With Dan Girardi and Kevin Klein gone, the defense of the New York Rangers will look different come Opening Night.
The process began just two days ago when news broke that Kevin Klein will retire from the NHL and continue his playing days overseas in Europe. The 32-year-old was a steady, underrated presence ever since he was acquired for the flashy Michael Del Zotto back in 2013 but injuries put a damper on his last season in New York.
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The second domino was a big one, as the organization decided to buy out the contract of lifetime-Ranger Dan Girardi. The 11-year veteran was the definition of a defensive defenseman for the better portion of his career; but once blocking shots caught up to him, Girardi’s salary was too much to compensate for his ineffectiveness on the ice.
Those are the only definite subtractions to the defense, but it may not stop there.
Like Girardi, Marc Staal will continue to be the subject of rumors, whether it may be in terms of a buyout or trade. The Rangers may choose to expose Nick Holden in the expansion draft. Adam Clendening isn’t expected to receive a qualifying offer.
There’s no denying that the blue line of the New York Rangers will be different next season. But what will it look like?
Ryan McDonagh will continue to be the team‘s number one defenseman. He may not be as flashy as other top players at his position, but the Rangers’ captain is someone that the 30 other franchises would love to have on their roster. He’s an asset on both ends and does as much off the ice as he does on it.
If McDonagh is untouchable, Brady Skjei is the next best thing. In his first full NHL season, the Minnesota native played like a carbon-copy of his aforementioned teammate, as Skjei was as sound as it comes in his zone while contributing 39 points. He’s looked upon as the next great defender for the Rangers and is expected see an increase in minutes come next season.
He hasn’t be re-signed yet, but many believe Brendan Smith — a trade deadline acquisition last season — will remain with the Blueshirts. If GM Jeff Gorton can get him to sign on the dotted line, that would be a huge coup for the team. Smith won’t wow anyone in any facet of the game but, like Klein, he contributes in many forms and fashions and is worth the contract he’s looking for.
Even when factoring in a non-guarantee like Smith, there’s still work to be done. Fortunately, the organization has depth at the position.
Ryan Graves and Tommy Hughes have been steady hands for the Hartford Wolf Pack, the Rangers’ AHL affiliate. Chris Summers and Steven Kampfer have proved to be rotational pieces that could play on the third pair. The team also signed collegiate standout Neal Pionk in May, with some believing he can make the Opening Night roster due to his skillset.
Of course, help may not be on the roster, too.
Kevin Shattenkirk‘s monetary demands may be steep, but he’s the prize of free agency and is a near-perfect fit next to McDonagh. Del Zotto, Cody Franson and Michael Stone all fit in their own unique ways. The trade market, too, can be of help — especially with someone like Derek Stepan supposedly on the block.
If the Rangers truly want to compete for hockey’s elusive prize, they’ll have to bring in more than what they have.
It’s going to be a new-look blue line for the New York Rangers come next season.