The Rangers’ acquisition of Keith Yandle this spring was an indicator that the team had entered “win now” mode. With many key players set to return next season, particularly on defense – an area where the Blueshirts have earned a very strong reputation in recent seasons – trading Kevin Klein would be an unequivocal step in the wrong direction.
Tough Decisions Lie Ahead
As NHL draft day approaches, the trade winds surrounding Cam Talbot are swirling heavily. It’s seems all but inevitable that the talented Ranger backup netminder will be a member of another team in the very near future.
Talbot trade watch continues. Expect he gets traded this week. Buf, Edmtn, SJ and Dallas in the mix. Great contract requires high return.
— Darren Dreger (@DarrenDreger) June 22, 2015
While Talbot could command a very high return given his incredibly affordable price tag, it would not help the Rangers a whole lot with regard to their current cap situation, one which doesn’t leave them with much wiggle room this offseason.
In addition to Talbot more than likely headed off Broadway, the Rangers also appear to be willing to let veteran winger Martin St. Louis walk this summer, freeing up his $5.6 million cap hit. That, however, still leaves restricted free agents Derek Stepan, Carl Hagelin, JT Miller, and Jesper Fast in need of new – inevitably higher – contracts.
Those demands no doubt leave the Rangers in a tough spot, thus we’re confronted with the possibility of trading Klein and his $2.9 million cap hit in order to free up some cap space in an effort to hold onto the aforementioned RFA’s.
Tom Dianora wrote recently that Klein is the odd man out on the Rangers’ blue line. While it may be true, and there’s a strong case to be made for trading Klein – possibly even in a package with Talbot – I’m here to tell you why trading the Walter White lookalike defenseman would be a foolish mistake on the part of the Rangers.
Fool Me Once, Shame on You. Fool Me Twice, Shame on Me
Remember when the Rangers let Anton Stralman walk last summer to Tampa Bay, and it wasn’t until after the 2014-15 season had begun that fans and critics alike began to realize the true value of the defenseman the Rangers had lost?
Well, mark my words: If the Rangers trade Kevin Klein and the return isn’t downright sensational (and by that I mean a defenseman who is sound in his own zone, tough as nails, is a right-handed shot, and can contribute offensively in a valuable way) for a very affordable price, it will be deja-vu all over again come next fall.
One of the strongest points of this current Ranger squad is and will continue to be the defense core. It wasn’t that long ago that many even considered the Blueshirts to be the top defense in the entire league, and if it weren’t for some truly unfortunate timing with regard to injuries, that defense could have potentially brought home the Stanley Cup.
Given that all six starting defensemen are again under contract at least through 2016, wouldn’t it be fair to say, then, that the defensive group that was considered to be among the strongest mere weeks ago would probably be looked at the same way – if not better with maturity and experience – come next season?
I think yes.
If the Rangers head into next season with the “win now” mentality the way they should, seeing as they’ve been on the verge of a championship for a couple of years now, then splitting up a defensive core such as the one currently at hand in the form of a trade involving Klein would be a highly questionable move, and that’s putting it nicely.
Now it is true that the Rangers have some promising up and coming defensive prospects, most notably 21-year-old Brady Skjei.
There’s no question that Skjei is a serious talent and will be a big part of the organization at some point down the road, but to take the risk of having him replace Klein’s workload in what would be his rookie campaign just doesn’t seem likely, let alone logical.
Replacing an established NHL defenseman who posted nine goals, 26 points, and a +24 rating last season with an unestablished 21-year-old NHL freshman wouldn’t exactly scream “win now” either.
If Glen Sather and company truly believe that the Rangers are still on the cusp of a championship, then they will not trade Kevin Klein this offseason. If the Rangers management also believes that the best offense is a good defense, and that defense wins championships, then they will find a way to hold onto the man who has been stellar defensively for the better part of two seasons in New York, had the second most points among Ranger defenders with 26 in 65 games in 2014-15, and averaged 18:29 in ice time per game this past season.
Klein has been a key piece of the Rangers’ core of defensemen, and his contributions would not be easily replaced, plain and simple.
Last summer, the Rangers let Anton Stralman leave New York for Tampa Bay. In hindsight it’s easy to see what a colossal mistake that was. We can just hope that history won’t repeat itself, this time in the form of Kevin Klein.
Jake Gittler is now in his second season as a contributing member of The Hockey Writers. After spending the 2014-15 season working in Communications for Adirondack Flames of the AHL and covering the New York Rangers here for The Hockey Writers, Jake’s coverage has been switched over to the Colorado Avalanche for the 2015-16 season. Jake can be reached via email at Jakegittler@gmail.com, or on Twitter @Jgittler_hockey.