Will Rangers manage Adam Fox's minutes down the stretch before playoffs?
ST. LOUIS – Because the Rangers practiced on Wednesday, Thursday’s morning skate before their game later against the St. Louis Blues was optional.
Adam Fox decided to skate, which was a bit of a surprise, because the team’s veterans and the players who log heavy minutes more often than not choose to skip optional morning skates. But Fox, who leads the Rangers in ice time, felt like taking a few spins around the rink.
"Sometimes you just feel like hopping out and touching the puck a little,’’ he said. "So I just decided to get out there.’’
Fox, the Jericho native who is the reigning Norris Trophy winner as the NHL’s best defenseman, plays on the top defensive pair for the Rangers, with partner Ryan Lindgren, and runs the point on the first power-play unit. He partners with Lindgren on the first penalty-kill, as well, and averages 24:19 of ice time per game.
With the Rangers almost assured of making the playoffs for the first time in five years, coach Gerard Gallant was asked Thursday if he would consider managing Fox’s minutes down the stretch, to try and keep him fresh for the postseason.
"He plays a lot of important minutes for us, and he's a key player for us,’’ Gallant said. "But … you're trying to win games every night. And we, our medical staff, and our off-ice conditioning staff, we talk with him all the time and make sure he's doing the right things. And he said he feels great. So, we'll monitor him game-by-game, like anybody else.’’
Fox, in his third year as a professional, has never played a full, 82-game NHL season. His rookie year, 2019-20, was cut short because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the Rangers played only 70 games. His second year, the NHL played a COVID-shortened, 56-game season. So Fox understands that with 25 games remaining in this season, controlling his minutes may be a smart idea.
"Everyone wants to be on the ice for the whole game, but in the long run, it's not, maybe, the best thing or the most sustainable to … be out there all the time,’’ he said.
Fox said "self responsibility’’ is an important part of managing his minutes. He thinks he can help himself by picking his spots when to dump the puck in and go for a change, as opposed to rushing it up ice to try and get a transition opportunity.
"I don't think it's anything where it's too much of a burden,’’ he said. "I think it's just something of managing, and understanding how your body's feeling that day, too.’’
Fox entered Thursday with seven goals and 48 assists in 54 games played. He was third on the team in scoring, behind Artemi Panarin (62 points) and Mika Zibanejad (58), and he was fourth in the league in scoring among defensemen. Colorado’s Cale Makar was the leader with 65 points.
But his offensive production has slowed, every so slightly, of late. Since the Rangers returned from the All-Star break, he had eight points in 10 games entering Thursday – with only one multi-point game in that span. And he hadn’t scored a goal since netting two Jan. 19 against Toronto (a span of 14 games).
Gallant, though, insisted he was thrilled with everything Fox provides for the team on a nightly basis.
"You can't be at your best every game, every month,’’ Gallant said. "He's a great player. Even when he plays an average game in everybody's eyes, he's still doing real good things for us. I mean, we’ll watch the game back and say, ‘You know, he made a great play here, great play there, and everything was smooth for him.’
"Now it's a little bit of a bump in the road,’’ the coach said. "But he can't be perfect for 82 games. And we love what he brings to our group every night.’’