Jacob Trouba is the latest Rangers defenseman to suffer an injury. This one will keep him out for 4-6 weeks with a broken thumb. The vaunted right side of the Rangers blue line is down to just Adam Fox now. The Rangers, already down to their 8th and 9th defensemen, are basically dressing AHL defensemen at this point. It is possible that we see Anthony Bitetto, Libor Hajek, and Jack Johnson in the lineup. Yet another injury on the defense for the Rangers, and they are running low on replacement options.
The good news is that K’Andre Miller practiced, so he should be back in the lineup. Per Vince Mercogliano, the defense pairs are, well, a little rough:
#NYR practice lineup:
Kreider – Mika – Buch
Panarin – Strome – Kakko
Laf – Rooney – Blackwell
Lemieux – Howden – PDG (Gauthier rotating in)
Lindgren – Fox
Miller – Smith (Johnson rotating in)
Hájek – Bitetto
— Vince Z. Mercogliano (@vzmercogliano) February 17, 2021
Given Trouba will be out for a while, the pairs are going to look like this for a while. There aren’t many options to upgrade either.
Recalling Tony DeAngelo
This ain’t happening. Next.
Recalls from Hartford
There is really only one player in Hartford worth recalling to get a look. That’s Tarmo Reunanen. It’s only been two games for the Pack, but Reunanen already leads the Hartford Wolf Pack in scoring with a line of 2-1-3. He’s played well so far, and played well overseas as well. In terms of actual prospects, he’s the only guy down there.
Sure, the Rangers could recall someone like Darren Raddysh or Brandon Crawley, but they don’t move the needle at all. In fact, there’s a strong argument that they’d be worse than Hajek and Bitetto. At least with Reunanen, you get an idea of where he stands on the development path. Perhaps you even showcase him, if he’s not part of the long term plans.
The issue here is the cap math. The Rangers have been banking cap space throughout the year with shrewd taxi squad assignments. Because of this, they actually have enough cap space to recall Reunanen, albeit barely enough cap space. If they move forward with a recall, it removes any flexibility they once had for future moves. Another injury on the Rangers defense forces this option.
A trade is a tricky scenario to unpack. The Rangers don’t *need* to make a trade. The defense pipeline is loaded with high quality prospects that aren’t that far away from NHL time. A reactionary trade to fill this gap is not in the best interest of the rebuild.
That said, there are paths to a trade. However any trade needs to fit into the direction of the team. A young, good, cost controlled defenseman. These are hard to come by. Players like Mackenzie Weegar or Vince Dunn are not a dime a dozen.
As tempting as it is to look at Mattias Ekholm, he doesn’t fit that mold. He’s 30, only has one year left on his deal, and is declining. Those types of players aren’t the types of players the Rangers go after right now. They aren’t contending. They aren’t just one piece away. At least, not yet. They are close though.
The waiver wire is the only viable option left for the Rangers. But again, it leaves them with some other salary cap questions. Plus it makes them reliant on other teams waiving players. As of yesterday, only Connor Carrick was on waivers. However the Rangers don’t have the cap space to claim a $1.5 million player right now.
Entertaining this for the sake of the hypothetical, Carrick is a significantly better option than Hajek, Bitetto, or Johnson. But believe it or not, Brendan Smith is the best of this quartet and better than Carrick. In this scenario, the Rangers would send Hajek to the taxi squad, as he doesn’t need to clear waivers.
Waivers for a player making over $800,000 isn’t really an option at the moment. It will be at some point, but right now they can’t. For the short term, this is a nice to have.
Wait And See
This is the most likely path at the moment. It’s not that this is the only option, but it’s the one that makes logical sense given the team direction, cap situation, and lay of the land. It is what it is. If the Rangers have another injury on defense, they will be hard pressed to dress a decent lineup.