As the New York Rangers enter the second half of the 2022-23 season, one glaring puzzle piece remains out of place. Newly appointed captain, Jacob Trouba, has been a disappointment this season, not living up to the $8 million price tag his contract contains. In the heat of the playoff push, Gerard Gallant needs his captain to turn up his game over the second half of the season.
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Trouba has been underwhelming in all aspects, but his usual solid play in the defensive zone has noticeably escaped him this season. He sits at a minus-5 in the plus/minus column, but that number is saved by the play of K’Andre Miller and the offense he helps create while Trouba is on the ice.
Despite popular belief, Trouba can turn his season around and become the physically imposing defensemen the Rangers need. Gallant has shuffled the forward lines like a deck of cards, but outside of the third pairing, the defensive units have gone mainly untouched.
A swap of Miller and Ryan Lindgren could help Trouba, as could a reduction in his ice time and an increase in Braden Schneider’s. Both are solid options, and when a player is struggling, sometimes a step back in minutes is not the worst thing. Let’s dive into those options now.
Creating a Trouba-Lindgren Pairing
No other defensive pairing has seen more minutes at five-on-five than Trouba and Miller, at 562:08. Their underlying numbers are not bad, with the Rangers’ Corsi-For percentage (CF%) when the duo is on the ice at 52.40%, per Natural Stat Trick. But anyone that has watched the Blueshirts play this season knows those analytics have more to do with Miller’s play than Trouba’s.
The key to dominance on the backend is playing with Adam Fox, as evidenced by his name paired with any of the other Rangers’ defensemen topping the Corsi charts. Yet, a Fox-Miller pairing has produced an absurd 62.60 CF% and has matched that with the eye test. When they get their fleeting minutes together (just 68:29 in 2022-23), the opposition rarely receives the puck, and when they do, the two defensemen are skilled enough to recover and transition quickly.
Making that your top pairing would be wise, and bumping Lindgren down to Miller’s spot will help Trouba. Thus far, the duo has only been on the ice for 20:42, with a CF% of 56.10. Both players are more defensive-minded, and playing alongside Lindgren could help Trouba find his way back defensively.
Numbers will adjust over a larger sample size, but there is no reason to believe that a Miller/Lindgren swap wouldn’t benefit the Rangers’ overall play and the overall play of their captain. Fox and Miller would create the team’s offense from the backend, while Trouba and Lindgren could evolve into that shutdown pair that chips in the occasional offense.
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Gallant has tinkered with the lines all season long, and it is no secret the Rangers need to get Trouba going before his contract appears more albatross than it already is. This switch could be the answer, if not just a temporary one, to allow Trouba a chance to find his game.
Giving Some of Trouba’s Minutes to Schneider
Since entering the lineup last season, Schneider’s game has continually improved game-in and game-out. From the onset of 2022-23 to now, he has evolved as a legitimate shutdown defender who has also started to find his offensive game. And for the most part, he has done all this partnered with Libor Hajek and Ben Harpur for most of the season.
Through 41 games, Trouba is third on the Rangers’ defense in time on ice, averaging 21:16 a game, while Schneider is sixth with 14:59, a total that falls short of the 15:37 Zac Jones averaged when he was with the club. Over the last four games, Schneider has seen fewer than 14:15 in each of them, with his lowest mark at 12:52 against the Florida Panthers.
On the flip side, Trouba has seen an increase in ice time in the same span, playing 23:26 in the overtime loss to the New Jersey Devils. The logic and disparity in decision-making from Gallant seem flawed, as there is no need to decrease Schneider’s ice time to increase Trouba’s.
Schneider has seen his best results with Miller and Lindgren across from him this season. Instead of shrinking to two pairs in the third period, Gallant should shrink to five defensemen, rolling Schneider and Trouba with either Miller or Lindgren. Trouba has hurt his stock this season, despite the letter on his sweater, while Schneider has improved his. If they are able to reduce that time-on-ice disparity, the Rangers’ results will improve, and Trouba may find confidence or resurgence due to the fewer minutes.
There is no reason for these two options not to be attempted over the second half of the season, especially since the eye test and analytics back them up. Fox and Miller are the best defensemen on the team, and a top pairing with them would be dominant. Lindgren alongside Trouba as the second pairing would be an improvement, too, and increasing Schneider’s minutes while reducing Trouba’s would benefit a young defenseman and the captain simultaneously.
Brendan Azoff is a THW contributor and podcast host dedicated to covering the New York Rangers. His passion for hockey started when he first laced up the skates at three, growing into his love for writing and talking about the greatest sport in the world. His podcast, The Backcheck, breaks down the Rangers, Islanders, and NHL news and can be found on The Hockey Writers Podcast Network and Belly Up Sports. Brendan has been writing about the Rangers and the NHL for over two years, with his content also found on Puck Prose, Blue Line Station, and E2G Sports. If you want to connect with Brendan and stay up-to-date on his posts, follow him on Twitter. He is always available for content ideas and interviews, don’t be afraid to ask!