The dust is still settling on the Rangers’ elimination from the postseason, and all the talk is about how the Rangers need to make overhauls to the roster. The general consensus on Live From The Blue Seats is the Rangers can’t just run it back with the same core, but making changes to the core are going to be very difficult. But what if the Rangers run it back, but with different complementary players?

I think the first step is identifying the core players on the roster. This is an area where we have not seen a concrete definition. It’s safe to assume–given contract status–Artemi Panarin, Chris Kreider, Vincent Trocheck, Mika Zibanejad, Adam Fox, Alexis Lafreniere, Filip Chytil, and Igor Shesterkin are the core. K’Andre Miller is a bit of a toss-up, as is Ryan Lindgren. Jacob Trouba, as long as he’s captain, is probably in this discussion as well.

At the risk of angering a few people, this has been the core for a while, whether we like it or not. As long as he’s captain, Trouba is in the discussion. Lindgren, as long as his contract demands are fair, is in the discussion. The Rangers have committed a lot of time and resources into Miller too.

The discussion isn’t about who’s part of the core, it’s about whether or not the Rangers can run it back with the same group next season and expect different results. So, can the Rangers run it back with that same group of 10 guys, including Miller, Lindgren, and Trouba? The answer isn’t as simple as yes or no. It depends on roles and perhaps a willingness to make a hard lineup choice.

How can the Rangers run it back and make it work?

Obligatory warning: I do not support running it back with the same core. But if the Rangers run it back, there is a way to make it work. It involves tough decisions by both Chris Drury and Peter Laviolette, with maturity from players like Kreider, Zibanejad, Trouba, and Lindgren.

For the sake of this exercise, let’s assume no trades, not even those who are RFAs, and no buyouts. This also assumes bot Brennan Othmann and Brett Berard, who had solid seasons with Hartford, are NHL ready and break camp with the Blueshirts.

For starters, it may be time to adjust Zibanejad’s usage at 5v5 and perhaps on the powerplay. His contract may be bloated, but that doesn’t mean he needs to continue to be a top-six and PP1 player. The Dallas Stars had such a situation with Tyler Seguin. Flipping Chytil and Zibanejad goes a long way to stretching the offense:

1L: Panarin-Trocheck-Lafreniere
2L: Kreider-Chytil-2RW (Othmann?)
3L: Berard-Zibanejad-Kakko (shutdown line)
4L: Cuylle-Goodrow-Rempe/Vesey (role TBD?)

On the surface, the Rangers get more dynamic in the top six while creating a bonafide shutdown line with Berard, Zibanejad, and Kakko that can also be a dangerous counterattack line. The fourth line might not have a defined role, which is problematic. That can resolve itself later in the season.

On defense, Lindgren and Trouba must begin to shift down in the lineup. Trouba in particular, but it also depends on Lindgren’s play. If last year was a blip, then there’s no need to shift him down. If not, then he needs to be shifted down.

1D: Miller/Lindgren-Fox
2D: Jones/Miller-Schneider
3D: Lindgren/Jones-Trouba

Obviously all this depends on how Lindgren looks in camp an throughout the early days of next season. But it would recognize the need to move guys around the lineup. There’s also a thought that Lindgren-Trouba would allow Trouba’s deficiencies in the defensive zone to be covered by Lindgren. In theory, of course.

If you’re unimpressed with both the makeup and leaning on two more unproven rookies, then we have the same thought process. If the Rangers run it back, it’s going to get them to the playoffs, but their ceiling appears to be the Conference Final.

So how can the Rangers make changes?

What’s interesting is running it back doesn’t look that bad. It gets the Rangers to the playoffs, and they can always adjust midseason to land complementary pieces to fill in gaps. Still, I don’t think that’s enough. Something needs to change.

There are two low hanging fruit: Barclay Goodrow and Kaapo Kakko. Goodrow’s strong playoffs may have increased his trade value, which means the Blueshirts may not need to force a trade. Even a mid-round pick is enough to free up $3.64 million in cap space. But if there is no trade, the buyout this offseason is very favorable given the contract structure, freeing up $3.88 million for 2024-2025.

Kaapo Kakko said all the right things, as did Peter Laviolette, on exit day. But it’s clear the Rangers need more offense at the RW position, and Kakko still likely holds trade value. He’s a solid two-way player despite the lack of points, and is one of the better defensive forwards in the game. That would be missed, but the Rangers have bigger needs. He, along with another piece or two, can likely bring in a scoring RW.

On defense, the Rangers need at least one more puck mover, and Jones likely fits that bill. But they simply can’t run it back with both Lindgren and Trouba on the blue line. This is where I break from the masses, and think Trouba will be the one who’s back, not Lindgren. This is based solely on contract status, as Lindgren is an RFA. Contract ask matters, and that’s an unknown. Just my thought process.

If the Rangers run it back up front, and Kakko/Goodrow are not part of that core, then the change needs to be made on the blue line. But if you’re expecting a brand new core and monster changes in the offseason, you’re going to be left disappointed.

Is that enough, though?

It does seem very unlikely the Rangers will move on from Zibanejad, Kreider, Panarin, or any other big contract that has become a target following the Conference Final loss. Like it or not, the Rangers are probably running it back with at least that trio up front.

The reality is that “running it back” doesn’t just mean roster construction. It means roles. The Rangers can run it back if they split up Kreider and Zibanejad, or if they accept that Trouba isn’t a top-four defenseman anymore, or if they realize they need four lines with roles, including three lines that can score.

We probably won’t get any insight into Chris Drury’s thought process until the Stanley Cup has been awarded and the offseason truly begins. That’s about 2 weeks away. Until then, expect everyone and their mother to be part of some kind of trade rumor.

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