Chris Kreider

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Mika Zibanejad’s concussion a tough pill to swallow for the Rangers

It’s a not a deathblow, but the loss of Mika Zibanejad certainly packs a devastating punch to the New York Rangers lineup that has a tough divisional schedule on the horizon.

The Rangers announced Thursday that Zibanejad is out indefinitely with a concussion after a hit he sustained from Darren Helm last Friday against the Detroit Red Wings.

It’s a tough pill to swallow in the Big Apple, for a couple reasons.

Zibanejad is the team’s top goal scorer with 11 and point producer with 22. He’s also the team’s top-line center on a line with Chris Kreider and Pavel Buchnevich that has combined for 58 points this season.

And there might not be a worse time for Zibanejad to be out of the lineup. The Rangers, who have won 10 of their past 13 games and sit four points adrift of third place in the Metropolitan Division, play half of their next 12 games against divisional opponents.

David Desharnais filled in for Zibanejad on Tuesday in a 5-4 loss to the Florida Panthers. He collected three assists in the game, but his long-term viability between Krieder and Buchnevich is questionable.

The loss of Zibanejad leaves the Rangers a little light on center depth as well. The Rangers traded Adam Cracknell to the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday for center Peter Holland. Holland is expected to start with the Hartford Wolfpack of the American Hockey League but could be an option down the middle at some point.

Perhaps the most concerning part, for both Zibanejad and the Rangers going forward is that Zibanejad has been concussed five times dating back to his final season in Sweden in 2011-12. 

His last came during the 2015-16 season when he was with the Ottawa Senators.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

The Buzzer: Faksa’s hot hand cools Vegas

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Player of the Night: Radek Faksa, Dallas Stars.

In a span of 6:46, Faksa scored all three of the Stars’ goals in a 3-0 win, slowing down the Vegas Golden Knights for at least one night. (That face he’s making in the post’s main image is actually a reaction to all of the gambling/”Facts of Life” puns that thankfully didn’t make it into headlines.)

This is the first hat trick of Faksa’s career. He now has eight goals this season, putting him in a position to crush last season’s career-high of 12 goals.

Troll of the Night: Glen Gulutzan

There’s believing in your team and then there’s challenging an empty-netter with less than a second remaining.

Someone should break down the environmental impact of the NHL actually having to go through the motions of doing a blog post and everything else they would normally do on this tally.

Wasted Rally

The Rangers admirably fought back from a three-goal deficit to tie things up against the Panthers, with Chris Kreider (two goals, one assist) and Pavel Buchnevich (1G, 2A) leading the way. For those who question Kreider’s efforts, consider this goal:

It was all for naught, as Denis Malgin – new addition to Florida’s top line – scored the game-winner, and didn’t even have the decency to wait until overtime.

Highlights of the Night

Bo Horvat made a great play, with bonus points for it this goal coming at John Tavares‘ expense. Save that puck, kid.

To little surprise, Tavares got the last laugh, powering the red-hot Islanders to a 5-2 win.

Malcolm Subban made some sweet saves for Vegas in a losing effort, too:

Factoids

Anze Kopitar is about as hot to start this season as he was cold in all of 2016-17, basically:

Circling back to Tavares, maybe the Islanders should stay in Brooklyn a little longer, after all?

A friendly reminder that Auston Matthews is a premium “volume shooter,” among other skills.

John Tortorella isn’t just good at landing gigs, he usually makes his presence felt.

Scores

Lightning 2, Sabres 0
Islanders 5, Canucks 2
Panthers 5, Rangers 4
Sharks 3, Flyers 1
Blue Jackets 3, Hurricanes 2 (SO)
Kings 4, Red Wings 1
Predators 3, Blackhawks 2
Maple Leafs 4, Flames 1
Oilers 3, Coyotes 2 (OT)
Stars 3, Golden Knights 0

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.

PHT Morning Skate: ‘Negative experience’ with Vegas helped Shipachyov appreciate KHL days

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–Team USA announced that their men’s and women’s hockey team rosters will be unveiled on New Year’s Day. (NBC Sports)

–Former Olympic rivals Julie Chu (Team USA) and Carolina Ouellette (Canada) welcomed a baby last Sunday. (NBC Sports)

–For the first time ever, the IIHF will be compensating teams that will be sending players to the Olympics. The teams will get roughly $8,000 per player that participates in the tournament. (eurohockeyclubs.com)

–Former NHL defenseman Darius Kasparitis played for Russia on the international stage, but he’s going to represent Lithuania at the upcoming World Hockey Championship Division I Group B tournament next spring. (IIHF.hockey)

Jonathan Drouin and his former team, the Tampa Bay Lightning, finally settled a dispute over a $212,500 performance bonus. Drouin needed to hit 0.73 points-per-game last season to get the money, and he did. But the Lightning contended that it was actually 0.726 points-per-game. In the end, they had to pay him most of the money. (Sportsnet)

–Since being put back on the first line, Rangers forward Pavel Buchnevich has been playing some great hockey. There’s no doubt that the chemistry between Buchnevich, Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider is alive and well. (blueshirtbanter.com)

–The Ottawa Senators were able to land Matt Duchene in a three-way deal with Nashville and Colorado last week. Duchene is the biggest name involved in the trade, but it sure seems like the Preds are the team that improved the most. (Sporting News)

–The pairing of Chris Tanev and Ben Hutton don’t come to mind when thinking of the top defense duos in the NHL, but their numbers show that they’ve been remarkably good together. Incredibly enough, Tanev and Hutton have been on the ice for just four even-strength goals against. (vancourier.com)

–The New Jersey Devils thought so highly of Pavel Zacha that they made him the sixth overall pick in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. But sixth-rounder from 2016 Jesper Bratt has been the better of the two players this season. Somehow, they need to get Zacha playing like Bratt. (allaboutthejersey.com)

–Former Vegas Golden Knight Vadim Shipachyov signed a new contract with SKA Saint Petersburg last week. In a Q & A with the team’s website, Shipachyov admitted that his negative experience in the NHL helped him appreciate what he had in Russia. (SKA.ru)

–Here’s an incredibly sad story. Arianna Dougan, who was a young girl that had a special connection with the Blues and Vladimir Tarasenko, passed away at the age of 11. As you’d imagine, the news shook up the team. “The world is a sadder place without Ari, but we’re thankful to have gotten to know her and to have given her a distraction from her battle with cancer, if only for a few days,” the Blues wrote on their website. “Her road trip was supposed to create lasting memories for her, but it ended up meaning the world to us.” (NHL.com/Blues)

–Sorry for ending today’s Skate with another sad story, but we have to mention the passing of former Providence College hockey player Drew Brown, who had a courageous battle with cancer. He was just 25 years old.  “Drew touched everyone with whom he came into contact with his energy, his smile and his big heart,” said head coach Nate Leaman. “Drew was a thoughtful, soft-spoken teammate who would do anything for his team. Drew showed amazing courage in his battle with cancer. Our Friar family will miss him dearly. With the support of one another, we will find strength to honor Drew.” (Friars.com)

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Should Rangers consider a mini-rebuild?

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Last night, Darren Dreger appeared on NBCSN to discuss possible changes for the New York Rangers, from replacing Alain Vigneault to making trades.

The video above is interesting, but it’s clear that the Rangers have more questions than answers. Allow a suggestion, then: the Rangers should make like the 2012-13 Sharks and essentially run a “mini-rebuild.”

As a reminder, the Sharks traded Ryane Clowe to the (gulp) Rangers for a bucket of picks and sent Douglas Murray to the Penguins for two second-rounders. Hot take: San Jose won those trades.

Now, the situations aren’t precisely the same (example: the Rangers employ Glen Sather, so they can’t swindle him), but New York should evoke the spirit of those trades. Rangers GM Jeff Gorton should peel off the Band-Aid for big rewards, much like Sharks GM Doug Wilson. Those decisions were braver then than they appear now.

And that is where the fun starts. Let’s ponder a few questions the Rangers must ask themselves.

Fire AV?

Under certain circumstances, the Alain Vigneault question is more complicated than frustrated Rangers fans might believe.

Still, if you’re undergoing even an abbreviated rebuild, AV might not be the right fit. And, yes, even good coaches sometimes have limited shelf lives before players sour on them.

They already began a pivot, in a way

Also, while the moves were made to afford Kevin Shattenkirk, the Rangers already moved Derek Stepan and Antti Raanta out of town, with futures coming back. They got a boom-or-bust prospect in Anthony DeAngelo and the pick that became Lias Andersson in that trade.

In a way, this could just be a continuation. And, hey, there’s already some talk about the draft lottery.

Easy calls

  • Rick Nash: His mammoth $7.8 million cap hit will expire after this season, making it a challenge to move, unless Gorton gets creative. The Rangers could retain some of his salary, or better yet, take on some cap hits in exchange for assets.
  • Michael Grabner: While Nash is expensive, Grabner’s deal is as thrifty as he is swift. How many contenders wouldn’t want to add a speedy scorer with some gas in the tank (Grabner is 30) when you consider his $1.65M cap hit? The greater cost would come in the picks and/or prospects that would need to go the Rangers’ way.
  • Would anyone want Marc Staal? Have the Rangers called Lightning GM Steve Yzerman, whose blind spot seems to be declining, rugged Rangers?

Tougher considerations

  • Mats Zuccarello: The pint-sized wonder always seems to sneak up on you. Many might assume he’s had a quieter season … yet he has 10 points in 13 games. Sneaky.

Zuccarello has two years left, but at $4.5M, plenty of teams might view that at as plus. Really, it comes down to keeping him if you expect to contend again soon or shopping him if you see this as a “process.”

  • Young forwards who need new deals: J.T. Miller, Jimmy Vesey, and Kevin Hayes are three players in their mid-20s. They might be the sort of guys who are integral to your future, assuming this is a blip rather than a longer rebuild. Maybe you decide to keep two and trade one. Perhaps they’re all players you can sign to team-friendly deals.

Either way, the Rangers need to at least consider the futures of those three, among other young (and young-ish) players.

  • Ryan McDonagh – I wouldn’t do it, but his bargain $4.7M does expire after 2018-19.

Do not move

Let’s just use this as an opportunity to mention that Mika Zibanejad, Chris Kreider, and Brady Skjei shouldn’t be moved unless there’s an offer of just astounding quality. (In other words, unless Peter Chiarelli calls?)

There are also guys you wouldn’t be able to trade: Henrik Lundqvist and probably Shattenkirk. Also, probably Staal, but the Rangers should send a call to Tampa just to make sure.

Long story short, the status quo isn’t tenable for the Rangers. With that in mind, they should take a bold approach, ultimately aiming higher than merely trying to make the playoffs.

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.

Let’s look at Rangers’ contracts after Zibanejad signing

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The New York Rangers are no strangers to big off-season (and trade deadline) changes, and this summer has been no different.

Phew, that’s quite the series of changes, and it’s not necessarily covering every single facet.

So, that leaves us with some questions: what are the Rangers left with, and what does the future look like beyond 2017-18?

Spending on players in their own zone

When checking out the Rangers’ salary structure at Cap Friendly, it’s clear that the Rangers’ long-term commitments lie in Henrik Lundqvist ($8.5 million cap hit through 2020-21) and the defense in front of him.

Shattenkirk, 28, is the highest-paid blueliner of the bunch … at least for now.

His $6.65M cap hit is more manageable than some anticipated, particularly since the term isn’t too risky at four years. Shattenkirk, Marc Staal (30 years old, $5.7M), and Brendan Smith (28, $4.35M) all see their contracts expire after the 2020-21 season.

Shattenkirk may not be the most expensive Rangers defensemen for too long, as Ryan McDonagh is due for a raise quite soon. The 28-year-old’s $4.7M cap hit is a bargain, but his deal runs out after 2018-19. McDonagh would hit unrestricted free agency if the Rangers can’t figure something out there.

As mentioned before, the Rangers are trying to shake Holden’s $1.65M cap hit (a deal that only runs through 2017-18), but either way, he likely won’t be part of the mix for long. Brady Skjei, on the other hand, stands as an especially intriguing consideration. His rookie deal expires after next season, and with it that $925K cap hit. It will be intriguing to see how much he gets, and when the Rangers aim to sign him (as they technically could do that now if they’d like).

Staal’s $5.7M is a problem, especially going forward. Otherwise, the Rangers seem to be spending their money reasonably wisely on the blueline.

The goalies behind that defense should be fascinating to watch, as Pavelec has plenty to prove after years of Raanta giving Lundqvist very valuable breaks.

Uncertainty beyond Zibanejad?

It’s one thing to have three defensemen locked down for at least three seasons; it’s another to see that the Rangers only have three forwards with at least three years of term remaining.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing, yet it’s a bit of an eyebrow-raiser for a team that once made a lot of shaky bets on long-term deals for scorers.

Right now, these are the three Rangers forwards who are signed through 2019-20 or later:

Zibanejad: 24, $5.35M, expires after 2021-22 (would be UFA)
Chris Kreider: 26, $4.625M, expires after 2019-20 (UFA)
Jesper Fast: 25, $1.85M, expires after 2019-20 (UFA)

Those deals are good-to-great, and the best news is that those players are in the thick of their primes.

It’s fascinating to note some of the decisions that are looming, though.

After a long stretch of being a trade rumor magnet, Rick Nash, 33, will see his $7.8M cap hit evaporate after 2017-18. That could come in handy as the Rangers will see noteworthy forwards (and also Skjei) like J.T. Miller, Kevin Hayes, and Jimmy Vesey become RFAs. Desharnais is slated to be a UFA, and most importantly, Michael Grabner is too … and will almost certainly command a significant raise from his dirt-cheap $1.65M.

Some interesting deals only have two years remaining, including Mats Zuccarello‘s $4.5M and Pavel Buchnevich‘s ELC.

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All things considered, the Rangers are in pretty good shape. It’s up to GM Jeff Gorton to keep it that way.