The story last season when the New York Rangers fell short was a lack of defensive prowess. With the draft in the rear-view mirror and the free agent signing period over a week old, Jeff Gorton has yet to address the most pressing need coming into the offseason.
If anything, the Rangers’ defense has taken a massive step backwards from where it was last season. Keith Yandle, the most productive blue liner the team’s had in a decade, is now a member of the Florida Panthers. Replacing the production Yandle brought will be impossible. Replacing the void left in the top-4 shouldn’t be, but has proven to be. Couple this with the fact that the Rangers’ second most proficient puck moving defenseman, Dan Boyle, is likely to announce retirement sooner than later.
But as of now, New York hasn’t found a viable replacement for Yandle, nor have they addressed the Dan Girardi and Marc Staal situations. Both taking up too much on the cap, both not performing nearly up to snuff.
Gorton added Nick Holden, a 6’4 left handed defenseman making $1.65 million for the next two seasons. He’ll be a viable bottom pair defenseman, but not much more for a team that needs upgrades everywhere but the bottom pair.
An upgrade in the way of a top-4 defenseman will almost certainly have to come via trade, and a significant amount of money will have to be going back the other way.
Rick Nash figures to be the centerpiece to a trade for a defenseman. He’s had his name in the rumor mill since seasons end, and that won’t stop any time soon. He’ll be carrying a cap hit of $7.8 million this season, which considering the Rangers forward depth and lack of cap space, is just too much. There’s no doubting his being an elite scoring winger, but such is the reality in a cap world.
With that in mind, let’s examine two of the most viable defensive options left on the trade market:
The New Rochelle, NY native would be the perfect fit for the Rangers’ defensive core, both now and moving forward.
Shattenkirk, 27, is a right-handed, puck-moving defenseman that would fit perfectly on a pair with team captain Ryan McDonagh on Mac’s right side. He’s averaged over 22 minutes of ice time in each of the last two seasons with St. Louis. He comes off of a 2015-16 campaign in which Shatty tallied a career high in goals.
His name has been linked in trade conversations all offseason long, but he won’t come cheap. Reports indicated that the Blues asked for phenom Dylan Larkin in trade talks with Detroit earlier this offseason. This would mean the price for acquiring a Shattenkirk is astronomical. Rick Nash alone wouldn’t be enough to swing a Shattenkirk trade.
So for Shattenkirk, the life-long Rangers fan, he’ll have to wait at least one more summer before he can don the Broadway blue. Probably.
The Rangers had a chance to nab Fowler with the 10th overall pick in 2010. Instead, they opted for now-fringe defenseman Dylan McIlrath. Six offseasons later, the Rangers are looking for defensive help, and Fowler is one of just a few notable names being floated in trade rumors.
Fowler would become the Rangers second best defenseman behind McDonagh (which isn’t saying much) instantly. His impact would be more about the void he fills and less about a particular skill set.
Fowler amassed career highs in both goals and total points in his rookie season. He’s been chasing down those numbers in the six seasons since then. He’s not a positive possession player and he’s a left handed shot. This complicates things further on the left side, where the Rangers would have now five NHL capable defenseman whose natural side is on the left.
Fowler would be an upgrade though, there’s no doubting that. If the Rangers could swing a trade in which Anaheim gave more to the Rangers than just Fowler in exchange for Nash, they should be jumping at the bit to make it happen.