Saturday morning most people will head to the beach to enjoy the start of the long 4th of July weekend. However the Blueshirt fanatics are not most people. While everybody is working on their tans, we will will be glued to our Twitter feeds and the NHL network. Why? Because 7/1 marks the start of NHL free agency and we need to see Jeff Gorton’s vision for the New York Rangers future.
Now just to recap the off-season so far:
-Bought out the remainder of Dan Girardi’s 3 year contract
-Retirement of Kevin Klein
-Chose not to extend qualifying offers for Adam Clendening and Brandon Pirri
-Lost Oscar Lindberg to expansion draft
-Traded Derek Stepan and Antti Raanta for Anthony DeAngelo and the 7th pick (Lias Andersson) of the NHL Entry draft.
-Resigned Brendan Smith for 4 years $17.4 million
What we’re left with is some good news and some bad news. The bad news is that the roster currently has major holes at center and on defense. The good news, however, is that after the Brendan Smith extension, Jeff Gorton & Co. have around $18 million to plug these holes.
Where the Rangers must turn their attention now is acquiring the top RD on the market: 28-year old Kevin Shattenkirk.
Reason 1: Shattenkirk Contract Should Not Be Compared to Girardi/Staal Extensions
Most reports have claimed that Shattenkirk is looking for a 7-year term around $6-7 million AAV. At 28-years old I can see why some Rangers fans would be hesitant about signing a long-term deal after watching the fallouts of the Girardi/Staal extensions. However, what is important to note is that Kevin Shattenkirk plays a skilled game rather than the defensive and shot blocking types of style that Girardi/Staal play.
It is that reason Shattenkirk has been able to avoid serious injuries unlike Staal (eye/concussion) or any long-term beatdowns that Girardi has taken being perennially amongst the leaders in blocked shots. What Shattenkirk excels at is getting the puck from his zone onto forwards’ stick and driving possession in the other teams’ end. Players with this style (see Dan Boyle) age way finer than the likes of the grinders who usually breakdown early and quickly.
Reason 2: Shattenkirk is an Elite Power Play Quarterback
This postseason the Rangers had a PP% of 7.7%, simply put that is embarrassing. Enter Kevin Shattenkirk, one of the leagues best power play quarterbacks, who would provide the puck moving skills desperately needed to man the power play blue line. Not only would this help feed Mika Zibanejad’s elite shot at the right-dot, it would also alleviate some responsibilities and give a much needed rest to Ryan McDonagh. The combination of newly acquired Anthony DeAngelo and Kevin Shattenkirk could take the Rangers PP to the next level.
Reason 3: An Elite Top Pair With Ryan McDonagh
After years of being tied to an anchor in Dan Girardi, Ryan McDonagh has the opportunity to further blossom as an elite defender. A top pair of McDonagh and Shattenkirk could be amongst the league’s best defensive pairs as well as drivers of possession. The speed of Kevin Shattenkirk will allow McDonagh a safety net to take more risks pinching and getting creative in the offensive zone.
Reason 4: Hank’s Window
When the Rangers completed the Yandle deal in 2015 and the Eric Staal deal in 2016, it sent a clear message that the team was in win-now mode. These deals make sense when you consider generational talent Henrik Lundqvist’s career starting to hit its waning years.
Although Henrik hit a rough patch last season behind one of the worst Ranger defenses in the past decade, we saw in the playoffs that he can still get his game to that next level when need be. Kevin Shattenkirk would be the perfect player to take the defense in front of Hank from league average to near league best.
Reason 5: Compliance Buyouts
This may seem a little far fetched and would be an absolute last resort but hear me out:
The present CBA between the NHL players association is set to expire before the 2020 season. With recent history in mind, the NHL could be looking at another lockout.
Although a lockout would push me into spiraling depression the one positive spin from this would be all of the teams gaining another compliance buyout.
Similar to what the Rangers used on Brad Richards, the team could buy out Shattenkirk’s contract after the lockout without being assessed a cap penalty.
I believe in Shattenkirk’s abilities and don’t think it would ever come to this, but knowing they have a lifeline, could push Gorton’s hand here.
Where We Stand:
Something tells me Jeff Gorton could be slow playing his hand in order to keep Shattenkirk’s value down. The Rangers have pretty much unlimited cap space and a HUGE need in a top pairing right-handed defender. Why would Gorton come out and say he’ll do whatever it takes to land Shattenkirk? That would give all of the leverage to Shattenkirk to get the term and value he desires.
We will stay tuned for 7/1; let the free agency chaos rain.