Rebuilding the blue line will be slow and more painful than you expect

The Rangers have a problem on defense. Bloated contracts to Dan Girardi, Dan Boyle, and others have led to a…

Hmm. Well this is embarrassing. Let’s start over.

The Rangers have a problem on defense. The hybrid man/zone system that Alain Vigneault runs…

Wait what? Ok, third time’s a charm.

The Rangers have a problem on defense. They have for many years. As the rebuild continues to take center stage, the focus will shift from forwards –where the Rangers have a somewhat clear path to a successful rebuild– to the blue line, where any impact prospect is at least two years away.

That’s the one we want right? Right.

Even with some relative youth in Tony DeAngelo (good, but can’t defend entries), Neal Pionk (bad), and Brady Skjei (should be good?), the Blueshirts still have $16.7 million tied up in Brendan Smith, Marc Staal, and Kevin Shattenkirk for the next two seasons. That’s a lot of money for older defensemen who are either bad, unappreciated and misplaced, or currently a forward.

The easy statement is trade and retain on Shatty/Smith and buyout Staal. But with that comes complications. Even if the Rangers keep Fredrik Claesson, they’d be need to fill gaps. Certainly doable, but it’s likely not a path the Rangers are going to go down all at once. Ripping the band-aid off means giving kids ice time and matchups they may not be ready for, and we saw how well that went for Pionk.

Compounding this concern is the lack of NHL ready prospects. Libor Hajek looked ready, but he only played three games. Ryan Lindgren looked out of place in his first cuppa. John Gilmour is 26 and likely not getting re-signed. Sean Day needs more time. Joey Keane needs more time. Yegor Rykov is an unknown, but I’m optimistic. K’Andre Miller and Nils Lundkvist aren’t coming over yet. Barring a significant trade, the Blueshirts would need to go the UFA route. This is fine, but only top UFA is Erik Karlsson. As great as he would be, he’s not a savior when there is no one else around him.

What is more likely is a slow transition to the prospects, while also slowly jettisoning the aging vets. Shattenkirk appears to be on his way out. If the Blueshirts are indeed exploring a buyout, then a trade is more likely. Makes you wonder if they trade Shatty and then use their oodles of cap space on Karlsson. That would be a significant upgrade (no slight to Shatty, just Karlsson is on a whole other level).

In this unlikely scenario, the Blueshirts would have Karlsson, Staal, Smith, Skjei, DeAngelo, Pionk, and Hajek on defense…assuming Smith doesn’t stay at forward. It certainly gives the prospects mentioned above more time in Hartford, and it also provides some decent youth options in case of injury. But that’s still a scenario with Staal and Smith occupying spots and likely playing large roles.

Staal’s contract isn’t movable, so it’s likely he finishes his contract out. Plus he has a NMC, so unless he requests a trade, he’s staying put. Smith would be fine in a bottom-six role, but not at $4.35 million. A retained salary trade is the only out. But hey, he has value as a forward! Sorta? He may finish his contract out too, but there’s at least the AHL is still an option if a kid forces his way on to the roster.

This is not going to be pretty, even with the pipe dream of Erik Karlsson. The defense is going to be a liability for the immediate future, at least until the high level prospects are ready, if they ever are (there are no guarantees, after all). There is no quick fix here.

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  • Dave

    On most occasions I tend to agree with you, but man are you ever off base with this thread!

    Karlsson is the worst thing that could happen to this team, it would set us back 10 years, and we’d be crying the blues after about two hours post signing of the deal.

    Lets see, $7 million@ seven years, for a washed up, undersized, fragile, over the hill soft player. Sounds about right, we are gluten’s for punishment. Girardi, Staal, Boyle, Shatty, over the last few years, and we want more of the same? No please, keep that little soft piece of poop, who proved with the Sharks that he stinks. What will he do here with our current roster, squat that’s what!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Walt, I’m 100% with you on not signing Karlsson, but where do you get all this washed-up biz? The guy has 45 points in 52 games played this year, and his point total is only that low because his shooting percentage is an unbelievably low 1.8 percent. He’s taken 167 shots too. Karlsson is still one of the 5 best defensemen in the world, even with 1 1/2 ankles.

      Just to mention it: Karlsson is averaging nearly 25 minutes of icetime a night with SJ, and that is a CAREER LOW. This guy isn’t washed-up, he’s still a great player. With all that said, I wouldn’t go near anyone who’s 29 years old and is asking for 7 years/$84 million.

      • MC

        Compare his numbers from a few years back, and see the beginning of his decline. Also he is surrounded by one of the best teams in the NHL, you would think that his numbers would be getting higher than his days with the Sens. To be honest with you, I never cared for his game from the beginning, and care for it less as time goes by. He is another Pionk, only an older version of him. You can keep him as far as I’m concerned!!!!!!!!

        • Karlsson’s numbers this year can be mostly explained by an incredibly low shooting %, Walt—he has averaged over 3 shots a game with San Jose this season. If he’s even at 6% shooting he’d have a point-per-game scoring average.

          I get not digging his game, but you’re being a little harsh on him. Karlsson’s dealt with some really awful off-ice stuff in the last 3 years too, and his performance hasn’t slipped at all. The guy carried Ottawa on his back for the last 5 years he was there, and has been a good playoff performer to boot, as any Ranger fan knows. He’s a classy and great player, but I hope the Rangers stay well away from him.

          • MC, I agree with your take. My ‘just say no’ routine on Karlsson is not because he is a horrible player. He is obviously a very good player. But at his age and cost he is simply not a good fit for the Rangers at this time. If he was 24 – 25 it might be a different story, but he is 29 and that makes a world of difference.

          • Karlsson is a great and talented player who will make others around him better, but my concern is the mileage and his age. To give Erik 10/11/12 million per season is risky, but I don’t ever discount Sather from trying to give the go ahead to sign Erik…….Sather is still very much involved and not as distant as some people think,.

          • Just like to add something to discuss. There is a defensman who is on the Tampa bay Lightning and he is the best all around player that we had and could have given him a new contract. His name is Ryan mMcdonough our captain. Even our team would have been better with this all around great defenceman to help all our inexperienced blue liners get more experience while he would still be out there. I cringe every time I see him with Tampa Bay starring and we just have heaps of junk all over the ice. Looking for Karlson???? Use who you have who you know. Dump at other positions.

        • I think the decrease in shooting percentage is related to the offensive scheme for San Jose. With Pavelski in front, the D-men shoot for tips not goals.

      • MC- thank you for the accurate and honest review of Karlsson’s current standing in the NHL. I’m completely with you on avoiding the contract he’d require given his age, but you nailed it- the guy can still play at an elite level.

        • For how long? You haven’t seen a decline as well? Can he defend? Is he soft? Is he undersized? Is he frail, how many games has he missed due to injury? At least we agree that he would never live up to a contract he would demand!!!!!

    • OK, I couldn’t resist this … are you saying that if become gluten free our defense will be better?

  • I agree with the premise of the D and you had me here up to signing Erik Karlsson. It’s noting personal. He’s a great hockey player and probably a great guy. He’s the wrong answer for where we are for a few reasons.

    First is see bloated contracts. It will be bloated by the end and if we are good then(which we better be) it will be an anchor when we may need the cap space. Karlsson has also had some injuries and he is out at the moment. That is concerning considering his history. Will it move the needle on the D? slightly. We will be better but at what expense? and will we be good enough to compete? I think no. Look at the future of the right D. I think it’s fair to say it’s ADA and Lundkvist. And the wild card is Adam Fox. I do think we will have a shot to sign him. Still not signed with Carolina and the Canes they are deep at right D. If we can sign him the right side is done. I realize we can’t count on Fox as a sure thing and he won’t be available until August 2020. We’ll also see who we draft this year.

    I know it’s going to be a while before the D is better. But it’s important to stay the course and not do something we will regret down the road. The future looks bright.

    One UFA D man I would consider on a short term deal, if he would come back is Stralman. For where we are in the rebuild I think he would be a good addition. Obviously older and maybe Tampa tries to resign him, but if he can be had on a short term, reasonable deal it’s a better route to go than swinging for the fences with Karlsson. Stralman been hurt this year too.

  • If Karlsson is so good and wants to be here so bad , let him prove it ! 2 year deal at 2 mil per. Otherwise heck nooooooooooo!

    • That would be the equivalent of, say a 10 year tenured teacher with a 100k salary taking on a job at a fast food establishment and earning minimum wage. Why on earth would one do such a thing? Karlsson at 2×2 is beyond bonkers. Who even said he wanted to be here?

      I’m a Ranger fan for life, but this organization is no more or less special than any other. We are 1 of 31, soon to be 32 teams. Players don’t take 90% haircuts on their salary just to be here…..

  • Our defense needs some changes yes, but let’s be careful where we spend our money. Eating some money for Smith and Shatty is a better decision than spending on Karlsson. This is the way to go. This gets these guys off the team and opens up slots for kids to learn. Another aspect of our bad defense is the coach and the defensive pairings. While we don’t have a first pair, we need to use our best defensive players in that role. Maybe it is a kid who is a defense-first player. We know it isn’t Pionk.

    We also cannot go with 8 defenseman ever again. It forces the hand of the coach to play guys who shouldn’t even be on the roster. The defense is a problem that I am sure Gordon and Quinn know about. Let’s hope they can address it properly and inline with the rebuild.

    Also – let’s not forget the responsibility of the center with their defensive role. Playing with kids at center is a dangerous game to play.

  • I’ve always maintained the defense will take a lot longer to fix then the forwards . they drafted no defensemen high for 4 years then it takes 3 years to arrive unless ur dahlin. Thats a 7 year draft gap. Maybe a Byram is on the radar? Who knows how ready he even is. Good news is all the current dead weight deals will be gone by the next lockout. So now let’s not enhance that aspect.

    • I’m going to wait until U-18s to get a better read on Byram, but I’m not sure he’s a 1st pair player.

      He’s super productive, just not seeing top end skill. Western league just seems real thin the last few years. Not as bad as the Q, but not as good as a decade ago. Their saving grace is the US born players making rosters.

      Only D prospect who flashes that skill(for me)is Mo Seider.

  • Do you want your team to lose 2-1 or 3-2 without Karlsson, or lose 5-4, 4-3 with him? *At his best* you get a high event player who gives one up for every one he gets, even with all his production. You’re trying to build a team that will have an open window for a long time and all our players/prospects are 2 years away. Why are you bringing a player in who you’ll be wasting the end of their productive years?

    It blows my mind how people will swear off overpaying for a past his prime player like the organization has done the last 40+ years, then swear, “this time, it’s different!”

    It’s not.

    Does Karlsson put you over the top? No.
    Does he put you in the playoffs? Not this team.

  • How does one analyze what is needed vs deployment and coaching. Last years Caps gave up the fewest goals. Agreed that they have a real talent in Carlson,but the rest of their d corps are average. This year way up in goals against. Look at the Islanders. Last year worst, this year 1st(with the same players). Last year Wash had .922 SV % and this year Isles at .926. Could it be the coaching? I wouldn”t touch Karrlson unless we were Stanley Cup contenders in the next 2 years. NOT!

  • There’s no way of telling which players will be testing free agency, or who’s going to be available for a trade right now. Nobody knows if there’s a going to be a breakout star D in the next draft or two, either. I do know that Karlsson’s too old and too expensive to be part of the solution here and now. All we can do is play our draft cards well and be ready to jump in if a good deal appears, while developing the young players we have. There isn’t going to be any quick fix unless a miracle happens.

  • It might indeed take a bit longer to fix the defense, but you are discounting a possible Kreider trade this summer that presumably could bring back a serviceable defenseman, as well as a high pick and prospect. Not saying that is the route they will go, but it IS an option. To have Staal on this team, again, next year(no matter how much talk we hear of how serviceable, and respected he is in the lockeroom}, is a slap in the face of ANY rebuild. Its way past time to go!!!!! I might even add, that it’s time for Hank to go also, but I just don’t see it—unless he finally has had enough and asks out. This is going to be a long process…one where, IMO, the current Mgmt. group will not be around to see any fruits of their labors.

  • Like Walt said, Dave you’re usually on target …. but this time … can we stop beating this horse? The horse is not only dead, the horse has decomposed. The only logical way to fix the defense without creating a problem for us down the line is to be patient and to certainly forego any buyouts or any large handouts to injury prone older UFA defenseman. Let it be.

  • What’s really mind boggling is the number of minutes Staal has played this year with virtually no scratches. Especially in a so-called rebuild. So considering that, can we really expect Staal NOT to be part of this team going forward? There is no buyout, there will probably be minimal healthy scratches for him and we will see less minutes for the prospects. So another season of a Pionk/Staal as first pair defensemen. Does this FO have a plan?

  • Another solution is to blow up the D. Move out Skjei and Pionk because they have value on the open market, get picks, prospects, who cares, but it will open spots for 2 kids to show their value. Let the Smith, Shatty combo play 3rd pair and ride off into the sunset with Staal. THis at least lets some light of the future show a bit.

    Not a fan of compounding big contracts on 30 y/o players of any position.

    • I don’t think Pionk has that much value … and as far as Brady is concerned, he’s hurt his value over the last 2 years. Might be better to hold on to him one more year at least and see if he can raise it by playing him with the right partner.

  • Dave – I know it’s good discussion, but as far as defense goes, we’ve been beating this bad boy with a stick. Plus I just don’t have that gloom and doom outlook, man. Our defense moving forward will just fine – it seems that many teams have the same gripe about their own – just check out some fan sites. Nah, I’m looking forward to the off season training programs and hugely encouraged by the prospect of Sept. training camp, especially with DQ – so nuff said from me – right now, looking for wins by us and I must admit – really looking forward to the NHL slot lottery in less than 3 weeks, baby! 🙂

    • Carlos I have to agree. I think the doom and gloom about the defensive corps is rather over the top. They have some young people that have talent and have made great progress. Sure, Staal is slow and not what he once was, but he gives 100% when he is on the ice and is well loved by his teammates, and his contract is entering its last couple of years. Smith is adequate in a reduced role and can play forward on a 4th line adequately. Shatty does not have a long contract and is best suited for power plays and 3rd pair minutes. DeAngelo, Hajek and Pionk have promise and upside. There are other kids in the pipline. I am not worried about the defense. I am more concerned about obtaining kids who will become scoring wingers. That is their greatest need.

          • Typical no added value by the thumbs down crowd. Once in a lifetime, make a statement that you can stand behind and not hide behind

          • I’m the King of Thumbs down … lol , or maybe its was leather. Shitty should be an easy trade ! He’s so good and there were so many other teams ready to sign him before he gave us a huge discount and duped us! Now we wanna sign the same player in Karlsson for longer and more $$$ … lol

          • Simmonds would be cheap and brings an edge. Panarin allows the others to not have top defense on them so they can learn and prosper. Put him on a 2nd line and you immediately spread the talent to 2 lines.

  • Panarin is only 27 and he wants to play in big markets, so it’s either NY or LA. Tremendous talent, but expansive though…at least $11 mil a year.

    • Didn’t hit peak until he hit 23, undersized, so might not have much more of a prime window when it comes to aging curves.

      The question is how hard does the aging curve kick in?

      Are you willing to tie up $10+mm for 7 years on a guy who has *maybe* another season before the aging curves kick in?

      At least with Kreider you have skating on his side and a much cheaper price point before his aging curve kicks in. The hamstring concerns me somewhat. Nobody beats Father Time, but Mike Gartner & Bill Guerin outran him for a long while.

        • If I’m asking who in 5 years who is still going to be producing at an above replacement level player(and being cost effective at doing so at a time when the rest of the squad hits their prime window); then yes, I’m directly comparing Panarin vs Kreider.

          Kreider will get me 3/4 of the production at half the price with a better probability of sustaining it as he slides down the lineup.

  • Skjei, DeAngelo, Rykov, Hajek, Miller, Lundkvist, Lindgren, Day, Keane, Pionk, Gilmour, Reunanen. You have to hope 6 of those 12 will pan out. It is a similar story on forward…we are getting loaded with potential, and almost everyone is 27 or younger.

    2019-2020 will likely be another long season. These kids will need another year to develop. If we add Panarin then we might be a bubble team with some puck luck.

    2020-2021 is Hank’s last season under contract, and he will be turning 40 years old. The Rangers NEED to make a playoff run that season, for Hank’s sake, and it should be enough time for some of these kids to figure it out.

    If not, well, then Henrik retires as the best goalie to never win a cup. And I will be sad.

    • He will join a long list of other goalies that never won a cup………But I do understand, and it would be nice if they were that far advanced to be able to compete for a cup……….

      • I will make sure that Hank doesn’t become a guy who never got a dinner, as opposed to that chicken catcher Torre.

  • Please do not compare Panarin with Chris Kreider, that’s an insult. Panarin is a legit 80 point player while the best season Chris Kreider had was a 53 point season. Panarin is the rare kind of elite players who hits the free agency, like a John Tavares. Panarin is going to get at least 8-10 year, $90-100 mil. Btw, he only played 4 years in NHL, so he is a young 27 yr old.

    • He turns 28 before next season turns a month old.

      All my other points still valid.

      If I really thought that having him next year or 2 years would get us a chance at an ECF, I’d offer $16mm a year for 2 years, maybe even 3.

      But if he wants 7 years? Adios.

    • Panarin has the play making skills of Zuc but carries a lethal shot. And like the Hobbit he will make the players around him better. If fans want to see the young Ranger prospects succeed, give the kids someone like Panarin to emulate.

  • Sorry I missed this thread yesterday.

    In a perfect world, the Rangers are able to trade either Shatt, Smith Or Staal. And perhaps buyout another. My preference would be Staal. I think Smith is doing a decent job relative to everyone but Claesson. If I were the Rangers I would package a possible Dallas 1st rounder or our 2nd rounder (36-40th pick) with one of those full contracts. The one caveat being that TB must win the Stanley Cup in order that we get their 1st. If Dallas and TB performs, we will have 5 picks in th top 40, so trading one of them away with a contract is not the end of the world.

    Unfortunately I can’t see Dallas winning two series. I think Shatt’s trade value has the possibility of increasing next year as I think his health has had something to do with the drop off. Perhaps wishful thinking. I am not sure if I am a Fan of adding Karlsson but if we do there is no point in having Anymore than one of the following on the roster as well: DeAngelo, Pionk, or Shatt. 2nd rounder, 3rdrounder, bag of pucks respectively.

    As for Panarin I would be all in. Can he play Right Wing? If so, KZP would be deadly.

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