Rangers still searching for the real Vladimir Tarasenko

Hey, maybe Vladimir Tarasenko is waiting for the cap-compliant acquisition of Patrick Kane to actually report for duty as a Ranger himself. That’s one theory, anyway.

We kid, we kid, but not entirely, because the winger who was supposed to represent the Blueshirts’ headline addition when he was acquired Feb. 10 from St. Louis with Niko Mikkola has yet to make an impact through his first nine games.

Tarasenko has scored a pair of goals — one on his first shift — but the 31-year-old who was having a down season for the Blues (10-19 in 38 games) hasn’t found his niche. The new No. 91 has rarely had the puck below the hash marks and the goal line, which is where his big-bodied skills have historically been most effective.

Tarasenko began his Broadway tenure on the right side of the line with longtime buddy Artemi Panarin on the left and Mika Zibanejad in the middle. That alignment lasted almost five periods before Chris Kreider replaced Panarin at left wing. The Kreider-Zibanejad-Tarasenko unit remained intact for another four games before No. 91 moved to a line with Panarin on the left and Vincent Trocheck at center.

Vladimir Tarasenko has scored only once since his first game with the Rangers, prompting a series of line shifts for the veteran winger.
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That unit was intact for three games, until Sunday’s match against the Kings, in which Tarasenko was reunited with Kreider and Zibanejad. That’s likely where he will stay for at least the short run if, as expected, Kane plays with Trocheck and Panarin upon his acquisition from Chicago.

It takes time for veterans to adapt both on and off the ice. Tarasenko had been in St. Louis for the entirety of his 11-year NHL career. Kane has been a lifetime Blackhawk of 16 seasons. The transition is not a matter of snapping fingers. It takes time.l

“It’s important that Vladdy and I work together to create an understanding for each other,” Zibanejad said following Sunday’s victory over the Kings. “We talk a lot, but nothing replaces actual experience doing it on the ice.”

The Rangers have 22 games with which to get it right before the playoffs begin. There will be trial and error. The first power play will have to undergo yet another makeover in incorporating Kane into the unit. Unless the Rangers create a shock wave by moving Kreider to the second unit, triggering a dramatic change in approach, Tarasenko would move upon Kane’s arrival from PP1 to PP2, where he would bump…who, exactly? Kaapo Kakko?

Patrick Kane #88 of the Chicago Blackhawks looks on prior to the game against the Vegas Golden Knights at United Center on February 21, 2023 in Chicago, Illinois.
The expected arrival of Patrick Kane promises to be challenge to adjust to, not only for Kane, but his new teammates, as well.
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There is much for head coach Gerard Gallant to sift through in this runway to an anticipated first-round matchup against the Devils, who flexed their organizational pipeline muscle to acquire the brilliant Timo Meier from the Sharks.

But this much is clear. Tarasenko must become the difference-maker the Blueshirts envisioned when they acquired him at the cost of a first-rounder plus Sammy Blais. The last thing GM Chris Drury and the Rangers need is for this original splash to turn into a belly flop.

Short-handed, times 3

No, I’ve never covered a game like Sunday’s, in which a team willingly played two men short before then playing three men short when K’Andre Miller was ejected in the first period with a match penalty for spitting in Drew Doughty’s face.

K'Andre Miller #79 of the New York Rangers looks down the ice on a play stoppage during the first period of an NHL game against the Detroit Red Wings at Little Caesars Arena on February 23, 2023 in Detroit, Michigan.
K’Andre Miller’s ejection after spitting in Drew Doughty’s face on Sunday night left the Rangers down three men against the Kings, whom the Rangers still beat, 5-2.
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The whole thing would have been a farce if not for the fact that the Rangers played their most disciplined, complete match since their Feb. 11, 5-2 victory in Carolina. They were better with four defensemen than they had been with six, equally as efficient with 11 forwards as they had been with a dozen.

By the way, the last time the NHL had a 15-man minimum roster was for road games in 1952-53. It was increased to 16 for all games in 1953-54.

A costly move for Braden Schneider

Temporarily sending Braden Schneider to the Wolf Pack clears No. 4’s $925,000 hit from the Rangers cap for however long it is necessary to stow him in Hartford.

There are real-world implications, though, for the 21-year-old defenseman, who draws an $832,500 base salary on the NHL level that is reduced to $80,000 in the AHL after having already received a $92,500 signing bonus for the season.

Hence, based on a 185-day season, Schneider will be paid $432.43 per day while on the Wolf Pack roster as opposed to the $4,500 he earns daily with the Rangers.

I don’t question the Rangers not shuttling Schneider — the club’s only player not requiring waivers to be sent to the AHL — to Hartford on off days in order to save on the cap. Clubs routinely did that sort of thing in the COVID-impacted 2020-21 that featured taxi squads, but it is an unsavory business maneuver.    

Braden Schneider #4 of the New York Rangers skates against the Winnipeg Jets at Madison Square Garden on February 20, 2023 in New York City.
The Rangers’ decision to create salary-cap space by sending Braden Schneider to Hartford will cost the defenseman thousands of dollars each day he is in the AHL.
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I do think that the team did not quite get the urgency of maintaining a 22-player roster (at most) during the early parts of the season, through which I was a consistent scold. The extra week that Ryan Reaves was on the roster led to these ongoing machinations.

But unless it was so important for the team to get a minor leaguer back in the exchange for Vitali Kravtsov, as the Blueshirts did in acquiring 24-year-old William Lockwood from the Canucks on Saturday, then I don’t know why No. 74 wasn’t put on waivers last Monday…if not sooner.

That would have cleared enough space so that these maneuvers would not have been necessary.

Zibanejad move keeps paying off

Former GM Emile Francis once acquired Eddie Giacomin in a trade with Providence of the AHL in exchange for Marcel Paille, Jim Mikol, Aldo Guidolin and Sandy McGregor on May 18, 1965. That, inarguably, was the greatest trade in franchise history.

Mika Zibanejad #93 of the New York Rangers skates up ice during their NHL game against the Vancouver Canucks at Rogers Arena February 15, 2023 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.
Acquiring Mika Zibanejad in 2016 for Derick Brassard and a future seventh-round draft pick has turned out to be one of the best trades in franchise history.
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The one in which Glen Sather acquired Ryan McDonagh from Montreal in the deal for Scott Gomez ranks up there, no doubt about that. It would rate high even if the trade did not clear the cap space that allowed the Blueshirts to sign Marian Gaborik as a free agent.

But the more Zibanejad plays for the Rangers, the more the trade in which Jeff Gorton acquired No. 93 — and a second-rounder that was traded and turned into K’Andre Miller — in exchange for Derick Brassard moves up, rung by rung by rung.