Defense

What if the NY Rangers don’t use an off-handed defenseman?

This NY Rangers offseason has been dominated by discussion about Tony DeAngelo moving to left defense. It’s been a “foregone conclusion” that even the coaching staff has acknowledged. However what if the Rangers don’t embrace an off-handed defenseman? What would the defense look like? Is it folly to even consider?

Weak Left Defense

The Rangers are very weak on the left side. Their best left defenseman, in this scenario, would be Ryan Lindgren. Lindgren is entering his sophomore season and likely slides in as the top pairing LD with Jacob Trouba. This pair may have its concerns, but it should also bring out the best in both players. We’ve seen how Lindgren plays with Adam Fox, a puck mover. Trouba also plays at his best when he has a stay-at-home type paired with him.

The bottom-four defensemen would basically need to be carried by Fox and DeAngelo. It looks like Brendan Smith and Jack Johnson are the front runners for those spots. We’d be looking at Johnson-Fox and Smith-DeAngelo in that situation, and that is a major cringe on the left side.

The Rangers do have a bunch of LD rookies competing for spots in camp. K’Andre Miller and Tarmo Reunanen are the names spoken about the most. Libor Hajek is in the mix as well, and there’s a strong argument that he would make the club over Miller and Reunanen. Depth signing Anthony Bitetto is also there.

Aside from a possible “wow” camp from Miller or Reunanen, or a rebound year from Hajek, that left side doesn’t instill much confidence.

Why Not Use an Offhanded Defenseman?

But why wouldn’t the Rangers move DeAngelo to the left side? He’s played there before, and there’s a strong case that it would actually accentuate his strengths on the ice. There’s also the rule of playing your best players. DeAngelo is certainly one of the Rangers top-four defensemen.

The Rangers, for better or worse, have a minor obsession with playing 3 LD and 3 RD. They’d prefer to go that route, so it’s logical that they’d at least see what they have in their rookies and signings before making a move like this. Maybe someone impresses in camp and there’s no need to move DeAngelo over to the left side.

It looks like the Rangers simply want to explore all options before making a “rash” decision to move DeAngelo over. After all, they are going to give the kids all the ice time they need this year. Why not see what Hajek, Miller, and Reunanen can do? Worst case scenario, they spend time in Hartford.

The NY Rangers left defense is a work in progress. The club clearly wants the kids to take over at some point. That point may not be this season though. Most of the big names likely need a year or more of development. It does seem like using an off-handed defenseman is a last resort, which is a shame. It should be on the table to put the best possible team out there.

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  • I suspect that the training camp will shake out this decision. How does Tony D look on his off hand? How ready does K’Andre look? Is D.Smith still on the roster? Whatever DQ chooses, he will be questioned, but I would prefer seeing a 3rd pair rookie LD out there.

    • SalMerc

      Training camp will give us the outcome.
      I think the Rangers are praying that one of the rooks are ready and if not maybe split time with JJ or AB or both….
      Brenden Smith will still be on the roster for now.
      Trouba-Smith
      Fox-Lindgren
      AD-K’A M (JJ-AB) all split time until Miller is good to go FT.
      Top six
      However at the trade deadline Smith could go.

  • In line with exploring all the options, I think that the Rangers should “try” to move a right defensemen to the left side. It isn’t like the result of moving TDA to the left side for a month will lead to him forgetting how to play the right side. It looks like Nils Lundqvist will be good and we absolutely know that the Rangers cannot keep four right defensemen. So moving TDA to the left (with the option to abandon the experiment if unsuccessful) is not rash – it is just good use of resources.

    Unlike you Dave, I think Lindgren-Trouba may be a stellar first pair on defense. Although possibly Fox-Trouba may be even better and moving Fox instead of TDA is worth considering.

    Several cautions: I think the stats on DeAngelo-Fox pair are flawed. I don’t have a lot of observations but what makes sense to me is that the most likely times for Quinn to have used this pair is right after an opposing power play – when all three left Ranger defensemen were tired. This situation almost guarantees the best offensive opposing players will not be on the ice. This does not mean the pair won’t work – only that we know less than we think we do.

    DeAngelo will not carry anyone. He did not carry Staal; he will not carry Johnson. He is weak defensively and his partner is going to bear the brunt of the defensive responsibility. If his partner can handle the defensive burden (as the vastly overpaid Staal could last year), he will be a valuable offensive contributor. Whether Smith, Johnson, Hajek, or Bitetto can handle this, we don’t know. I think Fox can BTW.

    ***********

    Technical note: Anthony Bitetto played 59 of 71 games for Winnipeg last year. If one extrapolates, that would be 68 games in an 82 game season. The rules as written say that the Rangers must expose a defensemen who has played 70 games in the last two seasons (or 40 this year). I don’t know how they will adjust for covid, but it may be that the Rangers need to get Bitetto into two games to meet the exposure requirement.

  • It is possible that the Rangers will end up with something unsatisfactory like:

    Smith – Trouba
    Lindgren – Fox
    Johnson (or Hajek) – DeAngelo

    But, I sincerely hope not. The will not be much improved defensively if they end up with the above pairings. I think that one thing to consider is:

    Lindgren / Trouba
    DeAngelo / Fox
    Johnson (or Hajek) / Smith

    Lindgren is the stay at home guy Trouba needs, and Trouba is a big boy who plays physically too. I think it might make for a decent first pair if Lindgren continues to develop. Tony D with Fox has looked like a good pairing in small samples. They both are offensively gifted and Fox is smart in the defensive zone to cover Tony’s brain cramps.

    or

    Fox / Trouba
    Lindgren / DeAngelo
    Johnson ( or Hajek) / Smith

    Fox is also capable of playing on his off hand, but I am unsure whether the Rangers would want to mess with the kid after such a nice rookie season. Yet, Fox with Trouba could be an excellent pair. Lindgren would also give Tony a good, mobile stay at home guy to play with instead of the old, slow players he has been with previously.

    I do not believe that guys like Miller and the rest of the boys in the farm are going to be quite ready this season. Hajek could be (though I don’t know how good he will be.) The rest are at least a year away.

    • The Rangers will mess with Fox. The question is how much. Last year, DQ simplified Fox’s game by giving him essentially no PK responsibility – so he had to learn less. This year I very much expect Fox to be playing PK. Do they also try him on the right? I don’t know.

      I agree with most of your comment, but I do think the defense will be much improved no matter what they do. Replacing Lundqvist by Shesterkin simply adds a player to the D.

  • I don’t see why moving to the other side is such a big deal. Yes, there are differences. Things like the breakout and handling certain situations in your own zone are different. But it also opens things up offensively in the other zone which I’m sure DeAngelo can exploit.

    I’d much rather have 77 out there on the left side instead of Smith or Johnson over there getting more ice-time. I don’t think you move a top-4 dman down in the lineup (be it either ADA or Fox), and move bottom pair d-men up just because of their handedness. I think there’s a preference of coaching staffs. But it shouldn’t be a hard a fast rule, where better players are losing ice-time over it…

  • Too many unknown variables. We can all speculate but the safest bet is the Rangers go the most conservative route to begin with — it may be a relatively short camp this season. Unfortunately that means Smith-Lindgren-JJ on the left side. If anything other than that happens it means someone clearly overperformed and/or someone clearly underperformed. For all anyone knows Robertson is the guy who comes in and knocks everyone’s socks off, or Hajek, or or or.

    • Perhaps Tanto. You are right that the camp will be a short one which does limit flexibility. But, ADA might be able to make the switch without much trouble if asked.

      • Peter

        Tony has played on the left side for most of his career in juniors, and stated he would be more than willing to play there again if the team needs him to do so!!!!!!!!!

      • Hey, I’ve advocated for a long long time, but I’m just saying you know DQ and Management — they’re conservative about these things.

  • I may be off base with my thought process but here comes. Miller really impressed management before the PO’s started, and they expressed it loudly. Both JD, and JG were very high on the kid.

    I think that tanto mentioned Robertson may impress as well. At this stage of the game, he could very well be a surprise to all. Everyone has discounted Hajek, heck he may impress as well. As I posted below, and before on numerous occasions, ADA can play LD, has in the past, and could do so again, happily.

    I suspect that everyone is blowing this way out of proportion…………….

    • I don’t see Miller or Robertson in the mix. I see
      Group A: Lindgren, Trouba, ADA, Fox
      Group B: Johnson, Bitetto, Smith, Hajek
      Group C: Miller, Robertson, Reuanen.

      Group A starts, Group B competes for other two positions and 7D. Group C goes to Hartford for at least a third of the season.

      The optimistic view is that one of them follows McDonagh’s path.

      *******

      I do hope the Group B competition is done with an open mind. If Johnson is fourth best, he should end up in Hartford.

      • I agree with you Ray, more than likely that’s the way the Rangers are looking at it (rightly or wrongly).

  • ADA scored 50+ points on his right side last season. Why mess with that? That’s a last resort to move him to the left.

  • DeAngelo moves to LD?

    NEWSFLASH… Nils ain’t here yet. Now who plays the right-side? Smith? Raddysh? Where are we going with this?

    This is a non-starter unless Lundquist comes here and plays.

    • Smith can play the right side.

      Why switch Smith to the right and ADA to the left. Well, ignoring special teams, let’s suppose a defenseman can play 25 minutes a game. With a Johnson-Smith third pair, they need be on the ice for only 10 minutes. OTOH, if both play on the left, one or the other of them must be on the ice for the 35 minutes Lindgren doesn’t play.

      Would you rather have 35 minutes ice time combined from the duo or 20 minutes? Having all your good defensemen on the same side means they can’t play as much.

  • Fox is a heady player who makes crisp outlets passes. Also, he is good with his positioning and at reading the play. I would think he be a good candidate to play on his off hand.

    So, why not pair Fox with Troubs and ADA with Lindgren. Smitty can play on the 3rd pair with which every rookie has the best camp. JJ can observe from the press box.

    • Fox / Lindgren is a proven pair. Don’t mess with it!!!

      ADA has extensive experience on the left. If anyone moves, it should be him first

      Trouba / Smith was not bad in the playoffs. Making them the second pair and perhaps the new coach can reduce Smith’s mistakes and we’ll be fine

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