With the trade deadline approaching, we will be profiling several players in the weeks ahead that have a good chance to be dealt by February 26th.
The New York Rangers are selling. That much is well-established. While the main focus of the media is on big names like Ryan McDonagh and Mats Zuccarello, the reality is the only deals that are more likely than not include the team’s impending unrestricted free agents. One such player, and the only Rangers defenseman that fits that description, is Nick Holden. While Holden is not the swift, puck-moving defenseman emphasized by today’s NHL, he still holds value in many facets of the game. In fact, it’s fair to say that Holden has been routinely under-rated throughout his career (at least Patrick Roy thought so). New York knows this too, after acquiring him from Colorado for just a fourth-round pick back in the 2016 off-season only to watch him play a key role on the blue line the past two seasons. Now that they’re on the other side of the table looking to trade him away, they’ll try not to make the same mistake. However, with a “fire sale” potentially about to begin for the Rangers, Holden seems destined to be shipped out for the best offer.
Holden is in the final season of a three-year, 4.95MM contract extension signed with the Colorado Avalanche in 2014. His cap hit in 2017-18 is $1.65MM, but will count for under $500K at the deadline.
Nothing that Holden does on the ice jumps out, though for a defenseman, that can be a good thing. In no way does Holden play a flashy, offensive possession game and his numbers this season prove that. He has just a few goals and a handful of assists on the year, below average Corsi numbers, and almost no role on the power play. Perhaps the most telling detail of his playing style is that the casual hockey fan likely has never heard of him, as his play rarely garners attention. Why then is he playing top-four minutes for the Rangers this year and playing top-pair minutes last year? Holden simply has a solid, no-nonsense game. He plays a safe, dependable style in his own end and can thus be relied on for major minutes without risking a breakdown on defense. Holden is also a physical, but clean player. He has led the Rangers in hits in back-to-back seasons, but does so while taking few detrimental penalties. When given the chance, Holden also has quite the shot and led all Blueshirt blue liners in goal-scoring in 2016-17. It’s easy to say that Holden has taken a step back this season. His offensive totals are way off his pace set last year and his plus/minus and ice time are down as a result. However, as for the hallmarks of his game, Holden is playing just as physical, is blocking more shots, and has improved greatly in turnovers, with fewer giveaways and more takeaways. Holden’s 2017-18 season would give no team any reason to think that he is a game-changer or the answer to all of their problems, but could he be a reliable asset to a contender? Absolutely.
51 GP, 3 goals, 7 assists, 10 points, +4 rating, 12 PIM, 48 shots, 19:00 ATOI, 45.0 CF%
Holden fits the bill of a player who gets traded every deadline season – a responsible depth defenseman who can play reliable hockey when called upon. Every season contenders seems to add a player like this simply out of convenience rather than necessity. Holden is not the type of player who will radically change the fortunes of a contender, but – especially at that cap hit – he is one worth the asset investment as he can provide reliable defense if necessary. Look for the top teams in the league to take a look at Holden in the next two weeks. The Atlantic trio of the Tampa Bay Lightning, Boston Bruins, and Toronto Maple Leafs could all use depth on the blue line and while at times they have all been connected to bigger targets, surely one or more will decide to settle for a lesser addition. In the Metro, the Washington Capitals could really use some defensive depth and experience and the New Jersey Devils could particularly use a more safe, reliable defender given their current goal-tending crisis. In the Pacific, the Los Angeles Kings would make a nice fit, so long as their playoff position is a little firmer by the deadline.
However, the best fit for Holden seems to be the Central’s Dallas Stars. The Stars have little cap space to work with and have admitted that they won’t be major buyers, but the affordable contract of Holden paired with the responsible, hard-nosed game that head coach Ken Hitchcock appreciates makes for a nice match. Dallas is in good position to at least clinch a wild card spot this season and perhaps play spoiler in the postseason, but regardless of the status of Marc Methot, the team is known to be looking for a defenseman and Holden fits the bill for the type of guy they want and can afford to acquire.
Likelihood of a Trade
If the Rangers are serious about their fire sale, then a Holden trade is nearly a certainty. There has been no word on any extension talks, meaning Holden’s days in New York are numbered; no point in keeping him around just to fade away into free agency at the end of the season. The Rangers got Holden for a fourth-rounder in the off-season two years ago and now, two solid campaigns later and at deadline prices, they should be able to get at least that back. If the fire sale is on, they should take what they can get and move on.