Many questions about the Rangers’ defense

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New York Rangers defenseman Tony DeAngelo (77) handles the puck. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Rangers will present a revamped blue line when the season starts, but who will be on it?

Now that the New York Rangers have gotten Tony DeAngelo signed to a two year deal, it appears that their defense is set. But is it?  There are still many question marks facing Coach David Quinn and new Assistant Coach for the defense, Jacques Martin.  It’s very likely that the team will start the season with all new pairings.

Option 1 – Old school

This option is the most comfortable and is how they ended the season with one major exception.  That would the departure of Marc Staal.

  1. Brendan Smith (LD) and Jacob Trouba (RD)
  2. Ryan Lindgren (LD) and Adam Fox (RD)
  3. Jack Johnson (LD) and Tony DeAngelo (RD)

In his structure, the only change is Jack Johnson replacing Staal on the third pairing to serve as the defensive conscience for Tony DeAngelo.  The Lindgren-Fox tandem that worked so well remains intact and Brendan Smith continues to play with Jacob Trouba, a pairing that worked well after the trade of Brady Skjei.

This lineup is a known factor and Johnson should be comfortable working with DeAngelo on the third pairing, a role he was accustomed to in Pittsburgh.  There are some downsides.  The Smith-Trouba tandem would ostensibly be number one and the idea of Brendan Smith playing top defense pairing minutes is scary.  It would allow Trouba to take on more of an offensive role, a role that we had in Winnipeg two years ago when he totaled 50 points.

Another issue is whether the Rangers want to be paying Tony DeAngelo almost $5 million a year to be a third pair defenseman. True, he will be the power play quarterback, but at even strength he would see less ice time than four other blueliners.

Option 2 – Switching sides

The second option was discussed by Jeff Gorton after the draft and that would be moving either DeAngelo or Fox to the left side.   DeAngelo was asked about it and he volunteered that he would welcome any assignment including playing the off side on defense.   The question then is where would he play?

  1. Tony DeAngelo (LD) and Jacob Trouba (RD)
  2. Ryan Lindgren (LD) and Adam Fox (RD)
  3. Jack Johnson (LD) and Brendan Smith (RD)

While the pairing of Trouba and DeAngelo on the number one defense pair could be impressive, it would also mean that Trouba would be the more defensive player of the two and the question is whether the Rangers are paying him $8 million a year to be a shutdown defenseman.

On a positive note, it would allow Fox and Lindgren to continue to play together and the Smith-Johnson tandem would play fewer minutes than the first two lines. On a playoff contender, that’s the way it should be.

Option 3 – Switching sides and changing pairings

In this scenario, DeAngelo would move the left side,but he would team with Adam Fox on the second line.

  1. Ryan Lindgren (LD) and Jacob Trouba (RD)
  2. Tony DeAngelo (LD) and Adam Fox (RD)
  3. Jack Johnson (LD) and Brendan Smith (RD)

Ryan Lindgren would move to the top pair with Jacob Trouba and would form a shutdown top defense pair with a mean streak and it would allow Trouba to be more offensive.  It remains to be seen how a DeAngelo-Fox team would work and the defensive side of the game could get interesting, but it would also preserve the sheltered minutes for the third line pairing of Johnson-Smith.

Option 4 – The intangibles

There are a number of intangibles and they are named Libor Hajek, Anthony Bitetto, K’Andre Miller, Yegor Rykov and Tarmo Reunanon.   Fast forward to April and add Nils Lundkvist to the mix.

The team has made it clear that they don’t want to rush K’Andre Miller to the NHL and Tarmo Reunanen has not played on North American ice yet so it’s likely that both players will start the season in Hartford.  That leaves Hajek, Bitetto and Rykov as NHL ready talent.  All of them are left-shot blueliners and would seem to be a replacement for either Jack Johnson or Brendan Smith.

Of the five defensemen, Bitetto has played the most on the right side. Last season in Winnipeg he spent most of his ice time with Nathan Beaulieu and Luca Sbisa, both left defensemen.

If the team is determined to get DeAngelo more five-on-five ice time by moving him up to the off side, it could be an opening for Bitetto to play right defense on the third pairing instead of Smith.

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