The Florida Panthers are trying to get a head start on signing one of the top free agents available this summer.
On Monday evening the team acquired the rights to free agent defenseman Keith Yandle from the New York Rangers in exchange for a sixth-round draft pick in 2016 and a conditional fourth-round pick in 2017.
That pick is conditional on the Panthers being able to sign Yandle before he becomes a free agent on July 1.
As far as pre-free agency moves go, this is a pretty big one so let's take a look at how this impacts everybody involved.
1. Yandle would be a huge addition to the Panthers lineup. Yandle has been one of the more underappreciated players in the NHL for a couple of years now because he doesn't fit what people want from a top-pairing defenseman. He isn't physical and he isn't what you might consider to be a "shutdown" defender. He has some flaws. But when he has the puck on his stick he can be one of the most impactful defensemen in the league and one of the most productive players at the position. Since the start of the 2010 season only two defensemen in the NHL have more points than Yandle's 284 (Erik Karlsson with 359 and Dustyin Byfuglien with 288).
Defense in the NHL now is all about having players that can skate, move the puck, and can make plays with it. Yandle is one of those players.
According to George Richards, Panthers beat writer for the Miami Herald, the team not only wants to get Yandle signed (obviously) but would also like to bring back veteran Brian Campbell who is also eligible for free agency on July 1.
If #FlaPanthers do sign Keith Yandle (and Brian Campbell as expected) Dmitry Kulikov would definitely be in play. Hear team is shopping.— --George Richards-- (@GeorgeRichards) June 20, 2016
Adding somebody like Yandle -- and potentially keeping Campbell -- in the same offseason they traded Erik Gudbrandon for a pretty nice haul will certainly add some mobility to a defense that also has one of the best young players in the league in Aaron Ekblad.
They also have the salary cap space to make it work.
This is already a pretty good team that could be on the verge of taking another big step forward. They have a really good goaltender in Roberto Luongo, an exciting young core of players led by Alexander Barkor, Nick Bjugstad, Jonathan Huberdeau and Ekblad, and are bringing back the seemingly ageless Jaromir Jagr.
2. An already bad Rangers defense has even more work to do. Because Henrik Lundqvist is one of two or three best goalies in the world every year, he has helped create the illusion that the Rangers are a good defensive team. They are not -- at least not any more -- mainly because their entire blue line is now made up of the type of slow-footed, stay-at-home defenseman that simply can not make a huge impact in the NHL anymore.
This was on display during their first-round playoff series against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Yandle was the one guy on their defense that gave them some mobility and a potential game-changer with the puck. Now they are losing him with very few decent options to replace him in free agency. Alex Goligoski could be a replacement, but he is currently touring Arizona after the Coyotes acquired his rights from the Dallas Stars and probably isn't quite as good as Yandle.
That means the Rangers are either going to have to go enter the season with a slow -- and bad -- defense, or give up more assets to acquire somebody else to upgrade them via trade.
The problem with that? They do not really have a lot of assets to trade without making themselves worse somewhere else.
3. The Rangers original trade for Yandle is even more costly now. The Rangers acquired Yandle before the 2015 trade deadline for Anthony Duclair, John Moore, a 2015 second-round pick and a 2016 first-round pick. It was a steep price to pay, but it gave the Rangers an opportunity to go all in on trying to win a Stanley Cup. But by blowing a ton of cap space on the likes of an aging Dan Girardi and Marc Staal to anchor down their defense, it not only significantly weakened the blue line, but also helped rob the team of the forward depth that made it so good in 2014 on its run to the Stanley Cup Final (Carl Hagelin, specifically) which then forced their hand into trading away more picks for a player Eric Staal at the 2016 deadline.
As it stands now the Rangers do not pick until the third-round in 2016 and only have one pick in the first two rounds of the next two drafts (their 2017 first-round selection).
The Rangers have not made a first-round pick since 2012 (Brady Skjei and are not scheduled to make another one until 2017.
They have only had two second-round picks over that same stretch.
Most of the players they acquired for those picks (Martin St. Louis, Staal, Yandle, Ryane Clowe) are no longer in the organization while they have next to nothing to show for them.