Martin St. Louis

Playoff bubble watch — Rangers edition


OK, so now that the trade deadline is behind us, we’re going to start doing these “playoff bubble watch” posts. At the moment, the bubble is a big one, and it includes a lot of teams who would cause quite the ruckus by missing the postseason.

Take the Rangers, who just traded their captain, Ryan Callahan, for Tampa Bay’s 38-year-old captain, Martin St. Louis. For general manager Glen Sather, this is another win-now move, as the New York Post’s Larry Brooks explains:

The Rangers didn’t have a first-round draft choice in 2013 — that pick sent to Columbus in the deal for Rick Nash. They won’t have one in 2015 — that gone with Callahan to Tampa Bay. If they reach the conference finals this year, they won’t have a No. 1 this June, either — the 2014 second-rounder becoming a No. 1.

Now imagine the Rangers miss the playoffs. Because it’s possible, you know. Per Sports Club Stats, their odds of qualifying are 66.7 percent. That’s a two-in-three chance. Better than 50 percent, but plenty of room for failure.

source:  New York has 19 games left to get into the postseason. And of those 19, just seven are at home. Could that be a factor?

True, the Rangers have actually been better on the road (18-11-0) than at MSG (15-15-4), but there’s no definitive reason to believe that trend will continue. Generally speaking, you want to play at home, where you have fan support, the last change and you don’t have travel fatigue.

“Every point is important right now. It’s annoying the way it ends,” Henrik Lundqvist said after last night’s 3-2 overtime loss to Toronto. “We played really well and worked ourselves back into this game. It’s a big frustration right now to not come out of it with two points.”

The Rangers play in Carolina Friday, then come home for a huge game Sunday versus a desperate Detroit side (on NBC). After that, it’s a three-games-in-four-nights trip to Carolina, Minnesota, and Winnipeg.

Look, chances are, the Rangers will make it. They had a tough start to the season while they got adjusted to a new coach and new system and, perhaps most importantly, Lundqvist struggled.

But there’s no denying they’ve got work to do, and the pressure’s on.

DiMaio named Blues’ director of player personnel

via St. Louis Blues
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The St. Louis Blues named Rob DiMaio their director of player personnel on Tuesday.

He’s been with the organization for some time. He joined as a pro scout in 2008 and was the pro scouting director starting in August 2012.

He was also a scout for the Dallas Stars before landing with the Blues (one would assume his biggest connection is GM Doug Armstrong, then).

In case his nose didn’t give it away, he also enjoyed a lengthy hockey career over 19 seasons.

No doubt about it, this is a pivotal season for the Blues after multiple campaigns in which strong regular seasons dissolved into playoff disappointments. Perhaps DiMaio can make a difference in a heightened role?

Hitchcock going to more aggressive attack for Blues

Ken Hitchcock

ST. LOUIS (AP) After three straight first-round playoff exits, the St. Louis Blues have learned to temper expectations.

They have been consistently among the NHL’s best in the regular season and realize it is past time to build something for the long haul. The sting still lingers from the latest failure, against the Minnesota Wild last spring.

“We’re all disappointed, everybody can agree on that,” defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. “It’s never easy to kind of think about your failures, but we grow every time it happens.”

Management isn’t ready to tear it all down yet.

“We play, in my opinion, one of the toughest if not the toughest division in the NHL, and we’ve finished first or second in the last four years,” forward Alexander Steen said. “So we have an extremely powerful team.”

Maybe a change in strategy will be enough: Coach Ken Hitchcock is back with a mandate for a more aggressive, even reckless, style of play from a roster that hasn’t changed appreciably.

“We’re coming hard from the back and we’re coming hard to see how close we can get to the attack,” Hitchcock said. “I think it’s where the game’s at; I think it’s where the game’s going to go.”

The 63-year-old Hitchcock is pushing forward, too, unwilling to dwell on the flameouts. Coach and players agree that would be “wasted energy.”

“My opinion is when you sit and think about the past, you do yourself no good,” Hitchcock said. “If you learn from the past, that’s when you do yourself a whole bunch of good.”

There were only two major roster casualties. Forward Troy Brouwer came from Washington in a trade for fan favorite T.J. Oshie. Defenseman Barret Jackman, the franchise career leader in games, wasn’t re-signed.

“If you were expecting 23 new faces to be on the roster this year, I don’t think that was realistic,” captain David Backes said. “We’re going to miss those guys in the room and on the ice, but there has been some changeover and I think it’s pretty significant.”

Things to watch for with the Blues:

GOALIE SHUFFLE: Just like last year, there’s no true No. 1 with Brian Elliott and Jake Allen sharing duties. The 25-year-old Allen missed a chance to seize the job last spring when he failed to raise his level in the playoffs.

TOP THREAT: Vladimir Tarasenko had a breakout season with 37 goals and was rewarded with an eight-year, $60 million contract. The 23-year-old winger is by far the Blues’ most dangerous scoring option and said he won’t let the money affect his play. “I never worry about it,” Tarasenko said. “If you play good, you play good.”

NEW FACES: Brouwer and center Kyle Brodziak add a physical element that was perhaps lacking a bit last season. Brouwer has three 20-plus goal seasons and Brodziak, acquired from Minnesota, fills a checking role. Veteran forward Scottie Upshall got a one-year, two-way deal after being coming to camp as a tryout. Rookie forward Robby Fabbri, a first-round pick last year, will get an early look. Another promising youngster, forward Ty Rattie, begins the year at Chicago of the AHL.

RECOVERY WARD: Forward Jori Lehteri bounced back quickly from ankle surgery and opens the season without restrictions. Another forward, Patrik Berglund, could miss half of the season following shoulder surgery.

TRACK RECORD: The Blues won the Central Division last season and Hitchcock, fourth on the career list with 708 regular-season wins, has consistently had the team near the top of the standings. “He is our coach, tough cookies if you don’t like it,” Backes said. “From my experience, he puts together one heck of a game plan.”