HARD HITS: Johansen gets paid, Crosby biggest bargain

Sidney Crosby

No Kidding: Sidney Crosby is congratulated by teammates at the Pens bench after scoring in their 2-0 Game 3 win over the Rangers in 2016 first round. He’s led the Pens to consecutive Stanley Cups and is the biggest bargain. AP Photo/Kathy Willens

The latest big contract was handed out by the Predators. They gave an eight year deal worth $64 million to restricted free agent Ryan Johansen. The top center becomes one of the highest paid players. He’ll make an average of $8 million per season signed all the way thru 2025.

It sure is a nice birthday present with the former Blue Jacket acquired by the Preds last year for defenseman Seth Jones, blowing out the candles 🎂 tomorrow on his 25th birthday. A pretty nice way to end July.

A very talented offensive player who makes teammates around him better, Johansen had a breakout playoffs tallying three goals and 10 assists in 14 games before acute compartment syndrome in his left thigh ended his postseason with emergency surgery. Somehow, the Preds still had enough to get past the Ducks and give the Pens a series before falling in six for the Stanley Cup. What if he had been healthy? Does Nashville become another magical Western eighth seed like Los Angeles to win a Cup? We’ll never know.

Johansen is entering his prime. So, locking him up makes sense. Even if it’s overpayment. The cost of doing business these days is more expensive when it comes to investing long term. If you are going all in on a young player who’s a Group II, you’re going to spend more to buy up free agent years. It’s a good gamble for Nashville with Johansen being a legit top center who’s already topped 60 points twice and 70 once. There’s no telling what his ceiling is on a very deep team that also features Filip Forsberg, Viktor Arvidsson, Craig Smith and added Nick Bonino. Good depth pieces such as Colton Sissons, Calle Jarnkrok, Austin Watson, Kevin Fiala, Pontus Aberg and Frederick Gaudreau provide secondary scoring. Especially if Fiala recovers from a broken femur. Scott Hartnell is also back for a Music City reunion.

Boasting the game’s best blueline anchored by Roman Josi along with Ryan Ellis, P.K. Subban and Mattias Ekholm, the Preds are strong favorites to get back to the Stanley Cup. They also acquired Alexei Emelin from Las Vegas. As long as Pekka Rinne stays on top of his game, there’s plenty to like. Juuse Saros is his understudy.

With Johansen done, it’s funny how much of a bargain Sidney Crosby is. The game’s best player, he’s led the Pens to consecutive Cups winning the Conn Smythe both times. Even if you could argue for Kris Letang in 2016 and either Evgeni Malkin or impressive rookie Jake Guentzel in 2017, Crosby is the unquestioned leader of a franchise that will be tough to dethrone. Especially as new number one goalie Matt Murray improves.

Find another trio as explosive as Crosby, Malkin and Phil Kessel. Most astonishingly, they became the first repeat champion since the Red Wings who did it in ’97 and ’98. They did it without Letang. One of the league’s premier defensemen. They did it thanks to Guentzel stepping to the forefront with Conor Sheary and Carl Hagelin not what they were due to injuries. Bryan Rust scored some big goals but wasn’t consistent. No back-to-back championships without proud vet Chris Kunitz scoring in sudden death of Game 7 to beat the pesky Senators. He’s now with the Lightning, who could present the strongest challenge.

The Pens did this with Brian Dumoulin leading a D corps of mostly second and third pair guys by playing extended minutes. He was rewarded with a huge raise going from earning $800,000 to getting a whopping $4.1 million average over the next five seasons. To think they stole him from the Caps. Speaking of steals, Justin Schultz stepped up as a top offensive D in Letang’s absence scoring and setting up timely goals. He now makes $5.5 million. Edmonton couldn’t wait to get rid of him. The Pens essentially swapped rental Ron Hainsey with Toronto for Matt Hunwick. An upgrade. Ian Cole also remains. So does Olli Maatta.

What it really comes down to is Crosby. A legendary player who when he’s done will stake claim as one of the all-time GOATS. He’ll likely still be behind Gretzky, Orr and Howe. But after that, he should be in the top five even if it means unseating Mario Lemieux.

Crosby is everything and more as a player. He’s so complete that there isn’t any situation he can’t be trusted in. Need a big face-off won? He’s your guy. A huge back check that starts a transition the other way leading to a big goal? It’s Sid. Who is better at deflecting pucks around the net or whistling backhands past goalies like Pavel Datsyuk? A great unselfish play to find the open man for a tap in? Crosby does it all. And he does it at a bargain making $8.7 million AAV. A deal that doesn’t expire until 2022.

In eight days, he’ll turn 30. Somehow, even with all the concussions, he’s survived and thrived winning two Harts, three Cups, two Conn Smythes, two Art Rosses, two Rocket Richards and two Olympic gold medals including the memorable golden goal that broke American hearts in Vancouver. In 782 career games, he has 382 goals with 645 assists for 1,027 points. He’s only been a minus once going minus-one his rookie year when he still went over the century mark in scoring. He’s a plus-165 for his career.

There isn’t anything else Crosby needs to accomplish. But he still has plenty of time left to attain more. Imagine if he can lead the Pens to a three-peat. Even the Great One never achieved that with the Oilers dynasty. Steve Smith still lingers in ’86 costing them the chance. The Islanders are the last team to win three straight making it an immeasurable four in a row from ’80-83.

At times throughout his career, Crosby has pushed the envelope with his play between whistles. Whether it be chops to the groin area of unsuspecting players or hacks and whacks, he isn’t squeaky clean like Gretzky. But how many are? Mark Messier was a chip off the old block like Howe with his elbows and dangerous sticks to opponents. It didn’t stop him from cementing a legacy as the greatest leader winning six Cups including the memorable run with the Rangers in ’94.

Crosby has been labeled a whiner or cry baby. A few years ago when he and the Pens were underachieving, that was true. But ever since Mike Sullivan arrived in the Steel City, that’s changed. He still works the refs but not as blatantly. He still gets more leniency which sticks in fans’ minds. But that is not his fault. Crosby plays the game hard whistle to whistle. The playoffs remain a place where you can mix it up more during scrums. Not exclusive to just Crosby.

In a salary cap era with escalating salaries and teams locking up young stars for insane amounts of money, Crosby is way underpaid. He is a team player allowing sidekick Malkin to make more. The physically gifted Russian gets $9.5 million AAV also thru 2022. Despite a much better points-per-game clip along with two more Harts, he’s excluded from the NHL top 100 while Jonathan Toews is included for his leadership, two-way ability and three Cups. It wouldn’t be because he’s Canadian and Malkin is Russian?

With Crosby, it’s about winning. Look how much Connor McDavid will make once his rookie contract expires in 2018. The rating Hart winner will be worth it. But imagine how much Crosby would get today on his second deal. It makes you wonder. While Toews and Patrick Kane each make a identical $10.5 million AAV, Crosby gets nearly two million less. I’m not saying the Hawks duo didn’t earn it. But look what’s happened in Chicago. They are broken.

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That’s what happens when you pay up the wazoo for your best players. What if Henrik Lundqvist had taken a little less from Glen Sather instead of that record extension that pays him $8.5 million AAV until he’s 39? It could’ve helped the Rangers as a team improve to maybe win that first Cup since ’94.

Every team has their own way of doing business. The sooner you do it, the better over the long haul. Crosby is the best example I can think of. The best in the world at a bargain.

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Rangers, Zibanejad agree on new five year contract worth $5.35 million per season

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As the clock passed 9 AM this morning, nothing had happened yet. However, the Rangers and Mika Zibanejad were able to agree during salary arbitration on a new five year contract that’ll pay him an average of $5.35 million per season thru 2022.

For the 24-year old Swede, it means a lot more pressure. With Derek Stepan gone to Arizona, Zibanejad is the new number one center of the Blueshirts. A talented Rangers right pivot who possesses a heavy shot, the former Senator acquired last summer for Derick Brassard knows expectations have increased.

In his first season on Broadway, he posted 14 goals and 23 assists for 37 points over 56 contests. A broken fibula cost him 26 games. After struggling in his return mid-January, he was able to perform well in the postseason pacing the Rangers in scoring with nine points (2-7-9). The biggest highlight came in a overtime win over the Canadiens in Game 5 of the first round. A series they would prevail in before falling to his former team Ottawa in the next round.

The best production of a five-year career for Zibanejad came in his final year with Ottawa when he established career bests in goals (21), assists (30) and points (51) over 81 games in ’15-16. If you project the 26 games he missed, it’s not far fetched to think he could’ve reached new heights in all three categories.

What it comes down to is this. The Rangers are gambling that his best years are still ahead. Zibanejad is hitting his mid-20’s which should be the prime. A player who got more responsibility from coach Alain Vigneault including penalty kill duties, he’ll see a hike in ice-time as the top center option. That includes the power play where he’ll have to do better than the four PPG’s he scored. Having a quarterback in Kevin Shattenkirk should help him unleash a wicked one-timer from the left circle.

In regards to the contract, it is a little overpayment. The Rangers decided to buy up three free agent years and commit over $5 million to a young player still needing to prove himself. It’s up to Zibanejad to fulfill expectations. He’s capable of becoming a 25-goal, 40 assist player with a  ceiling of 70 points.

It’ll be about consistency. It’s worth noting that prior to the leg injury, he centered the team’s most cohesive line forming superb chemistry with Chris Kreider and rookie Pavel Buchnevich. All three missed time with injuries. Had they not, there’s no telling what they could have done.

The big question for Vigneault is will he keep the trio together. It’s possible he could go with a top line of Kreider, Zibanejad and leading scorer Mats Zuccarello. There’s nothing wrong with that. But Zuccarello is their best playmaker and can be added to either Kevin Hayes or the third line with J.T. Miller possibly shifting to center. It’s a question of loading up the top two lines or balancing it out.

With Zibanejad done, now GM Jeff Gorton can turn his attention to Marc Staal. There’s another buyout window. Gorton must decide if it’s worth using another buyout on Staal. He’ll probably pass. Buying him out next summer will be easier. Have all the injuries to Staal finished him? He hardly played in Game 6 of their elimination and didn’t speak to reporters on break up day.

Gorton must also decide on Nick Holden, who has a year left before unrestricted status. His cap hit is $1.65 million. So, a team who can use a skating offensive left defenseman could have interest.

In assessing the current roster, they’re a forward short. There’s no way they can have David Desharnais center the third line. At this point, he’s a fourth liner who is best suited for a secondary role. If they don’t acquire a center, then Miller should be the third pivot.

Rookie Lias Andersson and Cristoval Nieves will also get looks in camp. Filip Chytil isn’t expected to make the roster. But he did have two goals today including this one in a exhibition.

The Rangers have approximately three million left on the cap to spend. So, they can always sign one more forward to compete for a spot. A fourth line of Desharnais, Matt Puempel and Jesper Fast isn’t great. Fast is the only one of the three who fits the classic fourth line role with Vigneault preferring to move him around due to Fast’s tenaciousness and versatility.

Unless Andersson or Nieves makes it, there’s room for improvement. We’ll see what Gorton decides. In case you’re bored by no hockey, there is some coming up starting next week. The World Juniors Prospect Camp will air on hockeytv.com and NHL Network. I don’t get why the network isn’t airing more of it. What else is there to show? A 9,000th replay of the Pens repeating?!?!

Never mind. Well, I’ll have some time to check it out. So, I should be able to provide some updates.

 

 

 

 

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HARD HITS: Hot summer continues, Zibanejad comparables, Canadiens con fans, Hischier can change Devils

The Devils should be excited about top pick Nico Hischier. AP Photo courtesy NHL.com/Getty Images

On another balmy July summer afternoon in the Big Apple 🍎, the longest month of the hockey offseason continues. One which seems to be crawling along like the 90 degree temps and 100 heat index with sticky humidity.

Indeed, a big thunderstorm is needed to cool things off. While that is in the near forecast for late tonight into Sunday, hockey fans await any news that might draw interest. And I don’t mean Brandon Pirri joining recently retired teammate Kevin Klein to play for the ZSC Lions in the Swiss League. Best to each in their future endeavors overseas.

There isn’t much happening. However, a few news items have come through. One being Tomas Tatar reaching agreement with the Red Wings on a brand new four-year contract worth a reported $21.2 million. The talented 26-year old Slovakian will make an average of $5.3 million per season.

A bit streaky, Tatar has eclipsed 20 goals in each of the previous three seasons. After establishing career bests in goals (29), assists (27) and points (56) in ’14-15, he’s posted near identical numbers the last two years. He went 21-24-45 in ’15-16 and 25-21-46 in ’16-17. Over that three year span, he’s only missed one game speaking to his durability.

With Tatar locked up thru 2021, he’s a interesting comparable for current Rangers restricted free agent Mika Zibanejad. A gifted player who posted similar numbers in his prior two seasons with Ottawa before a injury riddled first year on Broadway. In ’14-15, he went 20-26-46 and followed that up with 21-30-51 in ’15-16. All career highs. He was well on his way to producing at a similar clip with the Rangers before a broken foot cost him two months. He still wound up going 14-23-37 in 56 contests and paced the team with 9 points (2-7-9) in the postseason.

The affable Swede is still just 24. So, he’s got some peak years ahead which is why the Rangers should get something done prior to Tuesday’s arbitration hearing. With the more established Tyler Johnson accepting $5 million AAV from the Lightning over seven years and GM Steve Yzerman able to re-sign Ondrej Palat for the same $5.3 million AAV as Tatar thru 2022, those are other comparables who should be considered in negotiations. Both more accomplished and like Tatar, two years older than Zibanejad.

I’ve been consistent in wanting GM Jeff Gorton to skip the dreaded bridge deal which ultimately is more costly. So, by going say five years for between $4.8 to 5 million AAV, they would be saving money on Zibanejad down the line. Of course, there are always skeptics who wonder if he’s worth it. But in this business, you have to take risks. Zibanejad is the defunct number one center with Derek Stepan gone to the desert. He should anchor Chris Kreider and Pavel Buchnevich if Alain Vigneault is looking for chemistry. That would leave Kevin Hayes between Rick Nash and Mats Zuccarello.

The one plus entering ’17-18 is Vigneault can always mix and match. Something he’s done before. However, the loss of Stepan will be felt at center. So, finding consistent line chemistry early will be vital. They don’t want to get off to a bad start in a loaded division with the improving Hurricanes and rebuilding Devils more competitive.

The Blueshirts still have some important decisions ahead with whether or not to shift J.T. Miller to center. A better option for the third line than David Desharnais. They will look at seventh overall pick Lias Andersson and Cristoval “Boo” Nieves in training camp. It kind of makes me wish Marek Zrivik had stayed. But he had to do what’s best for his career. Best of luck in Calgary.

Once Zibanejad is signed, Gorton can turn his attention to possibly adding one more depth forward. Daniel Winnik is available. He would be a good fit on the checking line and penalty kill.

I still am holding out hope for Jaromir Jagr. I know it’s a longshot. But I would love to see a Broadway reunion with legendary number 68. He still has something left and can teach younger kids like Buchnevich and Jimmy Vesey. It would be sad if nobody wants the personable 45-year old all-time great. The emphasis on skating could be why he’s still available.

Meanwhile, newest Ranger Kevin Shattenkirk is already getting used to life back home. Is coaching in his future?

Hopefully, it won’t be too soon. ShattyDeuces definitely seems to be having fun. He’s also done interactive interview features with kids from summer camp. He loves the pizza 🍕 in NYC. Who doesn’t?

I can’t decide who he reminds me of with that receding hairline. Stepan or former Devil Brian Rafalski.

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Somewhat curiously, Rafalski spent his collegiate years with Wisconsin like Stepan and current Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh. Hmm … maybe Rafalski should’ve been a Ranger. He certainly would’ve been appreciated more than watching helplessly as one of his shot passes was deflected in the back of our net.

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The old USA 🇺🇸 jersey was a lot better. I have no idea what they’re thinking. It seems like jerseys have gotten worse over time along with cost. They’re selling the old Reebok jerseys at the NHL store on sale for less than $100. It’s the least they can do.

In spite of what NHL commish Gary Bettman says, it’s all about ripping off the diehard fan. How else do you explain rising ticket prices along with beer running as much as a six-pack in some cases? Did anyone else cringe at the story out of Montreal on how the Canadiens will no longer make printed tickets available for season ticket holders unless they cough up an extra $150?!?!?!?! First class, eh? 😳

Not everyone has Smart Phones and the technology to print tickets online for scanning. It’s very unfair but shows how out of touch teams like the Canadiens are. So much for logic. How soon before Jim Dolan does this to Rangers STH? Most have already been priced out. My family only stays due to the cheap seats in the second to last row in the 400’s with limited view. I hardly go anymore. The atmosphere has changed dramatically. Not for the better.

At last week’s introductory press conference, former Ranger Dan Girardi was pointed in his words on having something to prove with his new team in Tampa.

I don’t blame him. Danny G was the culprit for everything that went wrong following the Stanley Cup loss to the Kings. A series in which he struggled. So did partner McDonagh and Marc Staal. Only Anton Stralman performed well. Don’t tell that to all the Corsi chart bloggers who would have you believe Girardi is Donald Trump. Responsible for everything bad. Mind numbing.

No Girardi. No three Final Fours or SCF. How soon before these same pundits turn on Shattenkirk? You know he’ll make mistakes in his end.

When are the Islanders planning to sign John Tavares to an extension? They can’t survive without him. He’s been loyal and wants to stay. It would be nice if Garth Snow gave him a better supporting cast that could be a real playoff threat.

Calvin de Haan is due a raise after filing for arbitration. The left shutdown D should get a nice contract. He’s one of the building blocks on the blueline with anchor Nick Leddy and vet Johnny Boychuck.

The Isles have young talent in system including Matthew Barzal and Joshua Ho-Sang. Michael Dal Colle too and Devon Toews. Ho-Sang will enter his first full season with expectations. He’s certainly got the skill. Don’t forget versatile youngster Anthony Beauvillier goes into Year 2.

New York could miss Travis Hamonic. Sure. He struggled in his final year in Brooklyn before being traded to Calgary. But he was a key minutes logger who could be counted on for top four minutes.

With the Devils signing first overall pick Nico Hischier and introducing him with the former forbidden number 13 which he’ll don, the very talented 18-year old Swiss could change the team’s path dramatically. He’s a unique offensive player who can score and set up teammates equally. With the team committed to their top pick at center, that bodes well. Look for him to prove he’s legit and be one of the Calder favorites.

The additions of Hischier and Marcus Johansson should make the Devils much improved offensively. Adding a quality skill player who is a top six forward with Hischier should take pressure off Taylor Hall, Adam Henrique and Kyle Palmieri.

There should be much better balance with Pavel Zacha set to improve in his second year. Adding a quality vet in Brian Boyle will help on and off the ice. Indeed, the Devs should be a four line team with Travis Zajac also in more of a secondary role.

They’ll look for more from John Quenneville, Joseph Blandisi and Miles Wood. The good part is they can be secondary scorers. If they develop and Cory Schneider bounces back, New Jersey can even challenge for a wildcard. They have potential to move up. Especially if Flyers second overall pick Nolan Patrick is slowed by injuries.

The one area that remains a sore spot is the back end. It’ll once again fall on captain Andy Greene to play major minutes along with Damon Severson, who still must improve defensively. When GM Ray Shero dealt Adam Larsson to the Oilers for Hall, he gambled. Severson’s development remains a big key. Along with vets John Moore and Ben Lovejoy, they’ll play in key situations. Steven Santini should get more responsibility.

If the improved offensive depth comes true, then the Devs could look to swing a deal to upgrade the D. They have approximately $19 million in cap space.

That’s gonna do it for this edition. As always, stay cool!

 

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Long hot summer continues in quiet hockey off-season

As we near the end of July, the temperatures continue to hit a feverish 90 degree pitch with humidity levels skyrocketing. They don’t call it the dog days of summer for nothing. Speaking of which, did anyone else enjoy ESPN’s 30 For 30 documentary on Mike and The Mad Dog? It probably could’ve been two hours.

Between that and Aaron Judge crushing so many balls including a few that traveled 500-plus feet to win the Home Run Derby in Miami, there’s really not much else happening. As an avid tennis fan dating back to the mid-80’s heyday of Connors and McEnroe, it was great to see Roger Federer win one more Wimbledon. A record eighth passing Pete Sampras and adding his second grand slam at the ridiculous age of 35. He now has a record 19 majors. Can he add another U.S. Open in September? Why not.

As for hockey, news continues to be slow. For the Rangers, Mika Zibanejad’s arbitration is coming up. It’s scheduled for July 25. So, that’s in less than a week. Yesterday was my Mom’s birthday. Happy birthday Mom! 🙂 ❤ Amazingly, she looks about 20 years younger. It might explain why most people think I can’t be my age. Some still think I’m in my late 20’s. I can’t take all the credit. Thanks Mom and Dad!

So, it’s really quite simple. Zibanejad is 24 and hitting his prime. Bridging him makes no sense. It would only cost the Rangers more moving forward. I’ve said from the beginning in this blog he should get around five years for an average of $5 million per season. I’ll continue to repeat it.

With Zibanejad clearly the top center for ’17-18 barring something unforeseen, it makes sense for Rangers GM Jeff Gorton to go with a longer term for the ex-Senator. After coming over from Ottawa for Derick Brassard last year, the righty center had 14 goals and 23 assists for 37 points in 56 games in his first season as a Blueshirt. He led the team in playoff scoring with nine points (2-7-9). That included this dramatic overtime winner that did in Montreal in the Rangers six-game first round triumph.

The most points he’s ever produced is 51 coming the previous season with the Senators. That included career bests in goals (21) and assists (30). Had he not missed 26 games due to a broken foot, he may have eclipsed those totals in ’16-17. Of course, there’s no way to know.

One positive development in his first season that following a slump, Zibanejad was able to turn it around. Coach Alain Vigneault even gave him more responsibility by using him on the penalty kill. He excelled and became more responsible. With the departure of top pivot Derek Stepan, Zibanejad will be counted on to assume more leadership and responsibility. So will Kevin Hayes and J.T. Miller with the latter possibly a solution to the third line center. Unless Gorton gets creative and swings a deal, a top three of Zibanejad, Hayes and Miller could work with former Hab David Desharnais slotting in on the fourth line, replacing Oscar Lindberg. Rookie Lias Andersson will get a long look in training camp if no othe moves are made.

Once Zibanejad gets done, it’ll leave the team with enough cap space to add one more player. There’s also the possibility of Gorton moving defenseman Nick Holden. With a year left at a discount of $1.8 million, he could be a good addition to a team who needs an offensive puck moving defenseman. With Kevin Shattenkirk getting Holden’s number 22, it’s a distinct possibility.

The team won’t be able to get rid of Marc Staal. Ryan McDonagh and Shattenkirk project as the top pair followed by Brady Skjei and Brendan Smith. The third pair could be some combination of Staal, Anthony DeAngelo, Ryan Graves, Neal Pionk and Alexei Bereglazov.

The club also made one other move signing Russian  Alexander Georgiyev. There isn’t much to go on. The 21-year old from Moskva, Russia posted a 1.70 goals-against average and .927 save percentage in 27 games for TPS in ’16-17. Undoubtedly, he’ll be in Hartford with Brandon Halverson.

That could spell the end for Mackenzie Skapski. The popular 23-year old who was born a day after the Rangers won the Stanley Cup is best remembered for going 2-0 against the Sabres with a shutout in his only two NHL appearances in ’14-15. He struggled after reconstructive hip surgery in the ECHL. I can only wish the red haired netminder the best of luck.

That’s gonna do it for now. Until the next post which hopefully will have more content. Stay cool! 😎⛈

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Devils ink #1 overall Hischier to max ELC

In a fitting conclusion to the Devils’ development camp week, GM Ray Shero announced an ELC agreement with top overall pick Nico Hischier, and also showed the number he would be wearing going forward (he was #33 this week but everyone knew that was just a filler number since only semi-established players get numbers under 30 in development camp).  While some may find the choice noteworthy, I do think too big a deal is made about the #13 in general – which was embargoed here for the longest time under Lou before Mike Cammalleri was allowed to wear it again after the regime change.   It is nice that they used the old jersey to display Nico’s new number, rather than the contreversial new jerseys, which look a bit off without the bottom stripe.

Wish I could offer more on camp week – I suggest reading guys like Andrew Gross, Chris Ryan and Leo Scaglione for that – but I wasn’t taking an off day from work just to go to the 3-on-3 scrimmages Wednesday.  I thought of going today to the final red and white scrimmage but didn’t feel like rushing there a half hour or more early just to be sure of getting a seat in our small practice rink.  Sounds like it was a compelling game with team white beating team red 6-5 in a fifty-minute scrimmage that has two twenty-five minute ‘halves’ (with a running clock).  I was looking forward to seeing the stream of it tonight – which is what the Devils have done in past years, offering the stream of the scrimmage a few hours later – but apparently the Devils won’t be posting it online this year, which is dissapointing.  You would think they would want to capitalize on the buzz of Nico and the other young kids as much as possible and milk it for more public consumption, especially considering there probably won’t be much Devils-related after this week for the next couple months.

If I had known they wouldn’t be posting the stream I probably would have gone today, but to be honest it’s a bit of a weird dynamic to watch an intrasquad scrimmage anyway, at least for me.  I went to the ones they had the last couple of years and you don’t really know which ‘side’ to root for or whether you should be rooting for goals or great saves/defensive plays.  Given most of our top prospects these days seem to be forwards, I probably would have been inclined to root for a pond hockey type game so more of the forwards could shine but you want everyone – especially the main guys to do well.  While I did want to watch Nico and see a few of the other kids, being a season ticket holder I’ll get other opportunities to do so anyway.

One thing that did stand out to me reading a couple of the recaps of camp week was this quote from Tom Fitzgerald (assistant GM) giving a general overview with an interesting nugget at the end:

“I think the biggest thing that jumped off the page to me, especially today, is the skill set of these kids,” Fitzgerald said. “We’ve added a lot of skill over the last couple of years and that’s real exciting, it really is. That’s what we set out to do and the goal was to get younger and have more skill and build through the draft and develop your players and that’s what we’re doing. It’s an exciting time. We had 33 skaters here, 30 of them draft picks, that’s pretty impressive. I know there are teams that invite a lot of free agents just to fill out. We don’t have to do that anymore. We’ve got our own kids.

It hadn’t really occured to me to think of something like that, but it did seem like in the last few years we had a ton of meh, who cares camp invites – which makes sense in hindsight considering we only had 13 total draft picks from 2013-2015.  Almost that many players were drafted this year alone (11), with ten of the eleven able to attend camp this year.  Our only big-name that couldn’t participate in camp this year was 2014 first-rounder John Quenneville, who had a twisted ankle but should be ready for training camp.  Quenneville like many of the players who played this weekend will get an opportunity to compete for a spot in training camp though.

In recent interviews, Shero indicated they likely wouldn’t do much more in free agency – hinting they’d only pursue guys on one year contracts and PTO’s.  He did indicate they were still looking to improve a defense that’s largely been unchanged since last year other than essentially flipping a 2nd rounder and Jon Merrill for Mirco Mueller.  It’ll be interesting to see what they have planned up front, especially at RW which has a couple of open spots in the middle six waiting to be claimed by either kids or established players moving over from the left side, and how they sort out the LW/C questions over who plays where on what line.  Odds are those will be ongoing stories during camp.

Barring a trade though, seems like we’re now heading fully into the dead sports summer Derek referenced in a prior post.  Doubly dead considering the Mets’ meltdown and the Yankees’ collapse.  Not much going on sportswise in NY/NJ unless you’re excited about Giants camp next month, which Giant fans should be.  As far as us Jet fans…well we’re now in the same place the Devils are, embracing the total rebuild.  Back to the Devils, it does seem they’re going in the right direction but unfortunately going into the right direction still means bumping into the wall that is the Metro division in the immediate future.  As optomistic as I am that eventually things have to get better under Shero and scouting director Paul Castron, I can’t really make an argument for this team as currently constituted not to finish last again in the division, particularly as long as the fire drill defense is still an issue.

As such it’s weeks like this one that are going to be among the highlights for Devil fans this year, or the pre-camp Prospects Challenge showdown in Buffalo which the Devils are participating in again this year along with the Sabres, Bruins and Penguins in a four-day, three-game round robin.  Camp itself will be intriguing although the Devils have only two preseason home games this year, against the Caps and Rangers early in the preseason.  I can’t say I’ll be looking forward to the new-ish jerseys though it’s almost fitting with all the kids we’ll be playing that the new home jerseys look like practice uniforms.  Amazingly it’s still two and a half months till the 2017-18 Devils open for real in the first week of October against the Avs.  Can’t say I’ll be posting much till at least the beginning of training camp though, barring something newsworthy happening in the next two months so hopefully everyone has a good summer!

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Random Thoughts: A boring NHL summer

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It’s not often there’s so little activity following Day 1 of the July free agent frenzy. Honestly, this is probably the most boring NHL summer in existence. Nothing is happening. While the NBA off-season rumblings continue to make noise with Carmelo Anthony likely moving to Houston, there’s literally a odd quiet in the dead of the hot and sticky New York summer bummer.

Even as the skies threaten to open up the floodgates of thunder and lightning with a much needed cool rain to follow, I wish the same could be echoed for the hockey off-season. We are in mid-July and there’s not much happening. With that clearly stated, here are some random thoughts on a ho hum summer:

-It’s wait until Mika Zibanejad re-signs with the Rangers as a Group II free agent before salary arbitration. Then see if GM Jeff Gorton can use what leftover money remains due to Kevin Klein’s retirement and add one more forward.

-I’ll continue to hope a team signs Jaromir Jagr for one more year. He still has something left. Even at the ripe old age of 45, the ageless future Hall of Famer is likely a better option than what’s out there. Number 68 can still drive possession and make teammates better even if they’re half his age. Part of me hopes he gets to finish with the Pens where it began for him as a teenage phenom winning back-to-back Cups with Super Mario. It’s hard to believe he’s outlasted everyone. The other part of me would love to see a Jagr Broadway reunion playing on the third line with

J.T. Miller and some combo of Pavel Buchnevich or Jimmy Vesey.

-What makes P.K. Subban special? Try this video of him around kids for his foundation earlier today post ESPY’s!

A post shared by P.K. Subban (@subbanator) on

If you cannot love P.K., something’s wrong with you. This man clearly gets it. I ❤️ him.

-A big congrats to newest Ranger Kevin Shattenkirk, who not only took less term and money to come home and play for the team he grew up rooting for. But how about getting engaged!

Life is made of moments.. Tonight was a moment I will never forget! Here's to forever @deannaabbey

A post shared by Kevin Shattenkirk (@shattdeuces) on

-Even better, as one Twitter user noted in response, Shatty Deuces has replaced Derek Stepan in the baldness department of Blueshirts.

Now that’s what I call a perfect trade off.

-I will definitely be looking to acquire a Stepan jersey or new Coyotes shirsey once I am reestablished. Step remains a favorite player of mine and I wish the future captain of Phoenix/Arizona the very best. Ditto for Antti Raanta. I’ll miss his interviews along with Stepan Behind The Mic which produced fun moments like this:

Of course, Garden Faithful will always remember Stepan for this:

-Kudos to Connor McDavid on taking a million less on his new extension that starts in 2018-19. The Oilers superstar who took home his first Hart Trophy and Ted Lindsay signed on the dotted line for eight years at an average cap hit of $12.5 million per season once his rookie contract expires. A noble gesture than can help Edmonton keep key restricted free agent Leon Draisaitl. I can’t wait to see what he gets. I’m also curious as to what the Sabres will give Jack Eichel.

-A big reason summer free agency has dwindled is that teams are locking up their young stars over the long haul. That way they don’t have to worry about losing them or paying more. Had Glen Sather taken that hands on approach with Stepan instead of bridging him, he might still be here for about a million and a half cheaper. Bridge deals are a thing that’s dying. Say Miller and Kevin Hayes have even better seasons in the final year of their bridge contracts. How much more is it gonna cost to keep them? That’s why I’ll continue to suggest giving Zibanejad a five-year deal in the neighborhood between $4.5 to 5 million AAV. It saves money.

-One player the organization must concern themselves with is captain Ryan McDonagh. A big reason for why Shattenkirk chose Broadway, the 28-year old top pair left defenseman has two years remaining on a contract that pays him an affordable $4.7 million AAV. He’s set to earn $5.1 million in ’17-18 and $5.3 million in ’18-19 at which time he’ll be 30 and a potential UFA. Clearly, he’s not the same dominant player he was during the 2014 NHL Playoffs. Injuries have been a factor. However, McDonagh remains a good skating D who came within a point of his career best 43 established in ’13-14. His 36 assists were a career high in ’16-17. He paced all NYR D in assists (36), points (42) and plus/minus (20). His seven points (2-5-7) in the playoffs tied him with Mats Zuccarello for second in team scoring trailing only Zibanejad (2-7-9). If you’re the Rangers, how much are you going to commit to McDonagh to keep him? It’s not a easy answer. Ditto for Zuccarello whose $4.5 million AAV thru ’19 is one of the NHL’s best bargains. It all could depend on where the team is in two years.

-The suggestion of Tyler Bozak to New York makes no sense. Sure. The current Maple Leaf remains a good playmaking pivot who wins face-offs. But with a year left on a deal that pays him a $4 million AAV, there’s not a fit. Especially once Zibanejad signs. Do they really want to part with younger assets for a 31-year old who can hit the market next summer? I would prefer Leo Komarov, who earns just a shade under $3 million. He’s feisty and plays the physical agitating style the Rangers lack.

-Ryan White remains unsigned. On a one-year deal for a million or $1.5 million, he would be a good addition. He is 29 and plays a gritty physical game. Something needed. If he doesn’t sign by September, maybe the Rangers could give him a PTO.

-Former Ranger Nicklas Jensen left the NHL signing with Jokerit of the KHL for theee years. Best of luck.

-I kinda wish they had kept Marek Hrivik. Instead, he’ll get a shot to make Calgary.

-Alain Vigneault said all the right things about adding proven NHL coach Lindy Ruff to his bench as a assistant. The former coach of the Sabres and Stars takes over the D in place of Jeff Beukeboom. Top assistant Scott Arniel’s relationship in the past with Ruff played a significant role. Arniel interviewed for the Sabres and Stars. Vigneault indicated he’s open to Ruff’s suggestions at improving the defensive system but made sure to mention Shattenkirk’s addition which can alter the strategy. He’s certainly not concerned about Ruff taking his job. It’s about improving the bench and team.

-It is interesting how Gorton told Larry Brooks it’s a matter of when. Not if for Miller moving to center. However, Vigneault countered the GM with how much he prefers Miller’s versatility on the wing. As long as he doesn’t fall in love with David Desharnais and overuse him in a third line role, we are good.

-The Rangers signed first round pick Lias Andersson to an entry level contract. It’s obvious they want to take a long look at what they got with the seventh overall pick, who was part of the Stepan/Raanta trade with the Coyotes that landed defenseman Anthony DeAngelo. If Andersson isn’t ready, he can play in Hartford and get valuable pro experience in North America as opposed to going home.

-The Devils center depth is pretty solid. They have Adam Henrique, Travis Zajac, Brian Boyle, Pavel Zacha and top pick Nico Hischier. Perhaps Henrique shifts to left wing or Boyle does on a checking line. Don’t forget the big addition of Marcus Johansson, who should along with Taylor Hall and Kyle Palmieri and Hischier improve their offense.

-It’s July 13 and the Islanders still have been awfully silent on John Tavares. All indications are he wants to stay. What will be the cost? Have to figure north of $10 million. They’ve only added Jordan Eberle. But a full year of Joshua Ho-Sang awaits. Maybe they even get to see what Matthew Barzal can do. I still dislike the goalie tandem of Jaro Halak and Thomas Greiss. At least Garth Snow got Las Vegas to take Mikhail Grabovski.

-So the Coyotes are basically Rangers West with Stepan, Raanta, Anthony Duclair and Corsica darling Adam Clendening. Emerson Etem will also be vying for a spot. They should be fun to follow. A lot of talent there with Max Domi, Lawson Crouse, Christian Dvorak, Clayton Keller, Dylan Strome, Jakob Chychrun.

-It looks like the Hurricanes are staying put in Raleigh. With them being bought by former Texas Rangers owner Chuck Greenberg for $500 million, they’re not going anywhere. Too bad for Quebec.

-Yet another great deal by the Lightning re-signing center Tyler Johnson for seven years and $35 million. That’s a very good AAV of $5 million for a superb two-way second line center. I don’t know how Stevie Y does it.

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A Fast resolution for Rangers

Jesper Fast is mobbed by excited teammates at the Ranger bench following his goal.
AP Photo by Bill Kostroun/Getty Images

Earlier today, the Rangers and restricted free agent Jesper Fast reached agreement on a new contract. It was a Fast resolution with the 25-year old checking right wing and the club agreeing to a new three-year deal worth an average of $1.85 million per season.

The Rangers made the announcement along with the terms on Twitter. A rarity for an air tight organization which usually doesn’t give us those details.

It’s a fair deal for a hard working player who never takes a shift off. In three-plus seasons, Fast has tallied 22 goals and 43 assists totaling 65 points in 216 games. The former 2010 sixth round pick is a versatile speedy complementary wing who coach Alain Vigneault trusts.

A smart two-way forward who is dependable on the penalty kill and at even strength, the affable Swede is best suited on the fourth line. He formed solid chemistry with ex-teammate and countryman Oscar Lindberg. They teamed with Michael Grabner during portions of ’16-17 when Grabner wasn’t elevated to the third line.

After posting career highs in goals (10), assists (20), points (30) and games played (79) in ’15-16, Fast got into 68 games registering six goals and 15 helpers for 21 points. One thing about him, he’s been a good postseason performer stepping up when it counts. During the 2015 NHL Playoffs, Fast registered three goals and three assists in a trip to the Conference Finals. He did even better this past Spring going 3-3-6 in 12 games before the team fell to the Senators in the second round.

With the Blueshirts rebuilding on the fly by trading Derek Stepan and Antti Raanta to the Coyotes for seventh overall selection Lias Andersson and defenseman Anthony DeAngelo, they’re going to have a different look for the ’17-18 season. Pavel Buchnevich will have a defined top nine role along with second-year forward Jimmy Vesey.

Mika Zibanejad remains unsigned. He’s the key Group II who is due a raise. With defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk essentially replacing Stepan’s cap hit ($6.65 million AAV) to improve the blueline, the club still has questions surrounding their center situation. With Zibanejad, Kevin Hayes and Desharnais, they could shift J.T. Miller to the pivot anchoring the third line. He’s been more effective on the wing.

The other possibility is swinging a trade. But it seems unlikely. Especially with Colorado GM Joe Sakic not coming down from his outrageous demands for potential 2019 unrestricted free agent Matt Duchene. Unless Rangers GM Jeff Gorton wants to part with more of his core featuring Miller or Chris Kreider, it doesn’t look realistic.

If the club gives Zibanejad a longer term in the neighborhood of five years for say $5 million AAV, they’ll have little wiggle room to add anyone else. In the past, they’ve bridged players to save cap space. If they go that way, maybe they can add another player on a tryout or perhaps look into what’s left. I will continue to advocate Jaromir Jagr, who drives possession and hasn’t lost his passion. In a secondary scoring role playing alongside Buchnevich, he could work.

For now, we’ll have to patiently wait before Zibanejad signs. Gorton hinted that it could be in the latter part of the summer. These things take time. Give it two to three weeks. I’m sure it’ll be done.

In related news, Fast’s former linemate Lindberg signed a two-year contract worth $3.4 million with Las Vegas. Similar term. Hope it works out well for him with the Golden Knights.

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Happy 4th! Rangers sign Desharnais, Kovalchuk stays home

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David Desharnais signed with the Rangers for one year to fill a fourth line role. More on the Rangers. Plus Ilya Kovalchuk. AP Photo via Getty Images

On the 4th of July, the Rangers filled one spot by signing David Desharnais for one year, $1 million. It’s a low risk move in hopes that the undersized, speedy veteran center can play fourth line.

There once was a time when Desharnais topped 50 points in Montreal. But those days are long gone. He’s 30 going on 31 and coming off a bad season in which the Habs traded him to the Oilers where he wasn’t much better. In 49 combined games, he totaled 14 points (6-8-14) while adding a goal and three helpers in the postseason for Edmonton.

He’s not old by any stretch. But has been trending in the wrong direction. Maybe playing for Alain Vigneault in a up tempo system emphasizing speed will help rejuvenate him. Amazingly, he’s now replaced Mats Zuccarello as the smallest player on the Rangers. He’s listed at 5-7, 174. Zuccarello is 5-7, 179. But of course is a top six forward who has led the team in scoring two years running.

As long as they don’t misuse Desharnais by trying him in a top nine role, he should be fine. I’m not sure how good a replacement he’ll be for the younger and bigger Oscar Lindberg, who was good on face-offs. In limited duty with the Oilers, Desharnais won 54.3 percent (94-and-79). He’s 50.5 percent for his career.

Desharnais has scored 64 of his 81 career goals at even strength. Of his 173 assists, 121 have come at even strength. The rest of the production is power play (17-52-69). His shooting percentage is 14.9. Not bad considering he’s never taken 100 shots in a single season. Hopefully, he doesn’t frustrate our fans. He can go to the net. The issue is consistency.

My reaction is blah. It’s not like Desharnais isn’t capable. He’s another small player. For one year, it’s okay. Maybe he’ll fit in. But unless GM Jeff Gorton adds another forward (cough Jagr) for the third line, the projected fourth line doesn’t excite me.

Projected NYR Lines

Kreider-Zibanejad-Zuccarello

Vesey-Hayes-Nash

Grabner-Miller-Buchnevich

Puempel-Desharnais-Fast

You can always flip the wingers for Zibanejad and Hayes. I would much prefer to have Grabner on the fourth line balancing it out. Puempel isn’t a full-time starter. Maybe a kid like Cristoval Nieves impresses enough to stick. Heck. Even Nicklas Jensen should have a shot.

I am sure we’ll get to see first round picks Lias Andersson and Filip Chytil take part in preseason. But unless one really stands out, they’re probably both going back to Europe.

On the Jagr suggestion, why not? He’s 45 but still can play and drive possession. Would he take a discount to return to Broadway and help develop Buchnevich on a third line centered by Miller? That would be a much better look and slide Grabner down.

I know it’s a long shot. But you have to love Jagr trying to get GM’s attention on July 1.

I would’ve taken a flyer on Nail Yakupov, who instead signed with the confusing Avalanche for $875,000. Still only 23, the former first overall pick is looking to rebuild his career. Good luck in Colorado. You’re gonna need it.

In related news, Mikhail Grigorenko left for the KHL agreeing to a three-year contract with CSKA Moscow. He was also in the same draft as Yakupov. Not good. One successful pick Alex Galchenyuk still is waiting to re-sign with the Canadiens. Big money awaits.

Speaking of which, Evgeny Kuznetsov got a gigantic eight-year, $62.4 million contract from the cash strapped Caps who then turned around and gave away Marcus Johansson to the Devils for second and third round picks. A steal of a deal for Devils GM Ray Shero, who might be setting up for another trade with a glut at center. Something Hasan noted. They can use a defenseman. I predict either Adam Henrique or Travis Zajac will get moved. Henrique would be easier due to his age (27) and cheaper cap hit which is $4 million for the next two years before he hits the market.

It makes sense with Pavel Zacha entering Year 2 and number one overall pick Nico Hischier debuting. Zajac is signed longer and they just added Brian Boyle. If they keep Henrique, he can shift to the left side.

As for the Islanders, still nothing doing. They made the one upgrade trading Ryan Strome to Edmonton for Jordan Eberle. That’s been it. They got bad news on top goalie prospect Ilya Sorokin, who re-signed with CSKA Moskva for three more years. The 21-year old has dominated in the KHL. He was taken the same 2014 NHL Draft as Rangers’ goalie prospect Igor Shestyerkin. Looks like the Isles better hope fourth rounder Linus Soderstrom works out. The 20-year old has put up great numbers in Sweden.

Kovalchuk Reaches Four-Year Agreement with SKA St. Petersburg

Ilya Kovalchuk made his decision to stay in the KHL for another year with St. Petersburg SKA. No surprise. Though he might’ve been influenced by Vladimir Putin to stay and try to win a gold medal at the 2018 South Korea Winter Games. That’s important to Russia. With the NHL not participating, the Russians could be the heavy favorite like the old days. More on Kovalchuk:

If that’s true, it’s not a surprise. The Devils weren’t going to give Kovalchuk away. Especially inside the Metro Division to a bitter rival (Rangers) or the Blue Jackets. The bottom line is Kovalchuk would rather wait until he’s unrestricted next summer and can choose his team.

If you’re a Devils fan, there are probably a few expletives mixed in with your barbecue and drink. It is what it is. He was never returning to play for them. Especially in a rebuild.

I’ll imagine Hasan will have more to say on this situation. Wishing all a Happy Independence Day! 🇺🇸⭐️✨💥

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BREAKING: Devils acquire Marcus Johansson from Caps

Well I gotta hand it to Devils GM Ray Shero, he turned a day one UFA hangover into a day two post-hangover party in one fell swoop, trading 2018 2nd and 3rd round picks to the Capitals for talented C/W Marcus Johansson.  Washington had sudden cap issues after spending like drunken sailors to retain T.J. Oshie, Dmitry Orlov and Evgeni Kuznetsov on big-money long-term deals and this trade seemingly developed rather quickly because of their recent signings.  Shero’s continued a rather impressive streak of having a OMGZ we got THAT forward?! trade three straight offseasons now, after his Kyle Palmieri deal two offseasons ago and trading Adam Larsson for Taylor Hall last offseason.

Even more surprisingly, the Caps dealt a young, talented forward in-division.  Not that we’re going to be a threat to them anytime soon but if we lock up Johansson before he becomes a free agent in 2019, they’ll have to see him in our uniform for a long time. Ironically both picks we traded, we obtained for virtually nothing – the 2nd rounder we traded was the Panthers’, which we got for taking back the dead cap hit of Marc Savard, while the 3rd rounder we traded was from the Leafs as compensation for hiring Lou Lamoriello.

Johansson is a C/LW, though he’s played RW sparingly in the past his addition could also mean a subtraction down the road to finally address the defense, given the amount of options we have at C/LW for next year.  If they’re all on the team, Johansson, Hall, Adam Henrique, Pavel Zacha, Nico Hischier and Travis Zajac would seem to be our top three line C/LW’ers, with room to bump one of the wingers over to the right side (Shero had alluded to that being a possibility when he met with the media earlier this afternoon), particularly if a Michael McLeod or John Quenneville win a spot in camp.

I’ll take my helping of crow now, glad I was wrong and Shero managed to make something tangible happen.  That said, there’s still definitely work to be done, hopefully our sudden forward depth at the NHL and prospect level will be able to facilitate a trade to upgrade the D.

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A wild Canada Day: Shattenkirk chooses Rangers, Devils sign Boyle, Sabres add Pouliot, Johnson

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Hometown Shatt: In the end, it wasn’t about term or dollars. But about coming home for Kevin Shattenkirk who signed with the Rangers for four years to play for the team he grew up rooting for. AP Photo via Getty Images

Day One has come and gone. On a wild Canada Day, there was plenty of activity on the first day of NHL free agency. July 1 was as busy as expected. Even if this year’s class isn’t loaded with stars, it hasn’t stopped NHL GM’s from spending money.

The biggest fish Kevin Shattenkirk surprised many prognosticators by choosing the Rangers to a shorter term due to wanting to come home. He left a lot of money on the table. The Sabres and Coyotes were after him and bid more. That also included the Devils, who actually were asked for a shorter term. Something GM Ray Shero noted. But the 28-year old New Rochelle, New York native decided he couldn’t pass up the oppportunity to play for the team he grew up rooting for.

Initially, NHL Network’s Kevin Weekes broke the story in a tweet. He had Shattenkirk signing with the Rangers for a higher term over four years.

The confusing thing is nobody on TSN’s panel seemed to know it was happening. The Rangers were considered out of the loop due to re-signing Brendan Smith. It was no secret that GM Jeff Gorton wasn’t going to be able to offer as many years for the good skating offensive right defenseman. That made them long shots to get him. Even Larry Brooks didn’t see it happening.

What it ultimately came down to is a player going out of his way to make a childhood dream come true. All the credit goes to Shattenkirk, who was willing to forego more years so he could be a Ranger. This interview with Sportsnet is great stuff. Listening to Shattenkirk explain his decision and then citing some of his Rangers heroes growing up brings a smile to my face.

If a player will sacrifice a longer term with more cash on the table, it tells you all you need to know. He’s sincere. Hopefully, it will work out the way the pro Shattenkirk crowd envision. He admitted that Ryan McDonagh was part of why he wanted to come. So, the Rangers will have the top pair everyone wanted.

With Smith also back in the fold and Brady Skjei entering his second year, there’s no doubt the blueline will be improved. There are still questions surrounding Marc Staal and Nick Holden along with newcomer Anthony DeAngelo. How will Alain Vigneault play it? What about Gorton? Is he done wheeling and dealing? Hard to say. We know they are going to look at prospects Ryan Graves, Alexei Bereglazov and Neal Pionk.

The other move was signing former Winnipeg Jets goalie Ondrej Pavelec. He went from being a starter who helped the team reach the playoffs in ’14-15 to a struggling backup who twice was brought back from the AHL. It remains to be seen if goalie coach Benoit Allaire can fix the soon to be 30-year old Czech. He has a great track record prolonging Steve Valiquette’s career and then turning Cam Talbot into a good starter for Edmonton. Antti Raanta will graduate to a starter role for the Coyotes after two excellent seasons backing up Henrik Lundqvist.

The bigger question for Gorton is what are his plans to address the lack of center depth. With just about every big name signing and the current roster left with key restricted Mika Zibanejad and the undermining Kevin Hayes, whose playoff track record is discouraging, what are the Rangers gonna do? They can always try J.T. Miller at center. But they are thin. Unless Cristoval Nieves can make the roster and fill the fourth line slot, there will continue to be questions about the team’s center depth.

While the Rangers will continue to search for a center bargain, the Devils went to a familiar face to fill a checking pivot by signing Brian Boyle to a two-year contract worth an average of $2.55 million. The 32-year old vet spent a majority of the past three seasons in Tampa helping the Lightning reach a Stanley Cup Final and another Conference Final. In Year 3, he was traded to the Leafs where he played a role helping Toronto make the postseason where they pushed the heavily favorite Caps seven games in the first round.

Brian Boyle

Brian Boyle celebrates his first goal with Brad Richards. AP Photo/Kathy Willens

Now, the dependable Boyle will be looked to as a leader by the Devils in a rebuilding year. They remain very young with top pick Nico Hischier expected to join the team and have a impact. The Devils also will look for more from Pavel Zacha, John Quenneville, Miles Wood and Joseph Blandisi. They still boast vets Kyle Palmieri, Taylor Hall, Adam Henrique and Travis Zajac along with captain Andy Greene and Cory Schneider.

So, it’ll be a mix of youth and experience for the Devils who will be hard pressed to compete in a tough Metro Division. They should improve but how much is the question.

After failing to add Shattenkirk, the Sabres were able to sign Benoit Pouliot and ex-Devil Jacob Josefson. Pouliot is a perfect third liner who is a bit streaky. He is capable of contributing double digit goals and between 30-40 points. But it largely depends on what his role is. He was most successful in New York playing with Derick Brassard and Mats Zuccarello on a good Rangers third line that forechecked and contributed big goals during their run in the 2014 playoffs. Without them, they don’t get past the Pens in the second round.

It’s really about can the 30-year old Pouliot bounce back from a down year in Edmonton where he went 8-6-14 in 67 contests with no points in the playoffs. He was good the first two years but fell off and was bought out. On a cheap one-year deal making just $1.15 million, it’s a low risk/reward move that could benefit the Sabres. Pouliot has something to prove.

As for Josefson, the former Devils first round pick has never proven he can be a NHL regular. The center possesses decent speed but has never scored more than six goals in any season. The 26-year old Swede took the league minimum on a one-year deal. Who knows if he’s even in their plans. It’s just a depth signing.

In a decent move, they brought back Chad Johnson to backup restricted free agent Robin Lehner. Lehner remains a question in net due to injuries. If he stayed healthy, he could probably be a above average starter. He posted a .920 save percentage and a 2.68 GAA with a career high 23 wins and career best 59 games. He’ll turn 26 later this month. So, it’s make or break for him after the Sabres parted with a first round pick to Ottawa that became top prospect Colin White.

Johnson will earn $2.5 million. The 31-year old won 22 games with a 2.36 GAA and .920 save percentage two years ago with Buffalo. He won 18 with Calgary this past year. Maybe he’ll split time with Lehner.

As for some of the other notables, Joe Thornton re-signed with San Jose, who also extended Martin Jones after ’17-18 to a manageable $5.75 million cap hit. They also for some reason overpaid Marc-Edouard Vlasic going eight years, $56 million following ’17-18. Patrick Marleau remains out there and has interest from the Kings and Rangers.

The Ducks wisely extended Cam Fowler for eight years at a AAV of $6.5 million starting in ’18-19. They also signed veteran Ryan Miller as the new backup replacing Jonathan Bernier, who went to Colorado. As expected, the Flyers signed Brian Elliott and the Jets signed Steve Mason.

Nick Bonino traded in his Pens gear for the Preds agreeing on a four-year contract that’ll pay him an average of $4.1 million thru 2021. So, he changes sides. We’ll see how it goes for him. Mike Fisher might retire. The Preds had a need for a smart two-way center who can contribute offensively.

In a puzzling move, the Leafs signed Ron Hainsey for two years and $6 million. Meanwhile, Matt Hunwick left for Pittsburgh. Former Stars goalie Antti Niemi also signed with the Pens to backup Matt Murray.

The Canucks added Sam Gagner and Michael Del Zotto while landing Anders Nilsson. Vancouver has become a place where NHL careers die. We’ll see if they improve.

Formed Cap Karl Alzner signed with Montreal long-term for an AAV of $4.625 million thru 2022. The bigger news happened today with the Canadiens antying up to keep Carey Price probably for the rest of his career. He got the Lundqvist treatment agreeing to a mammoth eight-year, $84 million extension that won’t start until ’18-19 when he’s 31. He’ll go from earning $7 million to making $10.5 million, becoming the NHL’s highest paid goalie. Lundqvist gets $8.5 million AAV for another four years.

The Habs still are trying to re-sign Alex Radulov who is being pursued by Dallas. I think he’ll leave. Montreal can then turn their attention to Alex Galchenyuk.

Callahan and Girardi

Reunited: Dan Girardi and Ryan Callahan will play together again in Tampa.  Getty Images

Dan Girardi made it official agreeing to a two-year deal worth $6 million with Tampa. So, he’ll be reunited with Ryan Callahan and Anton Stralman. I wish him the best of luck. Hopefully, he proves he can still do it silencing the tools who couldn’t wait to get rid of him. They must’ve not watched the playoffs.

Justin Williams returned to Carolina accepting a two-year deal worth an average of $4.5 million per season. So, the proven winner goes back to where he won his first Cup on a young up and coming team who might compete for the wildcard. His leadership and intangibles should help.

That’s it for now. I know I didn’t cover everything. But got most of it for this scorching holiday weekend. Happy Canada Day 🇨🇦 to those who celebrate. Happy Independence Day to my fellow Americans. The 4th of July fireworks 💥 are two days away. Have fun. Be careful. 🇺🇸

 

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