After losing centers Derek Stepan and Oscar Lindberg, the New York Rangers could sorely use a top nine center to add to their lineup.
Unfortunately, the 2017 free agent market did not boast the most impressive collection of pivots. The Rangers opted to pass on overpaying Joe Thornton, Nick Bonino, or Martin Hanzal.
General manager Jeff Gorton now must explore the trade market. Center Paul Stastny makes sense if St. Louis wants to move him.
After breaking the 70 point marker three times in his first four seasons, Stastny never quite turned into a superstar. St. Louis signed him to a four-year, $28 million deal in 2014, expecting him to center their first line. Stastny hasn’t managed more than 49 points in a season since.
At 31, Stastny’s best hockey may be behind him, but he can still contribute in the right role. The American pivot is a lock for at least 40 points in a healthy season. Furthermore, Stastny carries a career 53.8 faceoff winning percentage.
Playing the matchups
Between Mika Zibanejad and Kevin Hayes, the Rangers don’t need a center to carry the scoring load. They do, however, need a center capable of excelling in defensive matchups while not killing the offense.
Neither Zibanejad nor Hayes excels in shutting down opposing centers. Stepan handled the bulk of those minutes last season. The former Ranger held opposing teams to a lower rate of shot attempts than any other center on the team last season.
Zibanejad and Hayes have to contribute a bigger share of the offense for the 17-18 team to contend. The Rangers can’t ask them to take on heavier defensive assignments at the same time.
Fortunately, Stastny excels at keeping the puck off opposing sticks. Using corsi stats, which measures the percentage of shot attempts teams manage in a game, Stastny yielded even strength shot attempts at a lower rate than any regular Ranger forward last season.
Stastny versus Stepan
St. Louis posted better defensive corsi numbers as a team than the Rangers last year. Fortunately, statistician Domenic Galamini’s HERO charts account for this when grading players.
HERO stands for Horizontal Evaluative Rankings Optic, but these charts just rank skaters’ even strength play in a few categories for easy comparison: Shot suppression (preventing shot attempts against), shot generation (creating shot attempts for), goals, first assists, and ice time.
Let’s look at Stepan and Stastny side by side:
Unsurprisingly, Stepan pots points, especially assists, much more frequently than Stastny. But Stastny does a better job generating and, more importantly, suppressing shots. Also key, Stastny handles the same heavy ice time as Stepan.
With one year and $7 million left on his deal, St. Louis might want to dump his salary. Though he’s not worth the cap hit, a one-year stop-gap should appeal to New York.
Next season, both Stastny’s contract and Rick Nash’s $7.8 million cap hit expire just as superstar John Tavares reaches free agency. At the same time, Hayes, J.T. Miller, Brady Skjei, and Jimmy Vesey will need new contracts. The Rangers do not want to lose any of those guys on account of someone like Nick Bonino.
Adding Stastny would also give recent seventh overall pick Lias Andersson another year to develop in Sweden.
What’s the deal?
The Blues might not want to move Stastny, especially thanks to Patrik Berglund’s surgery. They did protect Stastny in the recent expansion draft. Still, there might be hope for the Rangers.
St. Louis swung a big deal at the draft to acquire center Brayden Schenn. They may also want to make space in their top six for young center Ivan Barbashev. With Stastny not living up to his contract, St. Louis could look to unload him.
If St. Louis does try to get rid of Stastny, the Rangers should jump to the front of the line. They’re sitting on a little over $7 million in cap space, with Kevin Klein’s retirement poised to add $2.9 million more. They can open up another $5.7 million by moving veteran defender Marc Staal.
New York has limited trade assets but can afford to take on Stastny’s salary. Gorton could even offer defenseman Nick Holden since the Blues only have five blue liners under contract.