Author: Joe Yerdon

Erik Karlsson

Sens’ Karlsson will accept captaincy if offered


It’s pretty clear Erik Karlsson is the best player the Ottawa Senators currently have.

He led the team in points last season and he won the Norris Trophy in 2012 as the league’s best defenseman at the age of 21.

Now that he’s a regular veteran at 24 years old and the Senators are in need of a new captain with Jason Spezza now in Dallas, many think it’s time for Karlsson to assume that role. As shared, he said take the “C” if he’s offered it, but he won’t go out of his way to campaign to get it.

“Obviously it’s something I wouldn’t say no to [but] it’s not something I’m going to ask for,” Karlsson said Monday. “I think whoever takes that decision is going to make the right one and whether it’s me or someone else I think it’s going to be good for the team and good for the organization.”

In translation: “Don’t pick me… Yet.”

Truth is, there aren’t too many other logical candidates if it’s not Karlsson.

Fellow blue liner Chris Phillips is 35 and has been with the team since they took him first overall in 1996. He’s also worn an “A” as the alternate captain for some time now. Of course, so has antagonist forward Chris Neil and that doesn’t seem like he’d win too many other teams over if he was picked.

Defenseman Marc Methot could be a candidate except he’s working on getting an extension done with the team and the Sens have already seen two captains leave town in consecutive years. Add to it that Methot is relatively new to Ottawa (he’s played two seasons there) and we’re back to square one.

It’s either going to be the young guy in Karlsson or the older guy in Phillips.

Fanspeak: Messier voted greatest Ranger in franchise history

Mark Messier

This summer, NBC Sports’ social media team is conducting the #NHLGreatest initiative, designed for fans to choose the best player in each franchise’s history. Balloting was conducted through three platforms — Facebook, Twitter and Instagram — with thousands of votes being cast. The results of this initiative will be released throughout the month of August, in conjunction with PHT’s Team of the Day series.

New York Rangers

1. Mark Messier — 957 votes

2. Brian Leetch — 641 votes

3. Mike Richter — 314 votes

4. Wayne Gretzky — 291 votes

5. Henrik Lundqvist — 155 votes

6. Rod Gilbert — 113 votes

There was really only one choice to make here, wasn’t there?

Yes, Rod Gilbert is the franchise leader in goals and points and a Hockey Hall of Famer. Yes, Brian Leetch was the Conn Smythe Trophy winner in 1994 and Mike Richter was the goalie that helped make that Stanley Cup championship happen that year, but Mark Messier was the captain.

Messier’s guarantee the Rangers would win Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final in 1994 against the New Jersey Devils was the stuff of legend and earned him the nickname of “Messiah.” It was backed up by seeing him score a hat trick and force a legendary Game 7 that was capped off by Stephane Matteau’s double-overtime winner past Martin Brodeur.

What seemed to by mythology about Messier’s leadership came to fruition as the Rangers battled back against New Jersey and then slipped past Pavel Bure’s Vancouver Canucks in seven games in the Final. Hell, Messier even has his own award he dishes out annually for leadership based not upon the five Stanley Cups he won in Edmonton but the one he got in New York.

Wayne Gretzky had a fine final run with the Rangers and perhaps the best of Henrik Lundqvist’s legacy is yet to come in Manhattan, but when you think of the Rangers it’s Messier’s face taking the Cup from Gary Bettman that’s forever emblematic of the franchise.

Under pressure: Rick Nash

Rick Nash

When Rick Nash arrived in New York in a trade with the Columbus Blue Jackets, the pressure was on him to resuscitate an offense that had gone dormant under then head coach John Tortorella.

After a year under Alain Vigneault and an appearance in the Stanley Cup Final that saw Nash not exactly carry the load offensively throughout the playoffs, there’s a lot of pressure on Nash to prove his worth now more than ever.

Such is the price to pay when you’re under the bright lights in New York City.

Nash’s first season with the Rangers was a strong one as he scored 21 goals with 42 points in 44 games of the lockout-shortened 2013 season. Last season, his first under Vigneault, things didn’t go quite as well as he scored 26 goals with 39 points in 65 games.

Things didn’t get better in the playoffs. Nash scored three goals with 10 points in 25 postseason games and the Rangers ultimately fell to the Los Angeles Kings in five games.

Nash’s regular season point total was his worst in a full season since his rookie year. His playoff performance had Rangers fans howling for him to do more while a host of other forwards including Derick Brassard, Mats Zuccarello, and Chris Kreider all put up more points.

Vigneault and Nash both stressed that the chances were there and that he was doing other things to help them win, but it’s goals and points that people remember and not opportunities.

After seeing the Rangers come as close to the Stanley Cup as they’ve been since winning it in 1994 and coming up short, Nash is the guy who faced the most criticism. He’s also the guy that will head into the new season with a target on his back if he doesn’t return to the form that made him the 40-goal scorer the Rangers thought they were getting.

With the number of free agent departures New York had this summer, some think the team could slip and wind up in a fight to make the playoffs. It’ll be up to Nash to try and make sure that doesn’t happen while also feeding his critics a bowl of crow.