Rangers’ Defense Pairings Must Be Addressed to……..

As the initial phase of free agency wraps up, the New York Rangers seem ready to continue with their core group, minus Barclay Goodrow. Additionally, general manager and president Chris Drury made a deal for Reilly Smith, aiming to stabilize the right-wing position next to Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider, which has seen frequent changes in recent years.

This move likely improves the team overall, but one aspect that remains largely unchanged is the defensive lineup. Since the Rangers’ return to the playoffs in 2022, five players — Adam Fox, Ryan Lindgren, Jacob Trouba, K’Andre Miller, and Braden Schneider — have consistently been in the rotation. However, after the Florida Panthers’ forwards dominated the Rangers’ defense in the Eastern Conference Final, the defense feels stagnant.

Drury may have recognized this and considered moving on from Trouba, but no trade had occurred by July 1, making it increasingly difficult to trade the captain before the 2024-2025 season starts. If the same defensive group returns, altering the combinations is essential to rejuvenate the lineup and enhance their chances of becoming a legitimate Stanley Cup contender.

Rangers’ Defense Pairings Must Be Addressed to Take Next Step

### More Zac Jones and Miller

The Rangers’ two most common defensive pairings over the past three seasons have been Fox-Lindgren and Miller-Trouba. Last season, Lindgren struggled significantly. Despite playing the sixth-most minutes among Rangers players in 2023-2024, the Minnesota native posted an expected goals-for (xGF) rate of 45.02 percent, the worst among defensemen on the team who appeared in at least 60 games, according to Natural Stat Trick.

This doesn’t mean the Rangers should trade the restricted free agent (RFA) yet, but it might be time to separate him from Fox. No other defensive pairing in the NHL has logged more minutes together over the past three seasons, so it’s worth exploring a change. Perhaps Miller should take over the spot, as he has the skating ability to play a larger role. In just under 11 minutes together last season, Fox and Miller had an xGF share of 71.71 percent. The potential is there.

It’s also time to give Zac Jones, who is likely to replace Erik Gustafsson, a look not only in the lineup but in the top four. Last season, when injuries occurred, the 2019 third-round pick proved he deserved to be a regular. Head coach Peter Laviolette couldn’t find a spot for him when everyone was healthy for the playoffs. But now, Jones is ahead on the depth chart and should secure a spot.

Jones plays a unique style compared to most other Rangers defensemen: He can move the puck seamlessly up the ice and is their best offensive defenseman not named Fox. Could he get a look inside the top four next to Trouba or Schneider? The move could be bold, and his skill set could change the dynamic on the blue line.

### Less Trouba and Lindgren

Going forward, it might make sense to rely less on Trouba and Lindgren. Perhaps the Rangers could find a spot for Lindgren on the second or third pair. According to Rangers reporter Vince Mercogliano of USA TODAY Network, the team and Lindgren could be working on a deal worth an average annual value of around $4 million.

Regulating Lindgren to a third-pairing role at that number might be a bit pricey, but it’s not nearly as big of an issue as Trouba’s $8 million average annual value. That amount is too high for a player who might only be the team’s fifth or sixth-best defenseman. Schneider found success playing in the top four while Trouba struggled in the postseason, making the captain expendable.

The Rangers need to lessen the burden on at least one of Lindgren and Trouba going into next season. New defensive pairings will be refreshing and force teams to adjust. It’s been the same story for the past three seasons, and you can’t keep using the same combinations and hoping for different results in the postseason.

Laviolette will have all training camp to find something new that works. Time and patience should be used to give combinations a new chance. Despite the offseason changes surrounding the departure of Goodrow and rumors about Trouba, there’s no reason why the Rangers shouldn’t finish in the top three of the Metropolitan Division again. Laviolette should take a chance early in the season and see if increased roles for Jones, Miller, or Schneider could be game-changers and help the team navigate heavy forecheck pressure in the postseason.

The Rangers will need an answer by the 2025 Trade deadline. While it’s still early, some might expect Drury to make a move for a defenseman after acquiring Smith to fill the first-line right-wing vacancy. Assuming the Rangers get both Lindgren and Schneider under contract, they will have six defensemen on the roster. They will need to sign a seventh unless they promote someone from within their minor league system.

If Jones or Schneider can’t prove they can be part of the top four by the trade deadline, Drury will need to use his first-round pick to make a big splash. Sometimes, change is a good thing, and the Rangers must embrace it. The time is now to map out a new defensive look and get past the Eastern Conference Final hurdle.

Here’s what the Rangers’ defensive pairings should look like to start next season: