Risk Factors: New York Rangers edition

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From the same bunch of pessimists who brought you “Why your team won’t win the Stanley Cup,” PHT presents a new series called “Risk Factors,” i.e. three reasons to be worried about each NHL team in 2014-15.

New York Rangers

1. Depth at center, or lack thereof. Two key middle men from last year’s Stanley Cup Finalist are gone: Brad Richards (bought out, now in Chicago) and Brian Boyle (free agent, signed in Tampa Bay). A third, Derek Stepan, will miss the first 4-6 weeks with a fractured fibula. Even prior to the injury, New York’s center depth was going to be an issue; the Blueshirts had Stepan, ideally a No. 2 guy, masquerading as a top liner and Derick Brassard, who thrived as a No. 3 last year, playing as a No. 2.

So now what?

Head coach Alain Vigneault could be forced to open the season with Brassard, Dominic Moore and a trio of 22-year-olds — J.T. Miller, Kevin Hayes and Oscar Lindberg — vying for minutes at center. (Veteran Matthew Lombardi, signed out of the Swiss league to provide depth down the middle, is sidelined indefinitely with a groin injury.)

Vigneault admitted he has a tall task at hand, especially trying to replace what Stepan brought to the table.

“When you think of Step, you think five-on-five, you think penalty kill, you think power play. Someone else is going to get those minutes,” Vigneault said, per the New York Daily news. “We’ll see who steps up.”

How the Rangers deal with their center situation will be a two-part act. The first part is surviving the length of time Stepan is out, and it’s fair to suggest he could miss all nine games in the month of October. It’ll be tough, but not impossible; the Rangers can band-aid the problem (heck, Marty St. Louis already offered to play there) and even if they do struggle, no biggie — the Blueshirts won just three of their first nine games last year, and rebounded fine.

The second act, though — a season-long lack of center depth — will be a problem. New York didn’t have a bonafide No. 1 last year but advanced to the Cup Final with a committee approach; problem is, that committee was exposed against the Kings, and now it’s thinned out.

More importantly, the Rangers still lack an elite center and don’t have anybody to match the likes of Sidney Crosby, Ryan Getzlaf, Jonathan Toews, Claude Giroux, Tyler Seguin, Patrice Bergeron and Anze Kopitar. Just how crucial is having top-end talent atop your depth chart?

“If you want to be one of the elite teams,” Stars GM Jim Nill told the CP, “you have to have it.”

2. Can they still roll four?

Last year, much of New York’s success came from its ability to roll four forward lines — especially in the playoffs. From the New York Post:

“I think if you look at the teams that have had success and have won the Cup since the [2004-05] lockout, you see those teams have had depth and have been able to play their depth,” Vigneault said Saturday.

“From personal experience, I know when we [the Canucks] lost the Cup to Boston, Boston was a four-line team — probably the best fourth line, I felt, in the league,” the coach said, referring to the unit that generally featured Gregory Campbell, Daniel Paille and Shawn Thornton. “We didn’t have four lines.

“From that experience, if you can play four lines and manage the minutes, I think you can play at a higher tempo and faster paced game.”

Depth up front really was the Rangers’ calling card last postseason. Brassard, Mats Zuccarello and Benoit Pouliot were arguably the postseason’s best third line and in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final, it was the fourth line of Boyle, Moore and Derek Dorsett that scored the series-winning goal while providing countless shifts of dynamic forechecking.

Cap issues and free agency hurt New York’s depth. Boyle, Pouliot and Dorsett are all gone and the Richards departure bumped Brassard into a different role. Without much money for replacements, the Rangers acquired the likes of Lombardi, Ryan Malone, Tanner Glass, Lee Stempniak and Chris Mueller on the cheap; there’s experience in that group, but also a large number of question marks.

3. That blueline… is not fresh.

Perhaps nobody’s reputation took a bigger hit last spring that Dan Girardi, who opened the Stanley Cup Final with an egregious mistake — and things didn’t get much better from there. The knocks on Girardi by the end of the five-game ouster all sounded the same: he looked slow, fought the puck and lost too many physical battles, leaving many to wonder if 1) years of heavy minutes under John Tortorella wore him down, and 2) if the Rangers made a poor decision inking Girardi to a six-year extension in February.

So then they went out and got even older on D.

New York’s big free agent acquisition was Dan Boyle, signed from San Jose to replace the outgoing Anton Stralman. The irony was that Boyle, 38, was allowed to walk from San Jose following a playoff series against — guess who! — the Los Angeles Kings, in which Boyle looked a step slow and unable to contain the Kings forwards.

(For Boyle, replacing Stralman is no small task; the Swedish rearguard averaged nearly 20 minutes per game during the regular season, then finished fourth among all Rangers in playoff TOI.)

Overall, the Rangers’ blueline is not a young group. Boyle and Girardi are already on the wrong side of 30 and Kevin Klein gets there in December. Marc Staal, a pending UFA, turns 28 in January — meaning the young guns of the group are 25-year-old Ryan McDonagh and 23-year-old John Moore.

Now, McDonagh is a star in the making and likely the Rangers’ future captain; he’ll anchor the group for this season and beyond. But it’s the parts surrounding him which could be problematic — after the top-six of McDonagh, Boyle, Girardi, Klein, Moore, Staal, the Rangers’ reserve depth consists of a trio of journeyman NHLers in Steven Kampfer, Matt Hunwick and Mike Kostka.

Brooks Orpik retires after 15 seasons, two Stanley Cups

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Forwards around the NHL will have one less bruising defenseman to worry about heading into next season.

On Tuesday morning, Washington Capitals blueliner Brooks Orpik announced his retirement from the NHL. After being drafted in the first round of the 2000 NHL Entry Draft by the Pittsburgh Penguins, Orpik went on to play 15 seasons with the Pens and Caps.

The 38-year-old scored 18 goals and 194 points in 1035 games. He also added 972 penalty minutes during that time. Orpik skated in 156 more games in the postseason and he won two Stanley Cup titles (one with the Pens and one with the Caps).

After missing just four games in two seasons in 2016-17 and 2017-18, the veteran managed to skate in just 53 contests last season because of a lower-body injury.

“I’ve been extremely lucky to have the best job in the world for many years, but my body is telling me it is time to move on to something new,” Orpik said in a team release. “I’m excited for more family time and to experience a lot of the things that being a professional athlete forces you to miss out on. Thank you to the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins for giving me the opportunity to play against the best athletes in the world. I’ll be forever grateful for the memories and relationships that hockey has given me.”

On the international stage, he also represented Team USA on several occasions. He played for his country 2000 World Junior Hockey Championship, the 2006 World Hockey Championship and at the 2010 and 2014 Winter Olympic Games (he won a silver medal with that 2010 team).

“I had the great opportunity to see up close how impactful Brooks was for our team. Spending time as his defensive partner and playing alongside Brooks was something that I will always cherish,” said Caps defenseman John Carlson. “He showed his teammates the importance of hard work, accountability and always being there for your team every time he stepped on the ice. We all learned from Brooks; he was our role model and he made us better. I wish him and his family all the best!”

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.

PHT Morning Skate: Waiting on Marner; Marleau wants to play past 40

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• With Marner unknown, Maple Leafs won’t be in ‘big-game market’ come July 1, GM Dubas says. (NHL.com)

Patrick Marleau, 39, believes he can play past the 2019-20 season. (NHL.com)

• For the Rangers, it may come down to Chris Kreider or Artemi Panarin, and not both. (Blue Seat Blogs)

• Trying to decipher Jim Rutherford’s offseason messages. (Pensburgh)

J.T. Miller trade the result of Vancouver’s past draft failures. (TSN.ca)

• It’s time for the NHL to expand it’s 3-on-3 overtime rules. (Oilers Nation)

• Evaluating where things stand for Blackhawks as negotiating window opens for NHL free agents. (NBC Chicago Sports)

• The trade market and Subban: the Flyers’ impatience may have cost them this offseason. (Broad Street Hockey)

• Seattle’s coming NHL has its first sponsor. (Seattle Times)

• Re-imagining the 1994 NHL Draft 25 years on. (Puck Junk)

• In Lou Lamoriello. you should trust, Islanders fans. (Eyes on Isles)

• Growing the game… in Montana. (Daily Inter Lake)

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.

Trade: Blackhawks continue defense overhaul, get de Haan from Hurricanes

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Defense was a huge issue for the Chicago Blackhawks during the 2018-19 season and they are already making some moves this summer to try and address it.

That continued on Monday evening when the team announced it has acquired Calvin de Haan and forward Aleksei Saarela from the Carolina Hurricanes in exchange for Gustav Forsling and goalie Anton Forsberg.

The Hurricanes signed de Haan to a four-year, $18.2 million contract in free agency a year ago. Known more for his defensive play than anything offensively, he played in 74 games for the Hurricanes this past season, scoring one goal to go with 13 assists. He underwent shoulder surgery after the season and is facing a four-to-six month recovery time, so he may not be ready at the start of the season.

His addition to the Blackhawks’ blue line comes a little more than one week after the team traded forward Dominik Kahun to the Pittsburgh Penguins for Olli Maatta.

de Haan and Maatta join a Blackhawks team that was one of the league’s worst defensive teams at 5-on-5, finishing in the bottom-10 in goals against, shots against, shot attempts against, scoring chances against, and high-danger scoring chances against per 60 minutes, via Natural Stat Trick.

In several of those categories they were among the bottom-three teams in the league. It is obviously an area that needed to be addressed as longtime staples Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook continue to age and their younger prospects continue to get their feet wet in the NHL.

Maatta and de Haan are not superstars, and neither one is going to provide much in the way of point production, but they can definitely help in their own end of the ice.

As for the Hurricanes side of this, clearing salary cap space appears to be the name of the game (perhaps the sign of another move coming?) as moving de Haan sheds more than $4 million in cap space over each of the next three seasons.

Forsberg and Forsling are both restricted free agents this summer.

Forsling, 23, has spent three years in the NHL with the Blackhawks and recorded 27 points in 122 career games. Given the state of Carolina’s blue line even after trading de Haan he still probably only figures to be, at best, a third-pairing defender.

Forsberg is the player that could get the biggest opportunity. The Hurricanes could buy out the remainder of Scott Darling’s contract at any time, while the duo of Petr Mrazek and Curtis McElhinney from this past season are both eligible for unrestricted free agency this summer.

The 26-year-old Forsberg has appeared in 45 NHL games with the Blackhawks and Columbus Blue Jackets, recording a .901 save percentage.

Related
Penguins trade Olli Maatta to Blackhawks for Dominik Kahun, draft pick

Hurricanes get Marleau from Maple Leafs, could buy him out

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.

Blue Jackets at center of attention as NHL free agency looms

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) — Where many express concern, Jarmo Kekalainen says he sees only opportunity regarding the uncertain state of the Columbus roster a week before NHL free agency.

To Kekalainen, the fear of possibly losing stars such as Matt Duchene, Artemi Panarin and goalie Sergei Bobrovsky on July 1 is offset by the knowledge that their departures would open significant space under the salary cap.

That would put the Blue Jackets general manager in prime position to fill those holes through trades or free agency at a time when the newly announced $81.5 million payroll maximum for next season is forcing various cap-strapped teams to shed salary.

”I think every $100,000 or every $1,000 counts at this point for some teams that are going to be squeezed,” Kekalainen said shortly after the new cap number – $1.5 million lower than initially projected – was announced. ”They’re going to have to sell their problems. We could be a solution.”

Kekalainen won’t rate the Blue Jackets’ chances of re-signing one or all three players.

”I’m sure we’ll get some answers shortly if it starts looking like they’re moving into another direction. But we thought this could happen,” he said, referring to the bold gamble Columbus made in choosing to acquire Duchene in a trade with Ottawa, and retain Panarin and Bobrovsky at the trade deadline in February knowing they were in the final years of their contracts.

”If it happens, we’re not going to be shocked,” Kekalainen added. ”If it is the case, then we just move forward with what we have and start building other ways.”

The 27-year-old Panarin is considered the top free agent on the market. The NHL’s 2016 rookie of the year has topped 70 points in each of his four seasons and scored 116 goals in 322 career games. Duchene, a center, has topped 20 goals seven times in 10 seasons and coming off a year in which he had a career-best 31 goals.

And then there is the 30-year-old Bobrovsky, a two-time Vezina Trophy-winner. The Blue Jackets could also lose center Ryan Dzingel, whom they acquired in a separate trade with Ottawa.

Other notable free agents set to hit the market are San Jose captain Joe Pavelski, Winnipeg defenseman Tyler Myers and Toronto defenseman Jake Gardiner.

The list of top-end talent has dwindled with defenseman Erik Karlsson re-signing with San Jose, forward Jeff Skinner re-signing with Buffalo, and Philadelphia acquiring and signing center Kevin Hayes.

According to Spotrac.com, only nine of 31 teams are projected to be $20 million or more under the cap, and led by Colorado at $35.5 million. At the other end of the spectrum is Vegas, currently projected to be $1.6 million over the cap, and will have to be in compliance by the start of the season in October.

Some teams may resort to the rarely used option of poaching from the restricted free agent pool. This would require a team issuing an offer sheet, which would lead to the player’s team having to decide to match the offer or receive draft picks as compensation.

The Calgary Flames, in 2013, were the last team to issue an offer sheet in a bid to acquire then-Avalanche center Ryan O'Reilly, only to have Colorado match the contract.

Speculation has focused on talented Maple Leafs forward Mitchell Marner being a candidate to receive an offer sheet, something Toronto GM Kyle Dubas acknowledged without committing to whether the team would match it.

”It’s kind of hanging over everything now,” Dubas said last week. ”It’s our intention they’re here for as long as we can possibly keep them. But if the dollar amount doesn’t make sense as far as our internal economics, it will be a decision as to what we might do.”

The Maple Leafs are at least better positioned to re-sign Marner after freeing up $6.2 million of cap space by trading veteran forward Patrick Marleau to Carolina over the weekend. Cap constraints were behind the Nashville Predators’ decision to trade P.K. Subban to New Jersey, with the Devils easily affording the play-making defenseman’s $9 million annual cap hit over the final three years of his contract.

Devils GM Ray Shero might not be done adding talent with nearly $26 million in space still available.

”We’ll see where it goes, and we want to be an improved hockey team,” he said. ”Our fans deserve that, certainly our players deserve that, and this is a great opportunity in time to do it.”

It wasn’t lost on Dallas GM Jim Nill of how Subban’s trade provides room for the Central Division rival Predators to add players.

”I know that David Poile’s a very good general manager and he’s looking at something else he’s got planned,” Nill said, referring to the Predators GM. ”But that’s the intriguing part of the game now.”

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports