Why Buchnevich Should Not Be Trade Bait

Phil Kocher
@ me

Phil Kocher

Managing Editor at Cleared for Contact
I believe in Nate Silver, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Christopher Hitchens, and hockey analytics.
Blogging between diaper changes.
Phil Kocher
@ me

As we encroach on the final days before the NHL’s March 1st trade deadline, the Rangers have expectedly been linked to multiple defensemen. In the last week, that includes Detroit Red Wings pending UFA Brendan Smith, who the Rangers are apparently “zeroing in on”. Smith was a former teammate of Ryan McDonagh at Wisconsin and plays both sides of the ice, which could explain the interest. Also included is Kevin Shattenkirk, who the Blueshirts have been tied to for the last three seasons. Additionally, I’ve written about the unique situation the Anaheim Ducks might offer regarding the Rangers’ need to add to a measurably substandard blue line, though this particular scenario is purely speculative at this point in time.

According to CapFriendly.com, the Rangers project to have $10M+ available to take advantage of at the deadline. It’s no surprise they appear to be big-game hunting—they have ample room to accommodate just about any contract. Awarding Ryan McDonagh a more reliable partner than Dan Girardi appears to be the goal for the post season. The cost of acquiring that upgrade might prove prohibitive, however.

Bob McKenzie noted back in late January that the Rangers don’t want to continue mortgaging the future. He specifically spoke to the consecutive first-rounders they’ve parted ways with in the last four seasons—a point that can’t be understated. That report has only been reinforced of late, even as the Shattenkirk rumors have continued to build.

The question isn’t whether the Rangers want Shattenkirk, or whether he wants the Rangers. It’s whether the cost St. Louis will demand to get an early look at him is too high to pay. Given some of the latest reports, it very well might be.

General manager Doug Armstrong of the Blues is looking for a first-round pick, a top prospect, plus something else for Kevin Shattenkirk.”

That “plus something else” is where some of the chatter has begun to include Rangers rookie Pavel Buchnevich. Back on February 18th, Steve Zipay reported that Buchnevich is among the list of young talent teams are asking about, and Don LaGreca protested the idea of including Buchnevich in a trade for Shattenkirk in an episode of his Game Misconduct podcast late last week.

While we’ve yet to read any direct confirmation that the Blues’ ask would include Buchnevich, the scuttlebutt that insinuates it might is enough to justifiably raise fears.

Buchnevich is a first-round talent who happens to have been drafted in the third round. The Rangers were able to take a chance on him back in 2013 when fears over his desire to play in the NHL were still high.

He has 15 points in 26 games this season, having missed a significant stretch of time to chronic back spasms earlier this year. That’s a 48-point pace over an 82 game season. That kind of production would have put him in line with the performance pace of fellow rookies Sebastian Aho of the Carolina Hurricanes and Mikko Rantanen of the Colorado Avalanche this season.

Moreover, Buchnevich’s 2.61 points per 60 minutes (P/60) is directly comparable to impact forwards Nikolaj Ehlers (2.60), Charlie Coyle (2.61), and William Nylander (2.65).

Buchnevich is also an analytics boon to the Blueshirts. Among forwards who have skated in at least 25 games for the Rangers, he’s one of just four players this season with a positive CF% (50.48), and one of just five with a positive FF% (51.21).

Beyond his talent level, his entry-level contract is one of his biggest selling points regarding his value to the Rangers. The natural cost-control built into it is something teams can’t find easily in free agency. As early as next season, Buchnevich should be penciled in as a top-nine scoring winger with top-six potential. The fact he costs the Rangers just $925,000 for the next two years is invaluable for a club who are no strangers to the salary cap ceiling. This is especially true if Shattenkirk remains a July 1st target. He won’t come cheap, which means other players have to.

This is exactly the reason he should not be considered in trade talks, even if those talks are for an undeniable upgrade to the team’s most glaring weakness. His long-term value is simply too great to gamble on a potentially short-term fix.

This is not to say that upgrading the defense shouldn’t remain a priority because it should. It just shouldn’t come at the cost of arguably the most valuable contact the Rangers own.

If that means the Rangers can’t entertain the idea of Kevin Shattenkirk before the summer, so be it. It’s better to bring in the New Rochelle native to be part of a team with Buchnevich than to bring him in at the cost of him. That cost would be too counter-productive to pay, no matter how attractive the idea of a McDonagh-Shattenkirk tandem may be for a playoff run (and beyond).

It’s clear the Rangers are in win-now mode. That means management should be giving the team every reasonable edge heading into the postseason. It also means that sacrificing more futures in an attempt to fill holes is still the correct near and long-term strategy. Buchnevich, though, has a future that is now, and with the Rangers roster filled with young talent about to transition towards larger paydays, young cost-controlled players with a high immediate ceiling are too valuable to the franchise to sacrifice, even if that means that some holes remain unfilled.

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