7 Thoughts From 7 Days: Enforcers and Eichel

For a couple months, I’ve been piggybacking off Elliotte Friedman and our own Brandon Cohen on this weekly thought post. While I’d usually do these ad-hoc, I liked the idea of consistency and a common theme. This week, let’s talk about the Rangers rumored pursuits of Jack Eichel and enforcers.

As an aside: This weekly post will go behind a Patreon (subscribe here) wall for a few bucks a month when next season starts. This will help offset server costs on my end. If you like this post, definitely subscribe.

1. Starting with Eichel, as this seems to be the rumor that doesn’t die. I find some irregularities with the report that the Rangers are out on him. First, the wording suggests that the Rangers aren’t going to pay full price for him, which is something we’ve already deduced from prior reports that the Sabres want to punt the situation to another team. Also injuries that aren’t fully healed –meaning Eichel won’t pass a physical– always take trade value away. In short, the price for Eichel is not going to be what you’d pay if he were healthy.

2. It is reasonable to make an educated guess that the cost is going to be far less than we expect. If healthy, we’d expect Eichel to cost at least one young NHL caliber player, a top prospect, a first round pick, and then other pieces. And that’s just the “at least” portion.

But now? Not so much.

If the acquiring team can take on the full contract, which would also be a colossal risk with the injury, then Eichel may get a tad more than a Jacob Trouba return.  Naturally the cost goes up with money that Buffalo retains, but I would not be surprised at all if Eichel –using the Rangers as the example here– goes for Brett Howden, Matthew Robertson, and a 1st round pick. On paper it seems like a nothing return, but look me in the eye through this site and tell me you’d be surprised if that’s all it costs.

I’m not suggesting that’s all it would cost. I’m just saying I wouldn’t be surprised if that happened.

3. The cost is the primary reason why Chris Drury would be downright irresponsible to not at least have a conversation about Eichel. There is absolutely a ton of risk with the contract and the injury, there’s no denying that. But if it pays off, the Rangers would have one of the best centers in the game. Remember, even with Eichel’s full $10 million cap hit, the Rangers won’t have much of an issue fitting him under the cap for the duration of that contract.

From what it sounds like, Drury doesn’t want to pay full price for a healthy Eichel, of which Eichel is not. Makes logical sense. I’m intrigued to see how this plays out.

4. On to enforcers and the rumors that the Rangers are going after one. I was intrigued by some of them suggesting a few players. So let’s run through some of the suggestions I saw.

  • Kurtis Gabriel: From a pure “token enforcer” standpoint, I mean sure they could do worse. But mostly in the sense that Gabriel wouldn’t really play at all. Dude has 49 games through 6 NHL seasons. If your enforcer is your 14F, then yea Gabriel on a league minimum two-way deal is fine.
  • Sam Morin: Before his 20 games this season, Morin played five games just once. Mostly getting 1-2 games a season. Makes sense, since Morin is also awful. Even Gabriel is better.
  • Ryan Reaves: I wouldn’t hate it. But would require a trade, and he’s been trending down for a bit. There are certainly worse options.
  • Milan Lucic: Two years at $5.25 million?
  • Brett Ritchie: Not a bad option, probably a better option than a 34 year old Reaves. I wouldn’t hate this either.
  • Blake Coleman: If we are talking about players that do more than play 7-8 minutes a game on the 4th line, then Coleman is your man. He’d be expensive as a UFA, and if he’s signed then a winger in the top-nine is likely getting traded. There just isn’t enough room for him unless the Rangers see him as a center. But he’s going to get top-nine minutes

5. But let’s take a step back about how Gerard Gallant has used his enforcers in the past, and how he will likely use them with the Rangers. In Florida it was Shawn Thornton, who got less than 50 games and barely any ice time. In Vegas it was either Deryk Engelland, who wasn’t really good defensively but was more or less break-even offensively. There are far worse defensemen in the game. He also had Reaves in Vegas’ second season, who was a net positive on the ice.

What’s the point of bringing that up?

It’s simple: This isn’t your 80s and 90s hockey goon. Gallant wants a guy who can throw the body but also play the game. If we are talking about a fourth liner, then it’s really just Ritchie and Reaves from the above list. The others either can’t play, are too expensive, aren’t fourth liners, or a combination of these.

6. But here’s the rub. There’s a lot of recency bias with the Rangers being “soft” and needing enforcers. It’s also driven by a few people who have refused to adapt to the new NHL, preferring to live in the stone age of enforcers. The Tom Wilson incident and the two games against the Isles at the end of the season are what people look at. However the Rangers were without Ryan Lindgren, Jacob Trouba, and Chris Kreider. These are the three guys that the Rangers would have turned to for retribution. Instead it fell to Brendan Smith, Kevin Rooney, Phil Di Giuseppe, and Colin Blackwell.

If that trio isn’t hurt, are we even having this conversation? It’s a fair question, as only Smith delivers hits regularly from the fighting quartet.

Old habits die hard, I guess.

7. What matters most is being tough to play against. People brought up looking listless against the Isles for most of the season, which is a product of two things. First, the Isles are a good team. Sorry, but it’s true. Second, and this is the piece that gets me, is that David Quinn’s systems didn’t make the Rangers tough to play against. They were too passive, ceding the blue line regularly, and were just overall a push over. Soft means many things, and throwing punches doesn’t solve them all.

The moral of the story is that Gallant’s job is less about finding the right enforcer and more about making the Rangers tougher to play against. Given how he ran his teams in Vegas and Florida, it seems he knows what to do.

The Rangers don’t need to make wholesale changes. Get a real fourth line (Blackwell-Rooney-Barron), find a legitimate third pairing (UFA-Lundkvist), and get full buy-in to a system that makes the Rangers push the play and step up defensively, and we aren’t having these conversations.

This Rangers team, even as currently constructed, is thisclose to being a real contender. Overreacting to a few games is silly.