A Look Back at Jagr, Lundqvist beginnings and the surprising Rangers in ’05-06

All photos via Getty Images

Editor’s Note: The following was originally started in the Spring when there was no hockey due to the pandemic. It was completed following the Lightning winning the Stanley Cup and key Blueshirts changing rosters. A look back is about a time of excitement for New York City and the Rangers.

There really isn’t much to talk about these days. As it pertains to sports including hockey which is on hiatus like everything else due to COVID-19 pandemic, all we have to go on are highlights of the season or memories of the past.

With MSG Network doing mostly the exciting Rangers wins including Mika Zibanejad scoring five times and Artemi Panarin electrifying our fans on what would’ve been a 100 point year by a Blueshirt for the first time since Jaromir Jagr, I thought what better way to reflect back at what Jagr accomplished in ’05-06. Following the cancellation of the entire ’04-05 season, the Rangers were considered an NHL doormat by pundits. Even with Jagr, nobody expected anything outside of a predicted last place finish and 30th overall.

However, he had other ideas. With former Team President and GM Glen Sather surrounding Jagr with the kind of talented European style players that would mesh well with his game, the ’05-06 Rangers surprised many including yours truly by delivering on Number 68’s guarantee of the playoffs. With the cohesiveness of memorable top line trio of Jagr, Michael Nylander and Martin Straka, the team gelled and became much better than anyone anticipated.

Full credit goes to Sather for going out and bringing in key Czech imports Straka, Martin Rucinsky (re-signed after being acquired at the 2004 deadline), Michal Rozsival, Marek Malik and eighth round pick Petr Prucha. Along with Swedish playmaking pivot Nylander, Canadian veteran Steve Rucchin and former Hurricanes playoff hero Kevin Weekes, they really added a lot of talent, character and depth to a lineup that needed it.

When many of us were cynical about what they were doing, it became clear right away how much improved the team was. There also was a seventh round pick named Henrik Lundqvist taken in 2000 that took the city by storm in his rookie year. It was the perfect storm. The then 23-year old overtook Weekes as the starting goalie and went on to win 30 games with a 2.22 GAA, .922 save percentage and two shutouts. He was nominated for the Vezina that went to Martin Brodeur.

There were other key parts who played support roles well including Dominic Moore, Blair Betts, Jed Ortmeyer, Ryan Hollweg, Marcel Hossa, Jason Ward, Ville Nieminen, Fedor Tyutin, Tom Poti, Darius Kasparaitis and Jason Strudwick. Slats would also rent key pieces such as Petr Sykora and Sandis Ozolinsh, who is unfortunately remembered badly for his defensive gaffes including a horrible giveaway that led to a goal against.

None of it would’ve been possible without the brilliance of Jagr. At 33, he wanted the big stage of Broadway and finally got his wish prior to the lockout when the Capitals got tired of him and actually took back Anson Carter for Jagr. No disrespect to Carter, who was a good player in his own right. It was a total steal by Sather that would change the Rangers’ direction once the hard cap was instituted.

A healthy and motivated Jagr was the key to that season. He set the tone in preseason by scoring a beauty on Brodeur where he made a great power move and deke before a sweet forehand finish like the identical plays below during the regular season.

Whether it was using his size and strength to ward off defenders, finding enough room to release his lethal wrist shot, or the proper space to get off that deadly accurate one-timer on the power play, Jagr was everywhere. Having cohesive linemates like the unselfish Nylander and former Pens teammate Straka made it easier for Jagr to operate. At times, coach Tom Renney would use Rucinsky over Straka on that big line since Jagr knew him well from playing together with the Czech Republic. Don’t forget Rucinsky was a good player as well who had more of a shoot first mentality. He was always underrated throughout his NHL career.

Having good secondary options that included Rucinsky, Rucchin and rookie Prucha, who was featured prominently on the dangerous top power play unit, gave the Blueshirts balance. It also helped that grinders Moore, Betts, Ward, Hollweg and Ortmeyer played their roles well. The HMO line became a thing with fans identifying with the lunch pail work ethic Hollweg, Moore and Ortmeyer had during their shifts. Betts played mostly with Ward, who was a pleasant surprise. Hossa was okay on the third line even if he never came close to the hype or talent older brother Marian had.

It helped to have familiarity. Rozsival knew both Jagr and Straka from their days spent together in Pittsburgh. For as much criticism as he and Malik received, they were good Rangers. Especially Rozsival, who could supply offense from the back end due to his good right shot along with his passing. He was the last Blueshirt to lead the NHL in plus/minus going plus-35 that season. It was on the Cadillac Rangers Trivia in the last game before the stoppage due to Panarin ranking second in the league behind Ryan Graves.

In order for that ’05-06 roster to have the success they did, it came down to Jagr being the driving force. After spending the previous season playing for Omsk Avangard of the KHL in Russia, a revived No. 68 was ready to prove a lot of naysayers wrong. He delivered on his promise by not only being the unquestioned leader, but by flat out dominating opponents that special season.

The Rangers might not have had a captain. They didn’t need one. They had one of the game’s greatest superstars in Jagr, who turned back the clock to when he was once considered the best in the world starring for the Pens before Mario Lemieux returned. It’s easy to forget that Jagr won his only Hart Trophy without Lemieux in ’98-99 when he led the league in scoring with 127 points (44-83-127). It was Jagr who took the torch from a retiring Wayne Gretzky in his final game at The Garden by scoring the game-winner in overtime and beating Mike Richter. I was in the building for that.

As if to remind the hockey world who he was, an injured Jagr came back for Games Six and Seven with a serious groin injury (missed four games due to a pull that’s well documented) and willed the underdog Pens past the heavily favored Devils to a first round upset. In clutch fashion, with his team staring at elimination, Jagr scored the tying goal and overtime winner to beat Brodeur and the Devils in Game Six at the old Igloo (Civic Arena). He had some help from Straka and Alex Kovalev in the seventh game to pick off the higher seed. Both had outstanding series.

It proved that if you have a team with a prime Jagr at even 60 percent, they were a live dog. Even with Scott Stevens checking him, Scott Niedermayer and Bobby Holik playing physical, No. 68 somehow carried his team past a very talented Devils, who would win the Cup the following year.

While many observers point to Lemieux buying the Pens and giving him credit for saving the team, some have noted that it might’ve been that first round comeback led by Jagr that kept the Penguins in Pittsburgh. Even Jagr himself called those two games the most important of his career given the circumstances. Following their run to the Eastern Conference Final in ’00-01, Pittsburgh had to sell-off players including Jagr, who went to Washington. A place he never wanted to be. He didn’t play his best hockey and the team disappointed by losing in the first round once and missing the postseason altogether.

Even though he was still over a point-per-game as a Capital going 83-118-201 over 190 games, Jagr never quite fit in. After two and a half years, they traded him to the Rangers where he concluded the remainder of ’03-04 scoring 15 goals with 14 assists for 29 points in 31 games. Combined, he wound up with 74 points in 77 contests. His lowest output over a full season since he put up 69 points at age 19 in ’91-92. In fact, he paced the league with 70 points in the shortened 48 game season in ’95. A far cry from what he became with the Caps. He always wanted New York City. He finally got his wish on Jan. 23, 2004.

Following another playoff miss to make it seven straight seasons without a postseason, I started to think the Rangers were jinxed. Between all the stars they brought in from Theo Fleury to Eric Lindros to the unlucky Pavel Bure to Kovalev II which failed, it just felt like nothing would work. They even overpaid mercenary Holik after winning a bidding war with the Flyers, Leafs and Devils, who proved they didn’t need him to win a third Cup in ’02-03. One of the best moves Sather made was buying out the divisive Holik, who even though he was a good player, was never worth his salary nor the trouble due to his big mouth. That key subtraction along with no more Petr Nedved really helped create a better atmosphere.

I was excited for Lundqvist, who I followed online where he led Frolunda to the championship in Sweden. I knew he was good just by tracking him. Yet he was a seventh round draft pick. Former European scout Christian Rockstrom must’ve known something. He was very good at finding gems overseas. Maybe other teams just didn’t see it with Lundqvist. Thankfully, he was proven right. How I wish he still worked for the current team.

As remarkable and poised as Lundqvist was in that rookie season, Jagr was on another level. He had magic with Nylander, who would circle around the ice to create space and find Jagr. Whether it was Rucinsky or the very familiar Straka, that big line was a handful for opponents at five-on-five. They dominated puck possession with precision passing and the unbelievable finishing ability of Jagr, who often drew two defenders to create space for open teammates. People tend to forget how brilliant a passer he was. It’s amazing he still is playing at age 48 back home for Kladno in the Czech Republic. Too bad the world is paused.

What made him so tough that year was he shot the puck well. On one goal where he beat Brodeur on a power play, the Devils gave him time and space. He didn’t hesitate firing a laser by Brodeur from the circle. That moment was vintage Jagr. He didn’t deke or make a bunch of moves. All he did was take the deadly wrist shot and it whizzed by Brodeur’s glove. It was legend beating legend.

He looked to score more that season. Jagr also had that extra hop in his step. This was a highly motivated superstar who was out for redemption. Especially with most of the talk centered around Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin. Dion Phaneuf was also great in his first year. That was a unique rookie class you likely won’t ever see again. Especially when you factor in Lundqvist, who MSG quickly took to.

That’s what missing a season did. As detrimental as it was financially, it made ’05-06 great. The hockey was exciting due to rule changes that included no two line pass, delay of game, the Brodeur rule that limited goalies behind the net, more emphasis on obstruction and the shootout. The new rules opened up the game and created more offense. Plus by making the blueline thicker, that meant it was harder for team defenses to clear the zone, leading to more sustained forecheck. Players could tag up too to get back onside making for a faster transition.

As fun as it was to follow the new faces Crosby and Ovechkin, the most exciting player that year was good old Number 68, Jaromir Jagr. Playing his first full season as a Blueshirt, he lit up Broadway like nobody had ever done before. The unique chemistry he had with Nylander and Straka made the trio a nightmare. Their combination of speed, skating and skill was on full display. But while Straka and Nylander were perfect complements, everytime Jagr had the puck, you could feel the electricity throughout the building. He was so locked in that it looked like he was hell bent on delivering on his promise.

With fellow Czechs Malik and Rozsival, who in particular gets no love from foolish fans, the five man unit often played together by design. It was like watching an Olympic team or the Russian Five. You had four Czechs and one Swede, who was a great playmaker. Nobody will ever accuse Nylander of being selfish. God knows how many times I wanted him to shoot the puck. But with Jagr in full beast mode, who could blame him, Straka or Rozsival for deferring to one of the greatest players in NHL history?

It was truly a sight to behold. From the first game, a 5-3 road win over the Flyers, Jagr set the tone by scoring a pair of power play goals in the third period of the comeback victory. He finished with three points.

Following consecutive tough overtime defeats to the Canadiens and Devils with the latter Lundqvist’s NHL debut in enemy territory at the old Continental Airlines Arena, Jagr heated up with eight goals in the next six games including a hat trick at the Islanders in a frustrating one goal loss at Nassau Coliseum. He also sniped a beauty past Brodeur in a home win earlier in that stretch. A satisfying triumph that gave Lundqvist his first victory. Little did we know that he would become the winningest goalie in franchise history.

Looking back on history is fun. Hank was just starting out and certainly had a unique rivalry with the legendary Brodeur. He would win more than he would lose during the all-time regular season match-ups between the pair of great number 30’s for the Hudson rivals. I’m sure he would trade the bitter 2012 Conference Final loss with some of those victories. Brodeur won two of three playoff series head-to-head versus Lundqvist.

To be honest, May 25, 2012 still hurts. I went for a walk in the park afterwards winding up at my public school yard in the dark for a while. Truthfully, when I reflect back on that memory, I don’t think the Rangers were the better team.

Close Jersey buddy Robert Davis was right. So, I congratulated him in a phone call that night. His team eventually lost to the despised Kings for the Stanley Cup. Something we would also experience two years later in excruciating fashion. I hate that one more. It was the closest five-game Final I can think of. I think Rob and Hasan share similar views on their team’s six-game loss. Oh, the twisted irony. If there’s one thing Devils and Rangers fans can agree on, it’s our complete disdain for the Kings. I hate Cartman.

Getting back to that ’05-06 season, the Rangers had to prove themselves. A good start wouldn’t be enough. They had to sustain a level of consistency not seen in the Big Apple since Mark Messier and Gretzky teamed up with Brian Leetch, Mike Richter and Adam Graves to lead the ’96-97 team to the Eastern Conference Final. Don’t forget Esa Tikkanen either. He was clutch that Spring.

The longer we’re stuck inside and limited in what we can actually do in public, the harder it is to think about hockey. Maybe that’s why this is taking so long. I definitely hit a roadblock. I’ve done a lot more creative writing on my other blog. Something I’ve gotten back to.

Here’s what I remember about that year. Jagr was unstoppable. He put up two long point streaks as he continued to pace everyone in scoring. The chemistry he had with Nylander was something to behold. It didn’t matter if it was Rucinsky or Straka, who eventually stayed intact with that dynamic top line. One thing I forgot is that Jagr and Nylander were teammates in Washington. They knew each other as did Straka from the Pittsburgh days. That had to help.

If opponents took penalties, the Rangers power play punished them. Most of the damage was done by the top unit featuring Jagr, whose 24 power play goals still are a franchise record for a single season. They ranked ninth overall clicking at 18.78 percent. It was almost an all Czech unit with the exception of Nylander. You had Straka, Rozsival, Jagr, Nylander and a popular kid named Prucha, whose right shot was a perfect complement to the lethal Jagr. He usually set up in the slot and pumped in 16 on the power play. In fact, I completely forgot that it’s Petr Prucha who is the only Rangers draft pick to hit 30 goals in a season this century. Prior to him, you have to go all the way back to Tony Amonte, who scored 33 in ’92-93.

One of the reasons for the success of the ’05-06 roster were the contributions of the fourth line. In fact, a complimentary Jagr went out of his way to praise the HMO Line of Hollweg, Moore and Ortmeyer for their consistent work ethic. They got the jersey dirty and forechecked opponents while finishing checks. Of course, the physical Hollweg was the leader in that department. He wasn’t in there for his scoring. He delivered big hits and was a willing combatant when it was time to be accountable and defend teammates. Colton Orr was added for that reason. Ortmeyer was the junkyard dog with his hardworking style appreciated by fans. Moore always was the best skater of the trio who could chip in some goals while winning key draws and killing penalties.

Essentially, with Betts anchoring the third line usually with underrated plugger Ward and Marcel Hossa, who chipped in 10 goals along with Ward, you had a solid bottom six. They weren’t going to blow you away. But what they lacked in talent they made up for in grit and determination.

When they weren’t scoring power play goals, the Blueshirts under Renney were outworking opponents at five-on-five. An area the puck possession dominant Jagr excelled at. He, Straka and Nylander could skate circles around opponents and play keep away. The amount of skating, forechecking and passing they did was due to their unique skill. Usually, fellow Czech tandem Malik and Rozsival were out with that first line as basically a five man unit. It was like watching an Olympic team. The East/West style worked well.

Throw in the heady two-way play of second line center Rucchin and the team was complete. Even though much of the heavy lifting relied upon the Jagr, Nylander and Straka unit, people forget that Rucinsky was over a point-per-game with 55 points over 52 games. An injury hindered him and forced Sather to go out and acquire former Devil Petr Sykora from the Ducks for rookie defenseman Max Kondratiev. He was a good fit netting 16 goals and 15 assists in 40 games. With the better scoring Sykora added to the mix, feisty winger Nieminen was sacrificed in a trade to San Jose.

As brilliant as Jagr and rookie Lundqvist were, one of the highlights of that season was the wild and crazy 15 round shootout win over the Caps at home. Yes, we were there for it up in Section 411. It was so unpredictable that Strudwick evened it up a second time to set up this gem from Marek Malik, as called by MSG’s Mike Crispino.

Two things stand out. Bryan Muir had put Washington up 3-2. A journeyman defenseman, who decided to shoot and go stick side on Lundqvist in the top of the 14th. Then with the Caps bench celebrating and everyone thinking it was over (at least in our section), Renney sends out Strudwick to take the tying shot. He was basically the sixth defenseman who played physical and was a great team guy. He really was better as an extra, but started most of the year on the blueline. That’s probably why they went and got Ozolinsh, who despite good offensive numbers, was a disaster. No way did we think Strudwick would tie it. He used the same move and shot as Muir to surprise Olaf Kolzig.

The rest is history. Lundqvist shut the door on Matt Bradley, whose five-hole attempt was kicked aside. He used to be money down low. That set the stage for the man I called Big Bird. Malik was so tall that I thought it was a good nickname. As you watch the replay, you wonder if that move would be allowed today. I say yes. It didn’t look like he stopped. That he had the wherewithal to put the puck between the legs and beat a stunned Kolzig and then give a I had it all the way look at the bench is still classic. It was pretty daring as the late great Robin Williams would echo in Dead Poet’s Society as Mr. Keating about the phone call from God.

Listening to Crispino on that late November evening is still special. He was the jack of all trades for MSG. He did everything from SportsDesk to high school sports with Mike Quick to some Knicks and Rangers. I miss him. I met him once in Bristol. He was a nice guy. JD saying, “I’ve seen it all”, was perfect. He was obviously speechless. Who knew that year would be his last in the booth for both MSG and national games which moved to NBC after runs with ABC and Fox where he teamed up with legendary play by play man Doc Emrick? For Davidson, he wanted to move to the front office and has since had successful stints in St. Louis, Columbus and now back with the Blueshirts.

Throughout ’05-06, Jagr recorded three hat tricks. The first at the Islanders in a ugly 5-4 loss at Nassau Coliseum. The second at Pittsburgh where he did in his former team in a 6-1 rout. The third came in a 6-3 home win over the Flyers. So, Number 68 did it against division rivals. In that special season, his three hat tricks were one better than his Caps career. The final three goal game of his brilliant Hall of Fame career came as a Devil nine years later at age 42 in a 5-2 win over the Flyers. I wonder if the nearly nine years he went between hat tricks is a NHL record.

In his illustrious career, Jagr recorded 16 hat tricks. Ten came as a Penguin. Only one came in the postseason when he victimized the Rangers in the Eastern Conference Semifinal on May 11, 1996. That was the series he and Mario Lemieux took apart the Rangers. Of course, he’s best remembered for tormenting the ’91-92 team in the same round. That included a penalty shot in which he undressed John Vanbiesbrouck on ironically May 11, 1992. Four years prior to that three goal game. He also as noted above won Gretzky’s final game in overtime. It’s no wonder I purchased a home white CCM Penguins Jagr replica with an alternate at Gerry Cosby’s once after a game. It didn’t cost more than a Benjamin. Think about that in today’s overpriced world of jerseys. I will never buy a jersey now. Too expensive. Not as good either as CCM or Starter.

As a team, the Rangers had four hat tricks. The only other one came off the stick of Jagr pal Straka, who did in the Isles en route to a 5-1 victory on Mar. 29, 2006. I can still remember it. Jagr set it up. It was a nice play and sweet finish from Straka. Another popular player who was a good Ranger. In his three years spent on Broadway, Marty recorded 65 goals, 122 assists and a total of 187 points over 224 games. His first two seasons, he posted consecutive years of at least 70 points or more going 51-95-146 in 159 games. He was a superb skater who could be trusted by the coaching staff to play in any situation. Straka was always a underrated player who had a good 15-year NHL career before returning home to play for hometown of Plzen, Czech Republic. He wound up with 717 points (254-460-717) in 954 games with six teams (Pens, Sens, Isles, Panthers, Pens, Kings, Rangers) including Pittsburgh twice.

It’s interesting to note that Nylander was over a point-per-game in the two years spent in Manhattan. As Jagr’s center, the creative playmaking forward enjoyed his most success. After finishing second in team scoring with 79 points (23-56-79) during ’05-06, he had a career best ’06-07 achieving career marks in goals (26), assists (57) and points (83). He finished his NHL career in Washington where injuries affected his production. Like Straka, Nylander was a good player who totaled a respectable 679 points (209-470-679) over 920 games. He also moved around a lot from Hartford to Calgary to Tampa Bay to Chicago to Washington to Boston to New York and then back to DC before concluding his pro career back home in Sweden. Now, his older son William Nylander is producing for the Maple Leafs. Alex is trying to figure out with his second team in Chicago.

Ironically, the cohesive NYR trio all played into their 40’s with Jagr remaining the only one who’s still active at the ripe old age of 48. Will he fulfill his prophecy and play at 50 like Gordie Howe? Honestly, I wish they would make an exception for Jagr and induct him into the Hockey Hall of Fame. He has belonged for a while. His last NHL season lasted 20 games with Calgary in ’17-18. That doesn’t matter. He’s a living legend whose 1921 points rank second on the all-time list behind The Great One. In 1733 games, Jagr totaled 766 goals and 1155 assists for 1921 points to zip past Howe and Mark Messier. Howe was inducted in 1972 a year after he first retired before playing in the WHA and eventually returning to the NHL as a Hartford Whaler.

One thing that still irks me is that they voted for Joe Thornton over Jagr for League MVP. Nothing against Jumbo Joe, who was remarkable for the Sharks following a trade with the Bruins. As great as he was putting up 92 points (20-72-92) in 58 games with San Jose to beat out Jagr for the Art Ross with 125 points (29-96-125), he won the Hart Trophy after being dealt to a better roster. Jagr scoring 54 goals and adding 69 assists for 123 points on a team that was written off by everyone is more impressive. The 54 goals were his most since age 23 when he notched a career best 62 with Pittsburgh in ’95-96. He willed the Rangers to the playoffs and made everyone better.

It’s amazing that Jagr led the league in scoring five times and only took home one Hart. Though in ’95, he shared the scoring title with Eric Lindros, who won the MVP for leading the Flyers back to the postseason. It’s not like he lost to bad players. He was beaten out by Lindros, Dominik Hasek, Chris Pronger and Joe Sakic. Four Hall of Famers. Thornton will also be inducted whenever he calls it a career. All this time later and he decides he wants to keep playing and chase a Cup in Toronto. Good luck. They’re a jinxed franchise.

At least Jagr was recognized by his peers who voted for him as the Pearson winner. Now the Ted Lindsay Award. If the players acknowledge you for the kind of season you had, that is as good as it gets. I wish they would’ve recognized Artemi Panarin for what he achieved on a similar Rangers team in his first year. Instead, Leon Draisaitl swept the Hart and Lindsay. Oh well.

In thinking about that ’05-06 season, the hockey the Rangers played was fun to watch. They were an exciting team thanks to the brilliance of Jagr, who was so good with Nylander and Straka that it felt like they had played together as a line for years. Ditto for fellow Czechs Malik and Rozsival. Jagr also seemed to love setting up Prucha on the power play. It’s a shame Prucha was phased out by Renney due to the addition of Hall of Famer Brendan Shanahan the following year. As much as I enjoyed Shanahan, I don’t think Prucha was handled correctly. He would ultimately wind up with the Coyotes in a deal that netted rental Derek Morris. I didn’t like the trade as they also parted with Nigel Dawes and Dmitri Kalinin. Overpayment even if Dawes wound up becoming a big scorer in the KHL. Prucha wasn’t as fortunate with post concussion symptoms ending his career.

Our section along with many other fans loved Prucha due to his willingness to stand up for teammates. He wasn’t the biggest in stature, but he had a ton of heart. No wonder you had diehard fans with Prucha monikers on Twitter and Prucha No. 25 Rangers jerseys. Funny. We liked the grit of Ortmeyer and physicality of Hollweg. That’s the two Blueshirts we got. But I would trade a Hollweg for a blue Prucha. That’s how much I liked him.

As memorable a year as ’05-06 was, it didn’t end well. Following a determined Lundqvist stoning Olli Jokinen of Finland to clinch Olympic gold for Sweden in Torino, he had an injury and was never quite the same. The team slumped towards the finish and shockingly let the surging Devils pass them. A match-up that looked like it would be the Rangers with home ice advantage took a 180 in favor of the Devils. I knew the way they ended the regular season how the first round series would go. No. I didn’t predict a sweep with Jagr injuring himself after foolishly going after future teammate Scott Gomez in a lopsided 6-1 defeat in a ugly Game One.

With Lundqvist and Jagr both hurt, they were cooked. Weekes got a start in the disappointing sweep. It didn’t go well. Nobody could score without Jagr. Sykora in particular had awful luck versus his old team. He must’ve hit the post six or seven times. Anything that could go wrong did. They were outscored 17-2 in the first three games. At least they put up a fight in Game Four losing 4-2. Ironically, it was the fan favorite Ortmeyer who gave them their only lead in the series late in the first period.

But the Devils were too good as they got the next four goals with Patrik Elias lighting the lamp twice in a dominant performance. He put up 11 points in the four games. He and Gomez had a field day. Brodeur hardly broke a sweat as the Devils outscored the Blueshirts 21-4 in the four game sweep. Yikes.

I don’t know why, but a clearly ailing Jagr gave it a go in the final game. Everyone knew he needed shoulder surgery. But there was No. 68 lining up at the beginning of the game. He only lasted 49 seconds. One big hit finished his year. When he got helped off, the building saluted him for his special season. He deserved it. Players always play hurt in the hockey playoffs. They’ll play with broken bones, muscle tears and broken body parts. That’s why we love the sport. These men are warriors. The series was over. But Jagr still wanted to play at way less than 100 percent. Crazy.

When it finally ended even with Rucchin scoring a late power play goal to make it respectable, the Garden Faithful saluted the team. “Let’s Go Rangers”, chants echoed throughout MSG. It was still loud. This team gave the fans something they hadn’t had in a while. A real season with lots of highlights and a postseason. It might’ve ended badly. But you felt hopeful thanks to the core which included a 24-year old Lundqvist, who would start a impressive streak of consecutive playoff starts that didn’t end until Game Three of the Play In Series against Carolina. Igor Shesterkin finally ended the reign of the now 38-year old former Ranger, who signed with the Capitals.

It’s funny to think about hockey without No. 30 in Manhattan. Lundqvist accomplished so much in his brilliant 15-year Rangers career. He holds all the goalie records for the Original Six franchise. Back in 2005, he was just starting out as a unknown seventh round draft pick that only some of us were aware of. The only thing missing from his resume is a Cup. He’s going to chase it with old rival Alex Ovechkin in Washington DC. Go figure.

As for ’05-06, the team sent out a DVD of that season full of highlights. I still have it. Even though they had better moments ahead including avenging the four game humiliation against the Devils two years later along with three trips to the Conference Final and a historic comeback from 3-1 down versus the Pens and Caps in consecutive second rounds, that year will always stand out. It brought meaningful hockey back to The Garden. The crowds were alive before the renovation. Jagr was electric in his three-plus year Broadway stint. I wish they could’ve reached a Stanley Cup Final with him. I wouldn’t have bet against him. The best they did were two first round wins and a close call in a gut wrenching second round loss to Buffalo in 2007.

There was plenty ahead. It all culminated in the 3-1 comeback to conquer the Crosby Pens and then beat the pesky Canadiens minus Carey Price to advance to the Stanley Cup Final in 2014. Their first appearance in 20 years. It would’ve been perfect had they won. Twenty years after Messier delivered the Cup back to 33rd and 7th.

That team had it all. Brian Leetch was the first American born player to win the Conn Smythe. Mike Richter was brilliant. Adam Graves scored clutch goals and broke Vic Hadfield’s club record with 52 goals. Sergei Zubov was remarkable leading the team in scoring with 89 points while feathering a perfect no look feed for a Leetch goal that set the tone in Game Seven versus the Canucks. Alex Kovalev dangled and dazzled. Without that goal on Brodeur in Game Six late in period two, no Messier natural hat trick. No championship.

Maybe it’s true that Lundqvist never had that kind of supporting cast around him. But they sure tried. Jagr. Shanahan. Markus Naslund. Nik Zherdev. Marian Gaborik. Brad Richards. Rick Nash. Martin St. Louis. Keith Yandle. If Mats Zuccarello is healthy in 2015, do the Rangers win the Cup? We’ll never know.

Whenever we get hockey again, it’s gonna be weird. Lundqvist will be wearing a Caps No. 35 jersey now that he can. Richter’s number was unavailable. Marc Staal will likely be wearing his No. 18 on the Red Wings. Jesper Fast will wear a Hurricanes jersey. Strange times. But Alexis Lafreniere will debut No. 13. It’ll sell like hotcakes for those who can afford it. I’ll wait.

A New Era is upon us. Similar to 15 years ago when King Henrik came in. Except the names are different. Lafreniere. Kaapo Kakko. Adam Fox. Ryan Lindgren. Tony DeAngelo. Mike Zibanejad. Panarin. Chris Kreider, who is the last link to those teams last decade. Wow. Zibanejad just missed out. Pavel Buchnevich. Filip Chytil. Shesterkin. Alex Georgiev. Jacob Trouba. Eventually Vitaly Kravtsov, who continues to show promise in the KHL while starring for Traktor Chelyabinsk. Maybe one day, Nils Lundkvist and K’Andre Miller. Another Lundkvist but spelt differently.

Whatever the future holds is this new abnormal, I’ll always remember 2005-06. The year hockey returned to the Big Apple.

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Vitaly Kravtsov is back with a bang

Vitaly Kravtsov missed some games due to a injury. However, the Rangers 2018 first round pick returned with a bang by scoring a nice goal for Traktor Chelyabinsk in a 4-2 win over Amur Khabarovsk on Friday.

Here are two different looks on his goal. Kravtsov makes a nice toe drag to get the first shot off around a defender and then is able to get to the rebound and score.

It was the 20-year old Russian’s first game since Sep. 29. In a dozen games, the Rangers budding forward prospect has seven goals with two assists for Traktor. He doesn’t turn 21 until two days before Christmas.

https://en.khl.ru/game/1045/872538/protocol/

Above is the game summary via the official KHL site. That can be found at en.khl.ru to keep track of your favorite Russian prospects.

Kravtsov remains with Traktor Chelyabinsk for the ’20-21 season. Whether we see him debut with the Rangers remains to be seen.

That largely depends on what happens with next season, tentatively planned to begin in January 2021. Even with the NHL postponing the Winter Classic between the Wild and Blues along with canceling the All-Star Gane in Florida, they still intend to start 2021 in over two months.

The question is will a majority of games be played in a bubble a la the successful Stanley Cup Tournament. Considering that there are increases in COVID-19 due to the temperature change and more people not wearing masks or social distancing outside, I am inclined to believe you won’t see any Rangers hockey at MSG until who knows how long.

It’s better to be safe than sorry when it comes to the safety of the players, coaches, trainers, refs and team personnel. We saw how well the playoff bubble worked in host cities Edmonton and Toronto. Not one single player tested positive.

I wonder what the schedule could look like. I think it would have to be abbreviated. No way can I see them doing a full 82 games. I’ve heard the number 55 tossed around, which is in line with a shortened season. Maybe they can do 60 to 65.

Of course, all this is speculative. Things can change this winter. Let’s hope it’s for the better.

It’s nice to see Kravtsov continuing to improve in a important pro year for his hometown team in Traktor. If he keeps it up, there’s reason for optimism for the Blueshirts and their fans.

Очень хорошо Виталий Кравцов!

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Devils sign Dmitry Kulikov, re-sign Nicholas Merkley, Alexander Holtz off to a good start

The Devils signed Dmitry Kulikov to a one-year deal worth $1.15 million. A veteran defenseman of 11 years, Kulikov will turn 30 on Oct. 29.

He’s a good skating, left shooting D who can log around 20 minutes in a top four role. With the off-season addition of Ryan Murray along with incumbents Will Butcher, Damon Severson and P.K. Subban, Kulikov can fill a role in the top six.

Originally a Panthers 2009 first round pick, the Russian blueliner has spent time with three NHL teams including the Sabres and most recently the Jets. Once a player who could contribute offensively, Kulikov has taken on a different role the past few years. He spent the past three seasons in Winnipeg where he totaled 27 points (5-22-27) and 101 penalty minutes over 170 games.

He helped the Jets make the playoffs three consecutive years. In 51 contests during the regular season, Kulikov tallied two goals and eight assists for 10 points with 32 penalty minutes and a minus-four rating. All 10 points came at even strength. He averaged 20:01 per game with 77 blocks and 104 hits.

In the postseason, he had two assists in four games. Winnipeg was eliminated by Calgary in the Play In Round.

Overall, it’s a low risk move by Devils GM Tom Fitzgerald. Think of it as insurance for former first round pick Ty Smith. At the moment, he’d have to play his way into the lineup. Here is the projected Devils defense:

Butcher-Subban

Murray-Severson

Kulikov-Carrick

Smith

In another move, the Devils re-signed forward Nicholas Merkeley to a one-year contract for $874,125. It’s a two-way deal. The 23-year old left shooting right wing was acquired by the team from the Coyotes as part of the Taylor Hall trade that netted defense prospect Kevin Bahl and 2020 conditional first round pick Dawson Mercer. A trade that looks like one of Fitzgerald’s smartest with Hall leaving Arizona for Buffalo. Especially if both Bahl and Mercer pan out.

Merkley posted a goal and helper in four games for New Jersey. The 23-year old from Calgary is a former Coyotes 2015 first round pick.

The Devils have quietly had a good off-season thanks to additions like Murray, Kulikov, former Blackhawks Stanley Cup champion Corey Crawford and acquiring ex-Leaf Andreas Johnsson. They still have 13.93 million in projected cap space with just restricted free agent Jesper Bratt to re-sign.

New Jersey 2020 first round pick Alexander Holtz is off to a good start with Djurgardens IF in the Swedish Hockey League. The seventh overall pick has four goals and two assists in eight games. The 18-year old Swedish right wing looks like a sniper.

Holtz looks like one of the best finishers out of a strong 2020 Draft Class. He turns 19 next January 23. Devils fans should be excited about the future. Holtz and Mercer will be a big part of it along with Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier.

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Legendary voice of hockey Doc Emrick hangs up the microphone

The year has been a trying one for so many people. In spite of everything, the NHL successfully completed its longest season with the great Doc Emrick calling the Lightning winning the Stanley Cup over the Stars on Sept. 28.

Fittingly, Mike Doc Emrick had the call for NBC Sports. That included the series final goal scored by Blake Coleman to provide insurance for the Lightning in a 2-0 shutout to win the hard fought Stanley Cup Final in six games. It also included Emrick’s final call with some excited Bolts celebrating their team’s second ever Cup.

There was a cool trophy presentation where the team included captain Steven Stamkos in a memorable photo around NHL commissioner Gary Bettman before each member skated with the Cup. It was all described by the legendary Emrick, who had done this for 50 years. The last 14 for NBC and a network that went from OLN to Versus to NBCSN. A great broadcaster, who could make any game exciting with his unique description and anecdotes to keep the audience engaged.

When they had Emrick do a special video time capsule of the most challenging three month journey in a playoff bubble, we didn’t know it would be the final time he would talk to us through our televisions. The former Devils announcer who had the call of some truly memorable moments, announced his retirement from broadcasting earlier today in a video message shared by NBC Sports on Twitter.

It definitely caught many by surprise including me. How could it not? Maybe for the proud and brilliant, soft-spoken man who’s lived in Michigan for so long while sharing his passion for the Pittsburgh Pirates all these years, 2020 was the perfect time to call it a career. Listening to him do a voice-over of how he started in the game of hockey when legends like Bobby Orr and Phil Esposito played without helmets some 50 years ago, I understood why he decided to call it quits. The way he described how different the game was with goal judges seated behind the glass before video replay and technology confirmed goals, to how helmets became mandatory, and going from one ref to two, hockey is so different now.

Oh. It’s still a great game we can all enjoy. But the way Doc artfully told it was similar to his great long journey going from doing minor league games by the Port Huron Flags and Maine Mariners to getting his first big break with a new team that relocated to New Jersey called the Devils in 1982-83. His first stint there went until 1986 before winding up in several roles with rival teams such as the Flyers and even the Rangers. Astonishingly, before he returned to the Devils in ’93-94, he was the lead play-by-play man for the Flyers and worked with future ESPN analyst Bill Clement.

Ironically, Emrick replaced former Devils broadcaster Gary Thorne, who moved to ESPN and became the lead voice of National Hockey Night. Their careers are intertwined. Emrick’s work was outstanding with Fox Sports recognizing him as the voice of the number one team where be paired with Rangers analyst John Davidson. One of his most memorable calls was getting to announce his team the Devils winning their first Stanley Cup alongside Davidson on a late June summer night in ’95 at the old Meadowlands complex at Brendan Byrne Arena.

“The Stanley Cup to New Jersey,” he said. “The Devils are Stanley Cup Champions!”

It must’ve felt awesome to be able to call that a year following Mark Messier’s Game Six theatrics for the rival Rangers that carried them past the Devils in seven hard fought games and eventually the Cup. Emrick was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in the broadcasters wing as a Foster Hewitt recipient in 2008. The winner of six Emmy Awards who left the Devils in 2011 a year before they avenged a crushing loss to the Rangers, would have the memorable call of Adam Henrique scoring in overtime of Game Six to beat the Rangers in a Conference Final rematch 18 years later. A year removed from doing Devils telecasts, Doc couldn’t contain his excitement.

“Threw in front by Kovalchuk. Blocked there. They poke away at it. They scooooooree! Henrique! It’s over!!!”

It remains one of his best calls. Even if there was a tad bit of emotional bias attached to it given the circumstances with Martin Brodeur at age 40 finally avenging the seven-game defeat in ’94, it was understandable. I never held it against Emrick, who I was fortunate enough to work with behind the scenes during the ’00-01 season as a production assistant for the Devils truck for home telecasts. This is as genuine and professional man as there’s been.

The loss of Doc, who at 74 can finally enjoy family life with his wife Joyce, and spend time with their dogs and six horses in St. Clair, Michigan, is felt by the hockey world today. We love the man who gave us signature phrases like, “Waffle boarded away”, and “Hit the post with the shot.” There are others like referencing the goalpost as the pipe and the net as the cage.

This is a brilliant and passionate man, whose enthusiasm for calling not only hockey, but even Brett Favre’s first NFL start where he completed his first past to himself, is fondly remembered. He called NFL games for CBS and even did some NCAA basketball tournament games, which I never knew. He has done the National Lacrosse League All-Star Game and who could forget his entertaining calls of Summer Olympics Water Polo. It was insane. It felt like he was calling hockey except the athletes were swimmers in the pool playing a cool sport made cooler by Doc.

He also had the call of Zach Parise tying the gold medal game for Team USA versus Canada at the Vancouver Winter Games. Then, had Sidney Crosby’s golden goal for Canada in sudden death. Heartwarming for the Canadian side, but gut wrenching for American hearts. He did the first ever NHL Winter Classic with Crosby scoring the shootout winner with snow falling against the Sabres at Ralph Wilson Stadium in front of a then NHL record 71,217 fans on Jan. 1, 2008.

Doc Emrick has done it all. He’s been an exemplary person who’s represented the NHL and the sport of hockey well. He is a legend. We will miss him. But I’m glad he’s going out on his own terms. A truly authentic person who’s been great forever like Doc deserves that.

What a great man. He’s as genuine and kind hearted a person as there is. What I admire most is those unique qualities. He never forced his opinion on the audience. But if he disagreed with a missed call, he would often say, “And play continues”, for dramatic effect.

I kinda wish he could do one last Devils game with longtime partner Chico Resch. Doc and Chico were great together for two decades. Who didn’t love the way they played off each other? Plus Chico was a funny man with great stories from his playing days which included the Islanders, Devils and Flyers. You can’t replace that kind of dynamic duo. Even though Steve Cangialosi does a very good job on the call. Ken Daneyko isn’t Chico. Steve isn’t Doc.

I wish there were more Doc Emricks. We had another in Dave Strader, who lost his battle to cancer a few years ago. I got to work with him behind the scenes over at ESPN. Doc Emrick is a cancer survivor. He is someone to be cherished.

#ThankYouDoc

Respectfully,

Derek Felix

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Doc Emrick says goodbye as only he can

For at least a generation of hockey fans, Doc Emrick has been the voice of the NHL – Olympics, Winter Classic games, playoffs and many other national telecasts on FOX and NBC – if there was a big game in the last twenty-five years odds are Doc was doing it. And why not? He combined a storyteller’s flair and a child’s enthusiasm with a golden voice to entertain and inform hockey fans throughout North America for decades. It’s hard to believe Doc is 74, or that he has been broadcasting for fifty years. I couldn’t help but feel sad upon hearing the news of Doc’s retirement this morning, after all it seems like a piece of my youth has gone away.

If national fans have gotten to enjoy Doc, Devil fans have been able to savor him as nobody else has, since he was the team’s first voice in New Jersey when the team moved from Colorado in 1982 and stayed until 1986 in his first stint before going to the Flyers for a few years. I’d hardly believe he ever announced Flyer games if not for hearing the call of Ron Hextall’s goal, the first ever off a goalie’s stick in the playoffs.

After spending some time in Philly, Doc came back to New Jersey just in time for the franchise’s unparalleled run of success beginning in the mid ’90’s. As luck would have it, Doc got to call yet another memorable goalie scoring in the playoffs goal, this one by Martin Brodeur against his boyhood team, the Canadiens.

Like most of his broadcasts during that period Doc was calling that game as part of the regular MSG/Metro/SportsChannel/whatever network the Devils were broadcasting games on. Unlike nowadays, the local telecasts still broadcast the first couple rounds of the playoffs. For the first part of his tenure (at least that I remember) he did games with Peter McNab but in the late ’90’s was paired with another one-of-a-kind character in former goaltender Chico Resch.

Doc’s professorial, storytelling nature and Chico’s goofy, off the wall homerism made them a beloved pairing for just about every Devil watcher. Probably my favorite ever Doc and Chico exchange came during a game against the Flyers in the early ’00’s, when Chico couldn’t help but notice that Devils ace penalty killer John Madden wasn’t on the ice for a particular PK, and alluded to it in passing two or three times. Finally towards the end of the penalty Chico said something to the effect of, ‘I don’t know if he’s got a skate issue or what the problem is…’

Doc: ‘The problem will be alleviated as Madden comes out of the box now’

Chico: (laughs) Oh yeah

New Jersey’s salad days on the ice were complemented with a first-rate broadcasting team off the ice. Doc and Chico doing games provided the color for the action itself while Matt and the Maven had their own ying-and-yang act during intermissions. For over fifteen years Doc did both local and national broadcasts. At FOX it was Doc with Ranger broadcaster John Davidson, and for a brief period of time – before Davidson left to work in the Blues’ front office and started a long management career – they were the gold standard for all hockey broadcasts, with one example why here in a YouTube of the final few minutes of the Devils’ 1995 Stanley Cup triumph.

In his capacity doing national games for FOX, Doc still got to call the Devils’ first championship in 1995 on TV, and as usual was understated yet powerful:

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

Unfortunately ESPN didn’t employ Doc when they got the rights to the Stanley Cup Finals games, but he still got to call – and emcee – many memorable Devils moments along the way, also receiving countless individual awards for his work and service – including being honored with hockey’s highest honor, induction into the Hall of Fame. When he left the Devils in 2011 to focus on only doing national games, his explanation was typically deep with a touch of self-depreciating, commenting about how sometimes you have to look in the mirror and at your birth certificate (he was 65 then) before making major life decisions.

Even though for the last decade of his career he was no longer our own to cherish, we still felt like he was during a brief, shining moment in the year after he left when he got to call the Devils’ last truly iconic moment in 2012 – Adam Henrique’s OT Conference Finals winner against the hated Rangers – this time on NBCSN.

Maybe it was fitting as the team got worse and the Devils made fewer national TV appearances, we got slowly weaned off of Doc as a local guy but still got to enjoy him from afar. Ironically things came full circle in what’s now the final game Doc ever broadcasted, when former Devil Blake Coleman scored the Lightning’s second goal.

If I knew it would be Doc’s last game I’d have been watching too but typically he didn’t make a meal of his retirement and waited until after the playoffs and the NHL’s warp speed draft and FA periods after that before word got out this morning. Maybe I’ll find that Game 6 online somewhere and watch, or some of Doc’s many Devils highlights. Doc may be gone in terms of active broadcasting, but in the age of YouTube and electronics, his presence will live on forever.

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Lundqvist continues to be more visible at new home

Henrik Lundqvist finally got to visit his new stall in the Capitals locker room. He posted the following photo above. He looks at ease in what will be his new home.

Even if the first part of next season likely will begin in a bubble due to the second wave, at some point the new Cap in a different red, white and blue, will play at Capital One Arena at DC. That’s when he’ll hopefully see and hear unfamiliar support of fans that once were the enemy. In a recent Zoom interview with the media when he was introduced, he indicated that he doesn’t know how they’ll react to him.

If the proud 38-year old affable Swedish goaltender plays well, there’s little doubt he’ll hear the cheers from Washington fans. A strange difference from when he broke Cap hearts in the last three playoff series they played versus the Rangers.

He understands the rivalry which dates back to the good old days of the Patrick Division. If only they renamed the Metropolitan that. Why not? Then make the Atlantic the old Adams Division. I’m all for makeovers if it emphasizes tradition.

How successful will Lundqvist be for the Caps? Well, we know he’ll be replacing Braden Holtby and be part of a tandem with much younger Russian netminder Ilya Samsonov. What will the split be? Maybe 60/40 in favor of the 23-year old Samsonov. But remember, the season could be a little shorter depending on when it begins. That could be ideal.

Although MSG’s Steve Valiquette hinted at some defensive issues with the Caps, Lundqvist will be playing on a better team. Maybe the structure will improve under proven coach Peter Laviolette. A bench boss who’s won a Stanley Cup and been runner-up. He has to be better than Todd Reirden.

He ranks second among active NHL goalies in wins with 459. Only Marc-Andre Fleury has more coming in with 466. He’ll also be a backup in Vegas behind Robin Lehner. They’re fifth and sixth on the all-time wins list.

Whatever the case, seeing Lundqvist wearing his throwback number 35 jersey in a Caps Jersey will be like seeing Joe Thornton donning the Maple Leaf after signing with Toronto for a year at $700,000.

Similar to seeing Martin Brodeur in Blues colors or Mike Modano as a Red Wing. Such is the business of sports. Not everyone stays with one team. That’s the lesson learned here.

One day soon, it’ll become a haunting reality for Rangers fans. I’m already getting used to it.

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Rangers put together highlight package of DeAngelo, who must continue to produce while becoming a leader

A couple of days following the re-signing of defenseman Tony DeAngelo for two more years at a reasonable average cap hit of $4.8 million through 2022, the Rangers paid tribute to the breakout American offensive star on their improved Twitter account.

A nice highlight package showed off the big season the 24-year old DeAngelo had in achieving personal bests with 15 goals and 53 points. That included posting his first career hat trick in a win over the Devils at MSG. A fun game to be at.

With the New Jersey native who once was a high first round pick for Tampa before getting dealt to the Coyotes, it took him some time to earn the trust of his third NHL team. Even in coach David Quinn’s first year, at one point DeAngelo found himself benched due to off ice related issues.

The talent has never been a question. He put up good scoring seasons in the OHL for both the Sarnia Sting and Soo Greyhounds.

After some struggles to establish himself with Arizona following a trade by the Lightning that resulted in current Rangers defenseman Libor Hajek being taken in the second round, he was part of a big deal to New York with the Coyotes 2017 first round pick (Lias Andersson) in exchange for center Derek Stepan and goalie Antti Raanta.

At the time, Rangers GM Jeff Gorton was starting to change the roster. By moving Stepan prior to his no-move clause went into effect, he was admitting that the team needed to change for the future. That really spelled the end of a good roster that had consistently made the postseason and gone to three Conference Finals and two second rounds. Raanta was given a opportunity to become a starter in Arizona. Injuries prevented it. He’s the backup behind Darcy Kuemper.

As for DeAngelo, he gradually became better over the past three seasons for the Rangers. After going 4-26-30 over 61 games in Quinn’s first season behind the bench during ’18-19, he broke out for 15 goals, 38 assists and 53 points this past season in 68 games. That allowed him to earn a bridge deal with the club that’ll pay him $9.6 million over the next two years.

DeAngelo turns 25 this week. A unique personality who keeps things loose in the locker room, he will now be looked to as more of a leader. That means continuing to produce and make adjustments to his defensive game that needs improvement. Especially if he wants to stay on Broadway past 2022.

With a influx of young talent in the farm system due to D prospects K’Andre Miller, Nils Lundkvist, Matthew Robertson, Tarmo Reunanen, Zac Jones and 2020 first round pick Braden Schneider, DeAngelo will have to prove he belongs.

Of course, more production over the next two years could price him out of the Big Apple. That’s salary cap life. Especially with no end in sight to the pandemic, which in turn could mean the cap doesn’t move off the number of $81.5 million.

For now, we can enjoy more DeAngelo highlights sometime in 2021 when hockey returns.

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Rangers make great bridge deal with DeAngelo

Guess who’s back. Tony D. Yes. The Rangers will have their Eminem version back for at least the next two years after avoiding arbitration. I thought bridging him for two years at $4.75 million would get it done. As it turned out, I almost nailed it.

Tony DeAngelo has re-signed with the Rangers for two years and an average cap hit of $4.8 million per season. That’s a perfect number for the offensive defenseman who posted career bests in goals (15), assists (38), points (53), plus/minus (12) and games played (68).

The soon to be 25-year old Sewell, New Jersey native also achieved personal highs in even strength goals where he notched 12 of his 15 with the other three coming on the power play. A number one quarterback who has great vision and an accurate shot, DeAngelo had a good split by recording 34 even strength points (12-22-34) and 19 power play points (3-16-19).

He also was a fixture in overtime where the playmaking defenseman excelled at the three-on-three by combining his superb skating with his ability to be both a passing and shooting threat. That was on display at MSG when he was directly involved in Mika Zibanejad scoring his franchise tying fifth goal of a game in a wild 6-5 overtime win over the Capitals. The best regular season game you’ll ever see.

DeAngelo works well with both Zibanejad and leading scorer Artemi Panarin. So, there’s even more reason to be excited about the future with top pick Alexis Lafreniere joining a young talented team that still includes Chris Kreider, Pavel Buchnevich, Filip Chytil and Kaapo Kakko.

The only question is will DeAngelo friend and teammate Ryan Strome be returning. There’s little doubt Brendan Lemieux will be back even if he winds up going to arbitration. He doesn’t have much leverage.

As for Strome, who’s a year away from unrestricted status, he had his best season. The center benefited by playing with Panarin on the second line where he achieved a career high 59 points (18-41-59) including 41 points at even strength with a plus-21. Unless the Rangers have a different solution, they might be wise to bring him back on a one-year deal for $5 million. Given that he made $3.1 million last season, that’s what it’s looking like.

It’s up to the organization to decide what they want to do. So far, they’ve wisely not overspent on free agents due to their commitment to core players. Instead, they decided to address depth with the additions of center Kevin Rooney and much maligned veteran defenseman Jack Johnson, who is only signed for a year. You’d think these misfits knew more than John Davidson or Jeff Gorton about hockey. They understand where this team is. I’ll trust them over anyone.

What about replacing Jesper Fast? Well, they can’t. He was a responsible two-way forward who was trusted by the coaching staff at five-on-five and penalty kill. A interchangeable player, who was a quiet leader for a group that doesn’t have enough grit. Hopefully, that void can be filled by guys like Lemieux, Brett Howden and Rooney, who is a diligent worker if you watched him with the Devils. There’s room for growth.

It’ll be imperative for kids like Chytil and Kakko to take steps in the right direction next season. There just isn’t enough room to do too much else. The salary cap will remain at $81.5 million, leaving the Blueshirts with slightly over $7 million to work with. That could mean penciling in Strome and Lemieux.

Maybe if they’re lucky, they can afford to give a proven veteran like Michael Grabner a pro tryout. He was bought out by the Coyotes. The speed and two-way capability of the ex-Ranger would be a good fit on the fourth line. He’s a strong penalty killer who’s totaled 11 shorthanded goals over his 10-year career. Grabner is 33 and could still be serviceable for a team.

I’m pleased with both Davidson and Gorton on getting both DeAngelo and Alex Georgiev done. They’re not screwing around. Only two players left to address.

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Rangers avoid arbitration, re-sign Alex Georgiev and Phil Di Giuseppe

In good news, the Rangers reached agreement with two restricted free agents on new deals. A couple of days ago, they re-signed forward Phil Di Giuseppe to a one-year, $700,000 contract.

The 27-year old left wing was called up from Hartford last season. In 20 regular season games, he had a goal and three assists with a plus-one rating and 35 shots. He registered 38 hits and 20 blocked shots while averaging 11:17 of ice-time. In the Play In Series against Carolina, Di Giuseppe finished a minus-three with no points while logging 8:15.

He’ll again have a chance to make the team in training camp. The 2021 season won’t begin until sometime next January.

In another important move, the Blueshirts re-signed goalie Alex Georgiev to a two-year, $4.85 million contract. The average cap hit comes out to $2.425 million thru 2022. Here’s the salary breakdown from Cap Friendly.

Originally signed by the Rangers as a undrafted free agent at age 21 on July 19, 2017, the 24-year old Georgiev developed well enough in a year with the Wolf Pack to be recalled during ’17-18. In 10 games, he had a 4-4-1 record while posting a 3.15 GAA and .918 save percentage. During ’18-19, he proved himself by going 14-13-4 with a 2.91 GAA, .914 save percentage and two shutouts.

This past season, Georgiev again was steady enough despite a crowded crease. Under a unique situation due to the emergence of starting goalie Igor Shesterkin with veteran Henrik Lundqvist losing playing time, the Bulgarian played well enough to earn the backup spot. He got into 34 games and won a team high 17 games with a 3.04 GAA, .910 save percentage and two shutouts.

With Lundqvist having moved on following a buyout by becoming a Capital, Georgiev is fully entrenched as the Rangers backup behind Shesterkin. The pair of 24-year old Russians will form a tandem entering next year. Keith Kinkaid was signed last week as insurance for the AHL.

Whenever the next season starts, it’ll be a different situation. The Rangers will depend on two young netminders moving forward. They’ll also hopefully have Tyler Wall developing in his first pro season at Hartford. This will be a change from the past 15 years when Lundqvist was the clear number one goalie entering play.

With still approximately 12 million left, the Blueshirts will turn their attention to RFA’s Tony DeAngelo, Ryan Strome and Brendan Lemieux. The first two due significant raises. We’ll see if they go to arbitration. The arbitration dates are as follows:

1. Tony DeAngelo Oct. 20

2. Ryan Strome Nov. 5

3. Brendan Lemieux Nov. 6

In other news, former Blueshirt Greg McKegg signed with the Bruins to a one-year, two-way contract for $700,000. In 53 contests, the 28-year old center played on the fourth line and killed penalties while putting up five goals, four assists and nine points. One goal came shorthanded and two of his nine points were on the penalty kill. He did a solid job in a small role.

The Keg Man will move onto his seventh NHL team. Name the first six.

Trivia Answer: McKegg has played for six teams. They are the Maple Leafs, Panthers, Lightning, Penguins, Hurricanes and Rangers.

In other free agent news, the Canadiens extended Brendan Gallagher for six years and an AAV of $6.5 million through 2027. A real good player at even strength, he will cost $3.75 million in 2021 before basically getting double in ’21-22.

The Senators opened the vault and splurged on unrestricted free agent Evgenii Dadonov by inking the ex-Panther to a three-year, $15 million contract. A interesting move for a rebuilding team that hinges on core pieces Brady Tkachuk, Thomas Chabot, Colin White and Nick Paul. They recently added Austin Watson in a trade with Nashville and acquired former Pen Matt Murray to man the net.

We’ll see what those additions do for Ottawa.

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Lundqvist ready to be a Washington Capital

Coming Soon To DC: Henrik Lundqvist will go back to wearing his old number 35 when he plays for his new team as a Washington Capital. AP Photo credit Washington Capitals via Getty Images

It’s been a week since we learned Henrik Lundqvist would be joining the Washington Capitals. Since he made it official last Friday on Day One of the strange and ghostly October Madness, the 38-year old former Rangers legend seems to be getting accustomed to life as a Capital.

That’s included more of a social media presence via his Twitter account than New Yorkers were used to. He even greeted Caps fans with a brief video. Maybe it will be easier for Lundqvist to feel at ease now that he’s out of the spotlight in Manhattan.

Brought in by Washington to replace revered former starter Braden Holtby to play 1B behind 23-year old Russian netminder Ilya Samsonov, King Henrik has been very accommodating so far. As seen above where the official Caps Twitter posted superstar Alex Ovechkin’s 100th career NHL goals at his expense after the Great Eight undressed a Rangers defenseman, all has been forgiven by Lundqvist.

Kudos to the Capitals organization for paying tribute to Holtby for being a great Cap for a decade where he helped them win the Stanley Cup highlighted by a absolute robbery on Alex Tuch in Game Two that changed that series against the Golden Knights.

It will be interesting to see him and Ovechkin play for the same team. Almost like the time Jaromir Jagr joined the Devils and got to team up with legendary netminder Martin Brodeur. Both out of the classic 1990 NHL Draft class. The two best players were always interesting to listen to following games.

Having Henrik and Ovi pair up for at least one year will be like Perfect Strangers II. Although the original duo was when Wayne Gretzky reunited with former Oilers teammate Mark Messier in NYC, they’d played together and won four of five Cups in Edmonton. So even if their personalities were different, they knew each other well.

Perfect Strangers was a good show. Now, you’ll have the more low key Lundqvist and more quotable personality in Ovechkin providing interesting insights off the ice. Like Brodeur and Jagr, who was always had a keen sense of humor. It took him playing for both the Rangers and Devils for fans to understand him better.

Number 68 will always be in a class by himself. He could’ve challenged Gretzky’s scoring record had he wanted to. But he lost time due to lockouts and playing for Avangard Omsk in the KHL before returning with the Flyers of all teams. Then, the Jagr Fan Club started following him around after he kept changing jerseys. There were the Stars, Bruins, Devils, Panthers and even the Flames which unfortunately didn’t work out.

So, what else to say on Lundqvist rocking the red? Well this. He’ll finally be able to wear his old number 35 as a Washington Capital. The number he wore while leading Frolunda to a championship in Sweden. Also the familiar number he wore when he won Olympic gold against Finland at the ’06 Winter Games in Torino. That included a quite memorable last second save on Olli Jokinen to preserve the one goal victory.

It’s funny how in that brief 13 second cameo, not a hair is out of place for the King. It’s uncanny. Did GQ call?

Whenever the start of the 2021 season is, it’ll probably begin in the saw fashion the ’19-20 season concluded. With life in the bubble. That’s how it looks like it could play out. Hopefully, we will be able to see our team play at MSG at some point. Especially for the introduction of Alexis Lafreniere.

Wouldn’t it be something if there is a Caps at Rangers game on the schedule by April that is on 33rd and 7th with fans in attendance? That would be a can’t miss.

Until the next time, it’s more posts on the continued unpredictable off-season. See you soon.

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