Hockey Preview Part 1: Ranking the Metro Division

Believe it or not, we’re less than two weeks away from the start of a new season. A time for new beginnings. That’s especially true in the Metro Division, where as many as six of the eight teams should be competitive.

Not to discount the rebuilding Rangers under first-year man David Quinn. But it would be a shock if they topped 80 points and are in the playoff hunt. If both Lias Andersson and Filip Chytil play, they’ll be fun to watch along with Pavel Buchnevich. Who stays? Kevin Hayes or Mika Zibanejad.

I also have similar doubts over the Hurricanes, who might have the worst goaltending in the league. They may have added Dougie Hamilton to aid the blueline, but are very young up front. It should be a joy to watch Russian Andrei Svechnikov, who should make fans in Raleigh forget Jeff Skinner.

The Islanders are no longer where John Tavares plays. He took his Maple Leafs pajamas and went home to Toronto. It’s now a tighter ship run under the watch of ageless wonder Lou Lamoriello and Stanley Cup winning coach Barry Trotz. Can Mathew Barzal carry the team under a more structured system? What are the plans for Anders Lee? Is Robin Lehner a comeback story? A lot to answer.

The defending champion Capitals will finally have a target on their back. How will Conn Smythe winner Alexander Ovechkin and company deal with the pressure of a repeat? Evgeny Kuznetsov could make a run at the Hart.

Are the Sidney Crosby/Evgeni Malkin Penguins the Caps’ chief competition, or are one of the Blue Jackets or Flyers ready to step up? There might finally be a change on the horizon.

What about the MVP Taylor Hart Hall and the Devils, who hardly did anything to improve off the first postseason appearance in six years? Miles Wood is unsigned. Cory Schneider might not be fully recovered to start the season. That means more of Keith Kinkaid. How much will Nico Hischier improve in Year Two? Are the Devs in or out next Spring?

As we draw nearer, it’s time to have a little fun with preseason division rankings.

RANKING THE METRO

Team To Beat: Washington Capitals

Dark Horse: Philadelphia Flyers

Team With Most Pressure: Columbus Blue Jackets

Best Player: Sidney Crosby PIT

Best Finisher: Alexander Ovechkin WSH

Sweetest Finisher: Phil Kessel PIT

Sickest One-Timer: Alexander Ovechkin WSH

Highest Scorer: Evgeny Kuznetsov WSH, edging Claude Giroux and Geno Malkin

Top Defenseman: Seth Jones CBJ, edging Ivan Provorov and John Carlson

Top Goalie: Sergei Bobrovsky CBJ

Calder Contender: Andrei Svechnikov CAR

Best Passer: Nicklas Backstrom WSH, edging Kuznetsov and Josh Bailey

Best Playmaker: Jakub Voracek PHI

Best Hands: Sidney Crosby PIT

Most Exciting: Artemi Panarin CBJ, edging Mathew Barzal

Great Skater: Artemi Panarin CBJ, edging Kuznetsov and Zach Werenski

Most Valuable Forward: Taylor Hall NJD

Most Valuable Defenseman: Kris Letang PIT

Most Valuable Player To A Team: Sergei Bobrovsky CBJ

Top Defensive Forward: Sean Couturier PHI, edging Backstrom

Player Who Could Be Moved: Artemi Panarin CBJ

Breakout Player: Nolan Patrick PHI, edging Pavel Buchnevich

Underrated: Kyle Palmieri NJD

Overrated: Dougie Hamilton CAR, edging Mika Zibanejad

Player With Most Pressure: Sergei Bobrovsky CBJ

Player With Something To Prove: Chris Kreider NYR

ALL METRO TEAM

G Sergei Bobrovsky CBJ

C Evgeny Kuznetsov WSH

LW Alexander Ovechkin WSH

RW Phil Kessel PIT

D Ivan Provorov PHI

D Seth Jones CBJ

TOP ROOKIES

G Carter Hart PHI

C Filip Chytil NYR

C Lias Andersson NYR

C Martin Necas CAR

LW Kieffer Bellows NYI

RW Andrei Svechnikov CAR

D Ty Smith NJD ‘if’ they keep him

Advertisements
Posted in Devils, Islanders, Metro, NHL Preview, NYRangers | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Amanda Borges leaves the Rangers

View this post on Instagram

LIFE UPDATE: Today is my last day with the @nyrangers. Two years ago, I took on this incredible opportunity to move to NYC, cover an original six team and call Madison Square Garden home. As I embark on a new adventure, I want to sincerely say thank you to team management, coaches, players, my coworkers and NY media for making this Florida girl feel like an important part of this organization from day one. I want to say a special thank you to Rangers fans who have watched, listened and interacted with me as I have told the stories of your favorite Blueshirts, past, present and future. It’s been a privilege to be part of the RangersTown family and I will always cherish the memories I made here. Fans, I could not have done it without you. Goodbye for now, New York. West Coast, I’m coming for you!

A post shared by Amanda Borges (@missamandaborges) on

There won’t only be changes on the ice this hockey season. There are also changes off the ice. Already, we’ve seen accomplished MSG veteran Deb Placey leave following a very successful stint that lasted over 20 years. She went from working Sports Desk to covering both the Islanders and Devils in a hosting role the past decade. I wish her the very best.

Aside from The Garden opting not to bring back Ron Duguay for Hockey Night Live, MSG also lost Amanda Borges. Today was her final day with the Rangers. It was a couple of years ago that she was hired fresh out of Jacksonville where she was a Jaguars reporter and on-air host. She replaced well respected hockey scribe Jim Cerny as a reporter and Digital host, creating social content of the players we enjoy watching.

In two seasons, she did a good job providing Rangers fans with key interviews with players and entertaining insight. She brought a refreshing quality to games, always smiling and having fun while being professional. Borges isn’t just a pretty face, but someone with a bright future. That will now continue on the West coast. She announced it on both Instagram and Twitter.

I definitely enjoyed what she brought to the games. Her interviews were always refreshing and kept things light. She did some fun bits as well, which were highlighted in her going away message on Instagram. It looks like she’s headed to California for some West Coast fun and warmer weather. She won’t have to worry about the winter.

Best of luck to Amanda. Thank you for your Rangers coverage. It was fun.

Posted in Battle News, NYRangers | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Preseason continues: Rangers and Islanders face off tomorrow

As training camp continues, so does the preseason. So far, the Rangers haven’t been that busy compared to the Islanders and Flyers. The latter of who they lost to 6-4 on Wednesday in the first game at Madison Square Garden. New coach David Quinn is getting used to being a NHL coach. He seems comfortable speaking to the press and looking to establish a strong work ethic for this young group.

Highlights from the second exhibition game included power play goals from Ryan “Spoonman” Spooner and Pavel Buchnevich, along with a highlight reel goal from 19-year old Filip Chytil. While it was nice to see Spooner and Buchnevich continue to score, seeing Chytil make a terrific rush around the D and beat Flyers goalie prospect Carter Hart with a great wrist shot to the short side, was encouraging. Especially after one too many turnovers the first two periods. It showed off his unique talent, which has Rangers brass and fans excited.

Buchnevich made the nice backhand pass to lead an attacking Chytil, who sniped by the goalie of the future for the Flyers. Hart was very good after he replaced Brian Elliott. He robbed a couple of Rangers on a two save sequence in the third period, helping the Flyers preserve the lead. They would add one more goal off some faulty defensive coverage for a two-goal win.

Philly didn’t dress many regulars, but Claude Giroux played. It was some of their younger prospects who had good nights. Oskar Lindblom did damage with a three-point first that included two goals past Rangers starter Henrik Lundqvist. In his first appearance, he wasn’t sharp allowing five to get by him in 26:37 of work before Dustin Tokarski replaced him. I’ll cut Lundqvist some slack. He definitely would want two goals back. Better to get the rust out now.

Tokarsi did fine in his Rangers debut, stopping 10 of 11 shots. The one goal from Mikhail Vorobyev one he had no chance on. Old friend Dale Weise set it up. He also deflected a point shot past Lundqvist earlier with no one guarding him in front. An area the Blueshirts want to clean up. That’s been a sore spot the past couple of years. Defensemen must do a better job boxing out.

Brendan Smith made his first appearance. He looked sharp throughout, even going back at a Flyer following a whistle. There were plenty of scrums between the rivals. Quinn wants his team to be tougher to play against. It was a welcome change. The atmosphere for a preseason game was surprisingly good. There was actually energy in the third with the Rangers playing hard even though they came up short. Quinn didn’t like the first two periods. The second was sloppy. If the team brings a good work ethic, they’ll be fun to watch.

Of the two kids they got from Tampa, I noticed Libor Hajek more than Brett Howden, who had a tough night, finishing minus-two while losing 11 of 13 draws. Hajek wore number 43. He’s a good skater, but did take a holding penalty in his own zone.

I like what I saw from Tony DeAngelo. He saw a lot of minutes logging almost 24 with over 10 minutes on special teams, including 7:57 on the power play. He got his shot through and was denied by a good glove save from Hart. He totaled five shots on goal and looked like the player GM Jeff Gorton thought he was getting from Arizona in the Derek Stepan/Antii Raanta trade that also netted Lias Andersson (7th overall pick in 2017). It’s imperative for DeAngelo to have a good camp and make the team. Especially with a couple of spots open on the third pair. His skating is good enough. His defense will be the key. He made a good defensive play after breaking his stick on a shot. A great take out to prevent a shorthanded chance.

Vladislav Namestnikov struggled, taking a couple of ill advised penalties. That included one at the conclusion of the first 180 feet away from his own zone. He plays chippy, but must pick his spots better. A skilled player, he must become more disciplined. The Flyers cashed in on the bad penalty at the end of the first. Namestnikov remains a puzzling player. We’ll see if Quinn can straighten him out.

Veteran Matt Beleskey also scored the other night on a pass from Smith. A long shot to make the roster due to his contract, which the Rangers took from Boston, he can bring the edge in a secondary role. But how realistic is it for him to be on a rebuilding club? He only played 15 games for Boston last year and didn’t register a point, while winding up minus-nine. My guess is he’ll be ticketed for Hartford. He’s signed for two more years with a cap hit of $3.8 million.

While the Rangers only play six times in preseason, it feels like the Islanders are playing every night. They’re in action again against the Flyers currently. I caught some of their 2-0 shutout over the Devils. Kieffer Bellows scored for the second time in two games. He is a good prospect, who’ll be a first-year pro. A impressive finisher who performed well for Team USA at the WJC, it looks like the son of former NHLer Brian Bellows will be the next good Islander. He has the skating and hockey sense. He also knows where to go, which is what you want to see from top prospects. If he doesn’t make them out of camp, I see no reason we won’t see Bellows at some point. He could be the second best finisher on the Islanders behind 40-goal man Anders Lee. Don’t forget Lee is due a raise next summer. He can hit the open market.

The Isles will look different for two reasons. No John Tavares, who already is fitting in with his hometown Leafs, scoring for a third time in preseason tonight. Barry Trotz behind the bench. A proven coach, who finally got over the hump by guiding the Capitals to the Stanley Cup, he will change the mindset of a team that was the NHL’s worst defensive club last season. They’ll play a more structured defensive system under the demanding Trotz. There will be accountability.

Don’t forget Mathew Barzal will now grab the mantle as the team’s best player. What can last year’s Calder winner do for an encore with the spotlight on him? He’ll be facing tougher assignments. I protected him in our keeper league. We’ll see if the extremely gifted playmaking center is up to the challenge.

They drop the puck tomorrow night in Brooklyn after 7 PM.

Posted in Islanders, NYRangers | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Devils preseason odyssey begins with many questions

For many hockey fans, the Devils’ training camp is one of the more intriguing to watch this month.  A surprise team last year who features the reigning Hart Trophy winner (Taylor Hall) and a top overall pick (Nico Hischier), New Jersey’s camp is in part interesting because of their preseason schedule itself, which began in earnest with a split-squad doubleheader on Tuesday – losing both at home to the Rangers 4-3 in OT and in Montreal 3-1.  The Devils continue through the tri-state area with road trips to Brooklyn and Manhattan tomorrow and next Monday before the real travel begins through Winnipeg and eventually to Europe where they’ll play an exhibition against SC Bern in Switzerland in a homecoming for Hischier, who played there not too long ago.  Finally the Devils will conclude camp overseas and open the regular season in Sweden against the Oilers on October 6 with a ‘home’ game.  Well, it will be an actual home game for Jesper Bratt and Marcus Johansson at least.

In a rare good decision from the NHL, the Sweden game is at 1 PM on a Saturday afternoon which beats the whole start a season at 3:30 AM in Japan that Major League Baseball used to pull.  Too bad the preseason game in Switzerland is on a weekday during work but hey it’s preseason, who cares if you have to watch it later?  Having 41 home games instead of 44 and only one preseason game should be a relief for season ticket holders, but it doesn’t exactly seem that way pricewise as like with just about every sports team, prices continue to creep up and up.  Don’t get me wrong, I still love my aisle seats, but $35 a game starts to makes me wince when I remember it was $22 a game just several years ago.  Of course it’s still first-world problems compared to pricing at MSG or the obstructed seats at Barclays.

Getting back to the Devils themselves, another interesting thing about the preseason is the all-access series that will be following the team in their camp trek around the world with four half-hour shows on NHL Network starting next Wednesday night, giving fans an inside peek behind the scenes during the preseason.  The premise seems like mini-Hard Knocks vignettes, or perhaps something closer to the 24/7 series that the NHL has been running as a Winter Classic lead-in in recent years.  Just the two minute clip above is enough for me to look forward to this show.  Of course getting an inside look at the team is something the Devils had woefully lagged behind in, until the last few years.

As nice as the bells and whistles are, and having a different type of preseason to break the mold when the puck drops for real and we get down to brass tacks everyone including me is only going to care about bottom-line results and whether the team takes a step back or can build off of last season.  MVP and team leader Hall is certainly mindful of that fact:

In general, it’s been quite some time since I remember a season preview show proper on MSG, SportsChannel, FSNY, etc.  Then again there’s been more excitement around the team over these last few months than there’s been at any point since the spring of 2012.  Deservedly so after the inspired run the underdog Devils made toward the playoffs last year.  Even if it ended with a bit of a whimper losing a quick five-game series to Tampa in the first round.  It’s still a bit early for a reason season preview but the early buzz in camp centered around a few younger players all looking to earn spots on the roster in the 2018-19 season.

Perhaps the most intriguing is 2018 first-round pick defenseman Ty Smith.  Just eighteen years old, might he be this year’s teen sensation to earn a spot in the lineup following in the footsteps of Hischier and Bratt last year?  Certainly the coaching staff and the broadcast team on Tuesday did their best to get the hype train rolling, and Smith followed with a solid game in front of the home fans.  Earning a spot on the roster, and hoping to stay beyond the nine-game cutoff before going back to juniors is another kettle of fish though.  With captain Andy Greene and sophomore Will Butcher cemented on the left side, Smith would have to beat out Mirco Mueller for the third LD spot.  I’m certainly not against pushing Mueller who I’m not a big believer in either, but in his defense he is still just 22 himself.  Still, Smith has the higher upside long-term and even as a scratch ‘expert’ on the draft I was thrilled he fell to us at 17 in June.  It’s debatable whether the future’s now for him though.

Other youngsters hoping to make the team are 2014 first-rounder John Quenneville who seemed to fall out of favor with the staff but has come to camp this year in much better shape and determined to earn a spot in the lineup.  Another ‘reclamation project’ is Nick Lappin who’s had chances with the big club before but never really stuck in a fourth-line role.  Still, he scored 31 goals in the AHL last year and reportedly improved his skating in the offseason, so who knows.  If Smith might be this year’s Hischier/Bratt, Lappin could be this year’s Blake Coleman going from overage afterthought to lineup contributor.  And smallish playmaking winger Brett Seney got the early buzz in camp during the prospects tournament in Buffalo a couple weeks ago.  Clearly there are spots in the lineup to be had after the departures of John Moore from the defense and Pat Maroon and Michael Grabner up front in the offseason, especially with the holdout of Miles Wood now adding another layer of intrigue to camp.

Ah, the Wood holdout.  It’s hard to address that elephant in the room because we have only a vague idea of why the sides are at loggerheads not even talking.  Allegedly the sides are close on term, so evidently money’s the issue, as it usually would be.  The simplistic approach is to complain that we have $20 million of cap space, why not just give him the extra million he wants and call it a day?  Of course GM Ray Shero has to think more long-term than that.  If Wood gets overpaid now then that sets a precedent for other, more important RFA’s down the road.  And sure Wood had a nice season last year with 19 goals in limited icetime but even with that his game tailed off down the stretch and he got fewer than ten minutes a night in each of the team’s last three playoff games.

It might not be popular to say this because Wood’s flashy with speed to burn and is popular with the fans because of that and the fact he can get a little feisty, but arguably Coleman was a more important overall contributor last year and he was re-signed in the offseason to a 3 year, $1.75 million per season deal.  It’s hard to justify Wood – who plays less and has less of a role – getting more than that, or getting more than a comparable player in Josh Anderson of the Blue Jackets who had his own protracted holdout last year and eventually signed for 3 years and under $2 million per.  Actually missing preseason games isn’t going to help Wood carve out a bigger role on the team, but if this got to a point where he actually starts missing paychecks it could get ugly.  At some point you would think player and agent would stop trying to play hardball with zero leverage as an RFA and just get what you can get and prove you’re worth more money on the next contract.

To end this on a more positive note, another thing to watch this preseason is how much goaltender Cory Schneider can progress towards playing after his offseason hip surgery.  While he’s skating and doing light work with the team, odds are he won’t play any preseason games so it’s likely his absence will extend into October, but hopefully his progress now shows he’s not going too miss too many regular season games.  For as much as I love Keith Kinkaid and appreciate how he was a big part of our making the playoffs last year, long-term Cory’s gotta be the guy to pick it up again to the form he had in his first couple years as a Devil.  Cory himself is mindful of that – again run the clip above – and certainly given the fact he’s signed for the next four years at $6 million per, the organization has a lot financially invested in him being the guy in net.

Posted in Devils | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Preseason continues: Rangers home for Flyers

Tonight, fans get their first look up close at the rebuild. The Rangers return home for the first time since the end of March to host the Flyers in preseason. While expectations are much higher for the guys from Philly, the new batch of Blueshirts will continue to make a first impression on no nonsense coach David Quinn.

Things indeed will be different here. Quinn was none too pleased that no one responded to Devil defenseman Eric Gryba’s tough hit that concussed Boo Nieves the other night. He caught Nieves leaning and contacted the chin and head, knocking him to the ice where he stayed down a while before getting up. Following concussion protocol, it was determined the second-year center had a concussion. Here is the hit in question:

Quinn said he would leave it up to the league to decide. It’s a tough hit by a physical player the Devils signed over the summer. I don’t take issue with it. It’s just one of those plays that happens in hockey. Nieves was skating into the New Jersey zone with the puck and prone. I don’t see any malicious intent from Gryba. Nieves remains day-to-day in concussion protocol, which means he can’t practice. Unfortunately for him, that won’t help his chances of making the roster. Steven Fogarty had a solid game on Monday while playing a checking role that included some penalty kill. He’s a forgotten player who is a long shot. But hard work certainly can’t hurt.

There won’t be many repeat players in Wednesday’s lineup. Kevin Hayes and Chris Kreider will sit as will impressive 2017 seventh overall pick Lias Andersson, who scored twice in the 4-3 overtime win. Pavel Buchnevich will dress again. He was excellent in Newark, scoring a power play goal off a Hayes faceoff win, while setting up second-year defenseman Neal Pionk’s winner. He’ll likely play with 2017 first round pick Filip Chytil, who makes his debut in his second training camp. Quinn had high praise for the gifted Czech center, who posseses a lot of skill which makes him a young player to keep an eye on. There should be palpable excitement to see Chytil.

Brett Howden and Libor Hajek will also get a chance to show what they can do. Each came over from Tampa in the blockbuster trade involving Ryan McDonagh and J.T. Miller, which also netted Vladislav Namestnikov. A versatile forward, who must prove himself worthy of the multi-year deal GM Jeff Gorton gave him. Ryan Spooner will also be in. He was better than Namestnikov after coming over from Boston in the Rick Nash deal. Nash remains unsigned. He might take the year off before deciding if he’ll return. Retirement is possible.

Henrik Lundqvist will get his first taste of preseason action. Dustin Tokarski will replace him halfway through. A late signing to compete for the backup job with Alexandar Georgiev and Marek Mazanec, Tokarski is best remembered for replacing an injured Carey Price in the 2014 Eastern Conference Final for the Canadiens. He played well, but the Habs lost to Lundqvist and the Blueshirts in six. It’s been tough for him since.

Here is the rest of the projected lineup:

Joey Keane is someone to watch. A American prospect who represented Team USA at the World Junior Evaluation Camp, I’m curious to see how he looks. Curiosity is what these games are all about. It’s a chance for coaches and us to gauge where some of these guys are in their development.

I’ll have a full report later. We’re actually about to leave for The Garden now. It should be strange to be back. But here we are.

Posted in NYRangers | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Preseason begins: Rangers 4 Devils 3 (OT)

In the first preseason action for both teams, the Rangers defeated the Devils 4-3 in overtime at The Rock. It was choppy play marred by the usual allotment of sloppy penalties. There were plenty of power plays throughout.

Nick Lappin got the scoring started off a nice pass in the slot where he beat Rangers starter Alexandar Georgiev. On the play, two Rangers got caught out of position. Lappin had a nice game tallying twice for the Devils.

Lias Andersson was one of the few bright spots in the period. His doggedness on the penalty kill led to two shorthanded chances, with the first stopped by Kinkaid. It was a solo effort from a hustling Andersson that resulted in a breakaway for a shorthanded goal. He stole the puck from Taylor Hall in the neutral zone and broke in on Kinkaid beating him high glove to tie the score.

However, the Devils came back on the same power play thanks to John Quenneville. Fighting for a roster spot, the former first round pick was able to take a feed from 2018 first round pick Ty Smith and snap a wrist shot through a Brian Boyle screen past Georgiev for a 2-1 lead.

Following a lethargic first period mostly in favor of the Newark hosts, the Rangers turned up the pressure in a better second. Eventually, the consistent forecheck resulted in some New Jersey penalties. On a Kevin Hayes clean face off win, Pavel Buchnevich one-timed the puck by Kinkaid to tie the score. H shot went off Kinkaid’s goal stick and in for a power play goal.

In the third, the teams traded goals from the game’s opening scorers. Both Lappin and Andersson each got their second of the night. Overtime was required.

After each side tried ending it early with classic veteran match ups that featured Hayes and Chris Kreider against Hall and Nico Hischier, it was on the next shift that it would be decided. Off sustained pressure, Jesper Fast stole the puck from Jesper Bratt. He then dropped for a changing Buchnevich, who made a perfect pass to a cutting Neal Pionk for the overtime winner.

Posted in Devils, NYRangers, preseason | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Rangers acquire defenseman Adam McQuaid

Earlier today, the Rangers made a move to improve the blueline. They acquired veteran defenseman Adam McQuaid from the Bruins in exchange for Steven Kampfer, a fourth round pick and conditional seventh.

The 31-year old right defenseman spent the past nine seasons with Boston playing a secondary role on the blueline. That included 2010-11 when he played a part in helping the Bruins win the Stanley Cup. A tough, rugged player with size and strength who’s listed at 6-4, 212 pounds, McQuaid can play on the third pair or be a valuable extra.

Having a veteran presence, who’s more capable of filling a void including team toughness due to his willingness to make opponents accountable, it’s a good pick up for a young, rebuilding team.

What’s more is that he’s in the last year of his contract. So, they can always flip him at the trade deadline to recoup a pick.

There’s nothing wrong with that. Consider it an upgrade over Kampfer, who was a serviceable depth player that filled in admirably when called upon. He’ll go to Boston and see if he can make a deeper team out of training camp. Best of luck to him.

Posted in Battle News, NYRangers | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Counting Down to Training Camp

September is finally here. Almost a week in with insane temperatures and ridiculous humidity that have melted most of the remaining players at a grueling U.S. Open, I can’t wait for cooler weather and classic autumn breezes to arrive. With football finally back of the ugly kind if you actually watched the Falcons and Eagles butcher the NFL along with the refs, hockey is around the corner.

Believe it or not, the NHL off-season is finally ending. Rookie prospect tournaments are about to start, and players are preparing for the grind of another long season. Fans are excited at the prospect of a fresh start for 31 NHL teams. The excitement is back. While training camp is a good chance to see which players could make a first impression, preseason is a opportunity for us to track our favorite newcomers. Who will turn heads? There’s always palpable excitement for that along with seeing some of the new players and our faves.

Whoever you root for, it’s definitely a fun time. It won’t be long before October is here, and the games become real starting Oct. 3. There’s plenty of time between now and then. Savor it. Though I have a feeling football fans in the local New York/New Jersey area will be pumped up for a pair of top picks on the Jets and Giants. Sam Darnold and Saquon Barkley will be fun to follow for each side.

So, what are we most looking forward to?

1.Rasmus Dahlin- how much of an impact will the very talented number one overall pick have on the Sabres? This is a game changer who can drastically improve the blue line.

2.Andrei Svechnikov- a very skilled scorer, the rookie Russian who went second overall to the revamped Canes could make a serious dent.

3.John Tavares- how well will the former Islander center fit in now that he’s home in Toronto on the loaded Maple Leafs, who still haven’t re-signed Group II free agent William Nylander? Tavares’ new Leafs number 91 will be selling like McDonald’s hot cakes. There will be a lot more pressure and expectations.

4.Who did better? Carolina or Calgary in the blockbuster deal that sent Dougie Hamilton to Raleigh in a five player trade that also included newest Flame Noah Hanifin. It could be a trade that benefits both teams. Are either playoff caliber? Questions remain.

5.Ilya Kovalchuk Returns- After leaving the Devils and NHL for Russia to play for SKA St. Petersburg in the KHL, how will one of the game’s most exciting players fare in his return playing for the Kings in Hollywood? He still should be lethal on the power play while playing a secondary role. Pencil him in for 10 power play goals and between 25-30 goals.

6.The Lou Effect- how will the Islanders do with Lou Lamoriello at the helm? Without Tavares, Calder winner Mathew Barzal takes over the number one center duty. Can Anders Lee have similar success along with Josh Bailey? How much can the defense improve under Barry Trotz? Will goalie be an issue?

7.The Erik Karlsson Saga- one of the game’s brightest stars remains in limbo. So much for all those trade rumors that had him leaving Ottawa. The Sens’ captain still is there for now entering camp in his final year. He can hit the open market next summer. Ottawa didn’t have to trade him. They can wait until next February before the trade deadline. How will Karlsson perform a year healthier? Where will he wind up? How much will he get?

8.The Connor McDavid Show- the league’s best scorer continues to improve. What’s in store for Year 3 for McJesus? Fifty goals and 70 assists isn’t out of the question. But can the Oilers rebound with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins shifting to the wing to play with McDavid? It depends on Cam Talbot and the defense.

9.Flyers or Blues? Which improved team will make their mark? The Flyers made the playoffs last Spring thanks to an MVP caliber performance from new wing Claude Giroux, a Selke effort from Sean Couturier, an eruption from Jakub Voracek, and stellar play from defensemen Shayne Gostisbehere and Ivan Provorov. Can they contend? The Blues just missed the playoffs, but made several upgrades including the blockbuster trade for do everything center Ryan O’Reilly. They brought back David Perron, added depth in hometown forward Patrick Maroon and solid pivot Tyler Bozak. They should be improved enough to make some noise.

10.Taylor Hart Hall- The winner of the Hart Trophy leads a similar roster in New Jersey with sophomore Nico Hischier and Kyle Palmieri. Cory Schneider might not be ready to start right away. Can Hall repeat his career season and get the Devils back to the postseason? It’ll depend on secondary scorers Miles Wood, Marcus Johansson, Pavel Zacha, and a defense that largely depends on Will Butcher, Damon Severson and Sami Vatanen.

11.Rebuilding Rangers- how will the rebuild go on Broadway under new coach David Quinn? Keep a close eye on Pavel Buchnevich, Filip Chytil and Lias Andersson. They’ll be big keys to how well a roster that still includes Mika Zibanejad, Chris Kreider, Kevin Hayes, Marc Staal and Kevin Shattenkirk. Brady Skjei will be vital to the defense’s success. What about Henrik Lundqvist?

12.Howling Coyotes- Is this the year the young and upcoming Coyotes howl their way back onto the playoff bubble? Clayton Keller is poised for a big second year. Dylan Strome is ready to stick. Michael Grabner and Alex Galchenyuk will help improve the offense. Oliver Ekman-Larsson leads a blueline with potential. Christian Dvorak is expected to improve his scoring. Antti Raanta was one of the best goalies in the second half last year. Can he build on it?

Posted in Column | Tagged | Leave a comment

Brodeur returns to New Jersey

In what can mainly be described as a PR coup, the Devils brought franchise legend Martin Brodeur ‘home’, in an entirely new role of course.  After his tenure in St. Louis as an assistant GM, he’s returning to the organization as executive VP of business development.  If you know what an executive VP of business development does you might be too much of a wonk to be a real hockey fan lol.  Somewhat curiously his family’s going to remain in St. Louis for the time being, presumably having to do with not wanting to uproot his kids repeatedly.  After being involved in hockey as both a player and exec, he’s taking more of a periphery role now.  Perhaps he didn’t like the day-to-day grind of management.  Or he wants to eventually be even more involved and become a franchise czar like his mentor Lou Lamoriello, so getting his hands in the off-hockey stuff could help in that vein.

Honestly I don’t even know what else to write about this, of course it’s nice that Marty’s affiliated with the organization again and to be honest I’m glad it’s in a non-hockey role rather than risk his standing with the fanbase as part of management.  Ask John MacLean how that worked out, being a coach possibly damaged his standing with Devil fans more than even going to the Rangers.  Guys like Joe Sakic and Ron Hextall have had limited success getting into management for their teams to this point.  Others like Ron Francis and Joe Nieuwendyk, not even that much.  It’s rare you get someone that’s good at both – Steve Yzerman looks to fit that bill though he’s not GM’ing the same team he played for.  Perhaps Marty’s return was worth it just for the crack someone made on team president Hugh Weber’s Twitter, musing whether it’d be weird to have someone reporting to you who has a statue outside the building.

It’s continued to be a quiet summer for the Devils otherwise, signing RFA’s like Steven Santini, Stefan Noesen and Blake Coleman to contracts with only Miles Wood left to finish up before camp begins in a couple of weeks.  Former Binghamton coach Rick Kowalsky got a deserved promotion to be a part of John Hynes’ NHL staff.  Kowalsky and former player Mike Grier were both hired as replacements for departing assistants Geoff Ward and Ryane Clowe.  Outside of management, it looks as if the Devils will bring much the same group to Newark they had to end last season sans FA departures like Pat Maroon and John Moore.  Pipedream fantasies like Erik Karlsson haven’t materialized (granted Karlsson’s still in limbo in Ottawa so theoretically anything’s still possible).

Until camp opens in a couple weeks I’m back to worrying about fantasy football, real football (I literally typed in Jets for Devils at one point doing this, since the Jets’ recent trade of Teddy Bridgewater had them on the brain), and whether Mets pitcher Jacob deGrom will finish above .500 despite an otherworldly season by all other measures.  Hockey will have its day again soon enough, but not when it’s 95 degrees out.

Posted in Devils | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Looking Ahead: How the ‘18-19 Rangers stack up

It’s never easy to assess a rebuilding team. Coming off their worst season in over a decade, the Rangers are a team in transition.

Expectations aren’t that high as in years past. Fans should be realistic about what to expect. With a new coach and staff for the most part along with a young core, making the playoffs isn’t how they’ll be assessed. Rather, it’ll be based on the development of younger players, who are expected to be a big part of the future.

This isn’t to say that there aren’t enough experienced Blueshirts, who will be looked upon for leadership. For once, it’s not about Henrik Lundqvist, who remains the elder statesman in net. The 36-year old, who prides himself on being the best night in and night out, will have to be more patient and understanding than in years past. Mistakes will be made. He can’t throw teammates under the bus by showing them up. It’s different this time. He must be a true leader for this group.

You can count on one hand how many Rangers are 30-or-older. That includes Marc Staal, Mats Zuccarello, Cody McLeod and Matt Beleskey ‘if’ he makes the roster. Steven Kampfer also will compete for a spot on a blueline that could be younger. Brendan Smith turns 30 next Feb. 8. Kevin Shattenkirk will be 30 next Jan. 29.

While Lundqvist, Staal and Zuccarello are guaranteed spots, nothing is certain for the other veterans with McLeod brought back as a role player for team toughness. If Smith performs well in training camp and preseason, he should make the cut. He’s reportedly in much better shape, losing 15 pounds.

Most of the core remains young. Featuring Chris Kreider, Mika Zibanejad, Kevin Hayes, Jesper Fast and Brady Skjei, each player will be asked to assume more of a leadership role. Both Kreider and Hayes were more accountable last year. Especially Kreider, who changed his outlook following successful rib resection surgery to repair a blood clot. His play on the ice was better, and his postgame commentary were very candid. He could be the next captain. That largely depends on what happens.

With Pavel Buchnevich entering the final year of a rookie deal, the talented 23-year old Russian playmaking forward will look to continue to improve. An important player, he’ll likely start the season on the top line with cohesive linemates Zibanejad and Kreider. Much will be expected from the trio.

Afterwards, the job gets harder for rookie coach David Quinn. He will look to implement a system that was successful at Boston University, involving defensemen. It’ll be interesting to see how quickly the Rangers adjust. There will be better emphasis on team defense than previous coach Alain Vigneault. But Quinn’s style should allow for creativity on offense. Not stymie it. Perhaps more of a focus on a consistent forecheck could benefit a roster that includes speedy forwards Ryan Spooner, Vladislav Namestnikov, Jimmy Vesey; plus teenagers Lias Andersson and Filip Chytil.

How will the lines look following the formidable KZB line? It may well depend on how rookies Andersson and Chytil perform in September. Placing too much weight of expectation on both 2017 first round picks could be detrimental. With versatile forwards Spooner and Namestnikov, it gives Quinn options. Hayes was successful as a checking center, faring well against tough competition. He is the team’s best even strength center, who can play a match-up role. Does his offense improve under Quinn?

Fast is another heady two-way player, who can be plugged anywhere to provide a boost to a line. A solid checking winger, who plays exclusively at even strength and the penalty kill, his grit and hustle are traits that can rub off on teammates. He and Hayes should be the top penalty killing duo.

Hopefully, they can get more out of Vesey, who has the size and strength, but must finish better. If used right, there’s no reason he can’t become a 20-goalscorer.

There remain questions on whether Beleskey can earn a spot on the fourth line, or if he is reassigned to Hartford. McLeod is pretty much guaranteed a spot as a guy who can play occasionally. He’s not a full-time player. Use him as needed against tough opponents like the Flyers and Islanders.

What about Boo Nieves or Vinni Lettieri? How much of a chance will either be given? Is Brett Howden ready at age 20? I would think it makes better sense for him to start in Hartford. They signed both Michael Lindqvist and Ville Meskanen. You don’t give them contracts unless you think they are capable of being part of the roster.

The defense remains a giant question mark. Figure the smooth skating Skjei to team up with the offensive minded Shattenkirk on the top pair. We know Shattenkirk played hurt in his first year on Broadway. A healthier Shatty should help the D, particularly on the power play where he possesses a accurate shot. A good power play quarterback, expect a better year from him.

How the rest of the D is set up largely depends on what happens in camp. Staal and Neal Pionk had some chemistry as a second pair. Pionk seemed to be a good fit working with the vet, who bounced back with a solid season. Should Staal be receiving top four minutes? As long as it’s five-on-five and penalty kill, he can be managed. Look for Pionk and Tony DeAngelo to log more ice-time with the latter figuring to get a crack on the power play. There is pressure on DeAngelo to perform with younger talent such as Libor Hajek and Ryan Lindgren on the way.

Assuming those five defensemen lock up spots, that leaves Smith and Kampfer to compete with Fredrik Claesson, John Gilmour and the kids. It certainly should be a different look on the blueline in ’18-19. One which could evolve over the course of a season.

It is expected that Alexandar Georgiev will back up Lundqvist in goal. He performed admirably in his first professional season in North America, graduating from Hartford to New York. As usual, Lundqvist will carry the workload. But he shouldn’t be overworked like last year. The results can be disastrous. I would prefer Lundqvist to receive between 50-55 starts, but know he’ll likely get right around 60, leaving a little over 20 for Georgiev, if he doesn’t falter. There are no guarantees.

What can be expected from a roster that isn’t set in stone? The unexpected. It’ll be up to the experienced players to lead the way both on and off the ice. There’s room for improvement from a few of the younger players. Managing some of those prospects will help determine if this rebuild is successful over time. Management and fans must remain patient.

I think they’ll compete hard and be exciting. But I don’t expect more than between 70 to 80 points. Given the division they play in and an improving Atlantic with just a couple of bottom feeders, the Blueshirts should find themselves in the NHL Lottery again. The question is will they get lucky and land big fish Jack Hughes? I can’t see it.

Guarded optimism is how I would explain my approach to this team. That’s the only way to be. Stay positive.

Posted in Column, NYRangers | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment