The Winnipeg Jets took care of one piece of business on Friday, locking down star defenseman Dustin Byfuglein to a five-year, $38-million deal.
In the ever-changing landscape of the hockey trade market, this is a seismic shift for the New York Rangers and the rest of the buying community. The Rangers currently hold the last and only elite puck-moving defenseman rumored to be available come the trade deadline. And with Byfuglein off the table, Yandle's value just skyrocketed.
Let me be clear about something before we move forward: I would prefer for the Rangers to keep Yandle at all costs. Does that mean moving Marc Staal and Dan Girardi (be it at the deadline or over the summer) to make room for him? Probably. Will the Rangers be willing to do that? Remains to be seen.
There is one other wrinkle, though. The Rangers need to get a sense of what, exactly, Yandle wants and/or expects during contract negotiations. The two sides have had "brief conversations" about Yandle's free agent status, but I haven't seen anything to indicate more than just the two sides touching base. So this might be a great time to actually sit down with him, since I'm sure Yandle's smiling ear to ear looking at all the dollar signs that come with that Byfuglein extension.
For whatever reason, people think Yandle isn't as good as Big Buff (probably because he doesn't hit all that much), but Yandle could now easily see $7 million a year for 6-8 years on the open market, which would probably price him out of New York even if the Rangers wanted to make room for him. The two sides need to hash this out and soon, unless Jeff Gorton and company have already made the decision to move on.
If the latter is the case, then Gorton and the Rangers need to make sure they're not losing Yandle for nothing. And since there isn't another big-time puck mover available (sorry, Dion Phanefu but with that contract you don't count), Yandle is the belle of the ball.
The one thing working against Yandle's value also sort of works in the Rangers favor. Since Yandle is an unrestricted free agent at the end of the year, he's a rental. While rentals still fetch high prices, they do see a more of a dip in overall returns than someone who can help for the long term.
However, this is counterbalanced by the fact that half of Yandle's salary is being eaten by Arizona (even if he gets traded they eat the salary this year), which means Yandle only carries a $2.625 cap hit -- even lower once you pro-rate the contract to be moved that late in the year. So, yeah, Yandle is a rental. But he's also cheap enough that buying teams can add him without having to get uncomfortable or shedding other salaries to make space. Some teams might even have enough room to add him AND someone else since Yandle comes in so low.
With the news that Byfuglien is off the table, Yandle's value should be a good prospect and a 1st round pick. Or a top prospect and a mid-round pick. Maybe the Tampa Bay stuff comes to a head now that Jonathan Drouin hasn't played competitive hockey in two weeks and the Lightning are back in the playoff race. Or maybe the Rangers look to do a deal with the St. Louis Blues in a one-for-one effort. All of this is speculation, of course.
Part of the reason why the Rangers really can't take a "wait and see" approach with Yandle is because his trade value drops significantly if they try to move him before the draft. In that instance teams will only be trading for a period of exclusive negotiating rights to bang out a new deal.
Obviously, everage plays a pretty enormous role in contract negotiations, and if the Rangers intend to battle through this with Yandle he has all the leverage come the summer. He can ask for the moon and if he doesn't get it he can walk to the UFA pool and get it there. The Rangers have no leverage in that situation, and risk either losing him for nothing or losing him for a meager return.
It's a horrible situation to be in, and sadly the Rangers have no one to blame but themselves. They made this trade without the foresight of what to do if, you know, they didn't win the Stanley Cup. They traded their 1A prospect for a player and then horribly mismanaged him every step of the way (until very recently). And they're the ones who are currently waiting until the last minute to figure out just what the hell they're going to do with their best defenseman this year.
The Rangers can't lose him for nothing -- another consequence of moving a prime asset for a player -- and I'd have to think the brass realizes there's enough holes in this ship that banking on a Stanley Cup run with the team "as is" might not be the smartest move. The Rangers have a future to think about, though, and the decision they make about Yandle is at the forefront of it.
No matter how you slice the situation, Yandle has more value on the trade market today than he did Monday morning. He's got a lot of value to the Rangers, too.
No matter what option the Rangers choose, they must maximize that value.