Mika Zibanejad

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.

Changes needed for Rangers, but which ones to choose?

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The New York Rangers think they should’ve beaten the Ottawa Senators.

And when you look back at the series, they’re probably right, given the leads they blew in Kanata.

But another offseason has begun, regardless. The Blueshirts have made the playoffs seven straight years, and they’ve done so with many of the same players. They made it to the Stanley Cup Final in 2014. They’ve been been a very good team.

But they haven’t been good enough, and now they’ve got some big decisions to make.

Do they pursue Kevin Shattenkirk in free agency? The Rangers’ power play was terrible in the playoffs. Just three goals in 12 games. They could use a true quarterback.

Do they buy out Dan Girardi or Marc Staal? That would at least provide some cap space, and those two have a lot of hard miles on their bodies.

Do they trade Rick Nash? He turns 33 next month and only has one year left on his contract. He takes up a lot of cap space with his $7.8 million hit, and he’s not the goal-scorer he used to be.

Though some significant changes could occur this summer, do not expect GM Jeff Gorton to tear this roster down. Not while Henrik Lundqvist is still there. Not with Ryan McDonagh still in his prime. And not with all those good young forwards, including Mika Zibanejad, who just turned 24.

Heck, Derek Stepan may have had a rough postseason, but he only turns 27 in June.

To retool on the fly, Gorton could always pursue another trade like the one he pulled off last summer, when he sent Derick Brassard to Ottawa for Zibanejad. The Senators, desperate to make the playoffs, felt Brassard was the better player at the time, so they gave up the younger Zibanejad.

Perhaps Gorton could pull off something similar with Nash. Or if not Nash, Mats Zuccarello, who turns 30 in September and only has two more years before he can become an unrestricted free agent. Or maybe even Stepan could be moved.

At this point, nothing should be off the table. The Rangers have had a good run, and they nearly made it to another conference final this year. But they need to make some changes.

The only question is which changes they choose.

Erik Karlsson stomps on Rangers’ momentum with pretty goal (Video)

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There were some stretches where the crowd seemed pretty dead at Madison Square Garden, wondering if the New York Rangers would even make a push against the Ottawa Senators in Game 6.

That push happened as the building was uplifted thanks to a spiffy Mika Zibanejad goal, cutting Ottawa’s lead to 2-1. Unfortunately for the Rangers, Erik Karlsson just doesn’t have it in him to allow his opponents any hope.

On a truly stupendous shot, Karlsson made it 3-1, silencing the crowd as rapidly as the people at MSG came back to life.

For fans of Karlsson’s outrageous skills, it’s vindicating to see him play at this level.

Meanwhile, you have to wonder if his critics are starting to have second thoughts.

Rangers need top forwards to stop being ‘average’ if they want to force Game 7

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The New York Rangers got off to a fantastic start in Game 5 against Ottawa on Saturday afternoon and they came within 1:30 of winning the game in regulation. But that’s not what ended up happening.

They managed to build up a 2-0 lead in the first period thanks to goals a pair of depth players in Jesper Fast and Nick Holden. New York also had a 4-3 lead late in the third period, but they let that slip away too.

The Rangers nearly came away with the victory, while hardly getting any production from top forwards like Derek Stepan, Mika Zibanejad, Rick Nash and Chris Kreider, who combined to score just one assist in the 5-4 OT defeat.

When asked about the performances he got from those four players, head coach Alain Vigneault didn’t exactly mince words.

“For me, the players you mentioned had real strong games at home in [Games] 3 and 4, and for whatever reason — and I don’t want to single out those players, as I said — we had quite a few who had an average game, and it wasn’t an appropriate time,” said Vigneault, per Newsday. “At this time of the year, against a good opponent, you can’t bring an average game to the table.”

This isn’t the first time Vigneault has used the media to call out in his players. During the first-round series against Montreal, he singled out Kreider after a pair of quiet performances in Game 1 and 2 and then did the same thing to a couple of other players a few days later.

The Rangers will have to hope that the extra day off between games will do them some good. Game 6 will be played at MSG on Tuesday night (Watch on NBCSN or on the NBC Sports app). New York hasn’t lost a game on home ice in this series.

The biggest loser in the NHL Draft Lottery? Probably the Vegas Golden Knights

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It’s somewhat fitting that the Colorado Avalanche, coming off of a season where they were one of the worst NHL teams in recent memory, found another way to lose on Saturday night when they dropped all the way down to the No. 4 overall pick in the NHL Draft Lottery. For a team that needs a ton of help across the board, that is a huge loss.

But they still probably weren’t the biggest losers in the lottery.

That honor has to go to the team that hasn’t even played a game in the NHL yet, the expansion Vegas Golden Knights.

Entering the lottery with the same odds for the first pick as the third-worst team in the league (10.3 percent) Vegas ended up dropping down to the No. 6 overall pick thanks to the New Jersey Devils, Philadelphia Flyers (probably the biggest winners in the lottery, even without getting the No. 1 overall pick), and Dallas Stars all making huge moves into the top-three.

This could not have possibly played out worse for George McPhee and his new front office in Vegas.

These people are trying to start a team from scratch. From literally nothing. The only player they have right now is Reid Duke and while the expansion draft rules are supposedly going to give them more talent to pick from than previous expansion teams, they are still facing a long building process. Even if they do have a decent amount of talent to pick from, they are not going to find a franchise building block among those selections.

Their best chance of landing that player is always going to be in the draft. Their starting point is going to be the No. 6 overall pick.

That is a painfully tough draw for a number of reasons.

First, if you look at the NHL’s recent expansion teams going back to 1990 this is the lowest first pick any of the past 10 expansion teams have had when they entered the league.

  • San Jose Sharks — No. 2 overall in 1991
  • Tampa Bay Lightning — No. 1 overall in 1992
  • Ottawa Senators — No. 2 overall in 1992
  • Anaheim Ducks — No. 4 overall in 1993
  • Florida Panthers — No. 5 overall in 1993
  • Nashville Predators — No. 2 overall in 1998
  • Atlanta Thrashers — No. 1 overall in 1999
  • Minnesota Wild — No. 3 overall in 2000
  • Columbus Blue Jackets — No. 4 overall in 2000
  • Vegas Golden Knights — No. 6 overall in 2017

Only one of those teams picked outside of the top-four (Florida in 1993, and that was in a year with two expansion teams when the other one picked fourth).

When you look at the recent history of No. 6 overall picks it’s not hard to see why this would be a tough starting point for a franchise. Historically, there is a big difference between even the No. 1 and No. 2 picks in terms of value, and that gap only gets larger with each pick that follows.

Just for a point of reference, here is every No. 6 overall pick since 2000: Scott Hartnell, Mikko Koivu, Scottie Upshall, Milan Michalek, Al Montoya, Gilbert Brule, Derick Brassard, Sam Gagner, Nikita Filatov, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Brett Connolly, Mika Zibanejad, Hampus Lindholm, Sean Monahan, Jake Virtanen, Pavel Zacha, Matthew Tkachuk.

Overall, it’s a good list. The point isn’t that you can’t get a great player at No. 6 overall because there are a lot of really good players on there. But there are also some misses, and other than maybe Ekman-Larsson there really isn’t anyone that you look at say, “this is a player you can build a franchise around.”

Just because Vegas is an expansion doesn’t mean they should have been guaranteed the top pick (or even the No. 2 pick). It is a lottery system and it all just depends on how lucky your team is when it comes time to draw the ping pong balls.

But for a team that is starting from scratch, ending up with the No. 6 overall pick in a draft class that is not regarded as particularly a deep one (at least compared to some recent years) is a really tough draw when it comes to starting your team.

If they end up finishing the worst record in the league, as most expansion teams tend to do, they could easily end up picking fourth in 2018.

Just ask the Avalanche what that is like.