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! ūüôā ‚̧ 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! ūüėé‚õą

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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:

‚ÄúI think the biggest thing that jumped off the page to me, especially today, is the skill set of these kids,‚ÄĚ Fitzgerald said. ‚ÄúWe‚Äôve added a lot of skill over the last couple of years and that‚Äôs real exciting, it really is. That‚Äôs 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‚Äôs what we‚Äôre doing. It‚Äôs an exciting time. We had 33 skaters here, 30 of them draft picks, that‚Äôs pretty impressive. I know there are teams that invite a lot of free agents just to fill out. We don‚Äôt have to do that anymore. We‚Äôve got our own kids.‚ÄĚ

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 ‚̧ԳŹ 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! ūüáļūüáł‚≠źÔłŹ‚ú®ūüí•

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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 ūüá®ūüᶠto those who celebrate. Happy Independence Day to my fellow Americans. The 4th of July fireworks ūü핬†are two days away. Have fun. Be careful. ūüáļūüáł

 

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Boyle only Devils’ UFA signing as dud of an offseason continues

Yesterday was a microcosm of the Devils’ entire offseason – which as a whole got off to a great start with winning the draft lottery, but has been a total dud after that. ¬†Ironically, we kicked off the July 1 ‘frenzy’ just after noon with the first official signing – and a good one at that – inking character fourth-liner Brian Boyle to a two-year contract. ¬†I mean how can you not like a guy who instantly comes in with a chip on his shoulder against one of his former teams?

And I’d love to sit here and praise that move for a few paragraphs, which maybe in another year I would have. ¬†No issue at all with adding Boyle for $2.5 million as a fourth-line-ish player who’ll provide some leadership that was lacking last season. ¬†However, that was the only move we did the entire day unless you count the three AHL’ers hopefully ticketed for Binghamton we signed late, like ex-Islander Brian Strait. ¬†Predictably the only big-ticket FA who we were in on (Kevin Shattenkirk) found his way to the bright lights of Manhattan, just like so many other big-name FA’s before and after will. ¬†How only the Rangers seem to get a hometown discount from big-name FA’s is beyond me.

I guess July 1 is always destined to be a debbie downer for Devil fans. ¬†Whether it’s the guys we lose or the guys we don’t have a chance to get or the yearly Ilya Kovalchuk drama, it used to be a running meme how everyone else wins July 1 while we won after that during the Lou Lamoriello era. ¬†But now that we’re in the wilderness with no way out in the immediate future it isn’t that funny. ¬†Especially considering that July 1 is just the topper on a lot of letdowns this offseason. ¬†We were supposed to be making big moves during the expansion draft with our cap space and protected slots available but instead George McPhee hijacked the proceedings more than most anticipated with side deals (plus using their empty cap to take on most of the league’s bad contracts) and shutting out other teams by making clubs they dealt with promise not to undercut Vegas by working out their own trades before the roster freeze. ¬†Having eleven picks was supposed to facilitate draft-day moves, and even GM Ray Shero admitted he didn’t want to keep all eleven picks. ¬†While technically we didn’t keep all eleven, we did make eleven selections, and the only immediate help we got from our draft picks (not counting Nico Hischier, who’s likely to play with the team this year) is project defenseman Mirco Mueller.

As much as I want to rant and will rant about the team’s current state, I’m not here to blame Shero – at least not for yesterday. ¬†Not much you can do when the Russian Hamlet wants to hold things up on that end yet again – I’ll get to that later too – and the only big FA that made sense for the team only had eyes for your biggest rival. ¬†Clearly there’ve been mitigating circumstances as to why the Devils have only managed to make the small additions of Boyle and Mueller to this point in an offseason that was supposed to be filled with big moves. ¬†If I have any frustration with Shero it’s in the apparent lack of urgency the organization’s had to fix our defensive woes, and not just at the NHL level. ¬†We’ve used just seven picks on defensemen out of twenty-eight selections in three Shero drafts and four of the ones we did pick were seventh-round lottery ticket selections. ¬†The same criticism I had of Lou the other way in not using enough high picks for forwards seems to be happening with Shero and defensemen. ¬†Granted we did need to infuse the forward pipeline dramatically when Shero got here, but with it being even harder to acquire defensemen on the open market you would figure at some point we’d start drafting more guys there. ¬†Reilly Walsh was the highest defenseman we’d drafted in three years and he was a late third-rounder this year – probably destined to spend at least three years in Harvard.

Of course to be fair you could count Mueller as a ‘draft pick’ too – a second-rounder at that – but at some point we can’t keep shopping at Woolworth’s for defensive upgrades, especially if we’re not going to stock the pipeline from within. ¬†Our bargain basement shopping really hasn’t worked out other than David Schlemko, who we kept through the deadline two years ago and chose not to retain (or trade back for when Montreal gave up a low-level draft pick to acquire him from Vegas after the expansion draft). ¬†Ben Lovejoy was supposed to be a decent hold the fort guy but the fort was overrun during his first year of a three-year deal. ¬†There was also Yohann Auvitu – remember him? ¬†Last year’s preseason sensation from France started with the big club but by the end of 2017 was a healthy scratch in the AHL and now out of the organization. ¬†John Moore? ¬†Sure he can start on a bad team and he had a nice season last year in terms of goalscoring but you don’t want him in the top four on any kind of contender. ¬†Of course we don’t have to worry about things like being a contender for the forseeable future in a division on steroids where everyone else just keeps seeming to load up or reload in a scary arms race, while we continue to ‘trust the process’….oops, that’s a Sixers meme.

I’m not getting into a conspiracy theory on the owners either – assuming the media guys were fed the truth about us being in on Shattenkirk, although there isn’t exactly much to disprove the Devils-Sixers comparisons at this point considering both franchises have been stuck in years of endless rebuilding with cap floor teams. ¬†While the Sixer rebuiding was a straight blowup job, our rebuilding seems to be a bit more haphazard since we actually did trade for Taylor Hall last year and still have a fair amount of vets around – who have to be sick of watching everyone else in the division improve while we try to build an almost entirely home-grown team, where our own GM admitted he came into this situation with the mindset of it being an expansion team in terms of rebuilding. ¬†My own frustration with this process is in part due to having guys like Hall, Cory Schneider, etc whose prime years you’re wasting and who you might have to make a decision about trading or not by the time this team’s ready to actually compete again – which could again set the process back. ¬†It’s like someone put it last night, it seems we’re bleeding out faster than we’re fixing the wound.

It’s obviously not fair to entirely blame current ownership, or blame Shero for inheriting an absolute mess devoid of talent two years ago. ¬†There’s only so long you can play the blame Lou, Vanderbeek, Kovalchuk meme before at some point you yourself have to be accountable for continued lack of success though. ¬†Sure, they can’t be blamed for the organization being out of the playoffs for five straight seasons since the end of the lockout – only the first two are on their watch – but by the same token you can’t be blind to the damage being out of the race by March almost every year is doing to the fanbase when you have the Rangers being successful and even the Islanders being a perennial playoff contender year in and year out the last few years, this dark period is doing a lot of damage to a fanbase that was only starting to get a foothold in an area with multiple teams that local fans root for, even including the Flyers who are also a perennial playoff team year-in and year-out.

I do appreciate GM’s that at least try to compete while rebuilding at the same time, and don’t just go with the complete nuclear bomb approach. ¬†As a Met fan I’m envious about the Yankees having Brian Cashman, who’s perfected the art of being competitive while rebuilding at the same time. ¬†Although I do like Cashman anyway cause he’s a true Devils fan hah. ¬†Lou obviously tried to do that as well and I won’t ever fault him for that but eventually win-now just became a caricature and not an actual state of being. ¬†At a season ticket event a few days back, franchise legend Patrik Elias actually admitted he wished Lou had started the process we were on now 8-9 years ago. ¬†When even a player – admittedly one of the smartest, most cerebral ones who’s ever played – can see the writing on the wall, it clearly got to a point where Lou jumped the shark. ¬†Perhaps the same thing is happening now in Detroit with Ken Holland. ¬†Sure, we were due a downturn after two decades of success, but it’s a downturn exacerbated by bad drafting in the previous administration and nobody wanting to stay here including the double-barreled departures of Kovalchuk and Zach Parise months apart that the franchise still hasn’t recovered from.

Speaking of Kovalchuk though, it’s just time to be done with him. ¬†Let him go back to Russia or get whatever pittance you can get for him from the handful of teams he’s supposedly interested in. ¬†If he only wants to go to the Rangers too, then let him go scratch in the KHL for a year and only get a one-year contract next offseason from them or wherever else he wants to go. ¬†This constant drama year after year is beyond old. ¬†I predicted weeks ago that this was going to extend past July 1, nothing’s ever easy or simple with this player (plus I didn’t think the interest in him would be as great as some people did). ¬†Despite two months talking to other teams and negotiating with the KHL now we’re even in a longer holding pattern till tomorrow at the very least, which probably extends into next week and beyond with our luck. ¬†Clearly he and his agent are sitting back, hoping teams once they lose out on top FA targets will be more desperate and also hoping the KHL gets more desperate to up its offer once the window opened for him to re-sign in the NHL. ¬†It’s always about maximizing money with this player no matter where he gets it, he’s the ultimate merc and just like 2010 and 2013, teams in two leagues are once again in a holding pattern with this clown.

I fully admit some of this post could look silly or premature if the Devils do manage to pull a big trade out of the sky somehow in the two months remaining this offseason. ¬†I just have that little faith we’ll actually be able to do it at this point, there always seems to be some excuse why we can’t do something rather than actually being able to find a way to improve the team. ¬†I’m not asking to be a Cup contender or anything stupid like that next year, but can you at least find a way to give fans hope for improvement, to at least be relevant in March and make the season somewhat interesting aside from pumping up Hischier, second-year man Pavel Zacha and other kids? ¬†Who’ll probably be undermined by a horrid defense anyway.

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Devils buy out Cammalleri, Smith-Pelly on eve of FA

(caption: NJ.com – a goal by now ex-Devil Mike Cammalleri in 2015, an occurence too infrequent in his three seasons as a Devil)

When Devils GM Ray Shero made critical comments about the team’s heart and desire after the 2016-17 season it was obvious changes were going to be made, especially armed with the most cap space of any team in the league. ¬†Today’s buyouts of forwards Mike Cammalleri and Devante Smith-Pelly¬†added even more cushion to that cap space, and represented two of the culture changes that Shero strongly hinted at. ¬†In the case of Cammalleri a buyout was only a mild surprise after a dissapointing 2016-17 (10 goals and 31 points in 61 GP) given he had two years left on his contract at big money, though with a cap hit that expired after next season. ¬†With the buyout the Devils absorb a much smaller cap hit, but for a longer term ($1.67 million per season for four seasons). ¬†Although it would have been nice to work out a trade for Cammalleri, apparently there was no deal to be had.

Smith-Pelly’s 2016-17 was also a dissapointment (nine points and a -19 in 53 GP), but he was only signed for one year so his salary and cap hit were negligible, it was just a matter of he – like Cammalleri – didn’t fit into the future plans of the team.

With both buyouts coming on the eve of free agency, speculation’s swirling what this means in regards to the Devils’ plans for tomorrow and the rest of the offseason. ¬†Personally I don’t think these buyouts had anything to do with whatever additions Shero makes this offseason given the amount of cap space that already existed, it was more about making a statement and clearing a couple more spots for a myriad of younger players (led by #1 overall Nico Hischier and other potential rookie additions like recent first-rounders John Quenneville and Michael McLeod).

According to CapFriendly, the Devils have nearly $28 million of cap space, with Ryane Clowe’s IR contract providing another $4.8 million cushion on top of that. ¬†However, not counting Clowe the Devils only have five forwards under contract. ¬†Even if you figure RFA’s Miles Wood and Stefan Noesen and UFA Beau Bennett all get re-signed, along with adding in Hischier’s ELC that still leaves 4-5 open spots at forward for guys like McLeod, Quennevillle, recent third-rounder Blake Speers and other TBD additions to fight for spots on the 2017-18 roster.

If the Devils take a chunk out of their cap space tomorrow, I’m not expecting it to come in a forward addition although the Alex Galchenyuk rumors are intriguing and you never know if Shero decides to bring another Jersey boy home in James Van Riemsdyk, just to name a couple of possible trade targets. ¬†As far as free agency goes, I’m not expecting any big splash there. ¬†Especially with the insane demands of Alex Radulov, who would fit into the top six at RW but I wouldn’t want to be the team to give him the six-year deal he wants. ¬†To me Radulov screams Alex Semin in terms of a post-big money risk. ¬†Perhaps they add a bottom six player or two to complement the young guns and make an acquisition to bolster their horrible offense via trade.

In goal the Devils are seemingly set for the next couple years at least after re-upping with backup Keith Kinkaid on a two-year deal at $1.25 million per season.  With starter Cory Schneider signed for five years at $6 million per, potential goalie of the future Mackenzie Blackwood can continue to develop in Bridgeport after a promising first pro season at age 20, leading the then-Albany Devils to the AHL playoffs.

For most Devil fans, they’re hoping for big changes to a horrid D core still lacking in top-end talent. ¬†Does that mean Kevin Shattenkirk will make his way home and be a Devil by tomorrow evening at this time? ¬†Shattenkirk certainly has the offensive capability to make a difference on the blueline and I like that he apparently wants the responsibility of being a top-pairing defenseman, though there are certainly questions over how well he’ll handle it and whether he’ll get overpaid – he did turn down a 7 year, $42 million offer from Tampa Bay at the trading deadline. ¬†Not that Shatty’s salary is of any immediate concern but in a cap world, Shero has to be mindful of the impact any long-term signing can have on the cap in future seasons. ¬†While Shatty being a LD would be more ideal than being a RD, he’d still help the blueline and let’s face it – sooner or later the Devils are going to have to use their cap space for something more than an empty promise to a better tomorrow.

I’m not as big on other possible UFA targets like plodder Karl Alzner, for people suspect on Shattenkirk, Alzner is REALLY a bad contract waiting to happen. ¬†Perhaps Shero also works out another trade to upgrade the blueline, although each addition is probably going to lead to at least one subtraction since the Devils currently have five d-men signed on one-way deals, plus RFA’s Mirco Mueller and Damon Severson who’ll both be in the top six, as well as second-year man Steven Santini, who was serviceable in his rookie season but could always use more seasoning in Binghamton if the situation called for it. ¬†Not that subtracting many of these guys would be an issue with the way the D played last year.

And I haven’t even touched on the potential Ilya Kovalchuk resolution (finally?), although late rumors had him talking to SKA about a potential return to the KHL – again. ¬†If something’s to happen you’d think it would be known tomorrow either way given Kovalchuk and his agent Jay Grossman have been talking to other teams trying to facilitate a contract agreement/trade. ¬†Of course it’s never usually that neat and clean with this player and his constant drama. ¬†It’s probably best for all parties that tomorrow be the last day we have to deal with the Russian hamlet.

Whatever happens – good or bad – it won’t be dull tomorrow. ¬†Thankfully this year July 1 is on a Saturday so I can stay home and see what happens with Shattenkirk, Kovalchuk, trades, etc. ¬†Of course like a lot of things, the hype might outweight the actuality, especially if Shattenkirk and Kovalchuk aren’t day one resolutions. ¬†Or if Shattenkirk signs elsewhere, Kovalchuk stays in Russia and we’re left holding the bag it’ll be a gloomy day in Devils nation. ¬†If things break the other way though, we do sign Shattenkirk, trade Kovalchuk and trade for an impact player this could be the best July 1 since…shudder…2010. ¬†Our unusual spending spree that year didn’t turn out so well. ¬†But I’m not asking the Devils to go full-on Glen Sather pre-lockout. ¬†Just show me some sign that you’re in this to improve and not just ‘trust the process’ and hope for lottery luck for five years like a certain NBA team owned by the same duo who happen to own the Devils.

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The Latest on eve of July 1: Sabres acquire Scandella, Devils all in on Shattenkirk

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With less than 24 hours to go before the official July 1 free agent frenzy tomorrow all day, things are becoming clearer. For two teams, moves made will determine how active they’ll be.

For the Sabres, they likely are out on defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk. New GM Jason Botterill all but assured that with a big acquisition of right defenseman Marco Scandella from the Wild in a four player trade involving two draft picks. The full deal had Buffalo parting with forwards Tyler Ennis, Marco Foligno and a 2018 fourth round pick for Scandella, Jason Pominville and a 2018 third round pick.

The 27-year old Scandella is a good skating puck moving right D who can slot in on the second pair if needed depending how new coach Phil Housley uses Zach Bogosian. That’s if he stays. Scandella has three years remaining with a reasonable $4 million cap hit.

Former playoff hero Pominville returns to Buffalo. Now 34, he’ll be asked to take on a leadership role. A popular Sabre best known for scoring a series clinching shorthanded goal that eliminated Ottawa in the 2006 NHL Playoffs sending the Sabres to the Conference Finals, he’ll turn 35 on Nov. 30 and has two years left earning $5 million in each of the remaining two seasons.

I really like the move for Buffalo. It addresses a need on the blueline and saves money which will no doubt be needed to lock up Jack Eichel, who completes his entry level deal in ’17-18.

Don’t forget the Sabres also acquired ex-Hab Nathan Beaulieu. So, Botterill has upgraded the back end giving it more speed and depth which should aid anchor Rasmus Ristolainen. Along with Jake McCabe and vet Josh Gorges, Buffalo looks set.

Beaulieu and starting goalie Robin Lehner still must be re-signed as Group II free agents.

With the Sabres all but out on Shattenkirk, the Devils look like they’ll be big players for the 28-year old offensive right defenseman who earned $5.2 million this past season with the Blues and Caps. Over 80 combined games, the New Rochelle, New York native posted 13 goals along with career highs in assists (43) and points (56). His postseason with Washington was up and down finishing with a power play goal and five assists in 13 games.

Shattenkirk is an effective puck possession defenseman who excels on the power play. Of his 298 total points, 136 have come via the man-advantage. The breakdown is 35 power play goals and 111 power play assists for 146 PPP compared to 33 even strength goals and 116 even strength assists totaling 149 ES points with the other three assists shorthanded.

The Devils freed up even more room by buying out Mike Cammalleri and Devante Smith-Pelly today. They have approximately $28 million in cap space to spend. They look like the favorites to sign Shattenkirk and fill a big void on the blueline. God knows they don’t have a top right defenseman who can relieve pressure from young blueliner Damon Severson. This is a team that can use what Shattenkirk brings. Offense and skating along with that badly needed power play quarterback they lack.

If GM Ray Shero is all in tomorrow, then expect him to sign Shattenkirk in the neighborhood of seven years between $45-49 million. I would also expect the Devils to be active in search of a scoring forward who can speed up the rebuilding process. They were interested in acquiring Habs Group II center Alex Galchenyuk. But that depends if the Canadiens can re-sign him.

Key unrestricted forwards include Alex Radulov, Patrick Sharp, Thomas Vanek, Nick Bonino and Justin Williams. I doubt they’d be interested in Radulov who wants a term of about six years for $6 million or more per season.

While the Devils should be busy this weekend, it’s anyone’s guess what the Rangers will do. They supposedly have interest in vet Patrick Marleau. But he wants to play with Joe Thornton. A package deal is unlikely with the Kings very interested. Of course they are. They love getting older. Imagine those two as ex-Sharks in Kings jerseys. Can you say puke much?

In related news, Michael Stone re-upped with the Flames for three years at an AAV of $3.5 million. Pretty fair value for a decent offensive right D who projects as a third pair guy with the Flames adding ex-Islander Travis Hamonic to a corps that features Mark Giordano, Dougie Hamilton and T.J. Brodie.

Brian Elliott is expected to land with the Flyers. I don’t know if he’s even a upgrade over Steve Mason. But that’s the Flyers.

With the clock ticking, July 1 is coming. It should be intriguing. Even if it’s not the best class. Let the fireworks begin!

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