This afternoon, the Rangers announced their intention to buy out the rest of defenseman Dan Girardi’s contract. His cap hit would have been $5.5 million for 2017-18 and because of his non-movement clause, New York would have been required to protect him in the expansion draft next week. It was also reported last night that 32 year-old Kevin Klein is likely retiring from the NHL. If he does, that would add another $2.9 million to the available monies for this next season. That leaves five roster blueliners under contract (including Stephen Kampher), plus Brendan Smith who the Rangers would like to re-sign as a UFA.
The Rangers made several moves today (which included the signing of forward Matt Puempel and the addition of staff). Puempel was signed to nail down the proper number of players to protect in the upcoming expansion draft. The list of protected players is due this coming Saturday and as of tonight, the Rangers can comply with the rules and will not lose a draft pick in the process (the penalty for not doing it correctly).
Before we get to the defense, a quick expansion draft primer. Each existing NHL team can only lose one player, and there are two choices as to how a team can protect a player against being selected by Las Vegas. An NHL team can either protect eight skaters and one goaltender (for a total of 9 players) or they can protect seven forwards, three defensemen, and one goaltender (11 players). Plus, that NHL team has to leave one defenseman and two forwards who are under contract and have played in 40 games this past season (or 70 in the past two seasons) exposed to being selected. Because Girardi had a no-movement clause, New York would have had to protect him. Now, they do not.
Signing Smith is a priority, but it is no secret that the Blueshirts would like to sign UFA Kevin Shattenkirk on or after July 1. The Rangers have been looking for a premier offensive defenseman for years. They though they had one when they draft Bobby Sanguinetti in 2006, and then they thought they had one when they selected Michael Del Zotto in 2008. But neither was the answer in New York. Now they have the chance to get a right handed power play quarterback who can distribute the puck. Plus, Shatty is only 28 years old, the Rangers have the cash to afford him (could cost them about $7 million), and he wants to play here. It could be a match made in heaven (we hope).
If the Rangers can lock up both Smith and Shattenkirk, the defense will have a new feel next season. With both Girardi and Klein gone, it will be a more mobile blueline, and one that moves the puck better. That will be very good to see, as it was one of the problems that became very apparent in the playoffs. Had the Rangers had a more potent defense, the team likely would have gotten past Ottawa into the third round.
And there is more defense coming–including three very good defensive, very big prospects that will play in Hartford next fall. Ryan Graves is the veteran among them, and will enter the final year of his ELC. Graves, who has a booming shot, had some stalled development last season, as he was trying to change his game last season with the Wolf Pack. That definitely did not work in his favor, and hopefully, the change in coaching staff up in Hartford will get him back on track. If he uses his big frame, and his shot, Graves may even see action in New York before the end of the season. The other two defensive prospects are entering their rookie pro season. Sean Day, who developed really well over the last year, and Sergey Zborovskiy, the WHL Russian defenseman, both have size and two-way ability. They will need more time, but the Rangers’ organization no longer has a bare cupboard on the back end.
Between the new blueliners coming into the NHL roster and the prospects developing in the system, the Rangers’ defense will have a whole new feel over the next few years. It has taken awhile, but things are looking up on the blueline. And with several good prospects in goal, now would be a good time for Gordie Clark and company to start looking for top prospects up front. Maybe next Friday night in Chicago?