As of this morning, the Rangers have 10 games left in their regular season. The team has been making a big, valiant push to qualify for the playoffs, but the team they are chasing, the Boston Bruins, are currently 6 points ahead with two games in hand. Is it statistically impossible for the Rangers to overtake them? No. But it is a huge task, with two games against the Islanders and two against the Caps left, as well as the final two games of the season against Boston on the schedule. Maybe they get help from the Bruins, but it is even more of a hill to climb now that Jacob Trouba is injured. To me, it looks like the Rangers’ powers-that-be are now looking toward the other side of the balance–developing their young players–rather than focusing on the playoff race. Yes, it will be great to win games, but there unless something really extreme happens, there almost certainly will be less of a focus on the playoff race and more on the youth on the team.
Before we get there tough, a word about Trouba. The defenseman is much maligned among some fans, but he has actually been a key to the Rangers’ push to the playoffs. A “two-way” blueliner who is known for his nightly hits on the ice (he has the most so far this season on the team), Trouba is third among blueliners in scoring, and a team leader on and off the ice. The “upper body” injury he sustained on Tuesday, on a clean hit by Matt Martin, and the extent of the 6-1 loss to the Islanders in the game were not unrelated.
The press was told yesterday that Trouba would not be playing tonight, that he was “getting treatment” for his injury. The likely substitute will be the recently signed Zach Jones, who just ended his collegiate career with a national championship. Unless there is a late transaction this afternoon, Tarmo Reunanen, who already has pro experience and one game playing very well on the Rangers blueline, will not be recalled to play tonight. The fact that it likely will be Jones playing instead of a Reunanen recall indicates that there is now a different kind of balancing going on. Yes, the team wants to win games, but if the team thought that they had a real chance at the playoffs, do you think that they would put in a defenseman that has no pro experience whatsoever? In a playoff race?
No doubt, it will be very competitive tonight, which is what the Blueshirts want Jones to experience. And maybe Jones surprises all of us and he adjusts immediately. But more likely he makes quite a few mistakes, which cause scoring chances against and maybe a goal by the Flyers–tonight’s opponent. It seems as though, while it is important for the team to keep winning, with the playoffs almost certainly out of reach, the Rangers are now on the other side of the balance the one where they are focused on their young players. The team wants to see what they have in Jones, so they can make decisions moving toward the draft, when we should expect to see quite a bit of trade movement.
There is nothing wrong with this, as the team has done extremely well this season, but is missing a few pieces to make it a strong competitor in the post-season. The rebuild is truly almost finished. Even with the ups and downs of the last three years, you have to admit that, it has been a fun ride.