This isn’t how ex-Rangers envisioned winning Stanley Cup
This is what they talked about during the summer of 2017, winning the Stanley Cup as teammates and perhaps even partners. And this is what came to fruition for Ryan McDonagh and Kevin Shattenkirk, even if not exactly as planned. Even if the Cup is being celebrated in Tampa and not New York.
It is unfortunate that Shattenkirk was diminished by injury as a Ranger and that the team couldn’t wait for him to regain his health and his game as a cap-stressed team taking its first baby steps on a rebuilding project. There is no doubt that No. 22 came to New York with the proper intentions.
Remember, the defenseman solicited management upon reaching free agency on July 1, 2017 after the Rangers hadn’t even met with him during the pre-signing, interview period. Shattenkirk, who’d had a disappointing playoff series as a rental with Washington following his trade from St. Louis, offered to take a discount to play for the team he rooted for while growing up in New Rochelle. He sold himself.
And it just did not work out. McDonagh and Shattenkirk comprised the first pair in the 2017-18 opener against Colorado that the Rangers lost. They were together again the next game in Toronto … for one period. And that pretty much was it. Shattenkirk was compromised, he didn’t play well, he was injured, he underwent surgery. McDonagh and he spent a total of 56:15 together at five-on-five before No. 27 was traded to the Lightning at the deadline.
The next year wasn’t much better for Shattenkirk, even with David Quinn replacing Alain Vigneault behind the bench. The defenseman was still recovering, his knee was not yet strong, he was undergoing a crisis of confidence, his play was faulty in his own end and he was not on the first power-play unit. The Rangers were still rebuilding and still cap-stressed.
Hence, the buyout that will add a monstrous $6,083,333 in dead space to this year’s cap. But even accepting that the amount of dead space is grotesque, the Rangers came out ahead in the maneuver. Without a buyout, there would have been no room for Adam Fox on the varsity, or at least no opportunity for Fox to play a major role with major minutes.
So is one year of experience and one year of growth worth $6 million-plus? The Rangers thought that a second-round draft choice was worth $5.7 million —the amount of Marc Staal’s cap hit the team bribed the Red Wings to take by adding a No. 2 in 2021 to the mix — so that sounds like a reasonable equation.
It obviously worked for Double Deuces as well, finding a home and a suitable role in Tampa playing for a Cup contender. Healthy, he rededicated himself to offseason conditioning. Shattenkirk contributed throughout Tampa Bay’s run to the Cup in getting 18:54 of ice per. Oh, he played 89:52 of five-on-five in the tournament with McDonagh.
McDonagh is among the best defensemen in Rangers history. You’d take your chances anytime by dressing a team of 18 clones and a goalie. But he plateaued so soon and never became the perennial Norris Trophy contender as projected early in his career. Actually, he was never a Norris contender at all.
After peaking in the 2013-14 balloting with an eighth-place finish while garnering 21 mentions, McDonagh placed 11th the following season, then 15th and then 17th. Maybe injuries took their toll, maybe the lack of a suitable partner his last three years grinded him down and maybe the captaincy did as well. But the fact is, the Rangers had a very good player in McDonagh as his contract was winding down, but not the great one they had projected.
The Rangers needed McDonagh to be more than he was. They needed him to be Victor Hedman, actually. He wasn’t. He couldn’t be. The trade has hardly yielded returns on Broadway, but McDonagh found the perfect spot and perfect role with Tampa Bay, playing primarily second pair behind Hedman and even at times the third pair, also behind Mikhail Sergachev. He was in the right spot.
(I’ve always found it odd that McDonagh’s availability at the deadline did not produce a bidding war. Same for Ryan Callahan as a rental in 2014.)
Now, though, it is Tampa Bay in a spot regarding the cap. They could be vulnerable to offer sheets for Sergachev, Anthony Cirelli and Erik Cernak. McDonagh has six more years on his deal at the $6.75 million discount per that he took to play in no-state-tax Florida. The Lightning can’t carry a third-pair defenseman with that type of contract.
McDonagh has a no-move clause. That will become an issue when protection lists are generated for the 2021 Seattle expansion draft. So I wonder if the Lightning would ask and work with McDonagh on a trade, and I wonder what McDonagh would do if asked.
There has been so much talk about St. Louis right defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, the premier free agent on the market, fleeing to Vegas when the market opens on Friday that I am hearing substantial talk the Blues might be prepared to file tampering charges if that’s the way it shakes out.
Yes, there is the usual overheated speculation about Group II offer sheets and the flat cap and COVID-related economic issues might make teams more susceptible this time around.
But under a flat cap, contributions from entry-level players become not only more important, but essential for success. So which team is sacrificing multiple first-rounders to get a player that would have to be massively overpaid in order to discourage a match?
Rangers all-time defense: Top six: Brian Leetch, Brad Park, Harry Howell, Bill Gadsby, McDonagh, Ron Greschner; Second six: Reijo Ruotsalainen, James Patrick, Sergei Zubov, Ivan “Ching” Johnson, Dan Girardi, Marc Staal.
Honorable Mention: Jeff Beukeboom, Dave Maloney, Dale Rolfe, Jim Nielsen, Tom Laidlaw, Jack Evans.
Finally, the buyout of Henrik Lundqvist produced torrents of raw emotion not seen from Rangers fans since that traumatic night in 2002 when the Blueshirts traded Mike Richter’s free agent rights to the Oilers.
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