Latest posts by Mike Valvano (see all)
- J.T. Miller: Requiem for a Captain Who Never Was - 02/28/2018
- As Sellers, Rangers Must be Patient and Embrace the Rebuild - 02/07/2018
- An Alternative, Youthful, Trade Deadline Approach - 01/25/2018
Jeff Gorton’s performance in the days leading up to the roster freeze before tonight’s expansion draft announcement was safe but, consequently, boring. A complete lack of action—or even substantial rumors—will do that. In the lack of action, however, there’s still a gaping hole on the Rangers’ first-pair next to captain Ryan McDonagh and this offseason will be a colossal failure if that’s not addressed.
As such, it’s hard to think that Gorton isn’t actively pursuing trades to upgrade the Rangers’ right-side defense. At this point, considering the fact that Anaheim has reportedly already lost Shea Theodore, the under-discussed Matt Dumba, the soon-to-be 23-year-old, could provide the Rangers an opportunity to upgrade the blueline. However, the price would be high.
Aesthetically, the optics suggest that Minnesota general manager Chuck Fletcher wouldn’t want to trade Dumba, since he reportedly chose to send blue chip prospect Alex Tuch to Las Vegas so that they’d select Erik Haula and not Dumba. However, that move a) creates a hole at center vacated by Haula and b) does not address the fact that Dumba’s contract is up after next year.
The Wild could decide to move the aging Miko Koivu or Charlie Coyle back to center, but both have seemed to have found solid roles as top-six wingers, so moving one down to third-line center could create lineup balancing issues. While youngster Joel Eriksson Ek figures to slot in, it’s hard for a Stanley Cup contender to bank on a prospect in an important role. Enter Stepan, who could share the 2a/2b center role with Eric Staal and provide a ton of lineup flexibility. Adding a player of Stepan’s calibre would give Minnesota top-end center depth and make it much easier to absorb the potential losses of Koivu and Staal when their contracts are up after 2018 and 2019, respectively.
Upgrading the center spot, alone, might not be enough for Fletcher to trade Dumba, and rightfully so. But the back half of moving him is that it will be difficult to afford him when his contract is up and he becomes an RFA after next season. Dumba signed a two-year, $5.1 million bridge deal last offseason but won’t come cheap if he continues to be a 10-goal, 30-point, 20:00 a night right-side defender. If he maintains his 2016-17 pace, his bottom line will almost certainly be $5m per year on a long-term extension.
The problem with that, for Minnesota, is that they’ve already got four defenseman (Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon, Jonas Brodin, and Marco Scandella) making at least $4m per season. Adding them all up, the Wild have just under $21 million committed to their defense corps without addressing the bottom pair. That makes it awfully hard to justify handing out another big contract to a defender even if the player is worth the money—and Dumba is.
Note—it’s possible that Minnesota would explore trading a different defenseman to make room for Dumba, and Stepan/Brodin talks have happened in the past but never materialized.
For the Rangers to justify a Stepan-for-Dumba swap, they’ll probably need to sweeten the pot a bit to address their own center depth. In that vein, Eriksson Ek would be the perfect addition. He’s too strong of a prospect to be a throw-in, but he’ll be a good two-way player that could slide into the Rangers’ lineup and compete with Oscar Lindberg for the 3c and 4c roles (assuming Vegas doesn’t take Lindberg). He’s shown a bit of offensive proclivity in his 15 NHL games and has a skillset similar to Kevin Hayes, though he’s a better shooter.
Because of Eriksson Ek’s upside, New York would probably have to send another pick or prospect as well, but there’s potentially a value match if New York sends Stepan and a third-round pick for Dumba and Eriksson Ek.
Any trade of this nature hinges on one thing: Wild general manager Chuck Fletcher’s appetite for winning right now. After trading Tuch, it’ll be hard to also move Eriksson Ek, since that would leave the prospect pool fairly dry. But there’s no doubt that Stepan makes their lineup better while Dumba’s loss is mitigated by the fact that the Wild have a solid top-four without him. Meanwhile, the Rangers would get the smooth-skating, gifted partner for McDonagh they need by making a Sather-era type of splash we’ve all been expecting.