The Rangers are heading towards the 2018 NHL trade deadline with a handful of big ticket players that the front office is reportedly ready to move. We’ve all heard the Rick Nash, Michael Grabner, and Ryan McDonagh rumors, but Jeff Gorton can’t stop there.
The best thing that the Rangers’ front office can do is admit and embrace defeat. That means moving players who are more valuable as trading chips than as cogs in the rebuild and moving players with expiring contracts – which includes selling Nick Holden.
Holden’s tenure in New York has been filled with ups and downs, but at the end of the day he’s a solid depth defenseman with offensive upside. The problem is that Alain Vigneault and Lindy Ruff haven’t been using him in that way. Holden is capable of playing both sides — which should make him more interesting at the deadline — but he is far better when playing his natural position on the left. Instead we’ve seen Holden play 527 minutes of 5-on-5 hockey on the right side of Ryan McDonagh.
Holden has played a lot of tough minutes this season and as a result the holes in his game have been on full display. But make no mistake, he still has value.
There's an alternate universe where the Rangers recognize that Nick Holden is a left-handed third pairing defenseman, use him as one, and the entire perception around him changes.— Adam Herman (@AdamZHerman) January 29, 2018
TSN has Holden listed at the 23 spot on its trade bait list, just behind Jack Johnson — that’s fifth among potential rental defensemen. For teams that can’t afford to add defensemen like Mike Green, Ryan McDonagh, Ian Cole, and Erik Gudbranson, Holden is an attractive option.
Last season at the deadline the Flames acquired Michael Stone from the Coyotes for a conditional third and a fifth round pick. Stone was a rental defenseman coming off of a 36 point season in 2015-16 that was followed by a disappointing 2016-17. Sound familiar?
Remember, Holden scored 11 goals and 23 assists last season and had an average ice time of 20:37. This year he has just nine points for the Rangers through 48 games this year. Shooting percentages are crazy, huh? But there’s more to the story than that.
Holden has played a lot of tough minutes this season as a result of being McDonagh’s most frequent partner and that has made a clear impact on his offensive production. For the second straight season Holden has the lowest percentage of 5-on-5 offensive zone starts among Rangers defenders. But that number has dropped by 3.72 percent this year. That, in part, explains why he is on pace to finish with half of the primary points he had last season during 5-on-5 hockey.
Despite the dip in Holden’s production this season, he still has an intriguing skill set as a third pair defenseman with offensive upside. Believe it or not he is tied for 38th among NHL defenders in goals since 2015-16. Holden may not be power play material, but he’s an above-average goal scorer from the blue line during 5-on-5 hockey; that is something that a team with Cup aspirations and a shallow defense should value. And if they don’t see the value in that now, they likely will when they hear what it will cost to land Mike Green.
Gorton can point to last season’s Michael Stone trade as a reference for Holden’s value or wait for someone else to set the market on a rental defenseman. But regardless of the path he takes, Holden’s days in New York should be numbered.
It’s hard to imagine that Holden, who turns 31 in May, will fit into the organizations plans after this season. He will be coming off of a three-year deal with an AAV of $1.65 million. The Rangers need to focus on getting younger and they already have three defensemen who are under contract through 2020-21 and Brady Skjei. In order for Tony DeAngelo, Ryan Graves, Neal Pionk, and Sean Day to prove themselves next year, roster spots need to be available in training camp.
Holden will bring in more than David Desharnais, his fellow pending UFA, but really Gorton should move both of them, especially if picks can be had. Right now lottery tickets for the 2018 Draft are more valuable to the Rangers than another 20 games of Holden or Desharnais.