Future uncertain for these two Rangers defensemen

NHL: Arizona Coyotes at New York Rangers
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The New York Rangers haven’t looked vastly different over the past few seasons. Yes, there have been roster changes from year to year, and deadline acquisitions have come and gone. But overall, their central core has remained overwhelmingly consistent.

That could change this offseason.

By placing alternate captain Barclay Goodrow on waivers Tuesday, general manager Chris Drury showed that he’s not content to simply run it back. If more of a shakeup is indeed coming, it could mean the departure of one, and perhaps two, staples on the Rangers blue line.

Jacob Trouba and Ryan Lindgren enter this offseason in two very different situations, but each is coming off his worst season with the Blueshirts.

Trouba posted a minus-4 rating in 69 games and had 22 points, his lowest output as a Ranger outside of the 2020-21 season when he tallied 12 points in just 38 games. Despite a decent start, his play deteriorated by midseason, and an ankle injury in March made for an ugly finish. Trouba had an abysmal -5.3 goals above replacement in the regular season, ranking 296th out of 310 NHL defensemen, and continued to struggle in the postseason, leading the team with 22 penalty minutes.

Lindgren’s stat sheet isn’t as glaring. In fact, he led the team with a plus-22 rating and remained mostly healthy, appearing in 76 games. However, the metrics tell a different story. Lindgren ranked in the 20th percentile defensively, the first time in his career that he finished below League average. He may have only missed six games, but his body took a lot of punishment throughout the season and it may have translated to his down numbers. Case in point, Lindgren didn’t miss a game in the postseason but sustained a cracked rib in Game 6 of the second round.

Both are valued players and leaders. Yet, the future of each in New York is a bit tenuous.

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Rangers could move on from Ryan Lindgren, Jacob Trouba this offseason

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-New York Rangers at New Jersey Devils
Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY SportsCredit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

The back end could certainly use a little bit of a shakeup, particularly after a rough Eastern Conference Final against the Florida Panthers, when Rangers defensemen were exposed, unable to move the puck well against a vicious forecheck.

Lindgren’s a defensive-minded defenseman. Trouba’s got more of an offensive game and a harder shot. Each is excellent on the penalty kill. But neither moves the puck exceptionally well.

Their situations are not exactly the same. Lindgren is a restricted free agent, and Trouba has two years left on his $8 million AAV contract. That said, the prospect of neither player returning feels like more of a possibility than it did a week ago.

Lindgren picked an unfortunate time to have his worst defensive season. In past years, he felt irreplaceable due to his sharp, physical defensive play and the comfort he afforded Adam Fox on the top pairing.

Believe it or not, he’s only 26, but that body’s seen a lot of wear and tear. Even if Lindgren is only looking for a three-year deal at an insignificant pay raise from his $3 million AAV, you wonder if Drury would have pause committing to someone whose playstyle puts them at a constant risk of injury. Those concerns alone are enough to make re-upping with Lindgren far from a no-brainer, even if there is confidence that his play will revert back to his typically high standard.

As a top-pair defenseman, though, Lindgren could be shooting for a richer long-term contract. He can become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the 2024-25 season, so it’s time to cash in, either now or next year. And that’s where there could be a major issue between the two sides.

Of course, if the Rangers traded Lindgren, they’d have to replace him in the lineup and on the top pairing, no small feat.

Parting with Trouba is more complicated due to his large contract and his role on the team. There’s no question the Rangers value his presence in the locker room, hence why they named him captain at the start of the 2022-23 season. And he just won the Mark Messier NHL Leadership Award. But, unfortunately, his play has slipped well below what you’d like to get for his annual value and he’s likely going to be a third-pair defenseman moving forward.

“If you gave them truth serum, that would be a move that they would definitely be interested in if they were able to find a dancing partner, which I don’t think is gonna be easy,” Vince Mercogliano said on Blueshirts Breakaway two weeks ago.

Trading Trouba wouldn’t be easy, but it’s worth noting that the Washington Capitals just took on the remaining seven years of Pierre-Luc Dubois’ $8.5 million AAV without any cap retention. Admittedly, there’s much more interest in a talented 25-year-old center than a 30-year-old defenseman, but perhaps there would be a team that would be willing to take Trouba in a trade, though it’s probable that the Rangers would have to retain salary in such a scenario.

The far more likely means of parting with Trouba would be through a buyout, which would see the Rangers free up $4 million in cap space for the next two seasons before an extra two years of $2 million in dead cap.

With Goodrow’s placement on waivers (and subsequently being claimed by the San Jose Sharks), the Rangers displayed a willingness to part with a veteran leader and a desire to shake things up. Buying out Trouba would be dialing that up to the nth degree. There’s no greater shakeup than moving on from your captain.

Lindgren’s been a Rangers regular for six seasons and Trouba for five. They’ve helped the team emerge from a rebuild and blossom into a full-on Stanley Cup contender.

But the urgency is ramping up. Just two years remain on Artemi Panarin’s contract and Drury faces major contract extensions for Igor Shesterkin and Alexis Lafreniere in the next year. The window for this specific core is closing.

A lot of game-changing wingers and defensemen are set to hit free agency, but paying Lindgren and Trouba’s current and expected contracts makes it hard to fit another major contract under the cap.

Moving in a different direction would allow Drury to make additions that could fundamentally change the structure of the team. Whether that’s the right thing to do remains to be seen.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise if Lindgren and Trouba both return to help the Rangers pursue a Stanley Cup next season. Drury and coach Peter Laviolette have both spoken highly of their impact and clearly value what they bring to the table.

Still, as the Rangers enter a pivotal offseason, there are more questions surrounding their futures than ever before.

Lou Orlando has spent the past two seasons as a New York Rangers beat reporter for WFUV Sports. The... More about Lou Orlando

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