Expect another year of heavy contract talks in New York

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Entering the 2013-14 season, the New York Rangers boasted some huge names who were entering the last seasons of their contracts. The franchise resolved many of those issues (or, in the case of Ryan Callahan, traded those deals away) on their way to the 2014 Stanley Cup Final… yet still finds itself in a similar spot as next season approaches.

Granted, nothing will really top the drama of last season — re-signing Henrik Lundqvist, opting against the same for Callahan, buying out Brad Richards — but a lot of money will still be at stake this year.

Naturally, a contract extension or two could happen in the early stages, but let’s look at the most prominent players (sorry, Mike Kostka and Matt Hunwick) entering contract years with current cap hits in parenthesis:

Martin St. Louis ($5.625 million, UFA)
Marc Staal ($3.975 million, UFA)
Mats Zuccarello ($3.5 million, UFA)
Derek Stepan ($3.075 million, RFA)
Carl Hagelin ($2.25 million, RFA)
Cam Talbot ($562K, UFA)

That’s quite the list of prominent players. St. Louis has been (relatively) underpaid for years and may very well want to “cash-in” on what be his last NHL contract (or at least close to his last one).

The rest of the list features players in their primes who are probably all being paid below market value. Staal’s had his troubles, yet defensemen are so hard to come by that a nice season could mean a huge contract. Zuccarello topped all Rangers regular season scorers, Hagelin’s a speedy gem who could easily enjoy a big jump in production and Talbot was quietly brilliant backing Lundqvist up last season.

Stepan might be the most interesting, though. He’s been a steady performer (never missed one game since hitting the league in 2010-11) with two 50-point seasons and no less than 44 points in any campaign. He’s already pretty accomplished for a guy who’s only 24. With Brad Richards gone, Stepan’s status as the team’s No. 1 center seems as secure as ever, and the American-born forward is likely to play with St. Louis and/or Rick Nash next season. Could we see a 20+ goal season in which Stepan flirts with 70 points? It’s not outrageous to ponder, and such a leap would cost the Blueshirts some serious cash, even considering the fact that Stepan will be an RFA.

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This talk might leave Rangers fans a little nervous, but sometimes a little added motivation can be a good thing. Even with the likes of Lundqvist and Dan Girardi re-signed, New York benefited greatly from best-of-their-career moments from pending free agents during an impressive playoff run in 2013-14.

In other words, greed can be good … at least in the short term.

Look at what Rangers are up against right now

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You have to really squint to find bright sides to look on if you’re the New York Rangers.

The Rangers are currently on a five-game losing streak and have one shabby win to show for their first eight games of 2017-18, and they’ll shortly face a challenge in the Nashville Predators, who are riding a five-game point streak (4-0-1 after losing their first two games).

With six of those eight games coming at home, the Rangers are really squandering opportunities in the malicious Metro. About the only positive things you can say boil down to: a) scrapping two “loser points” out of the past two games and b) the team at least saying the right things, as Rick Nash notes according to the New York Post’s Larry Brooks.

“The bad teams I’ve been on, guys get away from the game plan, they don’t give the effort and there’s finger-pointing, whether in the room between guys; from the coach; or in the media. That’s what happens when things get away from you as a team.

“None of that is happening here,” Nash said. “We’re together and we’re focusing on taking this one step at a time.”

They might be wise not to look at the divisional standings. Just consider some of the teams they’re up against:

Devils (12 points in 8 games): New Jersey currently has a perfect road record and a fleet of young legs, something the transitional Rangers must envy. Even if they’re likely to slip (being blanked by the Sharks could be an early sign of regression), the Devils figure to be a tougher out this season.

Penguins (11 points in 8 games): Not much needs to be said, though it’s worth noting that they’ve won three in a row.

Blue Jackets (10 points in 7 games): All signs point to former Rangers coach John Tortorella’s group being very much the threat that once surprised us.

Capitals (9 points in 8 games): Finding ways to win, and scrappy in particular on the road so far (3-1-1 away record).

Flyers (8 points in 7 games): Might be better than their record indicates, at least judging by their +9 goal differential. Philly has the potential to at least be a pesky “bubble” team.

Hurricanes (7 points in 5 games): Light early schedule might keep them under the radar, for now.

Islanders (7 points in 7 games): Mixed results might not help the Islanders retain John Tavares, but a competent Isles team would only make it tougher for the Rangers.

Yeesh, kind of discouraging, right?

The Rangers currently sit at four points in eight games played, and like this post argues, they really need to wake up soon. They’ve already played six home vs. two road contests, and they face a similar saturation of MSG going forward.

Counting today’s game hosting the rising Predators, the Rangers play the next three in a row at home. After that, they play three of four on the road, but then enjoy a three-game homestand.

So, by Nov. 11, they’ll have played 13 games at home and just five on the road.

One gets the sense that the seat is getting hotter for Alain Vigneault by the day. Fair or not, it might feel like it’s boiling if the Rangers are still a wreck in mid-November.

(If he still has a seat at the table, at all.)

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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Devils fans help singer who forgot words to national anthem (Video)

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The biggest save of the night at Prudential Center on Friday didn’t come from either goaltender, but rather New Jersey Devils fans in attendance for their game against the San Jose Sharks.

Lauralie Mufute began singing the national anthem but midway through forgot the words. That’s when the crowd of 14,381 picked up where the 14-year-old left off and finished the song.

A great job by the crowd in what certainly was a terrifying moment for the young performer.

These flaps happen, as we’ve seen many times before in different situations. It’s always good to know the crowd can act as backup singers in times of need.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

The Buzzer: Ovechkin’s blast lifts Capitals in OT, Sheary speeds by Panthers

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Player of the night: Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals

Alex Ovechkin has already reached double digits in goals scored in this new campaign. The Capitals’ star recorded his 10th goal of the season on Friday and it counted as the overtime winner against the Detroit Red Wings.

The Capitals trailed late in the third period, but T.J. Oshie scored the tying goal and Ovechkin won it on a power play less than two minutes into the extra period, as he deployed that famous one-timer slap shot from his off-wing. This time, Petr Mrazek was victimized by the wicked slapper.

Ovechkin is now only two goals behind the entire Montreal Canadiens team — in the same amount of games.

Highlight of the night:

What a weapon speed is in today’s National Hockey League. Conor Sheary illustrated that once again, as he saw a little bit of room down the left side and flew around Alex Petrovic before making a move to the backhand on James Reimer. That goal counted as the eventual winner, as the Penguins defeated the Panthers 4-3. Earlier in the third period, Sheary and Roberto Luongo came together near the Florida net, causing Luongo’s right hand to get caught against the post, injuring the Panthers’ netminder.

Factoid of the night:

It was a milestone night in Winnipeg for Blake Wheeler and coach Paul Maurice.

Scores:

Vancouver 4, Buffalo 2

San Jose 3, New Jersey 0

Washington 4, Detroit 3 (OT)

Pittsburgh 4, Florida 3

Winnipeg 4, Minnesota 3

Anaheim 6, Montreal 2

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Cam Tucker is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @CamTucker_Sport.

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Video: Price takes out his frustration, as the Habs were crushed again

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It’s gone from bad, to worse, to an absolute nightmare for the Montreal Canadiens.

A three-game trip through California is never fun for opposing teams, but this was misery for the Habs. They were outscored a combined 16-5 in three games against the Sharks, Kings and Ducks, with few, if any positives beyond the second period in a 6-2 loss in Anaheim on Friday.

Montreal hasn’t won since its season opener on Oct. 5, and is now on a seven-game losing skid, unable to generate much offensively with a league worst 10 goals scored through seven games before tonight, while giving up plenty of goals at the other end.

That is a recipe for disaster and even though it’s still early in the season, this has to be a major concern for coach Claude Julien and, in particular, general manager Marc Bergevin.

Read more: Is there a trade to be made between the Penguins and Canadiens?

Down by three after the first period, Montreal had 30 shots on goal during the middle frame and managed to trim Anaheim’s lead down to one heading into the third period. And then, just when it seemed like maybe they were on a path toward an inspirational comeback on the road, it all fell apart.

Three straight goals for Anaheim, with journeyman forward Derek Grant scoring the first two goals of his NHL career — in game No. 93.

As you can probably tell from the clip below, Carey Price was visibly irritated, as he whacked his goalie stick against the post after the sixth Anaheim goal.

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Cam Tucker is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @CamTucker_Sport.

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