Preseason: Chytil debuts for Rangers versus Devils od

Tonight is Game 2 of the preseason at The Garden. Hopefully, it’s better than the eye sore from Monday.

The Rangers host the Devils at 33rd and 7th. I think this is the third exhibition for New Jersey. Maybe Hasan can confirm that later. Unfortunately, their number one overall pick Nico Hischier won’t be playing. I haven’t even checked to see who’s in. I know Cory Schneider will get a couple of periods.

Both Hudson rivals won the other night. The Rangers on Neal Pionk’s Denis Savard spin-o-rama 1-0 over the Islanders in overtime. The Devils by a count of 4-1 over the Caps- highlighted by a breakaway goal from Hischier. Wait to see the impact the dynamic Swiss has in the regular season.

The Rangers are dressing a mostly new lineup. Kevin Shattenkirk makes his first appearance in Broadway Blue. At the very least, we’ll get a taste of what he can add to the power play. Brady Skjei pairs up with him. Not a bad option without Ryan McDonagh.

Most notably, it’ll be the debut of 2017 first round pick Filip Chytil. A lanky Czech who is still learning English. He speaks well enough in interviews. But has leaned on Jimmy Vesey and countryman Ondrej Pavelec to find out about the system. I can’t wait to see how he looks. I’m actually excited to be at a preseason game.

Lias Andersson will play again too. After how well he acquitted himself Monday, there’s enthusiasm from both fans and coach Alain Vigneault. If he continues to impress, he could make the competition for final spots on the fourth line moot.

Andrew Desjardins gets another look on the third line with Andersson and Adam Tambellini. Kevin Hayes anchors the second with Vesey and Ryan Gropp. Vigneault is trying Chytil on the top line with Chris Kreider and Mats Zuccarello. Here are the projected lines:

Henrik Lundqvist gets his first action. Alexander Georgiev gets a chance to show what he can do. He’s in competition with Brandon Halverson for the starting job in Hartford.

Here are th Devils lines for the game:

Pavel Zacha, Adam Henrique and Damon Severson are notables. Youngsters Blake Speers, Mike McLeod, Josh Jacobs and Colton White will also dress. Mackenzie Blackwood will see some action behind Schneider.

Well, it’s time to go. I can finally head up. It’s gonna feel weird to be here. But yeah. Full review later.

Follow me on Twitter:

@newyorkpuck

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Even cancer can’t stop Brian Boyle’s fighting spirit

The news came down this afternoon about Brian Boyle. A well respected player who made his mark with the Rangers helping them reach their only Stanley Cup Final since 1994, the affable 32-year old center who is set to begin a new journey with the crosstown rival Devils revealed today that he’s been diagnosed with CML (Chronic myeloid leukemia) A type of cancer of the bone marrow.

Even the news that he has leukemia doesn’t faze him. The good news is it was caught early and is extremely treatable. In fact, Boyle plans on being ready for the Devils season opener at home against the Avalanche on Saturday afternoon, October 7.

Of course, Boyle would handle such tough news with the same kind of positive attitude he’s taken with him to the rink. That no nonsense approach turned his career around in New York where he became a key checking forward on some good Rangers teams. Eventually, he would spend nearly three years with the Lightning helping them defeat his former team to advance to another Stanley Cup Final. After helping the young Maple Leafs reach the postseason, he signed with the Devils this summer for two years where he’ll be looked upon to help another rebuilding club led by top overall pick Nico Hischier.

That’s what makes Boyle special. It’s why he has overwhelming support from everyone. There have been plenty of well wishes from his peers, media and fans. He’s the kind of player you root for. You know he’ll beat cancer and deliver on his promise to play for his new team.

As a huge fan who always appreciated the hard nosed warrior approach he brought, particularly in the playoffs, I send my best wishes and thoughts to Brian Boyle. Speedy recovery. 🏒⭐️👍

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Pionk’s highlight reel goal offsets penalty fest in first preseason game

If this is the new standard for officiating, it’s gonna be a long season. The first Rangers’ preseason game against the Islanders was marred by a penalty fest.

Apparently, the powers to be have finally decided to focus on slashing. The two teams didn’t get the message. But then again, they called every ticky tack thing which seemed to befuddle players and coaches. Between that and the cheesy new face-off violation, sometimes I wonder how the NHL decides what to call. A first look:

In between the nine zillion penalties which must’ve bugged all the Corsica charts, the Rangers were able to score a goal. Yes. It actually happened during 3-on-3 for a 1-0 overtime win over the Islanders. The goal was a beauty scored by offensive defenseman Neal Pionk. Take a look!

Quite a move by the college free agent who GM Jeff Gorton signed. Pionk has excellent wheels and obviously can contribute offensively. He was good in this game. The question is the defensive end with him.

The main competition Ryan Graves performed very well. Working alongside vet Steven Kampfer, Graves showed off his unique combination of size, speed and transition while being defensively responsible. Graves looks NHL ready. If he doesn’t make the Opening Night roster, it’ll be due to Marc Staal and Anthony DeAngelo, who looked alright in his Rangers debut. He showed off his top heavy right shot and even mixed it up during a scrum. There’s pressure on DeAngelo to make it.

As for Staal, he didn’t play. We’ll be focused on him if he does Wednesday. He is in competition with younger talent. It all depends on Alain Vigneault. You know how much he respects Staal. But it should be based on performance. His partner Nick Holden debuted a new number after generously giving number 22 to Kevin Shattenkirk. He didn’t get money. Holden wore 55 and looked fine without Staal, even making a couple of key defensive plays. It’ll be interesting to see how it plays out.

First round pick Lias Andersson made a impressive debut. The Swede center wasn’t intimidated. He showed good skating and forecheck pressure even coming close on a couple of scoring chances. One off a tough, hard shot from the left circle with traffic in front that was blockered away. He’s very mature for his age and confident.

He also got involved physically with Scott Mayfield behind the play on what would’ve been a goal for Brock Nelson. Instead, the ref behind the play blew his whistle for matching roughs, which angered Isles coach Doug Weight. He took a tantrum on the bench because it was really close. Hey. It’s PRESEASON for the stripes too. Based on all the penalties, that was pretty obvious.

Ondrej Pavelec made the start playing two periods withou t permitting a goal. He may have let up when the whistle went which is why Nelson’s shot went in. He didn’t see much action in terms of shots stopping 10. But from the indication of MSG’s John Giannone, it was goalie coach Benoit Allaire who made the call to sign the former Winnipeg Jet starter. He had offers from a couple of other teams. But the chance to work with Allaire and learn from Henrik Lundqvist appealed to the veteran. We’ll see how it goes.

Brandon Halverson got the third and OT. He made a couple of nice saves and even channeled his Ron Hextall on the penalty kill clearing a puck all the way down. A Rangers rarity. 😱

In terms of the game or lack there of, blame the refs. Err NHL. It was one of the worst games I’ve seen. If it’s like this to start the season, plenty of tickets will be available.

I liked the combo of J.T. Miller and Rick Nash. They made things happen when they were together, including shorthanded. Nash looked very good. I fail to think how this roster would be without him. He’s got those wheels and skill set no one else does. It’s a contract year. Hopefully, he’ll stay healthy and score more.

Most of the 18 skaters were effective. How about that stretch pass from Graves to spring Gabriel Fontaine for a break in that Halak stopped? Very Yandleesque.

I also liked Cole Schneider. A 27-year old AHL veteran who posted a career best 63 points (24-39-63) for Buffalo affiliate Rochester last year before getting into four NHL games with an assist, he’s not shy about shooting the puck. Someone oughta tell Ryan McDonagh that after he passed instead of shot, allowing Isles’ forward Joshua Ho-Sang to come back and break it up. A good defensive play from a offensive player who could be a factor for the Isles.

Bobby Farnham donned number 23 and made his presence known. He finished with four shots and four hits along with some scrums in his nine minutes. A long shot due to what Vigneault prefers, the former Devil didn’t hurt himself.

Michael Grabner showed flashes of why he had a bounce back season with his defensive instincts and lightning speed in transition. He also was guilty of over passing when he should’ve shot. A team epidemic that still stands.

The power play got plenty of looks. Like clockwork, the puck wouldn’t go in. Both teams had nine penalties. They were a combined 0 for 15. It was brutal.

I was disappointed with Pavel Buchnevich. He was barely noticeable in 23 shifts with only one shot in over 15 minutes of ice time. Where was he? It is only the first game of PRESEASON. I hope he shows more.

Cristoval Nieves was okay. Nothing earth shattering. But at least he was around the net. He missed a tap in on a elevated pass. But did pick up a secondary assist on Pionk’s Denis Savard spin-o-rama goal.

Nineteen-year old American Kiefer Bellows dressed for the Islanders. He’s got talent. He will be a good one down the road.

It’s worth noting that Vigneault stuck Andersson out for that OT shift. He immediately factored in getting the puck across to an open Pionk, who did the rest going top shelf by Isles’ reliever Eamon McAdam (19 saves). Halak made 22 stops before being replaced.

The shots were lopsided in favor of the Blueshirts, 42-17. Look for other top pick Filip Chytil to play on Wednesday versus the Devils. Everyone is raving about him. It’s time to see what all the hype is about.

The Devils won their exhibition game over the Caps 4-1. In case you’re wondering, first overall pick Nico Hischier did this:

He’ll be tormenting opposing goalies for a long time.

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Day 2 Rangers Camp: Miller and Staal have motivation

Henrik Lundqvist, Marc Staal

New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist (30) and Marc Staal (18) embrace after their 4-2 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 2 in the first round of the NHL Stanley Cup playoffs in Pittsburgh, Saturday, April 16, 2016. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

On the second day of training camp, a couple of key Rangers discussed their potential roles for the upcoming season.

Most notably, J.T. Miller and Marc Staal. Both are going to be used differently by a coaching staff that includes new assistant Lindy Ruff added to bench boss Alain Vigneault, assistant Scott Arniel and goalie guru Benoit Allaire.

For Miller, who enters his fifth season, the 24-year old American is being asked to shift from the wing to center. Originally drafted as a center with the 15th overall pick in the 2011 NHL Draft, it’s a challenge the versatile forward welcomes. Down below, he spoke to MSG’s Amanda Borges about the change:

If the team is to be successful this season, they’ll need more from Miller. A strong skater who is effective on the forecheck, he is good at winning board battles and possesses the ability to both finish and set up teammates. Last season, he matched a career best with 22 goals while recording a new high 34 assists along with 56 points over a full 82 games.

While the consensus is that Miller could be better suited on the wing where Vigneault has preferred to use him, the Palestine, Ohio native is familiar with playing center. He’s seen shifts periodically and fared well on face-offs in limited duty. Either way, he’s looking to become more of a leader.

Staal enters his 11th year. It’s hard to believe he’s now a 30-year old veteran who could see his ice-time dwindle. Who can ever forget as a rookie, him beating Martin Brodeur to win Game 4 of the first round series late in regulation? I was there. What a moment! God. Was it really that long ago? I feel old. 😝

No doubt injuries have been a factor in the admirable alternate captain’s deterioration. Some shifts, he’s fine winning the battles in the corners and working the puck out of harm’s way. Other shifts, it’s an adventure due to him slowing down. Similar to former teammate Dan Girardi, speed can give Staal fits. It’s when he becomes hesitant that things can get dicey.

Even if his role is changing to more of a third pair defenseman who is still very effective on the penalty kill, the former 2005 first round pick taken 12th overall in the Crosby Draft doesn’t plan on going anywhere. Signed thru 2021 with an average cap hit of $5.7 million, it could become a numbers game down the road. Much depends on the health of the highly respected locker room leader. Vigneault hinted that it won’t be easy this camp with stiff competition coming from Anthony DeAngelo along with prospects Ryan Graves, Neal Pionk and Alexei Pereglazov.

Undeterred, Staal is focused on retaining a top six role on a revamped back end that features Kevin Shattenkirk. He was pretty candid in assessing the situation with Borges. She also got input from GM Jeff Gorton, who showed his appreciation.

Also included above is Henrik Lundqvist at the back end. The affable 35-year old is still viewed by Gorton and teammates as one of the best goalies in the league. He knows he’ll have to earn that status following an off year.

Finally, a quick look at the future. 2017 first round pick Filip Chytil has some fun at the end of practice sniping to chuckles:

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Rangers begin camp with changes

JT Miller

Miller Time: J.T. Miller finishes off a goal in the Rangers 5-1 win over the Canucks. AP Photo by Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press

After a long summer, hockey is finally back. Even with some good distractions thanks to the Yankees and Aaron Judge along with the recent U.S. Open that crowned a new young American women’s champion in Sloane Stephens plus popular men’s champ Rafael Nadal. Football is entering Week 2. Hopefully, the Giants and Jets can improve. Well, the Jets are in tank mode. I’ll leave that to Hasan.

Judging from what coach Alain Vigneault stated on the first official day of training camp, change will be a theme for the Rangers. Indeed, they’ve moved on from top center Derek Stepan and key backup Antti Raanta. The trade with the Coyotes helped free necessary cap space while transitioning to a younger team with GM Jeff Gorton selecting Lias Andersson and acquiring defenseman Anthony DeAngelo.

What it means is increased expectations for centers Mika Zibanejad and Kevin Hayes. They must fill the void left by the now bald Stepan, who unveiled his new Messier look.

 

With the focus on Zibanejad and Hayes needing to produce more consistently as the club’s top two centers, Vigneault reversed course and clarified that J.T. Miller will begin the season at center. I think it was fairly obvious that the versatile forward is the best option for the third line. Who would you rather have? A younger and improving player or David Desharnais, who is better suited for the fourth line.

As for inviting former Blackhawk depth forward Andrew Desjardins on a pro try out, that can’t hurt. But keep in mind the former member of Chicago’s ’14-15 Stanley Cup winner only had one assist in 46 games last season. He struggled after returning from a foot injury following a solid ’15-16 that included a career high eight goals over 77 contests. He’s a fourth liner.

If we assume Vigneault sticks with a fully healthy Pavel Buchnevich on the first line with Zibanejad and Chris Kreider- a trio that had strong chemistry- then perhaps Hayes gets to work with Rick Nash and Mats Zuccarello. That would leave Jimmy Vesey and either Michael Grabner or Jesper Fast to play with Miller. Fast is expected back by Halloween. Keep that in mind. In the mean time, Gorton could gives this guy a phone call:

I would love to see a Jagr Broadway reunion. Even though he can’t skate as fast, the ageless legend remains a good offensive player who drives possession and the beloved Corsica. On a third line with power play time, No. 68 could take advantage of match-ups against second and third pair defensemen. He’s still a relentless forechecker with superb vision. At 45, Jagr still put up 16 goals and 30 assists with the Panthers. His 46 points would’ve ranked sixth on the Rangers, whose leading scorer Zuccarello posted 59. Some food for thought. It’s ironic that almost all my peers love the idea of Jagr. I just hope he gets to play one more year in the NHL.

There will be some competition for spots. Both Andersson and other first round pick Filip Chytil will have a chance to make an impression. After missing Traverse City with an injury, Chytil has been skating. Andersson is prepared to stay in NYC. We’ll see if he can force his way on the roster. If not, he can start in Hartford and further adjust to the smaller rink in North America.

On paper, a fourth line could consist of Desharnais, Matt Puempel and a healthy Fast. The Blueshirts also will get to see ex-Devil tough guy Bobby Farnham. The 28-year old spent most of last year in the AHL after scoring eight times with the Devs in ’15-16. Maybe he can play his way into a extra forward. He plays that gritty, physical style the team lacks. If not, he’ll likely be ticketed for Hartford.

There are other young players who are trying to make headlines. They include Malte Stromwall, Cristoval Nieves, Ryan Gropp, Robin Kovacs and Adam Tambellini. Out of those, I’d expect Nieves, Gropp and Kovacs to challenge for a spot.

This will also be a new year on D. Gone is steady vet Dan Girardi, who gave his blood and guts to three teams that made two Conference Finals and a Stanle Cup Final. He gets a reset with buddy Ryan Callahan in Tampa. Ironically the biggest challenger to the Penguins.

Kevin Shattenkirk gets his chance to fulfill a childhood dream playing for his favorite team. He idolized Brian Leetch and the rest of the ’94 team. The smooth skating offensive right D is a big upgrade on the top pair with captain Ryan McDonagh. Shattenkirk immediately improves a disastrous power play that never performed in the clutch. He will be the best power play right shot since Sergei Zubov.

More interesting is the battle Vigneault has promised on the back end. Marc Staal isn’t a lock for the top six. He will have to prove himself in camp and preseason, the competition will come from DeAngelo, Neal Poink, Alexei Pereglazov and Steven Kampfer. Keep an eye on Ryan Graves. He could make some headway and finally crack the roster at some point.

Brady Skjei and Brendan Smith are expected to be the second pair which means an increased role for the second-year defenseman, Skjei. He’s ready. It never made sense how Vigneault didn’t use him much to protect leads, leaning too heavily on vets Girardi and Staal along with Nick Holden. Holden remains a Ranger for the time being. Offense wasn’t a problem with the former Avalanche tallying 11 goals with 23 assists. He added two markers and two helpers in the playoffs. Unfortunately, he was victimized with Staal defensively.

Assuming DeAngelo pushes Staal, Vigneault could be forced into a hard decision with the lineup. That could be a good thing. All the wear and tear from injuries have taken its toll on Staal. He can’t be asked to play 82 games. The coaching staff should micromanage his ice-time at even strength while utilizing him on the penalty kill where he remains an asset. He’s a warrior. That shouldn’t be forgotten by fans and bloggers. But when the schedule picks up, Vigneault must give him nights off.

Everyone knows what to expect from Henrik Lundqvist. The 35-year old Swedish King has plenty of motivation following a disappointing ’15-16 that saw him post career worsts in goals-against-average (2.74) and save percentage (.910) in 57 outings. As brilliant as he was in outplaying Carey Price in the club’s six-game first round triumph over the Canadiens, he showed his age in allowing some regrettable goals in a gut wrenching six-game second round defeat to the Senators. A series that saw Craig Anderson get the better of him. There’s no doubt he’ll have to be better.

The Rangers will be hard pressed to replace the 21 wins Raanta gave them. Now the Arizona starter, the likable Finn gets his chance. Similar to Cam Talbot in Edmonton. I’m curious to see what goalie coach Benoit Allaire can do with former Winnipeg Jet Ondrej Pavelec. The 30-year old is in need of a career reboot following a poor campaign that saw him only get into eight games with Winnipeg. The former starter posted career lows in wins (4), GAA (3.55) and save percentage (.888). A scary prospect for Garden Faithful.

So, what to expect? You’re asking the wrong person. I’m not too enthralled with this roster. But also understand the reality. This will be a younger team reliant on the performances of its young core. Offense from the back end will be crucial. Shattenkirk, McDonagh, Skjei and Holden are all capable. DeAngelo is the wild card. He’s an offensive type D who is on his third organization before age 22. He’ll turn it on October 20.

It should be a more interesting camp. This isn’t the same NYR. They’re not a playoff lock. More on that and other stuff to come.

Here, AV discusses the Stepan trade, his expectations for Zibanejad and Hayes along with Vesey, Fast and Buchnevich:

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Devils sign Severson on eve of camp

Well, at least the Devils will be heading into training camp on an upbeat note – for what that’s worth – after announcing earlier today that they’ve come to an agreement with defenseman Damon Severson on a six-year $25 million deal.  With Severson signing the Devils now have all their key players locked up at least through next season and many longer than that.  Ironically enough, that was the exact same deal Adam Larsson signed a couple years ago, of course I don’t expect Severson to be traded after one year like Larsson was given the current state of our defense.  Although the unexpected signing of sought-after college free agent Will Butcher might actually have an immediate impact on a troubled blueline.  By most accounts Butcher was one of the Devils’ best players in the recently completed prospects challenge in Buffalo with underage players from the Sabres, Penguins, Bruins and Devils competing in a three-game, four team round-robin over the last four days.

Other than that, I really couldn’t give any kind of analysis from the tournament – which was the unofficial open of Devils camp.  I had wanted to watch some of the games (better that I didn’t watch the last two anyway!) but of all things on Friday night I was watching the US Open semifinal between Nadal and del Potro.  I’m not a tennis fan the way Derek is, but it was nice to actually spend the day at Flushing last Saturday and I got into the tournament a little more than normal after that.  Plus let’s face it, the prospects tournament was basically All-Star type hockey with kids and there isn’t much else to watch in the present with any of my current teams.  The Mets are a disaster that even the Red Cross can’t fix, the Jets are a historic disaster in the making and while the Devils at least have some reason for optomism down the road, the limited optomism any Devils fan could have going into this season to have a respectable campaign vanished when word came down that Travis Zajac suffered a torn pectoral muscle and would miss the first few months of the season after surgery.  Unfortunately this year is just not going to turn out the same way as 2012 did when Zajac missed most of that regular season after another August training accident.  Memo to Travis: you CAN go to the beach during the summer, dude.

Zajac’s injury pretty much confirms #1 overall pick Nico Hischier will start the season with the team (not that there was really much doubt), and also gives more of an opportunity for him and other kids to play big minutes early.  Hopefully it’s not because they’re being rushed though.  If Michael McLeod needs another year in juniors, so be it.  If Hischier needs to play bottom six minutes early, so be it.  If John Quenneville needs a full season in the AHL, so be it.  This year isn’t going to be about winning anyway so might as well do whatever’s best for the kids’ development, whatever that is.  Of course it’s hard to tell what’s right for each individual, some kids will rise to the challenge while others might get hurt by playing too much too soon.  Plus you do want the kids to have their growing pains this year, so that doesn’t become what next year’s about.  As uninspiring as having a guy like Drew Stafford become a top six RW, maybe it’ll be the best thing for Blake Speers to go back to juniors and then get called up after Stafford hopefully plays his way into some trade deadline value.

Perhaps the three biggest questions for the team going into camp:

  1. What line will Hischier start off on and how much of a learning curve is there going to be for the 18-year old #1 overall who had just one year in North America before his meteoric ascent to the top of the 2017 NHL Draft?
  2. Who will be the second top six RW, exactly?  If you assume Taylor Hall and Marcus Johansson will be the LW’s, while Adam Henrique and either Pavel Zacha or Hischier are down the middle, the RW slot past Kyle Palmieri is still very unsettled.  Either Stafford will slot in, a kid like Speers, Quenneville or McLeod impresses enough in camp to be slotted there, or they just move one of the other wings over though that option’s less feisable post-Zajac injury.
  3. How, exactly will this D shake out?  Especially with the bottom pairing, what kind of roles will the recently acquired Butcher and Mirco Mueller have and how much will Steven Santini improve?  Can Butcher and Santini both make the team?  Mueller probably will given he’s out of options but it’s debatable what either of their roles will be.  At the moment, Severson, Andy Greene, John Moore and Ben Lovejoy probably comprise the top four although ideally Moore and Lovejoy would be a back pairing on a decent team.

Right now my focus isn’t on the season in terms of results.  At the risk of sounding like coach cliche, my focus is on being 1-0 on October 4, which is our season opener at home against the Avs.  Even for this Devil team that’s a winnable game and one that can at least give the franchise and the fans a little good feeling to start out with.  Of course before that comes camp and we’ll see which kids have taken enough of a step to make the Opening Night roster or be bumped up in their roles.

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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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