Maybe Jeff Gorton Doesn’t Believe In The Rangers’ Defensive Prospects Yet

So, about that McQuaid trade...

Let’s get one thing out of the way up front: the Rangers are going to be bad next year.

Jeff Gorton gave us something to talk about on the podcast outside of Traverse City, by trading Steven Kampfer, a 4th round pick, and a conditional 7th round pick to the Boston Bruins for Adam McQuaid. The collective reaction from Rangers Twitter ranged from: “wut” to “Jeff Gorton is a horrible general manager.” (Yes, seriously.)

So, what’s the truth here? This trade is bad for a few reasons that really have nothing to do with McQuaid himself. If McQuaid moves the needle in the right direction for the organization it will be with his leadership in the room. More than likely he’ll struggle on an already hurting blue line, make the Rangers worse (which is good in the long run), get into some fights. So, he’s likely an upgrade over Kampfer, and he might be an asset that Gorton can move at the deadline.

I think it’s telling that when the main stream media has evaluated McQuaid as a player 90 percent of the takes mention his toughness and willingness to fight. But again, that’s neither here nor there.

Why Gorton felt the need to sacrifice a fourth round pick to help Boston unload his salary is beyond me. It’s troubling that even this deep into a rebuild the Rangers’ brass felt a move like this was worth moving assets. Sure, more than likely a fourth rounder turns into nothing, but guys like Johnny Oduya, Paul Martin, Josh Gorges, Mark Fayne, and Dennis Seidenberg were all on the market and cost nothing more than the cap space the Rangers currently have an abundance of. Entering the trade market to acquire a veteran presence feels unnecessary, and doing so for the sake of adding toughness alone feels just downright stupid.

There is a larger point here, one that I think is critical when viewed in the scope of this move. There’s a chance that Gorton doesn’t believe the Rangers have enough in the defensive pipeline to leave two spots open in training camp.

Putting the way McQuaid was acquired aside, there are two truths to him: 1) he can be relied on to play 82 games in the NHL (even if he’s sub-replacement level), 2) he is an upgrade over Kampfer, no matter how trivial of an upgrade he might be.

Before he was brought in, the Rangers had two wide open spots on defense (assuming Kevin Shattenkirk, Brady Skjei, Brendan Smith, and Marc Staal all made the team). We plugged in guys like Anthony DeAngelo (who we argued at The Forum had to get a starting role on the team so the Rangers could see what they had in him) and Neal Pionk — with Libor Hajek, John Gilmour, and everyone else sitting firmly in the “long shots” category. It was simply and easy.

Now, with McQuaid in the picture, things are a bit more complicated.

What if Gorton doesn’t believe the Rangers have two defenseman in their system who can fill an everyday NHL role? With McQuaid in the fold those two aforementioned spots on the depth chart shrink down to one, with Pionk and DeAngelo the only real options for that spot.

I will die on the hill that DeAngelo needs to be on this team opening night — and that he needs to be given a very long leash. The Rangers wasted him last year, and still have no idea what they really have in him. With DeAngelo there’s a ton of red flags and baggage, but buried underneath all of that there’s the potential of a puck-moving defenseman that some teams would love to have. And while we’re trending far more toward “bust” than “the next Keith Yandle” at this point, you still need to take the shot — especially when there’s not a single negative consequence to losing a lot of games this year.

The Derek Stepan trade looks suspect enough as is without completely dismissing the possibility that the Rangers have something in DeAngelo. Because if they do that, we need to re-investigate just what kind of horrific talent evaluation went into getting him back in the first place.

Pionk, on the other hand, is coming off as good of an NHL entrance as he could have hoped for — amassing 14 points in his 28 games on Broadway. He looked good enough for a shot on this year’s tattered defense, if you don’t look too hard at the fact that he was somehow much more effective in the NHL than he was in the AHL. Oh, and don’t ... don’t look at the sample size, either.

Reality aside, though, Pionk deserves a shot to show what he has, and so does DeAngelo. Now it feels like a “one or the other” situation and that seems counter-intuitive to a team that’s “trying to be competitive” even though McQuaid might not be an upgrade over either of them. I’m also confused about where Fredrik Claesson fits in, since he was the original safety net in the event that Pionk and DeAngelo couldn’t cut it.

If this is the truth, I do have questions about the youth movement the Rangers have promised. I’m not sure what could have changed between this summer and now to force the need of McQuaid, but it seems like the Rangers had the pieces in place to see what the kids could do right away. Unless this move was specifically toughness related, in which case we have a separate and bigger issue. Remember, this team chose to re-sign Cody McLeod earlier in the offseason.

What we know right now is that Gorton clearly felt the defense needed a boost. We can speculate the boost was because he doesn’t believe in the kids they have right now, or that he thinks they’re not tough enough. Or, maybe, he just really wants a guy who is willing to skate through a wall on this team.

Either way, there’s less room for the kids on the defense, and that’s objectively bad for a rebuilding team.