Around the rink – Thursday, November 11th

It’s Veteran’s Day in America, so remember to say thanks to anyone you know who has served their country in the military. On the hockey side of things, it’s Gaborik Day in New York as the Rangers get their top scorer back in the lineup. That’s a reason to throw a party, right? If not, there’s enough going on elsewhere to whet your appetite. All times listed are Eastern.

7:00 pm

Montreal @ Boston

Boston’s coming off a big win over Pittsburgh but dealing with the Habs always means things get interesting and with the Habs dedication to frustrating the opponents offense these rivals should have quite the reunion tonight. With Tim Thomas having started against Pittsburgh last night, could we see Tuukka Rask get the call against Carey Price?

Buffalo @ NY Rangers

Marian Gaborik makes his triumphant return to the Rangers following his shoulder injury and he gets to deal with a Sabres team that comes in after winning two in a row. Oh yeah, and Ryan Miller could be back in the lineup for the Sabres as well. All of a sudden it looks like a marquee match-up doesn’t it? Let’s hope the game can live up to the names.

Tampa Bay @ Washington

A Southeast Division battle kicks in with the Caps coming in on fire winners of five in a row. Tampa Bay comes into the game after getting off a three-game skid with a win over the slump-busting Maple Leafs. Did the Lightning get over what ails them? A red-hot Caps team should provide a good litmus test to see if that’s the case.

Philadelphia @ Carolina

If the Hurricanes are going to be seen as a playoff threat, a win over the Flyers might help convince some people. The Flyers are looking to bounce back after a loss to the Caps. They were winners of seven straight before that and goalie Sergei Bobrovsky deserves a lot of credit for that. The Hurricanes enter the game on a two-game win streak having beaten the Panthers and Oilers. Expect them to get a healthy test at the hands of the Flyers.

Minnesota @ Atlanta

Minnesota is looking to get their offense jump-started a little bit and a game with the Thrashers might just be the kind of help they’re looking for. The Thrashers have allowed the most goals in the league but if the Wild aren’t careful they could get lit up themselves with Atlanta being one of the better scoring teams in the league.

7:30 pm

Edmonton @ Detroit

Things are tough for the Oilers right now. If they hadn’t played the Blackhawks they’d be in the middle of a soul-crushing losing streak. They’ve lost nine of their last eleven games and their only two wins in there are against Chicago. With that reasoning in place, their prospects against the Red Wings don’t look good, especially with the Wings playing steady hockey of late. Detroit has won four of their last five games and it’s been Jimmy Howard they can thank for a lot of that holding opponents to six goals in those four wins.

Keep an eye on Edmonton rookie Taylor Hall in this one as he’ll be playing across the river from Windsor, Ontario where he played junior hockey. Playing in Detroit is about as much of a homecoming as he’ll get, at least until an eccentric Canadian billionaire tries to move a struggling team there.

Vancouver @ Ottawa

Vancouver’s east coast swing continues in Ottawa and they’ll be looking for a little bit more offense than they saw against Montreal the other night. As in any offense as they were shutout by the Habs. Playing a streaking Ottawa team may not be the solution they’re looking for though. The Sens are winners of four in a row and have gotten fantastic play in goal from Brian Elliott and he could get the nod again tonight. Special side highlight of the night? The Sedin twins facing off with Swedish favorite Daniel Alfredsson.

8:00 pm

Nashville @ St. Louis

So how do you come back after getting thrashed 8-1 by the Blue Jackets? For the Blues you get to shake it off right away the following night against fellow divisional foe Nashville. That might not be the best medicine as the Preds are notoriously difficult to deal with, but at least the Blues have home ice to support them. The Preds, meanwhile, will be looking to end a five game losing streak. Desperation meets reclamation. It’s got the makings of a good one in St. Louis.

10:30 pm

Dallas @ Los Angeles

The Kings are winners of four straight and are one of the league’s best teams. Meanwhile, the Stars sit just four points behind them in the standings and have been a surprise themselves so far this year. After a humbling 5-0 loss to Colorado the other night, the Stars will be looking to get back on the right track. Previous to that beat down they were on a three-game win streak. Dealing with the Kings, even with injuries to Willie Mitchell and Alexei Ponikarovsky, will make living difficult.

NY Islanders @ San Jose

Does the Isles streak end tonight? The Islanders have lost eight in a row, including two straight one-goal losses. They did just about everything but win (or score a goal) last night against Anaheim limiting the Ducks to 14 shots on goal but still managed to lose. Scoring has been their biggest issue and facing San Jose won’t help that much. The Sharks are fifth in the league in goals allowed but they’re struggling a bit themselves, losing three of their last four games. The Sharks aren’t scoring much of late either, but the Isles have been slump busters before. Unless the Isles start scoring, they don’t look to be much of a threat.

Butcher not seeking guaranteed NHL roster spot

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Even with numerous suitors lining up to try and sign him, Will Butcher isn’t making any unreasonable demands as a free agent.

Case in point, the 22-year-old defensemen — the same guy who just won the Hobey Baker Award after a terrific senior year at the University of Denver — isn’t saying he needs to play in the NHL next season.

“What ends up winning the day, I’m not sure,” Butcher’s agent, Brain Bartlett, told the Tampa Bay Times. “But we have not told teams that if you don’t have an NHL spot for him in training camp, don’t bother even calling. It’s quite the opposite.”

Perhaps Butcher is using Justin Schultz‘s experience in Edmonton as a guide. Schultz, a highly sought-after college free agent in the summer of 2012, was thrown right into the deep end with the Oilers, and only the Pittsburgh Penguins could save him from drowning.

Not to suggest Schultz made unreasonable demands of the Oilers — he insisted he wasn’t guaranteed ice time — but Edmonton’s blue line was so bereft of talent that he got it all the same.

Given what Bartlett had to say, it may be that Butcher is looking for a team that, above all else, can guarantee his proper development.

The NHL ice time can come when he’s ready for it.

Related: Devils, Sabres, Vegas reportedly in on Butcher

Gorton deserves kudos for Rangers’ rebuild on the fly

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This post is part of Rangers Day on PHT…

It’s easy for fans to demand a full-on rebuild when times get tough for their team.

It’s another matter for a general manager to actually commit to years of losing, with no guarantee of brighter days ahead.

For Jeff Gorton, a tear-it-down rebuild was never really an option in New York anyway, even when the Rangers were looking particularly old and worn down. That’s largely because Henrik Lundqvist was signed through 2020-21, and it’s tough to tell your Hall-of-Fame goalie that it’s time to tank.

So the Rangers chose instead to rebuild on the fly.

Two years after replacing Glen Sather, one would have to conclude that Gorton has done a pretty good job in that regard. The Rangers may not be the strongest Stanley Cup contenders next season, but consider:

— Last summer, Gorton was able to use a team with pressure to win now (the Ottawa Senators) to trade Derick Brassard for Mika Zibanejad, the latter of whom is five years younger.

— A year later, Gorton found another team with pressure to get some immediate results (the Arizona Coyotes) and traded Derek Stepan and backup goalie Antti Raanta for the seventh overall draft pick (Lias Andersson) and Anthony DeAngelo, giving the Rangers two more talented youngsters to add to the stable.

— Gorton, whose team’s future had essentially been mortgaged by his predecessor, has been forced to do a lot of his work outside the draft, and the results have been impressive. His most celebrated move was getting Jimmy Vesey to sign, but he’s also added college free agents like John Gilmour and Neal Pionk, and he got Russian defenseman Alexei Bereglazov out of the KHL.

Throw in the fact the Rangers actually kept their first-round pick this year, selecting Czech center Filip Chytil 21st overall, and the future is looking a lot brighter today than, say, in April of 2016.

Oh, and Gorton was also able to sign Kevin Shattenkirk, the most coveted unrestricted free agent of the summer, to a below-market contract with a term of just four years. So that was pretty good, too.

Admittedly, this path may still lead to ruin — or, if not quite ruin, maddening mediocrity. The Rangers still don’t have a future Connor McDavid or Auston Matthews, i.e. the kind of player that typically goes to teams that have bottomed out.

But on the path the Rangers have chosen to take, Gorton has done an admirable job, and for that he deserves credit.

Under Pressure: Kevin Hayes

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This post is part of Rangers Day on PHT…

It was not that long ago — less than two years, in fact — that Kevin Hayes received a scathing critique from his head coach, Alain Vigneault.

“In Kevin’s case, I think we made it clear our expectations about him and what we felt he could do were very high,” Vigneault said in December of 2015, per the New York Post. “Obviously, he hasn’t lived up to that. Did we overestimate his possibilities? I don’t know, time will tell. But I do know that what I’m seeing now, and what we’re seeing now, is not good enough.”

It has been quite a turnaround for Hayes ever since. Now 25 years old, he’s coming off a career-high 49 points in 2016-17. And after the trading of Derek Stepan to Arizona, he’s considered the top candidate to center the Rangers’ second line next season.

Oh, and did we mention this is a contract year for Hayes? He can become a restricted free agent next summer, and he’s already seen Mika Zibanejad get paid.

Now, it goes without saying that second-line center is a tough job in the NHL. Often, it’s used against the opposition’s top players, and it still comes with the responsibility to produce some offense.

So, is Hayes up to the challenge?

That’s a tough question to answer, because Hayes was already given a tougher defensive role last season, starting many of his shifts in the defensive zone while also facing quality competition.

But his possession numbers were worrisome, as you can see below:

After crunching the numbers, here’s what GothamSN writer Brandon Fitzpatrick concluded:

Basically, Hayes got tough minutes from Vigneault last season, and despite registering career-highs in assists and points, the underlying numbers weren’t favorable to him. Much of Hayes’ point totals can be attributed to Michael Grabner’s extraordinary 27 goal season where he shot a career-high 16.7%, well above his 12.7% career average.

There’s no doubt the Rangers want to see if Hayes can be a top-six center before committing to him long-term next summer, but if he’s not ready, the Rangers are going to suffer big time.

In addition to trading Stepan, the Rangers also lost Oscar Lindberg to Vegas in the expansion draft. And while they did sign veteran David Desharnais, the center position is going to be under a big microscope next season.

If Hayes is up for the job, it should go a long way towards making the Rangers a competitive team, while also helping him financially.

If not, all bets are off.

Related: Lias Andersson to get ‘every opportunity’ to make Rangers

Looking to make the leap: Anthony DeAngelo

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This post is part of Rangers Day on PHT…

He’s only 21 and already Anthony DeAngelo has been traded twice.

First he went from Tampa Bay, which drafted him 19th overall in 2014, to Arizona. That trade went down last summer. Then, just a year later, the Coyotes sent the talented defenseman to the Rangers as part of the Derek Stepan blockbuster.

Upon joining the Blueshirts, it looked like DeAngelo may get a great chance to prove his worth. But then Kevin Shattenkirk signed and it wasn’t quite as clear where DeAngelo, whose game has similarities to Shattenkirk’s, might fit.

Rangers coach Alain Vigneault is excited nonetheless to see what the youngster can do.

“I only saw him once last year but everything that I’m hearing … everybody seems to think this guy is legit and he’s ready to take the next step,” Vigneault said, per NHL.com. “I have not talked to anyone who has told me differently. Everybody I speak to says the same thing, that he’s going to help us as far as our quick north/south transition game, and that he’s going to help on the power play.”

DeAngelo appeared in 39 games for the Coyotes last season and finished with a respectable five goals and nine assists. The catch is that eight of his 14 points came on the power play, and with Shattenkirk in New York now, it remains to be seen how much quality PP time will be left for DeAngelo.

Barring injuries, there is plenty of competition that DeAngelo will need to beat out in order to play in the NHL next season. Assuming the Rangers’ top four is set with Ryan McDonagh, Shattenkirk, Brendan Smith and Brady Skjei, that leaves Marc Staal, Nick Holden, Alexei Bereglazov, Neal Pionk, and DeAngelo to battle for the two spots on the bottom pairing.

From the New York Post:

Clouding the issue is a believed contractual out-clause that would allow the 23-year-old Bereglazov to return to the KHL rather than accept an assignment to the AHL. The Rangers are unlikely to allow that to happen.

The Rangers likely acquired the 21-year-old DeAngelo from the Coyotes in the Derek Stepan deal in order to play him on the right side rather than have him sit around as a spare.

But the Blueshirts also believe that Pionk, the righty signed in May out of the University of Minnesota Duluth who will turn 22 next week, is NHL-ready.

Thus, Pionk and DeAngelo presumably will be in direct competition for a spot, with the saving grace being that both are exempt from having to go through waivers.

So it should be an interesting training camp from that perspective. While it won’t be the end of the world if DeAngelo starts out in the AHL, he should be desperate to make a good impression nonetheless.

“He knows this is his third team in a real quick span,” said Vigneault, “so he’s got to make a name for himself.”