Which Rangers heads will roll this offseason?

It’s funny how things work sometimes. The Rangers had a gift fall into their laps with a cheaper than expected Patrick Kane forcing his way to New York. Yet despite the “super team,” the club has been playing with just 16 skaters for over a week. The next 20 games are to figure out the final NY Rangers lines for their hopeful Stanley Cup run will take time, and a lot of patience.

Understanding the assignment in the final NY Rangers lines

As Luker pointed out yesterday, the assignment for the Rangers coaching staff is to identify the best possible 5v5 team they can be, and implement that as the final NY Rangers lines. The last two weeks haven’t been pretty, but it’s also difficult to judge the last two weeks since the Rangers haven’t had a full roster.

The Patrick Kane drama led to the Rangers using fewer than 18 skaters since the Detroit game on Feb 23. Technically speaking that game had 18 skaters, but the 2:50 TOI from Ben Harpur doesn’t really count. They lost Ryan Lindgren a game later. Then K’Andre Miller the game after that, and Tyler Motte two games after Miller’s suspension. The fact the Rangers went 2-3 in this span is somewhat of a miracle.

But results matter, and you can’t make excuses. The Rangers are 2-5-1 since their second 7-game win streak ended. Finding the final NY Rangers lines has taken a backseat to just surviving these games. Luckily, we know that Miller will be back in the lineup this week. It’s also assumed that both Motte and Lindgren will be back.

Kane and Tarasenko

Once the team is healthy, the big question will be where Kane and Vladimir Tarasenko wind up on the final NY Rangers lines. We know that Gerard Gallant is going to try to recapture the magic Kane and Artemi Panarin had in Chicago in 2015. However that was 7 years ago, and what worked two presidents ago may not work today.

One line that has been somewhat consistent despite the rotating cavalry of forwards lately has been Panarin-Vincent Trocheck-Kane. The line hasn’t been great, albeit in limited sample sizes, and it was something the keen eye identified before the Kane trade was even finalized. Both players are 7 years older, with Kane on the back end of his career.

This trio has put up pretty bad underlying numbers (again, small sample size), with a 42% expected-goals share and just 25% of the goals scored while on the ice. Their 50% shot share (CF%) is fine, but they simply defer too much to each other and no one wants to shoot.¬†Again though, it’s early.

With Kane with Panarin, that leaves Tarasenko with Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider. We have a larger sample size to work with here, and the results are equally bad. Since Tarasenko and Zibanejad are great shooters, this is another example of mismatched skill sets.

The easy answer is just flip Kane and Tarasenko and see what happens. But we know Gallant is going to give Kane and Panarin a long leash to see if it sticks. Assuming the Kid Line doesn’t get broken up, this is the easiest answer in finding the final NY Rangers lines.

Break up the kids?

But, the Kid Line hasn’t been that great recently. In fact, they’ve been pretty pedestrian without Adam Fox on the ice. Since the kids were reunited before the Tarasenko and Kane trades, this isn’t a one-time blip due to roster issues. They were put together to regain confidence. Perhaps now is the time to break them up?

Odds are the kids won’t be broken up and will get sheltered offensive zone minutes at 5v5, preferably with Fox, to try to exploit matchups. However that strategy only works if the top six are producing enough to be dangerous and warrant top competition. Remember, this didn’t happen during last year’s playoffs, and Tampa adjusted and beat the Rangers four in a row.

Breaking up the kids opens all kinds of options, options the Rangers should be exploring. These may not comprise the final NY Rangers lines come playoff time, but experimenting, finding what works, and having backup plans are all good ideas.

This is on Gallant

There were many good points brought up by Luker yesterday, notably the long leash for Kane and Panarin and the inability of the Rangers defense to properly exit the defensive zone. While it’s difficult to put the last two weeks on a specific reason other than the gymnastics needed to land Kane, these issues exist outside of Kane and Tarasenko.

For starters, we know Gallant is extraordinarily stubborn to a fault. He will go with what he thinks works, even if it isn’t working. Unfortunately that may lead to forcing Panarin and Kane to work –thus sticking with Tarasenko on the top line– to negative results and, quite possibly, an early playoff exit. However the optimist in me thinks he will notice what isn’t working and try something new before settling on the final NY Rangers lines.

The one thing we all need to practice is patience. This is going to be a bumpy ride. Today is the first Rangers practice since the Kane trade. They played two games with 16 skaters, without a practice, and with no rest. That’s a difficult ask on any team.

There are concerns aplenty regarding Kane, Tarasenko, Gallant, defensive zone exits, coaching strategy, and matchup strategy. The next 19 or so games will be used to figure out what works. It’s 1/4 of the season, which is enough time to set the final NY Rangers lines for the playoffs.

It’s now on Gallant to find what works. It’s on the players to produce. And it’s on the players to accept the best results for the team, and not their own personal interests.