Brady Skjei

Auston Matthews claims Calder Memorial Trophy

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Auston Matthews reached the 40-goal plateau in his rookie season, capturing the Calder Trophy on Wednesday after helping accelerate the Toronto Maple Leafs’ rebuilding process.

Selected first overall last year, Matthews made his mark on the NHL right away, scoring four goals in his very first game.

Talk about a debut.

He continued that elite offensive flare all the way through the regular season, finishing with 69 points and helping the Maple Leafs into the postseason.

Matthews beats out Patrik Laine, who had an impressive 36 goals and 64 points in Winnipeg, and Columbus rookie defenseman Zach Werenski.

The Calder Trophy goes to the league’s top rookie.

This was a truly impressive rookie class.

Matthews, who set a new American rookie goal record, has become the face of a franchise loaded with young talent, including Mitch Marner and William Nylander. With that injection of skilled youth into their lineup, the Maple Leafs gave the Washington Capitals all they could handle in the opening round, before eventually bowing out to Alex Ovechkin and the Caps.

His play certainly grabbed the attention of the league’s best players, including Sidney Crosby.

“I think the biggest thing that stands out is how he complete he is,” said Crosby earlier in the season. “That’s what I noticed from just watching him play. Just that maturity.

“His game is just so well-rounded. He’s a guy who can score goals but he’s a guy who can play away from the puck. He’s strong on the puck. He scores goals different ways, and that is probably a big reason why he is so consistent. He’s got a great shot, but he can also score from in close and goes to the net hard too.”

The winner of the award is selected by the Professional Hockey Writers Association.

Here is how the voting turned out:

Points: (1st-2nd-3rd-4th-5th)

1. Auston Matthews, TOR 1661 (164-3-0-0-0)
2. Patrik Laine, WPG 1106 (3-134-24-6-0)
3. Zach Werenski, CBJ 711 (0-21-93-28-15)
4. Matt Murray, PIT 346 (0-6-25-52-23)
5. Mitchell Marner, TOR 273 (0-3-14-42-56)
6. William Nylander, TOR 143 (0-0-7-24-36)
7. Matthew Tkachuk, CGY 72 (0-0-4-11-19)
8. Sebastian Aho, CAR 26 (0-0-0-4-14)
9. Ivan Provorov, PHI 2 (0-0-0-0-2)
10. Brayden Point, TBL 1 (0-0-0-0-1)
Brady Skjei, NYR 1 (0-0-0-0-1)

What now for Rangers after buying out Girardi?

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Now that they’ve bought him out, the New York Rangers won’t need to protect Dan Girardi in the expansion draft, and that could be a big deal for a team that needs to improve its blue line.

Girardi had a no-movement clause, which surely contributed to today’s announcement. Marc Staal also has a NMC, so he’ll still require protection. The Rangers will obviously protect Ryan McDonagh.

But after Staal and McDonagh, there’s no obvious candidate on the blue line to throw a wall around. Kevin Klein is reportedly pondering retirement. And no disrespect intended, but Nick Holden, Steven Kampfer, and Adam Clendening are hardly irreplaceable. (In case you’re wondering, Brady Skjei is exempt.)

Perhaps now the Rangers could be in on a player like Sami Vatanen. They could sure use a right shot on the power play.

Related: Devils, Bolts and Leafs could make play for Vatanen

Of course, the expectation all along has been that the Rangers will pursue Kevin Shattenkirk in free agency. Buying out Girardi would also clear cap space for that.

The forward group could see change as well. According to TSN’s Bob McKenzie, Derek Stepan‘s name “is fairly prominent in trade chatter” at the moment.

Clearly, the Blueshirts aren’t done making moves.

Related: Changes needed for Rangers, but which ones to choose?

Vigneault is at least saying the right things about Rangers defense

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Different Rangers fans want different things. Some want to keep Alain Vigneault, while plenty of (very vocal) others are calling for his ouster. Plenty of people – biased or neutral – agree that their defense needs a lot of work.

For a considerable subset of Rangers fans, one of the greatest frustrations comes from seeing big minutes go to aging, declining defensemen, especially polarizing blueliners Marc Staal and especially Dan Girardi.

Well, Vigneault seemed to sing to that choir quite a bit as the Rangers assessed their 2016-17 season, to the point where you almost expect him to share an anti-Tanner Glass stance.

Take, for instance, a Trotzian no-comment on Girardi and Staal:

(That sound you heard might have been analytics-minded Rangers fans salivating.)

Then again, the coaching version of “actions speak louder than words” typically boils down to how they deploy players. So, if Vigneault isn’t sold on Staal and Girardi and wants to add youth to the blueline (as he said), then why are they averaging a minute-and-half more than Brady Skjei?

Well, Vigneault indicates that he might feature Skjei more often in 2017-18.

The Rangers face some big questions in the off-season. There’s also the perceived likelihood that Kevin Shattenkirk might be added to the mix, not to mention the fact that they’ve already signed Neal Pionk and Alexei Bereglazov.

It remains to be seen if all of these positive vibes carry over into next season. We’re readying for a summer where players and front office members will fill the time with optimism, with some of that inevitably looking silly in hindsight.

Still, if you have to choose, wouldn’t a fan want the Rangers to at least try to go in the right direction?

Nash plans to return to Rangers next season

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Rick Nash is under contract through 2018, and says he wants to stay in New York.

But questions surrounding his future don’t seem to be going away.

With many predicting significant changes coming to the Rangers following their playoff exit to Ottawa, Nash confirmed his desire to stay in the Big Apple during Thursday’s end-of-year media availability.

“I plan on being here, I plan on being a Ranger,” Nash said, per WFAN 660. “As a player, you can’t control that. You’ve got to leave that up to management.

“I love being a Ranger.”

More: Changes needed for Rangers, but which ones to choose?

The 32-year-old is heading into the last of a monster eight-year, $62.4 million deal with a $7.8 million average annual cap hit. He has a modified no-trade clause — Nash can submit a 12-team trade list — and the Post has already floated him as a potential trade deadline rental for next season.

But one wonders if Nash will see the writing on the wall. It certainly sounds like he has, to some degree.

He, like many other Rangers, lamented how the current group blew a good opportunity, losing to a seemingly beatable Ottawa team. And this was the latest in a series of missed chances. New York has been to the playoffs every year in the Nash era and had some good success — one Cup Final appearance, three Eastern Conference finals — but never won it all.

Last year it was a first-round exit and this year, a second. The reality of the window closing is setting in.

“For me, it’s disappointing when you have a team that’s this good and an opportunity like we did,” Nash said on Tuesday, per the Post. “You only get so many cracks at this.”

Nash also surely knows that GM Jeff Gorton will probably continue to make his roster younger, and faster. This started last summer with the Derick Brassard-for-Mika Zibanejad trade, the acquisition of Jimmy Vesey and the growth of roles for Brady Skjei and Pavel Buchnevich.

If Gorton wants to continue down that path, some longtime Rangers could be in play.

Pageau’s brilliant four-goal game lifts Senators to comeback OT win over Rangers

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Jean-Gabriel Pageau had himself a performance for the ages in Game 2 against the New York Rangers on Saturday.

Pageau completed the hat trick to tie the game late in the third period, forcing overtime as Ottawa roared back from a late two-goal deficit. But he wasn’t done there. His best moment was still to come.

His fourth goal of the game was the winner, as he ripped a wrist shot over the left shoulder of Henrik Lundqvist to give Ottawa a thrilling 6-5 double overtime victory.

The Senators now take a commanding 2-0 series lead over the Rangers, as it shifts back to Madison Square Garden.

On the deciding two-on-one rush, Pageau opted to keep his hot streak going, taking the shot instead of going for the pass.

For the Rangers, this could be a devastating loss.

Three times, they held a two-goal lead — thanks in part to a pair of goals from defenseman Brady Skjei, who is following up a strong regular season with what has so far been a very good post-season. The Senators, however, refused to go away.

Pageau recorded a pair of late goals in the third period, just 2:17 apart, erasing for good any lead New York had.

It was, until that point, shaping up to be a disappointing result for the Senators. Their power play not only went 0-for-4, but they conceded a pair of shorthanded goals.

Senators forward Clarke MacArthur left this game early in the second period, after taking a hit from Ryan McDonagh in the first period. He didn’t return. MacArthur has dealt with concussion problems in his career, however the club didn’t disclose any details of the apparent injury during the game.