The New York Rangers’ main goal this offseason was to bulk up its defense, which failed them late last season, but the team may have gone too far. After signing Kevin Shattenkirk, re-signing Brendan Smith and trading for youngster Anthony DeAngelo, suddenly the team is overloaded with blueliners. While a team may envision six full-time defenders and a seventh for depth purposes on the team, the Rangers currently have nine legitimate players who belong on their roster and someone has to go.
According to New York Posts’ Larry Brooks, the team’s starting four consists of Ryan McDonagh and Brady Skjei on the left side and Shattenkirk and Smith on the right side. That leaves five players for the final three spots on the NHL roster, including veterans Marc Staal and Nick Holden, DeAngelo, KHL import Alexei Bereglazov and University of Minnesota-Duluth signee Neal Pionk. Brooks admits the team could potentially keep eight defensemen to start the season as forward Jesper Fast is expected to begin the season on injured reserve, but that wouldn’t last long. In the end, two players would have to find themselves with the Hartford Wolf Pack in the AHL or the team must get rid of someone.
The most obvious solution to the problem would be to have Staal and Holden man the third defensive line, despite the fact that those two played together on the second line and struggled mightily last season. If the team did that, nonetheless, the team could keep one of the remaining three as the seventh defenseman and send the other two to the AHL. The only problem is who? Brooks writes that Bereglazov has an out-clause that would allow him to go back to the KHL if he is sent to the AHL, so he is a likely candidate to remain with the Rangers as the seventh man at minimum. However, the team gave up a lot to get DeAngelo and they would likely prefer not to have him sit on the bench in New York or play meaningless minutes in Hartford. Pionk, is also believed to be NHL ready.
So, the most likely scenario would be to look into trading Holden or buying out the contract of Staal. Would the Rangers want to do that? They already bought out fellow veteran Dan Girardi earlier this year. Staal, unfortunately, still has $17.2MM remaining on his contract over the next four years. Although they would open up $3.57MM to their cap this year in a buyout, the team would have to spread it over the next eight years like they did for Girardi. That’s a long time to pay two players who will never play for your team. The Rangers might want to wait one more year before buying out Staal. Regardless, that decision is expected to be made before the end of this week.
That leaves Holden, who has been previously mentioned in trade rumors, but little has come out of them. He is the best candidate to be moved. The 30-year-old, who came over from the Colorado Avalanche for a fourth-round pick, had a great first half last year and is on a cheap deal with just one year remaining. However, it seems that the market has temporarily dried up as many teams want to wait and see what they have before making a deal, so any move is likely not to be made before the start of training camp.