Death, taxes, and the Rangers defense being awful. These are all constants in life, but it’s especially problematic given the status of their rebuild, no matter what timeline it may be on.
If they are looking to accelerate things by landing veterans either via trade or free agency (or both), then, well, they’re going to need some of those guys. If the Rangers are going to let it simmer for a bit, they need players young enough to shore things up for now, who will then mature into rock-steady veterans that will lead the team through multiple Cup runs down the road. The Blueshirts need a bona fide top-pairing guy, the sort of defenseman other teams will wish they had.
There’s a few things going on contemporaneously that make me think immediately of the Carolina Hurricanes as the place to go shopping for one of those shiny new defensemen. The first is that they’re chock-full of them — Brett Pesce and Jaccob Slavin are both two of the most underrated d-men in the league, and either of them would be huge contributors to the Rangers, not to mention bridge-builders between the analytics crowd and the old-school “defense first” folks (I mean, wouldn’t it be great to get along once in a while?).
Next up is that William Nylander recently renewed his contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs, and that has some teams, Carolina specifically, feeling like they missed out.
We’ve also got this, which, taken together with that last tweet, make things a little dire for a team that sure wants this rebuilding phase to be over.
Center Jordan Staal is out with a concussion. https://t.co/tNBzxamYck— Carolina Hurricanes (@NHLCanes) December 6, 2018
Beyond that, the timing is right. A lot is said of the so-called “Thanksgiving Rule” — the notion that teams not in the playoff picture by Turkey Day simply can’t claw their way back in almost 9 times out of 10 — and teams that want it bad, like Carolina, are going to be pushing in the coming weeks to try and propel themselves into postseason placement.
The Hurricanes seem like a team willing to pick up the phone and talk at the very least. They’re also a team with assets the Rangers might like. It sure helps that we’ve got precisely what they want, too.
To get this out of the way, I’m not going to be spending almost any time at all going into what we’d potentially be giving up in order to land a down-south defender. Too much ink, both physical and digital, has been spilled on the matter, and frankly I wouldn’t do it justice.
Instead, what we’re going to look at here today is the prospect of landing two of my favorite defenders in the National Hockey League, two players that I’ve already introduced in this article: Brett Pesce and Jaccob Slavin.
Let’s dive into My Cousin Brett first here, because he’s more likely to be someone the ‘Canes would be willing to give up, although that’s another matter that won’t receive much treatment here due to the inextricable ties it has to what we give up. He’s a real straight-shooter who flies under the radar, but something of a cult classic among those in the know, and the fact that he’s not exactly a marquee name means he’s more likely to be traded than say, Charlie McAvoy or somebody who gets even a smidgen more press.
First, let’s let it rip with some great SKATR charts from Bill Comeau, comparing Pesce’s previous season to this season.
To unpack these numbers a little bit, we can see that more or less he was dominant last season, but has been having a tough run of things so far in 2018-19. That’s honestly fine given Carolina’s struggles, and may even be to our benefit, in that not unlike Derick Brassard, a change of scenery might do him well and unleash the potential that he has to be a difference maker in the here and now (not to mention for years to come).
It’s also worth noting that we’re still not that far into the season yet, so any numbers are inherently going to be a little bit suspect; I’m willing to bet they would bounce back to where they were last year if we were to give it some time, but right now they’re not — all the more reason to strike now.
Moving on to the passing project visualizations that CJ Turtoro provides us with, drawing on Corey Sznadjer’s microstats tracking data, we can see that, holy cow, this guy was good last season at exactly the things the Rangers need to improve upon in the coming years. Bonus points for the fact that he improved across the board more or less season to season between 2016 and 2018. An important thing to note however is that again, this is a small sample size, but I’d lay money on the notion that these numbers would probably look even better if we by some act of Hockey Stats God have every single minute he was on ice tracked.
Let’s do Slavin now shall we? Again we’re going to start of with Comeau’s broad-based summary of what’s Jaccob-with-two-c’s brings to the table, and I’m again not going to pick apart each and every measure here because you can read well enough I’m sure.
Great gravy, last season was good huh? Those are exceptionally high marks, and if he were a New York Ranger we’d be hearing a lot of Anton Stralman comparisons most likely. In fact, he might even hit the high-mark of Ryan McDonagh levels of beloved, because numbers aside, he has a tendency to make big plays against a backdrop of absolute stability. With the right partner he’d be a dynamic force for the Blueshirts, and would rocket our top pairing to the elite among the Eastern Conference. I’m currently imagining him with K’Andre Miller, and now I’m going to need to take five and collect myself I’m so excited (just kidding).
Here’s his microstats by the way, and I hope you’ll find them as enticing as I do.
They’re still great, they’re still improving, and they’re something we’d love to have at MSG. Something that really sticks out with Slavin is just how much he would help the Rangers breakout, in that we’re set to have some solid scorers in the coming seasons depending on how things pan out — Buchnevich and Chytil and Kravtsov, oh my! — and so we’ll want to get the puck out of the defensive zone and into the offensive zone as quickly and frequently as possible.
Obviously that’s something we should always be looking to do, but it’s also something that we’ve notably struggled with, and something that would, beyond just our ability to limit goals against, make our top-six group a formidable opponent. Can you imagine having two high-octane scoring lines getting 17 or 18 minutes a night while being fed by Jaccob Slavin every other play? Beyond just moving the needle on our place in the standings and concomitant contending status, it’d just be fun as hell to watch some plain old domination.
The best part of it all? Brett Pesce is 24 and locked up until the end of the 2023-24 season for just over $4 million a year, while Slavin is also 24 and his contract lasts a season longer for only $1.3 million more. Both of these players would be absolute steals for the Rangers to acquire, and I’d strongly recommend Jeff Gorton make a push for either of them. My preference lies with Slavin, but beggars can’t be choosers. No matter which direction the Rangers brass hopes to take this rebuild, Brett Pesce or Jaccob Slavin (or both?! bye Hank!) would be unbelievably strong additions to our backend, and would satisfy a deep need for the Blueshirts.
Weather the storm, Gorts, and come out the other side with something good. Now’s the time.