Preseason Game 4: Stafford gets winner for Devils, Crawley scores in Jersey return, Staal dreadful

In Newark, they played another exhibition between Hudson rivals. The Devils took this one thanks to Drew Stafford’s tally in a 2-1 home win over the Rangers. He was able to beat Brandon Halverson with a nice wrist shot short side top. Cory Schneider went the distance only allowing one goal.

It was a highly competitive game considering the circumstances. You had some rough stuff with the Devils standing up for each other following a couple of illegal hits by the Rangers. None worse than Andrew Desjardins, who caught John Moore with a blind head shot that was a lot worse than it looked live.

Moore was okay and went back at him. It led to some four on four before a Devils’ three-minute power play that did little. Desjardins got a match penalty and hurt his chances of making the Rangers.

You had your share of penalties. The sides combined for 16 including 13 power plays.  Most were ineffective. Particularly the Rangers first unit which featured Ryan McDonagh, Kevin Shattenkirk, Chris Kreider, Mats Zuccarello and a ineffective Mika Zibanejad. At least he finally played after the flu kept him out. He’ll need to be better once it starts up for real.

I have to give credit to the Devils who did a tremendous job penalty killing. They were very aggressive using improved speed to force the Rangers into sloppy turnovers. They outworked them. That was an area they struggled at under coach John Hynes last year. They also defended better limiting the Rangers to 18 shots.

The Devils were better in most facets out-shooting the Rangers 33-18. Henrik Lundqvist went the first two and only was beat once. Joseph Blandisi was able to get to a Adam Henrique rebound in front beating Ryan McDonagh and Marc Staal for a power play goal. It came following a scuffle between Brendan Smith and Jimmy Hayes, who came to the aid of a teammate on a Smith elbow. They gave Smith an extra two even though he threw no punches.

Following a successful kill, the Rangers got caught with too many men. That’s when the Devils went to work. John Quenneville worked the puck to Henrique, whose low shot deflected off Staal causing a rebound tha Blandisi potted for the game’s first goal.

In the second, five Ranger penalties hurt them. The Devils head a 15-8 edge in shots. Lundqvist performed well stopping 23 of 24. He even played the puck well a couple of times leading to easy clears.

The team looked very bland without Filip Chytil. He had a maintenance day. They didn’t dress J.T. Miller, Kevin Hayes or Jimmy Vesey either. Lias Andersson played his third game. He isn’t flashy because that’s not his game. However, you notice him due to his skating and work ethic. I really think Alain Vigneault is giving the mature 19-year old top pick every opportunity to earn a job in a checking role. He’s been used on the penalty kill and even on the power play.

It was Andersson who set up Jersey native Brandon Crawley’s power play equalizer in the third through a perfect Rick Nash screen. The kind of play you want to see more of from Nash in what’s hopefully a healthy season where he can prove he is still formidable. The skills are still there along with the willingness to get dirty. He’s so easy to root for.

As for Crawley, what a night for the 20-year old overager the club grabbed in the fourth round with pick 123. It was his first game in his home state. He was one of the best Rangers showing good wheels, poise and hockey sense.

I wish I coul echo the same for Staal, who just looks done. It’s sad to watch him. Not coincidentally, he was on for both goals against. Not that he was to blame directly. But he’s not looked sharp with the exception of a few penalty kill shifts. I don’t see how they can justify playing him in the top six.

Of course, it’s not my call. Neither is Nick Holden, who still has the skating and can do some things offensively. He’s a likely trade candidate if GM Jeff Gorton decides to go in a younger direction. Look at some of these kids they have.

The Devils did a good job applying pressure on Halverson, who did a solid job turning aside eight of nine shots. His defense didn’t help him on Stafford’s winner with Smith backing in and Andersson in the wrong position. He should’ve picked up the trailer which I think was Moore.

Pavel Zacha made the goal possible by carrying the puck out of trouble and wisely driving the net to create a distraction. I see big things for the second-year center. If he and sizzling first overall pick Nico Hischier deliver, the Devils will be greatly improved. Especially with Kyle Palmieri and Taylor Hall having more help. Plus Henrique.

Stafford is a good player. He makes things happen. That looks like a real smart signing by GM Ray Shero, who also was featured in a interview segment between periods. He acknowledged going after Shattenkirk and admitted that he wasn’t a Devils fan but a Ranger fan. But he also talked about taking a shot. That’s all fans can ask for.

Will Butcher looks like a keeper. He really could pay dividends in New Jersey. He’s a great skater with a good shot and seems to have an idea in his end. I believe he’ll lead the Devs in scoring among D.

I like the addition of Bryce Salvador between the benches. He gave some good insight and was dressed to the nines.

I also got a kick out of Schneider dressing as a usher in disguise rewarding fans with jerseys. Funny stuff. Imagine the Rangers doing that. Yeah, right. 🤔

One more point. Boo Nieves really took advantage of his chance in his second appearance. He made things happen on the forecheck and won draws. I think he’s ready. It all depends on the coaching staff.

Gabriel Fontaine was also noticeable throughout with his speed. He’s got a future.

Thats gonna do it. I’ll try to have something later on cuts.

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Preseason Game 3: Beauvillier nets winner for Islanders, Chytil continues to impress for Rangers

They played a preseason game in Bridgeport. The Rangers and Islanders renewed acquaintances in Connecticut off I-95 for a second exhibition this week. It went to the home side with the Islanders prevailing 2-1 before a mixed crowd. No different than most Rangers/Islanders games.

Of course, plenty of regulars didn’t play. There was no John Tavares again for the Isles. No Mika Zibanejad for the Blueshirts with the projected number one center due back this weekend after a bout with the flu. It was also disappointing that the Isles didn’t play too prospect Matthew Barzal for a second time in three games. He’s a player with high potential. Perhaps the plan is to have him start his first pro year in Bridgeport.

They do have Anthony Beauvillier and Joshua Ho-Sang. Both of who’ll be crucial in the top nine up front. Ho-Sang’s the more skilled while Beauvillier is the grittier of the two. Fittingly, the second-year forward netted the winner after a power play expired in the one-goal win.

Similar to Monday, goals were hard to come by. At least in the rematch, there were no face-off violations. There were still plenty of slashes called. Even love taps. This is what they want. But it’s still okay for them to miss blatant high-sticks like the one Neal Pionk took. At least they got the next one.

Pionk is one of four young defensemen trying to make the roster. He played another good game. Paired with Ryan Graves, he and the 22-year old prospect were effective offensively. Both are smooth skaters with good point shots. Graves is a former 2013 fourth round pick while Pionk signed as a college free agent following two years at Minnesota-Duluth. If they don’t crack the roster Opening Night, it won’t be long before they’re heard from.

The other two D who played are Russian Alexei Bereglazov and Tony DeAngelo. A former first round pick in 2014 with Tampa Bay, the 22-year old DeAngelo is on his third organization. Known as skating offensive defenseman with a good right shot, he’s shown a willingness to get dirty so far. The Sewell, New Jersey product has mixed it up in his two showings which included a fight tonight. A player who went 5-9-14 in 39 NHL games with Arizona last season, he came over as part of the Derek Stepan deal that also sent Antti Raanta to the Coyotes in exchange for DeAngelo and a 2017 first round pick that became Lias Andersson (7th overall).

Meanwhile, Bereglazov is 23 and has four years of pro experience playing in Russia for Magnitogorsk Metallurg of the KHL. More of a defensive defenseman with size listed at 6-4, 192, he quietly had a strong game. Considering he is more polished, the Rangers could decide to include him on Opening Night. DeAngelo is waiver exempt. Graves and Pionk can go down.

Personally, I would like to see two of the four on the roster. That would mean GM Jeff Gorton making a move with either Marc Staal or Nick Holden. Holden is the more likely candidate due to having a year left on his contract. He is capable of playing top four minutes elsewhere and can contribute offense. Nobody is taking Staal’s contract. They’re stuck. Even if he doesn’t improve on Wednesday’s performance.

It really sucks. This isn’t on Staal but rather Glen Sather for giving him that no-movement clause along with a risky long-term deal for the oft injured veteran. What are they supposed to do? At least the organizational depth is there.

You have Ryan McDonagh and Kevin Shattenkirk locked in along with Brady Skjei and Brendan Smith. That’s your top four. After that, it depends on coach Alain Vigneault. If Holden stays, then that leaves one opening due to Staal. You can see the dilemma.

The action on the ice was a marked improvement. You had the usual bite between blood rivals. One scrap and a few scrums with Bobby Farnham making his presence known. If he doesn’t make the team, it won’t be from lack of effort. The undersized bulldog knows his role and plays it well. He even created a good scoring opportunity with a nice pass that wasn’t handled. Who wouldn’t love having Farnham as a extra for a deterrent?

At this point, it looks like a long shot with both 2017 first round picks Lias Andersson and Filip Chytil playing well. Andersson is the checking pivot who can slot in on the fourth line and play penalty kill. Chytil is the Rangers’ most talented draft pick up front since Alexei Kovalev. The recently turned 18-year old Czech who just made the draft deadline has that rare combination of size, speed and hockey instincts which can make him a future star.

After a memorable Broadway debut that included him getting the overtime winner, he was again very noticeable. Playing exclusively with J.T. Miller and Pavel Buchnevich, the Rangers’ 21st overall pick had instant chemistry with his linemates. It really is a joy to watch a young player with Chytil’s arsenal. Some guys just have it. He does. He’s so instinctive and doesn’t hesitate. Watch him during shifts whether it’s  five on five or on the power play. He’s dangerous.

It was those quick reflexes that set up the only goal of the game. Trailing by one, Chytil quickly one-timed a pass right to Vinni Lettieri for a power play goal past Isles starter Jaro Halak. The only puck he couldn’t stop in a game the Blueshirts controlled. Halak (34 saves) went the distance looking like the same goalie who reclaimed his starting job last April from Thomas Greiss.

Ondrej Pavelec was good. The two Isles goals weren’t his fault. The first coming following a strong kick out. But Graves and Pionk miscommunicated to lose the battle leading to a tap in for Casey Bailey following the expiration of a power play.

Beauvillier’s winner was the direct result of Chytil losing position. It caused a two on one down low with Beauvillier able to tap home a goal past Pavelec with Skjei kneeling.

Pavelec looked controlled in his two periods making steady stops. Chris Nell replaced him. He’s competing with Brandon Halverson and Alexandar Georgiev for the job in Hartford. Give it another year and you’ll probably see top prospect Igor Shestyerkin, who again is dominating in the KHL. He’s got a 1.41 goals-against-average and .944 save percentage in eight games with SKA St. Petersburg. He won’t turn 22 until December 30.

Tyler Wall enters his sophomore year with UMass-Lowell. Goaltending won’t be a problem post Henrik Lundqvist.

A couple of other takeaways from tonight:

-I like what I’ve seen from Kevin Hayes and Jimmy Vesey. It’s pretty obvious they have something going. Maybe Hayes and Vesey start together with Mats Zuccarello. That would move Rick Nash to a third line with Miller and Chytil, who I believe should be given the max nine games before they decide whether to keep him or designate him to either Hartford or more likely PSG Zlin of the Czech Extraliga.

-All I know is Chytil and Andersson deserve spots to start. I also like what I’ve seen from David Desharnais. He is a nice secondary scorer that can play power play and win draws. If he started on a fourth line with Andersson and Matt Puempel until Jesper Fast returns, I’m for it.

-There’s also Michael Grabner who can be moved around between the third and fourth line or higher. You know what he brings. That speed and dangerous breakaway element which made him so popular last year when he sniped 27 times.

-It really appears the Rangers’ depth is much improved. It all comes down to what they get from the center ice position. Obviously, Zibanejad and Hayes must deliver with AV expecting more leadership from each. Hayes sounds ready for it.

-Buchnevich played his most assertive period in the final stanza. He just missed following a DeAngelo blast. He sent the puck off the goalpost. He obviously needs to perform this season. Especially if the back is a thing of the past.

-Vesey looks really strong. He definitely is looking more complete making some excellent passes to Hayes for great chances. Vesey is always around the net. I see him scoring 25 goals.

The next game is at the Devils tomorrow. Do you think they play their rivals enough in preseason? Geez. It’s almost more than the season. It’ll be on. If I’m around, I’ll post a review.

Don’t forget to follow me on Twitter: NewYorkPuck

Derek

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Preseason Game 2: Chytil scores OT winner in great debut, Dolan’s prices are In-sane!

The second preseason game for the Rangers at MSG was markedly better. There were six more goals and actual five on five play when the officials weren’t slowing down the action to a crawl due to the annoying face-off violation. Here’s a exclusive look at the reaction:

In a exhibition between close rivals, the Rangers prevailed 4-3 over the Devils in overtime. There still were too many penalties. A mess of sorts that could upset fans when it starts up for real in the first week of October. The Devils were called for nine minors while the Rangers were called for seven, including three face-off violations. The Devils got one in the third before we left at the 10-minute mark.

That’s how long the game was. The second period seemed to go on forever. If this becomes a thing, it’s sure to enrage customers. All the penalties slow the game down. If they still had the hurry up face-off, we wouldn’t have this new rule GMs thought were a good idea. Somebody forgot to tell the players and coaches. Isles bench boss Doug Weight blasted Monday’s penalty fest. There was this between Matt Puempel and Nick Lappin which the crowd loved.

Before I get to the positives from both sides, I would also like to blast greedy Garden CEO James Dolan. This man might be the most selfish owner. As expected, quite a few concessions on the upper level were closed. This only created longer lines on the third floor which forced me to choose between $10.50 pizza and $7 hot dogs. The selection isn’t good. Especially with me working on getting in shape. At least I put in the work before we left.

That I decided I would be better off with the meat of a seven dollar hot dog over the bread of a pizza isn’t the point. It’s about the cost. They have a lot of nerve charging those prices. I never get a lot inside due to the cost. I’m not much of a soda drinker but even that will run you six bucks. Beer is double that. As Crazy Eddie used to say, “They’re Insane!!!!!”

If you’re looking for a healthier alternative, there’s sushi downstairs. But I can’t imagine what they bumped it up to. On our level in the Blue Seats, there’s The Complete Cookie for $3.50. Basically, 50 cents more than most places unless you go to CVS or buy it in bulk at a health food store. Yeah. There’ll be a few nights like that for me.

I wish there were more owners like Arthur Blank. He just opened the brand new Mercedes-Benz Stadium to plenty of fanfare. Imagine a sports owner who gets it. Blank has the Falcons charging unbelievable food prices for their fans. A hot dog or soda only costs two dollars. Everything on the menu is affordable. Good for him. I hope they build a monument for him after the Falcons win the Super Bowl .

Now for some game details. There were plenty of power plays. Sixteen in total. The Rangers made the most of their chances scoring three times. New addition Kevin Shattenkirk paid immediate dividends factoring in on all theee. Just the way he can skate in transition and sees the ice is going to help improve the man-advantage. His Broadway debut was superb with three power play assists including a secondary helper on impressive 18-year old first round pick Filip Chytil’s overtime winner with three and a half seconds to spare.

Chytil (pronounced Hi-till) was splendid all night. In 18:52 of action including eight-plus on the PP playing with Chris Kreider and Mats Zuccarello, the youngest player in the recent 2017 NHL Draft showed tremendous poise. Wearing number 72, the lanky Czech impressed with his top speed, strong puck possession and awareness. He found instant chemistry with his much older linemates.

Chytil drew a penalty and created several dangerous scoring chances with his playmaking. He nearly set up Kreider and Zuccarello down low on multiple opportunities. It was only fitting he got the game-winner after my brother expressed that he hoped he would win it as we drove back to Staten Island. On a four-on-three, he backed up a couple of steps into position to bury a perfect Zuccarello feed for a perfect one-timer past Devils backup Mackenzie Blackwood.

Pretty cool celebration for an otherwise soft spoken young prospect who is still learning the nuances of the NHL. He discussed that in the locker room.

There were six other goals scored with the Hudson rivals taking turns. Kevin Hayes got the scoring started when on a power play, he skated perfectly into a Jimmy Vesey pass and went in and deked Devils’ starter Cory Schneider going forehand tuck.

The Devils came back on a wonderfully constructed play from Drew Stafford to sophomore breakout candidate Pavel Zacha. With nothing going on, Stafford flipped a innocent looking backhand flip towards the front that Zacha was able to neatly bat in perfectly for a fair ball past Henrik Lundqvist. It’s so good, it deserves a second look.

Pretty sweet finish. The defenseman beaten on the play was John Gilmour. A player who impressed last year. Ryan Gropp is also in the picture. He’s expected to begin his pro career with Hartford.

In between all the penalties, Kreider used his tremendous speed and skill to easily beat a crouching Schneider on a break in top shelf for a 2-1 lead. Zuccarello and Brendan Smith set it up. But it was all Kreider, who’s so dangerous in transition. He can go deke or shoot.

But the Devils came back thanks to a neatly designed play down low for a power play goal. Stafford was able to easily find a wide open John Gibbons in the slot for a lay-up past Lundqvist. Marc Staal got caught kneeling and Lias Andersson gave Gibbons enough room to finish.

Andersson was used a lot on the penalty kill when he wasn’t centering the fourth line. He wins a lot of battles that can go unnoticed. His work ethic and hockey IQ are very high. I definitely think he should make the roster. He doesn’t look out of place.

While the seventh overall pick acquired in the Derek Stepan/Antti Raanta trade that also netted Anthony DeAngelo isn’t as skilled as Chytil, he is noticeable for how hard he works. Andersson did get one of those cheesy face-off violations. But he also had a great pass in the 3-on-3 that led to the power play. He can be used in a checking role.

Another positive was David Desharnais. The former Hab who finished last Spring with Edmonton made some things happen. He anchored the third line. Always a good skater who isn’t afraid to get his nose dirty despite his small frame, he had the good fortune of having a Shattenkirk point shot deflect off a Devil stick and bank in off him for a PPG which made it 3-2.

It was a great read by ShattDeuces. Before it though, the Rangers did some diligent work to keep the play alive. The Devils failed to clear the zone. Eventually, Kreider worked the puck to Shattenkirk at the left point. He wisely wound up but paused before shooting which allowed Desharnais to get into position.

Trailing by one early in the third, the Devils tied it thanks to a nice face-off win from Jimmy Hayes. On a PTO, the elder brother of Kevin Hayes (Yes The Hayes Brothers) got into position to neatly redirect a Damon Severson right point shot upstairs by 21-year old replacement Alexandar Georgiev. Hayes helped himself with a goal and assist while having chemistry with Adam Henrique.

Georgiev made some strong saves point blank in direct response. His best coming on Hayes, who tried to to stuff one in on a forehand tuck try. But Georgiev kept his pad right against the post to keep it out.

Once we left, I guess the game picked up. It must have because it wasn’t long before Justin told me Chytil won it. Pretty cool stuff for his first game. I don’t think the Rangers believe he’ll be on the roster. But if he plays well again tomorrow, what’s the harm in giving him the nine games to see if he belongs. He sure brings a unique skill set the train can use. Look what Zuccarello said:

Pretty encouraging commentary from one of the Rangers biggest leaders. The team is back in action tomorrow against the Islanders. Here’s the expected roster:

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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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