The New York Rangers have several mainstays on defense, namely captain Ryan McDonagh and 10-year veterans and alternate captains Dan Girardi and Marc Staal. With those three, as well as last season’s major trade acquisition, Keith Yandle, it can be easy to forget about Kevin Klein. But the 30-year-old blue-liner, now in his second full season with the Rangers and third with the club overall. is a huge reason why New York has a strong record despite some uneven overall team play.
From Expendable to Indispensable
As the Rangers were in a precarious position with respect to the salary cap during the offseason, someone wrote back then that the club should look to trade Klein (okay, it was me). Including this year, Klein has three years left on a contract that pays him $2.9 million annually. Given the overall value, it’s one of the Rangers’ more movable contracts if they want to try to open up more cap space.
Coming into this season, Klein also seemed to be expendable, given the other defensemen mentioned as well as youngsters Dylan McIlrath and Brady Skjei, who are knocking on the door. McIlrath, in fact, made the Rangers’ roster out of training camp but has only appeared in one game thus far, as he is the team’s spare defenseman.
As things stand now however, the Rangers should be happy they have held on to Klein. Girardi has struggled mightily in the early going, making poor plays with the puck and not helping drive possession. His 40.7 Corsi-for percentage during 5-on-5 play is the worst on the team among skaters who have logged at least 50 minutes of ice time this season.
As a result, head coach Alain Vigneault shook up the long-time defense pairing of Girardi and McDonagh, instead moving Klein up to play with the captain and Girardi to play alongside Yandle. Klein has thrived in the role, providing solid defense and keeping the puck out of his own end. In stark contrast to Girardi, Klein has a 5-on-5 Corsi-for percentage of 54.5 to lead all Rangers skaters. Klein also has a very underrated shot and has provided a couple of goals so far, building off last season’s career-high of nine tallies.
Klein’s strong performance thus far has helped enable the Rangers to jump out to a 6-2-2 start through 10 games, despite some overall inconsistencies with the team, including Girardi’s struggles in particular. New York will continue to rely on Klein as Girardi and others gradually find their games.
Of course, the Rangers would love to see Klein continue to play this well when the rest of the team is firing on all cylinders too, but the fact is that while he has been vitally important over the first 10 games, the club should still explore trading him eventually, at least by next offseason. Again, it is not that Klein is ineffective — quite the contrary — but the Rangers can fill the void with younger players and can save money in the process.
Those savings would be significant because the club will have to re-sign forwards Chris Kreider and Kevin Hayes, each of whom will likely be due a nice raise (though Kreider will have to score more than one goal every 10 games to earn that). Then there is Yandle, an offensive defenseman the Rangers would have a much harder time replacing. He is set to be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the year, and the team would be foolish to not at least attempt to bring him back into the fold.
Until then though, the Rangers will gladly reap the benefits of Klein’s excellent play as they make their way through this season.