Roster Moves

It’s time to make some changes in the Rangers lineup

For the past several weeks, David Quinn and the coaching staff have kept the the Rangers lineup generally the same and free of changes. With the Rangers having played three more games and three points behind the Bruins, they are pretty certainly out of playoff contention (you never want to say completely).

The offense has been inconsistent at best for the last few weeks. They have hit high highs and low lows. In the month of March, this ranged from big losses to Boston and Pittsburgh, to a crazy 9-0 win against Philadelphia.

They have also had some close calls. A perfect example is Thursday’s game against the Sabres, where Buffalo scored with 3.6 seconds in regulation to force overtime. There was is no lack of opportunity though. The Rangers had 82 attempts in all situations on Thursday night against Buffalo (35 shots on net).

And in most games, the underlying numbers consistently show the Rangers outplay their opponents. But the outcomes are always drastically different. One thing remains the same — the goal scoring comes and goes.

Some options

In order for the Rangers to generate offense more consistently, lineup changes are a simple way to attempt to make a big impact.

There’s only so much players can do when things stay the same. Taking some risks and putting players on positions they may not have necessarily “earned” could help turn them into the exact players they’re looking for.

On offense

I have always been a fan of the KZB line, but they have been streaky lately — especially at 5v5. Mika Zibanejad and Pavel Buchnevich feed off one another. With Zibanejad back to full form, now is the perfect time to get another skilled player in the mix.

Alexis Lafreniere is a perfect option to fill in at Kreider’s spot. While the young forward had the opportunity to play on the top line earlier this season, this was before Zibanejad came back to life.

While many (including Quinn) have argued that young players like Lafreniere have not “earned” the opportunity to play top line minutes, burying him on the third line with limited ice time is not doing him any favors.

Just look at Kaapo Kakko’s transformation since joining a line with Artemi Panarin and Ryan Strome. This is good evidence for how more opportunity can lead to improved play.

Plus, “kids line” has had its struggles, despite finally showing some life in the last handful of games. Adding a veteran like Kreider to the mix with Filip Chytil and Julien Gauthier could turn the third line into a real threat.

Kreider simply standing in front of the net when you’re on the ice automatically increases your chances of scoring. And scoring automatically instills confidence.

Let’s not forget too that Vitali Kravtsov is also waiting in the wings. This means your pairings could be:

Lafreniere-Zibanejad-Buchnevich
Panarin-Strome-Kakko
Kreider-Chytil-Kravtsov
Blackwell-Rooney-Gauthier

That is a well-rounded line up with four lines that would be challenging to play against.

On defense

One obvious move would be to split up Ryan Lindgren and Adam Fox — I KNOW!

While this pair has been the best on the team, it would be an interesting experiment to see how each player performs away from one another.

While K’Andre Miller and Jacob Trouba have looked good together, there is a part of each of their games that could get a boost from working with Lindgren and Fox.

Lindgren playing such a stay-at-home role could give Trouba the opportunity to step up offensively. Miller’s defensive game has been stellar so far this season. Fox plays so well on both ends of the ice, it could encourage an uptick in Miller’s production while also maintaining the start he’s had on the defensive end.

And what is there to do with Libor Hajek and Brendan Smith than just deal with them? Quinn needs to limit their ice time, but that’s another story.

I guess in this area where you could say “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.” But again, there’s really not that much to lose other than games.

Final thoughts

The beauty with all of this that if one or all of these lineup changes don’t work for the Rangers, you can always go back to your old ways! Even mid game!

Spreading out your talent and your strengths means a harder roster to play against on all lines. This is much more ideal than a roster that is top heavy with veterans and can be pushed around by the time you hit the third line (this kind of feels like what’s happening now).

With the Rangers out of the playoff race, they have a great opportunity to focus on developing their roster and especially their young players. Testing out different options means being able to make more confident decisions in placing additional talent as the team continues to grow.

And who knows, maybe these shifts make such an impact that the Rangers go on a hot streak and manage to make the playoffs. Crazier things have happened.

When building toward the future, it is important to understand the full capabilities in your roster. Without taking a risk, you will only continue to see the same results.

Thanks to the BSB Group chat for the inspiration on this piece. Happy to be here 🙂

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  • What happened to Bietto? I thought he was a serviceable bottom pair guy. Maybe try him with either Smith or Reunanen? Those pairings will be equal to or better than Hajek/Smith.

    It is tempting to bring Barron up for the fourth line–but it is probably better to let him continue playing big minutes in Hartford and look to next year.

    Your lines look good!

  • Sounds like you are throwing in the towel. With my rose colored glasses on, I point out the Rangers have 2 season ending games vs Bruins so they need to be within three points of them. Lets keep going Rangers. The last 2 games vs Caps and Sabres (not an easy game) were VERY nice wins. I think they can catch the boys from Beantown..

    • 2 season ending games for Rangers. Not for Bruins, who have 2 games after playing Rangers. So realistically, we need to be up on Bruins before those 2 games
      It’s easy to sit in an armchair and give your uneducated hockey opinions in these blogs. For a writer to sit on sidelines and suggest coaching staff assume they’ll be losing games and just focus on giving younger players more ice time is plain ignorant.

  • Also, I saw someone post about Florida as a possible trade partner. Eetu Luostarinen and Anton Lundell were mentioned as the Rangers’ target. Two Finns who have the potential to be solid 2nd/3rd line centers. Florida needs D. Would ADA with one of Bietto or smith and one of Skinner, Jones or Reunanen–maybe throw in the 4th from LA be enough to get both? Would ADA with one of Bietto or Smith and LA’s 4th be a good deal for one of them? Might have add something if it is Lundell.

    Going with Mika, Chytil as the one–two and trading for players like Luostarinen and/or Lundell will cost a lot less and may work out really well. However, with Mika’s injury history and Chytil not proven–yet–it is not without risk.

    But on the other hand, trading for RNH, Eichel or Barkov type players has lots of risk in terms of what you have to give up and the contract that comes with them.

    • Florida need 1st pair RD help *NOW* so ADA is a band aid on a severed artery, Ristolanen for Lundell might be a better fix for both the Sabres and the Cats.

  • “Lindgren playing such a stay-at-home role could give Trouba the opportunity to step up offensively. Miller’s defensive game has been stellar so far this season. Fox plays so well on both ends of the ice, it could encourage an uptick in Miller’s production while also maintaining the start he’s had on the defensive end.”

    Sure, devote a few consecutive games to switching up to see how it literally plays out, but I’m not sure how switching Lindgren and Miller would help Trouba’s offensive game. The go-ahead goal against the Caps doesn’t happen if Lindgren and Fox don’t have the crucial familiarity level that they do. Etc. So I dunno.

    I’m on board with your lines, assuming DQ balances line time more than he has — your configuration certainly wouldn’t hurt, in that respect.

  • I’m not sure about the hype for Gauthier. I would rather see Kravtsov get 3rd line minutes than not play at all. I like the suggested lines . If Kreider is the team leader everyone says then he should understand that playing on the 3rd line might be the most beneficial to the team’s progress.

  • Alex Lafreniere’s presense on MZ’s line early in the season was the main reason MZ was not productive offensively.

  • Team is still a long shot at best to make the playoffs and I am talking about a 6-8 game winning streak at worst to really confirm that we have a chance at the playoffs. Bruins have three games in hand, and we do have a coach that cannot be trusted for his better judgement…

    Acknowledge
    Recognize
    Act

    What is best for this team at the moment is to develop the players….If Quinn is concerned about not making the playoffs and his job security, then we will see less of the youngsters and more of Rooney, Blackwell, PDG, and Howden……

  • I am so pulling for Laf to be what we thought we were getting. Love his person and who he is and how he carries himself. But my God man could you please put some effort into something. Don’t be afraid to try, and try really hard, until then this guy has NO business being on a line with MZ no way!!

    The great thing about Kakko is he tries to make a difference every shift. He’s not afraid of the moment. Right now Laf is very much afraid of it.

    One more thing, I would be taking a LONG HARD look at Collin Blackwell! He absolutely is passing the eye test.

    • I totally agree with your take on Laf. And to your point about Kakko – he is a totally different player this year (yes I know scoring still not what we want). But over the latest run of games Kakko has been dogged. He loses the puck, he takes it back. Forechecking and backchecking hard. Great fit for Panarin and Strome. Laf – will be a great teammate for years to come – and expect he will arrive in camp next year with much more – just like Kakko this year.

  • Laff hasn’t earned any time in the first line. Because he was first pick don’t mean that he just going to be inserted in the first line. In matter of fact he hasn’t look like a first pick. He was given an opportunity and he didn’t take advantage so is on him!!!!! Chytil is the one that should be given that opportunity he has earned it.

    • You ever have a math genius try and teach you algebra? 9 times out of 10 they can’t do it because the way they process is far beyond mere mortals.

      I don’t think Lafreniere is a genius level player, but you do have to put him with guys who think the game fast.

  • I think changing up the lines is a good idea, though I don’t agree with your suggestions. Laf is not a good fit with Mika — you either leave Laf with Chytil and give them a better right wing who drives play, or you try Laf with Strome, and finally give Chytil-Panarin a look.

    But my main disagreement with you is suggesting that if the new lines don’t work, you can just switch back mid-game. If you’re going to make some adjustments, you have to give the linemates time to gel. That may mean enduring some lumps along the way in the interest of long-term development, not exactly a strength of our current coach.

    • To get consistency with lines, and if you want to try a new combination of players, you have to keep the new line combo in tact for at least 3 games, minimum…to see if it works. (And yes, lumps will be taken.)

  • It would be insane to give up on Lafreniere so quickly but I don’t believe for a second that he’s NHL-ready. If he has to be here, I don’t see why you wouldn’t give him a chance with Zibanejad, but from what I’ve seen, I don’t see that netting anything significant for the team this season. I think he’s just too green atm.

  • Once Buch gets traded, the logjam at wing will open up. Watch us move Buch, Tony D, Howden and Smith and acquire a young center in return. Even though DQ thinks we are in playoff contention, JD and Gorton will sell high and restock down the middle.

      • Iceman in the immediate yes, but there are young guys who will take over that load. Buch hasn’t always had this responsibility, it took him a while to get there. With that said, the young guys we have should in theory pick things up quicker than it has taken Buch to get there.

    • Your package suggested won’t return us a good center. I do think the Rangers will move either Buch or Kravtsov eventually to make room along with a package good enough to return a center. Buch is due a raise so it does seem like something Gorton would consider doing.

  • Dirty little secret: Rangers front office and coaching staff still believe they’re in the hunt for a playoff spot and are acting accordingly.

    Understand that and everything else falls into place.

    I have no problem with any of those lineup proposals, just that I don’t expect it to happen until they are largely eliminated or Gorton couldn’t make a deal at the deadline.

    • Have you been following the Rangers for more than twenty minutes? Do you know how the CBA works?

      He now has the room to call up Kravtsov, Barron or Felix the cat right now and not be hit with a bonus overage. Yet they don’t.

      You don’t build that cushion because Dolan told you to do so, you do it to create cap space to make a deal. FFS this isn’t 3D chess, this isn’t even chess. Yet we get empty calorie think pieces from actual press unable to ask the question to the coach if the GM is holding players back for a reason or just asking the GM the same question.

      • 1st off thats the work of the GM, NOT COACH, Once Kratsov passed quarentine he should have been in a Rangers sweater playing. As for cap space $8.5 mil for Trouba is now an albatross contract already with all the kids we have, Rangers could have given Trouba 5.5 per. You will not learn success until you are put into a position to succeed ask Kappo, why do think Laf only has a few pts, he hasnt been in a position to succeed , along with that comes failure too, look at the 80’s Isles, losing to the Rangers in 79, or the Oilers losing to isles in 84-85, In Hockey you WIN AS A TEAM, AND LOSE AS A TEAM, can you make a case for Gauthier playing over the #9 overall pik, i sure as hell cant

      • What Reen is saying does make sense … you certainly have to acknowledge the possibility … and whatever Reen’s exact “experience” is with the game (and I can tell he has some), he’s knowledgeable — he’s as hard (brutal) on players as any good hockey scout would be (and I’ve had plenty of experience hanging around hockey scouts, I know the cut of their jib).

      • IDGAF if you played the game, you demonstrate that you can’t think of two different concepts at the same time(day of game management vs managing a team in a cap environment) so all I can say is I hope you thought the game faster on the ice than off it.

        I’d *maybe* value your opinion on debating 1-2-2 vs 1-1-3, but I don’t think you can evaluate talent either. So there’s that.

  • The definition of crazy is to keep doing the same thing and expect a different result. This has been going on since Q got here, all the kids struggeling because they keep getting shuffled around and and having any chemistry because of that. Kappo is a perfect example, plauing on the same line has gotten him to form chemistry with his linemates. Why Kratsov hasnt played yet is ridiculous, every gm he sits he loses a step

  • Split up Leetch and Beukeboom…Uh I mean Fox and Lindgren..?
    C’mon that’s just change for change sake. Why split up the one sure thing pair you have…? Trouba and Miller are also pretty darn (don’t want the language Police to go all Politically Correct on me) good…but I would okay a split there to see if it can get better…Hajek seems to be the new Staal…plays well and all the fans like to pounce on him continually…I don’t see it. I see him as a very serviceable third pair D-man, with a possible upside with enough NHL experience.

  • Well that would sure torpedo any of the thinnest playoff hopes.
    Think this blog is just to rile everyone up and argue. CLICK BAIT. i believe its called.
    Not to mention the idea is trash.
    They will move Buchy at deadline. Hockey trade or possibly more ammo to run at Eichel ( im not a fan of)
    Ring, ring…. thats the school bell listen up Karly…
    Chris Kreider brings more to the table than almost every player on roster.
    Nobody is bigger ( though he could play bigger) nobody is faster, and nobody plays the front of the net better. No other winger next to Panarin consistently backs up the defense.

    Heres a novel idea…. watch the games and THEN post stupid blogs.
    Atleast youd have a chance….

  • I certainly wouldn’t consider the rangers chances to make the playoffs as great, But you’re making sound like they have no chance at all! Let’s have a little faith!!

  • I guess you didn’t play ice hockey. Smith is slow and a horrible defenseman in his own zone. Libor’s a player and will be a ranger defenseman for years. Great skater and good hands. Needs complimentary D.

  • It’s understandable that if Quinn’s thinking is we need to make the playoffs then you can see why he’s over playing the top two lines the good news is it looks like some of the kids are starting to play better and stronger the bad news is the third line is suffering with the amount of time they’re getting as far as the Defense goes Hajek I think he’s getting better each game he’s making quicker decisions and pretty good first passes he staying strong on the puck he’s looking more and more like he did when he first came up And when you talk about inconsistency with this team we have the youngest team in the league what would you expect yeah it be great if they all played like season veterans but they are getting better

  • I think things are going well with the rangers right now, kids are really doing well. I just wish they would pick up another good protector for the kids. And Igor is also complaining about being hit a little too much teams are taking liberty on him. Somebody needs to step up or find/trade for a puncher

  • Your lineup changes are ok and not enough combinations have been tried so it could be worth a look.

    Here is the thing, the lineup changes and player changes will eventually take place, but at a much slower pace with our organization.

    Quinn is fairly predictable at this point. Quinn isn’t going to take Kreider away from Zib. Even if he does, it’ll likely be to shake things up mid game if they’re not playing well and then he’ll change it back. He thinks his team can make the playoffs like some have said here.

    I don’t believe Quinn has gotten an extension yet. In 3 years, he missed the playoffs twice and the only reason he made it last season was because of the bubble, we wouldn’t have made it had it been a standard 8 team eastern conference, we lost crucial games last season and fell too far down. Let’s be honest, Rod Brindamour severely out coached him in the Carolina series. They shut our ability to skate through the neutral zone and kept us to the outside and Quinn couldn’t adjust. It looked the same for 3 games straight.

    Coaches have shelf lives and they’re in a results orientated role.
    Quinn wants to keep coaching here and his strategy is to play the vets more to try and make the playoffs because he wants to show management “hey look, we’re in a rebuild and we still made the playoffs. Trust my decisions and believe in the process”.

    My honest opinion is that if he took a more strategic approach to managing the lineup, we could have won more games and be one of the 4 teams today. I hope they don’t extend him.

    Just consider this perspective and you’ll be able to better predict what they’re going to do. My two cents.

  • Dave, you keep saying “out of the playoff race” but it’s not so. You mention balance through the lineup? I like those forward lines you projected. But the point again is that the Bruins have 1 line, 1 D and an injured goalie. They are playing like dog poop. The Bruins are something like 2nd to last in the league in 5v5 scoring.

    Just as the ‘sell high’ theme on Strome has been debunked (he’s been too good for too long incl. away from Breadman) so too is the ‘Rangers are out of the playoff hunt thing. If they keep on winning at a decent clip and then take the Bs to end the season, they’ll be in. The Bruins are over rated by those not watching closely.

    • The Bruins have six games left against the Sabres, with 3 in hand on the Rangers. They are out of reach for the Rangers. Do the math.

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