Rangers are banking on Shesterkin to live up to expectations with new contract, Goalie Tandem the key to season, The Eichel Saga, Kids asked to step up offensively

It’s been a while since I’ve had anything to post on the state of the Blueshirts. After the usual summer lag that comes in August, the Rangers re-signed Igor Shesterkin earlier this week. That was on Monday.

The new contract averages out to $5.65 million per cap hit. It’s $22.67 million over four years. According to hockey insider Frank Seravalli, it’s the most money ever given to an NHL goalie on their second contract. That isn’t a surprise. Rangers’ beat writer Larry Brooks thought it could even approach an AAV of $6 million. I’m glad it didn’t. It’s still pretty high for an unproven netminder who must prove he’s worth the investment.

Before he even arrived on Broadway, I followed his career in the KHL closely like anyone else. Shesterkin went number 118 in the fourth round of the 2014 NHL Draft. He spent extensive time playing in Russia for St. Petersburg SKA. The last three years, he put up remarkable numbers. The only thing left was for the Rangers to sign him and see what he could do.

After performing well for the Wolf Pack during ’19-20, Shesterkin was finally brought up by the Rangers. In January 2020, he won three of his first four starts including a good debut in which he made 29 saves to defeat the high powered Avalanche on Jan. 7, 2020. With the team featuring three goalies including Henrik Lundqvist and Alexandar Georgiev, they had Shesterkin make his first six starts at home by design. It went so well that pretty soon, he was winning on the road while facing a heavy workload.

Just when he was hitting his stride, a car accident involving Pavel Buchnevich and Shesterkin resulted in the young goalie missing time due to a non-displaced rib fracture. Before the NHL paused play due to the pandemic, Shesterkin returned. After suffering his first home loss to the Devils in ugly fashion, he won his final start of the regular season at Dallas. A stronger 31 save effort.

At the time, the Rangers were right behind the reeling Islanders with a few weeks left. However, they never got to complete the schedule. Instead, a long layoff led to the NHL expanding the playoffs. Instead of the traditional 16 teams, 24 made the cut. There were Play In Series that were best-of-five format with the eight winners advancing into the Big Dance.

Unfortunately, a lower-body injury Shesterkin sustained in a tuneup against the Islanders led to him only getting one start against the Hurricanes in the NHL Qualifier. Following consecutive defeats with Lundqvist in net, the Rangers were swept by Carolina. Shesterkin made 27 saves on 30 shots. The lasting image of that series was Sebastian Aho undressing Tony DeAngelo and then Shesterkin with a beautiful backhand tuck. It wasn’t exactly how anyone wanted that summer to end. But they wound up lucking into top pick Alexis Lafreniere. So, there was a silver lining.

At 24, Shesterkin finished his first NHL year 10-2-0 in 12 starts while posting a 2.52 GAA and .932 save percentage. Impressive numbers considering the high volume of shots he faced due to the team defense. How many times was he under siege with opponents firing at least 40 shots his way? Both Georgiev and Lundqvist suffered a similar fate. It was baptism by fire. Due to how well he performed, expectations were through the roof. Perhaps they became unrealistic.

Due to COVID-19 forcing the NHL to have their off-season during the Fall, it meant an abbreviated 56-game schedule that didn’t start until the second week of January. It didn’t take long for the Islanders to light up Shesterkin for four goals on 33 shots in an uncompetitive season opening loss. He never beat them. In five games, he went 0-4-1 with a 3.62 GAA and .879 save percentage. By comparison, backup Alex Georgiev won two of three starts while posting a 1.33 GAA and .950 save percentage with a shutout.

The point is that better change. For as well as he played to pull the Rangers within striking distance of the playoffs, Shesterkin wasn’t consistent in ’21. There were moments where he allowed questionable goals. He also fell into a bad habit of overplaying the angle which let shooters find the far side. His balance wasn’t as strong with the exciting goalie caught out of position during some games. These are areas he must improve on under goalie coach Benoit Allaire.

Of the 56 games, Shesterkin got into 35. He finished 16-14-3 with a 2.62 GAA, .916 save percentage and two shutouts with both coming against the Devils. An opponent he dominated along with the Sabres. Undoubtedly, part of the problem was how the Rangers played against tougher foes in the Islanders, Bruins and Penguins. Even their play against the Flyers wasn’t good enough despite putting up crooked numbers in a pair of blowout wins. Hopefully, a more balanced roster will result in improvement.

Regarding the likable Russian goalie whose NHL resume is only 47 games in parts of two seasons, Shesterkin will have to stay healthy and become consistent. Based on the contract Team President and GM Chris Drury gave him over four years, he’ll have to prove himself. They’re paying him a lot of money based on potential. The peak years should be ahead. Investing four years instead of six makes sense. It’ll take him until age 29 when the contract expires in 2025. By that point, we’ll know if he was worth it.

It really is imperative for Shesterkin to grab the mantle Lundqvist once owned and prove he can be the man. For all the hoopla surrounding him, he hasn’t matched what the 39-year old Rangers legend accomplished early in his brilliant career. BTW. Lundqvist remains unsigned. He’s finally back practicing. If he’s medically cleared, will a team come calling? I’d love to see King Henrik get one more chance at chasing a Cup. It would be nice to see him able to go out on his own terms. I know there’s been talk of a Broadway reunion. I feel it’s best for both parties not to reunite.

For a young netminder who still has so much to prove, the pressure will be on Shesterkin to deliver. They’re banking on him. Georgiev is a solid backup who they made available at last month’s NHL Draft. However, the asking price of a first round pick is unrealistic. Nobody is going to pay that for an equally unproven goalie who would like the opportunity to start if it’s available. With him signed through 2022 at an AAV of $2.425 million, assuming he stays, it could be his last year as a Blueshirt. He’s been a good teammate.

As excited as I am about an off-season that’s included key additions Barclay Goodrow, Sammy Blais, Ryan Reaves, Patrik Nemeth and Jarred Tinordi to balance out the roster, it really is all about the goaltending. Neither Shesterkin or Georgiev have a wealth of experience. The Garden Faithful want to see Igor succeed and reach the level the organization believes he’s capable of. It’s a giant leap of faith for an injury prone goalie who must erase those doubts by starting at least 50 of the 82-game schedule. It is all about performance. Ditto for Georgiev, who’ll have a key role behind Shesterkin. Each 25-year old must give the team a chance to win on most nights.

When it comes to goalie tandems, the Rangers’ pair of Shesterkin and Georgiev remains low on a list that includes more experienced netninders with better track records. That features Islanders’ duo Semyon Varlamov and Ilya Sorokin, who everyone should be paying attention to to see what he gets from Lou Lamoriello. How will it compare to Shesterkin? The Russian comrades are sure to be a hot topic over the next few years. Team success will determine how each are viewed. Right now, Sorokin has the edge due to playing on an established roster. Are the Rangers ready to compete with the Islanders, who remain a strong division favorite?

When viewing other tandems, there’s Carey Price and Jake Allen in Montreal. Vegas now features Robin Lehner and Laurent Brossoit while the Blackhawks could take a leap up if Marc-Andre Fleury plays well with Kevin Lankinen backing up. Malcolm Subban is the third goalie. What about Boston counting on former Sabre Linus Ullmark and Jeremy Swayman until Tuukka Rask returns? The most intriguing are Carolina banking on Frederik Andersen and Antti Raanta while the Maple Leafs are going with Jack Campbell and former Cane Petr Mrazek. How will Spencer Knight fare in Florida with underwhelming Sergei Bobrovsky? Tandems will be a theme throughout the league. We’ll see how Shesterkin/Georgiev stack up.

When a team invests the money the Rangers have, the spotlight will be on Shesterkin. He’s very unflappable and doesn’t show much emotion. An aggressive goalie who isn’t shy about coming out, challenging and moving pucks to start the transition, it’s all about improving overall. His career 2.59 GAA and .921 save percentage are good indicators. Especially given what he’s had to work with. If the Rangers can continue to improve defensively with the addition of Nemeth along with the continued growth of ace Adam Fox along with Ryan Lindgren, the sturdy Jacob Trouba and K’Andre Miller, then the shots against could drop. They’re hoping Nils Lundkvist can earn a spot in the top six and become another effective puck moving defenseman to offset the departure of DeAngelo. If not, maybe Libor Hajek stays. He’s currently unsigned.

With the Rangers still over $10 million clear in cap space, perhaps they’re saving room for a big move. I have deliberately not addressed the Jack Eichel Saga. That’s due to the uncertainty surrounding the complex situation in Buffalo. It comes down to who do you believe. Eichel, who wants to have a neck procedure that would involve an artificial disc replacement. It’s called an anterior cervical discectomy with fusion. Something the Sabres refused to allow Eichel to have done. Do you side with Buffalo on this game of chicken in which it’s clear that their soon to be former captain has played his final game in Western New York? He has five years left on a contract that pays him an average of $10 million through 2026 with a No-Movement Clause that kicks in next summer. The asking price remains high from GM Kevyn Adams, which is why most teams have pulled out. Who knows when this will end.

I’ve never wanted the Rangers to acquire Eichel. It sounds like he’s got an attitude problem and ego. Buffalo Sabres friend Brian Sanborn has indicated that he believes they catered to him. Given all the coaching changes and general manager carousel, I tend to believe that. They traded for Jeff Skinner and after a big year, overpaid him. Then, came the perplexing past season where he hardly scored goals while being miscast. They’re stuck with him. But Eichel is going, going, gone. The Sabres will be built around Rasmus Dahlin, Dylan Cozens, future blueliner and top pick Owen Power. It’s gonna be another long year in Buffalo.

If you’re wondering why I would prefer Drury to pass on Eichel, it’s due to the cost in prospects and picks. A package of Ryan Strome, Vitali Kravtsov and Zac Jones won’t get it done. They will want Kaapo Kakko and/or Kravtsov with Jones or Miller plus a first round pick. No thanks. By dealing away Buchnevich due to the salary he got from the Blues, Drury was thinking about the young trio of Kakko, Kravtsov and Lafreniere. They’re gonna be counted on to help offset Buchnevich’s production. Who’s to say Lafreniere can’t come close to the output if he plays with Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider on the first line? Perhaps it’s Kakko with Strome and Artemi Panarin on the second line. Don’t forget the Blueshirts will have to pay Kakko, Kravtsov and Fox next summer.

They also could still be trying to determine if they’re going to sign Zibanejad to an extension. He enters the last year of his current deal with an AAV of $5.35 million with a NMC. So, the likelihood that he’d be included in some Eichel trade makes no sense. How much is Zibanejad worth and for how long? That’s a better question for management to answer. Is he willing to take a little less to stay? He likes being a Ranger. When has this team ever not paid top dollar for its players? Aside from Kevin Shattenkirk, who left money on the table to come home, and Kreider, who could’ve got more on the open market, it’s rare that this team doesn’t overpay.

Some might consider what Shesterkin got as overpayment. The Canucks gave Thatcher Demko five years for $25 million. He’s far from proven either, but performed well enough in place of an injured Jacob Markstrom to convince Vancouver to let the former starter walk where Calgary paid him. Demko also was under siege in ’21 due to how abysmal the Canucks were defensively. If you want a good comparison for Shesterkin, let’s see how Demko performs over the next few years. Vancouver is in a bind due to key restricted free agents Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes. They have a shade over $13 million remaining. Jason Dickinson remains unsigned as well. Would a team actually consider offer sheeting Pettersson? Is that a radical idea for the Rangers? Then trade Strome. It’s completely unrealistic. Teams don’t do it due to an unwritten rule.

I don’t know if the Rangers are done. Are they going to re-sign Hajek or trade him due to the numbers game? Are they still considering making another change at center? I’m more than happy to run it back with Zibanejad and Strome as the top two centers. Even without Buchnevich, who should do well in St. Louis, there’s more than enough talent for the team to score goals. The depth should be improved on the secondary lines. If Lundkvist works out and Miller makes strides in Year Two, then this should be a playoff team. I believe they can finish fourth and make the wildcard. I don’t want to go overboard. It is a competitive division. There aren’t many locks.

I sure hope Shesterkin overcomes his injury history and establishes himself as a reliable starting goalie. The Rangers are counting on him.

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Devils ink UFA Tatar and RFA Sharangovich on busy day

On my five-point offseason checklist, three of the five points were to sign a legitimate backup goalie (which they did on the first day of UFA with Jonathan Bernier) and find a way to add both a #1 D and another top four D, both of which the Devils checked off earlier this offseason with the signing of Dougie Hamilton and trade for Ryan Graves. Another part of my wishlist was a top six winger to add to our goalscoring, help our young centers produce and be a short-term patch guy until prospects like Nolan Foote and Alexander Holtz are ready to earn an NHL job.

Enter Tomas Tatar, who the Devils inked to a two-year, $9 million deal (AAV: $4.5 million per). Mission accomplished there as well for GM Tom Fitzgerald, who’s had about as good an offseason as could be hoped for to this point.

Tatar is a consistent 20-goal, 45-55 point per season player, who achieved his career high in scoring during 2019-20 with 61 points in just 68 games for Montreal. Things didn’t go as well for him this year, with just ten goals and thirty points in fifty games, and he became an afterthought during the postseason where he only dressed for five of Montreal’s twenty-two postseason contests. It’s the latter point (and the fact Tatar is already thirty years old) that makes me glad this was only a two-year deal. Still, the Canadiens’ social media goodbye Tweet at least suggests this wasn’t a personality fallout.

Considering Tatar only spent three seasons in Montreal and things clearly fell off on the ice for him there, that’s a nice little sendoff.

With Tatar in the fold to fill out a top six slot and add to the goalscoring, really the only major issue left for Fitzy is to figure out what to do with our third-line center spot and perhaps add another/better depth D on the left side. Not that filling those holes make us a Cup contender by any means, but they’ll be a big next step toward bringing us back to relevance, helping the kids already on the roster grow and bridging the cap to the next wave of prospects to come.

Also on Fitz’s to-do list is dealing with RFA’s Janne Kuokkanen and Yegor Sharangovich, the latter of whom Fitzy signed to a two year, $4 million extension today. A nice little reward for the twenty-three year old winger, who broke out with sixteen goals and thirty points in his first NHL season. Assuming Kuokkanen also signs before camp next month, the Devils will still have around $12-13 million of cap space to further supplement the roster, either before or during the season. Adding Tatar seemingly takes us out of the Vladimir Tarasenko running, though it could be for the best with his health question marks.

Also in the news today, the Devils named Kevin Dineen the head coach of their AHL affiliate, back in Utica for 2021-22. Long-time Devil fans remember Utica as Martin Brodeur’s pre-NJ training ground before the AHL affiliate moved to Albany (later Lowell, Springfield, Albany again, Binghamton and now Utica again). Maybe it’s not a coincidence we’re back in Utica now that Marty’s taken on a more active organizational role after coming back in the fold the last couple of years. Dineen takes over for previous AHL coach Mark Dennehy, who took another job in the organization as chief scout of amateur scouting.

Dineen brings a ton of experience to his new role with nearly two decades in the NHL as a player, and since then has coached in the AHL for several years, along with stints as an NHL assistant and NHL head coach (in Florida). Ironically Dineen’s only playoff series as a head coach was our first-round clash in 2012, where Adam Henrique eliminated the Panthers with a goal in double OT of Game 7. Sorry…well, not sorry Kevin lol

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Day Two: Chytil gets bridge deal, Rangers acquire tough guy Reaves, Bruins do well in off-season despite losing Krejci, Plus more

It was a much calmer Day Two for the July frenzy. After so many signings on Day One, it was like a light wind cooling off the hot summer heat. Coincidentally, the temperatures here didn’t even reach 80 degrees. However, there were still a few moves made.

The Rangers took care of a couple of things on Thursday. For starters, Filip Chytil was signed for two years. His bridge deal that runs through 2023 will average $2.3 million per cap hit. I projected him for $2.5 million. So, I was in the right ballpark. It cost a little less.

Now, it’s up to the 21-year old forward to prove himself. By that, become more consistent scoring and improve overall. Is he a center or a wing? He might start with Barclay Goodrow, who can take face-offs. It’s a good possibility that Vitali Kravtsov will join Chytil on the third line. We’ll have to wait and see what new coach Gerard Gallant decides in two and a half months.

Gallant will also have a familiar face at his disposal. In a move that wasn’t surprising, Team President and GM Chris Drury traded a third round pick to Vegas in exchange for tough guy Ryan Reaves. An intimidating player who can be intimidating for opponents due to his hard hitting physical style and mighty punch, the 34-year old veteran only knows one way to play. That’s hard. He also is a good forechecker who Gallant knows well from their time with the Golden Knights where they had a lot of success.

Is this move an overreaction to Tom Wilson? It could be. At first, I wasn’t too crazy about it due to the team already adding Sammy Blais and Jarred Tinordi. However, Drury was very pointed in his remarks about wanting to change the roster. Too often, we saw opponents take liberties with the top players including Artemi Panarin, who was buried by Wilson during a power play. That was embarrassing. If the Islanders didn’t open their eyes (it did with Dolan dismissing JD and Gorton), the Wilson antics was the last straw.

Even though the team responded during a heated rematch that featured a game opening line brawl and more nastiness, they weren’t equipped to handle it. Give credit to former Ranger Brendan Smith, who found a new home in Rangers South Carolina. That night, they did what they had to. With the no-nonsense Reaves added to a tougher lineup that includes Blais and Tinordi, that’ll allow Ryan Lindgren and Jacob Trouba to focus more on taking care of business on the ice. They don’t need either in the penalty box. It’ll also allow stars Panarin, Mika Zibanejad and Adam Fox to feel more comfortable. Teams won’t get away with taking runs at them. That goes double for Alexis Lafreniere, Kaapo Kakko, Chytil and Kravtsov.

Reaves has a year left on his contract. His cap hit is $1.75 million through 2022. There’s talk the Rangers could sign him for another season. It wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. Especially when they parted with a third round pick in a deep draft. Reaves probably knows this is it for him. He’s done well in the league lasting a decade by playing on the edge. I’ve been an outspoken critic over past incidents where he should’ve been suspended. He finally got a two-game ban against Colorado. I hope he avoids the cheap shots when he plays. They don’t need him putting them down a man shorthanded.

It’s interesting to note that Reaves was most effective under Gallant where he produced nine goals and 11 assists to total a career high 20 points in ’18-19. He even scored three power play goals. But he won’t need to have that role in the Big Apple. It’s the heavy hitting that I believe most interested the Rangers. Sure. They know he isn’t hesitant to fight. There’s no love lost between him and Wilson dating back to the 2018 Stanley Cup won by Washington. Everyone has October 13 circled on their calendar. Expect fireworks.

By adding coveted target Goodrow along with Blais by sacrificing Pavel Buchnevich, it was clear that Drury was responding to how easy the team was to play against. That’s not a knock on Buchnevich either as he got directly involved with the unpredictable Wilson to stand up for Panarin. To his credit, Buchnevich did play with more edge last season. He didn’t shy away as much and was frequently involved in scrums. Unfortunately, he became a cap casualty. That’s the hard part of the business. I understand why he was so well liked. I’m sure the Blues will love Captain Happy.

When they decided to sign Patrik Nemeth and then Tinordi, who’ll likely serve in the Smith role as the seventh defenseman, it was obvious which direction the organization was taking. So, when it was revealed last night that they added Reaves, the mixed reaction was predictable. The more I think about it, the more I understand why they did it. Reaves isn’t just a goon. He is hard to play against. Gallant knows how to use him. The fourth line just became a headache for opponents. Whether it’s Kevin Rooney with Blais or Goodrow, and Reaves, they will be a strong checking line that will have a similar mindset as the Isles’ Identity Line. Do we really need to see Matt Martin and Cal Clutterbuck injure key players with clean, hard hits? I don’t think so.

Don’t forget Julien Gauthier either. He was re-signed and has untapped potential. A good skater with power moves, Gauthier also finishes checks and drives the net. He should play in games as well. Gallant will have options. That’s a good thing. I believe the lineup will depend on the opponent and how the role players are performing. We know he’ll make them accountable. Had he coached here over David Quinn before, Tony DeAngelo might still be around or at least have not been devalued after six games before headed to Carolina.

I’m wondering about Dryden Hunt, who’s played in parts of three seasons. Is he ticketed for Hartford as insurance? Probably. Libor Hajek probably will be traded. He remains unsigned along with Tim Gettinger. Hajek is a skating defenseman who should be able to crack a lineup. It just doesn’t seem like it’ll be in New York City due to Nils Lundkvist. We’ll see how it goes.

Alex Georgiev’s agent denied a rumor to USA Today reporter Vince Mercogliano that his client requested a trade. It sounds like a smokescreen. The Rangers did shop him, but nobody bit on giving up a first round pick. Even Vitek Vanecek only netted a second round pick from the Capitals, who reacquired him from the Kraken after they landed former Avalanche starter Philipp Grubauer. It’ll be odd to see Darcy Kuemper in Avalanche colors. The same for Antti Raanta and Frederik Andersen in Hurricanes threads with Petr Mrazek now a Maple Leaf where he’ll share the net with Jack Campbell.

The goalies changing teams is always hard to keep up with. How much fantasy value will Kuemper have in Colorado? It all depends if he stays healthy. Pavel Francouz is the backup once he recovers from surgery. What about Grubauer? Is he now not as valuable due to moving to Seattle with Chris Driedger backing up? It’s so hard to figure out goalies in fantasy hockey. I only mention it because I’m going to need better goaltending to compete in our South River Fantasy Hockey League. Do I now keep Carey Price with him expected to be ready for the start of the season? He hasn’t been as consistent in past regular seasons. Decisions, decisions.

Okay. Enough about fantasy hockey. How about the Blue Jackets getting Zach Werenski extended through 2028? He’ll go from a $5 million cap hit to $9.58 million beginning in ’22-23. I love what he said after the signing. A clear shot at former teammate Seth Jones and other former Jackets. I admire that. Will he be worth it? He’s younger than Jones, who the Blackhawks paid top dollar for along with parting with a lot. John Davidson quietly has had a solid restart there by getting Werenski taken care of along with Boone Jenner and adding Jake Bean, Adam Boqvist and Sean Kuraly. Patrik Laine accepted his $7.5 million qualifier. After his commentary on former coach John Tortorella, it’s put up or shut up. I’m curious to see how Jakub Voracek fits in. I like Cam Atkinson better and believe he’ll help the Flyers. Expectations won’t be high in Columbus. Maybe they’ll surprise some in the reformed Metro Division.

Good first days for Florida, Montreal and Boston, who lost David Krejci to the Czech Republic. The underrated second line two-way center was a big part of their success in winning a Cup and reaching two other Finals. He will be missed by Bruins fans. But they did well in getting Linus Ullmark while adding Nick Foligno, re-signing Mike Reilly and most notably Taylor Hall on a good contract for an AAV of $6 million over four years. Erik Haula and Tomas Nosek are good depth moves and Derek Forbort is a rugged defenseman Boston fans should like. They will miss Krejci, but it’s time for Charlie Coyle to fill that void. What the heck are they paying him for?

It’ll be interesting to see what future Group II free agent defensemen Fox and Charlie McAvoy get. Both are in my top five among blue liners. The cost should be between nine and ten million. Do the Rangers or Bruins try to extend them now? Keep an eye on restricted free agents Quinn Hughes and Rasmus Dahlin. Both figure to get significant raises. Maybe not as high as Miro Heiskanen, Cale Makar, Jones and Werenski. But they’ll get paid. I’m also curious as to how much Vancouver gives Elias Pettersson. Their cap is tight due to what they’ll need to commit to both him and Hughes.

One underrated signing was St. Louis getting Brandon Saad for five years for an AAV of $4.5 million. That’s good value for the former Stanley Cup winner, who left Colorado. Might he and Buchnevich play on the same line with say Brayden Schenn? Of course, the Blues will be trading Vladimir Tarasenko, who asked out with two years remaining on a contract with a cap hit of $7.5 million. Who’s interested? The Blues have to re-sign RFA’s Jordan Kyrou, Zach Sanford and Robert Thomas. They just got Ivan Barbashev re-upped.

The Islanders are expected to announce the signing of Zach Parise and a long-term contract for Kyle Palmieri, who’ll likely replace Jordan Eberle on the first line. They still must re-sign Casey Cizikas and bump up Group II free agents Adam Pelech and Ilya Sorokin. The latter being of interest to the Rangers, who must pay Igor Shesterkin. Expect the salary structure to be similar for the two Russian comrades.

There aren’t many players available. Unless you like Tomas Tatar or Nick Ritchie. The latter was a player I had interest in. But Drury wanted Reaves. If I were the Sabres, I would consider signing Ritchie. They don’t have much there. It’ll be built around Dahlin, Dylan Cozens and eventually top pick Owen Power. Keep an eye on J.J. Peterka and Jack Quinn. The future in net appears to be between Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen and goalie prospect Devon Levi, who they acquired with a Panthers’ first round pick in the Sam Reinhart trade. A look at some of their signings and it’s sure to be another long year in Western New York.

That’s all for now. If anything else happens that’s worth posting about, I’ll have it. See you later.

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Rangers sign defenseman Nemeth, add depth with Tinordi and McKegg, DeAngelo put on trial in conference call with Hurricanes, More on a hectic July Frenzy

It was a busy first day in NHL free agency. When it was over, more than $500 million had been spent on 98446712562 players. At least that’s how it felt.

Headlining the long list was top free agent defenseman Dougie Hamilton, who signed with the Devils for seven years at an average cap hit of $9 million. The former Hurricane will help a team that has lacked a number one defenseman for a while. He’s a superb skater who excels at puck possession. There’s little doubting his ability to contribute at both five-on-five and the power play which the Devils need. Obviously, Hasan is thrilled. It was a Devilish Day.

While all the hoopla surrounded bigger names on the move, the Rangers quietly went about their business and formally announced the signing of veteran defenseman Patrik Nemeth. As had been rumored, it’s for three years at an AAV of $2.5 million for the gritty left D who is expected to form the third pair with rookie favorite Nils Lundkvist. We’ll see how that goes in two months.

Nemeth isn’t the only new Blueshirt. Joining the roster is former Bruin Jarred Tinordi. A role player who is a depth signing for the blue line, the son of former NHL defenseman Mark Tinordi is a physical player who can drop the gloves. He’s best known for beating Tom Wilson in a fight when things got very heated between the Bruins and Caps. Signed for two years at $900,000 per season, he’ll likely be ticketed for Hartford. But you know he’ll be around early when the Rangers faced the Capitals.

As much as I get the move, it seems like overkill. I would’ve preferred to keep Brendan Smith. Hopefully, he catches on with another team. The difference is he’ll cost more than Tinordi. I was also interested in Ian Cole, but he signed for similar money to Nemeth with Carolina. Might he pair up with newest Cane Tony DeAngelo? We’ll see.

In another move for Hartford, the Rangers brought back Greg McKegg. He got a year at $750,000. The Keg Man returns after spending 2021 in Boston. You have to figure he’ll play mostly with the Wolf Pack and possibly become the captain. So, the Pack should be strong. Bringing in proven vets with the character of McKegg and Tinordi can help develop kids such as Zac Jones, Matthew Robertson and Braden Schneider. If all remain Rangers that is.

There was one other signing. Dryden Hunt inked a two-year deal worth $762,500 per season. I don’t know anything about him. So, the less said. The better.

I wouldn’t have minded Chris Drury going out and adding a gritty player like Brock McGinn, who left Carolina for Pittsburgh. Ditto for Nick Ritchie, who remains unsigned after Boston let him go. He’s still just 25. He can help someone.

Maybe Buffalo, who had another futile day due to their rebuild. Their biggest moves were dealing for Will Butcher and signing vet netminders Craig Anderson and Aaron Dell. Yikes. They watched the rival Bruins scoop up former starter Linus Ullmark. It’s all about tanking for a team still holding firm on their huge demands for Jack Eichel. The Wild pulled out. Eventually, nobody will be left. If I’m Drury, I wait it out and see what happens. This is in no way a suggestion to get Eichel. I’m on the fence due to what Buffalo GM Kevyn Adams wants and Eichel’s medical issue involving his neck. He has five years left on a contract that pays him $10 million per year. I am curious to see how things play out.

Vegas has interest because they lack a top center. Who aren’t they in on? Unless it involves dumping a Vezina winner who was extremely popular with their fans. Nice of them to thank Marc-Andre Fleury in a tweet. Do you know how ridiculous that is? I love Fleury. He’s been a great goalie for two decades and is a terrific personality. He deserved better. I don’t want him to retire. If you are an MAF fan, check out my friend Alyssa’s Fleury Video Tribute on YouTube. Obviously, she’s a big Pens fan. The music selection is great and the editing top notch. Click below.

In expected news, DeAngelo found a new NHL home when he agreed to a one-year, $1 million deal with the Hurricanes. The 25-year old joins his fourth team. After having success in NYC by posting consecutive seasons of 30 points or more including a career high 53 (15-38-53) in ’19-20, he got into a skirmish with Alex Georgiev following a tough road loss at Pittsburgh. Six games was all it took to end his 2021. He didn’t perform well with only one assist and a minus-six during that rough stretch. It also included a perplexing benching by David Quinn for DeAngelo showing frustration after taking a penalty. It never felt right.

Much has been said about DeAngelo. Too much. There are a lot of obnoxious people out there who don’t want to know the truth. They want to treat him like an axe murderer. I’ve seen criminals treated better. The truth is he made a mistake and admitted he regretted it during the Tony DeAngelo Trial introductory press conference via Zoom on Wednesday afternoon. He faced all the tough questions about his past. It’s definitely something that he’s trying to move on from. He even told The Athletic reporter Sara Civian that he’s had counseling, or as he said, “Sports Psychology.”

It’s painfully obvious that DeAngelo has struggled to control his emotions. Something he openly admitted during the 14 and a half minute press conference. He was very cordial and indicated that it was his behavior on the ice that got him in trouble. He was open enough to discuss a junior incident a decade ago with a player that he regretted. They’re still friends today. He talked about past suspensions where he got into it with officials. It was like being on trial. Most of this is ancient history. The dismissal from the Rangers had to hurt as he really loved playing here. But what’s done is done.

It’s obvious that DeAngelo wants to put it all behind. The question is will these reporters ever let it go along with some Carolina fans who threatened to cancel their season subscription. The strongest remarks came when he said he wants a shot to prove himself to those fans. I guess they’ve never messed up. This is it for him. You can tell he knows it. He likes coach Rod Brind’Amour and felt it would be a perfect fit. Given the style he plays, which emphasizes skating with puck possession, great vision and an accurate shot, DeAngelo is being counted on for his offense. He can’t try to replace Hamilton, who was low balled for some reason. All he can do is be Tony DeAngelo minus the distractions. Having former Ranger teammates Brady Skjei and Jesper Fast should help. We’ll see how it goes.

There are far too many free agent moves to cover. You had Boston basically overturn their roster in an attempt to stay in the discussion. They added Ullmark, who will pair up with Jeremy Swayman to form a goalie tandem. Tuukka Rask is out until January. We have no idea if he’ll play. He doesn’t want to be anywhere else. They’re trying to get David Krejci re-signed. Boston brought in Derek Forbort while adding good forward depth with Nick Foligno, Erik Haula and Tomas Nosek. Sean Kuraly left.

The Islanders had a quiet day. Despite reports Kyle Palmieri is staying, nothing was announced. As expected, Zach Parise is said to have agreed to a one-year deal. I think the same thing is happening with Palmieri. Who knows. Lou Lamoriello operates in mysterious ways. Obviously, Cizikas is a must. Are they going to make a trade to bolster scoring or add defense? That’s Lou.

Ryan Suter landed in Dallas with the Stars willing to go four years at an AAV of $3.65 million for him. The Isles were unwilling to give him that term. Dallas also added goalie Braden Holtby. What does he got left? Surprisingly, Blake Coleman landed in Calgary where they paid him an AAV of $4.9 million over six years. As much as I like Coleman, good luck with that.

Can anyone explain why the Flyers signed Martin Jones? Please don’t tell me they think it’s a good idea to have him backup Carter Hart. The rest of the moves they made should improve them enough to compete for the playoffs. I especially like the additions of Cam Atkinson and Ryan Ellis. We’ll see about Rasmus Ristolainen and Keith Yandle.

Colorado wouldn’t go six years for Philipp Grubauer, who got paid ($5.9 million AAV) by the Seattle Kraken. They then predictably traded Vitek Vanecek back to the Caps for a 2023 second round pick. Instead, the Avalanche believe Darcy Kuemper is the answer. They sent the Coyotes a 2022 first round pick and defenseman Conor Timmins. The Kraken also added Jaden Schwartz for five years at $5.5 million per season and Alex Wennberg for four years at an AAV of $4.5 million. Moves that’ll improve their offense. It’s really all about second overall pick Matty Beniers, who’ll likely play at Michigan. Plus the Kraken should be in the mix for Shane Wright in ’22 and Connor Bedard in ’23. They should be competitive in net and on the back end.

I liked the day Montreal had. They re-signed Joel Armia while adding Cedric Paquette, David Savard and Mike Hoffman. Of course, they lost valuable two-way checking pivot Phillip Danault, who surprisingly signed with the Kings for an AAV of $5.5 million over six years. He cashed in. It was a bit shocking because the Golden Knights, Blackhawks and Rangers were linked to him. Given the price, I’m relieved the Rangers stayed away. That’s too much. He’s a good player who certainly proved his worth during the Habs’ run. But the offense isn’t great.

For now at least, Ryan Strome remains a New York Ranger. He is due $4.5 million on a contract that expired next summer. Similar to Mika Zibanejad, who comes in at $5.35 million. Obviously, Drury has some tough decisions around the corner. Does he decide to stay in the Eichel Watch by moving Strome? What about possibly extending Zibanejad off an uneven season? I know the COVID alibi being used. Why was he so ineffective in those last three games versus the Islanders? Artemi Panarin wasn’t any better. Personally, I’d wait. They don’t have to do anything now.

If it’s true as Larry Brooks hinted that Georgiev might want to be traded, that’s understandable. I’m sure he’d love the opportunity to become a number one goalie. I’m not sure it’s realistic. There’s no way any team will give up a first round pick for him. If Georgiev was moved, they could then bring in a veteran for cheaper. But there isn’t much out there. A Henrik Lundqvist reunion? I don’t think so. They may as well stick with what they have.

There’s a lot more moves I could blog about. But it was total chaos. Let’s see if anything new breaks locally. See you soon.

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Devils strike big on day one of free agency with Hamilton, Bernier

Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Dougie Hamilton (19) celebrates with the bench after his goal against the Tampa Bay Lightning during the second period in Game 4 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup second-round playoff series Saturday, June 5, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

Where to start after arguably the Devils’ most successful FA frenzy day? Let’s start with the obvious…the Devils’ additions of top-pairing defenseman Dougie Hamilton and veteran goalie Jonathan Bernier make them a much better team than they were twenty-four hours ago. Assuming GM Tom Fitzgerald had an internal ‘to-do’ list this offseason adding a top pairing defenseman, a solid 1B goalie in addition to trading for another top four defenseman (Ryan Graves) this offseason arguably checks off the three most important boxes for this franchise in the short and long-term.

I was hopeful last night when word leaked out that Hamilton would be leaving Carolina, and the Athletic’s Sara Civian reported today that the Hurricanes’ last offer to their UFA defenseman was 8 years and $50 million total ($6.2 million AAV). Great money for you and me but not exactly what the market is for defensemen of Hamilton’s caliber. Especially after Seth Jones signed for $9.5 million per year this offseason. Looks like Carolina owner Thomas Dundon skimped out again, but Carolina’s loss was the Devils’ gain this afternoon.

Of course I was a bit paranoid some mystery team would swoop out of nowhere at the last minute and give Hamilton an offer he wouldn’t refuse, especially after this dragged out past 5 PM due to negotiations over the odd structure of the deal – but without anyone linking Hamilton elsewhere in the last few days, it seemed like only a matter of time before the seemingly inevitable finally became a reality. As early as a few minutes before noon, Sportsnet’s Nick Kypreos reported on Twitter that it was a done deal with contract terms that would prove pretty prescient:

In fact, the deal wound up being a 7 year, $63 million contract for an even AAV of $9 million per. Give Kypreos credit for being first and fairly close on the numbers, although to be fair pretty much everyone had been calling Hamilton to the Devils for the last several days, since he was given permission to negotiate and see what his market was. Clearly it was much higher than anything Carolina was willing to offer. As noon turned to 5 PM I had a little angst, how could you not? Until a deal is done, it really isn’t – we’ve seen examples of that throughout sports with last-minute snags. Finally though, all the insiders basically confirmed the deal one after the other just after 5 and the celebrations could begin in earnest.

Hamilton gives the Devils the best all-around defenseman they’ve had in nearly two decades, since the Great Scotts both walked out the door after the 2004-05 lockout (Stevens to retirement, Niedermayer to Anaheim). I always loved Brian Rafalski and felt he got underappreciated but he really wasn’t on that level as a player, he was more of a complementary piece on a top pairing as opposed to the driving force. Andy Greene was a loyal soldier and solid defensively till the end, but never really put up the double-digit goal and 40-50 point production offensively that Hamilton can bring as a PP1 QB. Not only that, but he brings a fanbase – not to mention the entire franchise – a shot of hope desperately needed after three straight seasons far out of the running of postseason hockey and only one playoff appearance since 2012.

Obviously Fitzgerald’s day couldn’t just begin and end with Hamilton, though fortunately he was able to lock up Bernier to shore up our goaltending much earlier in the afternoon for a 2 year, $8.25 million deal ($4.125 million AAV). I don’t really get the criticism that he ‘overpaid’ for Bernier, first of all who cares about overpaying on a two-year deal? We have so much cap space, we’re still skirting the cap floor even after the Hamilton and Bernier signings. Second of all, Bernier’s numbers the last few years are more indicative of the dogmeat Red Wings team he was playing with than his own play. Having a .914 save percentage in 24 games this season (9-11-1 record) was a borderline miracle on a team that lost 37 of its 56 games overall and gave up over three goals a game. He fits the bill of being a guy good enough to carry the mail in goal if need be, but not too good where he’ll block Blackwood from getting his chance to be the undisputed #1 goalie for a full season.

Like with Corey Crawford last offseason, Bernier cited franchise legend Martin Brodeur as a key impetus into him signing with the Devils. It has to be an asset when you have an icon who all goalies of this generation looked up to, selling any goalie (UFA or draft pick) on a franchise and an area he knows so well.

Almost as if trying to sneak it in between the Bernier press conference and YouTube interview, and the official announcement of Hamilton being done, the Devils also made a minor transaction dealing defenseman Will Butcher and a 5th round pick to the Buffalo Sabres for ‘future considerations’, whatever that means. An unfortunate ending for a guy who signed with us as a college FA and started his career with a bang in 2017-18 with 44 points in 81 games. However his defensive and skating deficiencies hurt him long term as his production went down, and he fell completely out of favor with coach Lindy Ruff, being benched for much of the season until injuries and trades forced him back into the lineup later in the season. Still, it’s a good thing for Butcher who gets a fresh start and more playing time in Buffalo than he would have received his last year under contract here.

At the risk of sounding greedy our offseason can’t begin and end today though, not if Fitzgerald and ownership is serious about putting all our chips in to take the next step back toward relevance. Particularly in a division chock-full of teams attempting to be win-now. A third-line center, a scoring winger and another depth left defenseman are probably the remaining goals I’d have from this offseason. Perhaps one or two of those holes could be filled from within but there’s still enough room for young guys to step up in the lineup without having any additions unnecessarily block guys who earn time from getting it. Not to mention we still have over $20 million of cap space to work with.

Today is an exciting day though, no doubt about it. Usually our July 1’s are filled with heartache and annoyance, like when big names leave – on many occasions for the team across the river. Or on a rare occasion, spending that didn’t work out well (a.k.a Lou’s offseason of Ilya Kovalchuk, Anton Volchenkov and Henrik Tallinder, or Ray Shero’s summer of P.K. Subban and Nikita Gusev two years ago). Here’s hoping this is the even rarer offseason that’s franchise-changing in a good way. There really isn’t anywhere else to go but up at this point.

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Rangers prepare for Free Agency, to sign Patrik Nemeth, Buchnevich gets paid by Blues, DeAngelo could land in Carolina, Vegas trades Fleury to Blackhawks

In around 12 hours, NHL Network will be live on the air with a July Free Agent Special at 11 AM. As Hasan mentioned in his Devils preview which may or may not include a big fish starting tomorrow, the action will be fun to follow. Being that it comes in the final week of July, this could last into the dog days of summer.

We’ve already seen a flurry of activity. Trades have been made. Signings already revealed. Plus the usual rumors circulating. Speaking of flurry, there was the sad end to Marc-Andre Fleury in Vegas. He was traded to the Blackhawks for a player I’ve never heard of. A clear salary dump of the first ever Golden Knight who was heroic in leading the franchise to the Stanley Cup Final in its inaugural season. They’re rumored to be interested in acquiring Jack Eichel or perhaps could sign free agent center Phillip Danault if Georges Laraque is right. Give Fleury credit for taking the high road after Kevin Weekes revealed that Vegas didn’t tell him about the deal. He was informed of Chicago’s interest. They needed a number one goalie to justify the insane contract they gave Seth Jones.

While I understand the nature of the business, would it have been hard for Vegas GM Kelly McCrimmon to pick up the phone and tell Fleury about the trade? Weekes did indicate that Pending Trade Calls don’t require it. But Fleury meant so much to the Golden Knights with owner William Foley very sorry to see him go. I think Fleury deserved at least that. He’s one of the classiest players in the game. I hope he decides to play for Chicago and leads them back to the playoffs. A Vezina winner dealt who’s a future Hall of Famer.

With the free agent frenzy officially beginning on Wednesday, July 28, the Rangers are one of the teams who could still sign players. One player they’re expected to make official is veteran defenseman Patrik Nemeth. A big lefty D who’s 29, Nemeth has spent the first eight years of his career with the Stars, Avalanche, Red Wings and then again the Avs. Listed at 6-3, 228 pounds, he’s a physical defensive defenseman who blocks shots and finishes checks. The rumored deal is an average cap hit of $2.5 million over three years. We’ll know more tomorrow.

The Nemeth addition is obviously for the third pair which might include Nils Lundkvist ‘if’ he wins the third right D job out of training camp. Remember. For as much hype as Lundkvist has, he’s never played an NHL game. So, we have to be patient. Wait and see. Libor Hajek was qualified by Team President and GM Chris Drury. I hope he’s not an afterthought. He proved himself last year as a sixth defenseman. Zac Jones also should be competing with Lundkvist in camp. The good part is whoever doesn’t make the roster will play in Hartford. Best for development so they aren’t rushed.

In other news, former Blueshirt Pavel Buchnevich signed a new contract with the Blues earlier this evening. It’s for four years at $23.2 million. Basically, a shade under $6 million AAV. Many of us grew to love Buchnevich in what was his breakout year. However, due to the flat salary cap, they couldn’t afford to keep him. It’s a business. That’s what some unrealistic fans can’t understand. If Mika Zibanejad is more important (he is) a year away from unrestricted free agency, then center is far more crucial than the left and right wing where the Rangers have Artemi Panarin, Chris Kreider, Alexis Lafreniere, Kaapo Kakko and Vitali Kravtsov to comprise the top two lines. You can’t keep everyone. BTW. One of those players will play on line three. That’s good depth.

Don’t forget Filip Chytil must be re-signed. His future might be on the wing. Especially given his face-off issues and defensive struggles. There’s a reason they added proven Cup winner Barclay Goodrow and traded for former champion Sammy Blais. Both play both sides of the puck and are tough. It’s all about balancing out the roster. Kevin Rooney and Julien Gauthier are also still around. So, the supporting cast should have more of an edge to it. Something they lacked against the Islanders.

With a little over $19 million left, we know who some of it is going to. Igor Shesterkin is restricted and needs a new deal. It should cost between 4 to 5 million. I would say closer to five over four to five years. Figure Chytil to come in at around $2.5 million. That leaves Drury to re-sign Hajek and Tim Gettinger, who they qualified. They bid adieu to good team guy Brendan Smith, who was a locker room leader. I wish him the very best. Ditto for Buchnevich. That’s what happens in a cap era with the number not budging due to the COVID Era. Hopefully, brighter days are ahead with more people vaccinated. You still have to be mindful due to the new Delta Variant. Ugh. Will we ever be free? I don’t know. Nobody does.

If Drury decides to get creative, Ryan Strome could be moved. His name came up at the past weekend’s NHL Draft with possibly Ottawa or Seattle rumored. Who knows. Would you rather keep Strome at $4.5 million for another year behind Zibanejad? Unless they’re getting Eichel (doubtful considering what Buffalo wants) or a different center, I’d rather hold on to Strome, whose chemistry with Panarin is undeniable. He can always be moved by next trade deadline. That all depends on where the new Rangers are in the standings which could include the 2022 Winter Games. I’m actually not in favor of going to Beijing. The NHL has not fully committed to it yet. They’re in wait and see mode.

Alex Georgiev was also made available before the draft. However, the asking price of a first round pick was too steep. No GM in their right mind would pay a number one pick for an unproven backup goalie. As much as I like Georgiev, I don’t pull any punches. That’s like the Rangers’ rumored offer of Buchnevich, their first round pick and more for Eichel. I would’ve proposed something similar for former Sabre Sam Reinhart. Funny thing is he only netted goalie prospect Devon Levi and the Panthers’ first round pick. That better explains why Buchnevich didn’t get a better return. Reinhart is a center who’s been more consistent. There wasn’t much value for restricted free agents. But if you have a veteran defenseman under contract, you were in better luck. Look at what Brenden Dillon netted the Caps from Winnipeg. A pair of second round picks over the next two drafts, which are stronger classes. Rasmus Ristolainen got a first and second with Robert Hagg.

I’ve seen some suggest bringing back Henrik Lundqvist for a Broadway reunion. As nice as that sounds, the truth is he’s 39 coming back from heart valve replacement surgery. We have no idea if he can come back let alone what kind of goalie he’d be. I wouldn’t bet against Lundqvist. I just feel maybe it’s better to keep Georgiev, who will make a shade over $2.4 million. That’s up to management.

I wouldn’t be surprised if they add another depth forward who checks off the grit and experience boxes. Candidates include Brock McGinn, Erik Haula and Nick Ritchie, who the Bruins didn’t qualify to make him unrestricted. As much as I dislike him, taking a flyer on Ritchie wouldn’t be the worst idea in the world. Depth is going to be important over a full 82-game schedule.

In another development, former Blueshirt Tony DeAngelo could land in Carolina. The offensive defenseman who posted career bests in goals (15), assists (38) and points (53) over ’19-20, was last seen upset at Georgiev following an overtime loss to Pittsburgh. That skirmish led to his dismissal. I still feel like the way David Quinn handled him was perplexing. Treating a good player with kid gloves following a big season never made any sense. Would any other player have been a healthy scratch for slamming a penalty box in a season opening blowout loss to the Islanders? It was mishandled by Quinn, Jeff Gorton and John Davidson. That’s part of why they’re no longer here.

Drury decided it was best to make a clean break, allowing DeAngelo to go to the open market by buying him out. He is rumored to be possibly signing with the Hurricanes for a year at around $4.5 million. About half of what Dougie Hamilton will get on the open market. It makes sense. Carolina also has to pay Andrei Svechnikov and figure out who their goalies are. Petr Mrazek, Jonathan Bernier and James Reimer all are available. Why did they trade Alex Nedeljkovic? Detroit GM Steve Yzerman took a little dig at the Canes after stealing him. The Canes are a very good team. If DeAngelo lands in Raleigh, he knows it’s his last chance. Forget all the nonsense being spread from unreliable sources. I’m sure teams interested did their homework. I’ll take the word of former teammates over fraudulent sources. DeAngelo has kept a low profile since departing by instructing kids Under 18 in South Jersey. He also congratulated Adam Fox on his Norris and thanked the Rangers organization on his Instagram. Whatever happens, best of luck to him.

There have been other moves. I like the Canucks locking up forward Conor Garland for five years at just shy of $25 million. He’ll help them. Especially with Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes due big raises. They also added Oliver Ekman-Larsson to stabilize the blue line and acquired Nate Schmidt. Smart moves that should improve the roster. Who backs up behind Thatcher Demko? Braden Holtby is gone. Philipp Grubauer is unrestricted. Is he re-signing with Colorado? It might depend on what happens with Gabriel Landeskog. The Avs are now willing to go seven years to keep their captain. If they get it done, we’ll see. He is an important player and leader who would attract a lot of interest. OFFICIAL: They got it done. It’s the max of eight years for $56 million. So, he comes in at $7 million AAV. Good for Colorado.

We also will see where Vladimir Tarasenko winds up. The Islanders could make sense. They should be able to fit the scoring forward in with Jordan Eberle and Andrew Ladd gone. They also have options like free agent Kyle Palmieri or bumping up Oliver Wahlstrom. Casey Cizikas will be a top priority along with re-signing Adam Pelech. They didn’t qualify Michael Dal Colle. The former fifth overall pick never established himself. An expensive miss when you pick that high.

The Panthers kept Brandon Montour ($3.5 million AAV) while the Coyotes continued to accept vets by adding former Cat Anton Stralman. A salary dump for Florida, who I also believe could be in on Tarasenko. They sure look like they’ll be contending. A 1-2 punch of Aleksander Barkov and Reinhart up the middle with the electric Jonathan Huberdeau and checking pivot Sam Bennett. They should be exciting to watch.

I like the Flyers adding Cam Atkinson from Columbus for Jakub Voracek, who needed a change. He returns to the Blue Jackets. Atkinson seems like a better fit for a Philly team changing their leadership by also adding Ryan Ellis and signing Keith Yandle for $900,000. They also now have Ristolainen. Will all these moves result in a better Flyers returning to the postseason under coach Alain Vigneault? It better.

And finally. Nice to see Alexander Ovechkin stay put with the Caps. He got a lot of signing bonus money. But negotiated his own five-year deal for an AAV of $9.5 million to remain a Washington Capital for life. Now, we can follow the Great Eight in his pursuit of Gretzky’s goal scoring record. I think he’ll come up short. But it’ll be exciting. Love Ovi.

If any news breaks, I’ll have something up. Stay tuned.

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Calm before the storm

Twas the night before free agency, when all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse. At least not in New Jersey where all’s suspiciously quiet on the homefront, amid rumors for the last few days the Devils would be all in on improving the team during the FA period starting tomorrow. There’s not even a FA preview video up on YouTube from the Devils’ social media team, which cranked out a ton of draft videos. Chief among those rumors have been the Dougie Hamilton speculation with him seemingly only being linked to either the Devils or re-signing with the Canes. We’ll find out by midnight I suppose whether Hamiton will stay in Carolina, since they won’t be able to offer an eighth year on their contract after that point.

Further adding to this speculation was a rather…cryptic Tweet from the Devils social media team where they posted an blog preview of FA, perhaps not-so-coincidentally with a picture of Hamilton on it.

I’m not expecting anything yet, but this is a rather cruel subtroll move if it turns out Hamilton stays in Carolina or goes elsewhere. At the very least it seems like GM Tom Fitzgerald is serious about finally starting to improve the talent level on the roster by doing more than just hoping all the young players get better by osmosis. Hopefully the Ryan Graves trade was only the start of that process. Obviously you don’t win a Cup on July 1, or August 28 as it were this year but you need to start getting the kids help to expedite their development, not to mention sell tickets now that fans will be allowed back in the Prudential Center in the first week of October when the Devils have three preseason tilts, before their scheduled home opener on October 15.

Of course as meaningful as adding a true #1 defenseman like Hamilton (42 points in 55 games last year) would be, that can’t be the Devils’ only major move this offseason. Obviously they need a 1B goaltender for Mackenzie Blackwood, which for various reasons they’ve never had in his three seasons here. I think Sam Kasan’s blog targets are a bit unrealistic, Phillip Grubauer should certainly get a true starting job, and I’d imagine Linus Ullmark will too though health is usually an issue for him. We probably won’t be offering that, a more realistic target might be Jonathan Bernier, recently of the Wings. Though Carolina traded for his rights, they haven’t come to an agreement with the veteran goalie at this point either. Amazing how our offseason might be coming down to what Carolina does or doesn’t do.

Adding Hamilton would certainly go a long way toward shoring up our D, along with the earlier acquisition of Graves. The Devils’ special teams were historically awful in the shortened season this year, so adding a top line PP QB and PK defenseman would be just what the doctor ordered. If the Devils don’t get Hamilton god only knows what Fitz’s plan B is. I hope it’s not some desperation overpay an older Tyson Barrie one. I still have a little PTSD over Lou Lamoriello’s offseason of Vlad Malakhov and Dan McGillis being our plan B for Scott Niedermayer’s departure. Of course we do have the cap space to overpay multiple players, so term should be more important than AAV to be honest. Especially when we’ve seen this offseason bad contracts get offloaded for 2nd rounders to Arizona left and right.

Aside from a top-pairing defenseman and a 1B goalie our most pressing needs are up front. A proven third-line center and a goal-scoring winger (short-term or not) would be ideal. Losing Nathan Bastian in the expansion draft wasn’t ideal but expected. Maybe someone like Fabian Zetterlund can take over his role from within on the fourth line. I’m not really expecting a return of any prominent ex-Devils though. People have fantasized about a Blake Coleman reunion but it ain’t happening folks. Not in a market where Zach Hyman is getting seven years at relatively big money and even fourth liners like Barclay Goodrow are getting six-year deals. I kinda doubt Travis Zajac is coming back too, not after his comments about feeling out of place on a team with mostly kids. He’ll want one last kick at the can of winning assuming he doesn’t retire. Kyle Palmieri? After the year he had I’d expect us to steer clear, unless it’s a short-term deal maybe. If Adam Henrique wasn’t still tied up with his hideous contract I’d say maybe he could be a viable third-line center but as of now it’s unlikely a trade could be worked out there.

Honestly I’d rather not even speculate on who the Devils can or should get, I’d rather just wait and see what happens and not be disappointed. Whatever happens (or not) will happen soon enough at this point anyway. The Hamilton stuff is kind of overshadowing everything else at this point anyway but make no mistake, it’s time for the Devils to take a big step back toward relevance.

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Rangers select Brennan Othmann in first round, Drury keeps pick, Sabres’ price for Eichel too high, Reinhart to be traded to Panthers

Last night was the return of the NHL Draft on ESPN. Well, at least the first round was televised on ESPN2. They did a good job working together with NHL Network, who had Kevin Weekes on the set with host John Buccigross, Sam Cosentino and former Ranger GM Jeff Gorton. Jackie Redmond handled interviews with players drafted. Emily Kaplan gave good insight while reporting live from Columbus where familiar face John Davidson had a great night rebuilding the Blue Jackets.

Before getting into who the Rangers took, there was one notable. They bypassed the 11th pick of the Coyotes due to the team violating a draft protocol. So, there were actually 31 players instead of 32 select8ed. Arizona’s pick was voided. They still traded into the first round by selling off Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Conor Garland to the Canucks for the number nine pick where they were happy to grab scoring forward Dylan Guenther.

For most of the time leading up to the First Round on Friday night, Team President and GM Chris Drury was trying to trade the number 16 pick. He was hoping to package it along with Pavel Buchnevich and other assets to possibly land Jack Eichel. Considering the Sabres’ asking price, there was no way that was happening. Had Drury used that package for Sam Reinhart, he might be going to the Rangers instead of the Panthers. A trade call is expected to take place this morning that would send Reinhart to Florida. Goalie prospect Devon Levi is in the trade that’ll likely include a future first round pick and prospect to Buffalo.

In regards to the Buchnevich trade to St. Louis for Sammy Blais and a second round pick next year, the reason they wound up doing it was due to Drury failing to turn Buchnevich and the first into a top six center. According to both Mollie Walker of the NY Post and Vince Mercogliano of USA Today, nobody was interested. That left the new Rangers GM dealing from a position of weakness. So, he settled on the gritty and physical Blais and a future second from the Blues, who’ll surely use Buchnevich to replace Vladimir Tarasenko. He will be dealt soon.

The disappointment for the Rangers is they failed to get a first round pick in return for a good player, who has some peak years ahead. That left many fans exasperated. The overreaction was sadly predictable. The bottom line is the Rangers couldn’t afford to pay Buchnevich, who’ll probably wind up getting between $5.5 to 6 million per season. In a flat salary cap, there’s no way they could’ve kept him. Not with Adam Fox due a hefty raise following his entry level contract expiring next year. Given how much money the Stars gave Miro Heiskanen along with the Blackhawks’ massive overpayment for Seth Jones ($9.5 million AAV for 8 years), there’s little doubt Fox will receive a huge extension that could approach $10 million. So will Cale Makar.

The shock value of the Blackhawks trading away two first round picks, Adam Boqvist along with a second the Blue Jackets turned into defenseman Jake Bean from Carolina, was astonishing. How does GM Stan Bowman keep his job? It must be due to his last name. At least they didn’t trade Kirby Dach or Alex DeBrincat. It’s that kind of blockbuster trade that Davidson was able to pull off for Jones, who wasn’t staying in Columbus past next summer. Davidson did well with his three picks in Round One including scooping up University of Michigan wizard Kent Johnson with the fifth pick. Columbus also took Cole Sillinger at number 12 and Corson Ceulmans at number 25. Sillinger is the son of former NHL center Mike Sillinger.

The deals we saw were a big part of last night’s festivities. There is expected to be more later today. Rounds 2 through 7 will continue on NHL Network and SportsNet up north. A trade call is supposed to happen between Buffalo and Florida involving Reinhart, who voiced his displeasure at the exit interview following a 10th consecutive missed postseason. I’m going to guess Grigori Denisenko is in the trade with Levi, who was Canada’s starting goalie at the ’21 World Junior Championship. I doubt Anton Lundell is in it. That would be a score for Buffalo GM Kevyn Adams, who did quite well landing a first round pick, a future second and Robert Hagg from the Flyers for defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen. If the Sabres took salary back, perhaps it’s Sam Bennett, who’s due a raise as a restricted free agent. Carter Verhaege would be intriguing. He’s signed for one more year at a bargain of $1 million. We’ll soon know what the actual trade is. Levi is definitely in it as the young goalie prospect the Sabres need.

As for the Rangers, they kept their pick and waited patiently to select Flint forward Brennan Othmann out of the OHL. A fast skater who can play either side on the wing, he sounds like a gritty player with great speed. When Drury announced the pick from the team’s Practice Center in Westchester, Gorton deadpanned that the Rangers are looking to add harder working players. Might there have been a bit of jealousy over his former team? It couldn’t have been easy for Gorton, who did an admirable job rebuilding the team along with Davidson before getting unceremoniously dismissed by James Dolan. It was odd to see Gorton working on the ESPN Draft table. He was okay adding insight on what teams did and prospects he knew.

Drury indicated that Othmann was the highest rated guy they had left on the draft board. Obviously, they like his combination of speed, finish and edge. They passed up adding a center despite it still being an organizational need. The next three picks were centers including possible target Fedor Svechkov, who the Predators selected at number 19. Instead, they liked Othmann (Ottmann), who finished ranked eighth on Central Scouting among North American skaters. Not bad. Maybe he’s going to be similar to Will Cuylle, who they took last year. Only time will tell.

As far as the top of the Draft, there was no surprise with the Sabres tabbing top rated defenseman Owen Power first overall. He’s expected to start at Michigan where newest Seattle Kraken second pick Matty Beniers will join him. After the Ducks went for center Mason McTavish, it was a party at the Hughes household when the Devils couldn’t pass up Luke Hughes at number four. The unbelievable reaction from older brother Jack Hughes was classic. He looked happier than his younger brother. His personality reminds me of Spicoli from Fast Times At Ridgemont High. He is so chill and always has a smile on his face. He would probably order the pizza with pepperoni and sausage with double cheese in class like the epic scene from the hit movie. It was pretty cool to see the reaction of the Hughes family. The interview with all three brothers including Quinn Hughes was the highlight of the first round. They know how to celebrate.

Kent Johnson rounded out the top five. A slick moving playmaking center with unbelievable hands, he’s a human highlight reel. With Luke Hughes attending Michigan in the Fall, the Wolverines will be loaded. Four of the first five picks should be playing for Michigan. Holy moly. That should be some college hockey team to watch. Buccigross sounded excited. He’s been doing the college hockey for a while since the NHL left 16 years ago for former partner NBC.

After Steve Yzerman went for Swedish defenseman Simon Edvinsson at number six, the Sharks took Swede forward William Eklund. Rounding out the top 10 were defenseman Brandt Clarke (Kings), Guenther (Coyotes) and American prospect Tyler Boucher (Senators). While some ‘experts’ chuckled at the pick, the reason Boucher was off the board was due to injury. He actually sounds like a hard-nosed forward that plays with edge. Just what opponents need. They already see Brady Tkachuk. Anyone who comes from the Team USA National Development Program can’t be all bad.

Weekes wondered if the Sabres would use the 14th pick they got from the Flyers and take a goalie. Instead, they went off the board for right wing Isak Rosen from Sweden. They must’ve known they were getting Levi from Florida. Right after that pick, the Stars traded down to number 23 so the Red Wings could move up and select goalie prospect Sebastian Cossa. Yzerman must really like his size. He’s listed at 6-6 and plays in the WHL for the Edmonton Oil Kings. The Wild took the other top goalie prospect in Jesper Wallstedt at number 20 after swinging a trade with goalie starved Edmonton. The Oilers moved down two spots to take center Xavier Bourgault. The Stars used the 23rd pick on center Wyatt Johnston.

At number 29, the Devils used the Islanders’ first round pick they got in the Kyle Palmieri/Travis Zajac deal to select right wing Chase Stillman. It sounds like a reach. Perhaps they wanted to trade out. Hasan reported that Weekes hinted at the Sharks having interest in moving into the first round for that pick. It never materialized.

In what amounted to a controversial pick taken by Montreal GM Marc Bergevin, the Canadiens rolled a lot of eyes and dice on defenseman Logan Mailloux at number 31. The Swedish player who came under heavy criticism for posting videos via text of oral sex he had as a 17-year old with an 18-year old woman, admitted that he made a selfish decision recently and even wanted to remove his name from the draft. It sounded like he regretted his reprehensible actions, exposing the poor female victim. Sending out group texts to friends distributing sex is criminal in nature. Obviously, he made a big mistake which he’s apologized for since. However, nobody expected the Habs to take Mailloux in that spot. It sure put ESPN in an awkward position. Cosentino called it “the most polarizing pick” while Weekes openly criticized it.

Montreal quickly released a statement on Twitter that can be viewed in both French and English. I’m all for second chances. I just don’t know what to think of that pick. Elliotte Friedman indicated that Mailloux was a first round talent. TSN had him projected to go early in the second round. He also pointedly stated that a player cannot remove themselves from the Draft. That I found fascinating. What will happen with the pick of Mailloux? I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

The final pick of Round One went to the Blackhawks, who of course made a big splash trading for and then signing Seth Jones to a $76 million, eight-year contract with a full no-movement clause. They better hope he rebounds. They sure gave up a lot. With the 32nd pick, Chicago went with Nolan Allan. A defense prospect who plays for Prince Albert of the WHL. That concluded a lengthy first round that felt like it took forever.

Only one Russian player was taken. Finnish center prospect Aatu Raty saw his stock plummet out of the first round. Once even thought as a contender to go in the top three, a down year for Raty that even saw him not make Finland’s World Junior Championship team allowed teams to pass on the center. You have to think he’ll go in the second round where he could wind up a steal. We’ll see.

I did notice Frank Vatrano’s name popping up on hockeydb.com. Might he be going back to the Sabres in the Reinhart trade? I’ll have more later. No second round pick for the Rangers. They still have eight more picks left unless trades are made. That’s two thirds, three fourths, a fifth, sixth and seventh.

That’ll do it for now. Stay tuned for more much later.

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Devils pick Stillman with #29 overall, other thoughts

After the Devils made the long-awaited choice of Luke Hughes at #4, GM Tom Fitzgerald had to wait another three hours to make his second first-round selection at #29. Despite all the speculation of a possible trade up or trade back (both later confirmed by the GM as possibilities), the Devils chose instead to stay pat and pick winger Chase Stillman, son of former NHL player Cory, brother of a Blackhawks player and grandson of another former NHL player. Like the Hughes brothers, family bloodlines pretty much give you a guarantee of a rink rat who is a hard worker, and the Devils certainly got two kids who fit that description last night.

Whether Stillman was a reach is a matter of opinion, since most of the so-called experts had him more in the mid-2nd round range. Of course we have no second-rounder this year due to the Nikita Gusev trade. If there’s one draft I could care less about consensus ranks though, it’s this one. It’s not Stillman’s fault he couldn’t goose his draft ranking in the OHL this year (they suspended play) and had to go to the Danish league. He certainly seems to have the skillset to be a solid middle six player and power forward, which we don’t have enough of at either the NHL or prospect levels right now. Say this for Fitz, he’s prioritizing size and physicality in a way previous GM Ray Shero didn’t, and I’m all for this. It’s not like he’s automatically bouncing every ‘small, skill player’ out of the system, he just recognizes you need guys to complement each other in any orchestra…sorry couldn’t help but using a Lou Lamoriello saying there.

Fitz is a lot more Lou-like than Shero was, which probably makes a certain segment of our fanbase uneasy. I never really thought the problem with Lou was as much Lou in the later years, as it was the scouting and development. Of course Lou was ultimately responsible for keeping David Conte on in a lifetime role even after it became obvious the Devils’ drafting had fallen behind the times post-lockout, as well as keeping up the win-now pretense for far too long. Not to mention ownership skimping on things like scouts and draft infrastructure didn’t help on that end either. At least that shouldn’t be an issue under current owners Josh Harris and David Blitzer. Hopefully neither will the drafting and development under long-time scouting director Paul Castron and the new player development manager Meghan Duggan.

Getting back to the Stillman pick, the cynics are calling it a reach with no upside. First of all this is a weak draft to begin with, how many guys with so-called upside do you really think are gonna slip without a good reason? Second of all, we as fans never seem to learn that NHL teams’ internal draft lists are vastly different than the consensus rankings from pundits once you get past the 10-20 range. Fans think they know better than GM’s, sometimes that’s even true (as with the oft-cited Matt Barzal drop a few years ago in the first round) though usually the GM becomes a fan in short order when that’s the case anyway.

As much as I was aghast at the Shakir Mukhamadullin pick last year, this is the point in the draft – and beyond – where GM’s get paid to prove their worth. A trained monkey could have mocked Luke to the Devils at #4 but it’s a little harder to say anything with certainty after the first several picks – which weren’t even that certain in terms of order. Fitz deserves the chance to see if his plan will work. Nobody bats an eye anymore when Steve Yzerman makes an ‘off-board’ pick because his track record shows a lot of them have panned out over the years. Hopefully we’ll be able to say that someday about Fitz. If I have a criticism of the pick it’s because of the PTSD I still have over Lou and Conte picking guys like Stefan Matteau and John Quenneville (both from hockey families) with late first-rounders in the last decade. This is a new scouting and player development department to be sure, but the similarities of the Stillman pick to those initially made me cringe. Ideally, he’ll turn into a far better NHL player than either of those two.

As far as the rest of the draft, without a second rounder the Devils will have to wait a while to pick again at #68, barring a trade up or in. There’s some possible scuttlebutt about the Devils potentially using a day two pick to trade for the UFA rights of a pending FA. The first name on any wishlist is Carolina’s Dougie Hamilton. Maybe Fitz will differ from both Shero and Lou in this case and pay the best FA on the market. God knows any defensive help we can get is still welcome and I’m tired of sitting on cap space when you can just dump any contract to Arizona for a second-rounder or two anyway. Hamilton in particular can be a difference maker that changes our trajectory, probably not quite a Zdeno Chara to Boston type impact but ideally the next best thing. If you improve the defense appreciably and the young forwards mature, then you can sell me on a turnaround sooner rather than later.

Going away from the draft for a second, the NHL schedule also came out in the last few days with the NHL doing the right thing and giving Seattle geographical rival Vancouver for its first-ever home game. Ironically my first thought when the Devils’ schedule came out was that the pressure was now on for the team to get a good start with their first five games being at home and most of them winnable games.

Apparently there is a catch though, as this schedule contains an Olympic break which as of now still isn’t signed, sealed and delivered. Supposedly there’s a backup schedule under lock and key in case the Olympic negotiations fall through. So guess I can’t write in pen that my return to the Prudential Center will be the Chicago home opener just yet. We have fourteen back-to-backs with this listed schedule which doesn’t seem terrible considering the built-in Olympic break. Having only three games against the Flyers and Capitals is weird but when you have to schedule games against 31 other teams, sacrifices have to be made I suppose. It will be nice to see a variety of opponents again after the division-only season of 2021 culminating in a 2022 division matchup for the Cup (Tampa-Montreal).

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Devils opt for Hughes man advantage with #4 overall pick

Ever since the draft lottery, this night seemed inevitable for Devils fans. It all looked just too perfect to screw up with the highly touted brother of our young franchise center sitting there for us at #4, being rated in the sweet spot where the Devils didn’t have to reach or move up for him. Not to mention playing a position where we need young, controllable talent the most. It was so predictable I didn’t even watch it live, I kinda did need a nap anyway after a couple of days of light sleep this week gave me a headache and despite the mid 80’s weather, the humidity wore me out a little more today too. Still had a headache after my nap so I took some Advil and now have the draft on since we still have an upcoming pick to deal with, or just deal away.

Don’t confuse predictable for boring or meaningless though. Especially if you see Jack Hughes’s reaction in that video above to our drafting of Luke, I’m sure most people watching or paying attention to the draft have seen it in some form or other tonight as a gif. Devil fans know all too well how much family bonds can mean, and I don’t mean the token gift pick of Marty’s kid in 2014. I’m more referring to the Scott Niedermayer defection from New Jersey to Anaheim, which was arguably set in stone the minute we beat the Ducks, and brother Rob in the 2003 Stanley Cup Finals with the Cup tally becoming Scott 3 and Rob 0. We know how that story ended, happily for the Niedermayers in 2009 with a dual Nieds Cup win.

I’ve also read internet whining about how you can’t base everything on family, well obviously but the beauty of this pick is you didn’t have to. Luke was a top five rated prospect with the family pedigree of already having two brothers in the NHL, we already had a top five pick. And heck, how can you not get a chuckle at Luke wearing Jack’s jersey during his interviews? Pretty much the only thing that could have ruined the dream scenario was someone trading up in front to snag him since it seemed like Seattle and Anaheim were leaning forward, and indeed both wound up picking forwards. Vancouver (with the other Hughes brother on its roster) seemed like the main threat of that with the #9 pick, until they traded it in one of the handful of jaw-dropping deals across the league today. Clearly it was a sellers’ market on D, which makes our trade for Ryan Graves last week seem even better from a value standpoint.

Seeing the prices for D around the league make the Luke Hughes pick even more important, hopefully he and Ty Smith can be for the D what we’re hoping Jack and Nico Hischier can be up front, our pillars to build around. It was nice to see fans at the arena celebrating the pick, though from a draft standpoint nothing will top the ‘I think you’re gonna want to hear this’ trade for Cory Schneider at Draft Day in Newark for an in-person thrill. Even if the reality of the trade didn’t live up to that initial hope and expectation, for various reasons. I thought of going too but didn’t really want to spend $10 (the donation fee/price) to see the predictable pick a half hour into the draft, then wait for some kid I’ve never heard of to be drafted at #29, assuming we even keep the pick. Kevin Weekes – who’s still plugged into us – posted this cryptic Tweet at the start of the draft with speculation flying that the Sharks want to move into the first round.

A possible trade out or down? At least I don’t have to wait too much longer to find out, we’re four picks away from #29 now, the side benefit of my nap earlier – at least I wasn’t watching the draft for three hours just to wait on this. I’ll probably have a separate blog on what we do at #29 tomorrow morning, as well as team schedule thoughts. I do kind of feel bad for whoever we draft if we do keep the pick, cause this kid’s gonna be totally overshadowed by the Hughes hype train. This kind of reminds me of the year in the early 2000’s (when the Devils were still playing at CAA/Izod) when we had to wait to see who the Devils picked toward the end of the first round at a draft party, then they traded down to make us wait even longer and people were scrambling to the phones – the landline variety – to find out who we drafted at the end of the round. This was pre-Twitter and instantaneous news. What a novelty!

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