New York Rangers Should Set Their Sights on Jason Demers

In Blueshirt Bulletin Main Blog by Tom Urtz Jr

If Jeff Gorton is serious about retooling the New York Rangers blue line, he should consider giving Dale Tallon a phone call. It is a name that may seem out of nowhere, but hear me out. On Thursday Pierre LeBrun of TSN reported that the Florida Panthers are open to moving defenseman Jason Demers for the right price. In many respects he would be a great option for the Rangers when you consider positional fit, the cost to acquire him in assets and the money he’d cost against the salary cap.

We are having this conversation because Demers was left exposed for Wednesday’s expansion draft, but the Vegas Golden Knights opted to take Jonathan Marchessault. It is nonsensical that the Panthers would be open to dealing Demers after only one season, but it appears Tallon is undoing the work of his predecessor Tom Rowe. You may also be wondering why the Rangers should be interested in a player that the Panthers were prepared to lose for nothing in an expansion draft.

It is an interesting situation because Tallon was given an executive job in the front office for the Panthers, and he reassumed the general manager position at the end of the season. There was a “computer boys” fancy stats movement in Florida that saw them make smart under the radar signings like Marchessault that paid off big, but the organization is deciding to go in another direction. Demers was a “fancy stats” signing, he has a career Corsi For percentage of 52.7, and one that the Panthers received some accolades for.

The Rangers should be interested in Demers because at the very least he is a solid second pairing defender, but his numbers suggest he is more than capable of playing on the top pairing. For context he averaged 19:36 a game in 2016-17 and scored nine goals while adding 19 assists for 28 points.

His name isn’t as sexy as Jacob Trouba, Justin Faulk or Kevin Shattenkirk, but he is a fine defender that would mesh nicely with Ryan McDonagh, and an upgrade over players who have previously skated with the Blueshirt captain.

Speaking of Shattenkirk, the New Rochelle native and the Blueshirts have been linked for years, and there is a chance they will offer him a contract on July 1st. The Rangers recently hired Ben Prentiss to work as a strength and conditioning consultant, and it just so happens that Shattenkirk is a client of his. When free agency opens Prentiss’ fitness client will look for a contract that will range anywhere from $6 million to $7 million a season, a price that could be too much for New York. Larry Brooks of the New York Post said as much in a recent article.

With that in mind, Demers is signed for four more years at $4.5 million a season, and here is how he stacks up against Shattenkirk from an analytical perspective.

The numbers for each category range from 0-10 with 0 being the worst of all polled defenders and 10 being the best. For an explanation on how it works, check out this link. A quick glance will show that Demers is in the fifth tier when it comes to ice time, and he is better than or tied with Shattenkirk when it comes to primary assists, shot generation and shot suppression. Shattenkirk has an edge in goals by one tier.

This is not to say that Shattenkirk isn’t a good player, because he is one of the top offensive defenders in the league. His career points per game average is 0.61 which is an average of 51 points per season whereas Demers has a point per game average of 0.34 which equates to 29 points a season. That is a serious difference in offensive production, but there is more to the story.

While Demers loses the empirical offensive battle, and one I am not making light of, the above metrics show that he’s pretty solid all around, and defensively he is an excellent shot suppressor. As previously stated, the biggest difference between Demers and Shattenkirk is offense, with money coming second although there is often a correlation between the two. It would be great to have a perennial 50-point defender, but the 29-year-old Demers still brings a lot to the table.

Just for kicks, here is Demers vs. the archetype of a No. 1 defender.

To be fair, these numbers aren’t everything, but they should give you some perspective on the role the Rangers are trying to fill and the players they could consider adding to fill that role. In that regard, Demers would fit the bill.

Another reason why it makes sense to consider Demers is that adding him would likely mean Derek Stepan remains a Ranger. It has been speculated that the Rangers could look to trade Derek Stepan for a defenseman. It is a move the team could entertain but it wouldn’t be necessary if Demers were brought to Broadway. Even better, such a transaction would likely allow the Rangers to re-sign Brendan Smith while having some cap room to spare. I think most fans if given the option would prefer to add Demers and re-sign Smith rather than trading Stepan and/or signing Shattenkirk.

In this hypothetical world, the Rangers defense could look like this.

Ryan McDonagh — Jason Demers

Brady Skjei — Brendan Smith

Marc Staal — Nick Holden

That top six would be much better than last year, especially when you consider Staal and Holden would be in a sheltered role on the third pairing. Ideally, the Rangers would benefit from moving Staal, but that doesn’t appear to be in the cards. In this world, the Blueshirts would also have Neal Pionk and Alexei Bereglazov in the wings, and both may contend for Holden’s spot in training camp. Holden has one year left at $1,650,000 and if he doesn’t earn a spot he’d be easy to trade.

With all that said, two things would have to happen to bring Demers to New York.

  1. Demers would need to move his no-trade clause. I have a hard time believing he wouldn’t waive to join the Rangers but stranger things have happened before.
  2. The Panthers would have to get a fair offer from the Blueshirts.

I don’t think there is any merit in speculating what it would cost to add Demers, but it would likely include a forward such as Kevin Hayes or J.T. Miller at a minimum, and that wouldn’t be a terrible price all things considered. With Stepan, Mika Zibanejad, Rick Nash, Chris Kreider, Mats Zuccarello, Jimmy Vesey and Pavel Buchnevich in the fold, the Rangers can afford to move one of the two. Both are RFAs with expiring deals at the end of the 2017-18 season, and each stand to earn a raise from their current salary of  $2.6 million and $2.75 million respectively.

Ultimately a lot can happen between now and Friday night’s entry draft. There is a chance the Rangers are working on a blockbuster move that throws the pieces up in the air like the Hasbro board game Perfection, but at the very least Demers is a solid option worth considering to improve the team.