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Column: Time is Right For Rangers to Trade Keith Yandle

December 15, 2015: New York Rangers Defenceman Keith Yandle (93) [4859] during a NHL game between the Edmonton Oilers and the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden in New York, NY. The NY Rangers defeated the Oilers 4-2. (Photo by David Hahn/Icon Sportswire)
(Photo by David Hahn/Icon Sportswire)

It looks like the New York Rangers are going to have to deal Keith Yandle, and now is the perfect time to do it.

The NHL trade market is starting to open up. We didn’t see an actual in-season player-for-player deal until December 14 when the Chicago Blackhawks sent Trevor Daley to the Pittsburgh Penguins for Rob Scuderi. Some big dominoes are starting to fall, with the Ryan Johansen-for-Seth Jones deal likely to set off a chain reaction.

Especially with young players like Jonathan Drouin, Kerby Rychel and maybe even Kevin Hayes in play.

We’re going to look at the Yandle situation in New York though, mostly because of how intriguing that particular case is. The Rangers traded a hefty package to the Arizona Coyotes at the deadline last season to acquire the defenseman, but there hasn’t been much motion on the re-signing front since then.

Yesterday, Brett Cyrgalis of The New York Post reported that Yandle “said he has not been talking with his agent about an extension.” That’s an interesting wrinkle, especially since the Rangers have reportedly been going hard after Drouin and were also involved in the Johansen discussions.

It seems safe to operate under the assumption that the Rangers aren’t willing to let Yandle walk as a free agent. They gave up too much for just over a year of his services and Jeff Gorton can’t afford that kind of setback. Not with an aging All-World goalie and one of the thinnest farm systems in all of hockey.

If the Rangers were crushing all comers in the Eastern Conference and cruising toward a Presidents’ Trophy with their current lineup, then maybe moving Yandle doesn’t make sense. Gorton could roll the dice, keep the puck-moving defender and try to bring a Stanley Cup back to Manhattan. That isn’t the way this season has gone though.

The Rangers won 14 of their first 18 games, charging out to an early lead in the Metropolitan Division and looking good while doing so. Since their win over the Toronto Maple Leafs on November 15, things have taken a turn for the worse. In the 22 games since that red-hot start, the Rangers have won just eight times. It doesn’t take a statistician to see the drop off there.

December 28, 2015: New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist (30) looks into the goal as Nashville Predators defenseman Mattias Ekholm (14), of Sweden, defenseman Ryan Ellis (4), forward Miikka Salomaki (20) and forward Calle Jarnkrok (19) celebrate the third period goal by Predators forward James Neal (18) during the NHL game between the Nashville Predators and the New York Rangers, held at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tennessee. Nashville won 5-3. (Photo by Danny Murphy/Icon Sportswire)

December 28, 2015: New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist (30) looks into the goal as Nashville Predators defenseman Mattias Ekholm (14), of Sweden, defenseman Ryan Ellis (4), forward Miikka Salomaki (20) and forward Calle Jarnkrok (19) celebrate the third period goal by Predators forward James Neal (18) during the NHL game between the Nashville Predators and the New York Rangers, held at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tennessee. Nashville won 5-3. (Photo by Danny Murphy/Icon Sportswire)

Henrik Lundqvist hasn’t won back-to-back games in 47 days (and counting) and the Rangers are starting to drop in the standings. Their speed off the blocks has kept them in the playoff race so far, but they have to fight off some strong teams down the stretch. Only seven points separates the Rangers from the seventh-place Carolina Hurricanes in the division, and another rough few weeks could spell doom for the team.

That’s why Gorton needs to shake things up for his team, and he needs to do it by trading Yandle. The benefits of doing so far outweigh the potential pitfalls.

The 29-year-old is a divisive figure among NHL pundits, but a puck mover of his caliber will be a hot commodity down the stretch. Don’t forget that Yandle’s cap hit is a paltry $2.625 million because the Coyotes retained half of his salary last year. More than anything, that cap hit might be what makes him so valuable as a trade chip.

Half the teams in the NHL could take on that cap hit outright without sending any money back, which isn’t a likely scenario at all. There will be a handful of rentals available as the trade deadline approaches, but Yandle will be the bast bang-for-buck addition by a wide margin. His skill set is one that is constantly in demand, and you won’t find a Stanley Cup contender that wouldn’t love to add the Boston native on the blue line.

His ability to move the puck up the ice is invaluable, and he’s just outside the top scoring defensemen in the league. That’s impressive considering everyone ahead of him plays substantially more minutes than Yandle.

The stars seem to be aligning for Yandle to be traded for the second time in two seasons. It made sense for the Coyotes a year ago, and it makes sense for the Rangers to make a deal now. New York needs a shakeup and that has been the case for several weeks now. The organization also needs to restock the prospect cupboard after dealing away young players for win-now options over the last two seasons.

They can do just that by flipping Yandle.

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