A unique view on the NHL Playoff Tournament

In a special re-recorded podcast via my YouTube channel, here is what I had to say about the NHL’s planned 24 team Playoff Tournament.

Included are some thoughts on the 10 potential host cities and where the games could land. That includes a round robin between the top four seeds in each conference to determine rankings. A bit perplexing to me due to how many points the Bruins racked up. Here are the top eight teams:

EAST

(1) Bruins

(2) Lightning

(3) Capitals

(4) Flyers

WEST

(1) Blues

(2) Avalanche

(3) Golden Knights

(4) Stars

I also look at the strange two to three part NHL Draft Lottery with six of seven eliminated teams taking part in Part I on Friday, June 26. They are the Red Wings, Senators (own rights to Sharks pick too), Kings, Ducks, Devils and Sabres. The second phase will include the eight eliminated teams who take part in the preliminary stage that’s a best three of five round featuring 16 teams (8 per conference).

The Rangers are going to face the Hurricanes in one match-up. They took the season series 4-0. Find out my analysis on the series and why the regular season meetings mean nothing come late July. I preview each series and do my best to make preliminary picks.

The series are as follows:

EAST PRELIMS

(5) Penguins vs (12) Canadiens

(6) Hurricanes vs (11) Rangers

(7) Islanders vs (10) Panthers

(8) Maple Leafs vs (9) Blue Jackets

WEST PRELIMS

(5) Oilers vs (12) Blackhawks

(6) Predators vs (11) Coyotes

(7) Canucks vs (10) Wild

(8) Flames vs (9) Jets

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Devils’ season ends as the NHL rolls out its ‘return to play’ format

More than two months after the world came to a screeching halt due to a global pandemic, many entities (including the NHL) are trying to slowly begin a return to normal, or whatever our new normal will be when this is all said and done. Even after Gary Bettman, Bill Daly and Donald Fehr spoke yesterday there are still almost as many questions as answers. Chief among them is the overriding asterisk that there’s still no guarantee the NHL itself will be dropping the puck again in the 2019-20 season. As with almost everything in society, it’s all contingent on testing being readily available, the viability of finding host sites and the virus’s curve continuing to flatten.

What we do know, is that the NHL ‘regular season’ as it were, is over with the Devils and six other teams being in limbo till the beginning of the next regular season, whenever that is. Assuming the NHL does return, it’ll be a 24, not 16-team playoff although technically the opening round of eight play-in series won’t count as postseason, most likely to not muddy the waters even further on conditional trades – a couple of which we’re a part of – and also to get in enough total games to satisfy local TV contracts. We also know the NHL Draft lottery is going to be more convoluted with the seven already eliminated teams, and eight play-in series losers all being a part of it.

I’m not even going to bother to try to explain the double lottery format that it would take for one of the play-in losers to win the lottery, but suffice it to say since we’re one of the seven already eliminated, our odds of winning a lottery do not either improve or go down because of this format. Aside from the fact you have to do one drawing, then another to determine which play-in loser moves up in the lottery (if any does after the initial drawing), I don’t really have an issue with it – especially since I don’t care who wins the lottery to be honest, particularly after winning it twice in three seasons and still being stuck in loserville. My main concern at this point is whether we will get Vancouver and Arizona’s first-round picks this year or next year as part of playoff conditions.

Many have an issue with the fact that a team like Pittsburgh can lose a five-game first-round series and theoretically win the lottery. Sure the system isn’t perfect, but you think Penguin fans really care about a possible 3% chance of winning the lottery if they lose a playoff series? I know I’d be more focused on the late ’00’s Devils chances of losing a five-game series than on whether I could get in the lottery. To me giving them a lottery ticket is a neccesary trade off for making teams like the Penguins who were clearly going to the postseason in a normal year, play in a preliminary round instead.

I’m not always one to carry water for the league and clearly this plan isn’t perfect, but I actually think it walks a very delicate balance pretty well. Unlike the NBA where there’s a clear delination between playoff and non-playoff team, in the NHL you’d have teams complaining they missed the playoffs due to fewer number of games played, or if the NHL determined postseason berths on account of winning percentage then they’d be mocked for keeping a team with one or two more points out of the postseason.

Ideally you’d like the postseason to be ten teams instead of twelve in each conference, but then ironically it’d be the Rangers who would have gotten screwed in 11th place missing by a point while having one fewer game played than the Panthers. Clearly the NHL opted for too many over too few, especially when the 24-team plan brings in three Original Six markets who wouldn’t be part of the playoffs otherwise. As much as I would mock the ‘anything for a buck’ mentality under normal circumstances, if there’s one point in history I don’t begrudge the NHL or any other league looking at markets and making money while keeping as many teams involved as plausible…

Also what’s ironic is the Devils missed the preliminary round by only three points, with two fewer games played than the Canadiens. Not that we would have really deserved to make the postseason, and despite the way we were playing in the second half of the season I really couldn’t see us beating the better teams in the league once they got their rust out of the way. I don’t really need to do a season recap, essentially I already did one shortly after worldwide limbo started although I didn’t neccesarily see things going on to this degree for this long. Some of my takes aged well, others probably didn’t – including believing we’d still be playing a regular season only with no fans, but I really doubt anyone seriously thought in mid-March we’d still be sitting here at the end of May with the only live sports from the big four being a star-laden charity golf match, and the NFL Draft.

As the sport and society stays in limbo, so do the Devils themselves. Owners Josh Harris and David Blitzer could say – justifiably – that they can’t do their due dillegence in terms of hiring both a full-time GM and a full-time coach if they’re not allowed to talk to every possible candidate until their own seasons end. Still, it seems a bit embarassing to continue to trot out Tom Fitzgerald as such a public mouthpiece and making him and his staff work during this pause while refusing to remove the ‘interim’ from his title. You could say the same about interim coach Alain Nasreddine except that there isn’t a whole lot of coaching to be done in the offseason.

I will give the Devils credit for at least one thing in general though, they have managed to put out a lot of content – remotely – with weekly interviews of both players and staff, plus special guests like Martin Brodeur. I’ve certainly heard and seen a lot more content from the Devils than from my other sports teams, who are also on the same pause (though in the NFL’s case it’s more like a normal offseason to this point than the others). I can’t say I’ve listened to all of them but I have listened to a few, and it is interesting to hear how the players themselves are dealing with things.

Still, it’s a very dark time for a Devils hockey fan and not just because of what’s going on in the world – but even when the games do return to the Rock (with or without fans), whether it’s the fall, winter or whenever – many questions and doubts will remain about the on-ice future of the franchise, and no answers appear imminent.

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Coming to grips with a gut wrenching moment

Life can be funny sometimes. It truly can be mysterious and unpredictable. Take the date May 25th.

In 1994 on one memorable hot Spring night, that meant captain Mark Messier delivering on his promise by leading the Rangers back from two goals down by assisting on Alex Kovalev’s late second period goal and recording a natural hat trick in a unbelievable 4-2 virtuoso performance to win Game Six over the Devils at The Meadowlands.

The Rangers would need double overtime to get past the Devils in a astonishing Game Seven with Stephane Matteau becoming symbolic thanks to Howie Rose’s unreal call. They would need seven games to defeat the Canucks and capture the franchise’s fourth Stanley Cup, and first in 54 years.

Fast-forward 18 years to another May 25th night in Newark at The Prudential Center in 2012. This time in their first Conference Final meeting since Martin Brodeur’s rookie year, it was a 40 years young Marty who got the better of 30-year old Vezina counterpart Henrik Lundqvist with the home Devils exacting a measure of revenge by taking Game Six by a count of 3-2 at over a minute into sudden death. Adam Henrique scored the winner by steering home a loose puck by a maze of Rangers on their pants that included Lundqvist.

Henrique conquered King Henrik and “Henrique, It’s Over!”, was replayed on repeat like Groundhog Day for this broken hearted Blueshirts fan for the next eight years. A call made famous by former legendary Devils announcer Doc Emrick. Sure. He was overly excited and it was the one moment there was a sense of homer in the true professional. But I can also recall how good he sounded calling Messier’s signature moment that broke Devils hearts where Jimmy Hoffa supposedly was buried. Both Doc and Peter McNabb heaped praise on Messier and they kept showing the infamous We’ll Win Tonight back page as he completed the hat trick into a open net from 170 feet.

I’ll be honest. For eight years, I never watched the traditional handshake between the two Hudson rivals. I couldn’t. Once the goal was scored, I left the house and went for a walk to my old grammar school PS 4. Not to be confused with PS4 for PlayStation 4. I walked and then sat by myself in the old schoolyard for a while before calling Devils friend Robert Davis to congratulate him on his team’s victory. He felt they had it in them before that postseason. I chuckled and joked. I didn’t see it coming. Oops.

It’s safe to say Rob got the last laugh. However, I was a man of my word and made sure to phone him. His team had won and advanced to the Stanley Cup Final where they felt the agony and pain of losing to the dreaded Kings. A team both fan bases hate. They did it to us two years later. Now, I get the two words, “Alec Martinez”, from Sabres buddy Brian Sanborn. He loves to rub salt in the wound.

At least I was out at the bar with coworkers wondering how the Rangers wasted at least three power plays in sudden death along with Chris Kreider denied by Jonathan Quick on a breakaway before Martinez ended it by putting a rebound past Lundqvist. The bar turned it off and I never saw the handshake or Cup presentation. I never will. Too painful. They didn’t get back the next year losing a home Game Seven on Garden ice to the Lightning in a strange Conference Final. Shutout in Games 5 and 7 at MSG. It was humbling.

That was it for that great era of Rangers hockey. Three cracks at it and they fell short each time. I now think the losses to the Kings and Bolts were worse than what happened on May 25, 2012. The teams in ’13-14 and ’14-15 were more talented and deeper. Also more proven. They twice dug out of 3-1 series deficits in the second round to stun the Pens and Caps in consecutive years. The only times in franchise history they’ve done it.

The bottom line is it wasn’t meant to be. You have to be both pretty special and lucky to win a championship. The ’86 Mets were. So were the ’90 Giants. Even the ’96 Yankees had some magic. There are countless examples. The ’94 Rangers were the best team and better than any of the rosters I listed above. Yet needed to stare death in the face at Continental Airlines Arena and got a lucky bounce for Matteau’s historic goal. They needed two loud goalposts next to Mike Richter in the hair-raising third period to hang on and defeat the Canucks for Lord Stanley.

That’s sports. It took me eight years to watch the Henrique goal along with the handshake. You know what. It wasn’t as bad as I thought. I finally have closure.

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Hockey coming back? Happy Anniversary Messier Guarantee

On this nice Memorial Day in the New York and New Jersey area, we are thankful for our health and loved ones during the COVID-19 pandemic. We thank our vets including my cool Uncle Bunk, who served in the 1950’s. Without them, there is nothing to celebrate. They made the ultimate sacrifice for our country.

It is still a strange time on this Monday the 25th of May. The final Monday of the month already. By next week, it’ll officially be June. A warmer time with summer around the corner. Normally, both the NHL and NBA are into the final round of their playoffs with teams battling to be crowned champs. Baseball is in full swing and both golf and tennis are near the halfway point of their major seasons.

Instead, here we are on Memorial Day weekend with Nascar back and a match that featured Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson raising money for COVID relief on Sunday. It’s again the emergency healthcare medical workers who are the ultimate heroes working around the clock to keep America safe. It’s essential workers who deserve a thank you for helping keep things sane during a not so normal time.

Three paragraphs in and I’m finally about to get to the hockey part of this blog. What once was a interesting season with playoff battles for positioning and wildcards is now a question of a proposed radical idea that would change the outlook for everyone. How do you really feel about a 24 Team NHL Playoff Tournament that would include essentially a play in round between eight extra teams featuring best of five series to advance?

That would include the Rangers and Hurricanes in one series along with the Islanders and Panthers. The Canadiens would also be part of it despite only 71 points. The entire Central Division including the last place Blackhawks, whose 72 points trail the wildcard by six, would also take part. To be frank, it’s a strange concept. I’m not too fond of having 24 of 31 teams competing in say the start of July for the postseason. You can’t call it a traditional Stanley Cup. It isn’t. They’re trying to save face ‘if’ the CDC regulations in a full contact sport allows the players of each team to compete in select arenas.

There are risks. The same that apply to MLB, who proposed a list so big on rules and regulations, that some players might balk at the 82 game proposal. Blake Snell doesn’t seem too enthusiastic about playing for less dollars and cents with a proposed 50/50 split between players and owners. We don’t even know what the NHL and NHLPA will agree to in terms of how to keep everyone including coaches, officials, trainers, medical staff, engineers and cameramen safe without fans. That also includes hotels. It’s an issue that each league including the NBA face if they do return to complete the ’19-20 seasons.

For more observations on the proposed tournament, suggestions for a potential off-season this Fall and future ideas to create more rivalry games during whenever the next 82 game season is, please refer to my video blog below. I did include some wrestling around the 40 minute mark and other thoughts as well. It’s mostly hockey from five minutes in and over half the Vlog. All recorded last night.

In regards to a potential best of five preliminary series versus the Hurricanes, the Rangers should have the edge in goal with rookie Igor Shesterkin and even backups Alex Georgiev and Henrik Lundqvist over Carolina tandem Petr Mrazek and James Reimer. If Dougie Hamilton isn’t able to return for the Canes, that’s a big hit for their blueline. They do boast some experience up front in Justin Williams, Sebastian Aho, Teuvo Teravainen, Andrei Svechnikov and Jordan Staal. But Jaccob Slavin would have to carry the load along with Brett Pesce.

One would think the dynamic duo of Artemi Panarin and Mika Zibanejad would do damage in a short series. Especially with a healthy Chris Kreider and Pavel Buchnevich. The Rangers back end isn’t great either, but with superb puck movers such as Tony DeAngelo and Adam Fox, they would be dangerous in transition and on the power play. The wildcard would be Kaapo Kakko.

If they were to advance, they could be a dark horse in such a tournament. That’s all I have to say for now. Let’s wait and see if it actually happens. There’s still likely a month to go.

Happy Anniversary to this guy above. Mark Messier, who delivered with a natural hat trick on his Guarantee 26 years ago in Game Six against the Devils. Only reason I knew was Howie Rose mentioned it while interviewing Gary Thorne on WFAN with Suzyn Waldman. Hard to believe.

I’m glad that Knicks legend Patrick Ewing is out of the hospital and hopefully, on his way to a strong recovery from the Coronavirus. Be good and safe out there.

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What ‘If’

The 1991-92 New York Rangers were one of the franchise’s best teams. What ‘if’ they had beaten the Penguins and won the Stanley Cup that year? We look back while also looking forward at the promising current Blueshirts. AP Photo via Getty Images

It’s been two months since hockey was played. The last batch of games took place on Wednesday, March 11. The Rangers were defeated by the ultra talented Avalanche 3-2 in overtime. The loss left them one point behind the Islanders and two out of the wildcard shared by Carolina and Columbus.

At the time, the Blueshirts had played 70 games during the incomplete 82-game regular season. They made up considerable ground after returning from the All-Star break by going 14-7-1 to pull within two points of the playoffs. While they’d cooled off following a run that included a four game winning streak and five straight victories sandwiched around a 3-1 loss to the East-leading Bruins, they were right there when the NHL paused the season due to COVID-19.

They had no choice. Especially once the NBA was forced to stop following the positive result of Jazz center Rudy Gobert. Eventually, it came out that a few Senators had also been positive for the pandemic that’s altered our thinking and way of life. So many families have been affected by this terrible epidemic. It’s indeed a humbling time for everyone and you have to proceed with caution. Even as the weather improves in mid-May, there remain health risks that have put the four major sports on hold. That includes baseball, who can’t seem to decide when or if to have an abbreviated season of 82 games due to the two sides not being able to reach agreement.

So, here’s where we currently are. Nascar returns this weekend and golf is on deck. Horse racing will be back, but nobody in New York State can attend races. It’ll be virtual viewing for the high stakes gamblers. Can you picture it? Not that I care.

Hockey remains in limbo. Even with Gary Bettman hinting that they haven’t considered shutting down the ’19-20 season, the rumors of a playoff tournament that could include either 20 or even 24 of the 31 teams, doesn’t exactly appeal to me. For two reasons.

1. Even if it were 24, the Rangers would be cut out. There are four divisions. They’d take the top six in each which would leave the 79 point Blueshirts home. But the Sabres, Canadiens, Ducks, Coyotes would all qualify despite fewer points due to where they play. The Metro is the best division. The Rangers are seventh.

2. Having such a unorthodox tournament would tarnish what the sport is all about. What if they crowned a surprising winner? Do they actually get to celebrate the Stanley Cup? It would be strange. It’s the most prestigious trophy in sports. I’m a traditionalist. I wouldn’t have any interest in watching.

A while back, I suggested having play-ins. You could do it for the wildcards and even third place in a division if it’s up for grabs. That would take a week to decide and then they could go on with a traditional postseason. I believe that’s the best way to go.

Of course, the teams would have to have training camps to get the players back in shape. With locations limited, that creates a speed bump. If they did complete the year, you could have a normal off-season with NHL Draft lottery, Draft, free agency, arbitration and buyouts.

I’ve suggested starting 2020-21 in late December or January and having an abbreviated 54-game schedule. They’ve done it before. History proves it can be successful like 1995 and 2013. Two worthy champs in the Devils and Blackhawks were crowned. I think that’s the best way to go. Especially if they need to save face due to the revenue tied to the salary cap.

Now, I’m no expert. I understand that any continuation of the season likely means no spectators, no concessions and limited personnel. There would still be health risks due to the Coronavirus. You’d still have two teams playing with coaches, trainers, doctors, cameramen, engineers, etc. What if someone tested positive? How would they deal with it?

I have to think any broadcast would be virtual to protect our favorite play by play men and color analysts. Why put them at risk? ESPN actually is doing Korean Baseball games by virtual. That’s what it’s come down to. The KBC is the only baseball televised at odd times. No. I haven’t watched. I’m not that desperate.

Over this time, I’ve found myself blogging poetry, music and life over at Hitting Back. I just haven’t had much interest in sports except for the random post on past events like the 90’s Chicago Bulls dynasty due to Michael Jordan Documentary The Last Dance or favorite baseball star Ken Griffey, Jr. Outside of Don Mattingly, Doc and Darryl, Griffey is that player for me with pre-roids Barry Bonds and Frank Thomas in my list.

What ‘if’ there’s no conclusion? There wouldn’t be any point in having awards for either NHL or NBA. It would be pointless. Who wants an MVP trophy without a postseason that their team can compete in? The same applies for other awards even though I bet they’d still do a low-key announcement of who won. Artemi Panarin would likely lose out to Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid. Nathan MacKinnon would again fall short. Top rookie would be interesting between Cale Makar and Quinn Hughes. Vezina would either go to Tuukka Rask or Andrei Vasilevskiy. Norris would be a coronation for John Carlson.

Would Mika Zibanejad of the five goal game that bested the Ovechkin Caps make an All NHL Team? It still would be tough considering the stiff competition of Draisaitl, McDavid, MacKinnon, Jack Eichel and Auston Matthews. Statistically speaking, Zibanejad’s 75 points over 57 games is better than Eichel or Matthews. Undoubtedly, there’s a place for Panarin, who I’d put on the First Team over Ovechkin. That’s how special the Bread Man has been in Year One on Broadway.

The Rocket Richard would be shared between Ovechkin and overlooked MVP candidate David Pastrnak. Both with 48 goals. Personally, I’m more impressed with both Pastrnak and Panarin than the dynamic Oilers duo, who are both minus players despite their prolific scoring. Of course, Pasta is helped by playing on the game’s best scoring line with future Hall of Famer Patrice Bergeron and The Rat, Brad Marchand. Panarin has done it while mostly teamed with Ryan Strome and Jesper Fast. He’s also gotten some time with Zibanejad on the power play and three-on-three. But his plus-36 rating tops all forwards and ranks only behind ex Rangers farmhand Ryan Graves (+40). Too bad he never even got a look here. Oops.

If you’re talking about the Selke for the game’s top defensive forward, I’d give it to Anthony Cirelli. He’s made a considerable difference for the Bolts in his second year. Everyone always goes with the player that has the highest amount of points combined with five-on-five play and penalty kill, plus face-offs. While that’s usually reserved for Bergeron or Anze Kopitar, I feel Cirelli best exemplifies what the award is all about. He’s put up 44 points with a plus-28 with 37 of his 44 coming at even strength. Teammate Brayden Point has 51 of his 64 points at even strength and also is plus-28. He’s over 51 percent on draws while Cirelli is 47.5. However, Cirelli has gone 54-and-75 shorthanded. Not great, but he’s done a lot of the grunt work on the kill.

If there actually is a postseason, Cirelli would be one of my keys to any success for the Bolts. It’s that gritty style that helps you win. For Tampa Bay, who obviously were the biggest disappointment last Spring after being shockingly swept by the Blue Jackets, it could be another opportunity lost.

All Photos copyright Getty Images via NHL

What ‘if’ the 1991-92 New York Rangers had not lost to the hated Mario Lemieux Penguins in the Patrick Division Final? What ‘if’ Roger Neilson didn’t put an ice cold John Vanbiesbrouck in for sudden death following future Cup champion Mike Richter letting in that awful goal to Ron Francis from center ice? He would never be seen again as Beezer played Games Five and Six, getting victimized by Jaromir Jagr three times including a penalty shot and game-winner to dash any Cup hopes for fans in attendance at Madison Square Garden during a crushing 3-2 loss in the pivotal Game Five.

The Jagr-led Pens closed the Rangers out 5-1 in Game Six at the Civic Center minus Lemieux. The Rangers played the final three games (all losses) without Adam Graves for his controversial slash on Lemieux that resulted in a four-game suspension. Even though the slash that broke Lemieux’s left hand during Game Two, it wasn’t ruled intentional. He was assessed a minor penalty and played the third game before sitting out as the Blueshirts wilted.

That was a great team. They won the President’s Trophy and had Hart winner Mark Messier in his debut season on Broadway while Brian Leetch eclipsed 100 points to win his first Norris. Since then, no NHL defenseman has hit 100 in a season. Only five have done it in league history. Name the other four. Trivia answer to be revealed at the end of this post.

Of course, Lemieux returned after missing six games and led the Pens to a second consecutive Cup. With Lemieux, Francis, Jagr and Kevin Stevens dominating, they swept both the Bruins and Blackhawks to repeat. Meaning they won their final 11 games of the ’92 NHL Playoffs. One that felt like a dagger to Garden Faithful, who truly believed that was the year to erase the Stanley Cup drought.

Instead, Neilson would be fired in a disappointing ’92-93 where Leetch got hurt due to a story that’s been well documented. Let’s just say I’m not going to reveal it. Neilson was replaced by Ron Smith as the team imploded. At least it marked the debuts of key Russian rookies Alex Kovalev and Sergei Zubov. Along with Sergei Nemchinov and Alexander Karpovtsev, they would play pivotal roles in ending the 54-year drought under Iron Mike Keenan in ’93-94.

However, young talent such as Doug Weight, Tony Amonte, Darren Turcotte, Todd Marchant and proven finisher Mike Gartner were sacrificed to win the franchise’s fourth Cup. Veterans Esa Tikkanen, Steve Larmer, Stephane Matteau, Brian Noonan, Craig MacTavish and Glenn Anderson were added as they overhauled the roster. James Patrick was packaged with Turcotte to the Whalers in a three team trade involving the Blackhawks that netted key contributor Larmer and fourth liner Nick Kypreos. Thankfully, all the moves panned out to win the championship.

I do wonder what it would’ve been like had the ’91-92 roster taken care of the Pens. The Bruins were a very good team that were no match for the defending champs in the old Wales Conference Final. It probably would’ve been a good series. I believe the winner would’ve beaten Chicago to win Lord Stanley.

None of that matters now. Here we are some 26 years later and it’s been nothing but frustration, pain and agony for Blueshirt fans during the Henrik Lundqvist Era. Close three times, but no cigar or Kovalev troll doused in champagne. One of my favorite moments of that ’94 team.

At least the franchise is headed in the right direction. With promising young players headlined by new starting netminder Igor Shesterkin with Adam Fox, Ryan Lindgren, Kaapo Kakko and Filip Chytil, there’s much to look forward to. A core that includes Zibanejad, Panarin, Chris Kreider, Pavel Buchnevich, Tony DeAngelo and Jacob Trouba should provide excitement for the present and future.

Decisions remain on Strome, who has been a good fit along with potential UFA Fast with the Bread Man. DeAngelo and Strome are restricted whenever the off-season hits. So is Brendan Lemieux. With Kreider taken care of and Brady Skjei in Carolina, the organization should have enough wiggle room to keep the nucleus together which includes Fast if they feel it’s worthwhile. As much as I like him, he’s replaceable. Lauri Pajunemi possibly? We’ll see.

The future of the blueline hinges on Fox, DeAngelo and Trouba, who must perform better to justify his contract. He can improve. Having a consistent partner would help. Lindgren provides the physical element and edge Jeff Beukeboom did. Mike Sauer was the last Blueshirt to do that. Unfortunately, his career was cut short. The less said, the better.

What about K’Andre Miller, who’s signed and will likely be ticketed for Hartford unless he overly impresses in camp? That’s still a long way away. There’s no need to rush him with proud vet Marc Staal likely to play out the final year of his contract. Will it spell the end of his career? He sure isn’t appreciated enough, reminding me of Dan Girardi towards the end before he concluded an overachieving NHL career in Tampa.

Would Danny G consider a return to the organization in a developmental role? Truth be told, we all appreciate him for what he brought. The same will be true for Staal once he departs. That’s always how it is. New York City is a tough town to play in. We are feisty and very hard on our players. Even Derek Jeter got booed.

Don’t forget that Alex Georgiev is a RFA as well. Given the situation the goalies were in at last check, I have to think they’ll re-sign him on a fair short-term contract that will make him movable. Especially with Tyler Wall signed. It really does feel like the end for Lundqvist, who owns several franchise records and will be remembered for being a great goalie in the Big Apple. Even if he declined as most players do, it happens.

There is the matter of that No-Move Clause and a potential amnesty buyout. That’s for Team President John Davidson and GM Jeff Gorton to decide along with coach David Quinn. If he wants to continue his career, it’ll likely be elsewhere. Try Minnesota where he can hangout with loyal buddy Mats Zuccarello, who doesn’t seem to get that sometimes, things change. You would think he would after last year. Regardless, I’ll always be a huge fan of Zucc.

Nils Lundkvist will also arrive for 2020-21. A highly thought of young D prospect, he is climbing the ladder in the rankings. What if they knew Fox would be so poised and DeAngelo would erupt? Would they have done the trade for Trouba? That’s a hefty cap number. Oh well. The Rangers will only get stronger on the back end. Don’t forget Matthew Robertson either. He’s likely two years away.

Where will Vitali Kravtsov fit in? The forgotten first round pick from Russia, who turned his first pro year around after returning to Hartford. Hopefully, he realizes his potential. Kakko will improve. He has to. That means better skating, strength and scoring. Defense not withstanding.

When it comes down to it, we have much to look forward to. We just have no idea when. Stay patient.

Trivia Answer: In 1991-92, Brian Leetch became the fifth defenseman in NHL history to eclipse 100 points by posting 22 goals with 80 assists for a career high 102 points to capture his first Norris Trophy. Who are the other four?

1. Bobby Orr (Bruins): Six. 139 in ’70-71, 135 in ’74-75, 122 in ’73-74, 120 in ’69-70, 117 in ’71-72 and 101 in ’72-73.

2. Paul Coffey (Oilers/Penguins): Five. 138 in ’85-86, 126 in ’83-84, 121 in ’84-85, 113 in ’88-89 and 103 in ’89-90.

3. Al MacInnis (Flames): One. 103 in ’90-91.

4. Denis Potvin (Islanders): One. 101 in ’78-79.

5. Brian Leetch (Rangers): One. 102 in ’91-92.

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Racist taunt of K’Andre Miller the latest example of ugliness in sports, misguided fools go after DeAngelo

Unacceptable. Despicable. Disgusting. What happened on Friday afternoon to K’Andre Miller should NEVER EVER happen under any circumstances. The Rangers defense prospect experienced a racist taunt while taking part in a Q & A session with fans on Zoom.

How this was allowed to occur is beyond explanation. It’s true that things are a lot different from how they used to be due to COVID-19. Now, everything is done via remote location through social media. Unfortunately, it can be very cruel due to the filth that exists behind keyboards. These are the types of people who belong without any laptop, computer, phone or Tablet that have internet access. They are a disgrace.

It’s very sad that even in 2020, racism exists. I don’t know why. I decided against linking up the horrible taunt Miller received because I don’t want to bring attention to that awful person. I will only say that with the Rangers organization fully cooperating with the FBI, I hope they catch them and they pay the price. There is no place for such garbage.

True enough, I didn’t even find out about it right away. My mind has been elsewhere. That goes for most people due to the health risks of even going outside. So, when it was brought to my attention, I had to do a search on Twitter. It quickly came up to my disgust.

It’s embarrassing for the Rangers and hockey. It took the organization a while to make a statement regarding what happened. They came under criticism from irate fans. Maybe it’s not so easy for the people who run the social media account to respond immediately. This wasn’t your normal situation. It’s hard to fathom.

What is disturbing aside from how that idiot got past moderation is how misguided some fans are. They started going after Tony DeAngelo as if he had something to do with it. You have to be a complete moron to think such nonsense. This is all due to how bad things have become. Political beliefs are the root of the problem. I don’t care what side a player is on as long as they contribute to my team and stay out of trouble.

DeAngelo has been one of the best Blueshirts this season. If they don’t play again, which is becoming a likely scenario, he had the best season by a Ranger defenseman since Brian Leetch. Yet some fools don’t want him on the team. He is very active on Twitter and opinionated. I’ve never seen him tweet one bad thing that went too far. Unlike a former ESPN Sports Center anchor, who made a ridiculous comment about Patriots owner Robert Kraft after he helped deliver 300,000 protective masks to New York.

That kind gesture deserves praise. Not criticism from a person who pushes the political envelope too much. At this critical moment, it doesn’t matter where you stand. We need to come together and unite as one to defeat this deadly Coronavirus. It’s costing many lives here locally and affecting everyone. Essential workers deserve every accolade for how they’ve handled a difficult situation.

As someone who is in the middle, I realize what’s important. That’s making sure my family and inner circle of friends are alright. It’s also being responsible when I go out. Avoiding crowds and being careful what I touch. Of course, coming home and cleaning up well. Too many people aren’t listening. They’re putting themselves and others at risk of spreading this deadly disease. This is SERIOUS.

Ignorance seems to be the word of the day. Whether it’s racism or political crap, neither belongs in any setting. Respect should be a two-way street. If anything good comes out of this, it should be treating each other better. Being polite counts for something. Having good manners shouldn’t be taken for granted.

There’s far too much hate in the world. Right now, that should stop. K’Andre Miller deserves better. So does every victim of such despicable acts. It’s nice to know that future teammates Jacob Trouba, Ryan Strome and DeAngelo have his back.

As they each pointed out, this team sticks together and are a family. That’s how it should be. That’s why the nonsense from foolish fans and misguided blogs that are pushing the anti DeAngelo movement deserve to have no team to root for. They should be punished by MSG.

You don’t have to like a player totally. Sean Avery and Donald Brashear come to mind. However, it’s what’s on the front of the jersey that matters most. Not the back. They wear the Rangers logo and represent the team. It’s time for the divisiveness to end.

Treat all our players with respect. Or don’t be a fan.

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Hard Hits Podcast: Cool Rangers stories, Yankees classic photos, sportscards and NHL 94

In the third episode of my new Hard Hits Podcast on YouTube, I get into a few different topics. With all the COVID-19 pandemic news, I give it an appropriate nickname while trying to keep things light with some cool stuff I’ve collected over the years.

That includes plenty of Rangers with almost everything over the past 24 years saved. From classic media guides to Rangers pennants and playoff towels, I got you covered during this quiet time without hockey or any live sports.

That includes baseball. Believe it or not, Opening Day has come and gone for both the Yankees and Mets. Will we see baseball? Maybe by July or August. While sad, there are many things sadder when you take a closer look at the nearly 1,000 total deaths to the deadly Coronavirus that’s had more cases in the United States than elsewhere. My parents know a childhood friend whose current husband is in the ICU and critical. It doesn’t sound good.

I’m doing these new Vlogs on my YouTube channel to keep things busy and anyone who needs a welcome distraction occupied. There are plenty of things to talk about these days. From hockey to classic Yankees photos from the franchise’s inception as the New York Highlanders in a book I featured, Episode Three is a fun mixed bag of interesting stuff.

That includes some of the sportscards I’ve collected over time. I could probably have my own store. That includes two Joe Thornton Upper Deck rookies in good condition. Plus some throwbacks that’ll make you laugh.

I also touch on Mark Messier, whose return to the Rangers didn’t go as planned. Plus a cool story on meeting John Davidson after a Flyers game. And some of the illustrious Rangers Stanley Cup past that has been forgotten by Madison Square Garden. Honoring original stars like Frank Boucher, Bill and Bun Cook, Lorne Chabot, Lester Patrick, Bryan Hextall, Ching Johnson and Dave Kerr should be mandatory. Just recognizing their contributions would be a step in the right direction.

I also played NHL 94. I still got it. All this is covered below. Please check out my video blog from last night. Like, share or subscribe if you want.

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Podcast Episode 2: More in depth on the all-time great goalies, plus commentary on Lindros, Bure and a little ’94 Rangers

Last night on my YouTube Channel, I recorded my second episode of the Podcast. In it, I continued to go through the careers of Martin Brodeur, Dominik Hasek and Patrick Roy. Also included a few of the all-time greats from way back as part of the goalie discussion.

Following more in depth on the great goalies, I went back in time on Eric Lindros with a surprise. Then, broke down his Hall of Fame career along with Pavel Bure. Two great players whose careers were shortened by injuries.

I also included a little bit on the ’94 Rangers, who had to contend with the Russian Rocket. Plus a few classic photos of me, my brother and father.

The podcast went a bit longer. But it’s worth the watch if you love vintage hockey. As always, Like, Share and Subscribe if you like the content. I’ll have Episode 3 later tonight. TBD.

Derek Felix can be followed:

Twitter: BattleOfHudson

Instagram: dflex2123

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Who’s Better? Brodeur, Hasek or Roy

Every hockey fan knows who Martin Brodeur, Dominik Hasek and Patrick Roy are. If you don’t, I suggest google and YouTube. I discussed the three below along with some commentary on other legends above. Feel free to check it out.

Last night, I was having a friendly discussion with Robert Davis in our little group chat on Facebook Messenger. A unique group that includes old Hard Hits cohosts Brian Sanborn and John “JPG” Giagnorio. We also have Colin Cannaday, Daniel Wheeler and friend Madison Miller, who has her own podcast on Anchor. I just started up.

The convo turned to great goalies between Rob and I with Colin and John pushing buttons. Ah. A favorite pastime of mine. Now, I’ve created madness. Rob is a Devils fan. So, he sides with Brodeur when it comes to who was the best of a great era that started with Roy in the 1980’s. Ironically, he was Brodeur’s idol with him being from Montreal and the son of former goalie and Canadiens photographer Denis.

Once he established himself in the early 90’s by pushing the Rangers the limit and then winning the first of three Stanley Cups the following year, Brodeur was a star. He would become so consistent on such a great team that he’d go on to set NHL records for most wins (691) and shutouts (125). He surpassed Roy in wins and all-time great Terry Sawchuk in shutouts. Along with winning three Cups and four Vezinas, Marty is one of the best goalies to ever play the game.

Photo via The Runner Sports Getty Images

For Hasek, he took a different route entirely. Picked in Round 10 at 199 overall in the ’83 NHL Draft by the Blackhawks, he stayed in the Czech Republic for several years before coming over. Once he did, it was obvious Hasek could play. Mike Keenan even went to him in the Stanley Cup Finals versus the mighty Penguins. His unorthodox style produced some remarkable saves on the likes of Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr. But the Blackhawks were no match for the Pens, who repeated as champs.

With Eddie Belfour established as the starting netminder in Chicago, it was obvious that Hasek needed a change of scenery to be given a real opportunity. The Hawks traded him to the Sabres for a package that included Stephane Beauregard and a fourth round pick that became Eric Daze. At least Daze had a good career even though injuries cut it short.

The deal was a steal for the Sabres, who eventually moved former Oilers star Grant Fuhr to the Kings in a trade that netted Alexei Zhitnik. Fuhr was bad for LA as a rental and would move on to the Blues where he had a couple of big years in the twilight of his Hall of Fame career.

Once Hasek became the guy in Buffalo, he quickly transformed into a star the likes the hockey world hadn’t seen. While Roy and Brodeur were receiving all the ink for winning Cups in Montreal and New Jersey, Hasek was busy proving he was a special player for Buffalo. It started in ’93-94 when he won 30 games while posting a league best 1.95 goals-against-average (GAA) along with the league lead in shutouts (7) and save percentage (.930). That was good enough to win his first Vezina and finish second for the Hart.

Interestingly, that same year in ’93-94, Hasek and Brodeur would meet in a memorable first round series between the Sabres and Devils. Not surprisingly, the best of seven series went the distance due to great goaltending. Hasek wouldn’t allow his team to lose a classic Game Six played at the old Aude in Buffalo. A game in which he stopped all 70 Devil shots to outduel Brodeur for a 1-0 shutout that sent the series back to East Rutherford. Dave Hannan was the overtime hero scoring in the fourth OT. In between them, Hasek and Brodeur faced a combined 120 shots with only one beating the then Devils rookie. Astonishing.

Ultimately, the Devils won the series by taking the deciding seventh game 2-1. They would advance all the way to the Conference Finals which in itself became an all-time classic against the Hudson rival Rangers. A series that had twists and turns along with drama with the Mark Messier led veteran Blueshirts advancing in a dramatic seven games thanks to OT hero Stephane Matteau.

That series only strengthened Brodeur and the Devils, who would win the first of three Cups by sweeping the Red Wings in ’95. I wasn’t surprised they won. They lost in excruciating fashion the year before after being so close. The only surprise was they beat powerful Detroit in four straight. Something most experts didn’t see happening. They underestimated the Devils.

Hasek was continuing to dominate the game with his odd style of stopping the puck. He would win a second consecutive Vezina in ’95 by leading in all three major categories including shutouts. Following an off year, he was back with a vengeance the next two seasons by doing a rarity. Sweeping the Vezina and Hart. Something you don’t see these days. The last to do it was Carey Price in ’13-14. Ironically, Jose Theodore also accomplished the feat in ’01-02 when he had a dominant year. Go figure. He also played for the Habs. The rest of his career wasn’t great.

Before Brodeur started racking up his four Vezinas, he had to contend with Hasek, whose Sabres teams weren’t as strong. The Dominator won six Vezinas over an eight year period all in Buffalo including his final season during ’00-01. He led them to their second Stanley Cup appearance in ’99 when they upset the Maple Leafs. Even though they didn’t have the talent of the Stars, the Sabres pushed them six games with Brett Hull scoring a controversial winner in triple overtime to give Dallas the Cup. Replays showed that his toe was in the crease. It became known as No Goal in Western New York. That crease rule was a ridiculous one.

After all the success with Buffalo, Hasek moved to the Red Wings in a trade that netted Slava Kozlov and a first round pick that was moved around. It didn’t work out for the Sabres as Kozlov, who was a good player as part of the Red Wings Russian Five, never got acclimated. He lasted one season before being rerouted to Atlanta where he was revitalized while playing with Ilya Kovalchuk and Marc Savard.

Hasek would go on to win his first Cup in ’02 when Detroit defeated Carolina in five. He outplayed Roy in a compelling seven game Western Conference Final that saw Roy make the biggest mistake of his illustrious career. He did the Statue of Liberty where he tried to show that he had the puck in his glove. A cocky move goalies will do. Only Roy dropped the puck into his own net to cost the Avalanche Game Six. The Red Wings rolled them in a lopsided Game Seven and then reeled off four straight on the Hurricanes following a surprising Game One defeat. Igor Larionov scored a backbreaking goal in sudden death to beat the Canes in a pivotal Game Three that changed the series. From there, Detroit rolled to its third Cup in six years with Hasek leading the playoffs with six shutouts. Given how strong the team was, he didn’t have to do as much.

Hasek would add a second Cup as a backup behind old Red Wing favorite Chris Osgood in ’08. While he didn’t wind up with the records Brodeur achieved mostly with one franchise with the lone exception of seven meaningless games in St. Louis, Hasek did wind up with 389 career wins with 81 shutouts, a career 2.20 GAA and .922 save percentage. Over a brilliant 16-year career, he played 735 games.

Brodeur meanwhile wound up lasting 22 years and getting into 1266 games (1259 with NJD). He totaled 691 wins with 125 shutouts while posting a career 2.24 GAA and .912 save percentage. There were three third place finishes for the Hart along with the four Vezinas. Plus five Jennings. A team award for the fewest goals allowed in a season. Marty was a huge part of that because he played in so many games. We’ll never see that again. The days of Brodeur, Hasek and Fuhr being iron men are long gone with coaches preferring to have goalie tandems and keep their starter fresh. Only Montreal and Toronto don’t which might explain their inconsistencies.

Photo credit NHL.com via Getty Images

So, who’s the best? Roy won four Cups including twice in Montreal. Once as a unknown rookie in ’86 and the second in ’93 when they had no business winning their record 24th Cup. Roy dominated overtime like few ever have during that run. He won twice more with the much more talented Avalanche after Mario Tremblay embarrassed him in a blowout loss on national TV. He never played another game for the Habs. The four-time Cup winner won three Vezinas and three Conn Smythes including in 2001 when he got the better of Brodeur in a strange seven game victory. They edged the Devils 3-2 to win that Cup. One that left Brodeur in tears during the handshake with his childhood hero.

Brodeur would backstop the ’02-03 Devils to a third Cup by upsetting the favored Senators in seven. He was superb stoning Marian Hossa in enemy territory. Unlikely hero Jeff Friesen scored the winner with over two minutes left in regulation from Grant Marshall to stun Ottawa. The Devils would go on to defeat the Mighty Ducks in seven in a home series. They shutout Anaheim in the deciding seventh game at Continental Airlines Arena. A game highlighted by little used rookie Mike Rupp scoring twice. Even though the Conn Smythe for the playoffs went to losing Ducks goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere, the Devils were again champions.

Brodeur proved even after losing Hall of Famers Scott Stevens and Scott Niedermayer along with Brian Rafalski, who went to Detroit and won another Cup, that he could have success minus a great defense. He upset the Rangers by outplaying rival Henrik Lundqvist in the ’12 Conference Final. The Devils took the series in six with Adam Henrique playing the ultimate hero by scoring early in sudden death to help Marty exact revenge on the same May 25 date he lost that fateful Game Six in ’94 due to Mark Messier’s natural hat trick.

Even though they would lose to the Kings in six, Brodeur proved he still had it at 40. He did wind up sticking around too long like most great players. No shame in that. Many all-time greats do. Even Derek Jeter in these parts with the Yankees. It happens. It was so odd seeing Brodeur finish his career in a Blues jersey. They sold like hot cakes.

So, I laid it all out there for you. The remarkable trio of Roy, Brodeur and Hasek all had outstanding Hall of Fame careers winning a combined nine Cups, 13 Vezinas and a crazy amount of games. They are the three best goalies of the last three plus decades. All impacted the sport and made the art of goaltending way better.

Now, you have Price, Tuukka Rask, Andrei Vasilevskiy and future Hall of Famers Lundqvist and Marc-Andre Fleury as great goalies who have had stellar careers. Recently retired Roberto Luongo was brilliant despite falling short in his one quest to win Lord Stanley. In some aspects, similar to Lundqvist, who’s near the end. Fleury has three Cups including one as a starter while playing a key role for the Pens in the last one when Matt Murray was injured. He’s proven he can be successful in Vegas by carrying them to the Cup Final before losing to the Alex Ovechkin Caps, who finally won.

With more offense increasing due to the rules and most goalies not playing as frequently, we may never see another era quite like what Roy, Brodeur and Hasek gave us. Where do they rank among the all-time best?

As I stated in the above podcast on my YouTube channel, it all depends on your perspective. There are a variety of factors including the changes in equipment, goalie masks, coaching, training, team defense and rules. If you’re an all-time hockey fan that goes back to the Golden Era, you might argue for Sawchuk, Glenn Hall, Jacques Plante, Tony Esposito, Ken Dryden or even Turk Broda, Tiny Thompson or George Hainsworth.

It all depends on your preference. It sure makes for a great debate. I hope you enjoyed my post on the great goalies. Wherever you stand, please feel free to chime in. Don’t forget to watch my little podcast above. It wasn’t too long. I’ll do a follow up later correcting some stuff. Stay tuned. 🙂

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JD speaks for everyone

Earlier today, Rangers Team President John Davidson relayed a very important message during this scary time.

When it comes to the COVID19 pandemic, we can’t take any chances. We must use common sense and decency. So, that means if we do go out, keep our distance. Then come home and wash our hands well. Not just a scrub. I make sure I do and use whatever hand sanitizer we have left.

On the official Rangers Twitter account, JD made sure to get the point across to fans and whoever else needs to hear it. To be perfectly honest, with how bad NYC is, it needs to be emphasized. We must be extra careful when dealing with the unknown.

I wish everyone out there the very best in these tough times. That doesn’t only apply to us here in the USA, but for all worldwide. I went out to the park the other day and picked a off peak time so it wasn’t as crowded. I made sure to utilize social distancing. Then when I got home, thoroughly cleaned up and showered.

As you can see, I picked a great day. It was after 6 too. Afterwards, I did a lot of stretching. I always do. Keeping loose is important for flexibility.

Nobody wants to be confined to their home. But that’s how we are basically living. Definitely not easy. I hope everyone is healthy and safe out there.

I will have something coming soon on the blog. A surprise of sorts. Yes. There will eventually be a new detail oriented post on something Rangers that everyone should enjoy.

Until then. See you around. 😉

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