As Training Camp heats up, Panarin up for prestigious Award

On Day Two of the new training camp during the dog days of summer, Artemi Panarin is the story. The very successful 28-year old Russian left wing, who was on his way to 40 goals and 100 points prior to the Coronavirus interrupting play, was nominated by his peers for a prestigious award.

The NHL made it official by listing Panarin as one of three candidates for the Ted Lindsay Award. Formerly the Lester B. Pearson as voted by players on who they feel to be the Most Valuable Player, it recognizes what his peers think about his season. Joining Panarin is Art Ross winner is Hart favorite Leon Draisaitl and superstar Nathan MacKinnon.

You can’t argue with any of the choices. This trio are the most deserving for the Lindsay and probably will also be nominated for the Hart Trophy as official league MVP. I expect Draisaitl to win due to his astonishing season where he paced all scorers with 110 points including a league high 67 assists with 43 goals. He had 16 power play goals to finish second behind David Pastrnak, who could be up for the Hart as well. His 48 goals tied for the league lead with Alex Ovechkin and his 95 points were third most, tying with Panarin.

The Bread Man was outstanding in his first season as a Blueshirt. His 32 goals trailed only Mika Zibanejad (41) while he paced the team in assists (63) and points (95). Panarin proved how dominant he can be at even strength. Mostly separated from Zibanejad, he worked with Ryan Strome and Jesper Fast to form a cohesive trio that controlled puck possession at five-on-five and did damage. In fact, no forward ranked higher than Panarin in plus-minus (36). Only Avalanche defenseman Ryan Graves ranked higher with a plus-40 rating. To think the Rangers gave him away without looking at him.

Panarin led all skaters in even strength points with 71 (25-46-71). Despite being a weapon on the power play where he went 7-17-24, he produced most of his magic at five-on-five. Even better, the Bread Man didn’t rely on just the friendly home ice of Madison Square Garden. His home/road splits are almost identical. Of his 95 total points, 50 (15-35-50) came at MSG. On the road, he put up 45 (17-28-45) along with a plus-22. That means he was plus-14 at home.

It signifies how tough it was for opponents to shut him down despite having favorable match-ups due to the final change. That’s when you realize you have a special player. Panarin wanted the big stage and he’s delivered. Though we’ll never know if the Rangers would’ve qualified for the true postseason over a full 82 games due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they were right there in large part due to their meal ticket.

Look how well Strome performed while with Panarin. He set a new career best in points (59) and plus/minus (21) while ranking third in team scoring behind the Bread Man (95) and Zibanejad (75). The chemistry the restricted free agent center formed with Panarin allowed coach David Quinn to have Zibanejad reunite with KZB line members Chris Kreider and Pavel Buchnevich. It gave the Blueshirts better balance with valuable two-way forward Fast able to be plugged in on the second line. He had 29 points (12-27-29) and was on pace for new career highs across the board. He notched the first two shorthanded goals of his seven-year career. That included a career best plus-16. The 28-year old Fast is unrestricted this October.

By adding Panarin last summer, both Team President John Davidson and GM Jeff Gorton dramatically improved the team. A unselfish player who controls the puck so well and possesses superb vision, he had splendid chemistry with leading scoring defenseman Tony DeAngelo. DeAngelo achieved new personal bests in goals (15), assists (38), points (53), games played (68) and power play points (3-19-22). At 24, the Sewell, New Jersey native has finally demonstrated why he was a first round pick for the Lightning. He’s backed up a career high 30 point season with a huge breakout in a contract year. A RFA like Strome, he won’t be cheap this Fall.

One of the smartest things Quinn did was play DeAngelo as much as possible with Panarin. Especially on the power play that prominently features Zibanejad, Kreider and Strome. A good skater with a accurate shot to go with excellent passing capabilities, he worked well on the top unit. Highlights included his first career hat trick versus the Devils at home. It also featured a smart back pass to Panarin, who sent Zibanejad in alone on Ilya Samsonov for his fifth goal in a wild 6-5 overtime win at The Garden.

When I think of my favorite Panarin moment, it’s not a goal. It’s the sheer hustle and determination along with the wherewithal to make a terrific back pass for a streaking Zibanejad to blast a one-timer past Semyon Varlamov for an OT winner in a big 4-3 road win over the Islanders in an exciting game at Nassau Coliseum.

That was unreal. It speaks to the hockey IQ of the Bread Man. A player who not only has the skill, but the will to thrill hockey fans in this area. That never say die attitude is what makes him such a fan favorite. He is worth every penny of the long-term contract that averages out to $11.64 million per season through 2026. Astonishingly, it now looks like a bargain.

As we inch closer to Game One of the best of five preliminary series with the Hurricanes that begins on August 1, Panarin will be front and center. I don’t worry about him. He wants to be the man like so few who have come here. The best examples that come to mind are Jaromir Jagr and Henrik Lundqvist, who took Manhattan by storm despite being a homegrown product selected in the seventh round back in 2000. Eric Lindros would’ve been successful if not for injuries. Ditto Pavel Bure. Marian Gaborik and Brad Richards had good success on Broadway, providing some memorable moments along with Marty St. Louis, who came over after Gaborik was gone.

If anyone deserves to be recognized by his peers that included high praise coning from MacKinnon, it’s Panarin. He may not win the Hart, but deserves the Lindsay as voted on by the players. That would be fitting.

As for camp, all three netminders are getting similar reps. Igor Shesterkin is expected to be the starter for the upcoming series to make the real Big Dance. Barring something unforeseen, it is his job to lose. How Quinn plays it along with valuable goalie coach Benoit Allaire will be interesting to see. Will Lundqvist be the backup over Alex Georgiev? It’s too early to say.

Included in the camp is defenseman Brandon Crawley. Taken as an overager in the fourth round of 2017, the 23-year old Glen Rock, New Jersey native took a step back in his third pro year. He only played in nine games for the Wolf Pack while posting a dozen points in 38 contests for the ECHL Maine Mariners.

As expected, both Libor Hajek and former first round pick K’Andre Miller practiced. Miller is signed, but cannot participate in the postseason. Similar to recently signed top Islanders Russian goalie prospect Ilya Sorokin, who agreed to a one-year, $2 million contract on Monday. He’ll be 25 when he finally makes his NHL debut for the Isles. Interestingly, the rivalry will be renewed up North with a tuneup in Ottawa.

NHL teams are allowed to sign players. But they cannot take part in the expanded Stanley Cup Tournament. The Wild also just signed Kirill Kaprizov today. A 23-year old former fifth round pick who was a high scoring forward for CSKA Moscow in the KHL. Wild reporter Sarah McLellan has more on that situation.

As for Panarin, he is all smiles now that he’s back at work.

The interviews will all be via Zoom due to the circumstances. Kreider provided some great answers regarding how the practices have been and what the mindset is entering this unique playoffs. He reiterated what Zibanejad said the previous day. They’re in it to win it.

The new Rangers hashtag is #NoQuitInNY. Why not them? I’ll have more coming up this week.

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As Rangers get ready, Gord Murphy replaces Lindy Ruff, Observations on potential roster

The days are moving closer to the official restart of training camp. Once Monday hits, it’ll finally be here. For 24 teams that are participating in the expanded playoff format with the first part focusing on 16, they’ll have a little over two weeks to get ready.

Of course, most players are back practicing for the Rangers. That even includes Henrik Lundqvist, who finally skated at the Westchester facility.

Lundqvist is expected to be the backup behind rookie starter Igor Shesterkin. Or at least I think that’s how coach David Quinn will go. It probably makes more sense to have the experienced veteran backing up over Alex Georgiev for the five game preliminary series against the Hurricanes. However, much will depend on how the goalies look in camp.

As they get ready to prepare for what should be a formidable opponent in the Canes, who’ll have both Dougie Hamilton and Sami Vatanen back to boost their defense, the Blueshirts have decided on Gord Murphy to replace former assistant Lindy Ruff behind the bench.

A former NHL defenseman, Murphy has worked as an associate head coach with Hartford this past season. He has NHL experience having served as an assistant coach for Columbus, Florida and Philadelphia. Given that he was a solid defenseman over 15 years with four teams (Flyers, Bruins, Panthers, Thrashers) and has good experience in the assistant role, it should be a solid fit. He’s 53 and replaces the newly hired Ruff, who takes over behind the Devils bench.

In terms of where the Rangers will be playing, it looks like they’ve settled on Toronto for their play in round against the Hurricanes. The Islanders will also be headed north to Ontario when they battle the Panthers. All 12 Eastern participants will play in Toronto while the dozen Western teams will compete in Edmonton. The Oilers home ice will also be where the Stanley Cup is played.

I’m not sure I agree with the conferences having their games in the same region. But it requires less travel. So, due to the circumstances with the COVID-19 pandemic, I understand why. It’s similar to baseball deciding to keep each division in the same time zone over the 60 game season. Like the Yankees playing the NL East including the Mets and vice versa. They don’t want to take too many risks with the unpredictable nature of the Coronavirus.

Quinn discussed one of the keys to success in a brief highlight package courtesy the official Rangers Twitter. Not surprisingly, it focused on defensive coverage. An area the team improved on when they turned their season around.

In terms of which players are gonna be on the expanded Rangers roster, they’ve decided on 18 forwards and eight defensemen. All three netminders are included. No shock. Here is the breakdown by position per Rangers beat writer Vince Mercogliano. This BTW is unofficial. John Davidson told Mercogliano the expanded roster could have up to 31 players on it.

FORWARDS

Kreider-Zibanejad-Buchnevich

Panarin-Strome-Fast

Di Giuseppe-Chytil-Kakko

Howden-McKegg-Gauthier

Extras: Brendan Lemieux (suspended), Steven Fogarty, Tim Gettinger, Vitali Kravtsov, Vinni Lettieri, Boo Nieves (just a guess)

DEFENSEMEN

Lindgren-Fox

Staal-DeAngelo

Smith-Trouba

Extras: Libor Hajek, Darren Raddysh

GOALIES

Shesterkin

Lundqvist

Georgiev

Here is what the Carolina roster will look like:

With the NHLPA and NHL agreeing on a four-year CBA extension that includes a flat cap at $81.5 million due to the current situation, Lundqvist could be bought out.

That would create room to potentially keep unrestricted free agent Jesper Fast, who is a bargain at $1.85 million. Ryan Strome and Tony DeAngelo are key restricted free agents who could command a lot. But with a quick turnover from the conclusion of the ’19-20 season in October to the projected December 1 start, they could have less bargaining power.

Georgiev is also a RFA with the exasperating Brendan Lemieux while Greg McKegg and Micheal Haley are UFA’s this off-season.

I’ll have more in the coming days on what I could see the Rangers organization doing once the season ends. For now, let’s try to have some enthusiasm for the proposed opening round. Here are the dates courtesy veteran New York Post columnist Larry Brooks:

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Ruff criticism misguided as accomplished Rangers assistant takes Devils coaching job

Much has been made of Lindy Ruff in this area from impatient fans. The truth is the Rangers have one of the most polarizing fan bases in all of hockey.

Such is the mentality of the New York sports fan. That goes double for the most spoiled fans in the city. As a Yankees fan, I would know. Having been lucky enough to see the 90’s Yankee Dynasty that won four World Series titles between 1996-01, they made winning look easy.

As I’m sure resident Devils blogger Hasan can attest due to his team once capturing three Stanley Cups in nine years, it’s not. Once, New Jersey had their own Core Four that included Martin Brodeur, Ken Daneyko, Scott Niedermayer and Scott Stevens. They were similar to the classic Yankees Core Four of Derek Jeter, Andy Pettite, Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera. The latter of which led the Yankee Pinstripes to five World Championships and seven pennants.

We often take for granted such amazing accomplishments. It isn’t easy to be that successful in sports. Similarly, the Rangers during the Henrik Lundqvist Era gave our fans plenty of exciting moments. Between 2012 and 2015, the Blueshirts made three Conference Finals and appeared in one Stanley Cup. They captured the imagination of a loyal fan base that lives and dies with every game the Original Six franchise plays.

The same can be echoed of every move they make. Like the classic Police hit song, it truly is that way for the passionate fans who sit in the Blue Seats all the way up. Even an assistant coach like Ruff can come under fire. A very accomplished and proven veteran NHL head coach who’s won 736 games including a Sabres franchise record 571, he was up and down in Dallas over four years. The Stars made the playoffs twice and missed the same amount before they dismissed Ruff in 2017.

A hockey lifer who spent 11 years as a player with the Sabres and Rangers between 1979 until 1991, he eventually graduated to coaching. He served as an assistant under Roger Neilson with the Panthers from ’93-94 through ’96-97. He was part of the former expansion franchise’s success which culminated in a surprising run to the 1996 Stanley Cup Final where they were swept by the powerful Avalanche.

Ruff was hired by the Sabres in 1997 to replace popular former coach Ted Nolan. It was a home run. He immediately had lots of success in leading Buffalo to consecutive Conference Finals. That included defeating the rival Maple Leafs in 1999 to advance to the Cup Final. Along the way, they upset three higher seeded rivals including sweeping second seeded Ottawa in the first round before eliminating the Bruins in six games and Leafs in five. Unfortunately, controversy surrounded the conclusion to Game Six of the Final when Brett Hull’s toe was in the crease during triple overtime to give the Stars the Cup. Had the Sabres won, who knows what would have happened with Dominik Hasek in net.

Astonishingly, Ruff lasted 15 years in Western New York. A Jack Adams winner in ’05-06 when he guided a very talented roster to 110 points including a upset of the Senators that sent them to a third Eastern Conference Final, he lost out on his best chance to win due to a depleted blueline. They lost in seven to eventual champion Carolina. The following season, they were even better going 53-22-7 for a franchise record 113 points tying the Red Wings for the most in the league. However, Ottawa avenged their second round defeat by defeating the higher seeded Sabres in five to break Buffalo hearts. Those two years were their best opportunity to deliver a championship to Buffalo.

Unfortunately, the Sabres never could reach the same success they had following the lockout. Key departures that included Chris Drury, Daniel Briere, Brian Campbell and Maxim Afinogenov would hinder the club. While the team remained competitive thanks in large part to Ruff and goaltender Ryan Miller, they missed the postseason in four of his final six years behind the bench. The two they qualified for, they were ousted in the first round.

The franchise’s unstable ownership issues didn’t help. Eventually, Ruff was fired in 2012-13. He finished his Sabres coaching career 571-432-78-84. The third column was when there was this thing called ties. He posted a .560 winning percentage and is .561 overall when you tack on his four years spent in Dallas. A place that never felt right considering what happened in ’99.

After coming to the Rangers as an assistant during Alain Vigneault’s last year in ’17-18, he served under David Quinn in the same role the last two seasons on Broadway. Despite the personnel declining including on a revamped defense, Ruff inexplicably received too much blame from misguided fans.

Here’s the thing. If he gets blamed when things go wrong which is ridiculous, does he get any credit for helping develop young defensemen Tony DeAngelo, Adam Fox and Ryan Lindgren? All have progressed nicely under both Quinn and Ruff, who handled the D. That includes the very cohesive rookie pair of Fox and Lindgren. The most consistent on the team that faces the Hurricanes starting in August. DeAngelo has always fit in well with veteran partner Marc Staal. Another whipping boy for biased fan blogs that don’t understand hockey.

If there is a player who must perform better in the five game preliminary round, it’s Jacob Trouba. After struggling to find consistency with friend and now current Hurricane Brady Skjei, he has paired up with vet Brendan Smith. If the Rangers are to advance past an improved Canes that should have both Dougie Hamilton and former Devil Sami Vatanen available, they’ll need a big series from Trouba. He will likely have to contend with dangerous trio Sebastian Aho, Teuvo Teravainen and Andrei Svechnikov.

The big question regarding Ruff’s hire with the Hudson rival Devils is does he stay on as an assistant for the expanded playoff format under Quinn. The season isn’t over. Whether some realize it or not, it isn’t easy to replace a key assistant this late in a strange season. Players are familiar with Ruff, who emphasized how important communication will be in a interview with Devils correspondent Amanda Stein that appeared on Zoom.

No stranger to being in charge, what does the 60-year old have left in the fuel tank to offer the Devils? Clearly a team in transition with new GM Tom Fitzgerald getting good returns for Taylor Hall and Blake Coleman, they’re going to be built around young centers Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier. How fast Hughes develops under Ruff will be crucial.

Ruff wants an aggressive team that attacks. One that doesn’t hesitate. For him, it’s probably his final stop in a long hockey journey. Or as Hasan put it, one last kick at the can. Did the three years away from being in charge help recharge his batteries? How much has he learned in a new hockey world where analytics are part of the process? We’ll find out.

A questionable hire by Devils ownership due to interviewing and passing on strong candidates Peter Laviolette and Gerard Gallant, Ruff has something to prove. No. He doesn’t have to answer to the critics. His NHL resume speaks for itself. But you have to think there will be some motivation.

He’s always had a fire in his belly. How many times did he get in the face of a official if he thought his Sabres were being jobbed? He’s been there and done that. Maybe he can instill the kind of work ethic needed for the Devils to improve. They compete in a tough division.

With Travis Zajac entering his final year of his contract along with Nikita Gusev and leading scorer Kyle Palmieri, who they should extend and consider making captain, Fitzgerald and Ruff have plenty of challenging decisions ahead. They’ll have almost nine million dollars in cap space. Continuing to improve a defense that relies on Damon Severson and Will Butcher will be crucial. What about PK Subban? He’s got two years remaining at a whopping $9 million cap hit. Likely immovable.

The Devils will look towards the future with prospects Ty Smith and Kevin Bahl (acquired from Coyotes in Hall trade) to help steady the back end. They have Mackenzie Blackwood and veteran Cory Schneider in net as a tandem. Barring a trade or buyout, Schneider is locked in at $6 million through 2022.

After winding up with the number seven pick in the Draft Lottery, the Devils could decide to select top Russian goalie prospect Yaroslav Askarov. The 18-year old is highly regarded. Given that he plays for KHL power St. Petersburg SKA where current Rangers number one goalie Igor Shesterkin graduated, it could make sense for the long-term of the Devils franchise.

Whatever they decide, they have their new GM and coach in place for 2020-21. We’ll see if Ruff can excel in his likely final NHL stop.

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Weekes: Devils to retain Fitz as GM, hire Ruff as coach

I’ll start off by giving Weekesie some credit in his new role, he broke some news on this hot summer day and it’s not the first time he’s broken anything Devils-related either. Not that either management hire is all that surprising in the end, well to me anyway. In particular, the move to retain Fitz seemed like a fait accompli since the guy’s been talking for months in the future tense and been thrown out there in every concievable platform to be the team’s main spokesman during this quiet period. Whereas now ex-coach Alain Nasreddine stayed behind the scenes, and is now looking for work though I personally expect him to land on his feet sooner or later back on John Hynes’ staff in Nashville, and perhaps his half season in charge gets him his own gig some day. It won’t be here though.

Process of elimination suggested Fitz would be the long-term GM. Other than interviewing Mike Gillis which seemed almost perfurnctory (or for a higher up position) since Gillis had little interest in going back to being a GM, there were few other known interviews for the GM spot. And if the Devils didn’t hire Fitz, he’d likely have been a GM somewhere else in short order so it’s not really a contreversial hire, despite the fact he was closely tied to deposed GM Ray Shero.

Ruff on the other hand was dissapointing from the aspect of the fact the Devils had so many interviews with big names for the coaching position. One week the rumor was Peter Laviolette, another week the rumor was Gerard Gallant, then there was the curious Richard Gronberg speculation which died down after the highly regarded overseas coach reached an extension with his club team. It just seemed like after waiting months on interim hires to see what the final decisions would be, retaining one guy and hiring another assistant they could have hired weeks ago was a bit of a letdown.

After getting over the letdown I’m actually less anti-Ruff than most though. I mean, a .560 career winning percentage looks good to me right about now. Sure he hasn’t had a ton of playoff success lately (only one series win since 2007), but the Devils have to start making the playoffs again before I care about that. As good of a man as Nasreddine is, and as hard of a worker as Hynes was, Ruff should represent an upgrade behind the bench from anyone we’ve had since the Devils parted ways with Pete DeBoer. Maybe Brian – the long-time Sabres fan and occasional blogger – will have more critical things to say about the man formerly known as Lucky Lindy though. Or Derek for that matter, since Ruff wasn’t exactly a beloved assistant there.

(Speaking of which, what happens now with the Rangers in the play-in tournament…do they need to replace Ruff on staff or does he just work there for the duration? I guess he’d just stay since it’s not like there’s anything to do here atm)

Plus let’s be honest about something else here, Ruff hasn’t coached in three years and this is probably his last kick at the can at being a head guy while Laviolette, Gallant and even Gronborg probably weren’t jumping through hoops to take our job when other, better vacancies could be available to them later in the summer. I wasn’t exactly expecting a big name to even want this job although all of the above getting interviewed was like one big tease. In the end as a Met fan this is a little reminiscent of when Terry Collins came aboard, a guy who’s meant to bring professionalism to a young team during a dark period for the franchise. Right now, I’ll take that kind of tenure as a Devils fan.

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NHL Podcast: Draft Lottery debacle, Panarin, analyzing Rangers vs Hurricanes, Lundqvist and Price comparison

Earlier this evening, I did a hockey podcast on some hot topics over on my Hard Hits Network. It went into overtime!

Among the topics covered include the NHL Draft Lottery debacle, Artemi Panarin, a classic series flashback from 1993 between the Leafs and Kings where Gretzky outshined Gilmour.

Plus a closer look at the Rangers vs Hurricanes preliminary match-up. How the teams stack up. Who could be the unsung heroes in the best of five series. What are some keys to a Rangers victory?

In overtime, I take a closer look at the careers of Henrik Lundqvist and Carey Price. Both very similar. Which player had the better supporting cast?

Plus more on Alexis Lafreniere. Listen below!

https://www.blogtalkradio.com/hardhits21/2020/06/27/hard-hits-podcast-nhl-lottery-chaos-panarin-rangers

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Panarin quote on escrow is problematic

As the calendar is on the verge of changing from June to July, hockey continues to inch closer to an official return. Following a bizarre first part of the perplexing NHL Draft Lottery that will somehow reward a team that made the expanded playoff format with expected top pick Alexis Lafreniere, the league gets ready hopefully to return at the end of July.

With training camps supposed to start on July 10, the Play In round that’ll involve 16 of the 24 teams is ticketed for July 31. That would be the intriguing best of five preliminary series which feature eight match-ups. Four in the East and four out West. They still haven’t officially revealed the two host cities. Although we know one is going to be Las Vegas, which wisely will be the hub for the Eastern teams, there are still questions surrounding what city will host the West. There are issues with Vancouver due to the 14-day rule on anyone entering. It’s looking like Chicago or Columbus could wind up with the West participants. Or perhaps Toronto.

While many fans are excited for the return of the cool sport, there are some concerns including players who have tested positive for the Coronavirus. Auston Matthews was revealed by the Maple Leafs as the biggest name with COVID-19. They didn’t follow protocol. Why who knows. But hopefully, the 47-goal scorer will be fully recovered by the time camp rolls around. He’s self isolated and has likely been retested.

What if some players have the pandemic as the tournament unfolds? Obviously, having expanded rosters can help. They’ll have to be extra careful to test everyone and do daily temperature checks. This is a full contact sport where players will go through a wall to help their teams win in the playoffs. Well, at least most should. It’ll be interesting to follow which players go above and beyond after basically a four month layoff in the middle of the summer. A totally different scenario than what they’re used to.

While you do have to worry about containing the virus so they can complete the 2019-20 season and award a Stanley Cup winner this Fall, there is another pressing issue that nobody is talking about. Well, except for Rangers MVP candidate Artemi Panarin. In a ballsy move, the electrifying Russian superstar who led his new team with a career high 95 points including 32 goals, 63 assists with a plus-36 rating to top all NHL forwards, put out a statement via Instagram and Twitter on escrow that he feels very strongly about.

In regards to escrow which has increased owners’ pockets with added revenue, he’s correct. The players don’t get as much of their full salaries due to the agreement on the partnership in the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA). Something former Conn Smythe winner Jonathan Toews alluded to. It’s noteworthy that the 28-year old former Blackhawks teammate of Toews feels it’s important for the escrow issue to be resolved before the NHLPA reports to camp. Will they actually come out in support of the Bread Man, or is just returning and playing enough? We’ll see what happens.

New York Post scribe Larry Brooks has long been a proponent of the players. He’s basically the mouthpiece of the NHLPA, always going on the attack against the NHL when it comes to the topic of escrow. While I am not a big fan of the veteran writer, he occasionally raises good points in his Sunday column Slap Shots. When he doesn’t fly off the wall like his insistence on including Henrik Lundqvist in the same conversation with Martin Brodeur as the best number 30, which even Blueshirts supporters know is preposterous, Mr. Brooks can still be a interesting read.

While I do agree that the escrow needs to be fixed for the long-term relationship between the players and owners, I feel the timing of Panarin’s bold statement is off. I think hockey will win out here. Most players want to play. The next CBA will decide if anything changes. At least they have a better working relationship than Major League Baseball.

My feeling is that once camps hopefully start up, this topic will go away. It’s too imperative that they finish the season. There’s a lot at stake. Particularly with revenue. Nobody wants there to be no conclusion to what was an exciting year where you had as many as five Hart Trophy candidates. The Oilers duo of Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid. Boston superstar David Pastrnak. Panarin, who Avalanche MVP candidate Nathan MacKinnon endorsed. Plus Sabres do everything center Jack Eichel, who likely will finish fifth or sixth due to another playoff miss in Buffalo.

Who knows what will happen with the expanded format. Sure. You’ll have strong favorites like the Bruins, Lightning, Blues and Avalanche entering the Stanley Cup phase. However, you don’t really know how it’ll turn out. Four months is a long time to go without playing games. Maybe one of the survivors of the Play In round can make a run. The Rangers will be taking on the Hurricanes. That should be good. Other series to follow include the Blue Jackets and Leafs, Canucks and Wild, and Jets versus Flames.

What about which team falls short in this preliminary round? What lucky loser will wind up winning Part Two of the Draft Lottery? Someone will get Lafreniere. It doesn’t seem fair. I’ll have more on that in my next post.

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Mayhem and chaos ensue after draft lotto assures Lafreniere goes to play-in team

I’m sure Derek will have his own vent on the draft lottery later on, even if his team actually has a shot at getting the top pick with a play-in loss. I’m mostly posting about it to give a mea culpa. Derek was right and I was wrong, I defended the concept of play-in playoffs being tied to giving those teams a shot at the lottery. I thought it was a fair compromise, the price of bringing extra teams into the bubble and making sure all the teams that were close to a playoff berth (along with a couple that weren’t) had a fair shot in an unfair season and also throwing playoff teams forced into the play-in series a bone in case they got upset.

No, I’m not doing an about face because the Devils’ lotto luck finally ran out. Quite honestly going from 6 to 7 was the most statistically likely result for us, we’ve already had enough good luck for like ten lotteries since we won our last ‘three’ (inlcluding Adam Larsson, which only bumped us from #8 to #4 overall thanks to the rules in place then). Nor am I even annoyed that a play-in team will luck into the #1 overall pick this year, at least not per se. Teams that have minute odds have been jumping the lottery every year.

What made me change my mind about the absurdity of this year’s double lottery is the realization that the Devils were a couple of wins away from this play-in tournament and getting a 12.5% chance of lucking into yet ANOTHER #1 overall, and how that fact would actually incentivize losing for the fanbase. Not for the players or even management, teams can’t realistically tank a shot at the playoffs just because of a 1 in 8 chance of winning a lotto although people are going crazy imagining that very concept. However fanbases are free to feel how they want, and fans of mediocre or bad teams like Montreal, the Blackhawks, etc are definitely going to weigh the 1/8 chance of getting the #1 pick versus the minute chance of actually advancing in the playoffs and be very conflicted, to put it mildly.

I’d never advocate tanking or rooting for the team to lose, even in the hypothetical of us squeezing into the play-in tournament I laid out. Which by the way would have put us against a rival Penguin team while having to debate rooting for the tank, ironic as it would have been given the events of the most infamous draft tank of all time in 1984. As distasteful as rooting for the team to lose is to me, I’m not sure I could even blame anyone for going the other way on it considering the chances of winning the lottery are much greater than advancing in the playoffs would be for us or even Derek’s team. And THAT is what changed my mind about this lottery. As well-intended as I think it was to try to throw a compromise to everyone, incentivizing losing for fans is never a good thing.

And also cynically I think if the NHL could have picked a result out of tonight, it would have been this. Now they get weeks of breathless speculation and can hype up the Lafreniere lottery as another TV event, with a chance of him going to some prime markets. Nobody would have really cared to watch a drawing for the #2 or #3 picks, and the play-in teams would have furrowed their brows if they didn’t get a lottery win out of this configuration.

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Hockey’s back tonight…sort of

HAMILTON, ON - JANUARY 16:  Alexis Lafreniere #11 of Team White skates during the 2020 CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game against Team Red at FirstOntario Centre on January 16, 2020 in Hamilton, Canada.  (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)

It’s hard to believe it’s been three and a half months since the NHL (and really the world) came to a screeching halt and hit the world’s biggest speedbump in terms of everyday life. I didn’t realize it’s already been that long until I was thinking back to mid-March and the last time the NHL or any other major sport had any kind of daily relevance for me. We’re now at the end of June and as all the major sports try to creep toward playing, cases are spiking up again around the country, and big-time athletes like tennis’ Novak Djokovic and hockey’s own Auston Matthews are also testing positive for COVID-19.

In some ways tonight’s draft lottery is the NHL’s return to the North American stage, even though the return to play plan was already announced some weeks ago, it’s still a theory to me until guys are actually on the ice and playing wherever the NHL’s going to have its ‘hub cities’. Tonight is really the first big moment for the NHL since the mid-March pause, on or off the ice. This time, Canadian winger Alexis Lafreniere (pictured above) is the top prize at stake for the 24(!) teams with a shot at winning the top pick. Yet, theoretically we might not know who gets any of the top three picks if the blank cards for play-in round losers come up in all the lottery winner spots. You can argue the logic of this one-off lottery if you wish, I know Derek’s not high on it. Rumor is the league may announce its intended hub cities tonight to coincide with the draft lottery.

Personally, as a Devils fan I’m ambivalent to the lottery at the moment. Oh sure I’ll be watching and celebrate in the moment if somehow lightning strikes thrice and the Devils vault into the top three from outside it yet again (though this time they’ll have to do it without lottery good luck charm Taylor Hall). At the same time, it’ll also feel a bit embarassing if we really corner the market on lotto luck Oilers-style. I couldn’t really blame opposition fans for being bitter if that was the case. It’s not even as if our last two lotto wins have set the world on fire yet. Sure, Nico Hischier looks like a solid two-way player and Jack Hughes still has plenty of time to improve on a rookie season that was just as lost as the franchise on the whole. And even winning the lottery under the previous system only just gained us more distant futures as we went from Adam Larsson to Hall to the picks and prospects we got for cashing out on him.

Still it’s nice to have something tangible that’ll finally matter somewhat in terms of one of my sports teams. While the NFL tries to plow through its offseason like it’s business as usual, it’s still the actual offseason. Though I pay little more than casual attention to the NBA (loosely still a Nets fan, but once I started getting into hockey as a teenager I wasn’t as big a basketball fan after that), they’ve been in the same limbo as the NHL and are arguably in more danger going down to Orlando to attempt to add on a few games to its regular season before the playoffs. Baseball, well we know what a disaster that’s been with the sport getting shut down on the eve of the season and then unneccesary and petty labor fights proving to be a pox on everyone’s house dominating the interim before time ran out and a 60-game season had to be implemented without an agreement. At least for once the NHL wasn’t the sport that had to default to a shutdown over labor issues.

Ironically it was the first of these major labor issues under commisioner Gary Bettman that was the backdrop for the Devils’ first Stanley Cup in the 1995 NHL season, which didn’t begin until late January and stalled the momentum the NHL got from a dramatic 1994 playoffs that briefly put the league on track to gain much-needed mainstream exposure in the US, especially after baseball’s own labor issues obliterated their season and dragged into 1995 as well. Instead of an 82-game season we had a 48-game sprint where the league’s two best teams in 1994 both struggled, the Rangers barely squeezing into the playoffs as an 8 seed following their emotional curse-breaking Cup win in 1994 while the Devils finished an ordinary fifth in the East, needing an early Spring surge to avoid the bubble themselves.

Going into the playoffs the story surrounding the Devils wasn’t whether they could win a Cup but rather, would they even BE in New Jersey after 1995? Rumors of a move to Nashville swirled around the team the whole Spring and to me created a bit more urgency for the franchise to win. Even as a teenager then, I felt the team needed to win it all to avoid moving, a little like a real-life Major League movie. Would I even still be a hockey fan if the Devils had moved? I certainly would have missed out on the Devils’ dynasty cause there’s no way I would have rooted for them in Nashville in a pre-WWW age of actually being able to keep up with teams more easily around the globe. I could have pictured being stuck with rooting for the Islanders during their dark ages and becoming disillusioned. Maybe I would have gotten more interest back in the NBA as the Nets became good in the early 2000’s.

Though the Devils were on the road for every series that playoff I knew they could win any series, at least in the East. Detroit loomed out West with their league-best record, and a talented group under legendary coach Scotty Bowman. First the Devils had to get to the Finals though, and they disposed of Boston and Pittsburgh in five games during the first two rounds much to the surprise of the ‘experts’, then in the Conference Finals came the rival Flyers who had the best record in the East and a young, talented team led by the guy who looked like the NHL’s next superstar in Eric Lindros. Philly had disposed of the defending champion Rangers in a second-round sweep, but it looked like the shoe was on the other foot against the Devils as the team from Jersey got up 2-0 with a pair of convincing wins in the City of Brotherly Love.

Perhaps overconfidence kicked in, and the Devils lost Games 3 and 4 at East Rutherford, giving the Flyers back home-ice as the teams went to Philly for the pivotal Game 5. Although many will cite Scott Stevens’ hit on Slava Kozlov or Scott Niedermayer’s end-to-end goal during the Finals as the most memorable play from that year, to me the moment I’ll always think of from the postseason is Claude Lemieux’s pivotal tie-breaking goal in the fifth game at Philly. With the teams less than a minute from OT it had already more or less become sudden death for Game 5, and the Devils staring at possibly being down 3-2 after three straight losses it was the eventual Conn Smythe winner who saved the day, with an assist from the ill-fated Ron Hextall in the Flyers’ net.

Now with the momentum and the home-ice in Game 6, the Devils dominated most of the night and clinched their first SCF berth in front of an approving home crowd. Against Detroit in the SCF while I knew it wasn’t going to be the sweep or blowout people figured I was worried we could lose a tight seven-game series, but the Devils continued to mystify the experts by winning the first two in Detroit, with the aformentioned Niedermayer goal breaking a third-period tie in Game 2. I knew the issue was settled after the Devils’ dominant Game 3 win. I was so comfortable I even fell asleep on the couch toward the end of the third period with the Devils up 5-0. Game 4 wasn’t quite the same fait accompli but after Shawn Chambers’ tying goal at the end of a first period dominated by Detroit, you just knew the Devils weren’t going to be denied at home. It was during the close of Game 4 that another iconic image of that postseason happened.

Grinder Mike Peluso got so emotional over winning the Cup he had to miss a shift or two towards the end of the game breaking down on the bench. Even since then I haven’t seen too many visceral reactions like that, at least during the actual game. Also noteworthy about the clips above is the broadcasting team – the Devils’ own Doc Emrick who’s clearly the best announcer in hockey, and the Rangers’ John Davidson who for a long time was the best analyst in the business before getting back into the NHL in a management capacity. You still can’t have a better duo doing national games. And Emrick, who was associated with the Devils for over two decades got to do the memorable call of their first title.

‘The championship to New Jersey…the Devils win the Stanley Cup!’

Short and sweet, much like the series itself. Fortunately the epilogue also had a happy ending for Devils fans as NJ native McMullen spurned the offer from Nashville at the last minute and kept the team in New Jersey, seemingly at a great cost as McMullen was forced to sell the team just after their second title in 2000. Did the championship and the fans’ reaction at the arena celebration (I refuse to call it a ‘parking lot parade’) several days later compel McMullen to let sentiment win out? Perhaps. Staying in NJ proved to be the best for everyone else involved, as the Devils built a model franchise for two decades while Nashville would get their own popular expansion team in 1998.

Those days seem a long way off now, all things considered. Both because of the state of the current team and society as a whole. Not to mention on a certain level it was depressing realizing it was 25 years since that championship and many of the faces involved with the team are no longer around, other than Ken Daneyko who parlayed being a popular player into a team color guy shortly after his career ended in 2003. Matt Loughlin, who was then a TV analyst is now the team’s radio play-by-play guy. And after Martin Brodeur moved on as a player following the 2014 season, he returned to the organization in a management capacity last offseason.

I don’t want to get melancholy however, I do think better days are ahead though we’re definitely in for some more rocky ones as a country. For the team itself? Well it can’t get much worse than it was the first half of last year.

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Revisiting Alex Mogilny after another snub

Alex Mogilny was not only a great finisher, but a terrific playmaker during a 16-year NHL career that remains overlooked by some clueless writers of the Hockey Hall of Fame. One day, he’ll make it. Getty Images

It was a year ago that I wrote a special piece on why Alex Mogilny deserved to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. His 1032 points over 990 games with four NHL teams (Sabres, Canucks, Devils, Maple Leafs, Devils) is proof of the elite player he was.

A unique player with explosive breakaway speed, lethal wrist shot, deke and terrific playmaking skills that remain overlooked, Mogilny remains out of the Hall. They revealed the 2020 Class yesterday. For the most part, it is a strong class headlined by Jarome Iginla and Marian Hossa. Each were locks. Also revealed was long overdue former defenseman Doug Wilson. A Norris winner who produced at a high level.

The most startling newest member is Kevin Lowe. A six-time Stanley Cup winner who was a key cog for all five Edmonton Cups that were highlighted by Gretzky and Messier, the solid skating defenseman had a good career. He even came to New York and was a unsung hero on the ’93-94 Rangers where he paired with 2019 Hall of Famer Sergei Zubov. They certainly got a lot of mileage out of the veteran, who again celebrated another championship with captain Mark Messier down the Canyon of Heroes.

There’s no question that Lowe was a good player who was solid throughout a long career playing twice for Edmonton where he ended along with his time spent on Broadway. A player who never won any major awards, playing for six Cup winners definitely helped Lowe get in. He was underrated during his NHL career. I was impressed with the minutes he provided for the Rangers. He was a warrior. A guy who could play the position and absorb a hit for the good of the team.

When I think of Lowe, I don’t think Hall of Fame. There’s nothing wrong with that. In a class that also includes outstanding Canadian women’s national team hockey star Kim St-Pierre and builder Ken Holland, Lowe is the one question mark. It isn’t meant as disrespectful. It’s just that compared to accomplished former stars such as Mogilny and what’s now looking like a blackballed Jeremy Roenick for stuff off the ice, he’s the one member who could’ve been passed over. Whether it was for Daniel Alfredsson, Mogilny, Roenick or Theo Fleury, those four were in a different class.

In regards to Mogilny, who will have to wait another year, it feels wrong. How many times can one of Russia’s biggest stars be snubbed? So he didn’t quite reach the magical 500 goal club due to injuries. What about the single best season by a Russian born player in NHL history? Taken from my piece written last November:

The 127 points are the most ever by a Russian born player in an individual season. Not even Sergei Fedorov beat him in his Hart year during ’93-94 when he posted 56 goals with 64 assists for 120 points with a plus-48 rating. The best season ever by a Russian player.

Notice I never said Mogilny was Fedorov, who was a remarkably productive two-way center. I didn’t say he’s Alex Ovechkin either, who is a lock once his unreal career concludes. Will he challenge Wayne Gretzky? I never even put him in Pavel Bure’s league in terms of finishing. The Russian Rocket was astonishing to watch and his career was over too soon. He’s in BTW. What’s the deal with Mogilny? Is it the fact injuries prevented better numbers? He didn’t reach 1000 games. But he won a Cup in New Jersey and proved he could score at an elite level in that system during ’00-01 when he tallied 43 goals and 83 points while boosting Scott Gomez and Sergei Brylin.

Alexander The Great as legendary Sabres announcer Rick Jeanneret referred to him while he was torching opposing goalies during a memorable ’92-93 that saw him tie rookie Teemu Selanne for the league lead in goals (76), was simply an exciting player to watch. He sure worked well with Hall of Famer Pat Lafontaine, whose career was cut short by concussions. It didn’t prevent the same Hall of Fame writers from inducting him.

Is it a bias against a Russian player, who is a Triple Gold Member? When you have them inducting solid two-way centers such as Guy Carbonneau and Bob Gainey, who are both Canadian and won in Montreal, it makes you wonder. What is the criteria or thinking? Does anyone believe Carbonneau is a Hall of Famer? I know he was a good player that won multiple Selke Trophies for his ability to check top scoring lines. He also helped the Stars win their only Cup in ’98-99. But how is he in over guys like Mogilny, Fleury, Alfredsson and Roenick? Even Steve Larmer was better and I don’t see him making it anytime soon.

It’s mystifying to this passionate hockey fan blogger that a player of Mogilny’s stature remains outside the Hall in Toronto. Sure. I was very impressed with his ’95-96 year without Bure, who went down to a torn ACL early. Mogilny only put up 55 goals and 52 assists for 107 points at age 26. His first season on Vancouver after being traded from Buffalo for a package that helped the Sabres land future captain Michael Peca. The breakdown of his goals that season are 40 even strength, 10 power play and five shorthanded. Many people may not realize it. But Mogilny totaled 20 shorthanded goals in his 16-year career. He was mostly a productive player at five-on-five and on the plus side of the ledger only winding up a minus three times. Two in abbreviated years including his last in his sad reunion with the Devils in ’05-06 due to injuries.

You know. Bure wound up with 437 goals in 702 games when his career ended at 31 in Manhattan. Mogilny totaled 473 in 990. So not as lethal a finisher, but a better overall player due to his ability to find the open man. He wound up with 559 assists. He not only paced the 2000-01 Devils in goals (43). But added 40 helpers while leading them in even strength goals (31), tying for first in power play goals (12) and finishing tops in game-winners (7).

He made teammates better. Maybe there’s a misconception about Mogilny due to his finishing ability. An eight-time 30-goal scorer who topped 70 once, 50 once and 40 once, Mogilny deserves his place in Toronto. If he doesn’t make it next year when Alfredsson is sure to be going in with possibly Rod Brind’Amour, it will remain a mystery as to why.

Put Number 89 in where he belongs!

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Happy 25th Anniversary to Devils and Hasan

It’s June 24, 2020. It was 25 years ago today that the New Jersey Devils won their first Stanley Cup. That was on a hot summer night in 1995 at the old Brendan Byrne Arena in East Rutherford.

The ’95 Devils didn’t have the best regular season. However, they gelled at the right time during a shortened 48-game season. Former architect Lou Lamoriello made two crucial moves that put them over the top by adding former Stars Neal Broten and Shawn Chambers. Both scored twice in their 5-2 home clincher to take Game Four and sweep the Red Wings.

Even though top finisher Claude Lemieux won the Conn Smythe with 13 goals in the tournament, you could’ve made a argument for Broten, who wound up with 19 points in the postseason following 28 in 30 after coming over for Corey Millen in a steal of a deal. The veteran who had spent his whole career first as a North Star and Star, was instrumental in the Devils lifting the Cup under coach Jacques Lemaire. He was always a superb player and fit in perfectly.

Ditto for Chambers, who was a better fit for the Devs after trading Slava Fetisov to ironically the Red Wings where he fit in well under Scotty Bowman, becoming part of the Russian Five in Motown. They would go on to win back-to-back Cups in Fetisov’s final two years.

I always found it interesting that so many prognosticators believed the Red Wings were heavy favorites to win that series. After playing a little prank on one of my college buddies at Fairleigh Dickinson in Madison with a sarcastic 19-Never sign before headed home for the summer, I had a feeling the Devils would win that year. Especially after being so close against the Rangers the year before.

It didn’t matter that they were 22-18-8 which was good enough for second in the division and the East’s fifth seed. They had the experience edge over the Red Wings, who sure boasted great Hall of Fame talent in Steve Yzerman, Sergei Fedorov, Dino Ciccarelli, Paul Coffey, Nick Lidstrom, Mark Howe, Fetisov and likely Chris Osgood later today. Even though the overlooked Mike Vernon was the starter. How Vladimir Konstantinov isn’t in is beyond me. It’s like what they’re doing to Alex Mogilny, who isn’t expected to be announced later as part of the 2020 Class. Ditto for Jeremy Roenick.

As dominant as those Wings were going 33-11-4 with a league best 70 points over 48 games, they were no match for the Devils. New Jersey had one tough opponent by pulling out the last two games over the Flyers to take a compelling Eastern Conference Final in six games. They only lost once to Boston and once to the Penguins in the first two rounds. Detroit had only two defeats entering the Stanley Cup Final. One apiece to the Stars and Blackhawks.

I always felt the Devils were underestimated entering that Final. They were a true four line team that featured the famed Crash Line of Bobby Holik, Mike Peluso and Randy McKay. You had proven vets like Lemieux, Stephane Richer, John MacLean, Broten, Bruce Driver, Scott Stevens, Ken Daneyko, Tommy Albelin, Tom Chorske and Bobby Carpenter. They also had young talent in future Hall of Famer Martin Brodeur, Bill Guerin, Brian Rolston, Sergei Brylin and the other young future legend in Scott Niedermayer. Plus Stevens, who captained all three Devils teams to championships and also is in the Hall of Fame.

They were a T-E-A-M. They proved it by beating the favored Red Wings in four straight. Total domination. You can’t measure the heart of a champion. That was a quote they had on their bulletin board per Doc Emrick on his ironic call that night on Fox with partner John Davidson. The quote was from two-time NBA Champion Hakeem Olajuwon of the Rockets. As for Emrick’s final call, it went like this:

Championship to New Jersey. The Devils are Stanley Cup Champions!!!

Simple and to the point for the same legendary announcer we’ve come to love 25 years later. Doc is the Voice of hockey having gone from Fox to ABC with JD to NBC where he now partners with Eddie Olczyk. Doc’s enthusiasm has always been great for the sport along with his vocabulary. He’s like a walking talking encyclopedia of knowledge. I’m glad I got the chance to work with him during the ’00-01 season. He is a true pro.

It’s funny that all these years later, my friend Robert Davis still jokes about how heavy a favorite the Red Wings were. I never bought it. Maybe it was my intuition and knowledge from how tough that team was for the Rangers to beat. I knew. I’m not right often. But in that case 25 years ago on a balmy summer night, I was.

I made sure to congratulate my friend Ken too on his team winning after my prank. I think I knew they were gonna win. At least I like to tell myself that all this time later.

Enjoy your 25th Anniversary Hasan.

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