Can Brad Richards revive Marian Gaborik’s career in New York?

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For one season, Marian Gaborik silenced critics who howled with laughter after the New York Rangers signed him to a risky five-year, $37.5 million contract. Gaborik played in 76 games in 2009-10 – not a small feat for the fragile winger – while tying a career high in goals scored (42) and setting a new high in total points (86). Gaborik was a consistent threat on a team that was very thin offensively that season, playing more than 21 minutes per game.

What’s to blame for Gaborik’s lousy 2010-11?

Of course, the question wasn’t ever really about Gaborik’s skill. The injury bug caught up to Gaborik to some extent last season, but even then, his lower productivity was noticeable. Even in other injury-ravaged seasons, Gaborik would approach or even best the point per game level. (He scored 23 points in his 17 games during his last season with the Minnesota Wild in 08-09.) Something was different in 10-11, though, as he only managed 22 goals and 48 points in 62 games.

When the NY Post’s Larry Brooks discussed Gaborik’s struggles, he pointed to injuries (Gaborik’s season was derailed by a separated shoulder and concussion issues) but also to a bevy of lackluster centers.

Fact is, Gaborik, who was limited to 62 matches primarily because of an early season separated shoulder and a late-season concussion, opened 21 times with Erik Christensen as his pivot; 21 times with Derek Stepan; 14 times with Artem Anisimov; five times with Vinny Prospal; and once with Chris Drury. Beyond that, Gaborik never started more than seven straight games with the same center, with that dubious milestone achieved with Anisimov from Jan. 16 through Feb. 1.

That brings up an interesting question: were Gaborik’s linemates that much better in 2009-10? Dobber Hockey’s line combination stats reveal that he spent the majority of his time with a combination of three players in 09-10: Erik Christensen, Brandon Dubinsky and Vaclav Prospal. Really, though, there are only two major differences between those combinations and the 10-11 ones: he enjoyed less stability and didn’t line up with Dubinsky very often, instead drawing time with Artem Anisimov and Sean Avery last season.

Can Brad Richards save the day?

Now, there’s no denying that having more consistent linemates (and having more time with Dubinsky, one of the Rangers’ best forwards) might have helped Gaborik’s cause, but does that explain him dropping from an outstanding 1.13 point per game average to .77, the third-worst rate of his 10-year career?

The more important question is the one Brooks posed, though: can Brad Richards revive the free-falling Gaborik? One thing seems tough to deny: Richards is leaps and bounds better than any center Gaborik’s ever played with in the NHL.

For the first time since Wayne Gretzky’s first year on Broadway in 1996-97, the Rangers have an elite play-making pivot. And while it would be an overstatement to suggest the Blueshirts decided to pay Richards $60 million as a free agent simply to form a partnership with Gaborik, it would be a gross understatement to suggest that the 31-year-old Slovak’s plight and needs weren’t significant factors in the signing.

“I respect all the players I’ve been with but I am very excited to get the chance to play with Richie,” Gaborik told The Post by phone yesterday. “I’ve watched him play throughout his career and always admired his game; the way he sees the ice, the way he moves the puck, the way he makes his teammates better.

How much does Richards improve his linemates? James Neal’s 2010-11 season might be the best recent example, although it’s important to note how small the sample is. Neal scored 21 goals and 39 points in 59 games playing primarily with Richards and (fellow 2010-11 All Star) Loui Eriksson in Dallas. After being traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins, Neal’s numbers plummeted to one goal and six points in 20 games. While it would be silly to draw too many conclusions from that drop (especially considering the offensive troubles in Pittsburgh), it did seem like Neal’s production suffered without Richards sending him beautiful passes.

Lots of big “ifs” for next season’s Rangers

Glen Sather’s haphazard team-building leaves the Rangers with an annual slew of huge “if” scenarios. That said, the Richards addition makes the questions a bit more tantalizing than usual. The Rangers could have two strong offensive lines if they re-sign Dubinsky and Ryan Callahan, if Richards can find chemistry with Gaborik and if Gaborik can stay healthy.

The Richards-Gaborik scenario will cost more than $14 million in cap space and $19.75 million in salary during the 2011-12 season, but at least there’s a better chance that they won’t waste $7.5 million on an ineffective Gaborik. Still, if Sather hadn’t sidestepped a million bullets already, one would have to wonder if he will still be the Rangers’ general manager if the team the Rangers miss the playoffs this year.

Austin Watson suspended two games for boarding Dominic Toninato

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The NHL’s Department of Player Safety is working overtime on Sunday night, as they’ve handed out a pair of suspensions.

Moments after announcing Radko Gudas’ 10-game suspension, the league handed a two-game ban to Predators forward Austin Watson for boarding Avs rookie Dominic Toninato.

Unlike Gudas, Watson has no history of being fined or suspended during his NHL career.

Here’s the league’s full explanation of their decision to suspend Watson:

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Radko Gudas suspended 10 games for slashing Mathieu Perreault over the head

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We all knew that Radko Gudas would receive a suspension for his slash to the back of Jets forward Mathieu Perreault‘s head, but we didn’t know how long he’d be forced to sit out.

On Sunday, the NHL’s Department of Player Safety announced that Gudas has been suspended for 10 games for the incident.

The league confirmed that the fact that the Flyers defenseman is a repeat offender played against him in this case.

Check out the Department of Player Safety’s full explanation of the suspension:

The suspension will also cost him just over $408,000 in salary, per Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston. Ouch!

“He got the meaty part of the neck,” Perreault said after the game, per TSN.ca  “It could have been worse, I guess.

“He apologized in the penalty box, but when you look at the replay, it looks like he did it on purpose. It wasn’t an accident. He’s been known for doing stuff like that, so I certainly don’t appreciate it. I’m sure the league will take care of it.”

Gudas served the first game of the suspension on Saturday. He’ll be eligible to return to the Flyers lineup on on Dec. 12 against Toronto.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Flyers will host Penguins in outdoor game at Lincoln Financial Field in 2019

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The battle of Pennsylvania will take a new twist, as the NHL announced that the Philadelphia Flyers will be hosting the Pittsburgh Penguins at Lincoln Financial Field (home of the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles) on Feb. 23, 2019.

This will be the second time that these two teams play each other in an outdoor game. Last season, the Penguins beat the Flyers, 4-2, at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh.

“It’s always a special opportunity to take the game back to its roots and have NHL players skate outdoors,” Penguins president and CEO David Morehouse said in a release. “We competed against the Flyers outdoors at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh 2017 and look forward to completing the in-state ‘home-and-home’ series at Lincoln Financial Field in 2019. It should be a great atmosphere.”

This will be the fifth time that the Penguins are involved in an outdoor door since 2008. They won a shootout decision against Buffalo (2008), they lost a home game to Washington (2011), they lost in Chicago (2014) and they beat the Flyers earlier this year.

It’s the second time the Flyers host an outdoor game (the first one was at Citizens Bank Park baseball stadium). The game at Lincoln Financial Field will be the fourth outdoor game for the Flyers. They lost in Boston in overtime (2010), they dropped home decision to the Rangers (2012), and they had the loss to Pittsburgh last year.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Is it time for the Canadiens to blow up their roster?

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The 2017-18 season isn’t even two months old, and the Montreal Canadiens already find themselves at a crossroads. Is it time for them to start rebuilding?

The Canadiens, who are 8-11-2 after three straight losses to Columbus, Arizona and Toronto, have over $7 million in cap space, but they have nowhere to use it. They already traded a blue-chip prospect in Mikhail Sergachev over the summer, and it’s not like their prospect pipeline is overflowing with quality either.

Clearly, losing Andrei Markov and Alexander Radulov (for nothing) hurt this edition of the Canadiens.

The team just completed a six-game homestand  that they should have used to make up for their incredibly poor start to the year. Instead, they finished the stretch at the Bell Center with a mediocre 2-3-1 record (they barely beat Vegas and Buffalo, who were both playing their second game in two nights when they took on Montreal).

During the six-game home stretch, they managed to find the back of the net just 10 times (four of those goals came in the 5-4 loss to the Coyotes).

Up until this point, general manager Marc Bergevin has been unwilling to trade away his veterans for prospects and/or draft picks. That might be about to change, per Sportsnet’s Nick Kypreos.

On Saturday’s “Headlines” segment, Kypreos mentioned that ownership and the front office will have a discussion about the direction of the team.

The one player that was singled out on the broadcast was Max Pacioretty, who has one year remaining (after this season) on his current contract.

Would the Canadiens be willing to move him? Maybe, but would they do so with the idea of a rebuild in mind? That remains to be seen.

You have to believe that Bergevin’s on thin ice. Despite being under contract until 2022, he has to be feeling the pressure right now. Montreal is a demanding hockey market, and although they have plenty of cap space, this team clearly isn’t better than it was last year.

The core is far from terrible. Pacioretty, Shea Weber, Carey Price and Jonathan Drouin are all quality hockey players, but they don’t have much depth up front and their defense might be one of the worst in the league after Weber. Jeff Petry has struggled, the contract they handed out to Karl Alzner appears to be a mistake, Jordie Benn, Joe Morrow and Brandon Davidson are all depth players, and Victor Mete is a promising 19-year-old that’s had his ice time cut lately.

When it comes to the center ice position, the Canadiens are still searching for answers. Drouin has been forced to learn on the job, which is far from ideal for a number one center. Behind him, there’s Phillip Danault and Tomas Plekanec, who are both better suited to be third liners.

In order to become one of the elite teams in the NHL, the Canadiens have to take a step back over the next couple of years. They might not have to rebuild from scratch because they do have key pieces, but the roster definitely needs a lot of work.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.