Long hot summer continues in quiet hockey off-season

As we near the end of July, the temperatures continue to hit a feverish 90 degree pitch with humidity levels skyrocketing. They don’t call it the dog days of summer for nothing. Speaking of which, did anyone else enjoy ESPN’s 30 For 30 documentary on Mike and The Mad Dog? It probably could’ve been two hours.

Between that and Aaron Judge crushing so many balls including a few that traveled 500-plus feet to win the Home Run Derby in Miami, there’s really not much else happening. As an avid tennis fan dating back to the mid-80’s heyday of Connors and McEnroe, it was great to see Roger Federer win one more Wimbledon. A record eighth passing Pete Sampras and adding his second grand slam at the ridiculous age of 35. He now has a record 19 majors. Can he add another U.S. Open in September? Why not.

As for hockey, news continues to be slow. For the Rangers, Mika Zibanejad’s arbitration is coming up. It’s scheduled for July 25. So, that’s in less than a week. Yesterday was my Mom’s birthday. Happy birthday Mom! 🙂 ❤ Amazingly, she looks about 20 years younger. It might explain why most people think I can’t be my age. Some still think I’m in my late 20’s. I can’t take all the credit. Thanks Mom and Dad!

So, it’s really quite simple. Zibanejad is 24 and hitting his prime. Bridging him makes no sense. It would only cost the Rangers more moving forward. I’ve said from the beginning in this blog he should get around five years for an average of $5 million per season. I’ll continue to repeat it.

With Zibanejad clearly the top center for ’17-18 barring something unforeseen, it makes sense for Rangers GM Jeff Gorton to go with a longer term for the ex-Senator. After coming over from Ottawa for Derick Brassard last year, the righty center had 14 goals and 23 assists for 37 points in 56 games in his first season as a Blueshirt. He led the team in playoff scoring with nine points (2-7-9). That included this dramatic overtime winner that did in Montreal in the Rangers six-game first round triumph.

The most points he’s ever produced is 51 coming the previous season with the Senators. That included career bests in goals (21) and assists (30). Had he not missed 26 games due to a broken foot, he may have eclipsed those totals in ’16-17. Of course, there’s no way to know.

One positive development in his first season that following a slump, Zibanejad was able to turn it around. Coach Alain Vigneault even gave him more responsibility by using him on the penalty kill. He excelled and became more responsible. With the departure of top pivot Derek Stepan, Zibanejad will be counted on to assume more leadership and responsibility. So will Kevin Hayes and J.T. Miller with the latter possibly a solution to the third line center. Unless Gorton gets creative and swings a deal, a top three of Zibanejad, Hayes and Miller could work with former Hab David Desharnais slotting in on the fourth line, replacing Oscar Lindberg. Rookie Lias Andersson will get a long look in training camp if no othe moves are made.

Once Zibanejad gets done, it’ll leave the team with enough cap space to add one more player. There’s also the possibility of Gorton moving defenseman Nick Holden. With a year left at a discount of $1.8 million, he could be a good addition to a team who needs an offensive puck moving defenseman. With Kevin Shattenkirk getting Holden’s number 22, it’s a distinct possibility.

The team won’t be able to get rid of Marc Staal. Ryan McDonagh and Shattenkirk project as the top pair followed by Brady Skjei and Brendan Smith. The third pair could be some combination of Staal, Anthony DeAngelo, Ryan Graves, Neal Pionk and Alexei Bereglazov.

The club also made one other move signing Russian  Alexander Georgiyev. There isn’t much to go on. The 21-year old from Moskva, Russia posted a 1.70 goals-against average and .927 save percentage in 27 games for TPS in ’16-17. Undoubtedly, he’ll be in Hartford with Brandon Halverson.

That could spell the end for Mackenzie Skapski. The popular 23-year old who was born a day after the Rangers won the Stanley Cup is best remembered for going 2-0 against the Sabres with a shutout in his only two NHL appearances in ’14-15. He struggled after reconstructive hip surgery in the ECHL. I can only wish the red haired netminder the best of luck.

That’s gonna do it for now. Until the next post which hopefully will have more content. Stay cool! 😎⛈

About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included separate stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also interned for or hockey historian Stan Fischler and worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil telecasts. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has covered consecutive Staten Island Yankees NY Penn League championships in '05 and '06. He also scored Berkeley Carroll high school basketball games from '06-14 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree. The Battle Of New York administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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