The Rangers Should Overpay for Jacob Trouba
The best hockey trades are the ones where you deal from strength to address a weakness. Last week I wrote about the 1990 trade between the Rangers and Kings that sent Tony Granato and Tomas Sandstrom for Bernie Nicholls. A true blockbuster where 2 top line wings were traded to fortify a weakness at the center position.
This year’s Rangers team is flush with forwards, especially on the wings. With the addition of Michael Grabner, and 2 rookies, Pavel Buchnevich and Jimmy Vesey, they have 7 wings that should play on the top 3 lines, but there is only room for 6. But, as everyone knows, they are painfully thin on defense.
Winnipeg Jets Dilemma
Back in May, Jets defenseman Jacob Trouba asked to be traded by the Winnipeg Jets. This information was kept quiet until September of 2016, when his agent made it public. At this point the Jets let it be known that they would trade Trouba for a left-handed version of him. Stories came out about the Jets shooting down an offer of Taylor Hall (6 mil Per) for Trouba because they felt that they were going to be paying their forwards, too high a percentage of their payroll.
When you look at the Jets skaters as a group, you will find they are the polar opposite of the Rangers. They are very right-handed, both at forward and defense. Also, they have a lot of “shooters”, whereas the Rangers seem to have a lot of players with a pass first mentality. This is where you say, “these two teams match up pretty well trade-wise.”
A Controversial Idea
My idea is this: Brady Skjei and Mats Zuccarello for Jacob Trouba. I’ll duck right now from the spears and arrows. Ok, let me explain. I really like both players I am suggesting to trade, but you have to give to get.
Trouba (22) is one month older than Skjei, with a lot more experience and upside. Trouba’s play this year has been stellar. After holding out hoping for a trade, then signing in November, he is clearly showing he is first pair defenseman. Right-handed, and 6’3′, Trouba has a very similar skill set to Ryan McDonagh, and would be a perfect compliment to him for many years to come.
Over the last two seasons, McDonagh has been saddled with inferior partners to put it mildly. Dan Girardi was brutal last year. And while he has been better this year, he is more of a third pair low minute defenseman now. Kevin Klein is no longer a fit in the Rangers system. His play has been a season long problem.
A partnership of Trouba and McDonagh would be a 25 minute a night tandem. Marc Staal and Nick Holden would be a 20 minute a night second pair, with Girardi and possibly Ryan Graves on the third pair. In my world Kevin Klein gets traded to a team that plays a more conservative system where he can be solid. Maybe Jeff Gorton can find another Nick Holden from a different team that would thrive with the Rangers. The point is, when all are healthy, the Rangers would have an excellent set of defensemen slotted exactly where they can all excel.
Brady Skjei fits the Jets original asking price to a point. He is left-handed. He is the same age. He now has a full year nhl experience under his belt including some playoff games. He, too was a first round pick and has good potential. He could slide right into a pairing with Tyler Myers (when healthy), and have a solid career, playing closer to his home state of Minnesota.
Zuccarello would be missed here. He has grit, character, and plenty of creativity. But, he has zero no trade protection, which makes him vulnerable for a trade. Mats could do very well setting up the likes of Patrick Laine, Mark Scheiffle and Nic Ehlers for 2 years, at which point his contract would run out. The timing would be perfect for the Jets, who could let him go just when some of those Winnipeg forwards start making big money.
Salary Cap Implications
Word has been coming out that the expectation is that the salary cap will be flat next season. Meaning there may be only the slightest (less than a million) increase to the current limit of 73 million. What that means for the Rangers is a forward that makes substantial money will have to be moved to improve the defense, one way or another. Could it be Rick Nash? It will be hard to find a team with a) cap room and b) would also have to be on his list of teams he’d accept a trade to. Derek Stepan is possible, since his partial no-trade protection kicks in on July 1. But, that would leave a big hole down the middle at the center position. Which leaves us Zuccarello. He turns 30 before next season. He has 2 years left on his contract at 4.5 million per year.
Jimmy Vesey didn’t sign here to be a 4th line wing. Neither did Pavel Buchnevich. JT Miller, Kevin Hayes and Chris Krieder are safely on the untouchable list. Going forward, whether this hypothetical deal happened this season ore next, the lines could look like this: Vesey-Stepan-Nash, Kreider-Zibanajad-Buchnevich, Miller-Hayes-Grabner. All three of these combinations have shown chemistry this season. Then add in combos on D with McDonagh-Trouba, and Staal-Holden, with the third pair to be determined.
All the Details
There is always a chance the Jets wouldn’t want Zuccarello as part of the deal. Other teams would. Perhaps a three team deal would be in order? Of course if the deal was made in the next 3 weeks, the expansion draft protected list would have to be taken into account. Upside, without Zuccarello, Grabner would be protected as part of their 7 forwards. The downside is that the Rangers can only protect 3 defensemen. Mcdonagh and Trouba, have to be kept. But, Girardi and Staal need to be protected, due to their no movement clauses. Unless one or the other waives it, which is more likely with Girardi then Staal. Again, this is all if a trade were to happen BEFORE the expansion draft.
Gm Jeff Gorton is a smart, creative guy. He knows what the team needs and if he has the pieces to get it. If the Jets have interest in both players, maybe a draft pick also comes back to the Rangers. The bottom line is that the Rangers need a partner for Ryan McDonagh. And that type of player is in extremely high demand throughout the NHL. I do believe Trouba has a better future than Skjei. Trading a guy like Zuccarello is like trading Derrick Brassard or Carl Hagelin. It stinks. But in the cap era, you have to keep evolving. After trading Hagelin, the Rangers signed Viktor Stalberg to replace him at a quarter of the salary. Stalberg was decent. Now his replacement is Grabner. And he has been outstanding.
Pavel Buchnevich is the in house replacement for Mats Zuccarello. The Russian rookie is great with the puck, a clever play maker, and has an underrated shot. In order for him to progress he needs to be a top 6 forward, playing with skilled players, and getting increased ice time. The same can be said about Jimmy Vesey. Someone has to be moved to get both of these talented kids entrenched in the top 3 lines.
A Word On Shattenkirk
Switching gears slightly to another option, it has become very likely the Blues will trade Kevin Shattenkirk before the trading deadline. The Blues are in a freefall out of a playoff spot as their goaltending is at the bottom of the league. Some things to keep in mind: Shattenkirk is better suited on a second pairing rather than a top tandem. Though, he is clearly an upgrade on Klein and Girardi, he isn’t a defensive zone stalwart. He would help the power play immensely. He would cost a first round pick, at the minimum. And while the Rangers haven’t had a first round pick in so many years, this years draft is thought to be a weak one. The Rangers would not have to protect Shattenkirk from the expansion draft, since he is an unrestricted free agent. He could be re-signed after said draft. As long as there is cap room, that is.