Rangers rookie Derek Stepan hoping to stick around NHL for a while

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GYI0061782060-stepan-andrewburton-getty.jpgThe preseason for the New York Rangers has provided a fair bit of intrigue. From the Wade Redden-to-Hartford situation, to captain Chris Drury breaking his finger, Vinny Prospal having knee issues, to today’s action on waivers with Tim Kennedy and Todd White there’s been more than enough drama for everyone in the organization and their fans. Out of all that, there is an upside and it comes from a rookie forward out of the University of Wisconsin Derek Stepan.

Stepan joined the Rangers in training camp after leaving Wisconsin early to turn pro and with inconsistent performance out of Todd White and Drury’s injury, the door has opened for Stepan to seize the opportunity and prove he belongs in Manhattan. While his former Wisconsin teammate Ryan McDonagh was already sent down to Hartford, he’s hoping it won’t be long until they’re both dominating on the ice for the Rangers as the New York Daily News’ Jesse Spector finds out.

The duo were roommates throughout training camp, and Stepan helped his friend pack. At some point this season, they should be reunited – the question is whether that will happen on Broadway or in Connecticut.

“It could be just until injuries get cleared up and stuff like that,” Stepan said of his job with the Rangers. “But right now I’ve just got to enjoy it and not try to think about stuff like that.”

The Rangers are waiting for one center, Chris Drury, to return from a broken finger. Meanwhile, Vinny Prospal, who could have been the center on the top line with Marian Gaborik and Alex Frolov, won’t skate again until at least mid-October due to knee inflammation.

Their returns might force Stepan back to the minors, but he forced his own way to the NHL with three goals and two assists in five preseason games. After the preseason finale on Saturday in Ottawa, John Tortorella told the Daily News, “his play speaks for itself.”

Being a young player and impressing John Tortorella says a lot for Stepan’s play. Tortorella, while not against playing young players, certainly seems to prefer the refined edge of a veteran player. As it is with the Rangers of late, sometimes the situation dictates playing younger players more. Last season saw the Rangers start the year with Michael Del Zotto and Matt Gilroy on defense. This season sees the Rangers at least starting the year with Stepan at center and Mike Sauer in competition on defense.

Stepan has a potentially bright career ahead of him. After a stellar year at Wisconsin making the NCAA Championship game and being captain of the United States’ gold medal-winning World Junior Championships team, it’s been a pretty good year. Being able to break camp and make the Rangers in his first chance would make for another ringing endorsement of the sort of player he is. While he may still yet end up in Hartford in the AHL at some point, at the very least he can make things difficult on GM Glen Sather for considering sending him back down.

(Photo: Andrew Burton – Getty Images)

Report: No buyout for Girardi, but Rangers willing to trade almost anyone

FILE - In this Feb. 11, 2012, file photo, New York Rangers' Dan Girardi looks on during an NHL hockey game against the Philadelphia Flyers in Philadelphia. The Rangers say they have agreed to terms with Girardi on a multiyear contract extension, taking the key defenseman off the trading block and keeping him away from unrestricted free agency. The deal was announced Friday, Feb. 28, 2014. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum, File)
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From Larry Brooks at the New York Post:

The Post has learned the Blueshirts do not intend to buy out the remainder of Dan Girardi’s contract, which has four years remaining at an annual $5.5 million cap charge.

In addition, sources report management has not requested the alternate captain to waive his no-move clause (which will be replaced by a modified no-trade following 2016-17). Further, no such request is expected.

So Girardi will be back with the New York Rangers next season. That’s what Brooks is reporting.

But that doesn’t mean there won’t be significant changes to the roster. According to Brooks, the Rangers are “prepared to listen to offers for everyone,” save for Henrik Lundqvist, Brady Skjei and Pavel Buchnevich.

That includes Ryan McDonagh, Derek Stepan, Derick Brassard, Chris Kreider and Kevin Hayes, each player’s availability, of course, will be dependent upon the exchange rate in return. But nothing is off the table. And the Wild are believed to have serious interest in native Minnesotan Stepan.

We told you it could be an interesting offseason in the Big Apple.

Related: AV concedes the Rangers had a ‘puck-moving’ problem

Chris Phillips, a former first overall draft pick, announces retirement

Chris Phillips
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Chris Phillips, the first overall draft pick in 1996, has retired after 1,179 NHL games, all of them with the Ottawa Senators.

“Chris’ trademark leadership, determination, hard work, and resilience as a hockey player gave our city and our fans the opportunity to witness an impressive 19 year journey in the National Hockey League,” said Sens owner Eugene Melnyk in a release. “Chris’ commitment to our team and our city places him among one of the greatest players to don a Senators uniform. He will forever hold a special place in the history of our hockey club.”

Phillips, 38, will remain with the Sens in a front-office role.

The 38-year-old defenseman was a pending unrestricted free agent; he didn’t play at all in 2015-16 due to a back injury.

Phillips’ last game was on Feb. 5, 2015.

The timing of the Gudbranson trade was…interesting

Florida Panthers defenseman Erik Gudbranson (44) gets up from the ice after being pushed in the second period during a preseason NHL hockey game against the Tampa Bay Lightning, Saturday, Sept. 28, 2013, in Sunrise, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
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It seems like only yesterday that the Florida Panthers were raving about Erik Gudbranson.

Except it wasn’t yesterday.

It was earlier this month.

“Guddy has taken a big step for our team this year,” coach Gerard Gallant said, per the Sun Sentinel. “He’s very confident, moves the puck real well and is a big part of our blue line.”

“He’s really going to be a special player for a lot of years in this league and hopefully for a lot of years with the Panthers,” said veteran d-man Brian Campbell.

Now, Florida had just signed Gudbranson to a one-year contract extension, so of course there was raving to be done.

But it still surprised many when he was traded to Vancouver yesterday.

For example:

Not that Gudbranson was given away for nothing. The return the Panthers got from the Canucks was considerable. Jared McCann could be a top-six forward one day, and there was more.

“The fact we were able to add draft picks this year, second and fourth round, 33 and 93, we felt gave us two picks that we got back that we lost on the trading deadline,” general manager Tom Rowe told reporters.

Rowe also conceded that trading Gudbranson was a “very, very difficult decision.”

The timing, though.

The timing was pretty hard to ignore.

Rowe, of course, was just named Florida’s new GM. He replaced Dale Tallon, who was “promoted” (or demoted, depending who you ask) to the role of director of hockey ops.

It was all part of a big, managerial shakeup — one that was driven in large part by analytics:

Would you be surprised to learn that Gudbranson did not have a particularly high Corsi?

From Stats.HockeyAnalysis.com:

Panthers

Now, we’re not saying the Panthers made this trade solely because of advanced stats. When there’s a salary cap, difficult decisions need to be made. Gudbranson will need a new contract next summer, and he won’t be cheap to re-sign.

Added Rowe: “The way [Michael Matheson] played in the playoffs and at the World Championship for an outstanding Canadian team really gave us more of a comfort level to do this.”

Still, it was only two years ago that Tallon was saying Gudbranson was “likely going to be the captain of our team some day.” And it was only a few weeks ago that Tallon called Gudbranson “an important part of our young core who has continued to develop into a reliable, physical presence on our blue line and a strong leader in our locker room.”

So yeah, whether or not you like the deal for the Panthers, it’s more than fair to wonder who, or what, was the driving force behind it.

One thing’s for sure — the Panthers are going to look very different on the back end next season. Gudbranson’s gone; Willie Mitchell is unlikely to be back; and Campbell is an unrestricted free agent who may test the market.

In the playoffs, no defenseman played more for Florida than Gudbranson. After him, it was Campbell.

Related: People are wondering — do the Florida Panthers know what they’re doing?

Some tough decisions await the Blues

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Yet again, the St. Louis Blues failed to achieve their ultimate goal.

And boy does it hurt right now.

“We’re all hurting,” coach Ken Hitchcock said last night after getting eliminated by the San Jose Sharks in the Western Conference Final.

“You don’t want this to be our best opportunity. You want this to be a building block. In this game, in this era, in this cap world, you don’t know where you’re going to be a year from now.”

Indeed, GM Doug Armstrong has some tough decisions to make this offseason.

At the top of the list is whether to bring Hitchcock back. Yes, the Blues did better than 26 other teams, and yes, they finally got past the first round. Still, there are people who believe this will be it for the head coach, that a new voice could help. Overall, Hitchcock has done a great job in St. Louis. But then, so did Todd McLellan in San Jose. Sometimes, change can be good.

Then there are the unrestricted free agents. Both captain David Backes and winger Troy Brouwer need new contracts. The former is 32, the latter 30. The former had seven goals in the playoffs, the latter eight. How much money will they want? How much term? The second question might be the most important.

On the back end, it’s Kevin Shattenkirk that will garner the most attention. He’s signed through next season before he can become an unrestricted free agent. Just 27 years old, and considering the demand for what he does, he’ll be very expensive to keep. And with the emergence of Colton Parayko, trading Shattenkirk could probably be justified, especially if the return is good. A team like the Boston Bruins might be willing to pay up.

Right now, the pain is still fresh for the Blues.

“It’s so hard to win in the league right now,” said Hitchcock. “It’s so hard to win a series. So hard to just get in the playoffs. When you get this far, you get this close, you think you got the opportunity.”

The challenge for Armstrong will be to give his team another opportunity next season. And with the draft less than a month away, all these tough decisions will need to be made very soon.