This is a little weird, isn’t it? It’s cold out. It’s November. Yet there is no hockey on TV. For all intents and purposes, five of the last eight months have been devoid of anything hockey related. So now we are on speculative posts. Earlier this week I looked at what the forward lines on opening night might look like. Today, let’s check in on what the NY Rangers defense pairs on opening night may look like.
Gentle reminder that this is just for opening night. Things change throughout the season, and what we see on opening night won’t be what we see for the final game of the season.
The Guaranteed Spots
The question is how they will be arranged. There’s a solid chance all four wind up in the top four. This would make sense, but it would mean moving Tony DeAngelo to the left side, something we’ve advocated for since last year. The Rangers don’t seem too keen on that idea, though.
That likely means we see a top pair of Lindgren-Trouba, with Fox on the second pair and DeAngelo on the third pair. Before you all jump down my throat, that’s how it was last year too. That’s just how the roster plays out if the Rangers don’t embrace an off-hand defenseman.
The Left Side Train Wreck
The left side is a disaster zone right now. Brendan Smith and Jack Johnson are the seasoned veterans. Tarmo Reunanen, Lihor Hajek, and K’Andre Miller are the kids vying for spots. Anthony Bitetto is there too.
For those keeping score, that’s two rookies, one third year pro who looked bad last year, a journeyman, a serviceable but overpaid veteran, and one of the worst defensemen in the league. Not exactly a murderer’s row of players there.
Of that sextet, only three are going to make the club. Two will be in the starting lineup, and one will be the 7D.
How It Probably Plays Out
Listen, Jack Johnson is going to be in the opening night lineup. The sooner we come to terms with this, the better. He will probably be paired with DeAngelo on the third pair. They will be atrocious defensively, but DeAngelo’s puck moving ability should be able to keep them afloat. He dragged around Marc Staal, so he should be able to drag around Jack Johnson.
That leaves the pairing with Adam Fox. This is where the real roster battle is for opening night. I am of the belief that Miller will get a full season in Hartford. That means the real competition is between Hajek and Reunanen. Both are playing well overseas, so it will be how they perform in camp.
Hajek probably has the inside track here. He was fine in a five game sample two years ago, but was then miscast as a top pairing defenseman last year before getting hurt. Reunanen has looked solid, but my guess is he will need half a season to get adjusted to North American ice.
So on opening night, we are probably look at:
Ryan Lindgren-Jacob Trouba
Libor Hajek-Adam Fox
Jack Johnson-Tony DeAngelo
It’s not the best, but ideally we eventually see one of Miller or Reunanen replace Johnson at some point in the season. This year is about the kids and improvements. The NY Rangers opening night defense pairs don’t look that great, but there’s room for significant improvement.