Adam Fox, who is expected to sign his entry-level deal in the coming days, is finally a New York Ranger. This isn’t a surprise as the case with Fox was a matter of “when” as opposed to “if” he’d be acquired.
Fox was set to be one of Harvard’s captains for his senior season, but Tuesday’s trade all but means he’ll be exchanging his Crimson sweater for a Blueshirt. The timing of the move has spawned a number of questions; many which will need to be answered soon.
Why did the Rangers make the move now?
This question was answered by Jeff Gorton who spoke with the New York Post.
We think Adam is ready to play now. People talk about a year from now, but a lot can happen in a year, or 16 months. That comes with a lot of ‘if’s.’ So for me, it was easy. We wanted him here and we didn’t want to wait. We want to get moving.
He has unique skill. He makes players around him better. He’s deceptive. He’s elusive. He gets the puck through when he’s trying to find that seam. When a player like that becomes available to us, we’re going to be aggressive.
Fox is expected to sign a maximum ELC, which would include a $925,000 AAV plus bonuses, in the coming days, and will be joining Team USA at the World Championships in Slovakia. This will give the Rangers another chance to evaluate him, and get a sense of what impact he could have next season.
What can the Rangers expect from Fox?
Adam — our Adam — will post a full scouting report in the coming days, so I won’t go into too much detail about Fox’s skill set.
By and large; he’s an offensive defender, and a damn good one at that. This season Fox tallied nine goals and 39 assists for 48 points in just 33 games. The year prior, 28 points in 29 games. And in his rookie season, he tallied 40 points in 35 games which brings his collegiate total to 116 points in 97 games (1.20 P/GP).
What will the Rangers right defense look like on opening night?
Fox could be a part of the opening night defense, but besides him there are still a few right-handed defenders within the organization.
As of today, the Rangers right side for 2019-20 includes Kevin Shattenkirk (two remaining at $6.65 million) and may feature Brendan Smith who also plays the left side (two years left on his deal with an AAV of $4.35 million; Smith is someone who could get bought out, but for now he remains on the payroll). Along with Shattenkirk and Smith, there’s right-handed defenders Tony DeAngelo (age 24 on October 24) and Neal Pionk (age 24 on July 29) who are both restricted free agents, although it remains to be seen if both return.
In Hartford there’s just one right-handed defender, and that’s Darren Raddysh who was acquired in a deal sending Peter Holland out of Hartford; I wouldn’t pencil him in for a spot with the big club. Chris Bigras, a left-handed shot, played the right side, but the 24-year-old rear guard is an RFA, who if re-signed likely remains with the Pack.
Then there’s Joey Keane. The right-handed defender signed his ELC, but the soon-to-be 20-year-old should and likely will spend the entire season in the AHL or ECHL.
Does the addition of Fox mean that the Rangers will have to choose between DeAngelo and Pionk?
The answer to this question is likely yes, and I’d be lying if I said I knew which way the Rangers were leaning. Quinn did a great job getting DeAngelo on track, but he also relied on Pionk a lot this season — although, that usage was noted by Gorton later in the year.
The Rangers added Fox because, despite having young right-handed defenders, his production, skill, and potential inspired them to see how it will translate to the NHL level. With that in mind, let’s evaluate DeAngelo and Pionk using the same criteria.
DeAngelo was selected 19th overall in the 2014 draft by the Tampa Bay Lightning, and his production prior to the NHL is somewhat comparable to Fox’s. The major difference is he played in the OHL which is a friendlier offensive league compared to the NCAA.
Over 236 games he posted a line of 55-186-241 which equates to a P/GP of 1.02. He then spent 123 games in the AHL where he tallied 72 points which is a P/GP of 0.59. During this time he was a member of the Syracuse Crunch (Lightning) and the Tucson Roadrunners (Arizona Coyotes) after being dealt at the 2016 draft.
During the 2016-17 season DeAngelo spent 39 games with the Coyotes, but was traded to the New York Rangers at the 2017 draft as part of a deal with the No. 7 overall pick. He was traded for the second year in a row — partly because of behavioral and disciplinary issues that have continued throughout his career — which is something that was covered earlier this season.
With that said, DeAngelo came into his own in 2018-19 under Quinn, although his best results often came after spending some time in the “Quinn bin”. As I said in his report card,
The goal for next season is for DeAngelo to be able to play his game without needing Quinn to sit him down for course correction, because his skill set sets him apart from pretty much every defender on the roster not named Shattenkirk. His continued development and success will be critical for the rebuild, and it adds intrigue to how the Rangers will handle his RFA status this summer interesting.
His career line reads 9-43-52 in 132 (0.39 P/GP), but 30 of the 52 came in 61 games in 2018-19. You can read more about his 2018-19 season here.
Pionk, on the other hand, went undrafted, and spent two seasons at the University of Minnesota-Duluth. He signed with the Rangers as a free agent after tallying 51 points in 82 games (0.62). Pionk’s first professional season saw him skate in 48 games with the Wolf Pack, and he scored one goal while adding 16 assists for 17 points (0.35 P/GP).
Late in the season he got his big break, and he was called up after the Rangers announced their intentions to rebuild. In 28 games he scored one goal and added 13 assists for 14 points (0.50 P/GP). This past season he appeared in 73 games, and posted a line of 6-20-26 (0.35 P/GP) Since joining the Blueshirts, he’s skated in 101 games, and has posted a line of 7-33-40 (0.40 P/GP). You can read more about his 2018-19 season here.
Of the two players, who should the Rangers keep?
The answer, in my opinion, is DeAngelo. You might be read this and saying, “OK, DeAngelo may be the better player, but isn’t it a little early to give up on Pionk? Wouldn't it make sense to bring back both and see if Pionk can be salvaged with a steadier partner?” The answer to these questions are yes and no. Yes, 101 games is a small sample, but no it doesn’t make sense to bring him back if the right side is full.
Pionk’s underlyings are terrible, and he offered very little to the Rangers’ once his scoring dried up. And even if he were to find his offensive touch again, the reason it doesn’t make sense to bring him back is because having him around would be redundant.
There’s only have three defense spots on the right, and I don’t see a world where Quinn has three kids on the right side in the lineup. Hypothetically, with a combination of Fox, DeAngelo and Shattenkirk, there’s no room for Pionk — and at 24 years old with some offensive statistics to his name, they’d be better suited finding a buyer instead of sitting him in the pressbox.
Why don’t the Rangers just get rid of Shattenkirk, and his $6.65 million cap hit then?
First and foremost, Shattenkirk has a 10-team no trade list, and a no-movement clause. Secondly, he is someone who deserves to remain with the team, for now, and he’s under contract for two years.
Ultimately the Rangers have two players in DeAngelo and Fox who could develop into the offensive defender Shattenkirk’s been for the majority of his career. If you were to have someone mentor them, Shattenkirk makes the most sense given that he’s already on the roster. Plus, the Rangers are already paying him, so would make sense to see if they can get some more value out of him.
A few months ago the concept of buying out Shattenkirk was brought up, and I described in detail here why buying him out would be a mistake.
So the short story here is that among all Ranger defenders, Shattenkirk is one of the best at driving possession and making sure the Rangers are controlling the play instead of reacting to it. He’s also had one of the unluckiest seasons of his career, and isn’t fully being rewarded for his efforts.
Using Evolving-Hockey’s goals above replacement stat, Shattenkirk rates well at even strength. His even strength GAR of 2.3 is second among rear guards on the Rangers with Tony DeAngelo leading the group at 5.9.
I bring this up again because of a tweet from Larry Brooks.
The right move at the right time. Shattenkirk on the clock. https://t.co/Eahs2Jhz6m— Larry Brooks (@NYP_Brooksie) April 30, 2019
This tweet wasn’t specific, and he followed up the tweet with a story later on in the day.
The Blueshirts will almost certainly attempt to trade Shattenkirk and would be willing to pick up 50 percent of the cost and the cap charge to get it done. But they attempted to make such a move at the deadline this season and had few nibbles, and those came from clubs who insisted Gorton also take an onerous contract back in return.
If they cannot trade the 30-year-old, they will have to consider a buyout that would create an additional $5.166 million-plus of space this season and $566,667 next year, while adding $1.433 million-plus of dead space to the ledger in 2021-22 and 2022-23. Brendan Smith is also a buyout candidate.
As I said above, buying out Shattenkirk would be premature, as would be making a deal involving taking an “onerous contract back in return.”
That aside, let’s assume a team wants to trade for him. The Rangers would first need to find a place he would go, and one that has the cap space. That could be a bit of a tough sell, as teams with cap space looking to make changes to their defense probably would prefer talking to the cap-crunched Winnipeg Jets about Jacob Trouba, the Nashville Predators about P.K. Subban, or seeing if they can land one of Erik Karlsson, Tyler Myers, or Jake Gardiner in free agency before considering Shattenkirk.
However, assuming there is a team willing to take on Shattenkirk, the Rangers would be trading low. Per Corsica, Shattenkirk shot 0.93% at 5v5, and he had a PDO of 98.56. I’m willing to bet he’s not going to do that again next season, and it wouldn’t be out of the question for him to post 35 to 40 points, which is anywhere from seven to 12 more than he did this past season.
This chart shows that Shattenkirk had positive impacts 5v5, sans one category (actual goals for), and his overall offensive production drop stems from losing his spot on the first power play unit.
The time to trade Shattenkirk — if that’s something the Rangers feel they have to do — would be at next year’s deadline. There’s bound to be more suitors at that point — such a deal would see Shattenkirk join a team for a playoff run, plus one — and the Rangers wouldn’t have to take as much of a haircut in value of the return as they would now.
OK, but can’t the Rangers replace Shattenkirk with Trouba or Karlsson?
Regarding Trouba, here’s the latest from the New York Post.
A decision will have to be made regarding the future of Kevin Shattenkirk, who has two years at a $6.65 million cap hit per remaining on his contract. A corresponding decision will also be made regarding an attempt to deal for Jacob Trouba, Winnipeg’s impending restricted free agent who would become the Blueshirts’ first-pair righty should they acquire No. 8.
I personally think with Trouba there’d be a lot of parts to juggle, and trading for him could create additional holes, but it seems like the Rangers are going to try and make a run for it. If put on the spot to predict a return, such a deal would likely involve Winnipeg getting one of their first-round pick back/ Chris Kreider and/or prospects (I don’t want to get into the nitty-gritty and put together a ton of machinations, but I feel that would be the general outline). For more info on Trouba, I’d suggest checking out Phil’s recent column.
Upon acquiring Trouba, the Rangers would need to sign him to an extension which would be costly, and depending on what corresponding moves the team does or doesn’t make could hamper the team’s pursuit of Artemi Panarin.
As for Karlsson, it all depends on how far the San Jose Sharks go, and if the Rangers don’t add Trouba. If Panarin were to sign with the Florida Panthers, I could see a situation in which they consider signing Karlsson and then trying to figure out a way to move Shattenkirk. I think the odds of Karlsson becoming a Ranger are slim, but it is something to keep an eye on.
I’m not saying that either wouldn’t be an upgrade over Shattenkirk the player, but the entirety of the move has to be considered — players coming, going, and the salary implications associated too.
What can Rangers do to create cap space to maximize potential of improving roster this summer?
The Rangers can create space via a buyout of Marc Staal or Smith, and those are moves that should be considered regardless. Staal more so than Smith because he’s older than Smith and a worse defender, but either would create some room.
The team would also create space by signing only one of DeAngelo/Pionk as mentioned earlier. The Rangers can and should also test the market on players like Ryan Strome ($3.1 million, one-year), Vladislav Namestnikov ($4 million, one-year), and Jimmy Vesey ($2.275 million, one-year). If the Rangers were able to net futures (picks, prospects or youngish roster players), the money going outward could then be reallocated to RFAs such as Pavel Buchnevich, Brendan Lemieux, Fredrik Claesson, and so on.
The Rangers could also get creative and maybe offer Kreider — if they deem he’s not going to be part of their future — along with a bad contract. There are hundreds of combinations, but it doesn’t make sense to speculate to much at this point For more hypotheticals on how the Rangers can manage the cap, I’d suggest checking Miika’s Twitter feed.
It is hard at this point to do a TL/DR, but I’m going to do my best: the acquisition of Fox now, as opposed to later, signals the Rangers are rebuilding the blueline and taking steps toward trying to get competitive again. They are making moves now, and not simply waiting until K’Andre Miller, Nils Lundkvist, and Yegor Rykov etc. are ready to come over. The Rangers want both prospects in their system and young NHL ready talent.
The forward group should get a boost from the addition of Vitali Kravtsov and Kaapo Kakko or Jack Hughes, and it is encouraging to see that management recognizes the need to address the defense too.
There are more tough decisions to be made, and Jeff Gorton and company will need to decide which players are going to be part of the next core. Each decision made will cause a chain reaction, so at this point the biggest question is ultimately “what is the next major domino to fall?”