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2017 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic - Practice Day & Family Skate

Kevin Shattenkirk, courtesy of Blueshirtbanter.com

We’re only a few days away from the trade deadline and we’ve already seen a few interesting deals struck that are sure to set the precedent for the rest of the marketplace through March 1st. The Rangers find themselves very comfortably under the salary cap, but also at a very interesting crossroads. The general consensus is that the most glaring need is for a right-handed defenseman, preferably an offensive puck-mover who can quarterback the power-play. However, general consensus also states that the Rangers are not a strong Stanley Cup contender that should not be looking to either buy or sell minor assets. I generally agree with this notion, but I think that a few minor moves can put us in a position to make some noise this spring. Here’s the NYR-411 blueprint to playoff success this year:

  1. Re-acquire Brian Boyle: While the most pressing need is believed to be on defense, I really would like to address the carousel of a 4th line that we have. When the Rangers made their last Cup run, one of the crucial contributing factors was 4th line continuity. Dominic Moore, Brian Boyle and Derek Dorsett teamed up to form a smart, physical, hard-hitting checking line. The 4th line needs to return to these ideals. AV is pushing too hard to make the line a 4th scoring line; Brandon Pirri is pegged there just to get him in the lineup for special teams’ sake and we’ve heard all this overblown hype about the chemistry that  Oscar Lindberg and Jesper Fast have. With the emergence of the Hayes line, especially the scoring depth provided by Michael Grabner, offensive upside from the 4th line isn’t an absolute must. Bring in Brian Boyle to center Jesper Fast and Matt Peumpel or Marek Hrivik. The move instantly brings size, face-off acumen and physicality to the lineup. This will also free up a trade piece in Oscar Lindberg and allow the team to finally move on from the failed Brandon Pirri experiment. After seeing Patrick Eaves go to the Ducks for a conditional 2nd-round pick that will most likely become a 1st-rounder, I am worried about Boyle’s price-tag. Ideally, I’d like to see the Rangers package Oscar Lindberg and a 4th-round pick to bring Boyler back to Broadway.
  2. Acquire a defenseman NOT named Kevin Shattenkirk: Before I go into who the Rangers should deal for, I want to shoot down the Kevin Shattenkirk hype. I see this potential signing as being Wade Redden 2.0, and I thought Old Man Sather and his erratic spend-thrift ways were finally behind us with the appointment of Jeff Gorton. The fact is, Kevin Shattenkirk is widely regarded as no better than a second-pair defenseman. And, with a career high of 45 points, he’s not an elite, Norris contender a la Brent Burns, Shea Weber, or Drew Doughty. This point total will be eclipsed this year, but at 28 years old, Shatty’s offensive upside will not last through the life of his next contract. To top it all off, the Blues want a 1st-rounder, prospect and more AND Shatty has already turned down a trade to Tampa Bay because they were only offering $6 million/year to re-sign. I realize that we already have the cap space, will probably buy out Dan Girardi’s contract, and are Shattenkirk’s alleged top choice when he hits UFA status, but with Zibanejad and JT Miller set to become RFAs, I would prefer if the team focus on securing their young corps of forwards. Phew, rant over. Now that I’ve burst the Shattenkirk ballon, let’s look at viable options. Of all the names I’ve heard out there, I’d target the Red Wings’ Brendan Smith or the Sabres’ Cody Franson. Both players have their pros and cons, of course. Smith is big-bodied lefty but is a true shutdown guy with a $2.75million contract and a Corsi % of 54.9 . Franson is a bigger body at 6’5, slightly cheaper at $2million a year, and offers more offensive upside but his Corsi % of 49.7 suggests that he is more of a defensive liability than Smith. Gun to my head, I’d probably pick Franson and get another righty in the lineup, but either should be easily acquired for the Michael Stone-like price of a 3rd-round pick.

So, pretty simple plan really. Make the 4th line a shutdown, matchup nightmare again and don’t fall victim to the Shattenkirk hype. This plan will not only give the Rangers a playoff boost, but will also indirectly help the power-play. I know you probably can’t see the connection, so allow me to explain. When I look at the Rangers’ special teams, I see two guys with the physical tools to fit the prototype of power-play point man and quarterback: Ryan McDonagh and Brady Skjei. Obviously, the captain is more advanced in his skill set than his rookie teammate, but both are strong, fast skaters with the ability to make the first pass, carry the puck into the offensive zone, and shoot the puck from the point. Add this to the passing prowess or Derek Stepan and Mats Zuccarello (who should probably shoot more on the PP but that’s for another day) and you have the makings of a top-ten man advantage. And that’s without considering the wicked shot of Mika Zibanejad from the top of the circle, the speed of Grabner, and the net front presence that Kreider/Nash can bring to the unit. See? It’s all there. No need to waste a roster spot and nearly $1mm on Brandon Pirri. And no need to perform a tight-wire act with a flat 2018 salary cap, loads of pending RFAs, and the albatross of a 6-7 year deal for a good-not-great defenseman.