When the New York Rangers traded their top prospect in Anthony Duclair and draft picks in a deal for Keith Yandle, the message was clear: New York was going for a Stanley Cup victory and nothing less.
The Blueshirts fell to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Conference Final, in what was ironically Yandle’s best seven-game stretch with New York. Now, the Rangers find themselves with Yandle on the final year of his contract, and one last chance to win the Cup with him on the roster if they fail to re-sign the Boston native.
While the deal was questionable from the start, Yandle walking without New York winning a Stanley Cup would make it laughable at best. Re-signing a player to save face is a poor strategy, but in the case of Yandle the fit could not be any better. Keeping him on board would solve multiple issues. Not re-signing Keith Yandle would be a blunder of epic proportions by Jeff Gorton and company, who have gotten off to a good start in their limited time in control after Glen Sather stepped down.
Yandle has notched points-per-game totals equal to or better than the likes of P.K. Subban, Mike Green, Ryan McDonagh, Justin Faulk and even Drew Doughty. His offensive game as a defenseman is equaled by few, and his ability to find open skaters and rip the puck into the open areas is something the Rangers have been missing over the years.
With defensive defensemen Marc Staal and Kevin Klein and barely-a-defenseman Dan Girardi, the Rangers have half of their defense accounted for by players who will not distribute the puck all that well and will not set up many plays on offense.
Another consideration is that Dan Boyle will likely be gone after the season, removing one of the only two offensive defensemen on the roster other than Yandle from the picture. Rather than forcing Ryan McDonagh to do all of the work on the offensive end, the Rangers would be better off giving him some help in the form of Yandle.
He has posted elite offensive numbers for a defenseman over the years, despite playing for a struggling team in the Arizona Coyotes. Consider this: in the 2014-2015 playoffs, Yandle posted 11 points in 19 games, and in the Eastern Conference Final he posted seven points in seven games.
While a small sample size, that Yandle could play that well on that big of a stage says a lot about his abilities as a player.
The main complaint about Yandle is his defensive deficiencies, but those can easily be masked on a team with a defense and goaltender as good as the Rangers. If Girardi can post a positive goals-for on the ice despite having little to no defensive abilities and awareness, Yandle should be fine.
One idea would be to play Yandle with McDonagh on the first pair, as the captain has proven in the past he can take the right side on defense. This would allow Yandle to play heavy minutes, but with a defenseman that is used to covering the deficiencies of his partner. If not, the expectation is the Rangers will have Yandle paired with Kevin Klein for the near future, a solid defensive defenseman that can help cover some of Yandle’s mistakes. The offensive abilities Yandle offers outweigh the potential risk of his defensive struggles, and working with defensive wizard Ulf Samuelsson should help as well.
A Yandle extension will be quite expensive, but in terms of pay relative to play the deal would certainly be worth it. The question remains whether or not the Rangers can afford to sign him, but if the money is not there the room should be made.
Girardi and Klein make more money than they deserve and have been sought after by other teams. Boyle’s contract will be coming off the books as well, clearing $4.5 million. New Detroit Red Wings defenseman Mike Green, whose offensive numbers are comparable to Yandle signed a deal worth $6 million a year for three years, but Green is a year older and often injured.
Yandle should be able to easily top the likes of Girardi and Staal in terms of AAV, and top Green in terms of year. Considering the free agent defenseman class he will be a part of, Yandle will be a top choice for teams in search of a defenseman. Offensive defensemen have gained a lot of popularity over the years, which will also favor Yandle in negotiations.
A rough estimate for a potential Yandle deal is six to seven years for $6.5-7 million per, depending on if Yandle keeps up, or even improves upon his offensive numbers in a full year in New York. That contract would certainly be tough to fit for New York, but the room should be made for a perfect fit on Broadway.