A step in the right direction: Sidney Crosby cleared to begin off-ice workouts

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People who thought the 2011 playoffs would go buzz-free in Sidney Crosby’s absence have been regularly proven wrong, with the outstanding ratings from Game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals being the most recent rebuttal. That being said, it would still be disturbing if the Pittsburgh Penguins star’s concussions symptoms force him to miss a big chunk of the 2011-12 season.

While a full-fledged return in time for training camp is still very much in question, Crosby took a promising next step in his recovery process. The Associated Press reports that Crosby has been cleared for off-ice workouts as part of his summer regimen.

It’s been an up-and-down road for Crosby since he played his last game against the Tampa Bay Lighnting on January 5. There were some hopes that he might have been able to make an appearance in the 2011 playoffs, but another wave of concussion symptoms washed those dreams away.

The AP report expands a bit on his next steps.

Crosby will work out with a personal trainer for the next 2-3 weeks in Cole Harbor, Nova Scotia, according to Penguins general manager Ray Shero, and will be monitored by Dr. Michael Collins of University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

“Everything will be closely managed by Dr. Collins,” Shero said, “in terms of his progression leading up to him getting on the ice later in the summer per his usual routine.”

There’s still a long way to go before training camp begins in September, so we’ll keep you informed about his rehab process from often-unpredictable concussion symptoms.

Rangers could once again be active in trade market

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the New York Rangers. 

Over the past year the New York Rangers have been one of the busiest teams in the league when it comes to roster movement as they’ve kickstarted their rebuild. Since the start of last offseason the Rangers have dealt veteran players Derek Stepan, Antti Raanta, Nick Holden, Michael Grabner, Ryan McDonagh, J.T. Miller, and Rick Nash. Some of them were rentals on expiring contracts (Holden, Grabner, Nash), while others still had term left on their deal (McDonagh, Miller, Stepan).

In return for that group of players they acquired 16 assets, including draft picks (three first-round picks, including a top-10 pick in 2017) and players that have ranged from established NHLers like Ryan Spooner and Vladislav Namestnikov, to prospects like Brett Howden, Libor Hajek, and Ryan Lindgren.

Given that the Rangers are staring down the barrel at what could be a second consecutive non-playoff season and have an eye on the future, it is possible, if not likely, that the major roster shakeup will continue this season.

There are a couple of players on the roster worth watching when it comes to potential trades.

Let’s take a look at a few of them.

[Rangers Day: Looking back | Breakthrough | Under Pressure]

Mats Zuccarello — Zuccarello was the subject of trade rumors this past season but when all was said and done he ended up remaining in New York.

Now that he is entering the final year of his contract it seems likely that he will once again be a player on the trade block. He is almost certainly the Rangers’ best returning forward, and has built a solid career for himself after going undrafted and beginning his professional hockey career in Europe. But he is entering his age 31 season and the Rangers have to figure out if it’s worth investing in a new long-term contract with him because by the team is ready to be a contender again, he will almost certainly be on the downside of his career.

He is by no means a superstar, but given that he averages close to 60 points every season and has been extremely durable (he’s missed just 14 games over the past five years) he is a top-line talent and would be one of the most attractive and marketable rentals that could be available at the trade deadline.

Kevin Hayes This one just seems inevitable.

The Rangers were able to avoid arbitration with Hayes this summer by signing him to a one-year contract, meaning he is now eligible for unrestricted free agency after this season. At this point you have to think that if the Rangers were committed to him as a long-term building block they would gone for a longer commitment. At age 26 and with more than 300 games of NHL play under his belt there are probably no secrets as to what Hayes is capable of as a player.

There probably is not much more in the way of development to take place here, and his production has been consistent enough over the past four years that the Rangers know what they have — a 15-to 20-goal, 40-to 45-point winger. He is what he is — a solid, if unspectacular player that is destined to be playing for somebody else by the end of February.

Ryan Spooner and Vladislav Namestnikov — Two potential wild cards when it comes to potential trades for the Rangers because both are signed for the next two seasons.

Spooner and Namestnikov are two of the more established players the Rangers acquired in their roster purge this past season, with Spooner coming over as part of the Nash trade to Boston while Namestnikov was a piece in the McDonagh/Miller trade to Tampa Bay.

They are not prospects, but they also may not be core players for the next contending team in New York.

They seem like perfect “bridge” players that can give the Rangers enough in the short-term to not completely bottom out in the standings, while also still possessing some value as potential trade chips.

At the time of his acquisition from, Namestnikov, a former first-round pick of the Lightning, was having a monster season while playing alongside Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos on the top line in Tampa Bay. It was absolutely a breakout season for him but you also have to take into account the talent he was playing alongside when looking at it. In his 19 games with the Rangers after the trade he managed just four points.

Spooner’s initial experience with the Rangers was very, very different as he immediately made an impact on the score sheet with 16 points (including 12 assists) in his first 20 games after being acquired for Nash. Given the rest of his career it was probably an outlier performance, but it was still a promising debut.

Given that both players are signed for two more years (both at $4 million per season) the Rangers have some time to get a longer look at both of them and see what they have in them. If one of them emerges into something that could be more than a bridge player they have a full year after this one to sign them to a new extension. If not, they could almost certainly be flipped to continue to add to the branches of the trade trees that began last season.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Under Pressure: Kevin Shattenkirk

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the New York Rangers. 

Kevin Shattenkirk‘s career has been quite the roller coaster over the past two years.

Throughout most of the 2016-17 season he was seen as the big fish at the trade deadline that was supposed to put a contender over the top.

He ended up going to the Presidents’ Trophy winning Washington Capitals where his performance was solid, but probably not as impactful as the team or its fans had hoped. The next season his former coach, Barry Trotz, offered a fairly honest assessment of his play and while acknowledging that he made their power play more dangerous and that the trade “worked out fine”, he also added “I think everybody thought of him as a 1-2 and he really wasn’t. He was a little lower.”

Not a totally scathing critique, but definitely pretty blunt.

Following that season Shattenkirk signed a four-year, $26.6 million contract in free agency with the Rangers, a match that pretty much everyone saw coming from a mile away.

The first year of the contract did not go as anyone planned and went wrong in pretty much every possible way.

[Rangers Day: Looking back | Breakthrough

Like the rest of the Rangers’ blue line, Shattenkirk struggled defensively and even found himself in the crosshairs for some criticism from coach Alain Vigneault that ranged from wanting to see “more urgency,” to calling him a “work in progress” in late December.

Perhaps one of the reasons things were not going well for him and the Rangers on the ice: He spent the first half of the season playing through an injury that no doubt limited him and then ultimately ended his season after just 46 games.

When all of that comes on the heels of a brief tenure in Washington that ended in disappointment it’s probably going to result in a pretty big hit to the reputation.

That tends to be the trouble with how we evaluate teams and players in professional sports, where what we saw from them last is what ultimately defines them. What we saw last, however, is not always the most accurate picture of what that player or team is. And what have we seen last from Shattenkirk? A trip to Washington where he didn’t adjust and fit in as quickly as anyone would have liked, and an injury-shortened season in New York where he was probably never 100 percent.

The reality for him is that he is simply better than what we have seen from him over the past season-and-a-half, and more should be expected from him in 2018-19 for the Rangers.

For the six-year stretch between 2011-12 and 2016-17 Shattenkirk was one of the most productive defenders in the league. He was a constant lock for at least 45 points over an 82-game season and he always had outstanding possession numbers that placed him near the top of the league. During that five-year run he was 10th among all defenders in points per game (0.61) and had a 54 percent Corsi percentage that was 15th among defenders. He was one of only a small handful of players to be in the top-15 of both categories, and by pretty much every objective measure he was a top-15 player at his position in terms of his actual on-ice performance.

You do not just accidentally perform at that level in the NHL over a five-year stretch if you’re not a darn good player.

He also did not just suddenly lose all of that ability this past season. It is all still in there, and if healthy and in a system that might play to his strengths better than whatever it was the Rangers were doing this past season we could see very well see it on display once again. Heck, we even saw some of it last season when he started the year with 17 points in his first 18 games, including a seven-game point streak in November when he helped the team go on a 6-1-0 run.

For the Rangers’ sake they are going to need him to be healthy and return to that level of play because they are still counting on him to be a cornerstone of their defense for the next three seasons. As long as he is making more than $6 million per season during that time there is going to be an expectation for him to play at that level.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Building off a breakthrough: Pavel Buchnevich

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the New York Rangers. 

After selling off several veterans last season, stockpiling draft picks, and collecting a bunch of younger assets the New York Rangers’ rebuild is well underway.

One of the most important — and perhaps most intriguing — players for the short-term outlook could be 23-year-old forward Pavel Buchnevich, whose potential still seems to be a little unknown given the way he was used under the previous coaching staff.

The argument for him coming off of a “breakthrough” season is simple: he played his first full season in the NHL and saw a nice jump in his overall production, while also finishing as the team’s fourth-leading scorer. All good stuff, and a nice positive development.

The problem is the Rangers may not have gotten as much out of him as they could have.

Or should have.

[Rangers Day: Looking back | Under Pressure

Throughout most of the season Buchnevich went through stretches where he would seemingly get lost in former coach Alain Vigneault’s line blender, and he never really seemed to get the benefit of the doubt from a coaching staff that seemed to favor older, more experienced (in other words, “safer”) players at the expense of younger, potentially more impactful talent. It was especially confusing early in the season when Buchnevich got off to a fantastic start offensively, recording 20 points in his first 25 games through the end of November. Despite that strong start things cooled off considerably (both in terms of ice-time and production) over the next couple of months before picking up again following the trade deadline when his role once again increased.

The one thing that consistently stood out about his season is that he usually managed to produce when he was given an opportunity.

His 1.77 points per 60 minutes of 5-on-5 play placed him fourth among all Rangers that played at least 40 games for the team, while his 1.75 primary assists per 60 were tops on the team. He was also one of the best Rangers forwards when it came to generating shot attempts.

Was he a totally well-rounded player that didn’t make mistakes? No. He was and still is very much a work in progress. But there was still a lot to like about his season and the potential he showed, and given the Rangers’ struggles offensively he probably should have had more of an opportunity to make a bigger impact.

That is what makes this season under first-year coach David Quinn so interesting for Buchnevich and the Rangers.

Quinn comes to the Rangers with a reputation for being able to work with young players and develop their talent, and Buchnevich’s development should be a primary focus for him. Not only because the Rangers are going to need offense this season, but because they need to identify the next wave of talent this rebuild is going to be centered around. With Buchnevich entering the final year of his entry level contract they are going to have to make some sort of a financial commitment to him after this season and it would be nice to have a clearer idea of what exactly they have in him.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

It’s New York Rangers day at PHT

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the New York Rangers. 

2017-18:

34-39-9, 77 pts. (8th Metropolitan Division; 12th Eastern Conference)
missed playoffs

IN:

Frederik Claesson

OUT:

David Desharnais
Paul Carey
Dan Catenacci
Ryan Sproul
Ondrej Pavelec
Peter Holland

RE-SIGNED:

Ryan Spooner
Vladislav Namestikov
Jimmy Vesey
Kevin Hayes
Brady Skjei
John Gilmour
Boo Nieves
Cody McLeod
Ryan O’Gara
Chris Bigras

– – –

You could kind of feel that the season the New York Rangers had last year was a long-time coming.

[Rangers Day: Under PressureBreakthrough

The team was getting a little too stale, a little too over-reliant on the heroics of Henrik Lundqvist night-in and night-out, plagued by years invested in players whose names didn’t match their talent level anymore and a coach who couldn’t seem to find the next gear with the team he had.

When the burden atop Lundqvist’s shoulders became too much to bear after the ball dropped in Time Square to usher in 2018, the Rangers simply imploded with him.

And so the purge began, long before the 2017-18 season came to a close — on Feb. 8, when the team announced that it was game over and before any more coins could be dropped into the machine, a rebuild would have to take place.

In hindsight, it started to happen before the season began. They had already shipped out Derek Stepan and Antti Raanta prior to last year’s NHL Draft for the No. 7 pick, which they used to snag Lias Andersson.

At the trade deadline several months later, the Rangers swung the blockbuster of the season, sending Ryan McDonagh and J.T. Miller to the Tampa Bay Lightning in return for Vladislav Namestikov, two prospects and a pick.

The move capped off a wild year in the Big Apple. The Rangers sold off Rick Nash, Nick Holden and Michael Grabner while amassing roster players, picks and prospects.

Here is the complete list (thanks to PHT’s Adam Gretz):

  • 2017 first-round pick (from Arizona — used to select Andersson)
  • 2018 first-round pick (Boston)
  • 2018 first-round pick (Tampa Bay)
  • 2018 second-round pick (New Jersey)
  • 2018 third-round pick (Boston)
  • 2019 conditional second-round pick (Tampa Bay — would become another first-round pick if Tampa Bay wins the Stanley Cup this season or next season)
  • 2019 seventh-round pick
  • Vladislav Namestnikov
  • Ryan Spooner
  • Matt Beleskey
  • Anthony DeAngelo
  • Ryan Lindgren
  • Libor Hajek
  • Brett Howden
  • Ygor Rykov
  • Rob O'Gara

They also said goodbye to their old coaching staff after firing Alain Vigneault and replacing him with David Quinn from Boston University fame. He takes the reins at a perfect time for the Rangers, given his apparent ability to develop young players.

A rebuild, then, from top to bottom.

It’s also meant a pretty uneventful summer in the import category, other than Quinn’s hiring.

Fredrik Claesson, signed on July 1, is the only player brought in that has played NHL games. But the Rangers made some good decisions in re-signing a swath of restricted free agents in Jimmy Vesey, Ryan Spooner, Kevin Hayes, Namestikov, Brady Skjei, John Gilmour, Boo Nieves and Rob O’Gara.

New York’s forward contingent this season doesn’t look half bad on paper, but it’s on defense where things get a bit hairy.

Kevin Shattenkirk had knee surgery in January, ending his first season in a blue shirt, and while he’s probable for the start of the season, you never know how those are going to turn out. The Rangers are certainly hoping a healthy Shattenkirk and return to the same form that they saw when they gave him a four-year extension with a full no-movement clause. The last thing the Rangers need during a rebuild is having to eat a contract that was supposed to be the defenseman that solidified their top-four.

The Rangers gave up the second most shots per game (35.3) and the fourth most goals-against per game (263), so those numbers certainly need to improve if the goal is not to have the aging Lundqvist put in a bad spot each night.

That said, the expectation that the Rangers compete for a playoff spot is probably a futile one. The team is rebuilding, and to do it right means to take it slow. They’ve trimmed a lot of fat in a short period of time, but youth needs time to develop and shouldn’t be rushed.

Prospect Pool:

  • Lias Andersson, C/LW, 19, Frolunda/Hartford (SHL/AHL) – 2017 first-round pick

Perhaps the readiest of all of New York’s prospects, Andersson blends a strong two-way game with impressive speed, skill and shooting abilities. He got seven games with the Rangers at the end of the season, scoring once and adding an assist, had 14 points in 22 games in the Swedish Elite League with Frolunda, and in 25 games with the Wolfpack in the American Hockey League, posting 14 points in 25 games. There’s a spot open for him on the opening day roster if he wants it.

  • Filip Chytil, C, 18, CSKA Moscow (KHL) – 2017 first-round pick

There’s an argument that Chytil is just as ready for the Show as Andersson, perhaps slightly more. Chytil got nine total games with the Rangers, including making the team out of training camp last season. He posted a goal and two assists combined in his time with the Rangers and played most of the season in Hartford where he had 11 goals and 31 points in 46 games. Chytil also had four points in seven games with the Czech Republic at the world juniors and then two additional points at the world championships. Like Andersson, there’s room for Chytil providing he can make an impression in training camp.

  • Vitali Kravtsov, RW, 18, Traktor Chelyabinsk (KHL) – 2018 first-round pick

The Rangers have a lot of skilled first round picks, don’t they? Kravtsov is their latest, taken ninth overall this past June. The kid is big, too. He’s 6-foot-4 and 183 pounds with plenty of room to fill out. He won the Aleksei Cherepanov Award for the KHL’s best rookie and set a playoff record for a junior-aged player with 16 points. He was named rookie of the month twice and rookie of the week three times and will be back with Traktor to begin next season after signing an extension in July. Assuming all goes well, he could play with the Rangers by years’ end depending on how far Traktor makes it in the Gagarin Cup.


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