HARD HITS: Hot summer continues, Zibanejad comparables, Canadiens con fans, Hischier can change Devils

The Devils should be excited about top pick Nico Hischier. AP Photo courtesy NHL.com/Getty Images

On another balmy July summer afternoon in the Big Apple 🍎, the longest month of the hockey offseason continues. One which seems to be crawling along like the 90 degree temps and 100 heat index with sticky humidity.

Indeed, a big thunderstorm is needed to cool things off. While that is in the near forecast for late tonight into Sunday, hockey fans await any news that might draw interest. And I don’t mean Brandon Pirri joining recently retired teammate Kevin Klein to play for the ZSC Lions in the Swiss League. Best to each in their future endeavors overseas.

There isn’t much happening. However, a few news items have come through. One being Tomas Tatar reaching agreement with the Red Wings on a brand new four-year contract worth a reported $21.2 million. The talented 26-year old Slovakian will make an average of $5.3 million per season.

A bit streaky, Tatar has eclipsed 20 goals in each of the previous three seasons. After establishing career bests in goals (29), assists (27) and points (56) in ’14-15, he’s posted near identical numbers the last two years. He went 21-24-45 in ’15-16 and 25-21-46 in ’16-17. Over that three year span, he’s only missed one game speaking to his durability.

With Tatar locked up thru 2021, he’s a interesting comparable for current Rangers restricted free agent Mika Zibanejad. A gifted player who posted similar numbers in his prior two seasons with Ottawa before a injury riddled first year on Broadway. In ’14-15, he went 20-26-46 and followed that up with 21-30-51 in ’15-16. All career highs. He was well on his way to producing at a similar clip with the Rangers before a broken foot cost him two months. He still wound up going 14-23-37 in 56 contests and paced the team with 9 points (2-7-9) in the postseason.

The affable Swede is still just 24. So, he’s got some peak years ahead which is why the Rangers should get something done prior to Tuesday’s arbitration hearing. With the more established Tyler Johnson accepting $5 million AAV from the Lightning over seven years and GM Steve Yzerman able to re-sign Ondrej Palat for the same $5.3 million AAV as Tatar thru 2022, those are other comparables who should be considered in negotiations. Both more accomplished and like Tatar, two years older than Zibanejad.

I’ve been consistent in wanting GM Jeff Gorton to skip the dreaded bridge deal which ultimately is more costly. So, by going say five years for between $4.8 to 5 million AAV, they would be saving money on Zibanejad down the line. Of course, there are always skeptics who wonder if he’s worth it. But in this business, you have to take risks. Zibanejad is the defunct number one center with Derek Stepan gone to the desert. He should anchor Chris Kreider and Pavel Buchnevich if Alain Vigneault is looking for chemistry. That would leave Kevin Hayes between Rick Nash and Mats Zuccarello.

The one plus entering ’17-18 is Vigneault can always mix and match. Something he’s done before. However, the loss of Stepan will be felt at center. So, finding consistent line chemistry early will be vital. They don’t want to get off to a bad start in a loaded division with the improving Hurricanes and rebuilding Devils more competitive.

The Blueshirts still have some important decisions ahead with whether or not to shift J.T. Miller to center. A better option for the third line than David Desharnais. They will look at seventh overall pick Lias Andersson and Cristoval “Boo” Nieves in training camp. It kind of makes me wish Marek Zrivik had stayed. But he had to do what’s best for his career. Best of luck in Calgary.

Once Zibanejad is signed, Gorton can turn his attention to possibly adding one more depth forward. Daniel Winnik is available. He would be a good fit on the checking line and penalty kill.

I still am holding out hope for Jaromir Jagr. I know it’s a longshot. But I would love to see a Broadway reunion with legendary number 68. He still has something left and can teach younger kids like Buchnevich and Jimmy Vesey. It would be sad if nobody wants the personable 45-year old all-time great. The emphasis on skating could be why he’s still available.

Meanwhile, newest Ranger Kevin Shattenkirk is already getting used to life back home. Is coaching in his future?

Hopefully, it won’t be too soon. ShattyDeuces definitely seems to be having fun. He’s also done interactive interview features with kids from summer camp. He loves the pizza 🍕 in NYC. Who doesn’t?

I can’t decide who he reminds me of with that receding hairline. Stepan or former Devil Brian Rafalski.


Somewhat curiously, Rafalski spent his collegiate years with Wisconsin like Stepan and current Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh. Hmm … maybe Rafalski should’ve been a Ranger. He certainly would’ve been appreciated more than watching helplessly as one of his shot passes was deflected in the back of our net.


The old USA 🇺🇸 jersey was a lot better. I have no idea what they’re thinking. It seems like jerseys have gotten worse over time along with cost. They’re selling the old Reebok jerseys at the NHL store on sale for less than $100. It’s the least they can do.

In spite of what NHL commish Gary Bettman says, it’s all about ripping off the diehard fan. How else do you explain rising ticket prices along with beer running as much as a six-pack in some cases? Did anyone else cringe at the story out of Montreal on how the Canadiens will no longer make printed tickets available for season ticket holders unless they cough up an extra $150?!?!?!?! First class, eh? 😳

Not everyone has Smart Phones and the technology to print tickets online for scanning. It’s very unfair but shows how out of touch teams like the Canadiens are. So much for logic. How soon before Jim Dolan does this to Rangers STH? Most have already been priced out. My family only stays due to the cheap seats in the second to last row in the 400’s with limited view. I hardly go anymore. The atmosphere has changed dramatically. Not for the better.

At last week’s introductory press conference, former Ranger Dan Girardi was pointed in his words on having something to prove with his new team in Tampa.

I don’t blame him. Danny G was the culprit for everything that went wrong following the Stanley Cup loss to the Kings. A series in which he struggled. So did partner McDonagh and Marc Staal. Only Anton Stralman performed well. Don’t tell that to all the Corsi chart bloggers who would have you believe Girardi is Donald Trump. Responsible for everything bad. Mind numbing.

No Girardi. No three Final Fours or SCF. How soon before these same pundits turn on Shattenkirk? You know he’ll make mistakes in his end.

When are the Islanders planning to sign John Tavares to an extension? They can’t survive without him. He’s been loyal and wants to stay. It would be nice if Garth Snow gave him a better supporting cast that could be a real playoff threat.

Calvin de Haan is due a raise after filing for arbitration. The left shutdown D should get a nice contract. He’s one of the building blocks on the blueline with anchor Nick Leddy and vet Johnny Boychuck.

The Isles have young talent in system including Matthew Barzal and Joshua Ho-Sang. Michael Dal Colle too and Devon Toews. Ho-Sang will enter his first full season with expectations. He’s certainly got the skill. Don’t forget versatile youngster Anthony Beauvillier goes into Year 2.

New York could miss Travis Hamonic. Sure. He struggled in his final year in Brooklyn before being traded to Calgary. But he was a key minutes logger who could be counted on for top four minutes.

With the Devils signing first overall pick Nico Hischier and introducing him with the former forbidden number 13 which he’ll don, the very talented 18-year old Swiss could change the team’s path dramatically. He’s a unique offensive player who can score and set up teammates equally. With the team committed to their top pick at center, that bodes well. Look for him to prove he’s legit and be one of the Calder favorites.

The additions of Hischier and Marcus Johansson should make the Devils much improved offensively. Adding a quality skill player who is a top six forward with Hischier should take pressure off Taylor Hall, Adam Henrique and Kyle Palmieri.

There should be much better balance with Pavel Zacha set to improve in his second year. Adding a quality vet in Brian Boyle will help on and off the ice. Indeed, the Devs should be a four line team with Travis Zajac also in more of a secondary role.

They’ll look for more from John Quenneville, Joseph Blandisi and Miles Wood. The good part is they can be secondary scorers. If they develop and Cory Schneider bounces back, New Jersey can even challenge for a wildcard. They have potential to move up. Especially if Flyers second overall pick Nolan Patrick is slowed by injuries.

The one area that remains a sore spot is the back end. It’ll once again fall on captain Andy Greene to play major minutes along with Damon Severson, who still must improve defensively. When GM Ray Shero dealt Adam Larsson to the Oilers for Hall, he gambled. Severson’s development remains a big key. Along with vets John Moore and Ben Lovejoy, they’ll play in key situations. Steven Santini should get more responsibility.

If the improved offensive depth comes true, then the Devs could look to swing a deal to upgrade the D. They have approximately $19 million in cap space.

That’s gonna do it for this edition. As always, 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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2 Responses to HARD HITS: Hot summer continues, Zibanejad comparables, Canadiens con fans, Hischier can change Devils

  1. hasan4978 says:

    Yeah all these teams are going away from printed tickets, another way of trying to control the secondary market among other reasons I suppose. The Devils tried to charge $25 for printed tickets last year and got enough backlash on that they backed off and let sth’s have them gratis on request for 2017.


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