While the New York Rangers have surprised with how well the defense has played, the right side is still a weakness. The Buffalo Sabres may have the solution to this problem.
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Simply put, New York’s defense is unbalanced. The left side of the defense is immensely stronger than the right, and this problem is coming back to haunt them.
While the left half touts strong defensive play and quick puck movement by all three defensemen, the best defenseman playing on the right side is Nick Holden, playing on his off-hand, while the other regular defensemen, Dan Girardi and Kevin Klein, drag the players around them down.
To bolster this weakness, the Rangers need to make a change in personnel. Adam Clendening is a frequent healthy scratch who can make an offensive impact from the blue line; however, he is also the only in-house option.
None of the right-handed defensemen currently playing for Hartford are ready for steady NHL action. This leaves only two options for the Rangers: make a trade or try to find a bargain free-agent.
Free agency is essentially out of the question at this point of the year. Besides, with the players remaining on the market, if general manager Jeff Gorton thought any of them would help the team, he could have made the move months ago. That leaves just one option: make a trade.
The Rangers currently have just over $2 million in cap space. That is not a lot of wiggle room when looking for a solid defenseman, and a right-handed one at that. The Buffalo Sabres are still a work in progress. There is a particular defenseman, Cody Franson, who sticks out as a good option for a few reasons:
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Age and Contract
Both Girardi and Klein are exiting their primes. At the age of 32, they are in the downswing of their careers. Franson is not all that much younger at 29, but those three years of wear and tear put loads of extra strain on the body, especially in Girardi’s case, as one of the NHL’s premier shot blockers.
Girardi has one of the worst contracts on the Rangers’ roster, signed for another three seasons at $5.5 million against the cap; however, his no movement clause that turns into a modified no trade clause after this season make him virtually unmovable.
Klein’s deal is much more manageable: $2.9 million against the cap for just next season. Cody Franson is a UFA after this season, but his current contract is not anything ridiculous at $3.325 against the cap.
The Rangers do not have the cap space to move only draft picks for Franson, but the difference in play makes up for it.
Level of Play
There is no question about it. Cody Franson has played stronger than Girardi and Klein this season. Of the trio, only Franson has a CF% above 50: Girardi, a possession black hole, carries a CF% of 39.5 on the season; Klein’s possession stats are below average, but they are much better than Girardi’s, with a CF% of 46.9; Franson out classes them both with a positive CF% of 52.2.
Franson can also play with more of an edge, as he has a much larger frame, 6’5″ 224 lbs, than both Girardi and Klein, 6’1″ 212 lbs, and 6’1″ 206 lbs, respectively.
The Rangers have been called a soft team many times this season and adding a physical presence that plays at a high level would be a great addition.
Cody Franson has played well on a weak team that would likely be willing to part ways with many players. The Rangers would be forced to send a player over to keep under the cap, so Jeff Gorton would have to sweeten the deal in some way.
New York owns tons of forward depth to move around, but the middle rounds of the upcoming draft are looking thin for the Rangers. A plausible deal, then, would be a forward or Kevin Klein, someone expendable, and a second round draft pick in 2018, as the Rangers hold two, for Cody Franson and a low round draft pick.