Ryan McDonagh's Ability To Play Right Side Gives New York Rangers Options

By Alex Weinstein
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The New York RangersRyan McDonagh has played a very important role with Team USA at the Olympics in Sochi, Russia. Paired with Minnesota Wild defenseman Ryan Suter, the two have combined to be a formidable pair for the Americans. McDonagh has shown his versatility playing with Suter by playing the right side. Both McDonagh and Suter are left-shooting players and McDonagh plays the left side with Dan Girardi in New York.

McDonagh has played on the right side very sparingly with the Rangers before the team acquired Kevin Klein, yet he has played very well against both Slovakia and the Russians. Negotiations with Girardi’s camp have reportedly stalled, which may lead to a trade deadline move. McDonagh’s versatility could allow the Rangers to cope with Girardi’s departure if the Rangers decide to go that route.

So, why am I even writing about this? Girardi has spent his entire professional career with the Rangers. He was signed as a free agent out of the OHL. He developed on the Rangers’ farm team in Hartford for two seasons before having an NHL impact and has steadily grown into a top pairing defenseman. Unfortunately, in a salary cap world, the NHL is a business more than anything else.

The Rangers face huge cap issues coming into the next two seasons. The only players signed through the 2014-15 season are Rick Nash, Brad Richards, McDonagh, Klein and Henrik Lundqvist. There is a strong possibility that Richards could be bought out in the summer as well, leaving the Rangers with one forward, two defensemen and a goaltender signed long-term. Players such as Chris Kreider, Derek Stepan and Mats Zuccarello are going to warrant pay raises as their roles and responsibilities with the team increase. Both Marc Staal and Girardi are going to warrant similar money and the Rangers may have to choose between the two. Before the acquisition of Klein, Rangers coach Alain Vigneault attempted to move Michael Del Zotto to the right side. This proved too difficult a task for the young defenseman and he was moved for Klein, who fits that role. McDonagh’s play in the Olympics reassures the team that they can survive without Girardi, should they decide to trade him at this year’s deadline.

The Rangers could solve several issues within the organization by trading Girardi. The Boston Bruins are rumored to be interested in the defenseman after losing Dennis Seidenberg to injury for the rest of the campaign. The Bruins’ defense features five players between the ages of 20 and 26 and could use another experienced defender for a long playoff run. The Bruins have what the Rangers are looking for, including a first round pick and a slew of talented prospects at various positions. Forwards such as Ryan Spooner and Alex Khokhlachev and defenseman Joe Morrow are all top prospects in the Bruins system that would improve the quality of the Rangers farm system. Though both forwards are on the smaller side, their talent levels are high and improve the Rangers’ weakness of skilled young forwards.

The Rangers can replace Girardi’s spot in the lineup with two subsequent moves. The first would be to move McDonagh to the right side on the top pair. He has played well on the larger ice surface at the Olympics, which makes defensive assignments tougher, so moving back to the smaller NHL ice surface would not be as much of a potential problem. The Rangers can then have a top pairing of Staal and McDonagh, while moving John Moore up in the lineup until a replacement is either acquired via trade or signed over the summer. There are not many quality defensemen available in free agency that play the right side, but there are several options who play on the left that the Rangers could pursue with a spot opened up.

McDonagh’s recent play has made it possible for the Rangers to realistically trade Girardi if a deal cannot be agreed upon. Doing so would add to the prospect depth of the organization, which can have a major impact down the road. The Rangers lack talent in the organization and acquiring several young players to improve that quality will make them a more formidable opponent in the future. The Rangers are not built for a deep playoff run, but doing this can ensure that they will be in a few years.

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