HARD HITS: To Trouba or not to

Jacob Trouba is an intriguing top pair defenseman on the block who the Rangers should consider acquiring. AP Photo via Getty Images.

As the calendar finally turns to June, there are at most four games left to play in the Stanley Cup. With Game Three in the books and the Bruins delivering a message to the Blues with a 7-2 blowout in St. Louis, the hockey season is coming to a close. Either the physical Blues or counter attacking Bruins will win the Cup. We’ll see how the Blues respond tomorrow.

While fans tune in to find out what will happen, the offseason is upon us. Phil Kessel already vetoed a trade that would’ve sent him to Minnesota with Jason Zucker returning to Pittsburgh. For some inexplicable reason, the Penguins believe they’d be better off without the proven scorer despite winning consecutive Cups with him. Strange until you realize that GM Jim Rutherford wants to find a taker for the foolish contract he gave Jack Johnson.

As for Zucker, how can he return to the Wild if they don’t want him? His production was way down this past season. He followed up a breakout year of 33 goals and 31 assists with 21 goals and 21 assists. As someone who bought into the hype, I made the mistake of taking him too high last year in fantasy hockey. That won’t happen again. Maybe a new team would motivate him. The Wild gave away Nino Niederreiter to the Hurricanes for Victor Rask. Now, he’s reportedly on the block.

It’s a most interesting time of year. Sure. The Stanley Cup will be over sometime this week. Hopefully, one of the remaining games will showcase both teams at their best. That’s yet to happen. It doesn’t help that network partner NBC refuses to air the entire series without shifting two games to NBCSN. Imagine the NBA doing that with the NBA Finals rather than having it exclusively on ABC. Exactly.

As far as the upcoming offseason which is already here for 29 of 31 teams, the rumor mill continues to heat up. Between the anticipation of the NHL Draft featuring Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko with the Hudson rival Devils and Rangers taking center stage in Vancouver, and the open window for general managers to make calls on potential targets via trade or even restricted free agents who can sign offer sheets, there’s a lot to digest.

You’ll also have a good free agent class headlined by A listers Sergei Bobrovsky, Matt Duchene, Erik Karlsson and Artemi Panarin ready for the chaos ahead. For some executives, that could mean dealing for the negotiating rights in late June by sacrificing a mid round pick to see if they can get their primary target signed, sealed and delivered. If as expected Russian tandem Bobrovsky and Panarin are departing Columbus, the Blue Jackets should get what they can in return. GM Jarmo Kekalainen made it clear that he only wants players who want to be Blue Jackets following their second round exit to the Bruins.

For some teams with lots of cap space such as the Rangers, they’ll try to be aggressive. It’s no secret they like Panarin, whose world class skill set would be a significant upgrade in the top six that likely will feature Kakko along with top scorer Mika Zibanejad and definitely Pavel Buchnevich. If new Team President John Davidson and GM Jeff Gorton agree to keep power forward Chris Kreider by extending him this summer, they’ll no doubt want to upgrade to give coach David Quinn a more competitive roster.

If it’s not Panarin, they’re expected to be in on Winnipeg defenseman Jacob Trouba. A Group II free agent, the 25-year old big right D would be a good fit for a unproven blueline that lacks a top pair defenseman who has the skill and physical tools Trouba can bring.

The 6-3, 202 pound defenseman just completed his seventh season with the Jets. Unlike the previous two seasons where he missed a combined 49 games, Trouba played in all 82 games while setting career bests in assists (42), points (50), power play points (3-15-18) and even strength points (4-25-29).

He earned $5.5 million in the final year of his contract. A year away from unrestricted status, Trouba can command a hefty raise over the long-term. He’s still young enough to have peak years ahead. That’s what makes him so attractive to suitors interested in acquiring the American from Rochester, Michigan.

Trouba is a complete player who will pay the price to help his team win. In all seven seasons, he’s blocked at least 100 shots while not being shy about throwing his weight around. That helps explain why he’s missed chunks of time during a few seasons. So, there is a potential risk. Isn’t there always when it comes to a good player that can improve a team? With that risk comes reward.

Let’s say Rangers brass are serious about getting Trouba. Something TSN insider Bob McKenzie seems to believe. It would take a significant package of young, controllable assets and prospects or picks. What would they be willing to offer? Perhaps key RFA Tony DeAngelo would be part of it along with Lias Andersson and say a lottery protected first or second round pick. It would probably take three assets to acquire Trouba.

I’m not crazy about throwing around names like I just did. But you don’t get a proven top pair right defenseman for nothing. Some might argue why make such a deal when you can sign Karlsson. If you watched him closely with the Sharks, then you already know the answer. As talented as the former Norris winner is, he’s way too much of an injury risk. No way I offer him the seven years at around $10.5 million AAV that will take him into his mid 30’s.

The Rangers have done that before. Brad Richards? At least he had success in the Big Apple before he was bought out. Scott Gomez? They paid him top dollar as if he were more than a playmaking pivot who topped out at 70 points. Thankfully, Glen Sather must’ve spiked Bob Gainey’s drink in stealing away Ryan McDonagh. Chris Drury was another one. It was never a question of effort, but of the taxing style he played. It’s ironic that he’s the current Rangers Assistant GM. Even Rick Nash didn’t work out quite the way they envisioned. But the contract was one they inherited from the Blue Jackets.

Not many big names have been successful on Broadway. Marian Gaborik was posting two 40-goal seasons before John Tortorella soured on him, resulting in the interesting trade with Columbus that landed Derick Brassard and John Moore. Derek Dorsett was also in that deal. Without Big Game Brass, the Alain Vigneault Blueshirts don’t reach the Stanley Cup in 2014 and get within a period of consecutive appearances. The end of that run still hurts.

But also, don’t forget that the Great Gabby scored that huge overtime winner against the Caps. He helped the 2012 roster reach the Eastern Conference Final. It’s still bittersweet how Gaborik wound up on the Kings and did in his former teammates two years later. Crazy how things work out.

Whatever they decide, the Rangers know they’re getting a franchise player in less than three weeks. It’s an exciting time for fans of the team. Maybe ’19-20 isn’t the return to the playoffs. It doesn’t have to be. They must remain patient in the construction of the roster by making calculated decisions that bode well over the long haul. That’s why they should steer clear of Karlsson, who will be past his prime in a few years.

On the other hand, Panarin has some good peak years ahead. He only has played four full NHL seasons. He’s also 27. To win the Bread Man sweepstakes, they’ll have to overpay due to the unfair system that allows teams in Florida and Vegas to take advantage of no taxes. That must be changed during the next CBA. It’s not right. Level the playing field.


I don’t get why the Stanley Cup doesn’t take precedent over shows such as American Ninja Warrior and Dateline. Maybe the executives at NBC can explain it. We know the NHL won’t.

Sergei Fedorov. Pavel Datsyuk. Patrice Bergeron. All tremendous two-way centers who have dominated due to their hockey sense, skating and attention to detail. Those are my favorite three centers.

Did Pierre McGuire really expect to get an honest answer from Bergeron following his question of whether the Boston top center is hurt after a signature performance that included a power play goal and two assists? Come on!

I don’t agree with the one game suspension Oskar Sundqvist served for his two minute boarding minor penalty that injured Bruins defenseman Matt Grzelcyk. Sometimes, that’s hockey. He turned and put himself in a prone position as Sundqvist went to finish the check. Consequently, the Blues missed his tenacity in the lopsided Game Three Boston took 7-2.

When they impose their will due to the heavy forecheck and relentless hitting, the Blues control the play. It’s astonishing that they needed overtime to win Game Two. To think it came from Carl Gunnarson, who felt he needed one more chance after ringing the post late in regulation. He wouldn’t have even been in if not for an injury.

St. Louis misses Vince Dunn in this series. He’s a excellent left skating defenseman who can transition the puck and jump into the rush. It’s asking a lot out of Gunnarson and Robert Bortuzzo to contribute offensively. Bortuzzo played less than 10 minutes in Game Three.

When they first made the trade for Charlie Coyle with the Wild, it didn’t start off well for Boston. While Coyle struggled to fit in, Ryan Donato was scoring for Minnesota. After producing just six points in 21 games, then came the postseason. The 27-year old center has been instrumental during the Bruins run. He again came up big with his eighth goal of the playoffs from deadline pick up Marcus Johansson with 2:20 left in the first period last night. Then came the crushing Sean Kuraly goal at 19:50 which was properly ruled onside due to Joel Edmundson bringing the puck back into the St. Louis zone. Coyle is up to 15 points (8-7-15) this Spring. He’s definitely boosted his value.

I emphasized the importance of Kuraly for Boston. He put away the Maple Leafs in Round One. Now, he’s scored and set up big goals in both of Boston’s wins. Along with Joakim Nordstrom and Noel Acciari, they’re making a difference in a grind it out series with little space.

The Blues style most reminds me of the 2007 Anaheim Ducks. Seek and destroy. They play such a physical brand of hockey that it can wear down opponents. It worked in the first three rounds against Winnipeg, Dallas and San Jose, who were battered. Pat Maroon and Sammy Blais will continue to finish checks and be effective players on the forecheck.

In order for them to have any chance of winning, they must get Game Four in their building. That means better performances from star forwards Vladimir Tarasenko, Jaden Schwartz and Brayden Schenn. The top line was shutdown on Saturday night. It would also help if Ryan O’Reilly could find the back of the net. He hit the crossbar on one point blank opportunity off a Boston turnover.

David Pastrnak finally got into the series with his first goal. A beautiful backhand finish in front on Jordan Binnington from Torey Krug on the power play. He was more assertive throughout as was Bergeron. Brad Marchand picked up a primary assist on Krug’s power play goal that chased Binnington in the second. He probably should’ve been pulled sooner. He gave up five goals on 19 shots with Jake Allen replacing him.

Krug remains very underrated. He is always involved due to his skating and offensive instincts. In Game Three, he was the best Bruin finishing with four points (1-3-4). Don’t forget the huge hit he had in Game One that injured St. Louis rookie forward Robert Thomas. They miss him. For the postseason, Krug has 16 points (2-14-16). That’s a lot for Boston’s only true offensive defenseman, who knows how to play in his end.

Tuukka Rask remains the favorite to win the Conn Smythe. He made three big early saves on good Blues chances to set the tone. He finished with 27 saves in the win. Even though he hasn’t had to be spectacular, he gave his team a chance to steal Game Two despite the Bruins being largely outplayed. It took a perfect Gunnarson one-timer through a great Alex Pietrangelo screen on a delayed penalty to beat Rask.

If Brock Nelson is worth $6 million AAV, what is Kevin Hayes worth? I’m almost afraid to find out. No disrespect to Nelson, who posted a career high 53 points (25-28-53) with a plus-20 rating in a top six role to replace John Tavares. But wow. He never topped 50 points before age 27. By comparison, Hayes hit 50 for the first time in his career with 55 points (19-36-55) between the Rangers and Jets. Hayes is a year younger than Nelson.

How much will Isles GM Lou Lamoriello spend on Anders Lee to keep him? He scored 40 goals in ’17-18. What about Vezina candidate Robin Lehner? Stay tuned.

With the first 40 goal season of his career, Jeff Skinner is expected to re-sign in Buffalo. He was a perfect fit on the number one line with Jack Eichel, going 40-23-63 with seven game-winners in 82 contests. The average cap hit could be between $8.5 to 9.5 million. The Sabres have no choice. Skinner is 27 and has peak years left. They can’t afford to let him walk.

Interesting secondary FA’s:

W Ryan Dzingel

W Marcus Johansson

W Wayne Simmonds

W Gustav Nyquist

W Joonas Donskoi

W Micheal Ferland

W Brett Connolly

W Carl Hagelin

W Richard Panik

W Garnet Hathaway

W Brandon Tanev

W Pat Maroon

W Alex Chiasson

C Markus Kruger

C Valtteri Filppula

C Brian Boyle

C Oscar Lindberg

C Noel Acciari

C Colin Wilson

D Alex Edler

D Anton Stralman

D Dan Girardi

D Ben Chiarot

D Michael Del Zotto

D Patrick Nemeth

D Fredrik Claesson

D Adam McQuaid

Trivia: Name the three players the Blackhawks got back from the Bruins for Phil Esposito, Ken Hodge and Fred Stanfield on May 15, 1967.

Answer to be revealed next week!

Following their impressive Game One victory over the Warriors, the Raptors are three wins away from delivering an NBA Title to the city of Toronto. How will the Maple Leafs feel if it happens?

Drake was just seen talking trash to Marchand. Imagine the possibilities. It couldn’t have hurt Toronto’s chances.

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 Hudson administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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