal would almost certainly pass through waivers, as no one is taking on that contract, as/is. Holden might get claimed by a team not willing to provide any value for him, but needs a warm body.
You could also make the kids force the issue. Start both Pionk and DeAngelo in the minors (with Bereglazov as the seventh D) and let performance dictate who sticks on the roster as the season goes along. I’m not a big fan of this approach, as points in October count the same as points in March, so I would want to put what the organization believes is the best team on the ice as early as possible.
What do you think, how would you approach dealing with Staal and Holden, absent a trade? Do you think the young guys are ready for an 82-game grind, even in sheltered minutes? How do you think the relationship the leadership group has with Marc Staal will affect Jeff Gorton and Alain Vigneault’s decision making? What would your opening night defensive corp look like?