Rangers go to ridiculous lengths to satisfy cap for expected Kane trade, Zibanejad heroic in big win over Kings, Miller ejected for spitting incident, hearing today, action heats up in loaded Eastern Conference

It’s the Monday before the March 3rd trade deadline on Friday. There’s so much to get to. While the Rangers picked up a big win over the Kings to snap a four-game losing streak (0-3-1), the action is fast and furious around a loaded Eastern Conference.

First and foremost, the Rangers went to ridiculous lengths to stay cap compliant for the expected Patrick Kane trade. As has been reported by reliable sources, including Elliotte Friedman, it’s all but done. Now, it’s just a matter of whether it’s announced on Wednesday or Friday.

Whether you agree with how the organization has gone about its business, Kane is going to get his wish. After voicing his displeasure over the acquisition of Vladimir Tarasenko, it was obvious that the Blackhawks legend only wanted to be in one place. He had full control due to the no-movement clause in a contract that pays him $10.5 million this season. It expires this summer.

With Team President and GM Chris Drury scrambling to satisfy the cap due to the Rangers not having much wiggle room, that meant dressing 18 skaters but only playing 16 in Sunday night’s 5-2 win over the Kings.

Coach Gerard Gallant was unable to play Braden Schneider and Hartford call-up Ryan Carpenter. That put him in a tough spot, especially when K’Andre Miller received a match penalty for a spitting incident with Drew Doughty. Even though he went out of his way to apologize to Doughty following the game and posted a public apology via social media, it was a regrettable action.

Miller has a hearing today with the league. It’s expected that he could be suspended for two or three games. It’ll be interesting to see what happens as it pertains to the Rangers’ next game this Wednesday night at the Flyers. Will they have Kane with a brand new number 88 Blueshirts jersey? That remains to be seen.

The following is courtesy of Puck Pedia. They’ve been continually providing updates on what the Rangers can do to stay cap compliant.

If all of this is confusing, you’re not alone. It’s pretty ridiculous. But Drury opted to trade for Tarasenko, who looks like he’s on his last legs. At least they added Niko Mikkola. Good thing Drury did due to the Ryan Lindgren injury. Nobody has any idea how long he’ll be out. The Rangers keep things close to the vest. You can never believe a word Gallant says on injured players.

It’s worth noting that the Blackhawks are expected to pick up half of Kane’s salary. A third team likely will be needed to pick up another 25 percent to assist the Rangers in the complicated transaction. We’ve already seen this play out with the Leafs trading for Ryan O’Reilly. The Wild got involved to help Toronto save money so they could make more critical moves, which happened earlier today.

With pretty much everything laid out, the parameters for a Kane deal remain on track. By yo-yoing Schneider to Hartford for cap savings, the Rangers are doing everything they can to complete the trade for the American legend by Wednesday. It’s so distracting that the game yesterday felt irrelevant. No difference than Saturday’s humiliation to the Capitals.

If you’re a fan of the team, you want them to win as many games as possible. There’s still a chance that they can avoid the Devils, who sit three back of the Hurricanes, who remain eerily quiet despite their need for another offensive player.

With the Devils completing the very complex trade for Timo Meier with the Sharks last night, they have significantly upgraded their roster. It’s indeed Timo Time in Newark. The likelihood of Jack Hughes playing with Meier is a daunting prospect for opponents.

The very interesting part is that I nearly guessed the players involved. After initially thinking, perhaps Seamus Casey might be in it, I came to the conclusion that former first round pick Shakir Mukhamadullin would be part of the trade. He plays in the KHL. Both Robert and I guessed that Fabian Zetterlund was in the trade. Rob is a huge Devils fan. So, full props. We didn’t know Nikita Ohhoktiuk was the third player. Neither of us has any idea how to pronounce his name. He scored a goal in 10 games with the Devils.

Hasan provided a very detailed post on the particulars of the Timo Meier trade that also included the Devils getting depth defenseman Scott Harrington. Yes. I guessed that Andreas Johnsson’s contract would be dumped to the Sharks to help offset salary to fit in Meier, who had 50 percent of his salary picked up by San Jose.

With the details of the Meier trade slowly coming out due to a player having a minor injury that the teams worked through, it was a distraction. Even watching the game last night, which the Rangers played much better in than at any point during their seven-game win streak, I kept checking my time-line to see who the players were along with the expected first round pick plus the conditional first.

While that trade saga went on along with the hint that Tanner Jeannot was on the block with the Lightning interested, there was a game played at 33rd and 7th above Penn Station.

Coming off a 6-3 blowout loss to the Caps that could’ve been much worse had Igor Shesterkin not made a bunch of good saves, the Rangers knew they had to straighten out. Their play away from the puck was abominable. They gave up so many easy goals and scoring chances in transition that it was probably the worst game they’ve played during this season.

With the news circulating from the beat writers that neither Schneider nor Carpenter were expected to take a shift, that left Gallant with 16 skaters. Five defensemen (until Miller’s match penalty) and 11 forwards were available. That meant some line tweaks when Gallant wanted to use Barclay Goodrow and Tyler Motte. Solid checking forwards that can be used anywhere.

Playing without Lindgren, who they still termed “day-to-day,” the Rangers went with Niko Mikkola on the top pair alongside Adam Fox. Miller and Jacob Trouba were the second pair. That left Ben Harpur to take shifts when necessary. At least that was the plan.

After giving him the third period off on Saturday, Gallant went back to Shesterkin for a second straight start. It went much better. Instead of being hung out to dry, he got plenty of help from more focused teammates who came back defensively. It was night and day.

In a lineup switch, Tarasenko played mostly with Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider. A place he will likely be once Kane arrives. The plan looks like he’ll play with familiar former teammate Artemi Panarin with the red hot Vincent Trocheck in the middle. Tarasenko again didn’t distinguish himself. He hasn’t been good since Panarin set him up 2:43 into his Rangers debut.

Following an early power play that did nothing except miss the net, the Rangers were at least able to stifle the Kings, who initially came out strong. They tested Shesterkin early and often. But a focused Shesterkin turned aside Anze Kopitar, Adrian Kempe, and Kevin Fiala.

With the defense more committed to blocking shots, both Kreider and Harpur got in the path of a pair of Matt Roy attempts. An underrated Kings defenseman who has had a good year. As a team, the Blueshirts blocked 17 shots led by Harpur (5) and Trouba (4). Both played pivotal roles in the win, with each logging 33 shifts and over 28 minutes apiece.

On what was an effective forechecking shift from both Filip Chytil and Kaapo Kakko, Alexis Lafreniere was able to take a Kakko feed and have his shot from the left circle take a good bounce off Jonathan Quick for his 11th with six minutes left.

Not long after the goal, there was a state of confusion during a stoppage at the 16:37 mark of the first period. Refs Eric Furlatt and Brandon Schrader got together to figure out what happened during a scrum between Miller and Doughty. Nobody knew what was going on. It was perplexing.

When they announced that they had given Miller a match penalty, which means a game misconduct and automatic review for spitting on Doughty, it was shocking. However, the evidence didn’t lie. MSG replays clearly showed Miller spitting with the loogie landing on Doughty. Yikes.

The incident gave the Kings a five-minute power play with 3:23 remaining in the period. That ridiculous major penalty could’ve swung the momentum. Even if it wasn’t deliberate with a very remorseful Miller seeking out Doughty following the game, it’s something that can’t happen. It was interesting how there was no real overreaction to what happened.

On the first part of the five-on-four, the Kings came close to tying it twice. Both times, it was Kempe who had great opportunities. On a nice setup in the slot, he beat Shesterkin with a shot that went off the crossbar and stayed out. A bit later, he was one on one with Shesterkin, who wisely came out to deny his backhand deke by making a great diving save and covering the puck to cheers.

Those were the two best chances the Kings had. It was their best finisher. He just couldn’t convert. Had he, the game could’ve changed. Instead, the Rangers were able to kill off the remaining 97 seconds at the start of the second period.

Able to grab the momentum back, they struck quickly. On a shift where he was out with both Zibanejad and Kreider, Trocheck had the good fortune to have a pass in front deflect off a Kings’ player past Quick to make it 2-0 at 2:02.

Despite being down three players, including two defensemen, it was the Rangers who chased Quick when Trocheck had a wrist shot fool the future USA Hockey Hall Of Famer. That gave him two goals in 1:35, making it 3-0. Quick looks like he’s near the end of a brilliant career. He’s been outplayed by surprising revelation Pheonix Copley. The 31-year old journeyman replaced a visibly frustrated Quick.

I have to admit I was a little surprised that Kings coach Todd McLellan went with Quick for a second straight start. He was in for their 3-2 win over the Islanders. I would’ve thought Copley, who has the 17-4-2 record, would be in the net. He gives them the best chance to win. Copley is a great story. He only got two games with the Caps last season. Prior to ’21-22, he hadn’t played in the NHL since ’18-19.

The reason LA is where they are in a very good Pacific Division is due to the defensive style they play. They’re very disciplined and play a 1-3-1 that can frustrate opponents. They are a tight checking team that can forecheck and create more offense thanks to the addition of Kevin Fiala. If they make the playoffs, nobody will want to see them. They nearly took out Edmonton last year. Connor McDavid put on a spectacular performance to lead the Oilers past them in seven games.

One thing about the Kings. They never quit. Even in a game, it wasn’t their night they came back to make it interesting. A Mikola holding minor late in the second allowed LA to get on the scoreboard.

On what was a fluky play, Viktor Arvidsson waited just long enough for an Arthur Kaliyev high rebound to come down where he batted the puck in for a power play goal. Due to how close his stick was when it made contact with the puck, they immediately checked upstairs. They ruled good goal on the ice.

Initially, I thought it would get overturned. But after seeing another replay, based on where Arvidsson made contact with the puck, it looked to be at crossbar height. That made it a legal play. They confirmed it as a good goal to a few boos. You have to understand the rule.

Arvidsson’s 18th on the power play from Kaliyev and Phillip Danault made it 3-1 with 1:48 left in the period. They would go to the locker room trailing by two.

The Rangers were still in good position. The question was, would they get tired in the third. It didn’t start particularly well.

After both Kopitar and Quinton Byfield went wide on shots, Byfield was then stopped by Shesterkin on a deflection. However, on the next shift, there were chances at both ends. Trocheck went for the hat trick on a rush but missed wide. That allowed the Kings to counter up ice with Danault passing for Roy, who beat Shesterkin with a good shot high blocker to cut it to one at 1:27.

On the goal, Panarin got caught pinching while covering the point. A no-no when you’re leading. Gallant didn’t look too pleased. But the Bread Man atoned for the defensive miscue by scoring a huge goal on the following shift.

Panarin looked to have a sure goal. But a diving Copley made a great sprawling save. However, his own teammate Sean Walker banged into him, sending him down. That allowed Panarin to put the rebound into the open part of the net upstairs for his 19th from Trocheck. That goal came only 44 seconds after Roy scored. It was a huge answer to restore a two-goal lead.

With Alex Edler off for hooking Kreider, the Blueshirts extended their lead to 5-2 thanks to some artful passing. Both Panarin and Adam Fox played catch before Fox sent a perfect feed across for a wicked Zibanejad one-timer into the short side for his 18th power play goal. He’s up to 31 on the season.

It was a pretty cool thing to see Zibanejad score. During the late stages of the second, he made a diving block of a hard shot that went right off his foot. He was down writhing in pain. The crowd definitely was concerned and chanter, “Mika, Mika” as he got to his feet and was helped off the ice.

It looked bad. But when he returned for the third, he got a loud ovation. Thankfully, he was okay. If this team goes anywhere, Zibanejad will be a big reason why. One of the best acquisitions in franchise history (thanks Jeff Gorton), Zibanejad is the best forward they have. It’s hard to believe Gorton stole him for Derick Brassard. What a player he’s become. The five-goal game and his virtuoso performance in last year’s playoffs are proof of what a terrific player he is.

It would be nice to see Mika Magic get 40 goals again. He deserves it. A complete player who plays both sides of the puck, Zibanejad is the star of this team. He makes $8.5 million on average. A bargain. He took less to stay when they signed him to an extension. That’s a T-E-A-M player.

With the Rangers ahead by three goals, it was too much for the Kings to overcome. For one night at least, the shorthanded Rangers showed a lot of mettle. They defended well and came back.

Shesterkin didn’t have to stand on his head or face uncontested odd-man rushes or breakaways. He made the key saves en route to 26 in winning his 26th game of the season. By allowing two goals, it was the first time in eight games he’d done that. The last time came on Jan. 23 versus Florida.

I posted the three stars on our official Twitter account. It was nice to give out three stars to Rangers.

After the game, it was revealed that the Lightning gave up a lot for Tanner Jeannot. A hard-nosed, physical player who plays the game with edge and toughness, he obviously had a lot more value than anyone would’ve thought. The Bolts were willing to include Cal Foote and five draft picks just to acquire the 25-year old Jeannot. That’s nuts. But when you’re a team committed to winning like Tampa, it’s worth it.

The Lightning obviously thinks Jeannot’s rugged style is a perfect fit. He should slot in on the third line with Nick Paul. I view it as an answer to the Leafs recently trading for Ryan O’Reilly and Noel Acciari. Jeannot is also on an entry-level contract. He is restricted this summer. There’s no doubt the Lightning will sign him long-term like they did with Paul.

Maybe thinking they had to make another move today, the Maple Leafs countered by acquiring both Sam Lafferty and Jake McCabe from the Blackhawks for a conditional first round pick and second round pick. Joey Anderson and Pavel Gogolev also went back to Chicago. The Leafs received conditional fifth round picks in 2024 and 2025.

I was someone who wanted Lafferty. He brings a lot to the table. A player who possesses good speed along with grit, he went to Chicago and scored 10 goals and added 17 assists while becoming a fixture on the penalty kill. That’s a smart move by Toronto. Adding McCabe to a questionable blue line should help. This is all in anticipation for the big first round rematch with Tampa.

It’s obvious that the Leafs are all in this year. If they can finally get out of the first round, they think they can go all the way. They’d have to likely go through both the Lightning and the Bruins just to make the Conference Finals. The Atlantic Division just got very interesting.

With both the Red Wings and Sabres pushing hard to get back to the playoffs with strong competition from the Islanders, Penguins, Panthers, and Capitals, it’s going to go down to the wire. Whoever wins those two wildcard spots will earn it.

As for the Blueshirts, it’s now a waiting game. We all know Kane is coming. He’s getting his wish, which to me feels a little selfish. He sure didn’t do right by the Blackhawks. They’re not going to get much for the greatest American born player. That’s who Kane is. But this is his choice. He had the power.

I ran a poll on Twitter that received 280 votes. The topic was Kane.

You can argue either side. Kane won the Blackhawks three Cups. He and Jonathan Toews were an unbelievable dynamic duo that turned them around. You could say he owes them nothing. He has plenty of hardware.

The flip side is that he made it impossible for them to get fair value. He’s a superstar. Even at 34, Showtime can be a difference maker. Who’d you rather have from watching them? Tarasenko or Kane. Kane still looks to have the skating and skill. Tarasenko hasn’t proven much since coming over. He clearly is struggling. Maybe once Kane puts on the Rangers jersey, it’ll alleviate some pressure.

When it happens, Jimmy Vesey goes from the top line to the fourth line. It’s a much better fit where he’ll likely play with Goodrow and Motte. That’s a real fourth line. It’ll be interesting to see how it all unfolds.

That’s gonna do it. What trade will happen next? Don’t answer that! 😉


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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