trouba schneider swap?
Kyle Ross-USA TODAY Sports

Before I even began writing this, I knew the answer from many would be an emphatic “YES.” Trouba is on the receiving end of a lot of hate, both warranted and unwarranted. A problem is only a problem if there is a potential solution. For the Rangers, the solution to their possible issue on defense is to swap Braden Schneider and Jacob Trouba.

However the question remains – will that actually address anything?

Remember – it’s not just about Trouba’s pretty rough season. It’s about how K’Andre Miller plays with Schneider. Or how Erik Gustafsson plays with Trouba. Sometimes, it’s not that simple.

Trouba’s performance has been lacking

First things first, we all know that Jacob Trouba has been having a tough season. While the hope is that he’s been managing an injury, that may be blind hope at this point. He’s had a pretty steep decline in effectiveness over the last few weeks.

Usual caveat that a chart does not tell a whole story, but it certainly contributes to the story. GameScore as a single-game stat isn’t overly reliable, but over time it does show Trouba’s effectiveness over the course of this season (top right) has taken a dramatic turn south.

From the bottom left chart, it does appear that Trouba’s overall effectiveness is passable on a game by game basis, but when he is off, he is horrible. His valleys are just atrocious, and they are happening far too frequently as of the end of November.

The end of November is when we started to see the Rangers crater a bit. Goaltending was bad, but it wouldn’t be an impact to these numbers. This is when the Rangers lost Kaapo Kakko for multiple months, joining Filip Chytil on LTIR. That would certainly have an impact, and it makes sense that when Kakko returned, the overall team defense got better.

That, however, doesn’t explain the recent cratering as of the end of March. The March 28th game was in Colorado, where Igor Shesterkin stole the game. The March 30 game was the 8-5 win over Arizona. Both games, the entire team looked bad but still won.

So now instead of the usual “Trouba has been bad” conclusion we’ve seen, perhaps we need a different question. Has Trouba been *that* bad? Or is it simply the horrible, horrible games are sticking out in our memories far more than his other games? That is human nature, after all.

What about Miller-Schneider and Gustafsson-Trouba?

While part of the problem has been Trouba’s overall effectiveness, swapping pairs does nothing if the solutions are just as bad. Since we know Ryan Lindgren-Adam Fox won’t be broken up–and it shouldn’t be since they’ve been getting back to normal with Lindgren specifically bouncing back– then we know the only other realistic solution is to swap Trouba and Schneider.

This season, the Miller-Schneider pairing has played 238 minutes together at 5v5, to pretty subpar results. They have a 46.44% shot attempt share and a 46.12% xG share. They do have about a 50% HD chance share (43 for, 45 against), so that’s fine and works within the system.

As for Gustafsson-Trouba, they’ve played just 60:27 TOI together, and the results aren’t overly great either. While they do have a 66-64 shot attempt advantage, they have a -4 HD chance advantage. This is way too small of a sample to draw any conclusions about the pair.

So what should the Rangers do?

This is the old rock and a hard place conundrum for Peter Laviolette. Realistically, he has two options: Keep Miller-Trouba or break them up. We can eliminate options like breaking up Lindgren-Fox in a full defensive overhaul and scratching Trouba for Zac Jones. These options won’t happen, even if you think they should.

Or perhaps, we can think outside the box a bit. Breaking up the defense pairs seems like a long shot, and with results that don’t exactly move the needle much, there may not be enough of a return in doing so. Maybe the answer lies with the forwards, and not the defense pairs.

Generally speaking, the Miller-Trouba pairing gets the tough assignments. Naturally this is going to crater their numbers since offense is going to be tougher to come by. It gets worse, notably on Monday night, when they have the wrong forwards matched with them in these tough assignments.

There are a few known facts about the Rangers right now:

  1. The defense pairs won’t be broken up (not a “fact” by definition, but let’s be real, they aren’t changing).
  2. Miller-Trouba is a shutdown defense pair.
  3. The Alex Wennberg and Mika Zibanejad lines are the shutdown forward lines, in order of preference.

The easy solution is to ensure Miller-Trouba get as much help as possible with their matchups, which means getting Wennberg or Zibanejad out there with them. The preference is Wennberg, which leaves Zibanejad free to take advantage of a softer matchup for offense.

By attaching Trouba (and by association, Miller) to the right forwards for their role, it takes pressure off them in the defensive and neutral zones. We saw how bad they looked when attached to the Artemi Panarin line on Monday, and were much better once Zibanejad’s line got the matchups with them on Sidney Crosby.

Defense is a five-man job, especially within Laviolette’s hybrid man/zone defensive zone coverage. If the forwards are doing their jobs, then Trouba only needs to focus on his. Perhaps that’s all he needs.


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