The secret is out, and well, it’s been out for a while actually. The Rangers are in a rebuild, or a retool, or whatever. Among the other worst-kept secrets in Rangerstown is the defense is a mess, and probably will be for quite some time.
Last spring we saw a massive shedding of players in the push to restock the farm. Still though, what we wound up with wasn’t really any elite talent – that came mostly internally. Quantity over quality was the approach, which I’m honestly fine with it, but again, it led to no elite talent in the deals. Depth is great, but elite talent gets teams over the hump.
This year we’re likely looking at a fire sale too, but with a twist. Several contracts expiring not this year but the next, a fact that might add value to a team that wants to contend for the next two years rather than going for broke this Spring only. This year’s expiring contracts are all depth guys, so there isn’t much value there. Rather, we want to set our sights on teams that are a little less short-term and looking to shore up their second/third lines this year and next rather than add a game-breaker.
Mats Zuccarello is obviously an impending UFA this year, but we’ve also got Ryan Spooner, Vlad Namestnikov, Jimmy Vesey, Matt Beleskey, and Jesper Fast up at the end of 2019-2020, all UFAs. I’m going to ignore the looming lockout, because that changes the equation in complicated ways that I can’t really comprehend, and because honestly I’d rather just not think about how unbelievably miserable another work stoppage would be.
A couple of names worth noting on defense are Brendan Smith, who despite his long-term contract may be attractive to a team depending on how he redeems himself, and Tony DeAngelo, who’s an RFA without arbitration rights at the end of this season (and for a variety of reasons may be the odd man out as far as the bigger picture goes). Add into the mix Kevin Shattenkirk, whom I really do think has a future with this team and can actually fit in well to the broader vision of what’s to come, but nonetheless could be worth something good depending on who we’re dealing with. What I’m saying here is we’ve got some stuff for the yard sale, but obviously they’re not getting our old LPs for pennies on the dollar. This is more like one of those auction shows they have on HGTV – we’ll be selling to whoever wants to pay the most for our rare first pressing of Exile on Main St.
In today’s NHL, raising your own stars is critical. That’s what I was getting at earlier about betting on upside. Our stars of the future will be homegrown, and if they’re not then we’re not going to see a Rangers team in the upper echelons of this league any time soon.
While the Rangers certainly have some elite talent potential at forward, the club is missing that bonafide #1 defenseman. Kevin Shattenkirk may fit that mold, but he’s on the bottom end of that spectrum. But even if he is on that list, will he still be on that list in three years when the Rangers are ready to compete? Eventually the Rangers are going to need that stud defenseman.
With that need for a stud defenseman so apparent, it may change the strategy for Jeff Gorton and company at this deadline, especially with the added value of a full year remaining on some of their more valuable assets. There is a viable strategy of obtaining as many assets as possible to flip for that bonafide #1 defenseman. It’s tricky, but doable with a deep and quality prospect pipeline.
Or we could see Gorton target someone directly at the deadline who instantly slides into that #1 defenseman role. You don’t build a team just by drafting – you have to strike while the iron is hot as far as the trade market goes. If Jeff Gorton wants to change the makeup of this team either for a few great years or a long-term Golden Era, then he’s going to need to make a blockbuster. There are plenty of short, medium, and long-term assets to burn, which includes a plethora of draft picks.
Wondering who they should target? Well that’s a post for another time."This year's trade deadline and addressing future needs",