Game of the Week preview: Rangers need to find their offense fast

The Rangers at one point in early January appeared to be poised to go on a tear that would see them emerge as championship threats in the Eastern Conference. They had won four out of five games and were building off a 1-0 win over Vancouver. Things were looking well for the Rangers and with Marian Gaborik then returning to the lineup to help them score more often, the positives were booming.

Of course, all good plans never quite play out the way you hope they will and for the Rangers, the offense never arrived. Gaborik came and then went out of the lineup again with a concussion but his offensive impact was never felt while he was in. The rest of the Rangers, including new arrival Wojtek Wolski, haven’t filled the net with goals and with that Henrik Lundqvist’s ability to win games has been tested. Lundqvist has to be flawless virtually every night for New York to win games.

The Rangers have fallen as far down as eighth in the Eastern Conference but are currently seventh. They’re just one point ahead of Carolina in eighth two points ahead of 9th place Buffalo. With Toronto and New Jersey streaking in behind them, things could get dicey.

Finding it hard to believe? You shouldn’t.

Since beating Vancouver on January 13th, the Rangers have gone 8-13-1 since then. In those 22 games the Rangers have been as offensively dismal as you’d think. In their eight wins, they’re averaging 3.875 goals per game. In the NHL scoring nearly four per game with Henrik Lundqvist in goal should win you plenty of games. In those 14 losses, however, the offense puts out an average of 1.642 goals per game. Scoring either one or two goals a game is extremely poor and even the greatest goalie in the world would have a hard time making that stand up night in and night out.

Seems like these are obvious observations to make, more goals mean more wins and the like, but the inability of the Rangers to generate offense during this run of games lately is startling. Only seven times over that 22 game span did the Rangers score more than two goals. They had two games that were runaway blowouts, a 7-0 thrashing of Toronto in January and their 6-0 romp over Washington just last week. Everything else has been a nail-biter and coming back from deficits is a major problem for the Rangers.

With the supply of offensive talent the team has in Brandon Dubinsky (in the midst of a career scoring year), rookie Derek Stepan who’s had a lot asked of him in his first season, Ryan Callahan, and Wolski there shouldn’t be these problems. The Rangers have been getting the defensive responsibility that John Tortorella demands of all his players, but the lack of fire on the offensive side is troubling.

Gaborik may be back soon for New York as he’s been skating without concussion symptoms for a few days now. If he can jump back in the lineup and get his touch back scoring that’s been absent for most of the season then it’s the thing the Rangers have been dying to get from him all year.

If he continues to be out and they don’t get improved performances from Vinny Prospal and Wolski this Rangers team will continue to struggle and that playoff spot they thought was automatic just a month ago might turn into a battle that goes down to the last day. Considering how things went down last season, the Rangers would be happy to not let it get to that again. If the wins don’t come more consistently, they may not have a choice in the matter.

Vegas GM doesn’t appear to be in any hurry to move extra d-men

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The Vegas Golden Knights currently have 10 defensemen under contract — and that is without Nate Schmidt signed.

Schmidt and the Golden Knights have an arbitration hearing scheduled for Aug. 3, so there is still plenty of time for them to negotiate a new deal for the restricted free agent blue liner without having a neutral third party decide the matter.

Schmidt’s agent, Matt Keator, told the Las Vegas Review Journal that talks with the Golden Knights have been positive, which lends to optimism that perhaps the club and player will avoid this whole process with a deal.

A new contract between Schmidt — left unprotected by Washington in the expansion draft — and Vegas would put the Golden Knights at 11 d-men less than two months before training camp opens.

Granted, that number is considerably less than what Vegas had following the expansion draft, when they stockpiled 15 defensemen and eventually moved players like David Schlemko, Trevor van Riemsdyk and Marc Methot.

While it seems more moves are likely on the back end for Vegas, general manager George McPhee doesn’t seem to be in any particular hurry right now, per the Vegas Review Journal.

“We’re at a manageable number right now,” said McPhee. “We’re pretty close to where we want to be and we’re comfortable with the roster we have.”

Their blue line also includes five players — Jason Garrison, Luca Sbisa, Clayton Stoner, Brayden McNabb and Deryk Engelland — that are pending unrestricted free agents at the end of next season. As far as Vegas’ defensive group is concerned, this could mean future trades during the season as other clubs, perhaps playoff bound, look to possibly add a rental late in the year.

One thing McPhee has made clear in the past: He planned on keeping Schmidt and fellow d-man Shea Theodore (only 21 years old). Now, they just have to get Schmidt under contract.

Related: Vegas has more ticket revenue than Boston, Philly and Pittsburgh, says Foley

Predators sign Arvidsson to seven-year, $29.75 million deal

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Viktor Arvidsson has cashed in on his impressive, breakout 2016-17 campaign.

Playing in the final year of his entry-level contract — and making $640,000 in total salary, according to CapFriendly — the 5-foot-9 tall Arvidsson erupted for 31 goals and 61 points playing on the top line last season for a Nashville Predators team that eventually made its way to the Stanley Cup Final.

The two sides had an arbitration hearing scheduled for Saturday.

From The Tennessean:

Viktor Arvidsson received a new contract Saturday befitting a breakout star, with the Predators signing the energetic forward to a seven-year, $29.75 million contract, Arvidsson’s agent told The Tennessean. 

Few unheralded NHL players last season surprised more than Arvidsson. Expected to be a secondary contributor, Arvidsson erupted offensively with 31 goals and 61 points as part of Nashville’s top line, tying for the team lead in each category. 

Update: The Predators have since confirmed the deal, which pays Arvidsson an annual average value of $4.25 million per season, through the 2023-24 season.

Nashville’s general manager David Poile has work remaining this offseason. The Predators still have restricted free agents Ryan Johansen — another member of that vaunted top line in Nashville — and Austin Watson left to get under contract.

Watson and the Predators have an arbitration hearing scheduled for Monday. Watson is reportedly seeking $1.4 million in arbitration.

Flames re-sign RFA goalies Gillies and Rittich

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The Calgary Flames have re-signed goalies Jon Gillies and David Rittich to one-year, two-way contracts, the club announced Saturday.

Both spent the majority of last season in the American Hockey League, but did get in some game action with the big club in Calgary. The 23-year-old Gillies, the Flames’ third-round pick in the 2012 NHL Draft, played in 39 games with the Stockton Heat, posting a .910 save percentage.

He then made his first career NHL start on April 6 against the L.A. Kings and stopped 27 of 28 shots faced for the win. He then began the playoffs as Calgary’s back-up because of an injury to Chad Johnson.

Rittich made his debut two days later, allowing one goal on 10 shots in 20 minutes of ice time versus San Jose.

The Flames have already taken care of their goaltending situation at the NHL level for next season, bringing in Mike Smith from Arizona and Eddie Lack from Carolina.

Columnist: Potential new Hurricanes owner concerned with ‘revitalizing Raleigh as a hockey market’

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The Carolina Hurricanes may have a potential new owner in Chuck Greenberg, the former CEO of the MLB Texas Rangers who also had interest in the NHL’s Dallas Stars.

A report Friday goes into further details about Greenberg’s motivation in purchasing the Hurricanes from Peter Karmanos, who has been exploring a sale of the team for quite some time now.

Previous reports indicate the agreement between the Hurricanes and Greenberg would keep the club in Raleigh, amid ages of speculation it may be a candidate for possible relocation to markets like Seattle or Quebec City.

From the Raleigh News and Observer:

Interviews with people close to Greenberg and others who have knowledge of the proposed purchase but requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the talks paint a picture of a front man who would be deeply concerned with the fan experience and revitalizing Raleigh as a hockey market, but lacking the money to fund the purchase himself and reliant on a group of investors to get the deal done.

If the deal goes through, at a reported price of $500 million that likely includes a large amount of assumed debt while valuing the actual franchise closer to $300 million, Greenberg would move to Raleigh with the intention of making the team work here. That’s what Hurricanes fans long afraid of a move to Quebec City or Seattle during these years of ownership uncertainty as Karmanos has had the team on the market have been hoping to hear.

The Hurricanes won the Stanley Cup in 2006 but haven’t made the playoffs since 2009. Despite their postseason drought, Carolina is building quite a depth of young talent, most notably on defense. They could take another positive step forward next season, perhaps contending for a playoff spot. In a bid to bolster their goaltending situation, the Hurricanes also acquired and then signed former Chicago No. 2 netminder Scott Darling.