The New York Rangers acquired another piece to the puzzle that they’ve been eyeing for quite some time. In exchange for defenseman Neal Pionk and the 20th overall pick in Friday’s NHL Entry Draft, the Winnipeg Jets decided to end Jacob Trouba’s tumultuous tenure with the Winnipeg Jets.
This acquisition may dramatically change the Rangers’ plans moving forward. Trouba is instantly pencilled in as New York’s top defenseman. But what spices things up is that he is right-handed and effective on the man advantage.
Odd Men Out
The Rangers recently acquired top prospect Adam Fox from the Carolina Hurricanes. Fox is also a right-handed special teams quarterback. This leaves Anthony DeAngelo and Kevin Shattenkirk remaining, who also have similar abilities.
DeAngelo showed flashes of offensive brilliance last season, and is touted as one of the organization’s more exciting prospects. While he has had behavior issues in the past, this doesn’t seem to be much of an issue for upper management.
What does this mean? Well, Shattenkirk is clearly the odd man out here. The Rangers don’t need the veteran defender, and will likely try to find a way to conclude his time in New York. The efforts to ditch him will not be born solely out of his being expendable, but rather due to the Rangers’ current salary cap situation.
To preface this, the salary cap looks like it will be set at around $82 million or below for next season, significantly lower than the previously rumored $83 million. As a result, several teams have already expressed concern over their cap situations in the wake this news.
For the Rangers, they now have some decisions to make. They acquired Trouba’s rights, meaning they still have to agree on a new contract with him. This will likely be in the ball park of seven years at around $7 million to $8 million per year.
What Comes Next?
Despite Trouba’s arrival in New York, the team still wants to be active in the free agent market. This likely means that general manager, Jeff Gorton still has a high interest in aggressively pursing unrestricted free agent Artemi Panarin.
The Rangers also have a handful of their own free agents that they want to re-sign. In fact, a very large portion of their cap space will likely be devoted to keeping several key roster players in New York.
However, the cap space just isn’t there. It looked as though Gorton was going to avoid any buyouts to prevent having dead space in the cap for the next few years. But this has to have changed by now.
For one, struggling defenseman Brendan Smith is likely a prime buyout candidate. Smith earns over $4 million per year and he played most games last season as a low-impact, fourth line winger. Buying out Smith would provide plenty of savings for the Rangers.
Shattenkirk is another prime buyout candidate. This would provide the Rangers with several million dollars in savings. The Rangers could also attempt to trade him. They would need to retain half of his salary, but it still saves the team plenty of money. The only problem is that there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of interest in Shattenkirk, given is unimpressive tenure with the Blueshirts.
Both of these contracts will need to be dealt with if the Rangers still hope to pursue Panarin. In addition, Gorton would likely need to find a trade partner for two of Jimmy Vesey, Vladislav Namestnikov, or Chris Kreider.
The Buffalo Sabres have checked in with the Rangers about potentially acquiring Vesey.
With buyouts of Smith and Shattenkirk and trading away a couple of the players above, the Rangers could be in a position to be aggressive in free agency even after signing Trouba.
The Rangers’ Revamped Defense
How might the defense look on opening night? I wrote a piece several weeks ago predicting what it may look like, but that prediction is outdated now.
Trouba will be the Ranger’s top defenseman, no doubt about that. A lot of people have taken to social media to express how awesome the pairing of Trouba and Fox will be. Not to burst anyone’s bubble, but that isn’t going to be the case as they are both right-handed.
Brady Skjei has been one of Trouba’s best friends for almost a decade and, conveniently, will now be his pairing-mate. On the second pairing is where you’ll find Fox, holding down the fort on the right side. There are a couple players who could play beside him, like Marc Staal and Libor Hajek. I don’t expect Ryan Lindgren to be in the lineup opening night.
Fox will likely play beside Staal on the second pairing. This is because Hajek is more of a stay-at-home defenseman, which works well paired with a highly aggressive, smooth skating offensive defenseman. While Fox has all those attributes too, that description fits the bill of DeAngelo more than anyone. Therefore, Hajek and DeAngelo will likely round out the six on the back end.
The seventh defenseman could be Ryan Lindgren or Yegor Rykov. This is assuming the Smith and Shattenkirk are bought out.
The Rangers just accelerated their rebuild big time. Trouba is an absolute force to be reckoned with and is going to fit on this team nicely. But after every big move there’s always an equally big decision. It seems that, if the Rangers wish to be active in free agency, the time to act is now. Expect Smith and/or Shattenkirk to be bought out.