There’s a very good chance that next year the New York Rangers’ defensemen will be Kevin Shattenkirk, Brady Skjei, Marc Staal, Brendan Smith, Neal Pionk, Tony D’Angelo, and John Gilmour. At first glance that blue line looks about as sturdy as a ladder made out of pool noodles or a life raft made out of soggy Frosted Mini-Wheats.
Fortunately for the Rangers, this isn’t necessarily a problem. The current blue line — remember that Skjei and Gilmour both need contracts — is very much an open competition after the first pairing. And there are kids like Ryan Lindgren, Sean Day, and Libor Hajek who are hungry to prove themselves in training camp. The uncertainty of what New York’s bottom four will look like in October leaves the door open for the kids to really go for it in training camp.
What’s Here Now
Here’s a brief look at the current blue line and the kids who could challenge for roster spots in training camp. Remember, there’s a chance that things could look a lot different by mid-July. Two quick notes for the table below: Skjei, O’Gara, Gilmour, and Bigras have cap hits based on Matt Cane’s free agency predictions and Hajek is not included, but he should be kept in mind.
About the Other Guys
When we’re trying to divine what next year’s blue line will look like we can’t forget that Steven Kampfer is still under contract. Last season Kampfer won Alain Vigneault’s favor before he went down with an injury. Will David Quinn feel the same way about the aging AHL-level blueliner? It’s hard to say. He’s considered a good locker room guy and the letters that spell out the word “character” have been worn off of the keyboard in Gorton’s office. Like it or not, Kampfer is in the mix (for now).
Rob O’Gara is also in the mix, but he needs a new contract. The Yale alumni played in 22 games with New York after coming over from Boston in the Nick Holden trade. Unfortunately he was far from reliable in that stretch and looked very much like an AHL defenseman. To be fair to O’Gara, the defense, as a whole, was pretty miserable. He will be 25-years-old by the time training camp begins.
Chris Bigras is another interesting case. Bigras had a strong showing in Hartford last season after joining the Rangers via a trade with the Colorado Avalanche. But, at best, he’s a sixth or seventh defenseman at the NHL level — and, according to some, even that might be generous. It’s highly doubtful that Bigras fits into the Rangers’ long or short term plans. Bigras needs to change a lot of minds in training camp, but before he does that, he also needs to sign a contract. He’ll be with the Wolf Pack next year.
Short Term Solutions
So, we know that the Rangers are definitely in rebuild mode, but that doesn’t mean Gorton should close the door on adding a d-man in free agency. Remember, defensive prospects are typically slow to develop. If the Rangers don’t feel confident that they can make a trade to bolster the blue line, adding a stopgap on a one or two-year deal would make a lot of sense.
But, as fate would have it, this is a particularly brutal year for free agent defensemen, and the Rangers aren’t the only team that needs to apply some Spackle to its blue line. Let’s look at a few options that the Rangers might be interested in.
John Moore, LHD
Cane’s Prediction: Two years, $3,450,618 AAV. | 27-years-old on Oct. 1.
The teams that don’t land Mike Green on July 1 will be looking for other defenders who can skate and move the puck. Moore fits that bill. So, he will get a lot more interest than a third pairing guy would normally get, even though his production slipped last year in New Jersey.
Moore is two years removed from his 12-goal season in 63 games with the Devils. In a sheltered role he’s not a bad option as a third pair guy. And, given his journeyman status, a one or two-year deal to return to New York might be appealing to him. But the Rangers don’t exactly need another left-handed defenseman in the mix.
Calvin de Haan, LHD
Age on Oct. 1: 27
Cane’s Prediction: One year, $1,674,697 AAV. | 27-years-old on Oct. 1.
The dearth of available defenders in free agency is good news for de Haan. He reportedly has as many as 10 teams interested in him already.
Two seasons ago, de Haan put up 25 points in 82 games. But he might come at a discount because he missed significant time last season with a shoulder injury. The soon-to-be eight year pro has never seen a shot that he didn’t want to block. He can also move the puck exceptionally well.
We will likely see a bidding war unfold for de Haan because there are plenty of teams, including Montreal, that need defense. So, de Haan might only fit with the rebuilding Rangers if he’s interested in signing a one-year deal to prove his worth. It’s unlikely, but not impossible. He’s definitely worth a look.
Greg Pateryn, RHD
Cane’s Prediction: One year, $1,422,680 AAV. | 28-years-old on Oct. 1.
Pateryn is pretty interesting. His physicality, 6-foot-3 frame, and right-handed shot will draw plenty eyes in free agency. He also helped his case by having a career year in Dallas with 13 points in 73 games.
Pateryn takes far more penalties than he draws, which is not good. And, outside of his first full season in the AHL, he’s also never shown much offensive upside. But he performed admirably while playing some particularly difficult and demanding minutes for the Stars last season.
Updated player usage chart for UFA defensemen.— Rob Vollman (@robvollmanNHL) June 26, 2018
As always, offensive players on the right, defensive on the left, those who face depth lines on the bottom, and top opponents up top.
Circles are sized based on ice time, and shaded base on shot-based metrics (blue good, red bad) pic.twitter.com/BDC2RWdJPb
Pateryn spent four years at the University of Michigan before going pro and he’s hard to earn a regular job in the NHL the hard way. A tough, veteran right-handed defenseman who can be trusted in his own zone sounds pretty good on paper.
Cody Franson, RHD
Cane’s Prediction: One year, $876,547 AAV. | 31-years-old on Oct. 1.
I know, I know. Franson can’t skate. But, you know what? He’ll be dirt cheap, he plays the right side, and the numbers don’t lie. Everywhere he’s played Franson has had rock solid metrics. His gigantic frame makes him look like a sluggish skater, but he’s still an effective defenseman.
Franson will be lucky to get a contract offer in early July. He finished the 2017-18 season in the AHL after the Blackhawks put him on waivers in the first week of January. He made it clear to the media that he was frustrated with the hand he was dealt — and that certainly isn’t going to help him find a job this summer — but it would be a stretch to call that a flaw in his character. The Rangers should definitely consider him for a one-year, two-way deal or a PTO if he’s still available in late August. He probably will be.
Christian Folin, RHD
Cane’s Prediction: Two years, $1,266,354 AAV. | 27-years-old on Oct. 1
Folin never really stuck in Minnesota, where he signed as a college free agent, but proved himself to be a valuable depth blueliner in Los Angles last season. Folin has good size, he plays the right side, and he can move the puck fairly well.
Highest-value UFA defensemen (in GAR/goals-vs-cap)— Rob Vollman (@robvollmanNHL) June 12, 2018
6.6 de Haan
If he’s looking for a change of scenery after averaging 15:39 TOI/GP in Los Angeles, New York could be a good fit for the Swede. Folin is also a Gothenburg native, which means he and Henrik Lundqvist would have plenty to talk about. But, like Kempny, he is something of a gamble.
The bottom line is that predicting the Rangers’ blue line for opening night is only a little less difficult than predicting the team’s 12 forwards. How much will Gorton and company consider the play and performance of guys like Pionk, Gilmour, and O’Gara during the team’s post-deadline downward spiral? It’s hard to say. But we do know that this organization went all-in for defensive prospects at the 2018 Draft.
It would be a mistake to get locked up in a contract with term with any of the defensemen who will be available on July 1. This team is rebuilding, and it already has defensemen signed through 2021 and might soon have a fourth in Skjei. There needs to be spots open in a few years when K’Andre Miller, Ygor Rykov, Nils Lundkvist Libor Hajek, and other kids. But having some more competition in camp is never a bad thing, especially for a team that needs to figure out which players can be a part of the solution moving forward.