RIP Rob Zee (LiasTheGoat)

The Rangers community has lost another diehard fan. A few months following the passing of Stephen Curatolo (stephennyr89), another passionate fan of the Blueshirts has passed away.

Rob Zee, better known to Twitter as LiasTheGoat, is no longer with us. A good guy who wore his emotions on his sleeves, Rob was truly a pleasure to interact with. His loyalty was unquestioned and when he debated you, he always supported his arguments with the same vigor you would expect.

As recently as July 1, he let everyone know how he was doing. But still tweeted his enthusiasm for a Rangers off-season that included Kaapo Kakko, Adam Fox, Jacob Trouba and as he predicted, Artemi Panarin. I think maybe Curatolo brought them luck along with Steven McDonald in winning the lottery to land Kakko with the number two pick.

What I liked most about Rob is he let you know how he felt. He never pulled any punches. No matter the topic, you always were entertained by @LiasTheGoat. He had a good sense of humor. Something that’s not always common these days on social media. Here is one of my favorites:

Can you only imagine what his thoughts were on Kevin Hayes winding up in Philadelphia under Alain Vigneault? It’s too bad we’ll never get to see his tweet on that subject. But I can only imagine it being hard hitting and full of sarcasm. For that reason, I can’t help but chuckle.

Like everyone on May 10, he sent out his thoughts on the loss of Stephen 🙏. Deep down, I know the both of them are watching above sharing a beer and discussing the palpable excitement for the upcoming Rangers season.

When friend Madison Miller told me about Rob’s loss, I was truly saddened by the news. All I can think of is why. It truly sucks. I feel like Madison summed it up best.

It’s ironic. We all complain about petty nonsense. Compared to what both Stephen and Rob faced, our issues pale in comparison. I guess it’s true what Billy Joel said in his hit song. “Only the good die young.”

That was his take after the President’s Trophy winning Lightning were swept by the eighth seeded Blue Jackets. It couldn’t have been more appropriate. My bracket was extinct by the time the Avalanche eliminated the Flames in the same first round. I laughed about it. He was also right about upsets. They happen. If they didn’t, Virginia wouldn’t have become the first one seed to lose to a 16 in 2018. They bounced back to win their first ever national championship a year later.

It’s hard to believe two of the best Ranger fans have been taken from us. All in just over three months. It’s very mind numbing and shocking. I’m sure the Rangers organization will do something for Curatolo, who was everywhere at MSG despite being in and out of the hospital while battling cancer.

My only hope is that the team honors both by having a good season. How I wish they could be here to see it. I still miss Stephen’s tweets. Likewise for Rob.

You are both sorely missed. But let’s remember one thing. Your fighting spirit isn’t gone. That will last forever. 💜😢

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Realistic Expectations for the New York Rangers

The word realistic is something that most Blueshirt fans don’t go by. Of course, there’s a lot of enthusiasm based on an exciting off-season.

Why shouldn’t we be excited? I’m not going to be a Debbie downer here. I’m looking forward to training camp, preseason and of course October 3 at home versus the Winnipeg Jets 49 days away. We all are.

The hot summer has been long and feels even longer for some reason. When your team doesn’t make the playoffs for a second straight year, that means no hockey for six months. Yikes. Sure. I still watched most of the postseason even though it frustrated me. Damn idiotic rule changes leading to controversial rulings. Plus the Blues winning the Cup over the Bruins didn’t really excite me. As nice as it was for St. Louis, eh.

I don’t care. It’s better than a Boston team winning again. The summer has been nice from that standpoint. With the Yankees emphatically sweeping all four games a couple of weeks ago, the Red Sox look cooked like a good summer barbecue. It’s all about October in the Bronx. There could even be meaningful baseball in Queens given the weak state of the wildcard in the Senior Circuit.

Alright. Enough baseball talk. This is a hockey blog covering the Hudson Rivalry. Today, it’s the Rangers side as September draws nearer. What follows will be rookie prospect tournaments, camp and competition for roster spots with exhibition games.

So, what should we expect? We are still waiting on Tony DeAngelo to re-sign and for the Rangers and Brendan Lemieux to reach agreement. If they come cheap, they’ll be able to fit everyone in.

That includes much discussed Chris Kreider. The power forward has a year left on his contract before he can test free agency next July. Team President John Davidson recently commented that he expected Kreider to be in camp. A positive development. Who knows if he’s in their long-term plans?

If they start the season with Kreider behind Artemi Panarin at left wing, that’s encouraging. Especially when the right side will feature Kaapo Kakko and Pavel Buchnevich in the top six. At least, that’s how I am projecting them. I’m not gonna get into lines yet. It’s too early.

We still don’t know who will become the second line center. There’ll be an interesting competition with Filip Chytil and Ryan Strome likely to battle it out. As versatile as he is, I’d prefer Strome on right wing if he isn’t traded.

Most pundits are writing off Lias Andersson. Believing the 2017 first round pick will be part of a numbers game, it’s almost like they’ve already decided that the 20-year old pivot is a bust. It’s way too early for that. Not long ago, DeAngelo looked like a bust before rebounding under coach David Quinn to become a regular on the back end. Now, that trade of Derek Stepan and Antti Raanta doesn’t look so bad. Let’s see what Andersson shows us next month. Rangers brass will decide what’s best for him. Not impatient fans.

Center is crowded. After top pivot Mika Zibanejad, you have Chytil, Strome, Andersson, Brett Howden and Boo Nieves all capable of playing there. If you slide Strome to right wing, then it’s four young players competing for three starting slots. Besides, Jesper Fast isn’t a top nine forward. He’s best suited for the fourth line with Lemieux and whoever centers it.

Left wing still includes Vladislav Namestnikov. He of the immovable $4 million salary that expires in 2020. Truth be told, Namestnikov became a consistent checking forward under Quinn, who used him at even strength, the power play and penalty kill. With an increase of talent coming in, Namestnikov won’t have to play power play.

The interesting dynamic at right wing is what happens if 2018 top pick Vitali Kravtsov is ready. You can’t play him on the fourth line. That would be a total waste. They don’t want to make the same mistake they did with Andersson. Kravtsov has superb skill and a good ceiling as a scoring forward. The key is not to rush him. If he proves he’s ready, fine. It’s a good problem to have.

The defense should improve thanks to key addition Jacob Trouba. Arguably a Top 25 defenseman due to his combination of skating, physicality and offensive capability, he should really help out Brady Skjei on the projected top pair. Don’t expect 50 points. This isn’t Winnipeg. That’s what I mean by realistic.

I don’t want to put too much weight of expectations on rookie Adam Fox. We need to see it first in camp. He definitely has the potential to become a top four offensive defenseman who can play power play. The key word being potential. Remember Matt Gilroy? I know. Don’t compare them. I’m not. I just don’t want to be overly enthusiastic yet.

If the right side is expected to be Trouba, DeAngelo and Fox, the left side remains spotty. After Skjei is veteran leader Marc Staal, who knows how to play the position despite the criticism. He primarily is used five-on-five and on the penalty kill. His minutes can be managed. When the analytics crowd point to his low Corsi, don’t forget his starts. He’s used mostly in the defensive zone. Trouba and Skjei should be counted on more for that. But Staal isn’t going to have his usage increase offensively. It doesn’t make sense. Having a good skating partner in DeAngelo or possibly Fox should help.

Third pair remains a question mark. Assuming it’s Libor Hajek’s to lose, he only has five games of NHL experience. Ryan Lindgren also has five. Yegor Rykov has none with him coming over from Russia. Veteran Brendan Smith is a solid veteran with needed experience if necessary. Nothing wrong with that. They can either keep him up or shuttle him back and forth from Hartford. Don’t forget the kids can be sent down.

I expect the defense to be an area that doesn’t get off to a good start. It could improve as the season goes on. There will be a learning curve. That’s what Kevin Shattenkirk leaves behind. I’m sure he’s extremely happy to be in Tampa. You know he’ll get on the score sheet against the Rangers in one of the three games. It always happens.

As for goalie, it’s status quo for now. Henrik Lundqvist is the starter with Alexandar Georgiev expected to back up. Unless top goalie prospect Igor Shesterkin blows the coaching staff away, he’ll likely start in Hartford. How things play out remains to be seen.

The undeniable fact is at 37, Lundqvist isn’t what he once was. That’s not a criticism. It’s based on recent performance. In order to change the perception, he’ll need to get off to a good start and sustain it. That means consistency. Something that’s been an issue. He can be managed due to Georgiev, who proved to be a good second option in his rookie year. Now, Georgie must show he can do it again. Especially with Shesterkin lurking.

A lot can change in the next two years at the goalie position. Keep a watchful eye on the situation.

Expectations are up due to adding skill types in Panarin and second overall pick Kakko, who projects as a franchise player. The offense should be more fun to watch. Especially if the Bread Man rips it up as he did in Chicago and Columbus. Zibanejad to Panarin should be riveting. The power play could be intriguing. But it’s worth nothing most of the Bread Man’s production has come at even strength. A good thing for a team that’s struggled at five-on-five.

If Kreider is back, you have two scoring lines that should create more balance. Quinn can try both Kakko and Buchnevich on the top line and see what the better combination is. Don’t forget Kreider had instant chemistry with Zibanejad. But he has proven he can play with other centers. Buchnevich hasn’t.

Depending on the maturation of young players like Chytil, Howden and Andersson, that will go a long way to where the Rangers wind up. Especially in a competitive Metro Division where the Flyers and Devils have improved. Only the Blue Jackets look like they could be worse due to the departures of Panarin, Sergei Bobrovsky (Fla), Matt Duchene (Nsh) and Ryan Dzingel (Car).

I won’t get into point total yet. Let’s wait and see where we are in a month. There are still big restricted free agents that remain unsigned. The only thing I’ll conclude is that the Blueshirts should top 80 points. Where they finish I’m still uncertain.

After tonight, 48 days will remain until the home opener. Business is about to pick up!

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Devils Mascot triggers Rangers fans with playful tweet

An Agent of Chaos: Like Heath Ledger’s Joker in The Dark Knight, the chaos has returned to Gotham between Devil and Ranger fans. AP Photo via Getty Images courtesy Pinterest.

These days on social media can turn into a complete circus literally. Or a clown show. It doesn’t take much for things to unravel or escalate on Twitter. No matter what the topic is, it can spiral out of control quickly.

As someone who shares a Hudson Rivalry blog with a diehard Devils fan in Hasan, I don’t mind the chaos that comes with it. Besides, my favorite character is the late Heath Ledger’s Joker from the memorable 2008 hit movie The Dark Knight. He was an “Agent of Chaos,” like he told Harvey Dent after visiting him in the epic hospital scene below.

So, yesterday the official Twitter account of the Devils Mascot triggered Rangers fans. Such is chaotic life in a once dead rivalry that’s about to get a huge jolt this Fall.

Ironically, NJDevil was responding to a tweet from the New York Rangers that tweaked former Islanders goalie Robin Lehner after the clowns at the NHL royally screwed up by putting Rangers instead of Islanders on his 2018-19 Bill Masterton Trophy.

Predictably, the Devils Mascot tweaked the Garden Faithful by indicating that is the only thing “you’ve won in a while.”

Well played. Even if the Devils have only made the playoffs once since their run in 2012, they still have bragging rights as far as success this century. Sure. 2003 is in the rear window. But let’s face facts. The goal for the Rangers is to win a Cup. They made runs in the Henrik Lundqvist Era with the sting of 2014 still fresh along with the sour ending to 2015.

If the Devils’ last two championships (’00, 03) are a while ago, then the Rangers’ lone Cup victory in ’94 feels like forever. They commemorated the 25-Year Anniversary last February in a excellent ceremony that included a preclude of John Davidson returning along with a very well stated speech from The Captain, Mark Messier. It was a great night with some nostalgia. The Garden felt like it used to.

Nobody on either side of The Rivalry can predict what will happen. It’s great to have bright young players who should become future stars for each franchise. Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko will be closely watched by everyone. The first and second picks in the 2019 NHL Draft will be under the radar in the backdrop of a unique rivalry that has New York City and New Jersey front and center. Newark and Broadway.

It’s perfect. So too are lightning rod PK Subban and Jacob Trouba with each expected to give a significant boost to the respective rivals’ bluelines. Subban is the larger than life personality the Devils have lacked. He has much to prove after getting moved for a second time over three summers. Hard to fathom. Trouba is the more quiet and younger defenseman who the Rangers are banking on to address their right side. We’ll see how he adjusts from Winnipeg to playing in the Big Apple.

There’s a lot to like about both teams. As we draw closer to September, the excitement on both sides of the Hudson is palpable. With it has come the trash talk we haven’t seen in quite some time.

I’ll admit to amusement seeing this kind of intensity between fans. So much of that had disappeared due to how down the teams have been. Taylor Hall did have a special Hart season in ’17-18 by carrying the Devils back to the postseason before getting eliminated in five games by the Lightning. Then an injury riddled ’18-19 robbed him and turned New Jersey into a very bad team that landed Hughes with the top pick.

Ironically, the Rangers won the lottery by moving up into the top three and landing Kakko at number two. Something very unexpected. Don’t forget the Devils couldn’t drop lower than three. The Rangers have missed the playoffs the past two seasons, going from one of the better teams that made the postseason to a rebuilding club looking to return to respectability. They’re hoping both Trouba and pricey Russian star forward Artemi Panarin can lift them back into contention.

Only time will tell. For now, I’ll reiterate what I said this morning in this tweet response.

We have a lot to look forward to. Let’s embrace it!

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Oops! NHL screws up Lehner’s Masterton Trophy

There are mistakes and then there are MISTAKES. Robin Lehner received his Masterton Trophy. Unfortunately, there was a big boo-boo by the NHL. Here is the Oops moment of the day.

I’m familiar with jersey fouls. But this right here is a trophy no no. Mixing up the Rangers for the Islanders is flat out disrespect no matter how you slice it. Especially when Lehner helped carry the Islanders to the second round of the playoffs.

He might not be a New York Islander anymore. But Lehner’s perseverance and dedication overcoming off ice issues were recognized at the NHL Awards in June. He also finished third for the Vezina.

It’s hard to believe Lehner’s Masterton Trophy says New York Rangers on it instead of New York Islanders. If you’re on the Long Island and Brooklyn side of the rivalry, you’re probably up in arms.

At least some fans have a good sense of humor about it. Enjoy the rest of your Saturday.

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Upset Shattenkirk lands with Lightning

It didn’t take long for Kevin Shattenkirk to wind up with another team. Is it really a surprise that the former Ranger landed in Tampa with the Lightning? It’s where most wind up.

Rangers South has been home to Ryan Callahan, Dan Girardi, J.T. Miller, Anton Stralman and is still where Ryan McDonagh plays. With the prior four gone, it was time for the Lightning to refill their allotment. So, they signed the recently bought out Shattenkirk for a year at $1.75 million. A low risk move for the veteran right defenseman, who can slide in on the third pair without any pressure.

He wasn’t happy about being bought out. That’s understandable. But the prideful 30-year old New Rochelle native didn’t blame the Rangers for how he wound up the odd man out off his favorite team. He took responsibility.

He wasn’t pleased with his performance in a short lived two years on Broadway. Injuries didn’t help. After playing in only 46 games in ’17-18 with five goals and 18 assists, Shattenkirk went 2-26-28 over 73 contests in ’18-19. He never found his footing after signing a big four-year contract worth an average cap hit of $6.65 million. The offensive defenseman didn’t produce the way the club envisioned. He struggled defensively going a combined minus-29 over two seasons.

When he was bought out last week, it was due to how much the Blueshirts would save for the upcoming season. They save over five million in ’19-20. That outweighs the six million of dead space for ’20-21. Combined with Girardi and Ryan Spooner, that’s over six million of retained salary for this season.

Citing the rebuild in an interview on The Athletic with Tampa reporter Joe Smith, Shattenkirk admitted that it wasn’t the best fit. Things sure changed. When he arrived, McDonagh was his teammate along with Miller, Rick Nash and Mats Zuccarello. But ’17-18 was so bad that the organization committed to a rebuild.

The rest is history. Now, Shattenkirk joins one of the league’s best teams in hopes of winning a Stanley Cup. The Lightning still have yet to re-sign Brayden Point. Once they do, they’ll again be considered the favorites. With a talented nucleus that features Hart winner Nikita Kucherov, Vezina winner Andrei Vasilevskiy, Victor Hedman, Steven Stamkos, McDonagh and Tyler Johnson, the Bolts will look to put last Spring’s bitter first round disappointment behind them.

We’ll see how Shattenkirk does in his new home. It should be a better fit.

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Rangers buyout of Shattenkirk changes things

Nobody knew when the buyout period started. Apparently, it’s not until after salary arbitration concludes.

That doesn’t matter now. The Rangers have decided to buyout Kevin Shattenkirk. Hot tip from New York Post beat writer Brett Cyrgalis.

He tweeted it out over an hour ago. We knew that it was a possibility. I wasn’t in favor of doing it. Especially given the dead cap space the Rangers will have moving forward. However, his cap hit of $6.65 million was pricey considering how much he struggled his first two years coming home.

For the upcoming ’19-20 season, the Rangers retain $1.48 million in salary. That becomes over six million for ’20-21 before going back to $1.48 million for ’21-22 and ’22-23. The club still has Dan Girardi on the books with $3.61 million of retained salary this season. It’s $1.11 million the next three seasons.

By buying out Shattenkirk, the Rangers basically are stuck in a dicey situation. Unable to move Vladislav Namestnikov due to his $4 million price tag, it looks like it’s a foregone conclusion that key power forward Chris Kreider could be dealt. His $4.625 million AAV in the final year is a bargain for a capable player, who’ll attract plenty of suitors next summer. Losing him would really hurt. But that’s the cost of doing business the way the Blueshirts have.

If Kreider goes, GM Jeff Gorton should be able to get a good return for one of his most valuable players. But interested teams know it’ll be as a one year rental with no guarantee he’ll sign an extension. I still believe the Avalanche would have interest if they can fit him in. They just went long-term with young defenseman Samuel Girard, investing an average of $5 million over seven years. That doesn’t kick in until 2020-21. They still must sign key restricted free agent Mikko Rantanen. With still over $16 million in cap space, Colorado could be a possible destination for Kreider.

Here’s the thing. With Shattenkirk bought out, Gorton only has to re-sign Tony DeAngelo and Brendan Lemieux. It shouldn’t put them that far over the $81.5 million upper limit. Maybe they can get creative by designating Brendan Smith to Hartford and finding just enough wiggle room to keep Kreider for now.

As far as how I feel, I didn’t want to see Shattenkirk go. I thought the cap hit and dead salary was too much. Plus I would’ve preferred to keep the veteran as insurance. They don’t know how ready Adam Fox is. I guess they figure it’s worth it because it was very likely that Shattenkirk wouldn’t have much of a role due to the Fox addition and big acquisition of Jacob Trouba. Especially if they are keeping DeAngelo after he showed promise in ’18-19 despite some off ice issues that coach David Quinn addressed. Hopefully, he keeps his head screwed on straight.

With K’Andre Miller a year away with prospects Libor Hajek, Ryan Lindgren and Yegor Rykov all competing for roster spots in training camp, the future is bright for New York’s blueline. Nils Lundkvist will need more time. He sustained a lower body injury a few days ago in a game for Sweden in the World Junior Showcase. Hopefully, it’s not serious.

On what’s been a strange day due to the very perplexing baseball trade deadline coming and going with the Yankees predictably doing nothing while the Astros landed Zack Greinke, I’m a little bit frustrated. Oh well. If my baseball team can’t get it done this October, hockey’s around the corner.

Things are looking up for the Devils after their smart move trading for Nikita Gusev. His skill set looks eerily similar to our $11.6 million star Artemi Panarin. If the $4.5 million AAV GM Ray Shero risked over two years is worth it, it’s the Devils who had the best offseason.

There are sure to be many arguments and heated debates in bars and at the games with the Hudson Rivalry renewed. Between who’s better between Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko, along with Trouba vs PK Subban, and now Panarin vs Gusev, both the Devils and Rangers are going to be interesting. They’ve both improved while the Islanders haven’t.

To be honest, the Metro Division should be unpredictable and very exciting. I’ll have more on that in the days to come as we hit August. Only a month to go!

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Devils strike again with Gusev trade

Last week the Devils formally welcomed offseason acquisition P.K. Subban to New Jersey, and at one of the pressers both coach John Hynes and owner Joshua Harris alluded to more moves still to come.  While adding Subban in trade, Wayne Simmonds in free agency, Jack Hughes in the draft and likely promoting Ty Smith to a starting role on D are all positive things, clearly the Devils needed to add even another big piece or two to really cement this offseason’s work.

Enter highly regarded KHL winger Nikita Gusev, after word came down the pike via the rumor mill this afternoon that the Devils were close to acquiring his rights from Vegas and had already asked permission to work out a contract over the weekend.  Eventually the trade was confirmed as official – Gusev to the Devils for a 2nd round pick (2021) and 3rd round pick (2020), along with the terms of the contract – two years at $4.5 million AAV.  And he’ll be wearing #97, if you care about that.  Credit to The Hockey Writers’ Dan Rice who broke the story first on Twitter and had the details of the trade exactly correct, as it turned out.

While I’ve been paying attention to the Gusev rumors I didn’t really want to look at what this guy was doing unless we actually did wind up trading for him.  Clearly his numbers in the KHL suggest he should be an impact top six forward at the NHL level but it’s always impossible to tell how one league translates to another.  At least the trade and contract cost makes the risk ridiculously low.

Notably absent from Subban welcome weekend a few days ago was GM Ray Shero.  Not that anyone really cared at the time, but guess now we know why – since he was finalizing the Gusev deal, as it turned out.  After years of frustratingly unused cap space and missed opportunities, Shero’s hitting this offseason out of the park making multiple difference-making adds to the team at less than prohibitive cost, adding an entire line and d-pairing to last year’s team with Gusev, Hughes, Simmonds, Subban and including Ty Smith.

What pray tell, does this mean for franchise keystone Taylor Hall?  Understandably he wanted to see what was in store for the franchise in a key offseason after last year’s dissapointing slide.  While clearly Shero subscribes to the Lou school of ‘when you have time, use it’, it would be far more ideal to have the Hall situation resolved before camp in a few weeks.  Extending Hall and recent #1 overall Nico Hischier would make this the ideal offseason for Shero.

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Buchnevich re-signing signals the likely end for Kreider

It could be over for Chris Kreider on Broadway due to the re-signing of key young forward Pavel Buchnevich.

A few days away from salary arbitration, the Rangers and right wing Pavel Buchnevich agreed on a new contract. As expected, he received a payment between the projected $2.5 to 3.5 million range.

The 24-year old Russian forward will earn an average of $3.25 million over the next two years. That will take him through 2021. Assuming the plan is to keep the younger, more controllable cheaper player, then it likely signals the end for Chris Kreider.

That’s the cost of doing business the way the Rangers have this summer. In upgrading the roster by overpaying primary targets Artemi Panarin and Jacob Trouba, they put themselves in cap dire straits. That’s the price they had to pay to get the Bread Man on Broadway due to a competitive market. He will improve the offense along with prize second pick Kaapo Kakko.

Ditto for the much needed top right pair defenseman in Trouba. A player who was the right choice by GM Jeff Gorton to revamp the blueline. He’s in his prime and can address one of the biggest weaknesses. If he can provide similar offense along with some physicality while being a shutdown D next to close friend Brady Skjei, then it’s a home run. Even if he will make an AAV of $8 million.

With the team no doubt improved, now comes the hard part. The Rangers are now over the upper cap limit of $81.5 million. Currently at $83.65 million, that’s over two million above where they need to be. The good news is they can stay above the limit for now before getting back down.

With still Tony DeAngelo and Brendan Lemieux left to sign, that’s at least another two and a half million. What that means is the subtractions are coming.

Even if they can find a taker for Vladislav Namestnikov, it won’t be easy. The easiest player to move is Kreider. A bargain in his final year at an AAV of $4.625 million, he’s likely a goner. With unrestricted free agency less than a year away, the popular power forward, who’s been an integral part of three playoff runs, will command at least $7 million per over seven years.

The proverbial writing is on the wall. As much as I’m certain they’d love to keep him, it doesn’t look like they have much of a choice. Not unless they use their buyout clauses on both Brendan Smith and Kevin Shattenkirk with the latter still probably needed in case Adam Fox isn’t fully ready.

If it is over for Kreider, it’ll come with a little disappointment. This isn’t about the ’09 first round pick taken at number 19 not hitting 30 goals or 60 points. He’s been a valuable player, who does so much for the team. From his deadly combination of size, skating and speed, the big man has been a good soldier wearing the traditional Blueshirt. Along with his net presence and transition to veteran leadership, if it’s indeed over for Kreider, those intangibles will be missed. He fit in well with old hat Derek Stepan and then was superb with Mika Zibanejad.

Now, it will likely fall on someone else. Oh. Perhaps Panarin along with Kakko if he is on the top line over Buchnevich. Buchnevich made strides under coach David Quinn by adjusting his perimeter game to play a more complete one. That resulted in a career best 21 goals including seven on the power play. He’ll be looked upon for more consistency over the next couple of years.

As for Kreider, he may never have found that highest level everyone believed was possible. Injuries contributed to not reaching 30 goals this past season with Number 20 showing true character by playing through pain. Something that shouldn’t be questioned. Losing that kind of player won’t be easy. If he is moved between now and October, he’ll be missed.

Such is life in the cap era. For better or worse, the Rangers are planning to move forward. If it’s without Kreider, so be it. That’s why you can never get too attached to a player. Whatever happens from here, it’ll be interesting to follow.

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By signing Trouba for an average of $8 million over seven years, Rangers are under the pressure cooker

On The Move? With Jacob Trouba signing, it could spell the end for popular Blueshirt Chris Kreider. Seen celebrating with key RFA Pavel Buchnevich.

In the unforgiving sweltering summer heat here in the Big Apple, the insane combination of near century mark temperatures with high humidity has made it very uncomfortable for most New Yorkers. This weekend could see some record breakers during the heat wave.

By reaching agreement with Jacob Trouba yesterday on a seven-year contract worth an average of $8 million, the Rangers are officially under the pressure cooker. They’ve invested a whopping $19.64 million in Artemi Panarin and Trouba over the next seven seasons. That’s roughly a quarter of the team’s salary cap.

If you base it off which includes Matt Beleskey’s $825,000 salary off the books, the Rangers currently have a shade over $2 million left to spend on the upper limit NHL salary cap of $81.5 million for ’19-20. When you consider that they still must bump up Pavel Buchnevich and re-sign restricted free agents Tony DeAngelo and Brendan Lemieux, they’re up against it.

While they can go over the cap until this Fall, eventually GM Jeff Gorton and Team President John Davidson will have to get back down to the max when they set the 23-man roster. As hot as it is, September will be here before you know it. We’re already past mid-July. My Mom just celebrated her birthday. Happy Birthday 🎂 Mom. Even though like me, she can’t stand this crazy heat. Where’s a ice tub when you need it?

Even though my initial reaction on Twitter was disbelief that Trouba got $8 million AAV, it was in the ballpark. I was hoping he would take a little less to help his new team out. But he didn’t have to. The Rangers could’ve gone to arbitration and saved about a million on a one-year reward. A risky proposition with a young player who could’ve tested the market in 2020. So, they compromised and found a middle ground.

The truth is the organization is banking on both Trouba and Panarin to deliver. While it sure helps to have won the NHL Lottery and landed franchise cornerstone Kaapo Kakko, the newest big name Blueshirts will be looked upon for experience and leadership. They must meet high expectations. The good news is they’re in their 20’s with some peak years ahead. That is better than spending on Brad Richards or Scott Gomez. You get the picture.

By speeding up the rebuild, the Rangers are sending a positive message to the fans. They want to be competitive and possibly compete for the playoffs. Still an uncertainty due to remaining question marks with the roster. For example, Buchnevich projects between $2.5 to $3.5 million. If they meet in the middle, he’ll get $3 million. That would put them over the cap.

DeAngelo and Lemieux won’t cost as much. However, that’s still at least another two million, meaning that’s a combined five million they’ll likely have to pay the remaining three Group II free agents. That would put them approximately $4 million over the cap.

It’s painfully obvious that they have some tough decisions ahead. With Vladislav Namestnikov the likely candidate to be moved due to his $4 million salary, that’s only one player. Even if they buyout Brendan Smith to save over a million, they want to have some room to maneuver just in case. But these are the Rangers. That’s how they do business. They will overpay if they think it’s worth it.

I like both the Bread Man and Trouba. I believe they make the team better. The question is how much right away. Let’s remember that it’ll be Kakko’s rookie season. So, before you project him for a crazy amount of goals (30) and points (70), he is only 18. A undeniable fact we must embrace.

It’s not about this year, but rather about the long-term future. Not with Vitali Kravtsov also expected to make his Broadway debut if not right away, at some point in ’19-20. Ditto for second-year forwards Filip Chytil and Lias Andersson. Both who must take positive steps and play more prominent roles under good coach David Quinn. Brett Howden shouldn’t be forgotten either. When you factor in top scoring center Mika Zibanejad at just 26 on one of the best contracts, there’s a lot to like.

The center position is going to change moving forward. It’ll be up to the coaching staff to decide who’s the best fit to center the second line. It could range anywhere from Chytil, Howden, Kakko or versatile forward Ryan Strome if he’s retained. Boo Nieves has proven he can center the fourth line. He deserves to be on the roster. Even if it’s shifting to wing.

Perhaps the hardest thing is whether Chris Kreider will still be a New York Ranger on October 3 when they host the Winnipeg Jets. The majority would love to keep him. But with a year remaining on a bargain salary of $4.625 million, he could be gone. If that’s what they decide, there goes the proven power forward and net front presence they have. That combination of size, strength and speed would vanish.

Understand that while Kreider has never hit 30 goals or 60 points, he’s a steady veteran presence who is a team leader on and off the ice. A player of his caliber is not easily replaced. It would be a bitter pill to swallow if he’s traded. Even if you’re the biggest optimist about the team, subtracting Kreider would be a big hit.

There’s no disputing the skill that Panarin, Kakko and Kravtsov will bring. The Rangers should be more exciting next season. However, any good team that’s as young as they are still needs physical guys to do the heavy lifting. They can’t be pushed around like in past years.

Lemieux is an agitating bottom six forward who’ll bring some of those unique qualities. It didn’t take long for fans to take to him. His scrap with Miles Wood was entertaining. He still has a lot to prove if he wants to fully gain Quinn’s trust.

You can have talent on the roster. But without hard working types like Jesper Fast, who also could be in his final year as a Blueshirt, you won’t get far.

For those who expect this roster to compete, don’t forget the weak left side on the blueline. Brady Skjei still must prove he can be more consistent in a top pair role. Having the more proven Trouba to play with should help significantly. It should be much better than all the partners he went through last year.

For now, Marc Staal remains the second best option behind Skjei. For all the critics, he worked well with DeAngelo. Unlike Kevin Shattenkirk, who continued to struggle in the second season of a four-year contract that could become expendable, Staal is stronger defensively and plays with an edge. Not the best skater, he makes up for it with snarl. In two years, he’ll be off the books.

The third pair could consist of a combination of Libor Hajek or Ryan Lindgren with either Shattenkirk or Fox. If Fox proves ready, keep Shattenkirk around for insurance. You never know. That would be a hard scenario on a good guy with character, who is close to the coach.

As for the goalie situation, it’s a good one. Henrik Lundqvist doesn’t have to carry the workload anymore. At 37, the franchise netminder should be managed well by the team. He should be right around 50 starts with Alexandar Georgiev backing up. Unless Russian import Igor Shesterkin proves ready right away and Georgiev takes a step back, a goalie tandem of Lundqvist/Georgiev isn’t bad.

It’ll be up to Lundqvist to perform with more consistency. Something that’s been a challenge in recent years. A man of incredible pride, he’ll want to erase the bitter taste of last season along with a disappointing World Championships.

Whatever they decide with the roster between now and October, it’ll be interesting to follow. There will be some tough decisions coming. A favorite player or two could be gone.

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HARD HITS: How to spice up the NHL offseason

Let’s be honest. The NHL offseason has become boring and predictable. All the action takes place in the week leading up to July 1, which is basically the only day in free agency that’s hectic.

It reminds me of that famous line from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop to look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

That’s the NHL summer every year. There aren’t too many surprises that make you go, ‘Wow.’ Shea Weber for PK Subban was one of those rare moments a few summers ago. It was stud for stud. Two elite defensemen with big contracts. That’s what made it so compelling when Montreal and Nashville pulled the trigger. Now, Subban is on his third team in New Jersey.

The disappointment is that everyone knew where the likely destinations were for top free agents Artemi Panarin, Matt Duchene and Sergei Bobrovsky. That’s about as fun as watching paint dry. Only Panarin had a interesting choice by passing up more money from the Blue Jackets and Islanders to go to his favorite destination at MSG with the Rangers.

What really surprised us? Joe Pavelski was gonna move on from the Sharks due to their salary cap after going top dollar and a crazy length with Erik Karlsson. Plus they had to bump up Timo Meier. I don’t think Sharks fans are thrilled that he chose Dallas. But he wasn’t returning. Joe Thornton likely will and all-time Shark Patrick Marleau hopes to. He remains the franchise leader in goals (508) and points (1,082).

Robin Lehner not getting any respect from the Islanders was disappointing. No wonder he took the Blackhawks offer of one year for $5 million. It’ll be interesting to follow him and Chicago incumbent Corey Crawford.

The biggest story was the Canadiens giving restricted free agent center Sebastian Aho a offer sheet. The Hurricanes quickly made their intention known and matched for the point-per-game number one center who was a big part of their run to the Conference Final. I liked Aho’s statement on Twitter.

He actually thanked Montreal for giving him the offer sheet. Even though he is excited to still be in Carolina, who have a bright future, it is refreshing to see a young player that was stuck as most unsigned Group II free agents are, express appreciation for the Habs’ interest.

Considering how rare it is to see other teams signing restricted free agents to offers due to history, maybe it’s time for it to become more common. What’s the harm in chasing after a young emerging star such as Mikko Rantanen or Brayden Point if they remain unsigned? The offseason should be about improving your roster by any means necessary within the salary cap rules.

Of course, there’s always the risk one takes by inking a RFA. It puts pressure on the original team to match the offer. They get seven days. It sure didn’t take the Hurricanes long to bring back Aho. They even had some fun with it.

Social media can definitely spice things up. Especially when it comes to the Canes Twitter. They make it fun for their fans. Had they decided not to match, there would’ve been the matter of compensation. It depends on how much the player receives. It’s also important to note that the team who signs that player to an offer sheet must have all the required draft picks for compensation.

If someone decided to tender an offer to Leafs free agent forward Mitch Marner for say 11.5 million AAV over seven years, they would be risking losing four first round picks. That would only apply if Toronto didn’t match. Being that Marner is already an established star who paced the Leafs with a career high 94 points in the final year of his entry level contract, I would expect them to re-sign the 22-year old playmaking right wing.

The intriguing part of what’s now a suffocating hot summer is that you have several key RFA’s still available. While most are forwards including the trio of Marner, Point and Rantanen along with Kyle Connor, Patrik Laine, Brock Boeser and Matthew Tkachuk, a couple of defensemen also are unsigned. Zach Werenski should get a nice raise from Columbus. So will Boston’s Charlie McAvoy and the Flyers’ Ivan Provorov.

For a player like Jacob Trouba, he had arbitration rights. So, the former Jet filed. That gives Rangers GM Jeff Gorton a timetable to get something done with the top right pair defenseman. The issue is they only have approximately $10.5 million in cap space to get key restricted’s Pavel Buchnevich, Tony DeAngelo and Brendan Lemieux signed. Trouba will take up most of the room if he re-signs for seven years instead of accepting a one year award in arbitration.

The Rangers aren’t the only team facing cap constraints. Somehow, the Sharks were able to get Kevin Labanc to agree to a one year, $1 million deal. The Staten Island native is betting on himself following a breakout year. They also could have a handshake agreement to sign a long-term contract after January 1 next year. San Jose is still deciding whether to bring popular future Hall of Fame center Joe Thornton back for one more year. Jumbo Joe appears to have more left than former Shark turned free agent Patrick Marleau.

Even past the midpoint of July, there haven’t been any significant moves since all the early fireworks before Independence Day. Unless you consider the Canucks giving Micheal Ferland four years at a fair amount of $3.5 million AAV, and the Canes replacing him by agreeing to a reasonable two years at $3.375 million AAV with Ryan Dzingel, there’s nothing exciting happening.

There was a swap of checking centers between Chicago and Ottawa with Artem Anisimov going to the Senators for Zack Smith. You had the Blackhawks sending defenseman Henri Jokiharju to the Sabres in exchange for forward Alex Nylander. A mystifying trade by Chicago GM Stan Bowman, who passed on Bowen Byram to select Kirby Dach when his team needed D. About as strange as banking on former Pen Olli Maatta to stay healthy. His big moves to upgrade the blueline were Maatta and Calvin de Haan. 2018 first round pick Adam Boqvist can’t be ready soon enough.

So, here we are with a dead market as NHL executives take their time figuring out their next calculated moves. Regrettably, soon to be ex-Leaf Jake Gardiner is the biggest UFA left. He can command around $6.5 million. A good skating left defenseman with offensive capability, investing in him long-term is risky. While he waits to see who comes calling, proud vets Thornton, Marleau and Justin Williams all hope to be back for one more year. Ditto former Ranger and Lightning defenseman Dan Girardi.

There are some potential bargains to be had. If you like experienced veterans with character, there’s Brian Boyle. Eric Fehr can bring a similar skill set to interested suitors. Blues hometown hero Pat Maroon is available. Without his clutch goal in sudden death to eliminate the Stars in Game Seven, St. Louis might not be celebrating.

Then, there are reclamation projects like former Ranger playoff hero Derick Brassard. Would he take a one year deal on the cheap to prove himself? Thomas Vanek is a similar player, who still has good hands. But he’s become a nomad. Other options include Oscar Lindberg, Jason Pominville, Dion Phaneuf, Drew Stafford, Devante Smith-Pelly, Markus Kruger, Adam McQuaid and Magnus Paajarvi.

Unless a trade comes down soon that isn’t predictable like the Rangers dumping Vladislav Namestnikov for a third round pick, it’s boring. Sadly, the NBA offseason has become much more interesting. With so much hoopla surrounding Kawhi Leonard, who chose the Clippers to team up with Paul George following Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving shaking things up by going to the Brooklyn Nets, basketball has become the much crazier and most discussed sport in July.

It never used to be this way. Gone are the days of Paul Kariya and Teemu Selanne stunning everyone by signing to play for the Avalanche in the summer of 2003. Of course, back then anything was possible. Bobby Holik got crazy money out of the Rangers, who outbid the Devils, Flyers and Leafs to land the checking pivot. It’s hard to believe what they paid him. Imagine paying $9 million a pop over five years. Yikes.

The irony is now you have the Flyers paying Kevin Hayes over $7 million some 17 years later in a escalating salary cap. However, premium superstars Sidney Crosby, Alexander Ovechkin are bargains. So too are Nathan MacKinnon and Brad Marchand. How can anyone justify what Artemi Panarin got from the Blueshirts? That $11.6 million salary is part of why they will have to subtract players. But in truth, they’re stuck with Henrik Lundqvist for another two years due to his hefty $8.5 million average. They can buyout Brendan Smith and Kevin Shattenkirk.

If you go look at where teams are against the cap, it poses a problem moving forward. As the salaries grow more out of whack, the threat of another work stoppage is a possibility. Hopefully, it won’t happen. God help us.

So, what would make the hockey offseason better? Aside from more offer sheets, the idea of sign and trades like the NBA has would make it more interesting. Teams wouldn’t just lose players for nothing. There no longer is any compensation if an unrestricted free agent leaves. If you had a sign and trade scenario, a team could get something back in return. Sorta like the interesting Durant to the Nets while the Warriors signed D’Angelo Russell and received a lottery protected first round pick.

It’s rare that you see a star for star swap like we got a few years ago between Montreal and Nashville. The Canadiens still have Shea Weber while the Predators unloaded PK Subban to the Devils. New Jersey is the same team that stole Taylor Hall for Adam Larsson. Hall can become unrestricted next summer. Are the additions of top pick Jack Hughes, Subban and Wayne Simmonds enough to convince the 2017-18 Hart winner to stay?

The Rangers must still decide on Chris Kreider. He enters the final year of his contract. If they intend to keep him and try to compete due to the welcome addition of second pick Kaapo Kakko, Panarin, 2018 first round pick Vitali Kravtsov and Adam Fox, multiple players won’t be back.

True story. Following ESPN breaking the big news of Leonard and George to the Clippers, I texted my friend John and sarcastically joked that the Rockets should trade Chris Paul for Russell Westbrook. It didn’t even take a week for that to materialize along with Oklahoma City acquiring more first round picks.

The point is these types of blockbuster trades are fun. Even if I’m old school and don’t believe in the Super Team nonsense that started with LeBron James nine years ago choosing the Heat along with Chris Bosh to team up with Dwyane Wade where they went 2-2 in four consecutive NBA Finals, if the NHL had more activity it would be better. I’m not suggesting a uneven playing field like you have in the NBA. I’d just like to see more creativity to spice things up.

Maybe there should be shorter term contracts with player and team options. That’s part of what makes baseball and basketball interesting.

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