Kane shows frustration with Blackhawks and disappointment over Tarasenko trade to Rangers, Find A Way Devils do it again, Meier a trade target for contenders

With Valentine’s Day come and gone along with unseasonably mild weather conditions with temperatures in the 60s during a normally ice cold month, the NHL Trade Deadline is less than three weeks away.

Teams have until March 3rd to decide if they’re in or out on the 2022-23 season. That the trade deadline comes out on a Friday will make for even more theatre. It’s a bit more exciting than holding it on a Monday when most people are very busy with work. Friday is the end of the work week for most people.

That’s about as good as it gets for hockey. Especially in light of Sidney Crosby justifiably calling out the league for its flawed playoff system and inexplicable officiating where more players and coaches are questioning the validity of calls. Crosby is correct that going back to a 1-8 seed format makes more sense. He’s also right that his game misconduct in a Pens loss at the Sharks was unwarranted.

Not everything makes sense with the game. However, the trade deadline usually drives up fan interest. Even in a flawed hard cap where the game’s top competitors can have a difficult time completing blockbuster trades due to salary structure, there’s usually key players who get moved. All the more reason to follow the action any way you can.

When the Rangers decided to make their big move earlier than expected by sending Sammy Blais, Hunter Skinner, and a conditional first round pick, conditional fourth to the Blues for Vladimir Tarasenko and Niko Mikkola, it took many by surprise. Ultimately, Team President and GM Chris Drury decided it would be wiser to acquire the 31-year old Tarasenko for a better price than wait on Patrick Kane to make a decision or bid on Sharks’ sniper Timo Meier.

The biggest shock was how vocal Kane was following the Rangers move for Tarasenko, who has scored a goal in two games since coming over to Broadway on Feb. 9. The 34-year old three-time Stanley Cup champion, Hart, and Conn Smythe winner didn’t hold back his disappointment. He wanted New York.

“It’s not like the happiest I’ve been to hear about a trade, but I think the Rangers I definitely pay attention to, intrigued by for obvious reasons,” Kane admitted following a Blackhawks’ 4-3 overtime win over the Coyotes recently.

“Just if things are going to happen, that was a team I was definitely looking at,” he said. “It seems like they kind of filled their void and went ahead and made a deal. So it is what it is.”

It was no secret that Showtime would’ve been open to a reunion with former teammate Artemi Panarin in the Big Apple. They had superb chemistry over two seasons in the Windy City before the Blackhawks dealt the Bread Man to the Blue Jackets on June 23, 2017. They couldn’t afford him. So, he starred in Columbus and was successful under former Rangers coach John Tortorella.

The Blue Jackets pulled off the stunning first round upset of the top seeded Lightning by sweeping them. Panarin played a huge role by scoring and setting up big goals. Sergei Bobrovsky was also outstanding. Rental Matt Duchene performed well. Ultimately, after falling to the Bruins in the second round, the Blue Jackets lost Panarin to the Rangers, who beat out the Islanders and Columbus when he was a free agent.

Panarin got paid handsomely by former Rangers Team President John Davidson and former GM Jeff Gorton to join the Blueshirts during the summer of 2019. He accepted their seven-year deal worth $81.5 million. Panarin was offered more by the Blue Jackets, who bid eight years, $96 million to try to keep him.

Since becoming a Ranger, the Bread Man has delivered with some outstanding production. None better than 2019-20 when he went 32-63-95 in 69 games. He finished third for the Hart Trophy behind winner Leon Draisaitl and Nathan MacKinnon. Of the three, nobody was more valuable to their team than Panarin.

Even though the goals have declined since, Panarin remains a scoring threat. Even in a down year by his high standards, he is coming off a career high four-goal game where he went 4-1-5 in a Rangers’ 6-2 win over the Hurricanes. He acknowledged that he’s been disappointed with his lack of goal scoring this season. Being able to snap out of it in a big divisional win over a first place team they trail should give him more confidence.

Panarin leads the Blueshirts in assists (43) and points (59). A recent stretch that’s seen him tally nine points (4-5-9) over the past four games have shown a renewed energy from a dynamic player, who at times is too unselfish with his pass-first style. As Mollie Walker asserted in her column that appeared in today’s New York Post, much of the Rangers’ postseason hopes depends on Panarin. A player who’s paid $11.65 million to deliver in key moments.

“When you’re not scoring [for] that long of time … I usually have more goals than I have right now,” he said. “That pisses me off a little. And then when I have the chances, [it hits] the post or something. That’s more frustrating.”

Last year, his best moment came when he delivered in the clutch to win Game Seven of a hotly contested first round divisional series to beat the Penguins with a seeing eye, power play goal to send MSG into bedlam.

In the team’s run to the Conference Finals, Panarin finished with six goals and 10 assists for a total of 16 points. There were games that he struggled in due to less time and space. He still wound up tied with Chris Kreider for third in scoring during the postseason.

For most of the season, many pundits felt a reunion between Panarin and Kane was a foregone conclusion. However, as the Rangers struggled during a disappointing first half, it took a while for them to turn it around. With the trade status of Kane unknown due to it being his decision to waive his limited no-trade clause, the Rangers ultimately decided the cost would be too much. Especially if it meant parting with a key roster player, a top prospect plus a first round pick for a potential rental.

Kane also has had an injury that’s hindered him. He’s played mostly through it. With talk that he could need hip surgery this off-season, that gave Drury cause for concern. Between what they’d have to give up and Kane’s health, it’s understandable why the Rangers went in a different direction. For the season, Kane has nine goals with 26 assists for 35 points in 49 games. Not the usual production from the future Hall Of Famer.

One more point. Regarding Drury making the early decision to trade for Tarasenko, he not only got the proven goalscorer at a bargain price. But also was able to upgrade the blue line by adding Niko Mikkola. A big left defenseman with size and strength who is playing with Braden Schneider on the third pair. That made Ben Harpur the seventh defenseman. Something that’s logical.

Since going public with his disappointment over not becoming a Ranger, Kane hasn’t stopped there. He recently made an interesting critique of the Blackhawks. While he didn’t quite say it directly, he went on to praise former Hawks’ 2019 third pick, Kirby Dach.

Dach was selected third behind Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko in the 2019 NHL Draft. Not surprisingly, it took him a while to develop. Similar to both Hughes and particularly Kakko, who’s showing improvement in his fourth season, the 22-year old Dach has become a responsible top six forward with the Canadiens.

The Blackhawks grew impatient and traded him to Montreal in a three team deal that allowed the Canadiens to reroute defenseman Alex Romanov to the Islanders. Chicago selected Frank Nazar in the first round and Gavin Hayes in the third round last year.

Thus far, advantage Canadiens. Prior to top finisher Cole Caufield going down, Dach formed good chemistry playing the off wing on a top line Nick Suzuki centered. Now, back at center on the second line, Dach continues to improve. He already has established career bests across the board in goals (12), assists (23), and points (35) over 54 games with the Habs.

Kane sounds like he’s ready to move on. As far as what his list could be, that remains uncertain. The Hurricanes are reportedly interested. They’re also in on Timo Meier, who should get a nice return for the Sharks. He scored his 31st goal last night in a 3-1 loss to the Penguins.

While Kane tries to decide where he would accept a trade to, Meier has been readily available for a while. At 26, he continues to produce at an elite level on a bad team. Meier leads the Sharks in goals (31), power play goals (13), shots (249), and is tied with Erik Karlsson in game-winners (4).

With a current cap hit of $6 million, which would be prorated for the acquiring team, he’s attracting a lot of interest. The key for whoever trades for Meier is that they must hammer out a new contract. Meier is restricted this summer and must be qualified for $10 million. That’s why it’s imperative for his new team to negotiate a long-term deal that would keep him over the long haul. He’s the top scoring forward on the market.

With over $10 million in cap space due to placing Max Pacioretty on LTIR, the Hurricanes are the favorite to acquire Meier. They have the necessary room along with a deep prospect pool to make the impact move that is desperately needed. The Canes remain a likely destination due to their need for more scoring.

The Devils are also expected to be involved. With only a shade over two million in space, it would be a bit more difficult for Team President and GM Tom Fitzgerald to pull it off. He does boast some young assets with former first round pick Alex Holtz remaining in limbo. Perhaps he’s not in the team’s future plans. Would the Sharks have interest in such a package?

The Devils would have to offload some additional salary to make it work. Possibly Yegor Sharangovich, who makes $2 million. He will want more as a Group II free agent this summer. I wonder if a trade that included Holtz, Sharangovich, one of the Devils D prospects (excluding Luke Hughes and Simon Nemec), plus a conditional first would get it done.

It largely depends on what the organization believes is best in the long run. Meier is a difference maker. The idea of having him team with Jack Hughes is intriguing. Imagine that dynamic duo over the rest of the decade. Yikes.

Could the Devils add Meier (high salary) and keep Jesper Bratt, who probably should command over $7 million per year? It’s a good question. Perhaps Hasan can better assess what would be best for the current team that continues to find a way to win games.

They defeated the Blue Jackets on a last second goal from Ryan Graves. With the game tied at two and looking ticketed for overtime in Columbus, Ondrej Palat made a good pass to Mike McLeod, who cut in and was able to find a cutting Graves for the game-winner with 1.4 seconds remaining. Here’s how it looked and sounded on MSG:

The Devils’ meteoric rise reminds me of the Rangers last year. They hadn’t made the playoffs since 2016-17. Carried by Igor Shesterkin and Chris Kreider, they found ways to win games. That’s what made 2021-22 so special. They came back from a 3-1 series deficit to eliminate the Pens. Then, rallied from a 3-2 series deficit to oust the Hurricanes. Ultimately, they fell a bit short in a very tough six-game series loss to the Lightning.

New Jersey is similar this season. They weren’t a trendy pick to make the playoffs. However, they went on an unbelievable win streak after a bad start that even had fans calling for Lindy Ruff’s head. They kept winning games and built up enough cushion so that the predictable December slump didn’t kill them.

They’ve rebounded by only losing twice in regulation since the new calendar year. They’re still winning games without Hughes, who remains out. He skated in a non-contact jersey at team practice.

At 35-13-5, with 75 points, they are in second place in the Metropolitan Division. They trail the Hurricanes by three points for first. They’re five up on the Hudson rival Rangers who are third with 70 points. Entering tonight, all three teams have 29 games remaining.

Only the Rangers are in action later when they visit the Canucks at 10 PM EST. It’ll be the same lineup with Igor Shesterkin in goal. Vancouver counters with Latvian call-up Arturs Silovs. Rookie goalie. It should be interesting.

Condolences go out to Alexander Ovechkin on the loss of his father, Mikhail, who passed away last night. He really sounded like a great guy. Ovechkin took an indefinite leave of absence from the Capitals to fly home to Russia and be with his family.

That’s quite a touching moment between father and son in 2018 when the Capitals won the Stanley Cup. Ovechkin handed it off to Dad, who got to lift the Cup at the Dynamo Moscow’s training facility.

Best wishes go out to the Ovechkin family during this difficult time. 💜🌟


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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