Rangers locking up Tony DeAngelo is far from no-brainer

Part 4 in a series analyzing the New York Rangers.

When you have a 24-year-old defenseman, and a righty, no less, who records the fourth-most goals and points in the NHL at his position and who is coming up on restricted free agency, it’s a no-brainer to lock him up for at least five years, isn’t it?

Or, in the case of one Tony DeAngelo, is it?

This is likely the most daunting question Rangers management will confront this offseason in evaluating whether it can afford to sign No. 77 for what likely would be at least $6 million per year on a long-term deal.

There are options, of course. The parties could negotiate a short-term bridge deal for two years for a number that probably would come in around $5 million per. Failing that, management could allow DeAngelo to become the first Ranger since Nikolay Zherdev in 2009 to go to arbitration, but that’s not an alternative favored by anyone.

Or, of course, the Blueshirts could trade DeAngelo from a position of strength on the right side of the blue line in order to get a legit top-nine forward with top-six upside who would fill a position of weakness.

DeAngelo is a special offensive talent, the way he skates, the way he sees the ice, the way he’s a breakdown player carrying the puck on the rush, the way he distributes it in the offensive zone and the way he joins the rush and goes to the net, the way he mans the point on what had become a devastating power play when the season was put on hold.

The defensive side of it, well, not quite so much. DeAngelo has his moments, he plays with bite, he doesn’t back down, he supports his teammates and, of course, he can wheel the puck out of danger in an instant, but there are more than a few too many times when he seems to pick his spots and choose his battles. Clearly, the Rangers need more than a bit more diligence from him in front of the net and in the D-zone corners.

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Clearly, if the Rangers are going to sign DeAngelo for the long term, they have to be convinced this controversy-free season will be the norm and not the exception. There were no benchings or healthy scratches resulting from immature behavior, as there had been on multiple occasions in 2018-19. In fact, it was just as DeAngelo promised the day he reported to camp after settling on his one-year contract.

DeAngelo is popular within the room, a big-personality guy. His opinions, which he enjoys sharing on social media, aren’t for everyone, probably aren’t for most New Yorkers, but that’s off the ice and hasn’t had an impact on his relationship with his teammates or on his play. The Rangers aren’t going to be divesting themselves of a rare talent because of Twitter.

Here are the defensemen who scored at least as many goals (15) and points (53) as DeAngelo: John Carlson and Roman Josi.

Washington’s Carlson and Nashville’s Josi are almost certainly going to finish 1-2 in whichever order in the balloting for the Norris Trophy. (By the way, Tony, if this is noted in your arb brief, I will expect my portion of the proceeds.)

Management’s decision will be about DeAngelo, but not only about DeAngelo. Because there is going to be a cap crunch. Because the Rangers have Jacob Trouba, who will be entering the second season of a seven-year deal worth $8 million per, on the right side. Because the Rangers have 21-year-old Adam Fox, perhaps not as dynamic, but more effective as a two-way defenseman, on the right side. Because the Rangers have 19-year-old Nils Lundkvist on his way from Sweden.

Trouba, whose no-movement clause kicks in on July 1 (or on whatever equivalent date is set if the offseason calendar requires a readjustment) and Fox are going to play. And when Fox comes off his entry-level deal he is going to get paid big money. Can the Rangers afford $5 million to $6 million per over the long haul to have DeAngelo on the third pair?

That probably won’t work for anyone. But what if the Rangers move DeAngelo to his off-side on the left, where he has played capably at different stages of his career? The Blueshirts finished this year with Ryan Lindgren, Marc Staal and Brendan Smith as their three lefties.

Uhh …

I know. Libor Hajek is a lefty and so is Yegor Rykov. K’Andre Miller plays the left side and so do Tarmo Reunanen, Zac Jones and Matthew Robertson. But they are prospects. DeAngelo is an established NHL player. Yes, he is. He established that this year. Moving him to that side would fill a need.

Imagine how poetic it would be to find DeAngelo on the left of anything.

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