Ed Lack

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Vigneault firmly on hot seat with Rangers

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The good news is that the New York Rangers are in a position to steal at least a few headlines in New York.

The bad news is that they’re not really making the positive headlines that you’d hope for, as Alain Vigneault probably nods sadly at the phrase “no news is good news.” With each loss – and Saturday’s defeat against the Montreal Canadiens was another tough one – the speculation about Vigneault’s job security continues to boil over.

The New York Post’s Larry Brooks penned a column with an ominous headline “Alain Vigneault may have one game left.” Brooks provides some interesting perspective therein, speculating that Lindy Ruff would take over in the short-term, while noting the Rangers’ slow starts with amusing specificity:

The Rangers have been outscored 3-0 in the first 2:00 of games; 5-1 in the first 3:00; 6-2 in the first 4:00; 8-3 in the first six minutes; 10-4 within the first 10:00; and 13-4 in the first 12:00 of the first 12 games.

That is inexcusable. The Blueshirts have been chronically unengaged both mentally and physically coming out of the room for the drop of the first puck. If the athletes believe they are working hard enough, they are delusional. They are doing the minimum, and poorly, at that.

It’s actually an earlier piece from Brooks that might be the most fascinating/tough on the heart. Vigneault put himself in the shoes of now-former Yankees manager Joe Girardi, and it felt a bit like he was going through therapy. Via Brooks:

“I can put myself in his shoes and really feel the pain he’s going through,” Vigneault said of Girardi on Friday. “But one thing I understand is the business part of it. As much as I’d like to say I don’t, I do.”

Yikes, that sure seems dismal. It’s also understandable that he’d feel some kinship to Girardi. Both have been able to enjoy success in the standings, even if their decisions are always under a microscope. Part of that is the nature of the beast while coaching in New York; some of the criticisms are, of course, also valid.

Hardball Talk: What are the Yankees thinking letting Girardi go?

This isn’t a matter of one beat writer railing against Vigneault. If it wasn’t enough to hear about fans booing the team – never a great vote of confidence, often a strong message to ownership – the prevailing criticisms seem to be about a perceived lack of effort.

Then again, when you charge a team with a lack of “compete,” sometimes you’re maybe ignoring other problems.

Is AV just not the right fit for a team with quite a few young players of increasing importance, from Brady Skjei to Pavel Buchnevich to J.T. Miller?

There’s also the possibility that the Rangers are merely falling off the tightrope after walking it perilously last season. Much was made about this team’s style overcoming shot metrics that didn’t always lean their way, but with Henrik Lundqvist possibly showing his age and a few key scorers coming up dry so far, maybe this team is merely facing the reality of a so-so roster?

Whether you want to place a lot or a little of the blame on Vigneault, it’s often the coach that goes when a team is in a miserable situation. Sometimes problems fester to the point where that coach might welcome the reprieve, and it wouldn’t be shocking if AV may feel some if that day comes.

Sadly for Vigneault, it feels like that threat might not be far away.

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.

Rick Nash at career crossroads in contract year

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This post is part of Rangers Day on PHT…

New York Rangers GM Jeff Gorton has indeed done a great job managing the team’s salary structure. In that context, it might be tough to justify the idea of extending an aging power forward who will be 34 when his current deal expires next summer.

There are more than a few people who believe that the Rangers would be wise to bring Rick Nash back, however. Just recently, Josh Lipman made such an argument for Fansided and a similar thought surfaced from Jackson Heil of The Hockey Writers.

Of course, wherever Nash goes, he figures to see a decrease in pay – maybe a drastic drop – from the $7.8 million cap hit that expires after 2017-18.

For Nash, it’s a fork in the road during what’s been a somewhat odd career.

Nash is closing in on 500 career goals, as the winger already produced 416 in 989 regular-season games. He’s become quite the specialist in New York, scoring 127 goals vs. 97 assists in 315 contests with the Rangers.

On those playoff questions

As Rangers fans likely know too well, there have been some playoff headaches.

It’s wrong to say that Nash has never enjoyed postseason success. In 19 games during their 2015 run, he managed 14 points. He also had four points in what was otherwise a miserable five-game series for the Rangers against the Penguins in 2016.

His strange run of bad luck resurfaced this past postseason, so for all we know, Nash might not ever fully silence critics regarding his supposed lack of “clutch play.”

Best option available?

When people picture Nash’s future, many envision him hitting the free agent market in 2018.

The Rangers might not be so wise to outright dismiss bringing Nash back, though. New York boasts some nice forwards, but it’s plausible that Nash could remain one of their most reliable snipers, even at an advanced age. Lipman points out that Nash easily outclasses other Rangers during his time with the team from a sniping perspective; while he generated 127 goals during that time, the second-most prolific scorer was Derek Stepan, who only managed 90.

It’s worth noting that, despite being limited to 67 regular-season games in 2016-17, Nash still scored 23 goals. Nash generated 42 goals as recently as 2014-15, which was one of his only healthy campaigns with the Rangers.

Now, it’s rarely safe to assume that a player will become more durable as he ages, so that’s another concern to consider.

Still, if the price is reasonable, Nash brings a lot to the table.

The 2017-18 season stands as a year that could have a huge impact on Nash’s future. The Rangers should at least keep an open mind about being a part of his future beyond this next season.

Peters doesn’t regret Lack criticism: ‘That’s just being honest’

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Carolina Hurricanes coach Bill Peters made some headlines on Friday when he went on a bit of a rant regarding the play of backup goaltender Eddie Lack this season, basically telling him to make a big save every once in a while.

It was surprising not only because of how direct and sharp the criticism was, but also because of how out of character it was from a coach that has previously avoided such criticism of his goaltenders.

Following the Hurricanes’ 4-2 loss to Arizona on Friday, a game in which Cam Ward allowed three goals on just 21 shots, Peters was asked if he had any regrets about his comments toward Lack.

He did not.

“No. That’s just being honest,” Peters said. “You guys want it to be a competition for starts, and you gotta have competition to be a competition, correct? You know what I mean? I can’t just give people stuff for free, in pro sports that is not how it works.”

What’s odd about this is that neither goalie in Carolina has played well this season.

Part of Peters’ criticism of Lack on Friday morning was that in his last game he allowed four goals only 16 shots, and had a save percentage for the season that would place him near the bottom of the league. And all of that is accurate. But it’s not like Ward has significantly outplayed Lack this season. After Friday’s game Ward owns a .904 save percentage that is currently 46th out of 60 goalies in the NHL and has given up at least three goals in nine of his past 14 starts. In seven of those starts he has given up at least four goals. Since the start of the 2012-13 season Ward’s .906 save percentage is 43rd out of 45 goalies that have appeared in at least 100 games, ahead of only Ben Scrivens and Jacob Markstrom (and oddly enough, five spots behind Eddie Lack).

The point here is that both goalies are struggling and neither one has played anywhere near well enough to give the Hurricanes a chance to win on most nights. To single out the guy that has only played in 10 games this season (and missed significant time to a concussion) while pretty much giving a free pass to the other goalie just seems … odd. He even went out of his way on Friday to praise Ward for making a timely save on a night he gave up three goals on 21 shots (a dismal .857 save percentage) just hours after ripping apart Lack for giving up four goals on 16 shots. Neither performance is good enough.

Goaltending has been a major issue for the Hurricanes for several years now and things seem to be a lot more even than Peters suggests when he says it’s not a competition.

It is a competition.

Not because both guys are playing well, but because both have been equally bad.

Hurricanes activate Eddie Lack from IR, getting closer to a return

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Goaltending has, once again, been a bit of a weakness for the Carolina Hurricanes as they try to compete for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

But they might be getting some good news on that front when they come back out of the All-Star break next week.

The team announced that Eddie Lack, sidelined since early November with a concussion, has been activated from injured reserve and assigned to the AHL’s Charlotte Checkers for a conditioning stint. That is the next step in his recovery from a concussion that has sidelined him for more than 30 games.

In Lack’s absence the Hurricanes have been relying almost entirely on Cam Ward to carry the position and play in 33 of the team’s past 37 games. That workload might be starting to wear on him a little bit as he’s lost four of his past five starts and given up 23 goals during that stretch. Overall he is on track to finish with a save percentage lower than .910 for the fourth time in the past five years.

The Hurricanes acquired Lack before the start of the 2015-16 season in an effort to solidify the position but his debut season with the team was probably considered a bit of a disappointment. His injury early this season has robbed him of the opportunity to bounce back from it so far, limiting him to just four games.

Carolina enters the All-Star break with 49 points in 48 games, seven points back of the Philadelphia Flyers for the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.

Royal pain: Kings rule out Quick until March (Updated)

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Earlier this week, we wrote about Darryl Sutter’s less-than-optimistic health update on Jonathan Quick.

Turns out Sutter might’ve been foreshadowing.

On Wednesday, GM Dean Lombardi told the L.A. Times that Quick would be out until March with a groin injury suffered in the Kings’ season-opening loss to the Sharks.

Update: Lombardi has since revised the timeline, saying they’re predicting Quick’s return will be in mid-February.

The season opener was on Oct. 12 and, originally, the Kings said Quick was expected to miss “about three months.” Monday marked month No. 2 on the shelf, which is (presumably) why Sutter was asked for an update.

It’ll be curious to see how the club reacts to Lombardi’s latest news.

The Kings have survived without Quick — posting an 14-12-2 record — but have hardly thrived. Veteran forward Jeff Carter tore into his teammates following last night’s 6-3 loss in Buffalo, calling them “fragile.”

The perceived lack of stability isn’t surprising. Quick’s been L.A.’s backbone for years and was one of the league’s busiest workhorses over the last three seasons, including a ’15-16 campaign in which he led all NHL netminders in games (68) and minutes (4034) played.

Quick’s replacements have tried their best, and probably done about as well as could be expected.

Peter Budaj (13-7-2, 2.27 GAA, .907 save percentage) jumped from third-string AHL farmand to the No. 1 job, which is a huge leap, and has crashed back to earth after a good start.

Budaj has been pulled from two of his last five games, and has just an .861 save percentage during that stretch.

Jeff Zatkoff, originally signed to be Quick’s backup, has dealt with injuries himself and hasn’t played much. As a result, he’s yet to find any sort of groove and his ugly numbers (1-5-0, 3.20 GAA, .882 save percentage) reflect it.

Lombardi told the Times he won’t “throw the kitchen sink,” at his club’s netminding issues, so don’t expect any huge trade. That said, he may take a look at a smaller, less costly move — perhaps he could target ex-Kings netminder J-F Berbue, who’s stuck in limbo with the Islanders.