colin blackwell

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been piggybacking off Elliotte Friedman and our own Brandon Cohen. This is a weekly thought post on Wednesdays going into detail about how the last week has played out. I’d usually do these ad-hoc, but I like the idea of a mid-week thoughts post. This week, let’s talk about when the Rangers should shake up things up, given that their playoffs hopes have been crushed.

1. Shaking things up is usually done out of necessity, not just to tinker. We’ve been calling for it for a while, but the Rangers do need to shake things up out of necessity. They’ve been struggling to generate sustained offense for over a month now. They’ve had flashes of SH% streaks, but for the most part, they’ve been unable to generate sustained runs of offensive chances. It’s stale. It happens. That’s when it makes sense to change the lines.

We saw the latter, the tinkering, in the second game against the Devils. With the Rangers up big, David Quinn tinkered to see what other guys could do. That’s fine, of course. At this point, tinkering just to tinker might make more sense.

2. The first thing I’d like to see is what Alexis Lafreniere can do with Mika Zibanejad and Pavel Buchnevich. He’s a first overall pick. They need to, at some point, give him sustained time in the top-six. He’s earned it. He’s incredibly skilled. There is no need to continue easing him into the lineup. He’s eased in at this point.

In doing so, the Rangers would move Chris Kreider to a line with Filip Chytil and, preferably, one of Kaapo Kakko or Vitali Kravtsov. In the new-age NHL, your top-six is really your top-nine. You need three legitimate scoring lines. The Rangers have the players to make it happen. It’s just finding the right combination with the nine they have right now. Remember when Pouliot-Brassard-Zuccarello was the third line? That’s the depth you need. This isn’t really the Rangers shaking things up, as much as it is doing the right thing for the rebuild.

3. I love Colin Blackwell. I really do. I thought he was a great find when they signed him, but he’s been more than any of us could have predicted. But it’s come to a point where he needs to be on the fourth line. Playing him in the top-six is stunting the growth of Kakko, who has been fantastic this season, and Kravtsov, who has looked great so far.

I’m sorry, but Blackwell’s story should not get in the way of prospect development. There is nothing that should hold Kravtsov and Kakko off the top nine. I’d understand if they looked overwhelmed and outclassed. But they don’t. With the games more or less meaningless at this point, Blackwell needs to be moved aside to get these kids ice time.

4. This is also the time to tinker with the powerplay. Again targeting Blackwell, whom I love, he should not be on the powerplay. There is also no logical thought process to keeping Lafreniere off the powerplay as well. Swap them. Just do it. This is the hill I die on to close out the season. Alexis Lafreniere needs to be on the powerplay.

While we’re at it, let’s get another lefty on PP1. The four righties up top with Kreider in front isn’t working consistently. Again, SH% streaks notwithstanding, the Rangers powerplay has been an incredible disappointment this season. They need the extra one-timer option from the off-wing. It doesn’t matter if it’s Buchnevich or Lafreniere or Kakko. An additional lefty needs to be on that unit.

5. Moving to the blue line, the Jacob Trouba injury throws a wrench in the ideal plans. Assuming a fully healthy blue line, I’d like to see Ryan Lindgren paired with Trouba, and Adam Fox with K’Andre Miller. This is something Rob Luker has pointed out almost daily at this point. Trouba, who is having a much better season than he gets credit for, truly excels with a defensive partner. If we are getting the most out of the team, then that’s a pairing that should at least be experimented with.

It’s also been established that Fox can play with anyone. Perhaps playing him with Miller could teach the rookie a few things about puck movement, puck support, and quick decision making. Fox excels at all three –he excels at everything, quite frankly– and Miller has all the tools to be just as good. He just needs refinement. Miller is going to be an excellent defenseman. Learning directly from Fox will go a long way. Of course, this is impacted by Trouba’s health. This would be a key area for the Rangers to shake things up, as it opens options.

6. It is also time to end the Brett Howden and Libor Hajek experiments. Anthony Bitetto isn’t an option either. The choices are clear. Morgan Barron and Zac Jones should get immediate time in the lineup, at least for a game or two. If they are overmatched, then that’s fine! Let them work it out in the AHL. But neither will be worse than Howden or Hajek at this point. Both are objectively terrible.

For Barron specifically, this would be a step to see where he is in his development. There were questions about his ability to be a center in the NHL. He’s been fine thus far in the AHL, but if those concerns still hold true, then Barron likely has more value as a trade chip. If he’s a center, then he could make trading Chytil more palatable.

But just remember, Chytil is another kid who is better than he gets credit for.

7. One last bit about the Rangers need to shake things up, perhaps that also means coaching. No, I’m not talking about firing David Quinn. He will likely get next season to see how he can transition the team to a contender.

I’m talking about the approach to forming a coaching staff. The impact that Jacques Martin has had on the defense is incredible. The Rangers went from a league-worst defensive team to one of the best. With consistent offense being an issue, there is room to improve.

I like the NFL model. A head coach for in-game tactics (of which I’ve been critical of Quinn). An offensive coordinator who excels at driving play. A defensive coordinator who excels at limiting quality (Martin). The head coach is ultimately responsible and accountable, but hiring specialists to run these areas is something we haven’t seen in the NHL. For that, I’d love to see the Rangers get Bruce Boudreau as an assistant coach. An offensive coordinator, if you will. Boudreau excels with powerplay and even strength offense. He’d be the perfect complement to Martin.

NHL coaching philosophies are archaic. We see it with the constant recycling of coaches. Few are innovative, happy to use the same four breakouts, the same three powerplay structures, and the same three forechecks. The last true innovation was the 1-3-1 powerplay/forecheck. By hiring specialists and keeping an in-game tactician, it opens the door for creativity on both ends of the ice.


More About: