Rebuild New York Rangers Constructing Path To NHL Playoffs
Avalanche and Bruins tie their respective series at two games apiece. Recaps and a roundup of notable news in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.
NHL.COM: Colorado Avalanche goaltender Philipp Grubauer made 32 saves for his first career NHL playoff shutout in a 3-0 win in Game 4 over the San Jose Sharks. Their second-round series is tied at two games apiece. Nathan MacKinnon extended his playoff points streak to eight games while linemate Miko Rantanen had two assists.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Special teams were also a factor in this one for the Avs, killing off two penalties and tallying a power-play goal. MacKinnon, meanwhile, is emerging as an early favorite for the Conn Smythe Trophy. He’s certainly been the Avs most valuable player thus far.
The Boston Bruins also tied their series at two games apiece with a 4-1 victory in Game 4 against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Patrice Bergeron scored twice and Tuukka Rask turned aside 39 shots. Blue Jackets winger Artemi Panarin’s goal was controversial, coming after the puck had deflected up into the mesh behind the Bruins net.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: While the Bruins were upset over the Panarin goal they didn’t lose their composure. The stage is set for what should be an entertaining Game 5 back in Boston on Saturday.
NEW YORK POST: Islanders coach Barry Trotz won’t rule out shaking up his lineup for tonight’s Game 4 against the Carolina Hurricanes. Those changes could include backup Thomas Greiss replacing starter Robin Lehner. The Isles face elimination tonight.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: A popgun offense, not Lehner’s goaltending, is the reason the Isles find themselves down 3-0 in this series. Yes, Lehner’s turnover in the third period of Game 3 resulted in the Hurricanes’ game-winning goal, but he’s been otherwise solid throughout this series. Without him, the Islanders probably don’t reach the playoffs, let alone advance to the second round. Changing the goalies won’t improve the Islanders anemic scoring punch.
LAS VEGAS SUN: The Vegas Golden Knights yesterday announced assistant general manager Kelly McCrimmon was promoted to general manager. Now-former GM George McPhee will remain president of hockey operations.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Golden Knights didn’t want to risk losing McCrimmon to another team. There was talk he was a possible candidate for the Oilers’ vacant GM role. McCrimmon played a significant role in assisting McPhee in building and maintaining the roster. McPhee will still provide oversight over all hockey decisions but he and McCrimmon have a solid working relationship.
THE SCORE: Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews underwent a procedure yesterday to remove surgical hardware from a 2014 surgery to repair a broken femur. The procedure isn’t expected to affect his offseason training routine.
NEW YORK POST: The Rangers signed prospect defenseman Adam Fox to an entry-level contract. Earlier this week, the Rangers acquired Fox from the Carolina Hurricanes.
SPORTSNET: Hockey Hall of Famer Red Kelly passed away yesterday at age 91. Kelly won eight Stanley Cups with the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs during his 20-year career. He was a defenseman who could also play at center. A six-time First Team all-star, Kelly won the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy four times and the James Norris Memorial Trophy in 1953-54. In 1,316 games, Kelly scored 281 goals and 823 points. He also went on to coach the Los Angeles Kings, Pittsburgh Penguins, and Toronto Maple Leafs.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: My condolences to Kelly’s family, friends, former teammates, and fans. He was truly a unique NHL player and coach, pioneering the role of the puck-moving defenseman.
Sharks and Blue Jackets take 2-1 leads in their respective second-round series, injury updates, and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.
NHL.COM: Logan Couture tallied his first NHL playoff hat trick as the San Jose Sharks doubled up the Colorado Avalanche 4-2 to take a 2-1 lead in their second-round series. Timo Meier had a goal and two assists for the Sharks, who had blown a 2-0 lead as the Avs tied it on goals by Nathan MacKinnon and Matt Nieto.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Avalanche made a game of this by battling back to tie it but Couture quickly snuffed their hopes for a win just over a minute after Nieto’s goal. Couture leads all playoff scorers with nine goals and is tied with MacKinnon and Vegas’ Mark Stone (12 points each) for the points lead.
Sergei Bobrovsky made 36 saves (15 in the third period) as the Columbus Blue Jackets held off the Boston Bruins 2-1 to take a 2-1 lead in their second-round series. Boone Jenner and Matt Duchene scored for the Jackets while Jake DeBrusk replied for the Bruins. There are calls for Bruins winger Brad Marchand to face supplemental discipline following his sneaky blow to the head of Jackets defenseman Scott Harrington.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: This game wasn’t pretty, folks. Both clubs came into this game with a grinder’s mindset and it showed. We can probably expect the rest of this series to be a physical, closely contested low-scoring defensive tilt.
As for Marchand, he’s earned his fair share of fines and suspensions for his cheap-shot antics over the years but I doubt he’ll get more than a warning (if anything) from the league for his latest action. At the very least, this should put a stop to the “Marchand has changed his ways” narrative that crept into this spring’s coverage of the Bruins.
TSN: Carolina Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour suggested goaltender Petr Mrazek’s lower-body injury might not be serious but declined to say when he’ll return to action. He’s expected to miss Game 3 tonight against the New York Islanders. Winger Micheal Ferland (upper-body injury) could be ready to return for Game 4.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Hurricanes are a banged-up bunch, with six players (Mrazek, Ferland, Andrei Svechnikov, Trevor van Riemsdyk, Jordan Martinook and Saku Maenalanen) on the sidelines. Their depleted depth could take a toll on their performance in tonight’s game against an Islanders team looking for their first win of this series.
NEW YORK POST: Speaking of the Islanders, they could be without the services of checking-line winger Cal Clutterbuck, who was helped off the ice late in Game 2 with an undisclosed injury. Clutterbuck traveled with his teammates to Carolina as the series shifted to Raleigh for Games 3 and 4.
STLTODAY.COM: Dallas Stars defenseman Esa Lindell’s embellishment efforts to draw a penalty in Game 3 against the St. Louis Blues has made him the subject of online mockery.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: It’s disappointing to see a talented blueliner like Lindell going to such ridiculous lengths to draw a penalty. Here’s hoping we’ve seen the last of his flopping antics.
NEW YORK DAILY NEWS: The New York Rangers acquired 2019 Hobey Baker Award finalist Adam Fox from the Hurricane in exchange for a 2019 second-round pick and conditional 2020 third-round selection.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Fox wasn’t expected to sign with the Hurricanes and would’ve become an unrestricted free agent this summer. The Rangers are reportedly close to getting Fox under contract. For those of you wondering why the trade took place now instead of following the postseason, the Rangers are a non-playoff club and Fox was a non-roster player for the Hurricanes.
Contrary to media reports, I have not contacted Mike Gillis about returning to the Canucks and have no plans to do so.
— Francesco Aquilini (@fr_aquilini) April 30, 2019
Latest on the Canadiens, Coyotes, and Hurricanes in today’s NHL rumor mill.
WHAT NEXT FOR THE CANADIENS?
ESPN.COM: In the wake of the Montreal Canadiens’ elimination from postseason contention, Greg Wyshynski and Chris Peters believe they must bring in some puck-moving offensive punch to their defense. They also believe Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin should add some more scoring to the forward lines.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Thanks to Bergevin’s moves last summer (acquiring Max Domi, Tomas Tatar, and Joel Armia, drafting Jesperi Kotkaniemi), the Canadiens significantly improved this season. Nevertheless, they’re still not good enough to be a playoff team in the Eastern Conference. Even if they’d qualified this season, they would’ve been a first-round-and-out club.
The Canadiens lack skilled depth on the left side of their defense and they need a better backup goalie behind overworked starter Carey Price. They also need another established scoring forward and must improve a god-awful power play that ranks 30th overall. I anticipate Bergevin will be busy making moves this summer to address those issues.
Cap Friendly indicates the Canadiens have over $64.3 million invested in 17 players with all their core players signed through next season. Assuming an $83-million cap for 2019-20, Bergevin will have around $19 million to re-sign or replace his depth free agents and still have sufficient room to make a significant addition if possible.
Don’t expect the Canadiens to entice top-tier UFAs like Erik Karlsson, Artemi Panarin or Jeff Skinner to Montreal. It’s not going to happen. Bergevin could have better luck with second-tier talents like Gustav Nyquist, Kevin Hayes, or Jake Gardiner, though I don’t see him being keen to overpay for their services after the Karl Alzner debacle.
Bergevin could instead target clubs with limited cap space in need of shedding salary to re-sign young players. He could get bold and go the offer-sheet route but his recent remarks suggest that isn’t likely. Given his solid wheeling-and-dealing last year, I think he’ll be busy again in the trade market this summer.
WHAT WILL THE COYOTES DO THIS SUMMER?
ARIZONA REPUBLIC: In a recent mailbag segment, Richard Morin was asked if Arizona Coyotes general manager John Chayka will go shopping this summer to improve his roster. Morin believes that will depend upon the Coyotes’ budget restraints.
If there’s sufficient payroll to make some additions, Morin feels adding at least one bona fide scorer is a priority. He suggests someone like Buffalo’s Jeff Skinner could alter the complexion of the team.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Coyotes have over $74.3 million invested in 17 players for 2019-20. Over $5.2 million of that belongs to the all-but-retired Marian Hossa. Nevertheless, I don’t see the Coyotes being big spenders in the UFA market.
Chayka could be forced to go the trade route to bring in a scorer like he did earlier this season by acquiring Nick Schmaltz from Chicago. Had Schmaltz not suffered a season-ending knee injury, I believe his production would’ve propelled the Coyotes into the postseason.
If the budget constraints are too tight and he can’t shed salary, Chayka could be forced to remain patient and hope promising young forwards Clayton Keller, Christian Fischer, and Christian Dvorak start reaching their full potential next season.
HURRICANES STILL TRYING TO SIGN FOX
TSN: cited Raleigh News & Observer’s Chip Alexander reporting Carolina Hurricanes GM Don Waddell said his club is still trying to sign prospect defenseman Adam Fox. This comes a few days after team owner Tom Dundon indicated the plan was to trade Fox, who could become an unrestricted free agent next summer. Fox is a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: If Fox isn’t willing to sign with the Hurricanes, they’ll have little choice but to trade his rights to a team that he’s willing to sign with. Earlier this week, TSN’s Pierre LeBrun said the Hurricanes had held talks with the New York Rangers. He believes the Hurricanes would be interested in the first-round pick the Rangers received from the Winnipeg Jets in the Kevin Hayes deal at the trade deadline. Still, LeBrun added not to rule out the possibility of the Hurricanes convincing Fox to change his mind.
In today’s NHL rumor mill, we have the latest on Kyle Turris and Chris Kreider plus the Hurricanes could shop prospect Adam Fox.
TURRIS FACING MURKY FUTURE IN NASHVILLE?
THE ATHLETIC (subscription required): In his latest mailbag segment, Adam Vingan was asked if the Nashville Predators might trade someone like center Kyle Turris to make room to pursue Columbus Blue Jackets center Matt Duchene via free agency in July.
Turris, who’s in the first season of a six-year, $36-million contract, is struggling this season and he’s seeing reduced playing time. With the Predators’ salary-cap situation about to get tight, Turris could be a prime candidate for a cost-cutting move but his poor play this season and expensive contract would make him difficult to move.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Cap Friendly indicates the Predators have over $76.8 million invested in 22 players next season with all their core players under contract. If general manager David Poile intends on being a player in this summer’s free-agent market he’ll have to shed salary to do so. That could depend upon the Predators’ performance in the upcoming Stanley Cup playoffs.
Turris was also limited to 52 games by injury this season. He lacks no-trade protection but his play this season and his $6-million annual cap hit would certainly hinder efforts to move him. He turns 30 in August and that could also dampen his trade value.
UPDATE ON KREIDER
NEW YORK POST: Larry Brooks recently included winger Chris Kreider among the Rangers whose stock is down going forward. While injuries took a toll on Kreider this season, Brooks believes management won’t overlook the decline in his production since early-February. That could factor into their decision over whether to re-sign him to a contract extension this summer or trade him as part of a package for “a legit match-up righty defenseman.”
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Kreider is signed through 2019-20 with an annual salary-cap hit of $4.625 million and an 11-team no-trade list. I expect the Rangers will meet with his representatives before June to determine what he’s seeking in his next contract. If they feel it’s too expensive they could put him on the trade block leading up to the 2019 NHL Draft in late-June.
HURRICANES TO SHOP PROSPECT FOX
NEWSOBSERVER.COM: Chip Alexander reports Carolina Hurricanes defense prospect Adam Fox is balking at signing a contract with the club. Team owner Tom Dundon said they’ll attempt to trade him. The Hurricanes acquired Fox from the Calgary Flames as part of last June’s multi-player deal that also brought them defenseman Dougie Hamilton and winger Micheal Ferland.
Should Fox return to Harvard to complete his senior year, he’ll be eligible to become an unrestricted free agent next summer. However, there’s a belief he could turn pro if the Hurricanes trade him to a team he likes. Fox is considered by some observers to be NHL-ready, leading Alexander to wonder if the Hurricanes could get a first- or second-round pick for him.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: TSN’s Pierre LeBrun believes the New York Rangers could be atop Fox’s list of preferred destinations. Though he lacks NHL experience he’s a righthanded shot, which could make him enticing to the Blueshirts. LeBrun doubts the Rangers will part with a first-round pick to get him.
Here’s my take on the noteworthy trades of the 2018 NHL Draft.
Carolina Hurricanes trade center Elias Lindholm and defenseman Noah Hanifin to the Calgary Flames in exchange for defenseman Dougie Hamilton, forward Micheal Ferland and defense prospect Adam Fox.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Big move by two teams that failed to reach the playoffs last season. Flames coach Bill Peters is also the former bench boss of the Hurricanes and knows Lindholm and Hanifin well, so I don’t doubt he had a hand in this. Both are restricted free agents but I expect the Flames will get them re-signed quickly. Lindholm has managed two straight 40-point seasons and is a strong two-way performer. Hanifin, 21, still has considerable upside as a puck-moving rearguard.
This is the second time in three years Hamilton’s been dealt. A skilled mobile defenseman, the 25-year-old netted a career-best 17 goals this season. He should provide an immediate offensive boost from the blueline. Ferland, a pesky physical winger, reached career highs in goals (20) and points (41). Fox could also eventually prove to be a solid addition to the Hurricanes defense corps
Los Angeles Kings reach agreement with free-agent left wing Ilya Kovalchuk on a three-year contract.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Not a trade but this signing could affect the trade market. Several clubs that were interested in Kovalchuk could turn to the trade market. TSN’s Bob McKenzie reports it’s an annual cap hit of $6.25 million, same as Toronto’s Patrick Marleau. He cannot officially sign this until July 1 but it appears it will be a done deal.
Kovalchuk was the KHL’s leading scorer last season. He’s returning to the NHL for the first time since 2012-13. A former 40-50 goal scorer, the 35-year-old is probably no longer capable of reaching those heights again. If he can consistently reach 25 goals and 50 points per season over the course of this deal he could be a useful addition for the Kings, who are in need of experienced scoring depth, especially on the power play.
Washington Capitals trade goaltender Phillip Grubauer and Brooks Orpik to the Colorado Avalanche for a second-round pick (47th overall) in the 2018 NHL Draft.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Pure salary dump by the Capitals. Grubauer is a restricted free agent who wants to be a starting goaltender, something he won’t be with Braden Holtby entrenched as their starter. Orpik had a year remaining on his contract at an annual average value of $5.5 million. By shedding that salary, the Caps now have over $58 million invested in 15 players, giving them much-needed room to re-sign pending UFA defenseman John Carlson to what could be an eight-year deal worth over $8 million annually.
For the Avs, Grubauer could be a potential heir apparent to current starter Semyon Varlamov. The oft-injured 30-year-old Varlamov is a year away from UFA status. If Grubauer proves himself as a starting goalie in Colorado this season, the Avs could let Varlamov walk nexst summer. This move also likely means current backup Jonathan Bernier will be heading to free agency.
As for Orpik, the Avs will reportedly attempt to trade him again. Failing that, they could buy him out by June 30.