You’d think if there was one person that understood the intensity of the Rangers-Devils rivalry, Mike Rupp would be the guy.
He was front-and-center during the infamous Mar. 19 line brawl. He’s also one of the few to play for both New York and New Jersey, scoring the Cup-winning goal for the Devils in 2003.
Yet heading into tonight’s Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals, Rupp downplayed the rivalry entirely.
“At this point in the playoffs it’s more for the fans and the media to have fun with than us,” he told the New York Times. “We’re just trying to win four games.
“Right now you’re four wins away from getting to where you’ve been working so hard to get to as a team. So I don’t really think about that, I really don’t. I really don’t look at me once playing for them, or them being one of our biggest rivals. That’s kind of nonexistent right now.”
What Rupp might be focused on is trying to conjure up more big-game magic. For a relatively unassuming journeyman — he’s played for five different teams over a 10-year career — Rupp has often found himself in the spotlight.
— He’s the only player in Stanley Cup history to have his first playoff goal be the Cup-winner. (He was notched four points in four games for the Devils during the 2003 finals.)
— In 2011, Rupp had one of the most spirited fights in Winter Classic, chucking knuckles with Washington defenseman John Erskine:
— A year later, Rupp stole the show at the 2012 Winter Classic, scoring twice. He also raised a few eyebrows by doing the Jagr salute:
Another thing to consider: Rupp is due.
Like, long overdue.
He’s scoreless through 14 postseason games, meaning his pointless streak goes all the way back to Feb. 16 — 40 games all-told.
Zibanejad looking for $5.35 million from Rangers in arbitration
The New York Rangers and restricted free agent forward Mika Zibanejad are scheduled for an arbitration hearing on Tuesday if they can not come to an agreement on a new contract before them.
On Sunday, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported the numbers both sides are looking at heading into that hearing and they don’t seem to be too far apart. According to Friedman, Zibanejad is seeking a $5.35 million salary while the Rangers have countered with an offer of $4.1 million. If the two sides were able to meet in the middle that would be in the neighborhood of around $4.7 million per season, which probably seems about right given Zibanejad’s performance and some of the contracts that have recently been signed by the likes of Tampa Bay’s Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat (both will make a little more than $5 million per season, while both have been more productive).
Zibanejad, 24, is coming off of his first season with the Rangers after being acquired from the Ottawa Senators in the Derrick Brassard trade.
He was limited to just 56 games due to injury, scoring 14 goals to go with 23 assists. He scored at least 20 goals in each of the previous two seasons.
With Derek Stepan gone to Arizona Zibanejad figures to take on a bigger role this season for the Rangers.
Even after reaching Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals in 2016-17 there is still probably some skepticism as to how good the Ottawa Senators will be this upcoming season and whether or not they can repeat that success.
They didn’t do much to add to that roster over the summer outside of the addition of gritty forward Nate Thompson on a two-year contract from the Anaheim Ducks.
“This team now is ready to win,” he told Ken Warren of the Ottawa Sun this past week. “I don’t think this was a Cinderella team, it was the real deal. They have a pretty good window to win games and hopefully do something even more special.”
It’s going to probably be a little more difficult this season given some of the improvements that have been made by teams around them (Tampa Bay and Toronto should be better than they were a year ago; Montreal and Boston will still be fierce contenders as well) and the fact the Senators themselves might see a bit of a regression in the standings if their overall play doesn’t change much. Keep in mind, for all of the success they had in the playoffs this was still a team that gave up more goals than it scored during the regular season. That is not typically a recipe for long-term success.
Thompson, who will turn 33 at the start of the season, will be relied on primarily to fill a bottom-six role and perhaps help in the faceoff circle. He is coming off of a 2016-17 season in Anaheim that saw him be limited to just 30 games, scoring one goal and adding one assist before recording six points (two goals, four assists) in the playoffs for the Ducks on their run to the Western Conference Finals. He spent the past three seasons playing for the Ducks and also has experience playing for Senators coach Guy Boucher during their time together in Tampa Bay.
Preds GM Poile still has work to do, with Johansen in need of a deal
The Predators made a run at the Stanley Cup last month, doing so with great goaltending from Pekka Rinne, a top-four group of defensemen that you can argue sets the standard around the league and a talented group of forwards — a number of them with age on their side.
They didn’t win it all, but Poile was recognized for his work by claiming General Manager of the Year.
This is likely among the reasons why.
The Predators have Victor Arvidsson, Filip Forsberg, Roman Josi, Mattias Ekholm and Ryan Ellis at a combined $20.5 million cap hit.
Roman Josi still has three years left on his deal, while Mattias Ekholm, who was a valuable and reliable top-four d-man playing alongside P.K. Subban, has five years remaining on his deal.
With the Arvidsson contract completed, the priority is now to get Johansen — a restricted free agent — signed. At age 24, he’s Nashville’s No. 1 center coming off a 61-point season, which completed his three-year, $12 million deal.
He was also in the midst of a terrific playoff performance before he suffered a thigh injury and postseason-ending surgery. He’s in line for a significant raise from the $4 million AAV he made on his last contract.
The Predators have about $14.5 million remaining in cap space, per CapFriendly.
Vegas GM doesn’t appear to be in any hurry to move extra d-men
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.
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.