The days are moving closer to the official restart of training camp. Once Monday hits, it’ll finally be here. For 24 teams that are participating in the expanded playoff format with the first part focusing on 16, they’ll have a little over two weeks to get ready.
Of course, most players are back practicing for the Rangers. That even includes Henrik Lundqvist, who finally skated at the Westchester facility.
Lundqvist is expected to be the backup behind rookie starter Igor Shesterkin. Or at least I think that’s how coach David Quinn will go. It probably makes more sense to have the experienced veteran backing up over Alex Georgiev for the five game preliminary series against the Hurricanes. However, much will depend on how the goalies look in camp.
As they get ready to prepare for what should be a formidable opponent in the Canes, who’ll have both Dougie Hamilton and Sami Vatanen back to boost their defense, the Blueshirts have decided on Gord Murphy to replace former assistant Lindy Ruff behind the bench.
A former NHL defenseman, Murphy has worked as an associate head coach with Hartford this past season. He has NHL experience having served as an assistant coach for Columbus, Florida and Philadelphia. Given that he was a solid defenseman over 15 years with four teams (Flyers, Bruins, Panthers, Thrashers) and has good experience in the assistant role, it should be a solid fit. He’s 53 and replaces the newly hired Ruff, who takes over behind the Devils bench.
In terms of where the Rangers will be playing, it looks like they’ve settled on Toronto for their play in round against the Hurricanes. The Islanders will also be headed north to Ontario when they battle the Panthers. All 12 Eastern participants will play in Toronto while the dozen Western teams will compete in Edmonton. The Oilers home ice will also be where the Stanley Cup is played.
I’m not sure I agree with the conferences having their games in the same region. But it requires less travel. So, due to the circumstances with the COVID-19 pandemic, I understand why. It’s similar to baseball deciding to keep each division in the same time zone over the 60 game season. Like the Yankees playing the NL East including the Mets and vice versa. They don’t want to take too many risks with the unpredictable nature of the Coronavirus.
Quinn discussed one of the keys to success in a brief highlight package courtesy the official Rangers Twitter. Not surprisingly, it focused on defensive coverage. An area the team improved on when they turned their season around.
In terms of which players are gonna be on the expanded Rangers roster, they’ve decided on 18 forwards and eight defensemen. All three netminders are included. No shock. Here is the breakdown by position per Rangers beat writer Vince Mercogliano. This BTW is unofficial. John Davidson told Mercogliano the expanded roster could have up to 31 players on it.
Extras: Brendan Lemieux (suspended), Steven Fogarty, Tim Gettinger, Vitali Kravtsov, Vinni Lettieri, Boo Nieves (just a guess)
Extras: Libor Hajek, Darren Raddysh
Here is what the Carolina roster will look like:
With the NHLPA and NHL agreeing on a four-year CBA extension that includes a flat cap at $81.5 million due to the current situation, Lundqvist could be bought out.
That would create room to potentially keep unrestricted free agent Jesper Fast, who is a bargain at $1.85 million. Ryan Strome and Tony DeAngelo are key restricted free agents who could command a lot. But with a quick turnover from the conclusion of the ’19-20 season in October to the projected December 1 start, they could have less bargaining power.
Georgiev is also a RFA with the exasperating Brendan Lemieux while Greg McKegg and Micheal Haley are UFA’s this off-season.
I’ll have more in the coming days on what I could see the Rangers organization doing once the season ends. For now, let’s try to have some enthusiasm for the proposed opening round. Here are the dates courtesy veteran New York Post columnist Larry Brooks: