Kevin Weekes is a busy man. The former goalie of the Rangers is everywhere. As the studio color analyst of NHL Tonight on NHL Network, he’s always up to talk hockey. Especially with the trade deadline around the corner.
Weekes did a guest spot on WFAN with Marc Malusis and Maggie Gray to discuss the latest regarding former teammate Henrik Lundqvist. He also put out an interesting Tweet regarding the status of top trade target Chris Kreider.
The bottom line is he is in the know and understands the situation with the Rangers. In the second full year of a rebuild, they’re going to do what’s best for the team moving forward. A future that doesn’t include Lundqvist. A very popular star player who’s given everything to the franchise for 15 years.
As he approaches his 38th birthday, it’s up in the air if this is it for Lundqvist on Broadway. It’s painfully obvious that the organization sees what it has in bright rookie Igor Shesterkin. A young netminder who’s won seven of his first eight starts while putting up sparkling numbers. The big 24-year old Russian is going to be the starting goalie for a long time.
When it comes to Lundqvist, Weekes wisely emphasized communication between the two sides. Have they been transparent with a player who will one day see his jersey number retired up in the Garden rafters? That’s a question for coach David Quinn, GM Jeff Gorton and Team President John Davidson. While the coach has been open on the topic, there’s been deafening silence from management. We’ve seen it before when Glen Sather dumped Brian Leetch to Toronto on his birthday without any communication.
Weekes gets what Lundqvist has meant to the Rangers on and off the ice. No matter how you feel towards him currently due to the one year remaining on a contract that has a cap hit of $8.5 million with a full no-movement clause, the former 2000 seventh round pick from Frolunda, Sweden has been a staple forever. He was the backbone to the good teams they had which included two Conference Finals and one Stanley Cup Final within a four year span.
It would be a lot different had they won one Cup with Lundqvist. As much as Game Six in 2012 and Game Five in 2014 sting, the way they lost in Game Seven of 2015 hurts more. That was their best chance in my estimation. I’ll leave it at that. With King Henrik currently third on a two goalie rotation (at least it seems that way) consisting of Shesterkin and 24-year old Bulgarian Alex Georgiev, the big question is how many starts will he get over the remaining 23 games.
The Rangers are in a unique situation where they’re very much in play for the wildcard. With flawed teams like the Blue Jackets, Islanders and Hurricanes struggling in front of them, they have to feel they have a chance. The game at Carolina is huge later tonight. As well as Lundqvist played in beating the Canes three times earlier this year, the start should likely go to Shesterkin. He’s earned it. He’s the best of the three goalies.
With 66 points and more regulation wins than some of the teams they trail, it’s not impossible for the Blueshirts to make it anymore. The pack has come back. That also includes the Panthers, who slipped back to fourth in the Atlantic. They’re fighting for third with the flawed Leafs. They have 70 points. By virtue of their overtime win at Columbus due to old friend Kevin Hayes, the Flyers are now in third place in the Metro with 75 points. The Blue Jackets are clinging onto the first wildcard with 73 points while the Hurricanes have the second wildcard with 72 and two more regulation wins (24-22) than the Islanders.
The Hurricanes and Islanders each have 72 entering Friday’s games. The Isles have an easier opponent in Detroit at home following an awful road trip that saw them score only two goals in 12 periods. San Jose visits them on Sunday after they invade MSG. So, they have favorable match-ups that could get them out of their slump.
For the Rangers, it’s all in front of them. Take care of business tonight at Carolina and beat the Sharks tomorrow and they would be at 70 points with still 21 games remaining. If only it were that simple. They have to play much better than what we saw in a defenseless 6-3 win at Chicago.
In regards to what Weekes tweeted about Kreider, he’s not lying. The truth is both the Avalanche and Bruins are great options if the Rangers decide the cost is too much to keep the valuable power forward, who’s been brilliant for two and a half months. I would lean towards Colorado due to star Mikko Rantanen being out for at least a few weeks. They’re also without Nazem Kadri and are down to Pavel Francouz due to starting goalie Philipp Grubauer being injured. Despite the goalie situation, they aren’t a landing spot for Lundqvist, who’s hardly played since Shesterkin got recalled on Jan. 6.
Kreider though would certainly interest them. Right now, Andre Burakovsky is playing on the top line with Hart candidate Nathan MacKinnon and captain Gabriel Landeskog. If they decide to upgrade, it would make sense to acquire Kreider, who can bring his strong combination of size, strength and speed to the Avalanche for a run at the Cup. He also is so good in front of the net at screening goalies and tipping in shots for goals. The big left wing drives possession and has come into his own while forming great chemistry with Mika Zibanejad and Pavel Buchnevich. Imagine him with MacKinnon and Landeskog.
I threw out some suggestions for a trade in last night’s lengthy game review. I’m not going to speculate anymore. I’ll leave that to the other yo-yo’s who spread false propaganda to get clicks. I’m not about that. I just want to enjoy whatever happens this weekend and on Monday. Let’s see what the next 72 hours brings us.
My advice to any loyal True Blue Ranger fans is to sit back and try to relax. Don’t check Twitter every 30 seconds. We’re probably not going to know anything until Sunday evening at the soonest. Root for the team to get more wins. They deserve a ton of credit for how they’ve played since the break. I think Quinn, the staff and the leadership that includes Kreider, Zibanejad, Ryan Strome, Jesper Fast and Marc Staal should be praised for what we’ve seen. Ditto Lundqvist, who’s biting his tongue under a rock and a hard place.
Weekes also went out of his way to heap praise on Artemi Panarin. Why not? Like he accurately stated, he’s been the best star addition since former teammate Jaromir Jagr. The Bread Man doesn’t get enough credit for how hard he plays defensively. He doesn’t stop skating. He competes extremely hard in all three zones. Just because he doesn’t kill penalties doesn’t mean he isn’t working his tail off.
I can’t predict what will happen. Nobody can. I just want the team to keep playing well by winning games and making it interesting. They’re just ahead of my 85 point target. I also hope the organization does what’s best for them for the next few years. Whatever that is, we’ll see.
Enjoy the best weekend of the year.