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The New York Rangers Should Take Care of Business with Tony DeAngelo Sooner Rather Than Later

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Unlike fellow RFA Brendan Lemieux, the Rangers can’t really afford going into the season without Tony DeAngelo.

New Jersey Devils v New York Rangers

If I said a year ago that the New York Rangers would need Tony DeAngelo more than he needs them, there’s a good chance you’d ask me if I was under the influence of something or just straight up trolling.

I say this because a year ago DeAngelo was coming off a season that saw him tally eight assists in 32 games at the NHL level. The then 22-year-old (soon-to-be 23-year-old) also skated 29 games with the Wolf Pack, but he had an underwhelming stat line that included two goals and 11 assists for 13 points.

That level of production was a far cry from the 43 points in 69 games he posted as a 20-year-old, and I wouldn’t have faulted fans for feeling out of sorts about having DeAngelo in the system considering he was a main piece of the package that came to New York in exchange for Derek Stepan.

If you are reading this on the day this was published it is August 27, 2019, and in the words of Michael Scott...

It’s hard to believe, but the Rangers will need a defender like DeAngelo for the upcoming season, and they could be playing with fire if they maintain a hard line stance in contract negotiations.

DeAngelo’s currently without a contract for the upcoming season, and there’s no news on how things are going with him and the Rangers. His agent, Pat Brisson, has declined commenting on the situation, but it appears that the Blueshirts are hoping DeAngelo blinks first because he’s a restricted free agent without arbitration rights.

Via Larry Brooks of the New York Post:

At this point, though, it does not appear that the Rangers are inclined to move off their initial bids. That means that DeAngelo and Lemieux, each of whom play with a necessary jagged edge not necessarily prevalent throughout the roster, have only two means of leverage.

On Monday, I looked at Brendan Lemieux, a player very similar to DeAngelo in a lot of ways — drafted in 2014, on their third team, part of a package in a big trade etc. — but his case was more cut and dry.

If you haven’t read it (and I hope you did), the TL/DR is that the Rangers have an abundance of forwards at their disposal, and Lemieux doesn’t have enough of a track record to justify waiting for a better offer.

The same isn’t true of DeAngelo, even though his experience is still somewhat limited — he’s only got 123 AHL games and 132 NHL games under his belt. But the Rangers have a hole on defense that will hurt the team if left open since the buyout of Kevin Shattenkirk. It also helps DeAngelo that he’s been able to produce at a decent level, and while this isn’t to say he deserves a multi-year deal, he’s arguably worth more than $874,125.

The 2019-20 campaign — one that will feature a much improved roster on paper highlighted by Artemi Panarin, Trouba, and top prospect Kaapo Kakko — is slated to be another year in the build, and on the surface no DeAngelo would make the team worse and could put the team in a better position to take advantage of a very deep draft.

But DeAngelo is a player who could be a big part of the Rangers once they are contenders again, so it’s in the team’s best interest to give him another full season under David Quinn to understand who he really is. It also is beneficial to have him on the roster because doing so would help alleviate some of the building pressure surrounding Adam Fox, the Jericho, NY native who was acquired from Carolina and opted to forgo a senior year at Harvard.

Fox has been talked up by the organization, and even included in some promotional materials for the upcoming season, so there’s reason to believe the brain trust feels he could be an important piece right away.

While there is a lot to like about him, as broken down by J.D. Burke of EP Rinkside $$$, and while he appears to have the ability to make the jump without a hitch, the Rangers need to be prepared for a situation in which Fox isn’t ready from the get go. Without DeAngelo signed there aren’t many options to take the ice time that is being unofficial earmarked for Fox.

As things stand, there are no regulars from the Rangers’ 2018-19 right defense from last year on the active roster. Neal Pionk was traded to Winnipeg, Shattenkirk was bought out, and DeAngelo is without a contract. That leaves Jacob Trouba — a proven player who is an improvement over Pionk — and Brendan Smith occupying top-four roles with a third-pairing spot up for grabs.

From the Rangers’ perspective it is completely understandable why they’d be wary of a long-term deal with DeAngelo, because they don’t know which player they have and can expect for the upcoming season.

Are they going to get the smooth skating, needle threading puck mover who can run a power-play with precision and poise like Eli Manning in his prime moving the ball up the field in the final two minutes of the fourth quarter? Or are they going to get a player whose immaturity allows him to be his own worst enemy resulting in a series of healthy scratches?

With all that said, the facts speak for themselves, and those facts highlight that DeAngelo was team’s best or second-best overall defender in many ways, and the Rangers should give themselves as much time as possible to evaluate what they have in him.

His skill warrants giving him the opportunity to prove he doesn’t have what it takes, but there’s a lot of reasons to believe that he’ll be able to have success again next season.

During the 2018-19 season, DeAngelo was the most productive offensively with 30 points in 61 games. Via Evolving-Hockey.com, he posted a WAR of 1.4, and a GAR of 7.7 which was far and away best among Blueshirt defenders.

What was impressive is that 6.1 of his GAR was accumulated at even-strength, so it wasn’t simply a situation of him being just a power-play specialist. He led defenders with a 54.35 GF%, and was third with an xGF% of 48.07.

The possession game wasn’t his strong suit (45.89 CF%), but context is important since many Rangers struggled in terms of Corsi. The positive from that is what the team generated with him on the ice, the concern is the other end of the rink which can happen with a puck-moving defender who likes to push the pace. DeAngelo will be able to improve his defensive play as he gains experience by opting to skate with the puck more instead of forcing a pass, but the bottom line is that he has the tools to be successful.

With all of that said, I’m fairly surprised that a deal isn’t done by now. Based on what DeAngelo brings to the table, a one or two year deal worth $2 million is more than fair. The team is currently in a bit of a cap crunch, but some of that can be alleviated by demoting Smith and playing some other salary cap Tetris.

If they need a little more flexibility, an offer of $1.25 million for one year could fit the bill. It would be an act of good faith toward a player with potential, and could go a long way in making future negotiations easier if DeAngelo’s play warrants a longer deal next summer.

Obviously the Rangers would prefer he just take the qualifying amount and move on, but DeAngelo’s in a position where he could wait a few weeks in an attempt to make the team blink.

There’s always the chance last year was one good season and DeAngelo regresses. But he’s a player who has been heralded for a long time, and the team has seen more than just glimpses of what he can do. The Rangers can ultimately find out what they have in him by signing him so he can go through training camp, the preseason, and attempt to pick up where he left off last season.

Stats via Elite-Prospects, Evolving-Hockey, Hockey-Reference, and Natural Stat Trick unless otherwise noted.