The Chip ‘n’ Chase: All those bad teams, starting with the Sabres

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This is a new thing we’re trying. Every Wednesday, we’ll publish a little back-and-forth we have via email. We’re calling it the Chip n’ Chase. Yes, it’s a terrible name. This week we’re talking bad teams, and whether any of them can turn it around.

Jason Brough: Hey buddy, so I’ve got some great advice for the Buffalo Sabres ahead of tonight’s game on national TV against the B’s. Tell me what you think. Maybe, just maybe, they should try really, really hard as soon as the puck drops. The only reason I suggest this is because standing around not doing anything isn’t working for them.

In all seriousness, did you see the Sabres’ last two games against Vancouver and Colorado? I believe they were out-shot a combined 134-3 in the first period. At home. Their fans deserve a lot better than that. It’s embarrassing.

MORE: Bruins aim to add to Sabres’ suffering tonight on NBCSN

Mike Halford: Yeah, it’s pretty ugly. The Sabres are so awful even their own players are distancing themselves. Did you hear what Ryan Miller said the other day? You can read the whole thing here, but I’ve plucked the key quotes:

“I can only do my part.”
“I’m not going too high or low.”
“I’m not going to worry about it.”
“I’m not going to try to be overly intense.”

This is like that pre-breakup stage of a relationship when you know it’s all but done so you start prepping for the split. All that’s left now is for Miller to start “working late” with a “friend.” But enough about the Sabres, let’s move on to the tire fire in Philadelphia. I now present the complete list of Flyers forwards who have more goals than the Coyotes’ Mike Smith, who it should be noted, is a goalie:

Tye McGinn
Brayden Schenn
END OF LIST.

That’s bad, right?

JB: Bad, yes. Also, pretty shocking. At this rate, is there any way Claude Giroux makes Team Canada and plays in Sochi? With all those great Canadian centers, he’s an easy cut right now for Steve Yzerman.

You know, I have to admit, of all the talent on the Flyers’ roster, I would not have predicted Steve Mason would be their best player after eight games. Without Mason, they’re still winless. He was the first star in their 2-1 triumph (and what a triumph!) over the Panthers, which is their only W so far. That’s right — the Flyers have only won once, over the worst team in the NHL last season, and they didn’t even deserve to win it.

OK, so here’s a question for you. Of all the teams off to awful starts — Buffalo, Philly, Edmonton, Florida, New Jersey and the Rangers — who do you think has the best chance to make the playoffs?

MH: The Rangers, I guess? Remember that, two years ago, New York started with a similarly brutal road trip and only had three wins in their first nine tries. That team made it to the conference final. Now check out the Rangers’ schedule from Dec. 7 to the start of the Olympic break — they play 20 of 30 at MSG. Pretty good opportunity to make up for a lousy start.

I’m glad you mentioned Edmonton, by the way, because I love trade speculation. And of all the struggling teams, the Oilers seem most ready to make a deal. Nail Yakupov’s been a healthy scratch twice, their goaltending remains questionable (even though Devan Dubnyk is playing better recently) and, as others have pointed out, the Mike Brown-to-San Jose trade leaves them with just 48 contracts on the books, suggesting room’s possibly being created for a larger deal.

Pretend you’re Oilers GM Craig MacTavish (quick, put on these stylish glasses) — what would you do?

source: Getty ImagesJB: I sure wouldn’t trade Yakupov for anything less than, well, a heck of a lot. Even if “his team game is really, really poor,” as one scout put it, he also scored 17 goals in 48 NHL games as a teenager. That’s an asset you can’t fritter away. Think of how many teams are desperate for scoring around the league. Think how many would love to generate the buzz that adding a first overall pick would generate.

I do actually think MacTavish should be shopping Yakupov, but not because goaltending was an issue to start the season. Panic moves are dumb. And besides, Dubnyk isn’t the Oilers’ biggest problem. Nor is scoring. Team defense and maintaining consistent puck possession, now those are issues. Lars Eller wasn’t wrong in his assessment; he just maybe shouldn’t have said it publicly.

We haven’t really looked at the Devils yet, so let’s do that before we get back to bloggin’. The way I see it, riding Cory Schneider is the only way they’re going to get back in the race. Sorry Marty, you should be the backup now. We can call you Brodongo!

MH: I’m thinking Luodeur, and as much as I hate banishing Luodeur (see, it’s catchy) to the bench, I do agree — the Devils have to ride Schneider for the foreseeable future. Heck, even Marty agrees they “might as well try to get a little roll going.” (Note: said roll stopped rolling last night in Columbus.)

Problem is, Schneider can’t fix everything himself. The Devils’ defense is not good (though they finally parked Adam Larsson, which is good), they’re getting no production from Travis Zajac and Adam Henrique, and Ryane Clowe, their big offseason signing, is still on IR with a head injury.

On the bright side…yeah, I’m having trouble with that one.

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.”