When the New York Rangers acquired offensive-minded defenseman Keith Yandle from the Arizona Coyotes at last season’s trade deadline, many saw the move as one that would get the Blueshirts over the hump and deliver the club’s first Stanley Cup championship since 1994.
But alas, the Rangers fell short, losing in the Eastern Conference Finals to the Tampa Bay Lightning in seven games. Yandle had his ups and downs in his brief time with New York, but was nevertheless a key piece in helping the team get as far as it did. It was later revealed that Yandle played through much of the postseason with a sprained AC joint in his shoulder, so it’s impressive that he contributed even somewhat meaningfully, let alone significantly.
Putting the team disappointment of 2014-15 behind him though, Yandle has another season under contract with the Rangers and plenty more to offer as the team takes another shot at Lord Stanley’s mug.
A Solid Stint
The Rangers gave up a lot to get Yandle from Arizona, including defenseman John Moore, star prospect Anthony Duclair, and a first-round draft pick. So when the blueliner appeared tentative in his first few games with his new team and was not producing much on the power play or on the score sheet at all, questioning the merit of the trade was only natural. But Yandle began to find his comfort zone with the Rangers and head coach Alain Vigneault’s fast-paced system, ultimately finishing the regular season with two goals and nine assists in 21 games with New York.
In the playoffs, Yandle replicated his regular-season production with the Rangers, tallying another two goals and nine assists in 19 games. Battling through his shoulder injury, Yandle’s 11 playoff points were still good enough to put him in a tie for third place among all NHL defensemen. Only Conn Smythe winner Duncan Keith and Tampa Bay’s Victor Hedman had more points.
Despite his effectiveness on the offensive side of the puck, Yandle’s detractors like to point to his pedestrian defensive play. Throughout his career, he has often been prone to defensive gaffes and giveaways, a trait that was sometimes evident in his time with the Rangers this past season. Some occasional misfortune also did not help endear him to the Blueshirt faithful.
That’s part of the package with Yandle, though, and the Rangers knew that was what they were getting. Defensemen who can put up 50-plus points a season are rare, as the Rangers can attest. They have not had such a defenseman since Brian Leetch. Getting that type of production from the back-end means that occasional defensive miscues are something you live with – especially when you have Henrik Lundqvist in net and a remaining group of defensemen who are very solid on that side of the puck. Furthermore, Yandle’s high amount of turnovers is likely driven largely by the fact that he has the puck very often — not just because he might be poor at managing the puck in his own end.
For the 2015-16 season, the Rangers and their fans should expect to see the level of offense from Yandle that made then-GM Glen Sather want to go out and acquire him in the first place. He was providing a decent level of production while getting acclimated to his new city and team, and then dealing with an injury in the playoffs. With a full training camp and full season with the Rangers, Yandle’s production could very well increase. Perhaps more importantly, he might be able to finally turn the Rangers’ power play into a consistent force, given that he and the team will have more time to work on it going into the season.
Interestingly, Yandle has sometimes been the subject of trade rumors this off-season, particularly when the Rangers looked to be in a bind to re-sign center Derek Stepan. Such rumors do not seem to hold water, however. Fellow defenseman Kevin Klein would have (and still could at some point) made more sense as a piece to move, given his AAV of $2.9 million for three more seasons and being a more replaceable type of player than Yandle. Yandle’s cap hit is actually less than Klein’s, since part of the trade with Arizona called for the Coyotes to pay half of his overall salary. That means that Yandle only counts for $2.625 million against New York’s cap — an incredible bargain for a player as gifted and rare as Yandle.
Even though Yandle is set to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of next season, the Rangers would be foolish to give him up at this point, and should make an effort to re-sign him, assuming the upcoming season goes well for him. At 28 years of age, he is in his prime and is ready to make major contributions to the Rangers as they take aim once again at the Stanley Cup.