Many hockey pundits have pondered whether the Rangers should trade Kevin Klein. At an affordable cost with a $2.9 million cap hit over the next three seasons, the 30-year old veteran defenseman is coming off a career year in which he tallied nine goals and 17 assists for 26 points with a plus-24 rating in 65 contests.
Klein is one of the few chips new GM Jeff Gorton has if he needs to free up more room for Derek Stepan. Stepan recently filed for arbitration and is due to a significant raise. The Rangers must decide whether it’s fruitful to sign Stepan long-term. If he goes to arbitration, it could affect their cap situation. They have over $10 million left to sign Stepan and re-sign Group II’s Emerson Etem, Jesper Fast and J.T. Miller. Stepan could cost between $6 to $7 million depending on what happens. That could impact what the organization does.
While it makes sense to see what they can get for Klein to free up space, the Rangers are reluctant to trade him. They have been asked about him. For the time being, they’re smart to hold onto Klein. Moving him would create a hole on the right side of the blueline. The club isn’t as strong with Dan Girardi and Dan Boyle the top two. If they traded him now, that would mean the pressure would squarely be on Brady Skjei and Dylan McIlrath to win the job out of camp. Raphael Diaz is the seventh defenseman and probably a step down from Matt Hunwick, who signed on the cheap with the Leafs.
It doesn’t make sense to move Klein now. They’d only be weakening themselves. It’s better to keep him as insurance because there’s no guarantee Skjei or McIlrath are ready. Even with Skjei impressing in a stint with Hartford after turning pro, eight regular season games and 15 postseason is hardly a great gauge. McIlrath also made strides for the Wolf Pack. The 23-year old 2010 first round pick might be ready. However, it remains to be seen if coach Alain Vigneault will trust him enough if he makes the team. McIlrath’s skating remains a question mark in Vigneault’s system.
The safer bet would be to start the year with Klein in the top six and Diaz as the extra. Let Skjei develop in Hartford where he’ll see regular minutes. McIlrath is a different case. Isn’t it about time they find out if he can become an NHLer? Toughness remains an issue. His hulking 6-5, 215-pound frame is something they lack. He’s certainly got a mean streak. It would be nice to find out that he can play.
There shouldn’t be any rush with trading Klein. A valuable character player who was a bright spot last year. Until the kids prove themselves, he stays.