This is a story about a plethora of poor decisions leading up to a disaster scenario. This is a story about how a general manager's last hurrah turned into doubling down on a win-now move with no foresight as to what that move would do for the future of the team. This is a story about how the Rangers are currently between a rock and a hard place with one of their best players who they might not really appreciate anyway so what does it matter?
This is a story about how the Rangers might need to trade Keith Yandle. Not want to trade. Not might trade. How they might need to trade him.
A few aspects to this idea have been tossed around in different publications. Those who have suggested it seem to be coming from a "well, the Rangers need top six help and Yandle has under-delivered" place. I'm not.
Yandle has easily been the team's best defenseman all year, and from an offensive standpoint is poised to record more points from the blue line than any defenseman has done on Broadway in over a decade. However, that's not good enough for the offense-hungry fans/media who demand more than one goal out of a guy who has never been a goal scorer and ignore the reality that assists come from goals. That's not good enough for a fanbase that's sitting on a sinking ship and looking for people to blame as the distress signal continues to flare overhead.
The brass seems to agree with the insanity, though, since Yandle can't seem to work his way into the top power play unit at any cost. Yandle is second among Rangers defenseman in PP TOI at 2:16 a game. Dan Boyle leads the way at 2:29 and Ryan McDonagh is not far behind Yandle at 2:12. That 2:16 total would be (by far) the lowest power play average of Yandle's career. Yandle also can't find top-pairing minutes or partners -- a role reserved for Dan Girardi (since that's going so well).
This is a big reason why I believe the writing is on the wall when it comes to Yandle. It almost seems like the Rangers are coaching with the knowledge that they're not going to have him much longer. Or not caring that come this summer he can walk away from Broadway for nothing other than a memory of moving the Rangers 1A prospect, yet another first round pick and a young defenseman.
This is not ideal. It's gross, and really spotlights how a series of poor decisions can hurt a team in the long run. But the Rangers have backed themselves into a corner, and the man who did it is no longer at the helm. So before you get your pitchforks and torches remember that we don't know how involved Jeff Gorton was in past decisions, that Glen Sather was the final (and only) say on all roster moves and that Gorton might be looking for an escape hatch and just can't find one.
Even with all that being said, though, the Rangers made this bed and now they need to sleep it in. Unless someone can be conned into lending them a helping hand.
So there are three options:
1) Find a way to move enough salary to keep Yandle next year -- along with Chris Kreider, Dylan McIlrath, Kevin Hayes, J.T. Miller and Emerson Etem. This would require moving Girardi or Marc Staal (or both) to create enough space to keep everyone. Remember, Girardi and Staal have no trade clauses so the Rangers would need to make it abundantly clear to them that they have no place on this team and a move to another team is in their favor. It's possible to move a guy with a NTC, and happens all the time, but there would need to be movement immediately to give the team enough time to work this out before it becomes too late.
2) Keep Yandle for the playoffs and hope the Rangers win the Stanley Cup (not likely as currently constructed). The payoff here is that a Stanley Cup makes the trade and Yandle situation worth it regardless of whether or not he leaves for nothing. The risk here is not winning the Stanley Cup and then Yandle leaving for nothing. That, at the end of the day, is the nuclear scenario the Rangers need to be fearful of. Allowing Yandle to leave for nothing thanks to bad contracts for worse players is bad enough, but compound that with the haul Arizona got for Yandle in the first place? That's a disaster of biblical proportions (in the sporting world at least).
3) Trade Yandle at or before the deadline when his value would be at its highest. This protects the team from losing him for nothing, but is obviously a direct 180 from the win-now mentality the brass is currently employing. The Rangers could also move Yandle before the draft, but the value for a UFA-to-be's exclusive negotiating rights when the team could get him for free in a few days isn't very high.
Of all those options, only one makes logistical sense for the direction the team is going in (win now) and the long-term health of the club. That option is, as I'm sure you know, the first one -- finding a way to keep Yandle and all the pending RFAs at the expense of the two bloated defenseman contracts that are currently hampering the team's ability to do much of anything.
That would require the Rangers organization to agree that both defensemen need to be jettisoned to another team. At this point -- and again, we don't know what Gorton is doing in his office -- I simply don't see that being the case. Vigneault continues to lean heavily on Girardi and Staal despite mounds of evidence that neither are working in their current role and only getting worse. Maybe it's because the team is shopping both of them and doesn't want to make it seem like anything is amiss. Maybe it's because the Rangers think they can both help. Or maybe it's because the Rangers can't find a taker for either of them and don't want over $11-million tied up in the press box.
The easiest fix might be to just cut their losses and move Yandle. He should get a sizable return at the deadline from a contender, and elite puck-moving defenseman are among the most expensive players to acquire in a trade. Add that into Yandle being in his prime and his outstanding cap hit (Arizona will continue to eat 50% of his cap hit even if he's traded, so the team who traded for him would be able to add another player if needed) and Yandle should be the top trade target among playoff teams and could likely ensue a bidding war that would help increase the haul.
At the very least that option would allow the Rangers to get a return for him, although it would force the organization to answer the hard question about how this team as constructed, which is very simply: Can this group win a Stanley Cup as presently put together? The answer should also be simple, but right now it seems that the brass thinks they can work their way out of this. Again, take that comment with the grain of salt that we don't know if Gorton is trying to change things and can't get anything done.
Still, this situation is a mess, and the blame needs to fall on Glen Sather. Vigneault has his fingerprints all over the the way he is using the roster the Rangers currently have, but Sather's poor decisions stemming from the 2014 run to the Stanley Cup is finally starting to take shape. Each decision was akin to a stab wound and it was only a matter of time before the team started to bleed out.
The nuclear warning should be going off. The Rangers' timeline to figure out just what the hell is going on is getting smaller and smaller. The longer the Rangers sit in this void of "we think we can fix this without help" the harder these decisions are going to be. And the minute the window to move the two contracts currently causing these problems shuts (if it hasn't already), the Rangers will never be able to get it open again.
The Rangers have entered a significant crossroad for the organization's long-term health. This mess might not be Gorton's fault, but how he handles the situation now will fall on him. The ripples that come from this decision (whatever it may be) could end up being akin to the ripples from letting Anton Stralman walk and extending Girardi in the same breath.
Right now Gorton has a mop and a big spill in his office. The mess is not his fault.
But his legacy rests on how he chooses to clean it up.