WJC 2022: Othmann and Cuylle connect for Canada in blowout win over Slovakia, Luke Hughes out fast for USA

It’s rare that we have hockey in August. However, Covid Omicron forced the postponement of the 2022 U20 World Junior Championships after Christmas.

There were only a handful of games played in Edmonton last winter. The only one people remember is the four goal game for consensus 2023 top pick Connor Bedard. He put on a show in a Canada rout of Austria.

Fast forward nine months and Bedard is only part of the story in a rescheduled WJC. The setting is the same with games at Rogers Place in Alberta. The 17-year old phenom has two goals and two assists so far as part of Canadian wins over Latvia and Slovakia.

Team Canada is a lot more complete than Connor Bedard. In an 11-1 blowout victory over Slovakia yesterday, captain Mason McTavish (Ducks) matched Bedard with a four goal game. He added two assists to record six points to improve the tournament favorite to 2-0 in Group A.

McTavish was a third pick in the 2021 NHL Draft. Originally from Zurich, Switzerland, the 19-year old center is a future star for the Ducks. He debuted last season by scoring two goals with an assist in nine games.

McTavish is up to eight points (4-4-8) in two games. There’s no reason to think he won’t make the Ducks out of training camp and contend for the Calder in ’22-23. He could form a 1-2 punch with Trevor Zegras at center.

While McTavish and Bedard are front and center, also representing Canada are Rangers prospects Brennan Othmann and Will Cuylle. Along with starting goalie Dylan Garand, they boast some promising #FutureBlue on Canada.

In fact, Cuylle and Othmann connected on a goal during Thursday’s win. The play saw Cuylle steal the puck and center across for an Othmann finish that made it 3-0. One day soon, we could see that same connection in the Broadway Blueshirt.

Both forwards had good games. Cuylle scored a goal and added a helper. Othmann had a goal and two assists. In fact, the 2021 first round pick the Rangers selected at number 16, got to play with Bedard and McTavish during the third period. He certainly enjoyed the experience.

https://www.tsn.ca/video/~2500702

During the interview, Othmann pointed out how easy it is to play with such elite players. He also discussed his close relationship with McTavish, who he played with in Switzerland due to the pandemic.

Othmann was asked about Shane Wright. They have exchanged texts during the tournament. The Seattle Kraken first round pick isn’t participating in the rescheduled U20 WJC. However, he told his friend to have fun and enjoy it.

From what he said, it sounded like Othmann wished he could’ve played with Wright one more time. Obviously, with what lies ahead, they’ll most likely be opponents down the road. That’s part of the journey.

Seeing the early success for both Othmann and Cuylle is exciting. Cuylle was the 2020 second round pick the Rangers used in the Lias Andersson trade.

Taken at number 60, he could be a steal. After scoring 43 goals and 80 points for Windsor last season, Cuylle went 15-16-31 for the Spitfires during the playoffs. He’s expected to compete for a roster spot this September.

Both Othmann and Cuylle will be looking to force their way onto the roster. Given their youth, it probably isn’t realistic that the Rangers would keep either up. They can send Cuylle down to Hartford. But Othmann only can be opted back to Flint of the OHL. Part of the puzzling rules that exist. If he were from Europe, he could turn pro.

That rule should be changed. It’s archaic and makes no sense. If a young North American player is ready at 19, why can’t they be assigned to the AHL? The NHL clubs should have better options.

As for Garand, he quietly made 22 saves on 23 shots for Canada. The number one goalie didn’t play against Latvia. They gave Sebastian Cossa the first game. He allowed two goals on 24 shots in a 5-2 victory on Aug. 10.

A fourth round pick taken 103rd in 2020, he could become another gem in net for the Rangers. Ironically, they stole Vezina winner Igor Shestyorkin with pick 118 in Round 4 back in 2014. As has been proven throughout history, you can find goalies late. See Hasek, D. Lundqvist, H. Rinne, P.

Garand is an interesting case. At 20, he’s coming off a superb final season in the WHL. In ’21-22, he went 34-9-1 for the Kamloops Blazers with a 2.16 GAA, .925 save percentage and four shutouts. He was even better during the playoffs posting a 1.92 GAA and .933 save percentage in 17 games.

If you listen to Jess Rubinstein of The Prospect Park, he’s a huge fan of Garand. He believes in him. What if Garand develops into the next big goalie for the Rangers? That would be quite the conversation. Don’t forget most goalies usually take a while to develop. We’ll wait and see.

Jess also noted that Hugo Ollas is another goalie prospect to keep an eye on. He was taken in the seventh round of 2020 at number 197. Ollas had a good freshman year for Merrimack College posting a 10-6-0 record with a 2.24 GAA and .920 save percentage.

The Rangers also have Talyn Boyko in the system. He went number 112 in Round 4 of the 2021 Draft. After struggling with Tri-City, he fared better following a trade to Kelowna. Boyko went 28-12-4 for the Rockets with a 2.79 GAA and .913 save percentage.

In terms of the WJC, #FutureBlue is well represented. Seven players are competing. Aside from the Canadian trio of Cuylle, Garand and Othmann, Brett Berard is playing on the third line for Team USA. Jaroslav Chmelar is on Czechia. He scored a goal in a game. Adam Sykora plays for Slovakia. Kalle Vaisanen for Finland.

Sykora certainly was disappointed with the lopsided result for his team yesterday.

It’s been a tough start for Sykora. The 2022 second round pick is without a point in two games and a minus-five. Hopefully, he can help a thin Slovakia minus top pick Juraj Slafkovsky and second pick Simon Nemec turn it around.

While Canada looks like the class of Group A which includes Finland and Czechia, Group B features Team USA and Sweden. Can the Americans repeat? It’ll be a challenge. The Swedes are led by future Wild starter Jesper Wallstedt. He has the look of the next big goalie. He’ll be tough to beat.

Sweden features Simon Edvinsson, Daniel Torgersson, Fabian Lysell, Emil Andrae, Theodor Niederbach and Sabres’ prospect Isak Rosen. They are 2-0 so far with wins over Switzerland and Austria.

For USA, they are undefeated entering this weekend. After defeating Germany 5-1, they blitzed Switzerland 7-1 last night. It was the top line that led the way. The trio of Thomas Bordeleau, Landon Slaggert and Carter Mazur who had an impressive showing.

They combined for eight points. Both Bordeleau (Sharks) and Mazur (Red Wings) each had two goals and an assist. Mazur notched a power play goal and was selected as USA top player. Slaggert (Blackhawks) chipped in with a goal and helper.

Most of the damage came during a dominant second period. Mazur opened the scoring on the power play on a good centering pass from Mackie Samoskevich.

The play wouldn’t have been possible without a great keep from Luke Hughes. The Devils 2021 fourth pick has looked brilliant. After recording a goal and assist against Germany, he set up three more goals on Thursday night.

The Swiss were able to draw even less than three minutes later on a nice breakaway goal from Joel Henry. He was able to go to a forehand, backhand deke to beat USA goalie Kaidan Mbereko five-hole. The 2023 Draft Eligible goalie will be crucial to any repeat chances.

But the game changed a few shifts later. On just a clean face-off win by Bordeleau back to Hughes, he fed captain Brock Faber. He was able to score from the point to put USA ahead for good.

Only 1:53 later, Faber combined with Slaggert to set up the second for Mazur. The American onslaught continued. A few minutes later, Slaggert was able to tip-in a Wyatt Kaiser point shot to make it 4-1. Mazur made the play behind the net by taking the body.

Before the period concluded, Hughes made a breathtaking play to set up a goal for Coronato. At the point, he spun around to get free and fired a wrist shot that Coronato was able to get a piece of for the fourth straight USA goal. A terrific play by a great skating defenseman, who plays a bit like Cale Makar. He’s always moving and shooting the puck.

Team USA added a second power play goal in the third. Samoskevich moved the puck up for Hughes, whose diagonal feed was buried by Bordeleau for a 6-1 lead. Terrific puck movement.

On what was a fairly quiet night where he took a couple of undisciplined minor penalties in the offensive zone, Cooley made a drop for Riley Duran, who beat Swiss replacement Noah Patenaude. He came in for starter Kevin Pasche, who was hung out to dry.

Team USA took care of business. They aren’t overly skilled. But make up for it with their team speed and aggressive forecheck. Hughes is probably the best player. It’s hard to believe he’s a defenseman. But we now see how both Makar and Adam Fox activate by moving all over in the offensive zone. That makes it harder to defend.

If Nemec pans out, the Devils will boast two studs on a revamped blue line for the rest of the decade. Hughes has the look of a player who’ll score 15 to 20 goals. That’s how unique he is. He lit it up in his freshman year at Michigan with 17 goals and 39 points in 41 games. By next Spring following his sophomore campaign, Devils fans could see him next to Jack Hughes.

This weekend, Canada faces Czechia. USA will see Sweden on Sunday night at 10 EST. All the action can be seen on NHL Network. E.J. Hradek and Dave Starman are doing the USA games from the studio. Starman knows a lot about the game and provides good insight. He’s excellent.

In one game earlier today, Sweden blanked Austria 6-0. Slovakia and Latvia are tied at two currently. Sykora has a goal for Slovakia.

Those are the only two games today. USA takes on Austria tomorrow at 3 EST. Canada takes on Czechia. Germany battles Switzerland in a key game.

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Trouba named the 28th captain in Rangers history, why they selected him, WJC gets going

In a little surprise, the Rangers announced Jacob Trouba as the new captain of the team at a short press conference yesterday at Madison Square Garden. They even aired it on MSG Network and streamed it for fans. A rarity.

Acquired by the club on June 17, 2019 from Winnipeg in exchange for Neal Pionk and a 2019 first round pick (Ville Heinola), the 28-year old Trouba is coming off his best season as a Blueshirt.

In 81 games played, the right defenseman set a new career high with 11 goals while posting 39 points (11-28-39) and a career best plus-25 rating. He also had a career high 88 penalty minutes.

If there is an area the big defenseman makes an impact, it’s with his physicality. A tough player who never passes up a chance to finish a check or block a shot, Trouba recorded 207 hits to lead the Rangers and his 177 blocked shots ranked second in the league.

That tenacious style led to some big hits including one on Sidney Crosby that helped swing the first round series. The Pens captain missed the rest of Game Five and didn’t play in Game Six. The Rangers rallied back to defeat the Penguins in seven games to complete a 3-1 series comeback.

Trouba continued to catch opponents with clean checks that went un-penalized. Another huge hit against the Hurricanes turned a crucial game around during the second round series won by the Rangers in seven games.

When he wasn’t delivering thumping hits, he was sacrificing his body to get in the path of shots. Something that exemplifies leadership. Of course, he wasn’t alone. You had defensive leaders Ryan Lindgren and Adam Fox doing the same. That gritty style was instrumental in the Rangers’ run to the Eastern Conference Final.

Although he wasn’t as consistent his first two years on Broadway, it was the calming influence of Trouba that helped defense partner K’Andre Miller settle in. The younger blue liner made some strides in his second season. He improved and showed more of an edge like his older teammate.

For Trouba, he is the first Rangers’ captain since Ryan McDonagh. After he was traded to the Lightning in 2018, the club didn’t have any player wear the ‘C.’ Instead, they were patient in their search for a new captain.

Quite often, we saw the leadership role bestowed upon the trio of Chris Kreider, Trouba and Mika Zibanejad. Along with ex-Ranger Ryan Strome, Fox and Barclay Goodrow, it was those six who donned alternates in ’21-22.

Although Gerard Gallant went back on his promise to name a captain last season, he discovered that he had plenty of team leaders who could assume the role. When Trouba wasn’t front and center answering questions following games, it was Kreider and Zibanejad who were accountable.

In what was a special season for him where he tied Adam Graves with 52 goals for the second most by a Ranger in a single season while besting single season goal scoring leader Jaromir Jagr with 26 power play goals which led the NHL, Kreider seemed to be the top candidate for the next captain.

Having been the longest tenured Ranger dating back to a memorable debut during the 2012 Playoffs, he certainly was someone many fans including yours truly wanted to see as the new captain. However, there is nothing wrong with GM Chris Drury’s choice of Trouba as the 28th captain in Rangers franchise history.

To hear him eloquently speak to reporters at the press conference on Monday, it’s an honor that Trouba takes very seriously. With overwhelming support from both Kreider and Zibanejad along with Gallant and Fox, he will assume the mantle. No small task.

Vowing to remain the same player he’s been, Trouba understands the importance of such an honor. Throughout their long history, only 27 players have held the captaincy wearing the Blueshirt. Featuring such legendary names as Bill Cook, Art Coulter, Neil Colville, Harry Howell, Andy Bathgate, Vic Hadfield, Brad Park, Phil Esposito, Mark Messier, Brian Leetch and Jagr, it’s definitely a great class to be mentioned with.

Former captain Ryan Callahan, who has moved on to a successful broadcasting career for ESPN, welcomed Trouba to the club yesterday. What else would you expect from the classy ex-Ranger who wore the Broadway Blueshirt with pride?

I’ll also give credit to Kevin Weekes. He was the first to break the story via his classic Breaking News segments he posts on Twitter. He sure has a unique way of providing fans with an entertaining approach to big stories. Although not always 100 percent accurate as Hasan noted in his most recent Devils piece, Weekes continues to make covering the sport more fun.

A day following the announcement which saw Trouba put on his new Rangers sweater with the ‘C’ draped on the front along with the number 8 we’re accustomed to seeing, his D partner had high praise for him.

There certainly is a lot of responsibility that comes with being captain. However, I like what Trouba said. He plans on being the same person. That’s exactly as it should be. He leads by example on the ice with a rugged style similar to former Devil Scott Stevens. I’m not comparing them. Just noting how hard Trouba plays the game.

I definitely didn’t see them revealing the new captain in the dog days of an unforgivable summer that feels like it’ll never end. Second week of August. But that’s exactly what they did. They wanted to get this out of the way.

A couple of thoughts on Trouba as the 28th captain. For a long time, we saw fans complain about the Rangers not having a captain. Predictably, the same losers whined about the selection of Trouba over Kreider and Zibanejad. Talk about hypocrisy. Give it a rest.

To Sean McCaffrey’s assertion in his well thought out post on bluecollarblueshirts.com about the team not revealing who the alternates are, we know who they’ll be. It’s not that big a deal now. There’s still over a month until training camp opens.

We already know the first two A’s will be Kreider and Zibanejad. The dynamic duo who were largely responsible for the Rangers’ first Final Four appearance in the playoffs since 2015. By not giving either the ‘C,’ they can just go out and perform. Maybe that was part of the thought process.

As far as who else could be an alternate, Barclay Goodrow and Fox are likely to. They did last year. The only player I’d love to see also get one is The Warrior, Ryan Lindgren. But you can only give out so many letters.

Artemi Panarin doesn’t need an ‘A.’ His job is to produce. Having a very limited grasp of the English language, the Russian star must put an up and down postseason behind him. While his overtime goal on the power play to beat the Pens will be fondly remembered, the Bread Man was streaky throughout and shied away from taking the body.

Now, he’ll play with new two-way pivot in former Hurricane Vincent Trocheck. I like the potential of it. It’ll be most intriguing to follow the battle for the right wing. Both Kaapo Kakko and Vitaly Kravtsov will be competing for a spot in the top six. If neither grab it, it wouldn’t surprise me if Gallant goes with Goodrow or the returning Sammy Blais to start.

As for potential newcomers, both Will Cuylle and Brennan Othmann will have the chance to impress Rangers brass. Currently, they’re representing Team Canada at the rescheduled U20 WJC in Edmonton. Along with recently signed goalie prospect Dylan Garand, they comprise three of seven prospects taking part in the tournament.

Brett Berard is playing on the third line for Providence College coach Nate Leaman representing Team USA. They won easily 5-1 over Germany in their first preliminary in Group B action. Devils prospect Luke Hughes had a goal and assist in the victory. He’s gonna be a good one.

Adam Sykora is the youngest player for Slovakia. The 2022 second round pick had a tough introduction to the World Juniors going minus-3 without a point in a 5-4 loss to Czechia yesterday.

Other NYR prospects taking part are Jaroslav Chmelar (Cze) and Kalle Vaisanen (Fin). Games can be seen on NHL Network. Currently, Canada is tied with Latvia 1-1 after a period in Group A play.

Highly touted Connor Bedard has his first goal of the new tournament. Don’t forget he scored four in a game last December before Covid canceled it. The future top pick in 2023 is a franchise player. He’s a must watch if you have any interest in hockey futures.

USA next plays on Thursday against Switzerland. That could be more of a test. But they should prevail. Look for scoring and dominant puck possession from the second line featuring Coyotes number one pick Logan Cooley (goal), Matthew Coronato (assist), and Matt Knies (TOR).

There could be some more hockey news soon involving the Islanders. They’re close to signing unrestricted free agent center Nazem Kadri. He has been patient hoping he could land a big payday. But he might have to settle for less. Nothing is official yet. Stay tuned.

Larry Brooks also recently hinted that Jimmy Vesey could be signing with the Blueshirts. Obviously, he never went on to have the success once thought. His best seasons came in the Big Apple. Then, he carved out a niche as a checking type forward who kills penalties effectively. Something he did for the Devils. Let’s wait and see.

While I still don’t get the Rangers not re-signing Tyler Motte, who remains available, it is what it is. They decided Julien Gauthier was more important along with team ornament Libor Hajek. Why I’ll never know. At least Ryan Carpenter should help replace Kevin Rooney, who signed with Calgary.

A final observation. It’s nice to see Patrice Bergeron returning for one more year with the Bruins. A five-time Selke winner who’s the greatest defensive forward in NHL history, he is a future Hall Of Famer who’s more than just statistics. All you have to do is watch him play the game.

Interesting how Bergeron took only $2.5 million and David Krejci returns after spending a year playing at home for a year at $1 million with performance bonuses. The more you see how business is done in Boston, they get it.

Players taking less to take one last kick at the can. If only more teams had players who do that. It would be better for fans of the sport.

Max Pacioretty out six months due to a Achilles surgery is a big hit for the Hurricanes. Shocking how this comes out less than a month after Vegas unloaded him. Odd indeed.

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Bratt one-year deal looks to be an uneasy stopgap

In many ways, the conclusion of contract negotiation number two between GM Tom Fitzgerald and budding star winger Jesper Bratt with the signing of a one-year contract isn’t exactly an ideal solution for the team or the fans. Of course, you can’t always compel a player to sign for longer term despite Fitz’s good fortune, foresight or persuasiveness to do just that with star center Jack Hughes earlier this year, or more recently with breakout defenseman Jonas Siegenthaler. Obviously, taking a shorter term and proving his breakout season of 73 points in 76 games this year wasn’t a fluke may well pay off long-term financially for Bratt and his previously anonymous agent Joakim Persson.

Yet, the organization being forced to kick the can down the road felt inevitable somehow. After all, it was Bratt who held out two years ago deep into camp (and even missed some games due to post-COVID visa complications), despite the fact he really had zero leverage and finally wound up signing a short bridge deal to get to this point. With more leverage now after one career season, I figured there was no way he would be any easier to pin down on a long-term extension in round two. While signings of other key players like Hughes, Siegenthaler and captain Nico Hischier a few years back went swimmingly without complaint, it’s been this back-and-forth that’s turned into a CBA-style staredown, albeit without any public back and forth.

To everyone’s credit I suppose, we still know very little about the details of either negotiation – two years ago or now, so don’t count on either side leaking anytime soon – at least until (and if) Bratt is ever in another uniform. All we know from a tangible standpoint is that each side’s arbitration number showed a pretty significant gap, between the Devils’ insanely low submission of $4.15 million and Bratt’s submission of $6.5 million. Not that we can really read anything into what the long and short-term offers were beyond that. What seemed most disturbing is that both sides looked like they would go through with the actual hearing this morning, and not even be able to negotiate a one-year compromise. Finally, an hour after the hearing was supposed to have began word leaked out that yes, the two sides came to their own detente.

The fact that the negotiated settlement wound up slightly closer to Bratt’s number probably shows which submission was based closer to reality. Yet it feels more like a whoopdie darn doo, they did the bare minimum sigh than an actual cause for celebration. With Bratt now signing, he’s not eligible for renegotiation until January 1, 2023. Which in all likelihood means we probably won’t have a full resolution to the ‘will he stay or will he go?’ saga until next offseason, unless the Devils are out of the playoff race again and Fitz finally comes to the realization that this player may not re-up before free agency so he flips him at the deadline. But that’s certainly not an ideal end, both because it would mean another season in the second division and because we’d likely get futures back for a key player now, kicking the can of the rebuild down even further.

I’m not sure how much I buy the theory that the Devils weren’t prepared to offer Bratt a real long-term deal because they’re now suddenly coming close to the cap celing in 2022-23. After all, it was Fitz who said either before or just after UFA day that they made a substantial long-term offer to Bratt, whatever the heck that means. Of course, everyone’s definition of substantial is different. If I had to guess I’d say the Devils’ offer was probably anywhere between 6.25 and 6.75 million a year, which would be a bit low given other comparables signed this offseason but consistent with Fitz getting other guys on as team-friendly deals as possible. On the other hand, if the Bratt camp wanted full market value this offseason that probably wasn’t realistic either given the fact he’d never so much as cracked 40 points before this year and still has two RFA years to go before hitting UFA.

So yes the battle is over for now, but I’m already dreading round three whether it takes place this January or over the summer before the draft.

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A disappointment so far, Kakko must prove worth on bridge deal

It was three years ago that the Rangers moved up to the top two in the 2019 NHL Draft Lottery.

At that point, before the number one pick was revealed to the Devils, fans were ecstatic at the prospect of landing Kaapo Kakko. Maybe it was just a hunch. I was actually disappointed that the Manhattan side of a unique Hudson rivalry wound up second behind the New Jersey side.

Sometimes, you just know. In that moment, I was right. The Devils made the right choice by selecting center Jack Hughes with the top pick. Despite playing it close to the vest, they wound up with a franchise player.

The Rangers picked Kakko at number two. It felt like a consolation prize. After he scored the gold medal winner for Finland in an exciting win over Team USA at the 2019 U20 World Junior Championships, many experts loved the forward. He had the size and strength to win board battles and keep puck possession.

Classified a goal scorer, Kakko was considered the finisher the Rangers lacked. At the time, Chris Kreider still hadn’t hit 30 goals. Artemi Panarin had yet to sign with the Blueshirts. That would soon follow leading to more excitement over adding a star forward who makes teammates better.

It was a different time. The Rangers were an afterthought. But you felt it was about to turn around when they drafted Kakko and then signed Panarin away from Columbus. What followed was a trade for defenseman Jacob Trouba from Winnipeg. He soon signed an extension to further improve the roster prior to ’19-20.

As big a year as Panarin had in what amounted to the Covid interrupted season that ended in August when the Rangers were swept by the Hurricanes in an uncompetitive Stanley Cup Qualifier Series, they somehow struck gold when that three-game sweep landed them future 2020 top pick Alexis Lafreniere.

With Mika Zibanejad also having a breakout ’19-20 where he scored 41 goals and 75 points in 57 games along with Panarin finishing third for league MVP after a career best 95 points (32-63-95) alongside Ryan Strome, it felt like the beginning of something special.

Thanks to the rookie debut of Igor Shestyorkin, who soon would supplant Henrik Lundqvist in net with Alex Georgiev backing up, it truly was the beginning. With future Norris winner Adam Fox finishing fourth for the Calder and Tony DeAngelo (remember him?) leading the way on the blue line, the Rangers were on their way back.

Due largely to the performances of the aforementioned players with three having since moved on, Kakko’s rookie year got overlooked. Considering how much he struggled to adjust to the North American style, maybe that was a good thing.

In 66 games, he scored 10 goals and added 13 assists for 23 points with a minus-26 rating. It wasn’t what was expected. However, Hughes also had a tough time. In Year One, he had 21 points (7-14-21) and an identical minus-26 rating in 61 games for the Devils.

Perhaps the weight of expectation was too high on both teenagers. Not every highly rated prospect comes in and takes the league by storm. For every Crosby, Ovechkin and Malkin, there’s a Barkov or Draisaitl. In other words, it depends on the player no matter how much hype.

A key part is development. Let’s just politely say that I didn’t agree with how Kakko was handled early on. His skating was lacking and he was lost defensively. Nothing a stint at Hartford couldn’t have helped fix. But the organization decided to keep him up.

To his credit, Kakko never showed any frustration despite how former coach David Quinn deployed him. It wasn’t exactly the way anyone envisioned. That’s why San Jose GM Mike Grier had to come to the newly hired Quinn’s defense at an introductory press conference last week.

Quinn didn’t handle Lafreniere well either. A more mature player who still had to earn his ice time under Gerard Gallant last season. Despite minimal opportunities on the second power play, he scored all 19 of his goals at even strength in Year Two. He also showed improvement as the year went on, posting 2-7-9 in the team’s run to Eastern Conference Final.

For Kakko, who only had seven goals and 11 assists in 43 games during an injury riddled third season, he’s still just 21. There’s plenty of time for him to evolve. Having totaled only 26 goals in 157 regular season games, there’ll be more attention focused on him as he enters his fourth season. Especially after voicing his displeasure over being a healthy scratch in Game Six against the Lightning.

Who could blame him? Gallant chose his guy Dryden Hunt over Kakko and played a hobbled Strome, who couldn’t go after one period. Kakko had at least displayed a more consistent forecheck while being teamed with Lafreniere and Filip Chytil on the Kid Line. The trio were effective throughout the postseason. It stands to reason not playing Kakko was a mistake.

But if you followed that series closely, you know it was lost as soon as Ondrej Palat scored in the final minute of Game Three. That swung the momentum. He’d also get the crusher that doomed them in Game Five. There’s nothing else to add.

While Chytil posted seven goals and totaled nine points like Lafreniere, Kakko tallied a pair of goals and added three helpers for five points in the playoffs. He then indicated that being benched would serve as a motivator. We’ll see.

For a while, nothing happened when it came to contract negotiations between the Rangers and RFA Kakko. Team President and GM Chris Drury took his time. He’d already handled the departures of Strome, Andrew Copp and Frank Vatrano by signing Vincent Trocheck to fill the void at second center.

After dealing Georgiev to the Avalanche, Drury zeroed in on veteran Jaro Halak to replace Georgie as the new backup behind Shestyorkin, whose remarkable season culminated in his first Vezina. The best year a Ranger goalie had since Lundqvist exactly a decade ago when he also won the Vezina. Ironically, both netminders finished in the top three for the Hart while losing in six during the Conference Finals.

For reasons only known to him, Drury opted to keep Julien Gauthier and Libor Hajek. Once they signed plugger Ryan Carpenter, that took them out of the mix for Tyler Motte. The invaluable checking forward and penalty killer remains unsigned. It doesn’t look like he’ll be back.

With all the usual silly rumors circulating about Kakko, the two sides finally reached agreement on a bridge deal that’ll pay him $2.1 million a season. Considering where he is in his development, the two-year, $4.2 million deal is fair.

Having totaled 58 points (26-32-58) over his first three years, it’s time for Kakko to prove his worth. The subtraction of key contributors Copp, Vatrano and Strome have opened the door. With Vitaly Kravtsov deciding to get serious (at least so far), Kakko could be in direct competition with the once exiled Russian for a potential spot on the right side next to Panarin and Trocheck.

For a player who has been underwhelming so far, it’s a good opportunity to take the bull by the horns. Kakko has improved overall. He is more responsible defensively. He also has become more of a playmaker. His passing is better than expected. At times though, you want to see him shoot the puck. Something he hasn’t done enough of.

Consistency is the key. If Kakko is out to prove the doubters wrong, it’s important for the Finn to take a step forward in ’22-23. He should have more chances along with Lafreniere, who could wind up as the new right wing on the top line. Something I’m in favor of.

As much as I like the chemistry the trio of Chytil, Kakko and Lafreniere have, isn’t it about time to find out what they’re fully capable of? Lafreniere has the look of a finisher who could top 30 goals and put up points while playing with Zibanejad and 52-goal man Kreider. He also is very active during shifts. Why shortchange him when they don’t boast a number one right wing at the moment?

It’ll be up to Gallant. Training camp is less than two months away. With football back in full swing as we approach August, it’ll be here before you know it.

Not only will they be assessing former first picks Kakko, Lafreniere and Kravtsov. But recent 2021 first rounder Brennan Othmann. A promising player who dominated the OHL last year. Will he force their hand or wind up back at Flint?

2020 second round pick Will Cuylle is ready to go pro. It’ll either be with the Wolf Pack or Rangers. A tremendous playoffs that saw him notch 15 goals with 16 assists for Windsor who fell short of winning the Memorial Cup, certainly bodes well for the 20-year old forward. He was acquired for Lias Andersson from the Kings. That one is looking good so far.

With under a million left in room, the Rangers probably are done with the off-season. Unless they can free up some salary, Motte will wind up elsewhere. He is the kind of gritty player any team can use. I wonder if the Red Wings would want to bring him home like they did Copp. It shouldn’t cost over $2.4 million. Who knows what the msrket is for Motte, who’s more than statistics.

As for Kakko, there is much to prove. He isn’t established yet. You hope he can finally put it together. The Rangers need him to. But if he’s not there yet, Gallant could have other options like Sammy Blais or Kravtsov if he isn’t traded.

The best case scenario is Kakko wins the second line RW job. He would get to play with Panarin and Trocheck, who’s a two-way pivot that wins draws. That would bode well.

It won’t be given to him. He’ll have to earn it. The same applies to any young player including Lafreniere. The Rangers are a win now team. Even if they’ll be a bit younger both up front and possibly on the blue line with Matthew Robertson, Zac Jones and Nils Lundkvist likely competing for a job on the third pair that features Braden Schneider, expectations have increased.

There’ll be more pressure. No matter how you slice it, ’21-22 was a pleasant surprise. They weren’t supposed to reach the Final Four. A couple of bounces a different way, it’s the Rangers who reach the Stanley Cup Finals and play Colorado. Pretty crazy.

Can Kakko hit 20 goals and put up at least 40 points? That has to be the goal. If he wants to shed the bust label, there’s no time like the present. October 11th is not far away. The pressure is on.

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HARD HITS: Tkachuk blockbuster trade involving Huberdeau a rarity, the uncomfortable direction the NHL is headed

Once the first domino fell when Johnny Gaudreau left Calgary for Columbus by taking less money to uproot his family back to the States, it was pretty much a foregone conclusion that Matthew Tkachuk would not remain a Calgary Flame.

The former 2016 first round pick selected number six by Calgary became a power forward in his six seasons spent at the Saddledome. A imposing player who combines strong skating with the right amount of snarl in front of the net, the 24-year old Tkachuk informed the Flames that he didn’t plan on signing an extension.

Once that happened, Calgary decided to take him to salary arbitration. It sped up the process of moving him. By making Tkachuk available, they wanted a king’s ransom for the budding star who had a career season. His 42 goals, 62 assists, 104 points and plus-57 rating were gaudy numbers produced while playing on a great scoring line that included Gaudreau (40-75-115) and Elias Lindholm (42-40-82).

After seeing the popular Gaudreau leave for nothing, the Flames couldn’t afford a repeat with Tkachuk. The way sports is going these days, teams are now at the mercy of star athletes. It’s beginning to happen in the NHL.

Pierre-Luc Dubois accepted his qualifier from the Jets for one year, $6 million. Most sources reported that he doesn’t want to re-sign in Winnipeg next year. That means he’ll wind up on his third team soon. It’ll be by trade. If it is indeed Montreal, that’ll be another win for a player.

So much for loyalty. There isn’t much now. Unless it’s a Mika Zibanejad signing an extension last year before the start of ’21-22 which turned out great for the Rangers, you don’t see enough players who want to stay. There are exceptions like the Lightning trio of Erik Cernak, Anthony Cirelli and Mikhail Sergachev, who all got extensions to stay put.

If you have a good player who wants to leave, then it puts the organization in a tough spot. The Flames made the right decision in moving on from Tkachuk, who got a brand new eight-year contract worth $9.5 million on average from the Panthers last night. He got paid. Younger brother Brady Tkachuk was pretty excited.

The way the news broke was shocking. I’d just returned to see it revealed by the official Florida Panthers account on Twitter. At first, I thought it couldn’t be real. I had to do a double take.

Vi’s reaction was similar to mine. The Panthers parted with star forward Jonathan Huberdeau and good defenseman MacKenzie Weegar along with prospect Cole Schwindt plus a lottery protected first round pick in 2025. It’s a steep price to pay along with the bag 💰 Tkachuk got to get younger.

I thought Huberdeau deserved to be included for the Hart Trophy. His career season where he had 30 goals with a league-leading 85 assists for 115 points and a plus-35 rating were outstanding. His previous bests came in ’18-19 when he produced 30 goals, 62 assists and 92 points. He also was over a point-per-game in ’19-20 and ’20-21 totaling 43-96-139 over 124 games. On a better team, he put it altogether at age 28.

Prior to ’21-22, Tkachuk had never been a point-per-game player. But he did have 77 points (34-43-77) in 80 games at age 21. That also came during ’18-19. He followed it up by going 39-65-104 over 125 games the next two seasons. Playing for a contract along with Gaudreau, Tkachuk also went off by scoring 40 goals for the first time in his career with 62 assists and 104 points. He definitely benefited from who he played with. But could form a dynamic duo in Florida with Aleksander Barkov.

It’s an interesting trade. A rare blockbuster that involved two 100-point scorers. Something that hasn’t happened in over 30 years. It actually involved John Cullen going to the Whalers in a six player blockbuster deal that sent Ron Francis to the Penguins. The key players were Ulf Samuelsson and Zarley Zalapski. As it turned out, the move helped the Pens win the first of two consecutive Cups. Unfortunately for the Whalers, it didn’t turn out so good. They never recovered.

On the level, the current trade involving Huberdeau and Tkachuk could work out for both teams. However, both the 29-year old Huberdeau and 28-year old Weegar are entering the final seasons of their deals. Huberdeau is a bargain at an AAV of $5.9 million while Weegar is at $3.25 million for ’22-23.

The short-term value of the trade looks better for Calgary. They added a top line scoring playmaker to replace Gaudreau, and got a reliable top four defenseman who can play key minutes. A blue line that also includes Rasmus Andersson, Noah Hanifin, Nikita Zadorov, Chris Tanev and key RFA Oliver Kylington should be steady under coach Darryl Sutter.

Huberdeau would pencil in on the top line with Lindholm and possibly Andrew Mangiapane, who wants to stay in Calgary. He’s currently a restricted free agent coming off a career high 35-goal season. He previously made $2.425 million. Expect that to be doubled at around $5 million per year.

That would comprise a good scoring line even with the departures of Johnny Columbus and Tkachuk. The question is secondary help. Aside from Mangiapane rifling in 35 goals, there wasn’t much behind the big line last season. That hurt them in a disappointing second round loss to bitter Alberta rival Edmonton.

If you look at the current Flames roster, they are fine at center. Right behind Lindholm is pesky Mikael Backlund. Then it gets interesting. Is Sean Monahan still part of their plans? His contract that is worth $6.375 million expires next year. It depends on the health. Without him, there’s still Dillon Dube and they signed former Ranger Kevin Rooney. A solid get for the fourth line.

There aren’t many finishers. Tyler Toffoli is a good two-way player who can get 20 to 25 goals in a defined role. Blake Coleman is a 15-20 goal player who kills penalties well and hits. Milan Lucic is playing out the final year of a contract that pays him $6 million. It’s listed as $5.25 million AAV on puckpedia.com. At this point, the proud former Stanley Cup winner is a bit piece who adds grit and physicality.

In the system, the Flames have three young forward prospects with potential. Former first round pick Matt Coronato has good upside after pacing Harvard University in scoring as a freshman with 36 points (18-18-36). No doubt he won’t be rushed. But another strong year and maybe he is signed.

Jakob Pelletier was a good player for Team Canada at the U20 World Junior Championships in 2021. The former ’19 first round pick posted three goals and four assists for seven points. He was almost a point-per-game in his first pro year for Stockton of the AHL where he tallied 62 points (27-35-62) in 66 games. Pelletier might be ready.

The third prospect is another former first rounder Connor Zary. The 20-year old needs more time in the AHL to grow. He was selected 24th in 2020. Zary had two assists for Canada at the ’21 WJC.

While the Panthers have Tkachuk locked up for the foreseeable future, Calgary will have most of the upcoming ’22-23 season to figure out what to do with Huberdeau and Weegar. Depending on how it goes, that could determine the path they take. They still boast an elite goalie in Jacob Markstrom, who was the runner-up to Igor Shestyorkin for the Vezina. Plus a solid D.

Huberdeau can decide his future. Does he want to stay in Calgary on the one big payday he’ll get? Flames legend Theo Fleury gave his view on what it was like playing for the franchise. Then added a key point.

Of course, there are other factors involved now including the very strict Covid policy that’s been enforced in Canada. It isn’t exactly fun for players and citizens. Fleury has been a vocal critic of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. That’s my only comment in regards to the polarizing issue of politics.

There’s also income taxes to consider. For Tkachuk, he went to Florida. That means he gets tax breaks on his spanking new $76 million contract over the next eight years. That helps. It has allowed some teams to acquire and keep players they otherwise might not be able to. See Tampa. Although they did have to cut costs by dealing Ryan McDonagh over to Nashville to create room. They also lost Ondrej Palat to the Devils.

In theory, Fleury is right. Most of the time, it’s about the money. Even with the Flames offering Gaudreau a reported $10 million, it wasn’t enough to convince him to stay. He wanted to move his family closer to home. Although he didn’t choose New Jersey, going to Columbus affords him the opportunity with his wife who’s pregnant with their first baby, the chance to have a nice family life closer to home. Something that he said was important in his decision.

When it comes to unrestricted free agents, there’s nothing wrong with them choosing to go to another city. That’s their decision to make along with the family. You can’t fault a player for that. It’s been that way for a long time.

In a salary cap system, a select number of teams can bid on players. It all depends on their salary structure. The Flyers never even were able to offer Gaudreau a contract due to the way they’ve been run by GM Chuck Fletcher. It would’ve required multiple salary dumps.

Ditto for the Islanders, who remain the only team not to sign a single free agent since July 13th. That’s Lou Lamoriello for you. Over-committed to veteran forwards who are on the downside of their careers except Mat Barzal, Brock Nelson and Oliver Wahlstrom.

It wouldn’t surprise me if the Flames flip Huberdeau at next year’s trade deadline for younger assets. I also wouldn’t be shocked if the Rangers are involved. That largely depends on Kaapo Kakko, Vitaly Kravtsov and possibly Brennan Othmann. We know Team President and GM Chris Drury isn’t shy about working the phones if he sees a chance to upgrade the roster.

On the flip side, the Panthers get a younger player on the rise. Tkachuk brings that unique combination of skill, speed and grit to a team that got exposed by the Lightning in a very disappointing second round sweep to their bitter interstate rivals.

Did GM Bill Zito overpay? It sure looks that way. But he knew he was going to potentially lose both Huberdeau and Weegar with the latter having been linked to Ottawa. So, he went all in on a player whose best years should be ahead.

While they did pay a premium for Tkachuk, the Cats kept the key young core pieces. That includes promising center Anton Lundell, Gregori Denisenko, Mackie Samoskevich and Michael Benning. That’s positive because they don’t have a first round pick in the NHL Draft until 2026.

A very high scoring team, the Panthers should still be able to fill it up. Led by Barkov and Tkachuk, they boast plenty of scoring depth. That includes Sam Reinhart, Sam Bennett, Carter Verhaeghe, Anthony Duclair, Lundell, Aaron Ekblad, Gustav Forsling and Brandon Montour. They subtracted Huberdeau, Weegar and lost Mason Marchment to Dallas.

The loss of Weegar is interesting. He provided a good skating right defenseman who could contribute. They are counting on Ekblad to stay healthy. Radko Gudas remains the physical force on the blue line. After that, it becomes iffy. They added proven vet Marc Staal to play third pair with Lucas Carlsson. How will that go?

With Sergei Bobrovsky the starter in net with Spencer Knight his understudy, goaltending shouldn’t be an issue. But if they don’t improve their defensive structure under new coach Paul Maurice, they’ll again be asked to do too much. They brought in the experienced Maurice with that in mind. It’ll be interesting to see how their system changes compared to Andrew Brunette, who is now the top assistant with the Devils.

On paper, it looks like the Panthers weakened themselves for ’22-23. However, they also invited Eric Staal on a pro tryout. If he makes the roster, he can play a secondary role similar to Joe Thornton. Jumbo Joe hasn’t decided on his future. Florida also added Colin White and Nick Cousins for depth on the cheap.

Currently, they’re over the projected salary cap at $86,533,334. That’s over $4,000 they must subtract to be cap compliant. They might not have Duclair right away. He had surgery to repair a torn Achilles last month. If he’s on LTIR, that’s $3 million that is freed up to start the season.

In a division that still boasts the powerhouse Lightning, always entertaining Maple Leafs, the ultra competitive Bruins and improved Senators, the competition should be stiff. Also expect the Red Wings to be a little better. The Sabres will compete, but remain destined for the Connor Bedard Sweepstakes. The Canadiens can’t be any worse than last year under Marty St. Louis. However, they also should be in the Bedard Lottery.

So, how should we judge the Tkachuk for Huberdeau/Weegar deal that includes a protected first? It could look very different by March 2023 and beyond.

In terms of where the league is headed, it’s not a good thing. When you have players beginning to dictate the terms, that means the NHL could start to look similar to the other major sports. While it thankfully should never become as bad as the NBA that’s full of egotistical, self-serving superstars who force trades and opt out of huge contracts, hopefully we won’t see hockey players only choosing certain markets to play in. Something that’s unhealthy for a league and commissioner who emphasizes competitive balance.

In news that got overlooked due to the huge blockbuster trade between the Flames and Panthers on Friday, the Blue Jackets re-signed RFA Patrik Laine to a four-year deal worth $34.8 million. That’s $8.7 million AAV that’ll take him through 2026. So, he stays put to form a potential great scoring combo with Gaudreau.

With Laine signed, the Blue Jackets gave away right wing Oliver Bjorkstrand to the Seattle Kraken in exchange for third and fourth round picks in 2023. A fan favorite who was a good player for Columbus, he had 28 goals and 29 assists for 57 points in 80 contests last season.

The 27-year old Bjorkstrand has four years left on a contract that averages $5.4 million per season on the cap. Credit Seattle for taking advantage of the situation in Columbus to add a quality top six forward to a roster that will now include free agent addition Andre Burakovsky along with young centers Matty Beniers and Shane Wright.

With vets Jordan Eberle, Jaden Schwartz, Brandon Tanev, Yanni Gourde and Jared McCann, they should be able to score more goals next season. The real excitement surrounds a full year of Beniers with Wright having fallen to number four. You know he’ll want to prove the Canadiens wrong for passing on him at number one.

As far as big free agent Nazem Kadri, it’s all quiet for now. Maybe he’s hoping the Avalanche can free up space to re-sign him. Would he take a discount to stay? He sure silenced the critics in Toronto. It seems almost impossible for him to remain in Colorado. We’ll see what happens.

The Bruins are of course in wait and see mode with Patrice Bergeron. You know if he returns, it’ll be in black and gold. The only team he’s ever played for. A future Hall Of Famer, arguably the greatest two-way center ever is also probably waiting for Boston to make room for him. It would be only fitting for the classy Bergeron to finish his brilliant career in Beantown. Pick 45 of a memorable 2003 Draft is the best of that class.

David Quinn was officially hired as the new coach of the San Jose Sharks. The former Rangers bench boss who helped develop some of the players Gerard Gallant guided to the Conference Finals, gets another chance with the teal. You’ll have Quinn teaming with new GM Mike Grier. Both formerly with the Rangers. A good franchise that’s been very successful over 30 years with 21 playoff appearances, five Conference Finals and one Stanley Cup Final reached, they are in decline. It’ll be interesting to follow how Grier and Quinn fare. Best of luck to both.

Finally, with even more rumors circulating about Team Canada at the World Juniors dating back to 2003, why is it that nobody can remember anything about the serious allegations surrounding former players? Sexual assault is very serious. That there is growing evidence from well respected reporter Rick Westhead on both the ’03 and ’18 WJC teams is very mind-numbing.

If it’s proven true, shouldn’t Hockey Canada be disciplined? There’s the rescheduled 2022 WJC coming up in August. Nothing against the players who could participate. But why should Russia only face punishment while Canada doesn’t?

There’s a big difference too. You can’t compare the actions of a deranged lunatic by punishing kids and then turn the other way when there are serious issues where players were involved in improper behavior with females. There should be accountability.

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Devils improve defense by acquiring Marino from Pens for Ty Smith and third round pick

The Devils upgraded their defense today by adding a proven veteran in a smart deal. In a move that should improve their blue line, they acquired John Marino from the Pens in exchange for Ty Smith and a 2023 third round pick.

Update: Hasan beat me to it. Here’s what he had to say on the Devils adding Marino from the Penguins. You can read the rest of my thoughts below.

As usual, hockey insider Kevin Weekes had the breaking news from a random location. Weekes has become a trusted source. He has plenty of contacts in the league. I’d imagine a little birdie named Martin Brodeur told him about the trade.

Even if you’re a fan of the team who isn’t happy that Johnny Gaudreau passed up coming home for his sudden love of Columbus, GM Tom Fitzgerald has quietly improved the roster. He still added proven top six forward Ondrej Palat and toughened up the D with veteran Brendan Smith.

In being able to snatch up Marino from Pittsburgh, who decided he was expendable due to later adding Jeff Petry from the Habs for Mike Matheson, Fitzgerald took advantage. The 25-year old Marino is a solid puck moving defenseman who has good possession statistics. Signed for another five years at a fair cap hit of $4.4 million, he’s a quality get.

This past season, Marino had a goal and a career high 24 assists for 25 points over 81 contests with the Pens. He averaged 20:38 of ice time and was a plus-eight with 43 takeaways and 35 giveaways. He also blocked 88 shots and had 73 hits.

Compared to P.K. Subban, who was up and down in three seasons after coming over from Nashville, Marino is a younger and better player. This should solidify a defense that wasn’t exactly a team strength.

In adding Marino to a blue line that features Dougie Hamilton, Damon Severson, Ryan Graves, Jonas Siegenthaler and Smith, they suddenly have better balance. After signing 2022 number two pick Simon Nemec to an entry-level contract, it’s possible that he could be part of their defense in ’22-23. If that’s the case, then they have Brendan Smith as the extra. A marked improvement from what they had.

Ty Smith was once a highly thought of young defenseman in the Devils organization. Selected 17th in the first round of the 2018 NHL Draft, the 22-year old really struggled defensively in his second season.

Perhaps that was enough for Fitzgerald to decide to move on from a young player with potential who probably needs a scenery change. He’ll get it in Pittsburgh.

After posting two goals and 21 assists for 23 points in 48 games during the shortened season of ’20-21, Smith registered five goals with 15 assists for 20 points in 66 games in ’21-22. However, he finished a minus-26 with 40 giveaways compared to only 13 takeaways.

As Hasan noted during the season, Smith made some costly gaffes that led to goals against. Although they never sent him down, he was a healthy scratch in some games due to the inconsistency. Maybe they should’ve had Smith play in the AHL.

There is potential. I guess it’ll all depend on how he’s handled by Pens coach Mike Sullivan. He turned Matheson around. Now, he will play in Montreal after they moved Petry to Pittsburgh in another deal to makeover their blue line.

It’s interesting that the Devils and Pens did business. The last such trade between the old Patrick Division rivals was when the Penguins sent Beau Bennett to the Devs for a third round pick (Connor Hall) on June 25, 2016. Bennett lasted a season going 8-11-19 in 65 games. He only played five more NHL games for St. Louis.

Are the Devils a better team now? Having added Vitek Vanecek to compete in net with Mackenzie Blackwood for the number one job, I’d say unequivocally yes.

They still must re-sign Jesper Bratt to a big contract. With still $12.26 million left on the cap, they’re in good shape. That includes RFA’s Miles Wood, Jesper Boqvist and Fabian Zetterlund.

Both Severson and Graves enter the final years of their contracts. With Kevin Bahl also a possibility on the roster, it’s possible Fitzgerald isn’t done dealing. I’m sure Hasan will have more on their situation as the off-season continues.

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Devils continue improving with trade for Marino

Well when I last signed off here, I had gone from disillusioned over the Johnny Gaudreau mess to appeased (for lack of a better word) by a fortuitous late-night signing of Ondrej Palat, and now pleasantly surprised today by Fitz’s latest move to improve the blueline – trading Ty Smith and a third-rounder for 25-year old RHD John Marino. If you knew nothing about Marino before the trade, that makes two of us but apparently he’s a very solid defensive defenseman who can chip in the occasional point here and there – and is also signed for the next five years at a reasonable $4.4 million cap hit.

It was surprising mainly from the standpoint of this trade happening between two division teams – not to mention Marino being dealt one year into a six-year contract, although more of Pittsburgh’s intent became clearer later on in the day when they traded for Jeff Petry from Montreal, both getting him and saving some money by shedding the contracts of Marino and Mike Matheson (dealt to Montreal for Petry) as a result of taking back Smith – the one-time first-round pick of the Devils. It wasn’t totally surprising that Fitz made a move like this to improve the D though, especially if you listened to his post-FA interview where when asked what else he’d like to do this offseason, Fitzy volunteered that he was looking to address the D.

Given the fact the Devils already had six D under contract for next year – including recent signing Brendan Smith – and some other younger guys possibly pushing for a spot on the back pairing, it seemed more obvious after Fitz’s words that at least one of the signed D was going to be on the move. So far the answer to that is Smith, who after a promising rookie season had a clear sophomore slump last year. He certainly has talent offensively but with their highest-paid player (Dougie Hamilton) and their best prospect (Luke Hughes) both fully capable of adding offense to the D, it seemed less likely that Smith would be a long-term part of the solution after last season.

I’m not sure Fitz is done yet with his D makeover, since both Damon Severson and Ryan Graves are on the last year of their contracts, they would be the most likely candidates to be moved next – either in the offseason or at the deadline. Given that Marino – a RHD – is signed for a decent chunk of change at term, along with Hamilton and recent #2 overall pick Simon Nemec being RHD’s, it also makes it less likely Severson is going to be around past this year. While I’ve had my issues with Severson as a player, he’s always been a good Devil under some trying circumstances and if we’re coming to a crossroads here I wish him (as well as Ty) luck in their future endeavors.

I owe Fitzy a mea culpa though, or at least a nod of approval…I wanted him to be more proactive a few days ago, he certainly has been that over the last week plus – both in terms of players acquired as well as players we’ve been willing to move on from as this franchise hopefully starts to make a turn back toward the light next year.

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Day One of the Free Agent Frenzy: As predicted, Trocheck signs with the Rangers, Halak the new backup, Copp heads home and Strome out West, Gaudreau turns down Devils for Blue Jackets, The best contracts of July 13th

Day One of free agency didn’t disappoint. The July 13th FA Frenzy featured almost every big name. There were so many signings that it may as well have been a carnival.

Even with the late news that Evander Kane stayed put in Edmonton for less money and Kevin Weekes breaking the news that Jack Campbell would become the Oilers new starter, the biggest story entering Wednesday was the status of Johnny Gaudreau.

The biggest star on the board had informed Calgary late Tuesday night that he wouldn’t be returning. With hockey insider Frank Seravelli noting that it wasn’t about money for Gaudreau, it sure hinted at a potential homecoming. However, his preferred choice of the Flyers were out due to Chuck Fletcher’s ridiculous spending.

That left the Devils and Islanders as likely candidates for Johnny Hockey. Both rivals made good offers. Based on what I followed on Twitter, the Devils came in higher for the Salem, New Jersey native. But as Hasan documented in his post last night, Gaudreau surprised everyone by signing with the Blue Jackets. A true shocker. He took less money (if you can call it that) to move his family to Columbus by agreeing to a seven-year contract worth an average cap hit of $9.75 million.

Even though the news came later than expected, you knew something was up when he delayed his decision. If it were me, I’d have chosen to play in New Jersey. He could’ve formed a potent duo with Jack Hughes. Instead, the 28-year old star forward chose the Blue Jackets, who likely will have to move restricted free agent Patrik Laine. Unless they can create space to keep him for the next year.

While that remains the most puzzling news from Day One, the Rangers didn’t surprise me at all by signing free agent center Vincent Trocheck. In fact, I accurately called it in my fun-filled Free Agent Predictions post before noon yesterday. I don’t often take a bow as it’s not in my nature. But I’ll give myself credit for this one. Here was my contract detail:

Vincent Trocheck Rangers 6 for $5.75 million AAV

Close. But no cigar. I almost nailed it. The Rangers wound up giving Trocheck seven years for an AAV of $5.625 million. While the term is long for a player who just shared a birthday with Ryan Strome on July 11, I’m not concerned with years six and seven. It’s the first four to five that matter. That’s the Rangers’ window to win a Stanley Cup. Especially the next three years with every key player under contract. It’s about WINNING!

The sense I got the night before in a chat with close Buffalo Sabres contributor Brian Sanborn was that the Rangers would bring Trocheck to the Big Apple. Based on everything I heard about Andrew Copp and Strome likely moving elsewhere, it felt like Trocheck made a lot of sense.

The former Hurricane is a bit different stylistically than Strome or Copp. Although to be honest, he’s replacing Strome who wound up going out West to Anaheim for five years at a team friendly AAV of $5 million per season. No matter what anyone says, he was a good Ranger who had excellent chemistry with Artemi Panarin. They worked well together.

Before I close the book on Strome, who I’ll miss, there are clueless people who bashed him at every turn. Despite solid production and playing through a pelvis injury that limited him against the Lightning, he was always a target due to missing open nets.

Do these fools realize Jeff Gorton turned Ryan Spooner into Strome as part of his best ever deal that sent Rick Nash to Boston for Ryan Lindgren and a first round pick that became K’Andre Miller? You have to be out of your mind to not appreciate what Strome did here. Best of luck to him with the Ducks.

Back to the newest Rangers second line center Trocheck. Unlike Strome, he’s a two-way player who wins face-offs and finishes checks. Not big in stature, he more than makes up for it with how he plays. A strong player on the forecheck who goes to the net and isn’t shy about shooting, the 29-year old looks like a good fit for what the team needs.

Even better, he’s familiar with Gerard Gallant, who coached him in Florida earlier in his career. His best year came  during ’17-18 under Bob Boughner when he posted 31 goals with 44 assists for 75 points, 13 power play goals and three shorthanded goals in ’17-18.

After struggling with consistency, he was eventually acquired by Carolina. His play improved under Rod Brind’Amour. That included posting 43 points (17-26-43) in 47 games during ’20-21.

This past season was his best since age 24. In 81 contests, Trocheck had 21 goals and 30 assists for 51 points with 78 penalty minutes and a career high plus-21 rating. That included 15 even strength goals and 24 even strength assists for a total of 39 points at even strength. He added 12 power play points (6-6-12) while averaging 17:52 of ice time.

He also went 54.6 percent on face-offs. An area that should help the Rangers. Over his nine-year career, Trocheck is 52.1 percent on draws. Considering how effective he was in the second round series, don’t doubt Gallant and Chris Drury noticed. He was one of the most consistent Hurricanes in that round won by the Rangers.

Trocheck also posted a career best 185 hits. He’s not shy about finishing checks I the corners. A good quality Turk prefers. A 200-foot player who is solid defensively, he was a plus-eight with 50 takeaways compared to 42 giveaways. A good quality to have for playing with Panarin.

I really love the signing. He’s the player I wanted. As much as I would’ve loved to keep Strome or Copp, I understand that it’s a business. I’ll miss both. Especially Strome, who really became a good player and key leader in the locker room. I wish him well in Disney.

As for Copp, I also was proven right about where he’d wind up. He’s from Ann Arbor, Michigan. So, I put two and two together and figured he’d sign with the hometown Red Wings.

When asked on NHL Network about it, the good Copp admitted that he rooted for the Wings as a kid growing up. He feels they’re on a similar path to our team. He enjoyed his time in NYC. Now, he’ll play on the second line and help out close friend Dylan Larkin. He agreed to a five-year deal worth the identical $5.625 million cap hit Vinny T got here. Except it’s for two fewer years. A great move by Steve Yzerman.

So, it turned out that Copp was a rental. The same for Frank Vatrano (also signed by Anaheim), Justin Braun (returned to Flyers) and Tyler Motte, who Drury admitted they didn’t have enough room for. That’s too bad. I really wanted to keep him. Wherever he goes, he’ll help out whoever he signs with.

They all played key roles in helping the Rangers get to their first Eastern Conference Final in seven years. I’m thankful to all four for what they gave. Without them, there’s no big run. Good luck to all four.

It’s kind of ironic that both Strome and Vatrano will play together in Anaheim. Maybe this time, they’ll wind up on the same line. Considering that Trevor Zegras will likely team with leading goal scorer Troy Terry on the top line, it’s a good bet Vatrano could be on Strome’s right side. Frankie V got three years and $3.65 million on average to become a Mighty Duck.

Close friend of the blog Sean McCaffrey was really pushing for Nazem Kadri, who actually remains unsigned. I understand why he wanted him. Kadri is better than any of the players mentioned. He proved what he could do in helping the Avalanche get over the finish line to win their first Cup in 21 years. However, he’s gonna be 32 entering ’22-23 and will cost more money. It would’ve been too rich for the Rangers to afford him.

Especially when they entered yesterday with less than $10 million left until Drury predictably sent Patrik Nemeth out to the desert with a conditional second round pick for defenseman Ty Emberson. A 22-year old former Coyotes third round pick in 2018. He spent last season in the AHL. I don’t know anything else about him other than he played three years at Wisconsin.

The bottom line here is Drury was able to offload $2.5 million to free up a bit more space. A necessity to re-sign Group II free agent Kaapo Kakko. The Team President and GM also found a cheaper replacement for Alex Georgiev by signing former Islander Jaro Halak for a year at $1.5 million.

Now 37, the veteran netminder is best known as being a Ranger killer. This was especially true when he played for the Islanders. He owned them at MSG and at Barclay’s Center. In fact, Halak is 24-9-1 with a 2.33 GAA, .927 save percentage and five shutouts versus the Rangers for his career.

That’s absurd. But it proves how dominant he was against our team. Now, he’ll join them and play the backup role getting between 15 to 20 starts behind Russian ace Igor Shestyorkin. Even though I would’ve preferred Thomas Greiss, who also had Islander ties, Halak was my second choice. He’s a proven and experienced goalie who should get the job done.

In a twist of irony considering the role he played against them in a very tough first round, the Rangers went out and added goalie depth by agreeing with former Penguin Louis Domingue on a two-year deal worth a total of $1.55 million.

A likable vet who’s now 30, he will likely be ticketed for Hartford. They let go of Adam Huska and the also personable Keith Kinkaid, who signed with the Bruins for a year at $750,000. So, they needed an experienced netminder who could fill the void with the Wolf Pack and be an emergency call-up if needed.

Domingue is best known for his funny remark following the marathon Game One won by the Pens 4-3 in triple overtime over the Rangers. When he replaced Casey DeSmith, he got the job done and then told reporters he had spicy pork between periods. Domingue is already on the lookout for his favorite cuisine.

These depth goalies have great personalities. You love to see it. Domingue also played well in the series the Rangers needed seven games to win. Although he gave up a bad goal to Chris Kreider late in Game Six, he did a good job before Pittsburgh went back to Tristan Jarry for Game Seven.

Welcome aboard. After a successful Day One, Drury turned his attention to adding some depth by signing veteran center Ryan Carpenter. Best known for his checking role under Gallant in Vegas, the 31-year old veteran will replace recently departed Kevin Rooney (signed by Calgary) on the fourth line. He is a solid penalty killer who can take draws and hit.

While Rooney went to the Flames for two years at $1.3 million AAV, Carpenter signed for $750,000. All about saving money. That’s how it is in a cap crunch. Good luck to Rooney and former Ranger Greg McKegg. The Keg Man wound up in Edmonton for two years at $762,500. He’ll most likely play in the minors and be a call-up when needed. Similar to the role he played here.

It’s even those types of gritty, hardworking players who you admire. Look how many games McKegg got into in ’21-22. He played 43 games and was a solid role player under Gallant. All you can ask for.

It can’t be easy going from city to city with his family. He once was a Hurricane before coming to NYC the first time in ’19-20. Then spent time in Boston mostly on the taxi squad before one more stint between New York and Hartford. A lot of mileage on those trips back and forth.

McKegg has been part of seven organizations. First the Leafs. Then the Panthers, Lightning, Penguins, Hurricanes, Bruins and Rangers twice. He moves out West to the frigid cold in Alberta. Tough sledding for the 30-year old journeyman.

So, where does that leave the Rangers? If you’re keeping track, they currently have 20 players signed at $78,466,468 per puckpedia.com. That leaves them with just over four million to work with. Here’s how it looks:

Kreider-Zibanejad-Lafreniere

Panarin-Trocheck-Kakko

Blais-Chytil-Kravtsov

Hunt-Goodrow-Reaves

Extra F: Carpenter, Gauthier, Brodzinski

Lindgren-Fox

Miller-Trouba

Jones/Robertson-Schneider

Extra D: Lundkvist, Hajek

Shestyorkin

Halak

At the moment, it’s important to note that Zac Jones, Nils Lundkvist, Matthew Robertson, Jonny Brodzinski and Vitaly Kravtsov are not counted as roster players against the cap. Ditto for top prospect Brennan Othmann and former second round pick Will Cuylle. Libor Hajek is.

Much will be determined at training camp, which believe it or not is two months away. There will be some good healthy competition for spots up front and on the blue line.

As much as last year was about the key additions of Barclay Goodrow, Ryan Reaves and Sammy Blais before he went down due to P.K. Subban, the upcoming season will be more about the kids. Alexis Lafreniere is penciled in on the top line. Kakko is expected to be in the top six. If not, that could be either Blais or Kravtsov, who for now is a Ranger with something to prove.

Filip Chytil should be counted on to play a bigger role. Even with the addition of Trocheck, it’s time for Chytil to perform consistently and stay healthy. He showed what he’s capable of in the playoffs. There’ll be more pressure on him, Kakko and Lafreniere next season.

That could also be the case for Braden Schneider, Zac Jones, Nils Lundkvist and Matthew Robertson. Schneider is the third right defenseman without a partner. There’ll be an open competition that for now includes Hajek with the aforementioned other three young prospects.

Unlees something changes, the defense will be younger. Could Drury still have a move up his sleeve? Sure. But with former Blueshirt Marc Staal moving from Detroit to Florida for $750,000, he’ll have to look elsewhere if he wants to bring in another vet.

How much will Kakko get? Even though he played better in the postseason, the former 2019 second pick only had two goals and three assists. It’s still mind-boggling that Gallant healthy scratched him in favor of Dryden Hunt for Game Six at Tampa.

I’d like nothing better than to see Othmann make enough of an impression to get into a few games as a 19-year old. He can’t be reassigned to Hartford. Cuylle is now eligible due to being 20. If he doesn’t make the roster, he’ll get valuable experience in the AHL.

When you evaluate the organization, they still boast considerable depth on the blue line. Unless he can prove capable of playing the left side, it’s hard to see much of a future for Lundkvist in Manhattan. He could still wind up traded this Fall. So could Kravtsov if he fails to impress the coaching staff.

We know that Dylan Garand is a name to remember. The goalie prospect developed well with Kamloops of the WHL where he posted superb numbers both in the regular season and playoffs. The former 2020 fourth round pick is ready to play for the Wolf Pack.

It’ll likely be with Domingue providing the necessary experience and leadership he can lean on. If that’s the goalies at Hartford, that would leave Olof Lindbom to start in the ECHL.

We are still waiting to see where Motte winds up. Would he consider Detroit to join close friend Copp? He’s also from the area. The Red Wings have plenty of space for a gritty checking forward who plays fourth line and kills penalties.

So far, nothing new to report on Kadri. Maybe he really wants to return to Colorado. It doesn’t seem likely. They made three key signings on Wednesday. All are good moves.

In my opinion, the first two are the best contracts so far. The first one was re-signing defenseman Josh Manson for four years at $4.5 million per season. After helping them win the Cup, he wanted to stay. He took less money and got a modified no-trade clause.

The second move was signing RFA Artturi Lehkonen to a brand new five-year deal worth the same exact cap hit of $4.5 million. After coming over from Montreal, the former Canadien was such a good fit that he had a good postseason highlighted by scoring the Cup clincher in Game Six. He also received a modified NTC.

The Avalanche also kept key checking center Darren Helm. Like Andrew Cogliano, he re-signed for an identical $1.25 million over a year. They have Logan O’Connor too for the next three seasons making a shade over a million. A younger player they signed out of college in 2019.

Even without Kadri, they’re loaded again for another run. They’re the favorites to repeat. Led by Gabriel Landeskog, Nathaniel MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, Cale Makar, Devon Toews, Erik Johnson and a deep core, I wouldn’t bet against it. It’ll be interesting to see how Alex Georgiev and Pavel Francouz perform in net. They are part of a great team.

In regards to the FA frenzy yesterday, there was plenty of other action. Let’s go through a few highlights.

Darcy Kuemper found a new home in the nation’s capital. The former Avalanche Stanley Cup hero is now the new Washington starter after agreeing to a five-year deal worth $5.25 million per season. His backup will be Charlie Lindgren. They gave the older brother of Ryan Lindgren $3.3 million over three years. So, it averages out to $1.1 million per season.

The Caps also acquired Connor Brown from Ottawa for a ’24 second round pick. The Senators were busy bringing Claude Giroux home for the next three years. He’ll make $6.5 million on average through 2025 with a full no-move clause. The 34-year old had no interest in returning to the Flyers. He and his son Gavin had quite the big day yesterday.

In a wise move, the Hurricanes took advantage of the Golden Knights by acquiring Max Pacioretty and Dylan Coghlan for basically nothing. That’s due to how mismanaged the Knights are. They had to dump the salary of their best finisher and even included a good young defenseman that can help Ottawa.

Yeah. I’d say that Jack Eichel trade is really going well so far. At least they re-signed Reilly Smith. He gets three more years at the same $5 million rate in Vegas to stay.

One of the oddest moves also involved the Hurricanes. They acquired veteran defenseman Brent Burns from the Sharks witn Lane Pederson in exchange for Steven Lorentz, Eetu Makiniemi and a conditional third round pick in 2023.

The 37-year old Burns isn’t what he once was. But he still provides offense as his 15 goals and 54 points attest the past season. So, the Hurricanes go from Dougie Hamilton to Tony DeAngelo to now the older Burns, who’ll pair up with Jaccob Slavin. In adding Burns and Pacioretty, they’re thinking offense. Coghlan can also provide that on the second power play.

Ondrej Kase was also added as a solid depth forward to help offset the loss of Nino Niederreiter. He’s likely to go elsewhere. They still must re-sign restricted free agent Marty Necas. Is he moving to center? Expect Jesperi Kotkaniemi to have a bigger role.

Mason Marchment got a nice contract from the Stars. He received an average cap hit of $4.5 million over four years. The ex-Panther cashed in on a career season that saw him set career bests in goals (18), assists (29) and points (47). He only earned $800,000. We’ll see if he can add that same gritty physical game in Dallas. They paid a premium for a player I felt would be an Islander target.

The Devils might’ve swung and missed on Gaudreau. But that doesn’t mean they had a bad day. Able to acquire center Erik Haula from the Bruins for Pavel Zacha to improve their center depth, they also added veteran defenseman Btendan Smith. He signed for two years at $1.1 million AAV.

Like I told Hasan, I have a soft spot for Smith due to his honest hardworking game. He really picked himself up after struggling due to a big contract here. Although he wasn’t worth what he made, Smith had a great attitude and worked hard to play both as an extra defenseman and fourth line forward. He also helped K’Andre Miller adjust and was a positive influence on Kakko.

Along with a physical style, it’s that no-nonsense approach that should provide some leadership in the Devils room. When Hasan had originally finished his story last night, he expressed frustration over not getting Gaudreau. But right after that, Ondrej Palat signed for five years at the projected $6 million figure I had.

Palat is a player I like. A former seventh round pick who made good for the Lightning, he’s got great wheels and good hockey sense. If it weren’t for his clutch goals in the Eastern Conference Final, the Rangers would’ve advanced to play the Avalanche for the Cup.

Had they not gotten a 2C or had enough room with Trocheck to add a proven winner who seems to always raise his level in the postseason, I was interested in seeing the Rangers go after Palat. That’s how highly I think of him. The combination of skating, skill, grit and intelligence make him better than his statistics.

Palat can play in any situation. He excels on the penalty kill due to his speed and instincts. He moves well without the puck and is good on the forecheck. It’s a good move by GM Tom Fitzgerald. Palat should improve the Devils, who still have plenty of room if they want to add another piece. They did sign second pick Simon Nemec to an entry-level contract on Thursday.

Just checking the Puck Pedia site now, I see that the Senators gave RFA Josh Norris a huge eight-year contract worth $63.6 million. Whoa. I thought he’d come in at around $7.5 million on average. That’s nearly $8 million. He’s a very good young player who finishes.

Norris scored 35 goals and added 20 helpers for 55 points in 66 games. Only 23, that’s quite the long-term investment for Ottawa. To think they got him in that Erik Karlsson trade with the Sharks. Tim Stutzle also became the first round pick they took in 2020. Wow. That’s a trade that up the Sens. They will be in wildcard contention next year.

Having added Alex DeBrincat, Giroux and acquiring Cam Talbot from the Wild for Filip Gustavsson yesterday to partner up with Anton Forsberg, they could compete with the Maple Leafs and Bruins for the wildcard. They have over $10 million left to re-sign RFA’s Mathieu Joseph, Alex Formenton and Erik Brannstrom.

The Lightning might’ve lost Palat. But that didn’t stop Julien BriseBois from handing out eight-year contracts to Mikhail Sergachev ($8.5 million AAV), Erik Cernak ($5.2 million AAV) and Anthony Cirelli ($6.25 million AAV). Somehow, they manage to make it work. Most of their corr from the two Cups and recent Stanley Cup Final remain.

The Bolts filled some holes by signing Ian Cole ($3 million) and Vladislav Namestnikov ($2.5 million) for a year. Namestnikov returns to where his career began. He was part of the regrettable package the Rangers got for Ryan McDonagh and J.T. Miller. I’m not going to rehash it for the umpteenth time.

As for Cole, you have to wonder what he’s thinking. A solid third pair defenseman who has won the Cup, he recently was outed by the former fiancé of Hurricanes reporter Abby Labar. She had an affair with Cole, who’s been married to Jordan Rockwell for seven years.

Yikes. I can’t imagine what they’re going through. Labar was supposed to tie the knot last Saturday. But the wedding was called off. I can’t imagine she’ll stay in Raleigh after this scandal which also is alleged to involve another key member of the Hurricanes.

Moving on… after they dealt for Matt Murray, the Leafs decided to sign former Capital Ilya Samsonov for a one-year contract worth $1.8 million. A former first round pick who never was consistent, he gets another chance in Toronto. Could he take the reigns from Murray? Leaf fans aren’t too happy with Kyle Dubas. I don’t blame them.

The Blues gave Robert Thomas an eight-year extension for $65 million. He had a career year. Here’s the thing. That’s north of $8 million starting in 2023-24. Last Fall, the Rangers signed Mika Zibanejad to an extension worth $8.5 million on average. Who’s better? The more you look at it, what a steal Zibanejad is.

St. Louis also signed Greiss to backup Jordan Binnington. He will earn $1.25 million. Nick Leddy stayed put by agreeing to a four-year deal for $16 million. The Blues have a good roster. But there are a lot of veterans including Ryan O’Reilly, who’s up at the end of next year.

They also must decide if they’re trading Vladimir Tarasenko, who still has a trade request after proving he still has it. Might the Islanders be interested? Or do they think they can sign Kadri?

The best free agents remaining are Kadri, Patrice Bergeron, Niederreiter, John Klingberg, Paul Stastny and Phil Kessel. I figure Bergeron has a handshake agreement to return to Boston once they free up necessary space. Klingberg was trying to negotiate with the Stars to return. Kessel only scorer eight goals last year. Who wants him? Stastny can be a solid third center at this stage.

The other big name who signed was Andre Burakovsky. As predicted, he went to Seattle for big money, getting an AAV of $5.5 million from the Kraken over five years. It made sense. They needed a scorer and Burakovsky wanted to cash in.

As for Dylan Strome, the Capitals gave him one year at $3.5 million. That could work out for them. He should get to play with good players. Though it shouldn’t be Ovechkin, who’ll team with Evgeny Kuznetsov on the top line. But Strome could find himself with either T.J. Oshie or Tom Wilson.

It’s too bad about Nicklas Backstrom. One of the game’s great players, he’ll never be the same due to a serious hip injury. I’ve always admired his game. A great playmaker who is a top notch passer with an underrated shot, Backstrom was lethal at running the power play that still features John Carlson, Ovechkin, Oshie and Kuznetsov.

Now 34, Backstrom could be forced to retire. That would suck. His big salary will go on LTIR. The future Hall Of Famer has three years remaining on a contract that pays $9.5 million per season.

If he never played another game, he finishes with 264 goals and 747 assists for 1,011 points in 1,058 games with a career plus/minus of 111. He has totaled 114 points (38-76-114) over 139 postseason games. He will forever be linked with Ovechkin for winning the franchise’s only Stanley Cup in 2018.

There were other signings. Just not many too significant as what I covered. With the news much slower today, we’ll see what happens with Kadri. I’ll have an update whenever he signs.

I can be followed on Twitter at BattleOfHudson. See you soon.

Derek

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Devils’ UFA day starts with promise and ends with frustration – or maybe not?

Predictably after a UFA day for the Devils that saw their biggest acquisitions be a third-line center (Erik Haula) and a seventh defenseman (Brendan Smith), there was no end-of-the day presser from GM Tom Fitzgerald about what can only be termed as a letdown, if not a total disappointment yet. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad the organization finally shed the dead weight that is Pavel Zacha, I’d prefer a short-term patch in Haula over the likely third-round pick that we would have gotten – at best – if we were just looking for the best future asset possible. Smith was a fine add as a depth/back-pairing defenseman and hiring Jack Adams finalist Andrew Brunette as an assistant coach is arguably the best assistant hire the Devils have had since Larry Robinson’s twentieth or so tenure here.

So maybe it’s not 100% accurate to say the Devils got nothing out of today, but man it sure felt like it after going through the ringer with the Johnny Gaudreau nonsense. If you had told me before today that A) the Flyers would be no factor at all in the bidding, B) the Devils would reportedly have the highest bid and C) the best winger on the market would sign for under $10 million AAV, I would have found a FanDuel or whatever to put money on the Devils signing him at that point, and I’m not a betting man. Nor am I an optimist when it comes to this franchise. Right now I’m even less prepared to be an optimist than I was a few hours ago after every Devils fan – or at least the ones who aren’t so in love with the ‘process’ or afraid of the cap that they’re afraid to spend money at all – got phantom-punched Ali style by Columbus apparently swooping in the last hour or so and swiping Johnny Hockey from under everyone’s noses.

Honestly before today I wasn’t exactly counting on signing Gaudreau, if only cause I – like most of the dopey media – was convinced he would find a way to get to his boyhood team in Philly a la John Tavares with the Leafs. And maybe he would have if dopey GM Chuck Fletcher hadn’t needlessly capped himself out signing and trading for so much junk the last couple years. Fletcher is sort of like the anti-Devils in that he’s stupidly aggressive while we’re ridiculously passive, always waiting for the perfect move to fall into our laps. Too often, aside from the Taylor Hall trade and the Dougie Hamilton signing (where we had no real competition) we get left holding the bag.

Yes there may be valid excuses for this although I’m quite frankly tired of it. Whether it’s Kevin Fiala only signing with the Kings, Alex DeBrincat not signing an extension at all or whatever the heck happened in this case. Gaudreau publicly said goodbye to Calgary and their reported 8 year, $80 plus million offer citing ‘family reasons’. Which most everyone took to mean that he wanted to go home. Perhaps his first choice wasn’t available but it was presumed that the Devils and Islanders were the main competitors for his services, at least until a wild rumor surfaced that the Blue Jackets of all teams were offering a 7 year, $84 million deal:

An agent making it up to drive up other team’s prices, or an actual crazy GM? Either was plausible to me and we’d find out the answer in short order, but in any case I didn’t think Columbus would be his first choice ‘unless’ the crazy offer rumor was true. Even then it would have been hard to square him leaving Calgary over family concerns to signing for a random outpost of a team, unless he just got an insane contract. So imagine my surprise when I found out that not only did Gaudreau in fact, sign with Columbus but that he did so for $9.75 million a year!

I’m not sure we’ll ever really know what happened unless the player gives some kind of honest explanation in his first presser as a Blue Jacket, which is probably unlikely but who knows. The way this all played out makes my head spin. From assuming he’d be a Flyer to thinking it was a two-horse race between us and the Islanders with most of the ‘experts’ thinking we had the better offer to the wild Columbus rumor that turned out to only be half-wild. You don’t often see ‘mystery teams’ sign big-name players in hockey like will sometimes happen in MLB, but this one was a doozy.

What makes this whole thing even more bizarre is the Devils are in the middle of having prospect development camp this week, including pretty much all of this year’s draft picks, as well as other guys who’ve already seen NHL action without even being part of a development camp yet (another pandemic consequence of the last two years) like Nico Daws and Alexander Holtz.

In fact if tonight wasn’t the crucible of UFA day, I’d probably have gone to watch the 3-on-3 prospect tournament and autograph session afterward. I just couldn’t see myself going and paying any sort of attention to it at all with my attention focused on the Gaudreau saga. I wonder how the reaction went through the crowd when the news broke at some point – I know how I felt and it wasn’t peachy aw shucks, we’ll get it next time! I still don’t even know what to believe over how much we supposedly offered since all the actual rumors about this mess proved to be wrong. Some people like Todd Cordell swear our offer was in the $10.2 range, others like Pierre LeBrun only say our offer was north of $9 million. Whatever the case, the fact remains someone the Devils were clearly in on not only didn’t come here, but went to a division rival on top of it. There’s no way of spinning that, even if you didn’t necessarily believe Gaudreau was the total perfect fit here.

So, where does that leave the Devils now as we close day one of UFA? For now, in limbo. They’ve been rumored to be in on UFA forward Ondrej Palat, but who the heck knows anything anymore? I still think it’ll probably be the Islanders to sign him, and not just cause it would fit the whole Metro division bulking up theme that’s kicked us in the teeth over and over the last few years. We all know Lou likes his older players, and guys with championship experience – watch him give out insane term to Palat. Which would leave us fighting for the secondary options like Nino Niederreiter or hoping for a trade to fall into our laps, with limited assets to trade. At least among assets you would want to trade. I’m not sure I’d be trading our 2023 1st right now unless it’s lottery-protected maybe…why would I when it looks like everyone else in the division is getting better, or at least will still be better than us?

It’s easy for me to say Fitz needs to do more this offseason than Vanecek, Haula, Smith and (hopefully) signing Jesper Bratt long-term, I can’t say I rightly know what the heck Fitz should do now but I ain’t the one on the hot seat, or the one responsible for ending a nearly decade long spell of losing. Puck’s in your end Fitzy, let’s see something happen here.

And literally JUST as I’m finishing this article, a Weekesbomb if you will…Palat to NJ on a five-year deal – well what a twist in the tale this is!

I was actually worried it would wind up being a six-year term. Five seems fine…I almost don’t care about the cap hit at this point, considering it’s been hard to actually find stuff to spend it on. Fact is this team needed another top six winger, and a guy with experience in the playoffs and found both with Palat. So maybe a bit of a happy ending after all.

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Free Agent Predictions

For fun, I decided to make some free agent predictions for the July 13th class. The NHL FA Frenzy period officially kicks off at 12 noon.

Before I get to guessing where players will land, Evander Kane is staying put in Edmonton. The 30-year old power forward opted to take less money to stick with the Oilers where he can continue to benefit from playing with Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. A wise decision on his part.

Kevin Weekes broke another story. In classic Weekes fashion, he revealed from the elevator at almost 2:30 in the morning that Jack Campbell was also headed to Edmonton. As expected, the former Maple Leaf goalie will sign with the Oilers for five years at five million per season.

You gotta love Weekes. He’ll break big hockey news from anywhere. It’s hilarious. He definitely is one of the best insiders outside of the main Canadian guys. Kudos to him.

One of the players both Brian and myself were predicting was Andrew Copp to the Red Wings. It looks like that indeed is happening later today. Darren Dreger broke it a while ago.

If it’s for five years at around $5.5 million on average, that’s good. Copp certainly boosted his value with how he performed with the Rangers. He’s from Ann Arbor and attended the University of Michigan.

It makes sense. The Red Wings have a ton of room and need a second center behind Dylan Larkin. Best of luck to the good Copp.

Let’s cross off those players.

Evgeni Malkin re-signed by Pens 4 years, $24.4 million.

Evander Kane re-signed with Oilers 4 years, $20.5 million.

Jack Campbell expected to sign with Oilers 5 for $5 million AAV.

Andrew Copp expected to sign with Red Wings terms not official yet.

Here are some educated guesses on a list of key free agents who are available:

Josh Manson Senators 6 for $5.5 million AAV

Johnny Gaudreau Devils 7 for $9.5 million AAV

John Klingberg Hurricanes 5 for $6 million AAV

Darcy Kuemper Capitals 5 for $5.5 million AAV

Vincent Trocheck Rangers 6 for $5.75 million AAV

Reilly Smith re-signed by Golden Knights 3 for $5 million AAV

Nazem Kadri Hurricanes 7 for $8.5 million AAV

Mason Marchment Islanders 6 for $3.5 million AAV

Ondej Palat Senators 5 for $6 million AAV

Ryan Strome Avalanche 6 years for 5.5 million AAV

Tyler Motte Rangers 4 years for $2.3 million AAV

Thomas Greiss Rangers 2 years for $1.25 million AAV

P.K. Subban Sabres 2 years for $4 million AAV

Dylan Strome Ducks 4 for $4.5 million AAV

Patrice Bergeron Bruins 2 for $5.5 million AAV

Nino Niederreiter Flames 5 for $5.5 million AAV

Nikita Zadorov Stars 4 for $4.5 million AAV

Claude Giroux Capitals 3 for $6 million AAV

David Perron Maple Leafs 4 for $4 million

Ben Chiarot Oilers 4 for $5 million AAV

Ilya Mikheyev Sabres 3 for $3.5 million AAV

Frank Vatrano Red Wings 4 for $4 million AAV

Andre Burakovsky Kraken 5 for $5.25 million

Nick Leddy Blue Jackets 3 for $5 million AAV

Posted in July 1 Frenzy | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments