Tony DeAngelo
ESNY Graphic, Getty Images

Tony DeAngelo, a man who’s scored consistently all season, could be the New York Rangers’ odd defenseman out in due time. 

While the New York Rangers have struggled defensively over the last few years, the team’s future on the back-end is bright. Outside of the team’s current core, there are a plethora of promising young defensemen waiting in the wings.

Twenty-eighteen first-round picks K’Andre Miller and Nils Lundkvist are blue-chip prospects and are both having impressive seasons. Joey Keane, the Blueshirts’ 2018 third-round pick, has been arguably the AHL’s top rookie defenseman and is off to a great start. Twenty-nineteen draftees Matthew Robertson and Zac Jones possess great potential.

With tons of up-and-coming defensemen in the system, the Rangers need to prepare themselves for the future. It’s imperative that the team avoids a logjam and opportunities are available for the youngsters when they are ready. This means that Jeff Gorton must get ahead of the game and cut ties with some of the team’s current defensemen.

It also means to never discount anything. The NHL is a hard salary-cap league that features the unexpected.

Tony DeAngelo, as great as he’s been offensively, could be the odd man out on the blue line down the road.

The top-pair is safe. Locked up to long-term extensions, Jacob Trouba and Brady Skjei look to be the first pair of the future for the Blueshirts. After 20 games apart, these two childhood friends have been reunited and thriving as of late. Since rejoining Trouba, Skjei has begun to look like his old self. Flashes of the tremendous skating ability and offensive instincts that he showcased during his rookie year are occurring frequently.

In regards to Trouba, his offensive game has also taken a jump as a result of his partnership with a more capable defenseman. The mutual on-ice trust between Skjei and Trouba has allowed both players to round into form. For this reason, I can confidently say that neither guy is leaving New York anytime soon.

Although they’ve come on recently, Trouba and Skjei haven’t been the Rangers’ best duo thus far. Instead, it looks like the Blueshirts have found something special in Adam Fox and Ryan Lindgren.

The two rookies have been revelations for David Quinn. Fox, whom Jeff Gorton acquired from the Hurricanes last Spring, is a star. He’s undoubtedly been the Rangers’ top defenseman this season and he’s performing on a nightly basis. Fox’s offensive prowess was documented prior to his arrival, but his success in the defensive zone has been a pleasant surprise. What the 21-year-old lacks in size and speed, he makes up for in IQ, skill, and poise.

While Fox has been excellent all season, he has elevated his game to a new level since partnering with Lindgren. The Minnesota native serves as the perfect complement to Fox. Lindgren plays a more physical, stay-at-home style. This allows Fox to consistently join the rush and make plays up the ice without fear.

These two 21-year-olds, who are also longtime friends and teammates, have formed a superb pairing. They will play alongside each other in “The World’s Most Famous Arena” for years to come.

With Skjei, Trouba, Fox and Lindgren sitting comfortably as New York’s future top-four, only two spots remain on the Blueshirts’ blue-line. They are currently occupied by Libor Hajek and the aforementioned DeAngelo.

Hajek has really struggled on both ends of the ice at the outset of his NHL career. I’m not sold on him being anything more than a fringe second-pairing defenseman on a contending team. Regardless of what kind of player he develops into, Hajek will, and should, remain part of the Rangers organization for the near future because he is young and cost-controlled.

If Hajek becomes the player that Jeff Gorton thought he was acquiring in exchange for Ryan McDonagh, the Blueshirts can either utilize him or deal him in an effort to bolster their forward group. If not, then Hajek will simply stick around as a cheap depth piece or a possible trade asset.

On the other hand, DeAngelo has had a fantastic start to the 2019-2020 campaign. The 24-year-old has emerged as a stud for the Blueshirts, as he picked up right where he left off at the end of last season, playing a much smarter and more consistent game. In spite of DeAngelo’s improved play, he looks to be the odd man out on the Rangers’ blue-line.

This is not a knock of the play of the former first-round pick. Instead, this is an unfortunate reality of today’s salary-cap driven NHL. DeAngelo, set to become a restricted free agent at the conclusion of the 2019-2020 season, is looking like he’ll be next on Jeff Gorton’s list of salary-cap casualties.

With the emergence of Fox, who represents a younger, less expensive, and perhaps more talented version of DeAngelo, and New York’s surplus of prospects on the back-end, the divisive defenseman has become expendable. Couple that with the fact that the Rangers, strapped for cap-space thanks to costly buyouts to Dan Girardi and Kevin Shattenkirk, won’t be able to offer DeAngelo the lucrative long-term contract that he has earned, and it looks like former Coyote is on his way out the door.

Fortunately for the Blueshirts, the salary-cap constraints will have disappeared by the time guys like Fox and Lindgren are due for extensions, as the expensive contracts of Henrik Lundqvist will be off the books.

Jeff Gorton and John Davidson must be proactive and explore their options with DeAngelo. As the front office has done throughout the rebuild, they must maximize the value of every asset. Considering the Rangers aren’t legitimate Stanley Cup contenders, there is no sense in holding onto DeAngelo for the entire season and letting him walk as a restricted free agent.

Management is best-served looking into trading No. 77 and doing so as soon as possible. The earlier the Rangers are able to move DeAngelo, the more they should be able to get in return. With that said, they’re in no rush, and they shouldn’t settle for a return that is below market value. If “Tony D” keeps producing at his current rate, the Blueshirts should come away from a trade with a first-round pick and more.

The upcoming offseason will officially mark the end of Rangers’ rebuild. It’s hard to imagine New York entering their next era with the current group of defensemen, as some of the prospects may be ready to make the jump as soon as next season.

While he’s had a terrific season, it looks like Tony DeAngelo’s days as a Blueshirt are numbered.

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