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Is Slavin’s Contract Skjei’s Ceiling?

In signing top defender Jaccob Slavin to a long-term contract, the Carolina Hurricanes has brought more clarity to the big picture surrounding Brady Skjei’s next deal. While we’ve pontificated about what it might cost to sign Skjei before, Slavin’s contract provides another valuable barometer; one that Rangers’ GM Jeff Gorton will certainly leverage when working to extend Skjei.

While Skjei’s point production was phenomenal last year (1.68 points per 60 minutes (pp/60), 10th among all defensemen and second among rookies), he hasn’t quite reached top-pair status. That means, assumedly, that Gorton will leverage Slavin’s contract as a ceiling, rather than a benchmark. Part of Skjei’s production stems from his favorable oZS of 58.8% and lack of a heavy defensive burden. It’s hard to compare him to Slavin when he played nearly six fewer minutes per game and wasn’t featured on the penalty kill, where the ‘Cane saw more than 3:00 per night.

Those with similar salaries and ages to Slavin—namely Hampus Lindholm and Rasmus Ristolainen—are also their team’s top defender. In that sense, they also represent a ceiling for Skjei’s next contract. That’s not a knock on Skjei, especially since he’s stuck behind Ryan McDonagh on the depth chart, but it does push his value more towards Shayne Gostisbehere, even if he’s a more well-rounded player.

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What Glen Sather and Jeff Gorton Might Have in Common

OK, we all know now that Rangers’ Captain Ryan McDonagh was one of those defensemen prospects and ultimately ended up being the key part of that deal, while the Rangers would go on to sign UFA Marian Gaborik the day after the trade. Gainey got fleeced here, as Gomez would eventually be bought out by Montreal after one good season and a couple of terrible ones. This deal is largely considered to be the most lopsided one in the post salary cap NHL and a contender in the entire history of the NHL.

The Rangers and GM Jeff Gorton are hoping to have written a second act to this story, though. Just a few weeks ago, he completed a similar deal, this time with the Arizona Coyotes in another salary dump of a mid 50’s point center with a number of years left on a high dollar deal, with the return including a young former first-round drafted defenseman. In free agency, the Rangers acquired top offensive defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk (4 years, $6.65M AAV) using the salary cap space they cleared by trading Derek Stepan (4 years, $6.5M AAV remaining). Along with Stepan, the Rangers sent backup goaltender Antti Raanta west in exchange for the seventh overall pick in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft (Lias Andersson) along with a young offensive defenseman named Anthony DeAngelo.

New York Rangers by Karan Bawa
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Rebuilding on the Fly Means the End of an Era

“In an on-air interview during day one of the two-day NHL Entry Draft, New York Rangers General Manager Jeff Gorton let slip, perhaps intentionally, that his Blueshirts are officially “rebuilding on the fly”. This “slip of the tongue” occurred just minutes after TSN’s Bob McKenzie uttered the same words following the Rangers selection of Lias Andersson with the 7th overall pick — a pick that they’d acquired from the Arizona Coyotes along with defenseman Anthony Deangelo early Friday afternoon in exchange for Derek Stepan and Antti Raanta. If those words haven’t been ringing loudly in your head since surely you’ve missed their significance as signaling the end of an era. An era of wildly successful yet Championship-less hockey, that saw Broadway’s Blueshirts advance to their first Stanley Cup Final in twenty years amidst two other Eastern Conference Final appearances over the last six years.

While it’s not quite the promise of a full rebuild—something that generally entails a firesale of nearly every valuable veteran player for future assets, as well as at least one full season of tanking for a lottery pick—an “on the fly” version still promises significant overhaul. That process began when the Rangers bought out the contract of long-time defenseman Dan Girardi, and it continues in the aftermath of dealing Stepan to the West.

Though the lack of a championship will no doubt mar the optics of just how successful this collection of players was, the fact remains they are one of the winningest teams in the NHL in the postseason in the last seven years. That’s not an arbitrary range, either. It precisely overlaps a span of time in which Stepan, from his rookie season, and Girardi, from his fifth NHL season, overlap as New York Rangers.”

Chris Drury by Bridget Samuels
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Time Chrisis: Drury on the Fast Track

Anyone with a pulse on the Wolfpack this season probably wasn’t surprised by the news given the especially poor result of the season. However, Drury’s promotion, specifically, was surprising given how quickly he’s been climbing the rungs of the Rangers’ management ladder. Frankly, I’m hard pressed to name a faster-rising star among the front office ranks of the NHL. For all the praise heaped on up-and-comers and soon to be’s like Mike Futa, Kyle Dubas, Paul Fenton, Claude Loiselle, and Julien BriseBois, Drury’s rise has been meteoric by comparison.

Drury retired, as a Ranger, from the NHL after 12 seasons in August of 2011 after accepting a buyout of the final year of his contract. It was an unceremonious ending for a heart-and-soul player who was also the Rangers’ captain. However, in just three short years since being hired to the Rangers front office, beginning in September of 2015, he’s gone from being named Director of Player Development, to Assistant General Manager of the New York Rangers, to General Manager of the Hartford Wolfpack (while retaining his AGM title with the Rangers). Those aren’t just significant leaps. They’re significant leaps made within a very short length of time.

His successive promotions give a clear indication not only of his value to the Rangers, but his value to the league, especially when you consider the permission request to interview him regarding the then open GM position in Buffalo was blocked by the Blueshirts a month ago. He certainly appears poised and on the fast track to an NHL General Manager’s position. The question is, will it be with the Rangers?

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What if the Rangers Buyout Both Girardi and Staal?

It is time for the Rangers to get proactive. And the best they can do now is swallow the hard pill, in buying out both Staal and Girardi prior to this summer’s Expansion Draft.

No doubt it’s a lot of dead cap space to carry, but perhaps with the defensive prospects they now have thanks to some savvy work by Rangers GM Jeff Gorton on the young free agent market, he’s created the perfect time to rip the band aid right off.