Rangers make smart move swapping Joey Keane for Julien Gauthier, Lindgren takes high road on Marchand, confusing playoff system, awful Leafs and Canadiens

A minor trade that could help the Rangers at forward could impact what happens with Chris Kreider (seen above with Derek Stepan).

Much earlier on Tuesday, the Rangers decided to make a trade that could immediately impact the future. In fact, it could signal what the organization decides between now and next Monday’s Feb. 24 trade deadline.

In the second trade between the Rangers and Hurricanes with the first being acquiring Adam Fox last summer, they swapped defenseman Joey Keane for forward Julien Gauthier. In sending the 20-year old Keane to Carolina and picking up 22-year old Gauthier, who has a good resume, it looks like the Rangers are preparing for the worst in five days.

On the subject of an interesting deal, they traded from an organizational strength. Even with Keane putting up good numbers with eight goals and 22 assists for a total of 30 points in 49 games for Hartford, it was obvious that the first-time AHL All-Star was blocked due to the excellent depth the team has at defense. Only 20, it’s a good opportunity for Keane, who will continue his first pro year with Charlotte in the AHL.

The issue was that the Rangers had Fox, Jacob Trouba and Tony DeAngelo ahead of him on the right side. With a key decision still looming on leading D point getter DeAngelo soon, and Nils Lundkvist possibly coming over next season as a 20-year old right defenseman, there is no room for Keane, who hopefully will continue to progress and become an NHL regular.

Factor in K’Andre Miller and Matthew Robertson as part of the future left side of what should be a revamped blueline by 2021-22, and the Blueshirts are in good shape. The biggest weakness is lack of forward depth. Even with Vitali Kravtsov in his first pro year along with rookie Kaapo Kakko, the truth is they lack a lot up front. Particularly on the wing where they should at least have Kakko, Pavel Buchnevich and superstar Artemi Panarin penciled in.

The thing is they invested in Panarin for top dollar knowing this realistically wasn’t a playoff team. They spent 22 million on the salary cap for both Panarin and Trouba. You don’t do that unless you’re serious about improving quickly. The last thing they want to do is waste the prime of the Bread Man, whose 78 points (29-49-78) have him on pace for a 100 point season.

If they have come to a decision on Chris Kreider, who has plenty of interest from four teams including the Bruins and Islanders, then they must add NHL ready talent to the roster. In acquiring Gauthier, who’s scored a combined 69 goals in the AHL for the Checkers the last three years, the former 2016 first round pick of the Canes seems to check all the boxes.

He’s got the size and strength the Rangers need. Listed at 6-4, 227 pounds, the big right wing represented Canada twice at the Under 20 World Junior Championships. In 2017, he had five goals and two assists. His pro career has been similar. Gauthier has 69 goals and 34 assists. That includes 26 goals and 11 helpers in 44 contests this season. He’ll join the Rangers in Chicago for Wednesday Night Hockey against the Blackhawks. He’ll wear number 12.

In five NHL games this year with Carolina, Gauthier has an assist with six penalty minutes. Now, he’ll get a chance with the Blueshirts. We’ll see what kind of first impression he can make tonight. It’ll be interesting to see where they slot him.

On the front of the Original Six match-up that seems to always be nationally televised by NBC no matter how crazy it’s become, we’ll know more later in regards to DeAngelo and starting goaltender Igor Shesterkin. David Quinn said he expects DeAngelo to play on the road trip which also includes a stop in Raleigh on Friday.

They will then return to The Garden Sunday for the Sharks. By then, we should have a clearer idea of the organization’s plans for Kreider along with trade candidates Jesper Fast and Ryan Strome.

Considering how the coach has handled the net with Alex Georgiev playing the last three games while Henrik Lundqvist is reduced to a helpless spectator, I don’t think Georgiev is going anywhere. Despite all the contrived crap from other spaces, it seems that they’ve made up their minds. That could lead to a split by the summer between Lundqvist and the Rangers. It doesn’t make sense to keep him around as a third wheel for that cap hit of $8.5 million.

There’s this false narrative that the Rangers have to be loyal to Henrik for the whole duration of the contract. Not if he’s not playing. It’s too much of a distraction moving forward. So if they do decide to buyout the franchise leader in victories and shutouts, it’s going to still save some money. Albeit not a lot due to the dead space. He needs to find a new home where he can go play out whatever is left of his brilliant career.

If Glen Sather can treat the franchise’s greatest player in Brian Leetch like crap by not even informing him he was being traded on his birthday to the Maple Leafs, then they can part ways with Lundqvist in the pressure packed salary cap era. These aren’t easy decisions. But it’s about logic. Even Larry Brooks can see it.

Next order of business. On Sunday as you know, Brad Marchand trash talked Ryan Lindgren following the couple of run-ins they had on Hockey Day In America. After his crosscheck to the back of Lindgren during a scrum, Pavel Buchnevich came to Lindgren’s aid by knocking down Marchand from behind. As well as he’s played since the second half began, this was Buchnevich’s finest moment as a Blueshirt. It showed character and the kind of passion that’s been critiqued in the past. He’s finally getting it.

It would’ve been very easy for the younger Lindgren to fire back at Marchand after The Rat called him a solid defenseman that he didn’t see having a long NHL career. Instead, the 22-year old poised rookie took the high road. Here is what he told New York Post reporter Mollie Walker:

That’s exactly the kind of response you want. There’s no reason to get into a war of words with the master troll. Marchand is a top 10 player who seems to take great joy in mastering the art of agitating, talking and making fools out of fans who run their mouths on social media.

That’s who he is. He’s the type of player you love if he’s on your side, but hate if he isn’t. I rather get a kick out of him. He might talk, but he can back it up. Too bad there’s no more games versus the Bruins on the schedule.

Finally, a parting shot at the confusing NHL playoff system. When they first announced the move to the divisional format for the first two rounds, it made me flashback to the good old days in the 80’s and early 90’s. However, back then it worked better due to way fewer teams. There also wasn’t any free reward for reaching overtime. Either you won, lost or tied. If you won or lost, it was still a four point swing if it was a game inside your division. Two points or none.

That’s the real issue. All the free point does is reward mediocrity. The Islanders have less wins in regulation than the Rangers. So do the Maple Leafs, who gave another pathetic effort in a lopsided 5-2 loss to the Penguins on NBCSN. They remain in third place in the soft Atlantic Division where as long as you finish in the top three, you automatically qualify for the postseason.

How do you think fans of the Flyers, Blue Jackets, Islanders or Hurricanes will feel if say their team doesn’t make it. But the Leafs or Panthers do even if they wind up with less points or the first tiebreaker of regulation wins? Someone could get screwed.

Heck. If the Rangers played in the other division, the playoffs would be a real possibility. What does that exactly say about the current system? It isn’t working. They have to go back to seeding it 1-8. Then the tiebreak would be easier. I still point to the cheap reward of a brownie point for getting past regulation. Three-on-three is nice to watch. But it’s not hockey either. They should go back to four-on-four.

Make it harder. No free point. You play for two in the overtime. Forget the shootout. It should be two points, one or none. Separate the contenders from the pretenders.

Toronto is a fraud. They don’t play any team defense. They don’t backcheck. Defense optional. They leave both Frederik Andersen and Jack Campbell out to dry. They remind me of the early 2000’s Rangers teams that were all offense and zero structure. The Panthers are similar despite similar top tier talent. They overpaid for Sergei Bobrovsky and he’s been abysmal.

Someone has to get third in that mediocre division. The same one the lowly Red Wings swept Montreal for the first time ever. The same one the Senators put up a touchdown and extra point on the Sabres in when a win of any kind would’ve meant they’re back in the race. Instead, they gave up three goals within a 1:14 span up two and four straight to end the first period down 4-2.

I can’t believe I took the Leafs to the Cup. Good god. What was I thinking? I really thought it could all line up for Toronto. All that talent. Adding Tyson Barrie and Alex Kerfoot for Nazem Kadri. It turns out he was more important than previously thought. Ask Colorado. The defense is so bad without Morgan Rielly, you would think he was a world beater in his end.

The coaching change might’ve worked initially. However, not even replacing Mike Babcock with Sheldon Keefe can cover for how defensively inept the Leafs are. It doesn’t matter how skilled they are led by Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander and John Tavares. They’re still too easy to play against even with the wise addition of the edgy Kyle Clifford.

At what point does the finger get pointed at the top? Kyle Dubas and Brendan Shanahan are failing. If they were to miss the playoffs, it would be a disaster. Heads would roll.

It seems like Claude Julien will lose his job in Montreal. They routinely blow two and three goal leads in games they should win. He’s also run Carey Price into the ground. Literally. He was last seen melting oh the ice like the Wicked Witch from The Wizard of Oz. Despite having a very talented rookie forward in Nick Suzuki, they’re not good enough to compete.

They’ll blame the coach. When does the GM lose his job, or is that not allowed? It’s the Canadiens. The NHL’s best franchise in league history. The winner of a NHL record 24 Stanley Cups. The last one being in ’92-93 when legend Patrick Roy carried them. That’s also the last Cup a Canadian franchise has won.

At some point, the Habs have to stop being a punchline. They’re so much more to the league. Price is now 32 and being wasted. This could be the third straight season he doesn’t see the playoffs. He made one Conference Final in 2014. He was part of the 2010 run too but that was all Jaro Halak. That’s it for the best goalie Montreal has had since Roy.

Here’s a question for fans of the Canadiens and Maple Leafs fans. What does your team need to do to become a serious contender for Lord Stanley?

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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