For better or worse, the Rangers have exploited the advantage of playing in New York City to land some of the biggest names in hockey. It’s easy to fixate on the times that worked out, especially when Mark Messier helped break their Stanley Cup curse in 1994. Yet, this team’s also been burned by chasing marquee names at huge prices even as their acts became more suited off-Broadway.
Will this be a “careful what you wish for” situation for Kane and the Rangers, or will he be the missing piece to a glorious run?
Let’s examine how Kane may fit the Rangers’ puzzle, and how New York looks heading toward a hopeful playoff run.
Kane carries some of the same red flags as Tarasenko
When Kane bemoaned what he thought was the death of his dream of joining the Rangers after the Tarasenko trade, he likely assumed New York was out of cap space.
Perhaps Kane should’ve assumed that Tarasenko made him redundant because, broadly, they bring such similar strengths and weaknesses to the table. At this point in their respective careers, both Kane and Tarasenko likely need to be sheltered from difficult defensive assignments (possibly to an extreme degree).
Check out this Evolving Hockey RAPM comparison chart to see how similarly they struggle at even strength, and note that this is being generous to Kane by zooming out with a three-year view, rather than just focusing on this season’s struggles.
It’s silly to assume Tarasenko is already toast for the Rangers, but it’s been a bumpy start. The real struggle may boil down to weighing the current Tarasenko against memories of his days as a tank of an offensive force.
At 34, Kane presents his own problem when it comes to weighing nostalgia against reality. Sure, it’s true that his vision and playmaking may sometimes be underscored by public models that struggle with certain things, such as truly capturing the impact of someone who can make great passes to the slot and high-danger areas.
Patrick Kane, traded to NYR, is a veteran playmaking winger. His offence is underrated by public xGoal models due to his elite cross-slot passing, although admittedly that has taken a big hit this year. Has been probably the worst defensive forward in the NHL. #NYR pic.twitter.com/R6GzD8RHNZ
— JFresh (@JFreshHockey) February 28, 2023
At some point, you risk putting on blinders when it comes to ignoring too many alarms. That’s before you grapple with Kane’s very ugly off-ice issues from the past.
The Rangers are no strangers when it comes to getting lured in by big names, only to be left disappointed. Factor in a certain level of fussiness from Kane — possibly only entertaining the idea of joining a single team, maybe grumbling about playing with certain players — and it’s fair to wonder how flexible he’ll be if Plan A doesn’t work out.
Gallant, Kane get a chance to ace this test
Where will the Rangers’ expectations of Kane line up with the spread of perceptions? Some believe the future Hall of Famer simply needed a change of scenery and better linemates. Others wonder if he’s living off reputation alone.
A quick Patrick Kane explainer pic.twitter.com/3r7tCs038x
— EvolvingWild (@EvolvingWild) February 24, 2023
The dream is that Kane will reunite with Artemi Panarin (this time with Vincent Trocheck or Mika Zibanejad between them?) and the two will rekindle the magic they conjured in Chicago. If the Rangers merely view Kane as an upgrade over Jimmy Vesey, then this trade could really work. You can’t totally ignore that Kane is a mere season removed from scoring 92 points in 78 games (defensive warts and all).
Ideally, a center like Trocheck or Zibanejad could do some of the dirty work and heavy lifting while Panarin and Kane cook in the offensive zone.
That said, this could be a fascinating test of both Kane and Rangers head coach Gerard Gallant, especially if the gambit of the Tarasenko line still revolves around “outscoring your problems.”
In the end, would it be smarter to put both Tarasenko and Kane together in a super-sheltered offensive situation, segmenting the Rangers into specialized roles? If the coaching staff settles on that conclusion, might they really go bold and see if that could work with Panarin, even without a traditional center? How married are the Rangers to coupling Panarin with Kane, and is it possible that New York may decide No. 88 is better off on the third line? Would that designation leave Kane grumbling?
Also: how will the power play pan out? The top unit already felt crowded, either with Tarasenko on it or in the second group. Who would Kane bump out if they decided to force him into it? It’s possible the Rangers might shrug their shoulders and experiment with different units (Panarin and Kane combining their opposite handedness for one-timers, then Tarasenko working with Zibanejad?).
Overall, there may need to be some serious experimentation. Luckily, it’s easy to picture any number of arrangements actually working, especially since all-world goalie Igor Shesterkin could conceivably clean up any number of mistakes from Kane and Tarasenko pressing for offense.
However, it’s fair to wonder if Gallant is the coach to make it work. Like any NHL bench boss, Gallant absorbs criticism for lineup moves, and some believe he’s on the especially stubborn side.
Picturing a likely playoff slugfest with Devils
The Rangers have 22 regular-season games to mix and match before what’s almost certainly going to be a playoff showdown against the New Jersey Devils. That’s part of why there’s so much focus on defensive issues for Kane (and Tarasenko). Even before trading for Timo Meier, the Devils have been a terrifying even-strength team, creating a ton of offensive chances while limiting opponents from getting to the most dangerous areas of the ice. Their heat charts look beautiful at Hockey Viz, unless you’re a Rangers team worried about a letdown.
There’s a scenario where the Devils’ expected territorial advantage creates a downright ugly series for the Rangers. People well-versed in playoff hockey will note that what happens on the ice often differs from what happens on paper (particularly in a best-of-seven series primed for randomness).
Ideally for the Rangers, they’d enjoy a huge advantage in net, win the special teams battle with all of those scoring weapons, and survive at 5-on-5. Kane could very well raise the Rangers’ power play back to the scary level it was at the last few seasons, and justify whatever headaches happen elsewhere.
If you judge Kane and the Rangers on the specifics of the trade alone — a fairly modest price, just a rental commitment right now — it’s easy to defend. It could only start to get a little rocky if you’re expecting too much from a player who’s rarely seen playoff action the past five years and hasn’t made a deep run since the Blackhawks won it all in 2015.
A lot can change in eight years, but the bet is that Kane has enough left to lift an already-successful Rangers team.