Should Rangers consider a mini-rebuild?

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Last night, Darren Dreger appeared on NBCSN to discuss possible changes for the New York Rangers, from replacing Alain Vigneault to making trades.

The video above is interesting, but it’s clear that the Rangers have more questions than answers. Allow a suggestion, then: the Rangers should make like the 2012-13 Sharks and essentially run a “mini-rebuild.”

As a reminder, the Sharks traded Ryane Clowe to the (gulp) Rangers for a bucket of picks and sent Douglas Murray to the Penguins for two second-rounders. Hot take: San Jose won those trades.

Now, the situations aren’t precisely the same (example: the Rangers employ Glen Sather, so they can’t swindle him), but New York should evoke the spirit of those trades. Rangers GM Jeff Gorton should peel off the Band-Aid for big rewards, much like Sharks GM Doug Wilson. Those decisions were braver then than they appear now.

And that is where the fun starts. Let’s ponder a few questions the Rangers must ask themselves.

Fire AV?

Under certain circumstances, the Alain Vigneault question is more complicated than frustrated Rangers fans might believe.

Still, if you’re undergoing even an abbreviated rebuild, AV might not be the right fit. And, yes, even good coaches sometimes have limited shelf lives before players sour on them.

They already began a pivot, in a way

Also, while the moves were made to afford Kevin Shattenkirk, the Rangers already moved Derek Stepan and Antti Raanta out of town, with futures coming back. They got a boom-or-bust prospect in Anthony DeAngelo and the pick that became Lias Andersson in that trade.

In a way, this could just be a continuation. And, hey, there’s already some talk about the draft lottery.

Easy calls

  • Rick Nash: His mammoth $7.8 million cap hit will expire after this season, making it a challenge to move, unless Gorton gets creative. The Rangers could retain some of his salary, or better yet, take on some cap hits in exchange for assets.
  • Michael Grabner: While Nash is expensive, Grabner’s deal is as thrifty as he is swift. How many contenders wouldn’t want to add a speedy scorer with some gas in the tank (Grabner is 30) when you consider his $1.65M cap hit? The greater cost would come in the picks and/or prospects that would need to go the Rangers’ way.
  • Would anyone want Marc Staal? Have the Rangers called Lightning GM Steve Yzerman, whose blind spot seems to be declining, rugged Rangers?

Tougher considerations

  • Mats Zuccarello: The pint-sized wonder always seems to sneak up on you. Many might assume he’s had a quieter season … yet he has 10 points in 13 games. Sneaky.

Zuccarello has two years left, but at $4.5M, plenty of teams might view that at as plus. Really, it comes down to keeping him if you expect to contend again soon or shopping him if you see this as a “process.”

  • Young forwards who need new deals: J.T. Miller, Jimmy Vesey, and Kevin Hayes are three players in their mid-20s. They might be the sort of guys who are integral to your future, assuming this is a blip rather than a longer rebuild. Maybe you decide to keep two and trade one. Perhaps they’re all players you can sign to team-friendly deals.

Either way, the Rangers need to at least consider the futures of those three, among other young (and young-ish) players.

  • Ryan McDonagh – I wouldn’t do it, but his bargain $4.7M does expire after 2018-19.

Do not move

Let’s just use this as an opportunity to mention that Mika Zibanejad, Chris Kreider, and Brady Skjei shouldn’t be moved unless there’s an offer of just astounding quality. (In other words, unless Peter Chiarelli calls?)

There are also guys you wouldn’t be able to trade: Henrik Lundqvist and probably Shattenkirk. Also, probably Staal, but the Rangers should send a call to Tampa just to make sure.

Long story short, the status quo isn’t tenable for the Rangers. With that in mind, they should take a bold approach, ultimately aiming higher than merely trying to make the playoffs.

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.

Maple Leafs end skid in first Babcock-less game

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If it weren’t for Vinnie Hinostroza spoiling Frederik Andersen‘s shutout with 17 seconds left, Thursday would have been just about perfect for the Toronto Maple Leafs during their first game post-Mike Babcock.

Most importantly, the Maple Leafs ended their six-game losing streak with a win. (Yes, that makes brand-new head coach Sheldon Keefe 1-0-0.)

The symmetry starts to go up a notch when you consider that, on this night, Tyson Barrie finally scored his first goal of the 2019-20 season, which is also his first with the Maple Leafs. Barrie is up there when you picture Leafs with relief of Babcock grief, so scoring here almost feels on-the-nose:

That Barrie goal gave the Maple Leafs a coveted 1-0 lead, and that’s quite a reversal from how things could have felt if Andersen didn’t make this great glove save (which would have stood out even more if Tuukka Rask didn’t give Marc-Andre Fleury competition with an absolutely ludicrous stop).

The underlying numbers are promising, too. In particular, it has to be uplifting to see that the Maple Leafs managed an impressive 18-7 advantage in high-danger chances at all strengths, according to Natural Stat Trick.

There’s a lot to like for the Leafs, but there’s also no denying that the Maple Leafs have a lot of work to do — and a hole they need to dig out of. That win merely brought them back to “.500,” as they’re now 10-10-4 for 24 standings points in 24 games. They wouldn’t make it into the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs if they began on Thursday night, and Toronto’s ninth place standing is even inflated when you realize that teams right behind them hold games in hand. (Toronto’s 24 games played ties for the most in the NHL, while teams like the Lightning [22 points in 19 GP] loom large.)

Ultimately, though, the Maple Leafs can only control what they’re doing on the ice. So far, so good then, when you consider how they’re playing with Keefe pulling the strings instead of Babs.

More on Babcock, Leafs:

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.

Blues’ Dunn levels Flames’ Mangiapane with huge hit

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These are painful times for the Calgary Flames … sometimes literally.

By falling 5-0 to the St. Louis Blues on Thursday, the Flames have now dropped six consecutive games. It’s hard not to think a little bit about the Toronto Maple Leafs firing Mike Babcock amid their slump when considering the Flames’ own struggles, both now and in their own disappointing showing in Round 1 of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Talk of big changes (to coaching, Johnny Gaudreau, the GM, or anything else) can wait for another day … maybe one soon? For now, let’s bask in the fearful glow of Vince Dunn‘s hit on Andrew Mangiapane, as you can witness in the video above this post’s headline.

Is that hit symbolic of the Flames’ pains lately, or could you best embody that agony by comparing the team to its most snakebitten player, Sam Bennett?

Either way, these are uncomfortable times for the Flames, and not just Mangiapane.

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.

Islanders’ point streak hits 16 games, a new franchise record

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The Penguins spoiled the Islanders’ 10-game winning streak, but not the Islanders’ point streak, back on Nov. 7. The Islanders really haven’t slowed down since then, as Thursday’s 4-3 OT win against Pittsburgh extended their latest winning streak to five games, and allowed them to set a new franchise record.

By going 15-0-1 in their last 16 games, the Islanders set a new franchise mark for longest point streak. Yes, that means Barry Trotz’s odds-defying group has accomplished something the dynastic Mike Bossy-powered ’80s group never did.

At this rate, the Islanders might just bank enough standings points that it might not matter much when/if they “come back to Earth.”

In the spirit of Derek Jeter wedging his jersey number into a word where it only kinda sorta works, the Islanders embraced the history of the 16-game streak:

When you’re winning (or at least getting a point) as often as the Islanders have been, you’ll need to win in different ways. After some comeback wins recently, Thursday’s game against the Penguins was a back-and-forth affair where the two teams traded leads, and the Penguins needed a last-minute goal to even get the game to overtime. Brock Nelson‘s two goals were key, including his OT-winner:

There’s been a “cardiac kids” element to this run, especially lately. Thursday’s win marks the third consecutive game where the Isles’ action went beyond regulation, and six of the Islanders’ wins (plus their lone OT loss to the Penguins) have come via either a shootout or overtime goal.

This also marks the best 20-game start in franchise history for the Isles, according to The Athletic’s David Staple.

Just resounding stuff.

It says a lot about the Capitals’ own hot start (16-4-4, 36 points in 24 games played) that the Islanders still aren’t in the lead in the Metro. Of course, the Islanders could close a ton of ground considering their games in hand, as they’re 16-3-1 for 33 points in just those 20 games played.

Looking ahead, the Islanders will go on the road quite a bit as they try to extend this point streak even beyond 16 games. To start, they’ll take a California road trip, and the away-heavy stretch doesn’t end there.

Nov. 23: at San Jose
Nov. 25: at Anaheim
Nov. 27: at Los Angeles
Nov. 30: vs. Columbus
Dec. 2: at Detroit
Dec. 3 :at Montreal
Dec. 5: vs. Vegas
Dec. 7: at Dallas
Dec. 9: at Tampa Bay
Dec. 12: at Florida

As you can see, the Islanders face a run where eight of their next 10 games are on the road. You’d think that maybe there will be stumbles (dare I wonder, *gasp* maybe even a single regulation loss?) along that way, but the Islanders keep buzzing along, and they’re 6-1-0 on the road thus far this season … so who knows?

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.

Bruins’ Rask gives Fleury competition for save of the week/year

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When Marc-Andre Fleury flashed the glove for a ridiculous save, PHT’s Adam Gretz was right in wondering if calling it a save of the year candidate was an understatement. And then Boston Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask came along and gave Fleury competition for save of the week.

Buffalo Sabres forward Evan Rodrigues had so much net to aim for, but also needed to get his shot off quickly. As much as the Bruins swarmed the situation — making for an even better visual — Rask ended up having to save the day, and that he did.

This would have been an amazing glove save, but Rask managing the feat with his blocker hand is just … wow. Watch in awe in the video above.

It sounds like even Rask was impressed.

Again, wow. Let’s take a paragraph break to just mutter wow a few times.

Now, let’s compare and contrast: was it more or less amazing than Fleury’s save? Don’t say it was a tie, cheaters.

Now, what do I think is the better save? Uh …

(Tries to throw a smoke bomb and run away, but Rask and Fleury keep batting it around between each other.)

The save ended up being important, as the Bruins narrowly beat the Sabres 3-2 on Thursday.

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.