One of the things that makes sports so great is the fact there are so many things fans can debate about. Whether it’s debating who is the best hockey player of all time, whether a referee blew a call or who should be starting in net the next day, there are endless topics to discuss with friends or keyboard warriors.
However, one thing that cannot be debated is the fact that Ottawa Senators defenseman, Erik Karlsson, is not only one of the best NHL defensemen today but is one of the best of his generation. In today’s NHL, despite an uptick in scoring, it’s still hard to find many forwards that can score more than 60 points in a season. Yet Karlsson, despite playing defense, has averaged 67 for his career. That sort of production has him in rarefied air with the likes of Al MacInnis, Brian Leetch and Phil Housley.
If Karlsson were to produce 67 points in 2018-19, he would be crashing the record books and be one of the 40 most prolific defensive scorers in NHL history at just 28 years old.
This is why it’s confounding that the Senators seem content to trade him and why rumors are circulating as to where he will go. One of his projected destinations is the New York Rangers, and as TSN’s Bob Mckenzie noted, “New York is New York and the Rangers are the Rangers.”
Despite what many perceive to be a rebuild, the Rangers cannot help but consider the idea of Karlsson in a Broadway blue shirt. And why not? Prolific scorers on the blue line do not grow on trees. On the surface, this seems like a no-brainer. But here is why Karlsson coming to New York would be a terrible idea.
The Rangers Already Have Their Erik Karlsson
His name is Kevin Shattenkirk, who the Rangers just finished signing for four years at $6.65 million per year in 2017. He took, what even he admits to, a hometown discount to join the team he rooted for as a child. While no one will confuse Shattenkirk’s production to Karlsson’s, he is no slouch in the scoring department with five seasons of scoring over 40 points.
In order to acquire Karlsson, the Rangers would almost certainly have to trade Shattenkirk or risk having little to no money to address several gaping holes on offense. Trading someone, who came to your team at a discount after just one season would send a terrible message. For better or worse, the Rangers already hitched their wagon to a high-priced, offensive-minded defenseman.
Offensive Defenseman Aplenty in New York
Here’s the funny thing. In one or two years, Shattenkirk may not even be regarded as the best scoring defenseman on the team. Despite a dip in production in 2017-18, Brady Skjei has shown the talent to be a prolific offensive defenseman. He had 34 assists (39 points in total) in 2016-17, his first full NHL season. Despite this, now-former head coach Alain Vigneault barely used him on the power play, severely stunting his offensive output. There is no question Sjkei, who is just 24, has the potential to be a 50-55 point scorer.
And Skjei isn’t the only young defenseman showing promise. Neal Pionk, 22, made his debut after the Rangers traded away many of their assets to close out the year. Pionk managed to score 14 points in 28 games, even though he was another player the coach rarely used on the power play.
Then there is the biggest wildcard of all, Tony Deangelo. So far, the hype has been bigger than his play. He has 22 points in 71 career games and his minus-31 is an eyesore. However, many people believed he was turning a corner in his development before sustaining a season-ending ankle injury in March.
None of these players is among the bevvy of defensive prospects the Rangers acquired in their various trades this year and don’t factor in the loads of early round draft picks the team now has in 2018 and 2019. Ultimately, the last thing this team needs right now is a defenseman that can score a ton of points but is mediocre at best in the defensive end.
The Rangers Need a New Beukeboom
Rangers fans under the age of 25 may not know much about Jeff Beukeboom but older fans will vividly recall the hulking 6’5″, 230 pound defenseman anchoring a tandem with Brian Leetch. While Leetch was dazzling the crowd on a nightly basis with slick moves that few in the league could pull off, Beukeboom was blasting opposing forwards that dared get near the crease. He was a no nonsense defensive-defenseman who never scored more than 20 points for the Rangers despite playing in the waning years of an era where forwards might score 70 goals.
This is what the Rangers need, or for younger fans to conceptualize, they need Dan Girardi in his prime, an All-Star candidate despite barely scoring any points. Between Shattenkirk, Sjkei, Pionk, Deangelo and additional prospects coming in, the last thing the Rangers need to think about is bringing in Karlsson. What the team needs is to look at a player like Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Ian Cole, who will be a free agent this summer and often averages over 150 hits per year.
Look Out for the 2019 Free Agents
The team can also look towards 2019 and going all-in on a more well-rounded defenseman like Oliver Ekman-Larsson, who can score 40 points and log over 150 hits per year while blocking nearly 80 shots. Obviously, being a good defenseman means more than throwing your body to block pucks but the point is that Ekman-Larsson is the two-way defender the Rangers need if they are looking to overhaul the team to contend by 2020.
It should be noted that there could be a host of defensemen in the free agent class of 2019 that would be a better fit for the team than Karlsson. There is no doubt he is a great player and there is also no doubt there are teams in the league where he will be a tremendous fit. The Vegas Golden Knights, Pittsburgh Penguins, and Vancouver Canucks immediately come to mind. But the Rangers are simply a bad fit for the future Hall of Famer.
Trading for him would be the sort of move the Rangers of old would make. Those teams went for the big name player regardless of fit and it was also why they missed the playoffs for seven straight seasons to start the 21st century. Rangers fans have to hope general manager Jeff Gorton sees this and says, thanks but no thanks if the Senators come calling.
My love of hockey started when I was about 6 years old and started watching Ranger players like Tony Granato, Mike Gartner, Ulf Dahlen, Brian Leetch and Mike Richter. I remember meeting Bernie Nichols when I was just 8 years old and is a photo of us two and my father that I still treasure to this day.
The team had me fully hooked on June 14th, 1994, the night they won their first Stanley Cup in 54 years. It happened to also be my 12th birthday.
I have been involved in sports writing for the better part of 10 years whether it was covering local athletics, interviewing professional athletes visiting our area or writing for Bleacher Report for three years. I am an all around sports fan but the sport I am most passionate about is hockey.
There is nothing quite like a tie game in the 3rd period of a Game 7 that literally puts you on the edge of your seat, even if you’re not a fan of either team.
I am excited to offer my insights on the Broadway Blueshirts and other aspects of the NHL, the AHL and prospects waiting to join the league.