Going into the 2016 NHL Draft, there was a general expectation that the New York Rangers would be involved in some trade activity, especially given that the club did not own a pick in the first or second round. Outside of their eventual picks on Saturday however, the Rangers were surprisingly quiet until they made a trade for Colorado defenseman Nick Holden.
— New York Rangers (@NYRangers) June 25, 2016
On the surface, the move itself might not seem too significant. However, when the context of the Rangers’ overall situation is taken into account, logic would lead one to believe that this trade is a precursor to something(s) much bigger.
Staal on the Way Out?
It’s possible that Holden could become the team’s seventh defenseman for next season. If that is the case though, an AAV of $1.65 million is somewhat of a high price tag for someone in such a role. That spot would also represent a major step down for Holden, who played in all 82 games for the Avalanche last season, averaging almost 22 minutes of ice time per game. A mobile defenseman with good size at 6’4″ and 210 pounds, Holden picked up six goals and 16 assists last year. His underlying numbers are also largely better than those of a bigger-name player who was also traded on Saturday:
Two defensemen that were dealt today.
One is serviceable and cheap. The other one is Kulikov. pic.twitter.com/aaRSNNPD9l
— Sean Tierney (@SeanTierneyTss) June 25, 2016
Given his experience and capabilities, it seems that Holden would be worthy of a regular spot in the Rangers’ lineup next season, likely on the third pair. Since Holden shoots left-handed, he would fit best on the left side.
The Blueshirts, however, already have Ryan McDonagh, Brady Skjei, and Marc Staal on that side. So one of them might be on his way out of New York, and the preferable and logical one to pick out of that trio is pretty obvious (hint: it’s not McDonagh or Skjei).
Staal, along with Dan Girardi, had a very poor season on the blue line for the Rangers. With both of them carrying large contracts for several more years, the Rangers really need to move at least one of them, as has been suggested many times before. Between the Holden acquisition and some rumblings that were reported yesterday by Pat Leonard of the New York Daily News, it is possible that the Rangers are set to trade Staal (disclaimer: this is only speculation).
Of course, it is also possible that Holden was acquired as a replacement for Keith Yandle, and/or that he could play on the right side. General manager Jeff Gorton mentioned his versatility after making the acquisition (via blueshirtsunited.com):
[quote_left author=”Jeff Gorton”]
I think Holden is a guy who has gotten better every year in the league, a pretty well-rounded guy. He can kill penalties, play both sides. He’s a player that can skate. I think he gives us good depth, and we’ll see where he fits in.
If Holden could slot in on the right side, the Rangers could be looking at a left side of McDonagh, Skjei, and Staal, while Holden, Girardi, and Kevin Klein would comprise the right side (with Dylan McIlrath possibly filling in for one of those players, or serving as the seventh defenseman again). Skjei also has the ability to play the right side, so he gives the team another option. Nevertheless, this would not be a great group with which to enter the season, as 1) the two anchors, Staal and Girardi, would still be around, and 2) the group would lack a true offensive threat.
That said, heading into the free agency period, the Rangers need to shed salary as opposed to adding it. Gorton is not likely to say outright at this point that he is looking to move one or two specific players. So it’s probable that something else is cooking with respect to the defense corps.
A Push for Stamkos?
Another factor to consider when thinking about the ramifications of the Holden trade is the Rangers’ alleged interest in the league’s premier free-agent-to-be, Steven Stamkos. Elliotte Friedman and John Shannon reported on the NHL Network during the draft on Saturday that the Rangers could be making a big offer to Stamkos.
Such a move would be consistent with the tradition of the Rangers being a major player in free agency. Of course, those signings have not often worked out well for the Blueshirts (no need to mention names at this time). Stamkos, though, is only 26 and is an elite goal-scorer, having twice eclipsed the 50-goal plateau (and once reached 60) in the regular season.
He would not, however, address the issues the Rangers have on the blue line. If New York can manage to bring him into the fold AND properly revamp the defense, then they might really have something going. They would have to make sure that acquiring Stamkos does not hurt their ability to build and/or maintain a good team around him.
Given the Rangers’ precarious salary cap position, big contracts would need to be moved out to accommodate a mega-deal for Stamkos. Adding salary in Holden, even while minimal, accomplishes the opposite. This again points to other players potentially being shipped out.
To fit Stamkos and restructure the defense, the Rangers would probably have to sever ties with two to three moderate to high-salaried players, such as Staal, Girardi, Rick Nash, Derek Stepan, or Derick Brassard. The resulting empty slots would need to be filled with more cost-effective players.
It is sure to be an offseason of upheaval for the Rangers. Their acquisition of Nick Holden appears to be a sign that much more is coming soon.