Hayes, Zuccarello part of Rangers’ ‘retool’ or saying goodbye to Broadway?

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There’s a 10-point hill to climb for the New York Rangers to try and get back into the Eastern Conference playoff picture. But even a run over the next month won’t mean much if the teams ahead of them continue picking up points.

On that note, it’ll be an interesting few weeks for general manager Jeff Gorton, who a year ago raised the white flag on the 2018-19 NHL season and signaled that the team was heading in a new direction. Changes came and will continue to come, especially with three key players set to become unrestricted free agents this summer.

Forwards Kevin Hayes (10-23–33,  40GP) and Mats Zuccarello (8-16–24, 35GP), along with defenseman Adam McQuaid find themselves dubbed as trade bait with the Feb. 25 3 p.m. ET deadline approaching. Hayes, whose name has been linked with the Colorado Avalanche for some time, is back in the lineup after missing nine games with an upper-body injury. Zuccarello missed time last month with a groin injury and has been dealing with an infected foot but should be back Thursday versus New Jersey. McQuaid was acquired in September from the Boston Bruins, but it seemed clear at the time he would eventually be flipped for future assets.

The Rangers want to continue to get younger and faster in preparation for an off-season where they can use cap space to their advantage with a free agent market that could be littlered with big names like Artemi Panarin, Mark Stone, Matt Duchene, and Jeff Skinner. Moving the 26-year-old Hayes, whose agent has spoke with Gorton but no negotiations have taken place yet about an extension, would free up future room and bring back assets in return. Same for the 31-year-old Zuccarello. Draft picks brought back can either restock the prospect cupboard or used in future trades to get immediate help.

Both have expressed their desire to stay, but Hayes and Zuccarello understand the nature of the business.

“At the same time, everybody knows how I feel about wanting to stay. I’ve loved my five years here,” Hayes told the New York Post over the weekend. “I love the organization, the guys, the staff, the city, the fans. I really can’t see myself anywhere else. But it’s also kind of out of my hands.”

“You know what, I think everyone knows my opinion about everything. I love it here,” Zuccarello earlier this season about the trade talk. “This is my ninth season. This is where I grew up to become — hopefully — an adult. Maybe half [an adult]. But this is home for me, my second home.”

In Hayes’ case, when he settled with the team on a one-year deal and avoided arbitration last summer, it set up this exact scenario. Gorton was given a period of time to take a look at the Rangers’ youth down the middle — Lias Andersson, Filip Chytil, Brett Howden — and decide whether keeping the 26-year-old center fit his plans. A long-term extension is in the player’s plans, but the GM will have to weigh if locking him up for five years or beyond at somewhere between $5-6M a season is ideal, or if there’s another plan of attack to strengthed the position in the off-season.

Henrik Lundqvist is still playing at an elite level, and with two more years left on his contract after this season, this “retool” by Gorton shouldn’t continue into next season. Two down years and plenty of roster reshaping should have the Rangers back to playoff contenders for the 2019-20 season.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Robin Lehner to make Golden Knights debut; Mark Stone injured

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The Vegas Golden Knights have been one of the league’s hottest teams over the past month and will be looking to extend their current winning streak to eight games on Friday night when they host the Buffalo Sabres.

Coach Pete DeBoer had some significant lineup news ahead of the game on Friday afternoon, including a potentially significant injury.

First, is the news that big trade deadline acquisition Robin Lehner will be making his first start in goal for the team. The Golden Knights acquired Lehner from the Chicago Blackhawks just ahead of the NHL trade deadline on Monday for a draft pick and a prospect. Lehner has been one of the league’s best goalies for the past two years and alongside Marc-Andre Fleury should give them one of the league’s best goaltending duos.

The far more serious news, though, was the announcement that forward Mark Stone will not play on Friday due to a lower-body injury.

DeBoer had no immediate information on how long Stone could be out, only to say that he is still being evaluated.

When asked if it could potentially be a long-term injury DeBoer said “There’s always fear. We don’t know, but we’ll see,” via NHL.com.

Stone is one of the league’s best all-around forwards and has not only been a point-per-game player for the past three seasons, he is also one of the best defensive forwards in the league. He finished the 2018-19 season as the top runner-up for the Selke Trophy, something that has become almost unheard of for a winger.

The Golden Knights enter Friday’s game in first place in the Pacific Division, four points ahead of the Edmonton Oilers and Vancouver Canucks.

Related: Blackhawks trade Robin Lehner to Golden Knights

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.

 

Oilers’ Mike Green to miss 3-4 weeks with sprained MCL

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Edmonton Oilers general manager Ken Holland was busy at the NHL trade deadline adding Mike Green, Andreas Athanasiou, and Tyler Ennis to his roster in an effort to improve its depth. But just two games later his team has already lost one of those new players to injury.

The Oilers announced on Friday that Green, acquired from the Detroit Red Wings for Kyle Brodziak and a draft pick, will be sidelined for the next 3-4 weeks due to an MCL sprain.

That is the way things seem to be going for the Oilers right now as injuries keep adding up throughout their roster.

Green joins an injury list that already includes the team’s top defenseman (Oscar Klefbom), as well as James Neal, Kailer Yamamoto, and Kris Russell.

Green played 19 minutes in the Oilers’ 3-0 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights on Wednesday.

Athanasiou was also injured in that game, but is expected to play on Saturday when the Oilers host the Winnipeg Jets.

The Oilers enter the weekend in third place in the Pacific Division with 74 points, four points back of Vegas and only two points ahead of the non-playoff teams in the Western Conference.

Related: Red Wings send Mike Green to Oilers

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.

Report: Islanders will play all home games at Nassau Coliseum in 2020-21

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March 22 will be the final Islanders’ game at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, according to Newsday.

Randi Marshall reports that New York governor Andrew Cuomo will announce on Saturday that the Islanders will play any home playoff games this season and all of their 2020-21 home schedule at Nassau Coliseum.

The Islanders are currently building a new arena by Belmont Park race track which is expected to be ready in time for the 2021-22 NHL season. The franchise played all of its home games at the Coliseum from 1972-2015 before moving to Brooklyn full-time in 2015. That lasted until 2018 when they split home games at both arenas, with Nassau Coliseum playing host to their Round 1 matchup against the Penguins and Barclays for their second round series against the Hurricanes.

While Barclays Center helped keep the Islanders in New York, it has not been the easiest arena to travel to for fans. The ability to get there via mass transit was a positive that the Coliseum doesn’t have. Yet when the Islanders returned back to Long Island last season, there was plenty nostalgia over the building that was home for the franchise’s glory days.

In September the Islanders broke ground on the new 19,000-seat arena by Belmont Park which is less than 10 miles from Nassau Coliseum.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

David Ayres gets own hockey card, stick on display at Hall of Fame

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It has been quite a week for David Ayres.

At this time seven days almost no one in the hockey world knew who he was. But after being forced into action as an emergency backup goalie for the Carolina Hurricanes, and then getting the win in the game over the Toronto Maple Leafs, he is still getting some pretty big honors.

First, there was the shirt that the Hurricanes started to produce with his name and number on the back (with Ayres getting royalties, and other proceeds going to a kidney foundation). He was also invited to the Hurricanes’ home game on Tuesday night to sound the siren before their game against the Dallas Stars.

Now he is getting his own hockey card from Upper Deck, while the stick he used in Saturday’s game is on display at the Metropolitan Division exhibit at the Hockey Hall of Fame.

The card is part of Upper Deck’s Dated Moments e-packs.

From Upper Deck:

David Ayres, a 42-year-old maintenance operations manager and part-time Zamboni driver, was called into action as the emergency goaltender about halfway through the Carolina Hurricanes’ game against Toronto after both Carolina goaltenders were injured. In his surprise NHL debut, he helped Carolina to a 6-3 win over the Maple Leafs.

Meanwhile, the stick he used in Saturday’s game to stop eight out of 10 shots, is now on display at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto.

The 42-year-old Ayres had previously served as an emergency backup goalie for the AHL’s Toronto Marlies but never entered the game. He was forced to play on Saturday after Hurricanes goalies James Reimer and Petr Mrazek were both injured.

MORE: Hurricanes emergency goalie David Ayres beats Maple Leafs

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.