Boyle only Devils’ UFA signing as dud of an offseason continues

Yesterday was a microcosm of the Devils’ entire offseason – which as a whole got off to a great start with winning the draft lottery, but has been a total dud after that.  Ironically, we kicked off the July 1 ‘frenzy’ just after noon with the first official signing – and a good one at that – inking character fourth-liner Brian Boyle to a two-year contract.  I mean how can you not like a guy who instantly comes in with a chip on his shoulder against one of his former teams?

And I’d love to sit here and praise that move for a few paragraphs, which maybe in another year I would have.  No issue at all with adding Boyle for $2.5 million as a fourth-line-ish player who’ll provide some leadership that was lacking last season.  However, that was the only move we did the entire day unless you count the three AHL’ers hopefully ticketed for Binghamton we signed late, like ex-Islander Brian Strait.  Predictably the only big-ticket FA who we were in on (Kevin Shattenkirk) found his way to the bright lights of Manhattan, just like so many other big-name FA’s before and after will.  How only the Rangers seem to get a hometown discount from big-name FA’s is beyond me.

I guess July 1 is always destined to be a debbie downer for Devil fans.  Whether it’s the guys we lose or the guys we don’t have a chance to get or the yearly Ilya Kovalchuk drama, it used to be a running meme how everyone else wins July 1 while we won after that during the Lou Lamoriello era.  But now that we’re in the wilderness with no way out in the immediate future it isn’t that funny.  Especially considering that July 1 is just the topper on a lot of letdowns this offseason.  We were supposed to be making big moves during the expansion draft with our cap space and protected slots available but instead George McPhee hijacked the proceedings more than most anticipated with side deals (plus using their empty cap to take on most of the league’s bad contracts) and shutting out other teams by making clubs they dealt with promise not to undercut Vegas by working out their own trades before the roster freeze.  Having eleven picks was supposed to facilitate draft-day moves, and even GM Ray Shero admitted he didn’t want to keep all eleven picks.  While technically we didn’t keep all eleven, we did make eleven selections, and the only immediate help we got from our draft picks (not counting Nico Hischier, who’s likely to play with the team this year) is project defenseman Mirco Mueller.

As much as I want to rant and will rant about the team’s current state, I’m not here to blame Shero – at least not for yesterday.  Not much you can do when the Russian Hamlet wants to hold things up on that end yet again – I’ll get to that later too – and the only big FA that made sense for the team only had eyes for your biggest rival.  Clearly there’ve been mitigating circumstances as to why the Devils have only managed to make the small additions of Boyle and Mueller to this point in an offseason that was supposed to be filled with big moves.  If I have any frustration with Shero it’s in the apparent lack of urgency the organization’s had to fix our defensive woes, and not just at the NHL level.  We’ve used just seven picks on defensemen out of twenty-eight selections in three Shero drafts and four of the ones we did pick were seventh-round lottery ticket selections.  The same criticism I had of Lou the other way in not using enough high picks for forwards seems to be happening with Shero and defensemen.  Granted we did need to infuse the forward pipeline dramatically when Shero got here, but with it being even harder to acquire defensemen on the open market you would figure at some point we’d start drafting more guys there.  Reilly Walsh was the highest defenseman we’d drafted in three years and he was a late third-rounder this year – probably destined to spend at least three years in Harvard.

Of course to be fair you could count Mueller as a ‘draft pick’ too – a second-rounder at that – but at some point we can’t keep shopping at Woolworth’s for defensive upgrades, especially if we’re not going to stock the pipeline from within.  Our bargain basement shopping really hasn’t worked out other than David Schlemko, who we kept through the deadline two years ago and chose not to retain (or trade back for when Montreal gave up a low-level draft pick to acquire him from Vegas after the expansion draft).  Ben Lovejoy was supposed to be a decent hold the fort guy but the fort was overrun during his first year of a three-year deal.  There was also Yohann Auvitu – remember him?  Last year’s preseason sensation from France started with the big club but by the end of 2017 was a healthy scratch in the AHL and now out of the organization.  John Moore?  Sure he can start on a bad team and he had a nice season last year in terms of goalscoring but you don’t want him in the top four on any kind of contender.  Of course we don’t have to worry about things like being a contender for the forseeable future in a division on steroids where everyone else just keeps seeming to load up or reload in a scary arms race, while we continue to ‘trust the process’….oops, that’s a Sixers meme.

I’m not getting into a conspiracy theory on the owners either – assuming the media guys were fed the truth about us being in on Shattenkirk, although there isn’t exactly much to disprove the Devils-Sixers comparisons at this point considering both franchises have been stuck in years of endless rebuilding with cap floor teams.  While the Sixer rebuiding was a straight blowup job, our rebuilding seems to be a bit more haphazard since we actually did trade for Taylor Hall last year and still have a fair amount of vets around – who have to be sick of watching everyone else in the division improve while we try to build an almost entirely home-grown team, where our own GM admitted he came into this situation with the mindset of it being an expansion team in terms of rebuilding.  My own frustration with this process is in part due to having guys like Hall, Cory Schneider, etc whose prime years you’re wasting and who you might have to make a decision about trading or not by the time this team’s ready to actually compete again – which could again set the process back.  It’s like someone put it last night, it seems we’re bleeding out faster than we’re fixing the wound.

It’s obviously not fair to entirely blame current ownership, or blame Shero for inheriting an absolute mess devoid of talent two years ago.  There’s only so long you can play the blame Lou, Vanderbeek, Kovalchuk meme before at some point you yourself have to be accountable for continued lack of success though.  Sure, they can’t be blamed for the organization being out of the playoffs for five straight seasons since the end of the lockout – only the first two are on their watch – but by the same token you can’t be blind to the damage being out of the race by March almost every year is doing to the fanbase when you have the Rangers being successful and even the Islanders being a perennial playoff contender year in and year out the last few years, this dark period is doing a lot of damage to a fanbase that was only starting to get a foothold in an area with multiple teams that local fans root for, even including the Flyers who are also a perennial playoff team year-in and year-out.

I do appreciate GM’s that at least try to compete while rebuilding at the same time, and don’t just go with the complete nuclear bomb approach.  As a Met fan I’m envious about the Yankees having Brian Cashman, who’s perfected the art of being competitive while rebuilding at the same time.  Although I do like Cashman anyway cause he’s a true Devils fan hah.  Lou obviously tried to do that as well and I won’t ever fault him for that but eventually win-now just became a caricature and not an actual state of being.  At a season ticket event a few days back, franchise legend Patrik Elias actually admitted he wished Lou had started the process we were on now 8-9 years ago.  When even a player – admittedly one of the smartest, most cerebral ones who’s ever played – can see the writing on the wall, it clearly got to a point where Lou jumped the shark.  Perhaps the same thing is happening now in Detroit with Ken Holland.  Sure, we were due a downturn after two decades of success, but it’s a downturn exacerbated by bad drafting in the previous administration and nobody wanting to stay here including the double-barreled departures of Kovalchuk and Zach Parise months apart that the franchise still hasn’t recovered from.

Speaking of Kovalchuk though, it’s just time to be done with him.  Let him go back to Russia or get whatever pittance you can get for him from the handful of teams he’s supposedly interested in.  If he only wants to go to the Rangers too, then let him go scratch in the KHL for a year and only get a one-year contract next offseason from them or wherever else he wants to go.  This constant drama year after year is beyond old.  I predicted weeks ago that this was going to extend past July 1, nothing’s ever easy or simple with this player (plus I didn’t think the interest in him would be as great as some people did).  Despite two months talking to other teams and negotiating with the KHL now we’re even in a longer holding pattern till tomorrow at the very least, which probably extends into next week and beyond with our luck.  Clearly he and his agent are sitting back, hoping teams once they lose out on top FA targets will be more desperate and also hoping the KHL gets more desperate to up its offer once the window opened for him to re-sign in the NHL.  It’s always about maximizing money with this player no matter where he gets it, he’s the ultimate merc and just like 2010 and 2013, teams in two leagues are once again in a holding pattern with this clown.

I fully admit some of this post could look silly or premature if the Devils do manage to pull a big trade out of the sky somehow in the two months remaining this offseason.  I just have that little faith we’ll actually be able to do it at this point, there always seems to be some excuse why we can’t do something rather than actually being able to find a way to improve the team.  I’m not asking to be a Cup contender or anything stupid like that next year, but can you at least find a way to give fans hope for improvement, to at least be relevant in March and make the season somewhat interesting aside from pumping up Hischier, second-year man Pavel Zacha and other kids?  Who’ll probably be undermined by a horrid defense anyway.

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Devils buy out Cammalleri, Smith-Pelly on eve of FA

(caption: NJ.com – a goal by now ex-Devil Mike Cammalleri in 2015, an occurence too infrequent in his three seasons as a Devil)

When Devils GM Ray Shero made critical comments about the team’s heart and desire after the 2016-17 season it was obvious changes were going to be made, especially armed with the most cap space of any team in the league.  Today’s buyouts of forwards Mike Cammalleri and Devante Smith-Pelly added even more cushion to that cap space, and represented two of the culture changes that Shero strongly hinted at.  In the case of Cammalleri a buyout was only a mild surprise after a dissapointing 2016-17 (10 goals and 31 points in 61 GP) given he had two years left on his contract at big money, though with a cap hit that expired after next season.  With the buyout the Devils absorb a much smaller cap hit, but for a longer term ($1.67 million per season for four seasons).  Although it would have been nice to work out a trade for Cammalleri, apparently there was no deal to be had.

Smith-Pelly’s 2016-17 was also a dissapointment (nine points and a -19 in 53 GP), but he was only signed for one year so his salary and cap hit were negligible, it was just a matter of he – like Cammalleri – didn’t fit into the future plans of the team.

With both buyouts coming on the eve of free agency, speculation’s swirling what this means in regards to the Devils’ plans for tomorrow and the rest of the offseason.  Personally I don’t think these buyouts had anything to do with whatever additions Shero makes this offseason given the amount of cap space that already existed, it was more about making a statement and clearing a couple more spots for a myriad of younger players (led by #1 overall Nico Hischier and other potential rookie additions like recent first-rounders John Quenneville and Michael McLeod).

According to CapFriendly, the Devils have nearly $28 million of cap space, with Ryane Clowe’s IR contract providing another $4.8 million cushion on top of that.  However, not counting Clowe the Devils only have five forwards under contract.  Even if you figure RFA’s Miles Wood and Stefan Noesen and UFA Beau Bennett all get re-signed, along with adding in Hischier’s ELC that still leaves 4-5 open spots at forward for guys like McLeod, Quennevillle, recent third-rounder Blake Speers and other TBD additions to fight for spots on the 2017-18 roster.

If the Devils take a chunk out of their cap space tomorrow, I’m not expecting it to come in a forward addition although the Alex Galchenyuk rumors are intriguing and you never know if Shero decides to bring another Jersey boy home in James Van Riemsdyk, just to name a couple of possible trade targets.  As far as free agency goes, I’m not expecting any big splash there.  Especially with the insane demands of Alex Radulov, who would fit into the top six at RW but I wouldn’t want to be the team to give him the six-year deal he wants.  To me Radulov screams Alex Semin in terms of a post-big money risk.  Perhaps they add a bottom six player or two to complement the young guns and make an acquisition to bolster their horrible offense via trade.

In goal the Devils are seemingly set for the next couple years at least after re-upping with backup Keith Kinkaid on a two-year deal at $1.25 million per season.  With starter Cory Schneider signed for five years at $6 million per, potential goalie of the future Mackenzie Blackwood can continue to develop in Bridgeport after a promising first pro season at age 20, leading the then-Albany Devils to the AHL playoffs.

For most Devil fans, they’re hoping for big changes to a horrid D core still lacking in top-end talent.  Does that mean Kevin Shattenkirk will make his way home and be a Devil by tomorrow evening at this time?  Shattenkirk certainly has the offensive capability to make a difference on the blueline and I like that he apparently wants the responsibility of being a top-pairing defenseman, though there are certainly questions over how well he’ll handle it and whether he’ll get overpaid – he did turn down a 7 year, $42 million offer from Tampa Bay at the trading deadline.  Not that Shatty’s salary is of any immediate concern but in a cap world, Shero has to be mindful of the impact any long-term signing can have on the cap in future seasons.  While Shatty being a LD would be more ideal than being a RD, he’d still help the blueline and let’s face it – sooner or later the Devils are going to have to use their cap space for something more than an empty promise to a better tomorrow.

I’m not as big on other possible UFA targets like plodder Karl Alzner, for people suspect on Shattenkirk, Alzner is REALLY a bad contract waiting to happen.  Perhaps Shero also works out another trade to upgrade the blueline, although each addition is probably going to lead to at least one subtraction since the Devils currently have five d-men signed on one-way deals, plus RFA’s Mirco Mueller and Damon Severson who’ll both be in the top six, as well as second-year man Steven Santini, who was serviceable in his rookie season but could always use more seasoning in Binghamton if the situation called for it.  Not that subtracting many of these guys would be an issue with the way the D played last year.

And I haven’t even touched on the potential Ilya Kovalchuk resolution (finally?), although late rumors had him talking to SKA about a potential return to the KHL – again.  If something’s to happen you’d think it would be known tomorrow either way given Kovalchuk and his agent Jay Grossman have been talking to other teams trying to facilitate a contract agreement/trade.  Of course it’s never usually that neat and clean with this player and his constant drama.  It’s probably best for all parties that tomorrow be the last day we have to deal with the Russian hamlet.

Whatever happens – good or bad – it won’t be dull tomorrow.  Thankfully this year July 1 is on a Saturday so I can stay home and see what happens with Shattenkirk, Kovalchuk, trades, etc.  Of course like a lot of things, the hype might outweight the actuality, especially if Shattenkirk and Kovalchuk aren’t day one resolutions.  Or if Shattenkirk signs elsewhere, Kovalchuk stays in Russia and we’re left holding the bag it’ll be a gloomy day in Devils nation.  If things break the other way though, we do sign Shattenkirk, trade Kovalchuk and trade for an impact player this could be the best July 1 since…shudder…2010.  Our unusual spending spree that year didn’t turn out so well.  But I’m not asking the Devils to go full-on Glen Sather pre-lockout.  Just show me some sign that you’re in this to improve and not just ‘trust the process’ and hope for lottery luck for five years like a certain NBA team owned by the same duo who happen to own the Devils.

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The Latest on eve of July 1: Sabres acquire Scandella, Devils all in on Shattenkirk

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With less than 24 hours to go before the official July 1 free agent frenzy tomorrow all day, things are becoming clearer. For two teams, moves made will determine how active they’ll be.

For the Sabres, they likely are out on defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk. New GM Jason Botterill all but assured that with a big acquisition of right defenseman Marco Scandella from the Wild in a four player trade involving two draft picks. The full deal had Buffalo parting with forwards Tyler Ennis, Marco Foligno and a 2018 fourth round pick for Scandella, Jason Pominville and a 2018 third round pick.

The 27-year old Scandella is a good skating puck moving right D who can slot in on the second pair if needed depending how new coach Phil Housley uses Zach Bogosian. That’s if he stays. Scandella has three years remaining with a reasonable $4 million cap hit.

Former playoff hero Pominville returns to Buffalo. Now 34, he’ll be asked to take on a leadership role. A popular Sabre best known for scoring a series clinching shorthanded goal that eliminated Ottawa in the 2006 NHL Playoffs sending the Sabres to the Conference Finals, he’ll turn 35 on Nov. 30 and has two years left earning $5 million in each of the remaining two seasons.

I really like the move for Buffalo. It addresses a need on the blueline and saves money which will no doubt be needed to lock up Jack Eichel, who completes his entry level deal in ’17-18.

Don’t forget the Sabres also acquired ex-Hab Nathan Beaulieu. So, Botterill has upgraded the back end giving it more speed and depth which should aid anchor Rasmus Ristolainen. Along with Jake McCabe and vet Josh Gorges, Buffalo looks set.

Beaulieu and starting goalie Robin Lehner still must be re-signed as Group II free agents.

With the Sabres all but out on Shattenkirk, the Devils look like they’ll be big players for the 28-year old offensive right defenseman who earned $5.2 million this past season with the Blues and Caps. Over 80 combined games, the New Rochelle, New York native posted 13 goals along with career highs in assists (43) and points (56). His postseason with Washington was up and down finishing with a power play goal and five assists in 13 games.

Shattenkirk is an effective puck possession defenseman who excels on the power play. Of his 298 total points, 136 have come via the man-advantage. The breakdown is 35 power play goals and 111 power play assists for 146 PPP compared to 33 even strength goals and 116 even strength assists totaling 149 ES points with the other three assists shorthanded.

The Devils freed up even more room by buying out Mike Cammalleri and Devante Smith-Pelly today. They have approximately $28 million in cap space to spend. They look like the favorites to sign Shattenkirk and fill a big void on the blueline. God knows they don’t have a top right defenseman who can relieve pressure from young blueliner Damon Severson. This is a team that can use what Shattenkirk brings. Offense and skating along with that badly needed power play quarterback they lack.

If GM Ray Shero is all in tomorrow, then expect him to sign Shattenkirk in the neighborhood of seven years between $45-49 million. I would also expect the Devils to be active in search of a scoring forward who can speed up the rebuilding process. They were interested in acquiring Habs Group II center Alex Galchenyuk. But that depends if the Canadiens can re-sign him.

Key unrestricted forwards include Alex Radulov, Patrick Sharp, Thomas Vanek, Nick Bonino and Justin Williams. I doubt they’d be interested in Radulov who wants a term of about six years for $6 million or more per season.

While the Devils should be busy this weekend, it’s anyone’s guess what the Rangers will do. They supposedly have interest in vet Patrick Marleau. But he wants to play with Joe Thornton. A package deal is unlikely with the Kings very interested. Of course they are. They love getting older. Imagine those two as ex-Sharks in Kings jerseys. Can you say puke much?

In related news, Michael Stone re-upped with the Flames for three years at an AAV of $3.5 million. Pretty fair value for a decent offensive right D who projects as a third pair guy with the Flames adding ex-Islander Travis Hamonic to a corps that features Mark Giordano, Dougie Hamilton and T.J. Brodie.

Brian Elliott is expected to land with the Flyers. I don’t know if he’s even a upgrade over Steve Mason. But that’s the Flyers.

With the clock ticking, July 1 is coming. It should be intriguing. Even if it’s not the best class. Let the fireworks begin!

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News and Notes: Girardi close with Lightning, McDavid big contract, offer sheeting Draisaitl

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With still approximately 48 hours before the July 1 fireworks on Saturday, players and teams are already negotiating. Some restricted free agents have already re-signed.

That includes Keith Kinkaid, who reached a two-year agreement worth a reported $1.25 million cap hit to stay with the Devils as the backup goalie. So, scratch him off the backup goalie market. There are still plenty of options including Anders Nilsson, Jonathan Bernier, Darcy Kuemper, Chad Johnson, Antti Niemi. Vets Ryan Miller and Steve Mason probably will look for places with starter opportunities.

The Flyers re-signed forward Jordan Weal to a multi-year contract. It’s worth $3.5 million over two years which averages out to $1.75 million. A nice deal for the 25-year old who scored eight goals and added four assists in 23 games for the Flyers.

As far as some of the rumors circulating, former Blueshirt Dan Girardi could be landing in Tampa with the Lightning. According to Elliotte Friedman, they’re close. Considering that close friend Ryan Callahan is still there along with former teammate Anton Stralman, it makes sense. The Bolts weren’t exactly a lockdown team defensively. After the cohesive top pair of Victor Hedman and Stralman, it thins out with vet Braydon Coburn and Andrej Sustr. So there is room for a experienced right D who can do the nuts and bolts. As long as coach Jon Cooper does a better job managing Girardi’s minutes, it could work.

The biggest news is the much talked about new mega deal for Hart/Lindsay winner Connor McDavid. He would get over $13 million on average over eight seasons starting in 2018-19 once his rookie contract expires. Here is more on the big move that would lock up the game’s brightest young star until he’s 29.

The idea is to avoid a shorter term where McDavid would command even more if he agreed to a five-year extension. Basically, he’s saving the Oilers money by agreeing to eight years even at the reported $13.25 million average per season. Obviously, he’s well worth it. Already a Art Ross and Hart winner, the sky’s the limit for the 30-goal, 100-point scorer in only Year 2.

With Edmonton tied into contracts with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Milan Lucic long with the top four D of Oscar Klefbom, Adam Larsson, Andrej Sekera and Kris Russell, the question becomes what will they pay key restricted center Leon Draisaitl. The gifted 21-year old German set career highs in goals (29), assists (48), points (77), 10 power play goals and 17 power play assists. He had a terrific playoffs leading Edmonton with 16 points (6-10-16).

In subtracting $3 million by swapping Jordan Eberle for Ryan Strome, the Oilers free up space for Draisaitl. How much are they willing to go for an elite talent who along with Bruins’ breakout star David Pastrnak could attract offer sheets from interested suitors?

If I’m Rangers GM Jeff Gorton, I definitely explore offer sheeting Draisaitl. He is definitely a player with 30-goal and 80-point potential. Don’t forget who he plays with in Edmonton. If he stays as is expected, he could team along with McDavid to give the Oilers two 100-point scorers in a low scoring league. Yikes.

The Bruins have a budding power forward in Pastrnak who should only improve upon his 34-36-70 in ’16-17. Think they wish they didn’t go big on David Backes or even oft-injured center David Krejci?

If you have room to spend for a young talented forward, why wouldn’t you consider it? I’m sure other teams like the Devils would have interest if it can speed up the rebuilding process.

As far as Kevin Shattenkirk goes, reliable TSN sources have reported that he might not be a fit for the Rangers after they brought back Brendan Smith. I am not opposed to that because I think giving him a long-term deal is a waste. While Shattenkirk would help the Rangers fill a void on the back end as that top right pair D who can play the power play and contribute offensively, he can’t solve the lack of a top scoring center who can make a huge difference. The Sabres have expressed interest. For a younger team like them, it makes sense. My prediction is seven years for an average of $6.5 million per season. That would translate to $45.5 million over seven.

The roster as constituted isn’t a viable championship contender. They did the best they could with the now broken up core that included Girardi and Derek Stepan. To be honest, the ’13-14 roster had a lot better depth including Stralman paired with a then prime Marc Staal on the second pair while a younger Girardi paired well with Ryan McDonagh. Plus there were key checkers Brian Boyle and Dominic Moore who combined on the game-winner in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final over the Canadiens.

Don’t forget the cohesive third line centered by Derick Brassard with recently bought out former Oiler Benoit Pouliot and Mats Zuccarello. You had Cup proven winners Brad Richards and Martin St. Louis along with speed demon Carl Hagelin. In a nutshell, the Rangers lost a lot of talent since then. Even though they came within a period of a second straight Cup Final appearance before falling to Tampa, the team had already changed.

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With it now being built around Mika Zibanejad, Kevin Hayes, Chris Kreider, J.T. Miller, constant Zuccarello and youngsters Pavel Buchnevich and Jimmy Vesey, so much has changed. This is a different group minus Stepan and Girardi. While it’s the right time for a quick rebuild, I wonder how long it’ll take for the new group to gel.

McDonagh and Henrik Lundqvist remain. The clock ticking on Lundqvist’s window with the franchise goalie now 35 and coming off a inconsistent season. While he was much better in the postseason, he was culpable in the second round loss to Ottawa. It’ll be interesting to see if he’s got one more run left in him. That’s assuming the Rangers make the playoffs. They aren’t a lock.

With Brady Skjei the future D anchor and a blueline that still includes Staal, McDonagh and Smith, the Blueshirts are looking for someone to step forward. It could be one of Alexei Bereglazov, Ryan Graves, Sean Day or Neal Pionk. They need recently acquired Jersey native Anthony DeAngelo to fulfill expectations. As for Nick Holden, it’s hard to figure out what happened to him. Was it just playing with Staal? He’s not good defensively but had a solid offensive season. Most Garden Faithful don’t want to see him. But paired with the right guy, he could do better. We’ll see.

There’s also Rick Nash entering his final year. He probably will play with Zibanejad. He’s still a great skater with two-way ability who is good for 20-25 goals if healthy. Ideally, I would like to see him not play as much on the penalty kill and be properly utilized on the power play. Hint: Not in front. But as a trigger.

Although they lost Oscar Lindberg to Las Vegas, at least Michael Grabner was retained along with Jesper Fast. There’s a hole at center with Stepan and Lindberg gone. I’m not too keen on signing Joe Thornton and think he’ll stay with San Jose along with Patrick Marleau. Patrick Sharp has drawn lots of interest with as many as nine teams calling. But what is the cost for the proven right center who’s coming off a injury riddled season? Nick Bonino would make the most sense given his hockey acumen as a proven third line center who can play in every situation. But not if it becomes a bidding war.

With one last final June summer day in the city that never sleeps, puckers are counting down to 12 high noon on Saturday. Get yer popcorn ready!

 

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Rangers re-sign Smith, why Gorton should be careful with July fireworks set to begin

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The Rangers re-signed Brendan Smith (42) to a fair contract that keeps him on Broadway for four years. A look at the Rangers off-season and why GM Jeff Gorton should stay away from tying up cap space. AP Photo via Getty Images 

July 1 isn’t till Saturday. However, make it one for one for Jeff Gorton. The Rangers GM re-signed potential unrestricted free agent defenseman Brendan Smith. The deal is four years for a reported $4.35 million per season. TSN insider Bob McKenzie broke the story.

The 28-year old Smith was acquired from the Red Wings on Feb.  28 for a 2017 third round pick and a 2018 second round pick. Despite being a left D, he played on the right side mostly with impressive rookie Brady Skjei on the third pair.

He brought some much needed edge and physicality to a blueline that lacked it. With Smith, it’s not about numbers. But about toughness. He’s a solid second pair defenseman who is reliable defensively while also not taking any crap. On more than one occasion, Smith stood up for teammates and didn’t let Henrik Lundqvist get run without making opponents accountable.

He was splendid in a six-game first round win over the Canadiens. In what was a very physical series with plenty of battles, Smith flourished. He took a lot of punishment but dished it back out. That kind of edge helped the team advance.

Though the final two games of a six-game second round loss to the Senators wasn’t his best showing, re-signing him made sense. After the team amnestied Dan Girardi, they needed to keep Smith. Especially with Kevin Klein expected to announce his retirement from the NHL and pursue other opportunities in Europe.

With Gorton adding New Jersey native Anthony DeAngelo in a salary dump of Derek Stepan to the Coyotes and Antti Raanta for also seventh overall pick Lias Andersson, that freed up cap space. DeAngelo is only 21 and a right defenseman who still must untap his potential. He will be a big key to the club’s future.

As for what Smith got, it isn’t unexpected. After earning $3.25 million in his final year with Detroit and New York, he was going to get between $4 to 4.5 million. Most would’ve preferred four for 16 million. But with pending free agency and a small window before Saturday, it’s always gonna be a little more. So, the $4.35 million cap hit isn’t unreasonable.

It’s nice to see the Rangers get a deal done early. That’s one player you don’t have to worry about. At current, the D has plenty of lefties with Ryan McDonagh, Skjei, Marc Staal, Nick Holden and Smith. Assuming Smith stays on the right side and DeAngelo starts, that leaves two spots. One for either a free agent, trade or someone in house. The other as the extra D.

Alexei Bereglazov, Ryan Graves and Sean Day are all candidates to make the team out of training camp in September. That’s still a long way away.

In the mean time, Gorton should still have approximately $19 million to spend once Klein comes off. How he manages it will be important to what the team does long-term. Overpaying Kevin Shattenkirk for say six to seven years at around the same $6.5 million Stepan made would be a mistake. As much as a good right D is a need who can run the power play, it would be the typical Rangers move tying back up the cap space they freed up with better free agent classes in 2018 and 2019. A few of the big names who could be available include John Tavares, Kyle Turris, Cam Atkinson, Cam Fowler, Matt Duchene, Tyler Seguin, Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture, Max Pacioretty, Artemi Panarin, Drew Doughty.

Don’t forget Gorton must decide whether to bridge key RFA Mika Zibanejad or go for a more long-term investment which will save money. I suggest five years at $25 million. A deal they could’ve done with Stepan instead of bridging him which cost more. Jesper Fast is also restricted.

Next summer, Rick Nash comes off. That’s $7.8 million freed up. Assuming Gorton keeps J.T. Miller and Kevin Hayes, both will be due raises next year along with Jimmy Vesey and Skjei. Both McDonagh and Mats Zuccarello have two years remaining before they can hit the market in 2019.

When you factor in everything, it’s why I wouldn’t commit big years and big money to Shattenkirk, who got exposed in Washington’s second round disappointment.

If they don’t go after Shattenkirk, they can also look at more affordable options Mike Stone and Cody Franson. Honestly, I wouldn’t bother. Neither is going to solve the lack of a right top D. Maybe they’ll move Skjei to the right side and try him with McDonagh. A potential lethal combination. But they can’t do it if Staal is still playing second pair. He must be a third pair guy at this point.

The Rangers could also look at to add a little scoring. There are some decent options out there. Justin Williams on a short term deal would be a solid fit. He’s won before and is that right shot who can play top six or nine and on the power play. Maybe take a flyer on Thomas Vanek if he’s willing to accept a one-year deal to prove himself. Highly unlikely. But Vanek has great hands in front and can aid the power play.

If they’re desperate for a center, they could go after Joe Thornton and reunite him with Nash. They played together for Canada and in the Swiss League for Davos during the last lockout. But Thornton is 37. He wants to play with pal Patrick Marleau. Marleau can still pop 20 goals. But these are short term fixes.

I don’t see either as a fit. I take Gorton at his word when he told Amanda Borges they’re rebuilding on the fly. With no potential trades for a big name center or top right D on the horizon, I would ride it out. It doesn’t have to be this year. Especially in a thin market.

The only issue is Henrik Lundqvist who is getting older. At 35, he’s only got a couple of peak years left at winning a Cup. The Rangers are at a crossroads. They know time is running out on their franchise netminder. As long as Gorton finds a decent replacement for Raanta (Anders Nilsson), Lundqvist won’t need to play more than 55 games.

With the Devils, Flyers and Hurricanes improving along with the Islanders, the question is are the playoffs in jeopardy. As long as the mighty Pens, Caps and Blue Jackets remain strong contenders, the Rangers will again likely find themselves fighting for a wildcard. It won’t be easy.

In other news that happened over the weekend, Lindy Ruff was hired to replace Jeff Beukeboom as a top assistant on Vigneault’s staff. The recently fired former Stars coach who’s best known for his run with the Sabres where he guided them to a Stanley Cup Final and two other Conference Finals is a proven coach who should help the bench.

I think the most interesting aspect is Ruff is Ruff around the edges unlike the even keel Vigneault. So, expect some more fire coming from the Rangers bench when it comes to officials. I don’t necessarily think Vigneault needs to look over his shoulder. I see this as a positive that can make our players edgier.

I feel for Beukeboom, who only got one year. But he’ll stay on as a scout for the organization.

Now, we all wait on the big Saturday to see which teams make complete fools out of themselves. It’s great that it’s a weekend. Let the fireworks begin!

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Devils’ draft has a Euro-feel to it

Somewhat surprisingly, the Devils made few moves on day two of the draft – which came and went yesterday with only one trade for the Devils – and that was a trade down to move out of the sixth round and acquire two more seventh round picks.  Instead of using their ten day two picks to move up or acquire NHL players, GM Ray Shero stood pat and had faith in head of scouting Paul Castron to unearth some gems in the later rounds. Though picking Nico Hischier to lead off the draft was always going to be a good start, Day 2 could in many ways be almost as pivotal for the future of the franchise going forward in a stacked Metro that has the two-time Stanley Cup champions, the President’s Trophy winners, and three teams drafting in the top ten including the Devils and Flyers at the very top.

Among the Devils’ ten picks on Day 2 were seven Europeans and three North Americans, starting with a pair of talented Swedish forwards, drafting 5’11 165 pound center Jesper Boqvist early in the second round at #36, and 5’10 195 pound winger Fabian Zetterlund with the first pick of the third round at #63.  Both skaters should add even more speed and skill to a system that is slowly gaining in both after three drafts from Shero.  With the Devils’ second third-rounder at pick #81 they picked their first defenseman – USA product Reilly Walsh, who’s off to Harvard and Walsh’s numbers suggest he has a lot of offensive skill from the blueline.  Perhaps the only mild dissapointment from Day 2 of the draft was that Walsh was the only defensman we picked before the seventh round, for an organization that desperately needs defensive help at both the NHL level and in the prospect pipeline.

Be that as it may, the Devils’ round 4 pick at #98 is an intriguing Russian forward, huge (6’5 219) Nikita Popugaev.   Thought to be a first-round talent after scoring 20 goals in his first 29 WHL games his production dropped significantly in the second half of the season and Popugaev was traded from an eventual Memorial Cup winner.  At least he has a good role model, wearing #71 for his idol Evgeni Malkin.  With New Jersey’s two fifth-round picks they chose overage Swiss goalie Gilles Senn at #129 and Slovak forward Marian Studenic at #143.  Senn is a big 6’5 191 presence in net who might be ready to turn pro sooner rather than later at age 21, unlike most drafted goalies, while the 6′ 164 pound Studenic could add more RW depth to the organization (despite being a LH shot), and he scored 18 goals in 58 games playing his first season in the OHL.

While the Devils continued their Euro-rush in the sixth round, this time they went to Finland for center Aarne Talvitie (5’10, 198 pounds) at pick #160.  Finally in the seventh round the Devils decided to scratch off a few blueline lottery tickets, rattling off picks Jocktan Chainey (Canadian-born teammate of #1 overall pick Hischier at Halifax) at #191, Russian-born Yegor Zaitsev – no relation to the Leafs’ Nikita – at #205, and with their final pick went with American-born Matthew Hellickson at #214,  concluding a busy Day 2 for Shero and Castron.  Albeit one that took just under four hours, as the NHL briskly – which is great for viewer attention – finished its final six rounds yesterday afternoon.

With the draft concluded, Shero can now turn his attention to potential trades and free agency – our biggest decision in the latter might be what happens with former Devil and perennial drama king Ilya Kovalchuk, and in an ideal world he gets flipped for either defensive help or to facilitate our rumored interest in Habs forward Alex Galchenyuk.  If the expansion draft was phase one of the offseason and the regular draft was phase two, we’re coming up on the third phase of this offseason.  So far there have been few splashes, although the Mirco Mueller trade and letting Jon Merrill go in the expansion draft was a mild surprise.  Hopefully that – and drafting Hischier – won’t be the biggest moves this offseason for Shero, otherwise we’re clearly looking at a longer hike than some of us hoped before seeing light at the end of the Devils’ tunnel.  At least we can get a brief look at that light in development camp where many of the recent draftees (starting with Hischier) will likely get a lot of attention.

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NHL Draft Recap: Rangers grab Lias Andersson and Filip Chytil, Sabres take Casey Mittlestadt, Islanders trade Hamonic to Flames

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Travis Hamonic is now a former Islander moving to the Flames in a trade executed by GM Garth Snow today on the final day of the 2017 NHL Draft. 

The 2017 NHL Entry Draft has come and gone in less than 24 hours. Following some first round excitement Friday night highlighted by I-95 rivals the Devils taking Nico Hischier the number one overall pick and the Flyers grabbing Nolan Patrick with the second pick, the Stars went with Finnish high scoring defenseman Miro Heiskanen.

Many teams including the Rangers tried to trade up to that number three spot but were unable to. Perhaps that was GM Jeff Gorton’s objective when he freed up $6.5 million in cap space by dealing popular first center Derek Stepan along with steady backup Antti Raanta to the Coyotes in exchange for the seventh overall pick and 21-year old defenseman Anthony DeAngelo.

Instead, Gorton settled on Swedish center Lias Andersson. Considered a reach at seven, the 18-year old left shooting forward scored three goals at the Under-20 World Junior Championship. He plays professionally for HV71 Jonkoping in the Swedish Elite League. In his second year, Andersson tallied nine goals and 10 assists for 19 points in 42 contests. He went 4-1-5 in the playoffs. Considered a good skater, he projects to be a top six forward.

While the usual critics jumped all over the pick due to wanting Michael Rasmussen (Red Wings-9th) or Gabriel Vilardi (Kings-11th), it’s way too early to judge. The thing about drafts is they’re a crap shoot. Unless you’re getting a bonafide stud like Connor McDavid or Auston Matthews, you just don’t know. I wish some of our fans had more patience. In listening to Gorton interviewed by Kathryn Tappen, he mentioned that while it was tough to part with a core player like Stepan, it was about freeing up cap space which will give the Rangers flexibility. He also talked about this being a rebuild on the fly. I take him at his word and trust Gordie Clark over any ‘expert.’

Another notable pick was Las Vegas taking small yet skilled Swede defenseman Erik Brannstrom with the number 15 pick they got from the Islanders in a salary dump of concussed center Mikhail Grabovski. Brannstrom sounds like he has some serious upside. In total, the Golden Knights wound up with three first round picks including sixth overall center Cody Glass from the WHL and center Nick Suzuki from Winnipeg at number 13. No doubt Las Vegas GM George McPhee will be building through the draft along with more trades.

After failing to acquire Matt Duchene, who was also highly sought by the Islanders, the Rangers kept both first round picks. With their 21st selection, they took another center in Czech Filip Chytil. Only 17, he completed his first year of pro hockey in the Czech Republic with Zlin ZPS HC. In 38 games, he registered four goals and four assists. While the TSN panel wondered about Andersson, the consensus on Chytil is they liked the pick. A good skater who gives maximum effort around the net, he wants to be like Matthews. Ha. One can only hope he’s half as good. He definitely doesn’t lack confidence. Pierre McGuire likened him to Tampa speedster Ondrej Palat. If that’s what he becomes, I’d be very pleased. That kind of breakaway speed and detail is something teams need in today’s much faster high tempo transition game.

In total, the Blueshirts drafted seven players. They traded down with San Jose in the fourth round to select New Jersey native overager Brandon Crawley. A 20-year old defenseman who spent the last three seasons with the London Knights of the OHL. That could be a sleeper. They tabbed defenseman Calle Sjalin in Round 5 from Sweden at 145. In Round 6, they took centers Dominik Lakatos (from Vancouver) and Morgan Barron (from San Jose). Finland center Patrik Virta was their final pick at 207 in the final round. A 5-9, 180-pound center. Gotta figure he has some good wheels and skill like potential 2016 seventh round steal Ty Ronning. He went number 201 last year.

As for the Islanders, they weren’t as busy making five picks. They went with three D and two forwards. The first three picks were blueliners with Finland’s Robin Salo going at number 46. With the 77th overall selection, they took American Benjamin Mirageas who played for Draft host Chicago in the USHL. He put up 10 assists in the playoffs after going 1-8-9 in 14 regular season contests. In a funny yet ironic pick, they took the other Sebastian Aho at number 139 in Round 5. The same name as talented Carolina rookie Sebastian Aho but this Aho plays defense and is Swede compared to Finn. Aho is a 21-year old overager who put up 10-20-30 for Skelleftea AIK in Sweden. When the Islanders and Hurricanes play, that should make for some interesting games in the future. 😉

Their final two picks were left wings Arnaud Durandeau (from Kings) and Logan Cockerill. The bigger news was GM Garth Snow managing to do quite well in getting a 2018 first round pick and two second rounders in 2019 from the Flames in exchange for defenseman Travis Hamonic and a 2019 four. That’s a excellent return for a solid character defensive D who wanted to be closer to home due to his family situation as reported early last season. Hamonic was a warrior for the Isles frequently dishing out hits and blocking shots while playing in the top four on the back end. Even though he struggled in ’16-17, the valuable right defenseman isn’t easily replaced. With three years left on a generous cap hit of $3.857 million thru 2020, he should be a good fit for Calgary.

The Islanders still have Calvin de Haan, Johnny Boychuk, Nick Leddy and Thomas Hickey in the top four. The hope is that Adam Pelech or Ryan Pulock step up along with Scott Mayfield. Maybe Snow does something else. But he really wants to give John Tavares another big scoring center to improve the team up front. Jordan Eberle for Ryan Strome is a good gamble if Eberle regains his scoring form with Tavares. He makes $6 million thru 2019.

Somewhat of an afterthought due to all the movement, the Sabres wound up adding six picks to their system. At number eight, they took Casey Mittlestadt. A 6-1, 201-pound American center from Eden Prairie, Minnesota. He fared well posting 13 goals with 17 assists for the Green Bay Gamblers of the USHL. After tabbing Swedish pivot Marcus Davidsson at number 37, Buffalo took a chance on 18-year old Finnish netminder Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen. He went 54th overall in Round 3. There isn’t much on him but the third round pick came originally from the Wild for rental Chris Stewart in 2015. If the Finn with the ultra cool name pans out, that could be one of those trades that’s talked about for a while. Stewart last played for the Wild this past season after leaving Minnesota for the Ducks in ’15-16. He’s bounced around but is signed for one more year in St. Paul.

Two of the Sabres’ final three picks were defensemen. With the number 89 selection from the Caps, they took another Finn in Oskari Laaksonen. He doesn’t turn 18 until July 2 while the free agent frenzy is going on. I wonder if he’s related to Antti Laaksonen. It doesn’t look like it. They also took D Jacob Bryson from Providence of Hockey East. He just completed his first year of college going 3-17-20 in 39 games. The final selection was Swedish forward Linus Weissbach at 199. A 19-year old overager who was nearly a point-per-game in the USHL with the Tri-City Storm, finishing with 19 goals and 28 assists in 49 games.

The Draft wasn’t without some big trades. Two involved the host Blackhawks. The first saw them send reliable defensive D Niklas Hjalmarsson to the Coyotes in exchange for Connor Murphy and Laurent Dauphin. Murphy is younger and locked into a longer deal at an AAV of $3.85 million thru 2022. Hjalmarsson was an integral part of three Stanley Cups for Chicago. He’ll be missed. The 30-year old vet is signed for two more years at $4.1 million per season thru 2019. Murphy has spent his first four seasons with the Coyotes never putting up more than 17 points in any year. It’s an interesting gamble. Dauphin is only 22. A former ‘Yotes 2013 second round pick, he’s totaled four points in 32 career NHL games. Supposedly, he has potential. We’ll see if the Hawks can untap it.

The biggest move was when the Blackhawks stunned the hockey world by trading popular Russian Artemi Panarin for Brandon Saad. It’ll be Saad’s second go round with the team that drafted him 43rd overall in 2011. He reached 30 goals for the first time in ’15-16 scoring 31 in his first season with Columbus. Originally acquired by the Blue Jackets for Artem Anisimov, Saad spent two seasons with the Jackets each totaling 53 points. Astonishingly, he’s still only 24 and has won two Cups with the Hawks where he’ll be reunited with former linemate Jonathan Toews. Toews and Patrick Kane announced the team’s first pick after trading down to 29 with Dallas to take Finnish defenseman Henri Jokiharju. A cool moment for the Hawks fans at the United Center.

Also yesterday, the Flyers surprisingly moved center Brayden Schenn to the Blues for center Jori Lehtera and a 2017 first round pick (Morgan Frost). Schenn will turn 26 in late August. Signed thru 2020 with an AAV of $5.125 million, the hard nosed center should be a excellent fit with the Blues who needed another gritty and tough versatile pivot. I love this deal for St. Louis and wouldn’t be surprised if it finally put them over the top. They definitely are going to be a top contender out West.

I guess the Flyers just decided they wanted to go in another direction. I really felt they should unload Claude Giroux but maybe his contract which pays him $8.275 million on the cap over the next five years is too rich for anyone’s blood. He regressed this past season along with another overpaid scorer Jakub Voracek. Both combine for nearly 17 million on the Flyers salary cap. At least it went up to $75 million for ’17-18.

It’s clear that GM Ron Hextall wants to get younger. By getting Nolan Patrick at second overall and making the Schenn trade to take Frost, who’s another center, he is doing that. The Flyers remain in the market for a number one goalie. Steve Mason is a UFA with Michal Neuvirth signed two more years. Is Anthony Stolarz the answer?

The Flyers drafted nine players including the younger brother of Ryan and Dylan Strome, Matthew Strome in the fourth round. A potential steal at 106. They definitely are reloading for the future. With Travis Konecny, Ivan Provorov and Shayne Gostisbehere already in place, Philadelphia looks to have a bright future. Expect more moves from Hextall.

In case you’re wondering, the final pick was made by the two-time Stanley Cup champion Penguins. With the 217th pick in the seventh round, they took defenseman William Reilly. Who knows? Maybe he’ll be the answer to a trivia question someday. Every pick counts.

With another NHL Draft in the books, it should be a very intriguing off-season. Especially with the Vegas Golden Knights now the 31st team and 15th out West. Figure them to make some more noise. It’s definitely exciting. Even if I’ve never been big on expansion, the idea of having a team in Las Vegas is cool. We’ll see how it goes. You can only wish the best for Marc-Andre Fleury, who’s as good as it gets in terms of his easy going personality. He said his goodbyes to Sidney Crosby and Carl Hagelin at the NHL Awards.

I think this is going to be an extraordinary summer. Even though there aren’t many big names to be had, I see more movement coming. I don’t believe the Rangers are done. The same for the Islanders. But it looks like Colorado GM Joe Sakic’s asking price for Matt Duchene is too much. He might just wind up staying with the confusing Avalanche. It’s hard to believe how far they’ve fallen from the glory days of two Cups with Sakic headlining it with Patrick Roy and Peter Forsberg, They look like they’re going to be extremely bad again. Only time shall tell.

The Habs are still trying to make a decision on center Alex Galchenyuk. They can either re-sign him for big money or trade him. Anything is possible. Will the Wild move one of Marco Scandella or Jonas Brodin?

So many questions must still be answered including whether or not the Rangers will give in on the estimated $23 million in cap space created once Kevin Klein retires. Are they going to go seven years on top right defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk? Or is that just another big mistake in terms and hurting them over the long haul. They definitely should bring back Brendan Smith. But filling out that other spot is essential.

I’ll have plenty more to say in future posts. It all heats up on July 1.

 

 

 

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Devils pick Nico Hischier #1 overall

After nearly two months of speculation, rumors and hype – finally it was time for Ray Shero and the Devils to choose between Nico or Nolan.  Although the initial pre-draft hype had Wheat Kings center Nolan Patrick being the top-rated prospect in the 2017 NHL Draft, most of the ranking lists had shifted over to the shift-y Swiss center Nico Hischier of the Halifax Mooseheads being #1 toward the end.  In recent days the whispers of Shero and his scouting staff leaning towards Nico started to leak out so it was little surprise when the Devils’ GM went to the podium to officially announce Hischier as the top pick of this draft and the newest New Jersey Devil.

Of course that meant that Patrick went to the division rival Philadelphia Flyers at #2, adding another dimension to an already hot rivalry – though one that’ll have to wait till mid-January to heat up on the ice, since in its infinite wisdom the NHL packed all four Devil-Flyer games into a one-month stretch from mid-January (more than three months into the season) to mid-February.  Being drafted #1-2 and playing with division rivals ensure that Nolan and Nico will always be compared.  Of course tonight for both these young men, they’re just excited over the opportunities that lay ahead.

For Hischier, the first Swiss player to ever be drafted #1, it’s been a meteoric rise since the wintertime when he was ranked as a mid first-rounder until an outstanding WJC (seven points in five games against top competition) and a terrific first season in the QMJHL for Halifax (38 goals-48 assists-86 points in 57 games) rocketed him up the rankings, first on a par with Patrick, and then slightly above him.  Perhaps the only serious question about the offensively gifted and speedy Hischier – besides the obvious skepticism about him only being in the spotlight for one season – is whether his skillset will ultimately translate as a center or as a wing at the highest level.  Of course his size isn’t a disqualifier in today’s NHL of being a pivot and one of the Devils’ main needs is for a franchise center.  You can watch YouTube for a number of highlights, here’s the best of his WJC in the wintertime (Hischier’s #18 for the Swiss):

In addition to all his tangibles, one intangible reason to like the newest Devil is his sense of humor and command of the English language.  During the pre-draft interview with the team, at one point someone with the organization – making light of the catfish-throwing during the Stanley Cup Finals – joked with the youngster that if you threw a catfish on the ice we’d pick you #1.  Hischier didn’t say anything until after the interview ended and they asked if he had any questions, then he said ‘Where can I buy a catfish?’

There hasn’t been a lot to be excited about as a Devil fan in recent years but this young man’s imminent arrival in a Devil uniform hopefully will signal the way out of the wilderness the team’s been in the last few years since the 2012 Stanley Cup Finals (was that really just five years ago?  Seems like longer with everything that’s happened with the team since then).

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Say goodbye to Stepan and Raanta: Traded to Coyotes for DeAngelo and 7th overall pick

Derek Stepan

Derek Stepan played his final game for the Rangers against Ottawa. He was dealt to the Coyotes with Antti Raanta today. AP Photo by Kathy Willens/Getty Images

As expected, the player movement is coming rapid and crazy. Today, the trades got kickstarted with NHL Draft host Chicago stunning the hockey world with two big moves that’ll change their team.

First, they sent Niklas Hjalmarsson to the Coyotes for Connor Murphy and Laurent Dauphin. This was a deal that was about saving money for the future. Hjalmarsson will turn unrestricted in two years while the younger Murphy is locked into a long term deal.

The even bigger shockwave was when they sent Artemi Panarin with Tyler Motte and a sixth round pick this weekend in exchange for a reunion with Brandon Saad, Anton Forsberg and a 2018 fifth round pick. Panarin is a breathtaking player who formed amazing chemistry with Patrick Kane turning him into a 100 point guy who won the Hart. But the electrifying Russian is already making $6 million over the next two seasons. So, by 2019 he’ll command a huge payday. Saad is locked into a longer term deal which also pays him the same $6 million average thru 2021.

With the hockey world still stunned by those trades, the Rangers made a predictable one sending Derek Stepan and Antti Raanta to the Coyotes in exchange for 21-year old defenseman Anthony DeAngelo and the seventh overall pick tonight.

It’s a thought provoking move that begs the question why they didn’t get more. Stepan is locked into a long term deal that averages out to $6.5 million thru 2021. His no-movement clause was due to kick in this July. After a inconsistent season which still saw the number one two-way center go over 50 points, he was a huge disappointment in the postseason. Unlike past performances highlighted by that drop pass to for Ryan McDonagh’s overtime winner and Stepan scoring in sudden death on a Dan Girardi rebound to stun the Capitals in a memorable second round in 2015, he was unable to find his form this past Spring.

Derek Stepan

Derek Stepan takes the winning shot to beat a sprawling Braden Holtby scoring at 11:24 of overtime to send the Rangers to the Conference Finals where they’ll meet the Lightning. Game 1 is Saturday. AP Photo by Frank Franklin II/Getty Images

A prideful guy who takes things to heart, he admitted that he sucked and wished he had played better following a second round elimination to the Senators in six games on home ice. His brutal honesty is why I respected him. He never passed blame and was one of the team leaders who helped them make three Eastern Conference Finals and one Stanley Cup appearance.

Even for his shortcomings in the face-off dot and for not being able to hit 60 points, Stepan was a reliable player who was fully trusted by the coaching staff in any role. He was splendid on the penalty kill forming solid chemistry with Rick Nash. They were a lot of fun to watch often creating shorthanded oppportunities and a few nice goals.

It will be odd not to see number 21 in a Blueshirt this Fall. I’ve been a huge Stepan fan since he was drafted in the second round 51st overall in the 2008 NHL Draft. He teamed with Chris Kreider to win gold at the 2010 Under-20 World Junior Championship. Something I’ll never forget.

Stepan was a very good Ranger. In seven seasons, he finishes with 128 goals and 232 assists totaling 360 points with a plus-109 rating in 515 games. In 97 postseason games which are a Rangers franchise record for forwards trailing only Marc Staal (104) and Dan Girardi (122), he tallied 19 goals with 30 assists for 49 points. Now 27, he’ll be counted to lead the rebuilding Coyotes in the future.

Henrik Lundqvist, Antti Raanta, Derek Stepan

New York Rangers’ Derek Stepan (21) encourages goalie Henrik Lundqvist (30) as goalie Antti Raanta (32) replaces Lundqvist during the second period of the Rangers’ NHL hockey game against the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday, April 2, 2016, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

In two seasons, Raanta was terrific as Henrik Lundqvist’s backup. After winning 11 games and posting a 2.25 goals-against-average with a .919 save percentage in ’15-16, he was even better establishing career bests in wins (16), shutouts (4) while posting a 2.27 GAA and .922 save percentage in a career high 29 games. Signed for another year at a bargain basement $1 million, Raanta will get the chance to become a starting goalie for the Coyotes. A great locker room guy, the likable Finn with the quirky personality will be missed.

It’s up to GM Jeff Gorton to find a suitable replacement that can back up Lundqvist and give him much needed time off. Undoubtedly, he’ll be busy working the phones. Thanks to goalie coach Benoit Allaire, the Rangers have turned Cam Talbot into a good starter and now Raanta. He’s not the best in the biz for nothing.

A big thank you goes out to Stepan and Raanta for their time spent on Broadway. Especially Stepan, who meant plenty to the franchise. Without him, they don’t reach three Final Fours or make a Stanley Cup appearance.

At the end of the day, it’s a business. Like many fans, I hate to see my favorite players go. But in a hard cap era that is unforgiving, this is the reality. Any success comes with a price. We saw it last year with Derick Brassard and two summers ago with Carl Hagelin. It’s why I dislike the current system. It’s not fair.

I don’t think Gorton is done. Even though in a interview with MSG’s Amanda Borges, he told her they aren’t trading their 21st overall pick, that could change. By acquiring the number seven overall from Arizona, I think he’s setting up up for something bigger.

Don’t be shocked if the Rangers beat the Islanders to the punch on Matt Duchene. They now have two first round picks and can part with players in good contracts to get the coveted franchise top center they lack. It’s a necessity. I expect the rumors to be rampant once the Draft starts tonight.

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Lindberg selected by Golden Knights in busy NHL Awards night in Vegas

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At last night’s NHL Awards in Las Vegas at T-Mobile Arena, the new expansion Vegas Golden Knights revealed the 30 players they selected along with some trades that allowed them to stockpile draft picks for this weekend and 2019.

While the award show itself was the usual assortment of odd humor and forced jokes including the line of the night from Hall of Famer Marcel Dionne to co-presenter Aly Raisman, “Look at those legs,” which drew the usual overreaction, at least they got the winners right.

To quickly recap, Connor McDavid swept the Pearson and Hart while Sergei Bobrovsky won the Vezina, Brent Burns the Norris, Patrice Bergeron the Selke, Johnny Gaudreau the Byng, John Tortorella the Adams and Auston Matthews the Calder. The biggest highlights were the emotional moments for Bryan Bickell and Craig Anderson along with Deanna Laing. Nick Foligno was recognized for the King Clancy and Messier Leadership Award. Travis Hamonic won for the NHL Foundation Player Award.

All were very deserving and gave good speeches with Anderson’s exceptional after receiving the Masterton with the likable Ottawa goalie saluting wife Nicholle in overcoming her cancer fight. Bickell’s farewell with wife Amanda was very emotional. He paid special thanks to the Blackhawks where he won a Cup.

As for the expansion draft, breathtaking host Kathryn Tappen revealed the players selected in segments with Darren Millard, who definitely was nervous making some mistakes. If you saw how wonderful Tappen looked, it could explain why.

Among the biggest reveals were Marc-Andre Fleury, who received thunderous applause from excited Vegas fans. He was so cool showing off his new Golden Knights threads after being taken from the Penguins where he won three Stanley Cups. Fleury is just a classy dude. He should do well.

The Panthers lost Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith, who they traded to Las Vegas. The Islanders lost J.F. Berube and dumped Mikhail Grabovski’s contract along with first and second round picks to clear room to acquire Jordan Eberle in a deal completed today with Edmonton for Ryan Strome. They’re after Matt Duchene with Hamonic on the block.

The Devils lost defenseman Jon Merrill, who was replaced by recent acquisition Mirco Mueller. Nothing else to report on the Devils for now with them slated to take either Nico Hischier or Nolan Patrick first overall in Friday’s first round.

As for the Rangers, they wound up losing center Oscar Lindberg. A underrated checking pivot who raised his game in the postseason, he is now a Golden Knight. For Vegas, it made sense with Lindberg a solid two-way center who is strong on draws and a diligent forechecker. He definitely didn’t get used enough in his second year under Alain Vigneault. Don’t forget it took Lindberg a while to get full healthy and recover from hip surgery. He should fit in nicely under new Vegas coach Gerard Gallant.

The Golden Knights also made a splash by tabbing ex-Predator James Neal. A capable scorer who plays with edge, he’ll be reunited with Fleury after losing to his former team for the Cup. Most interesting was the odd bromance between Carl Hagelin and Sidney Crosby. They sure make a good Odd Couple. I was glad Hagelin stayed with Pittsburgh for now. That doesn’t mean he won’t get moved.

I thought Las Vegas GM George McPhee did a good job adding defensemen. He was able to land Shea Theodore and acquire Clayton Stoner so the Ducks could retain Sami Vatanen and Josh Manson. He also drafted Alexei Emelin from the Canadiens and Marc Methot from the Senators. A tough loss for Ottawa. They opted to keep Cody Ceci.

One player McPhee took but didn’t keep was ex-Hawk Trevor van Riemsdyk. He sent him to the Hurricanes today. Former Devil David Schlemko is now a ex-Shark joining the Golden Knights. Apparently, he’s not staying in Vegas going to the Canadiens for a 2019 fifth round pick.

Aside from Fleury, who naturally was the home run pick, the Golden Knights took former Avalanche goalie Calvin Pickard and Berube as their other goalies. They passed on Petr Mrazek, whose stock plummeted on Detroit slipping to third on the depth chart after signing a new contract. He’ll probably get moved.

Two other veteran D Las Vegas added are Deryk Engelland and Jason Garrison. Engelland plays tough and can fight while Garrison hopes to rediscover his offense with Vegas if he stays. I liked the Brayden McNabb pick from the Kings, who got plenty of jeers along with the Blackhawks and Flyers. I guess hate travels.

Colin Miller and Luca Sbisa were also taken. Two younger right defenseman. Former Cap Nate Schmidt was the final selection. I have to believe they’ll keep him as he’s a solid D. Islanders failure Griffin Reinhart was also added for depth.

Some of the other forwards taken who should comprise the top four lines included Cody Eakin, William Karlsson, David Perron, Erik Haula, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Chris Thorburn and Teemu Pulkkinen. The rest included William Carrier, Brendan Leipsic and Tomas Nosek.

With some trades having taken place already, there’s sure to be plenty of player movement. The activity over the next 72 hours should be fast and furious.

With the Islanders making upgrades, it’ll be interesting to see what the Rangers do. Will Jeff Gorton pull off a blockbuster for a badly needed right defenseman? They currently don’t have one and Brendan Smith remains unsigned. The Rangers have been linked to Arizona and Winnipeg hoping to land Jacob Trouba. Derek Stepan is coveted by the rebuilding Coyotes. Who else goes in a package if that happens? Antti Raanta didn’t get drafted. I have to think he’ll be moved.

Stay tuned for plenty more this weekend with the NHL Entry Draft this weekend.

 

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