Rangers must make a decision on defense
(Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

It’s always great to have depth, but the New York Rangers might have too much depth on their blueline and it’s time to make a move.

Dom Renna

Defense has always seemed to be a problem for the New York Rangers over the last few years. This season, the problem is not about what decisions the players themselves are making, rather the problem is figuring out who belongs to stay in the lineup.

Out of training camp head coach David Quinn and general manager, Jeff Gorton decided to carry eight defensemen on the opening night roster, something teams don’t normally do. Brady Skjei, Marc Staal, Brendan Smith, Tony DeAngelo, Neal Pionk, Kevin Shattenkirk and the newly acquired Adam McQuaid and Fredrik Claesson were going to have to rotate as the team’s sixth defenseman which was not a problem early on considering none of them really stood out.

Now as the team starts to get healthy, there is going to be a member of this defense group who will be sitting in street clothes which might not sound like a big deal but, actually it is. Let’s say it is whether it be Skjei, DeAngelo or Pionk out, it would be a major problem for their development to not see consistent minutes. All three players have had moments this season where they’ve earned a spot in the “Quinn Bin” while also earning playing time. The only way for them to improve is through seeing legitimate playing time.

You could try and send one of them to Hartford in the AHL for some playing time, but that won’t be easy. DeAngelo and Skjei would have to go through waivers before going joining the Wolf Pack, and a team would be out of their mind not to put a claim on two young defensemen. Skjei also just signed a six-year contract extension making this idea out of the question for him. DeAngelo has done nothing to warrant a demotion and doing so will only hurt his development.

For Pionk, he has arguably been one of the more consistent members of the defense group offensively while still learning how to defend in his end. His potential is through the roof and like DeAngelo, it would be foolish of New York to even consider demoting the 23-year-old.

Now enter the veterans.

The Rangers made a long-term investment in Shattenkirk last summer and he finally has started to play up to the potential fans thought he could bring. While he still has a ways to go before getting back to the level he was back in his St. Louis days, Shattenkirk has not necessarily done anything to earn a spot on the bench.

Marc Staal continues to earn some criticism throughout the fanbase as his contract becomes one most start to question. But Staal means so much to Blueshirt defense on a leadership level and has earned a secure spot in Quinn’s lineup on a nightly basis. While that might not be a great reason to keep a player in the lineup, it is a philosophy most coaches use with their veterans. Adam McQuaid has yet to get an extended look considering he has been injured for the most part of the season, while Fredrik Claesson has been a huge surprise.

So what are the Rangers to do now once McQuaid is ready to return from his injury?

They can continue to deploy the same system they are using now rotating a different defenseman when Quinn feels it is necessary. While this would be an easier route for him to go, it still would mean a player is sitting out who might not necessarily need to be. Another option could be taking the risk and assigning one of DeAngelo, Claesson, or Pionk to Hartford and losing either DeAngelo or Claesson. This seems highly unlikely but, it is another option the Blueshirts could consider.

A trade could be another option for New York as they can try to look to dump the contract of a Brendan Smith or a Shattenkirk to a team desperate for a veteran defenseman to help enhance their chance at making a playoff run. Shattenkirk has a limited no-movement clause and is still owed $6.65 million until 2021 while there probably isn’t a team who will be willing to take Smith at his cap hit of $4.35 million. Now it is easy to just sit here and say “hey, the Rangers should trade this player and that player.” Another team has to be interested in who the Rangers are dangling, it takes two to tango.

It might not seem like it now, but the Rangers are about to have a problem on their hands. A problem they need to make a decision on sooner rather than later.

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Dominick is a graduate of Canisius College. He has covered the Rangers for the last seven seasons and the Yankees for the last four.