Antti Raanta

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Trouba trade highlights Rangers’ brilliant rebuild

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While it’s important to understand the context for why the Jets made the trade, the bottom line is that the Jacob Trouba trade is a slam dunk for the New York Rangers. Scratch that, we need a more pronounced sports metaphor: it was a grand slam.

It also says a lot about the Rangers’ rebuild process that, while the Trouba trade might be management’s best move yet, there are plenty of other fantastic moves to choose from.

Brassard bonanza

If you want a starting point that includes an exclamation point, begin with the monstrously one-sided Mika ZibanejadDerick Brassard trade. The trade seems to get more lopsided with every Zibanejad goal, and after every time Brassard sadly packs his bag after being traded once again. It’s almost cruel that the Rangers received a second-rounder while Ottawa only nabbed a seventh-rounder as part of that deal.

(Really, that trade isn’t that far off from the Rangers’ buddies in New Jersey stealing Taylor Hall for Adam Larsson.)

If you start with the Zibanejad heist and end with trading for Trouba plus the near-certain selection of high-end prospect Kaapo Kakko, you’d see that the Rangers are writing the blueprint for how to run an NHL rebuild. Sure, there’s been luck here and there – particularly in getting 2019’s second pick – but the Rangers have done more to make their own luck than any other rebuilding team.

Turning Pionk and the 20th pick into Trouba

Neal Pionk‘s presence in the Trouba trade stands as one of the testaments to the Rangers’ full rebuild approach.

Where the occasionally rebuild-resistant Red Wings gave opportunities to aging veterans like Mike Green and Thomas Vanek (Vanek had a no-trade clause this past season!), the Rangers pulled a perfect “pump-and-dump” with Pionk. There’s some evidence that Pionk was a fairly substantial part of the package for the Jets, so the Rangers deserve some credit for driving up Pionk’s value. Depending upon whom you ask, the Rangers might have profited from the Jets overlooking dismal underlying numbers for Pionk.

Whatever Winnipeg’s actual opinion of Pionk might be, the bottom line is that Trouba is an enormous addition for the Rangers. You can get into a debate about how good or great Trouba really is, but the bottom line is that he’s immediately the Rangers’ best blueliner, and almost certainly by a wide margin.

(As great as the Pionk pump-and-dump turned out, the Rangers’ paltry defense opened up that scenario by … you know, being really bad.)

Putting on a hard hat for this rebuild

Yes, the Rangers have lucked out here and there (a huge lottery jump to the upcoming No. 2 pick, the Jets being in a bind so they needed to trade Trouba, the hilarity of the Zibanejad heist), but they’ve also made their own luck by making tough decisions.

Lesser teams would have kept all or some of Mats Zuccarello, Ryan McDonagh, Derek Stepan, and Antti Raanta, possibly losing them for nothing via free agency anyway. Instead, the Rangers made those often-painful choices, and are healing faster after pulling off those Band-Aids.

Thanks to that hard work, they’ve added a nice war chest of picks, prospects, players, and assets.

  • Again, Trouba is a top-pairing defenseman, if not a star, and is thus a huge addition.
  • Adam Fox is a hyped defensive prospect in his own right, costing the Rangers a couple draft picks.
  • We’ll see how Lias Andersson develops, but the Rangers wouldn’t have received the seventh pick of the 2017 NHL Draft if they didn’t trade Stepan and Raanta.
  • Maybe the Rangers didn’t get a perfect deal for McDonagh and J.T. Miller, but it was another example of New York loading up on volume in picks and prospects. For example: if K’Andre Miller (22nd overall in 2018) becomes a gem, note that the Rangers used some of their quantity of draft picks to move up a bit and snag him.
  • A Stars’ Game 7 win against the Blues in Round 2 would have turned a 2019 second-rounder into a 2019 first-rounder for New York, but the bottom line is that the Rangers got a nice deal for Zuccarello. Also, if Zuccarello re-signs with the Stars, the Rangers get a first-rounder in 2020, instead of a third-rounder. You simply need to make that call with a 31-year-old winger, even one as beloved as Zuccarello.
  • The 20th pick of the 2019 NHL Draft went from the Jets to the Rangers in the Kevin Hayes deal, and that the Rangers sent it back to Winnipeg in the Trouba trade. So, if the Rangers didn’t trade Hayes, they might not have landed Trouba. Again: load up on picks and assets, and load up on scenarios where you can get better. The Rangers have been masterful at this.
  • If there was hand-wringing over giving up assets for Adam Fox, the Rangers soothed some of them by landing some lesser picks for Adam McQuaid.

Phew, that’s a lot of stuff, and this is the abridged version of that trade book; you can see a fuller list via Cap Friendly’s handy trade history page.

Mix those above moves with some interesting picks like Filip Chytil and Vitali Kravtsov, and the Rangers are making leaps, rather than baby steps, toward being competitive once again.

Kaapo Kakko ranks as the biggest pending prospect addition, yet he could have some nice help thanks to the Rangers’ other moves.

More work to do

Speaking of other moves, the Rangers’ work isn’t done yet.

The most intriguing situation would come down to switching gears if Artemi Panarin really is interested in hitting Broadway.

The Trouba trade, not to mention the influx of talent headlined by Kakko, could make the Rangers a more appealing destination for Panarin. That’s especially true if the Rangers have even more tricks up their sleeves as Cap Friendly projects their cap space at about $19M (though a Trouba contract and Panarin pact would make that dry up fast).

The Rangers don’t have to rush things if they don’t want to, or if Panarin looks elsewhere, though.

For one thing, Mika Zibanejad rules, is just 26, and is a bargain for some time ($5.3M cap hit through 2021-22). A potential trio of DJ Z-Bad, The Bread Man, and (whatever nickname we give) Kakko could be one heck of a start.

Especially since the Rangers boast other interesting forwards at or near their primes.

Chris Kreider (28, $4.625M), Vladislav Namestnikov (26, $4M), and Jimmy Vesey (26, $2.275M) all enter contract years in 2018-19. The Rangers could trade one or more of those three forwards, either before the season or even at the trade deadline, or keep them around if they’re primed for immediate competition. Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reports that the Sabres have already contacted the Rangers about Vesey, so for all we know, more significant moves could come soon.

(If you ask me, Kreider is the standout of those three, although that might make him even more appealing to trade.)

Money clearing up

The Rangers’ salary structure should look a lot cleaner after 2020-21, too.

Consider three expensive, aging veterans who are all coming off the books after two more seasons: Henrik Lundqvist (37, $8.5M per season), Kevin Shattenkirk (30, $6.65M), and Marc Staal (32, $5.75M).

For some, the Rangers’ rebuild is held back by Lundqvist, as there’s an objective argument that it would be wiser to part ways with the future Hall of Famer. That makes sense in a vacuum, but context matters: trading Lundqvist would be a very difficult thing to spin PR-wise, particularly since the Rangers are already asking fans to be patient. Maybe trading away “King Henrik” would be too extreme for fans paying big bucks at MSG.

It’s probably healthier to look at that situation with a more optimistic outlook.

There’s a scenario where the Rangers do indeed make a quantum leap from rebuilder to contender, giving Lundqvist one or two more chances to chase that coveted first Stanley Cup.

On the other hand, maybe the Rangers strategically stink, and Lundqvist either: a) plays out his contract, thus eventually opening up a ton of space in two years or b) gets antsy and asks for a trade to a contender, likely easing angst from fans if the Rangers did make a trade. Maybe Rangers fans could cheer on Lundqvist somewhere else, as some Bruins fans did when Ray Bourque lifted a Stanley Cup with the Avalanche?

All things considered, it could be worse, right?

You can apply similar logic to Shattenkirk and Staal.

In Shattenkirk’s case, I wouldn’t be shocked if the American-born defenseman rebounded at least to some extent. In 2017-18, he was hampered by a knee injury that eventually prompted surgery. Last season, it was probably tough for any Rangers defenseman to look respectable. (Hey, Shattenkirk’s relative stats are OK.)

It’s not outrageous to picture Shattenkirk’s perception rise if Trouba helps his fellow right-handed defenseman slide into a sheltered, and less prominent role. If that happened, the Rangers could either get more out of Shattenkirk from improved play, or maybe even trading him. This is a league where teams are desperate for defense, so you never know.

Marc Staal seems like more of a lost cause, at least if you look at deeper numbers, yet as we’ve seen frequently in the NHL, plenty of teams either don’t care about analytics, or will value narratives about “sturdy veterans” more than any graphs or stats.

Those teams are more liable to pursue Staal now that his term is down to two years remaining, and the Rangers could also offer to retain salary to make something happen.

Now, it’s possible that none of Lundqvist, Shattenkirk, or Staal would get traded. There may be no takers, and all three have clauses of some kind to make deals more difficult to strike.

But even if they play things out, and so at a disappointing level, there’s light at the end of the tunnel, and that light isn’t even very far away.

***

After heaping all of this praise on the Rangers, it’s important to reiterate that there’s plenty of work to do, and plenty of ways where things could still go wrong. Maybe the Rangers make Bobby Holik-type free agent mistakes again once they start spending money, or maybe management gets impatient with losing and pulls the plug on the rebuild before the foundation settles?

Overall, though, you can’t ask for much better work than what we’ve seen from the Rangers, especially in the NHL, where teams aren’t always as bold as they should be when it comes to making trades and getting creative.

This could very well be the peak of the rebuild as far as a single week of moves goes, but this isn’t an isolated incident. The Rangers have done a brilliant job of building a brighter future after being in a pretty dark situation not that long ago.

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.

PHT Morning Skate: Where will Kessel end up?; Hurricanes’ defense can do it all

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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.

Here’s the NBC Sports Stanley Cup playoff update for May 6

• The Sedin twins have found a new way to stay active. (Sportsnet)

Robin Lehner had a big first year with the Islanders, but it ended with a thud. (TSN)

• ESPN breaks down all the players who were nominated for major NHL awards. (ESPN)

• Even though they’re facing elimination, the Blue Jackets don’t regret making major moves at the trade deadline. (NHL)

• Speaking of the Jackets, here’s what they have to do to avoid being eliminated in Game 6 against Boston. (The Cannon)

• WEEI’s Matt Kalman believes the Bruins will be able to close out this series against Columbus. (WEEI)

• Flyers head coach Alain Vigneault is reportedly hiring Michel Therrien to join his staff. (Montreal Gazette)

Evgeny Kuznetsov had an inconsistent season in Washington, so what’s next for the Russian forward? (NBC Sports Washington)

• Pensburgh breaks down the potential landing spots for Phil Kessel if the Penguins decide to trade him. (Pensburgh)

• How will the Coyotes split the workload between Antti Raanta and Darcy Kuemper next season? (AZ Central)

• Don’t expect the Calgary Flames to hand out any offer sheets this summer. (Flames Nation)

• The Hurricanes have had playoff success because of their group of defesemen that can do it all. (The Hockey News)

• The Romanian National team has been promoted to Division 1 A. (IIHF)

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.

Coyotes’ Kuemper leaves game after taking stick blade through mask

Fox Sports
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Allowing a go-ahead goal in a must-win game and losing your goalie to a freak injury is the definition of a double whammy and a nightmare realized for the Arizona Coyotes on Tuesday night.

Trevor Lewis broke a 1-1 tie with a backhand goal past Darcy Kuemper early in the third period, and while he was getting ready to lift his stick to the heavens in celebration, the blade of it caught one of the eye holes in Kuemper’s mask.

The result sent Kuemper, a godsend for the Coyotes after losing Antti Raanta to injury, sprawling to the ice. The 28-year-old netminder laid face down on the ice for a while as a trainer tended to him. He managed to get to his feet, holding a towel over his right eye area as he skated off to a standing ovation from Coyotes fans.

Calvin Pickard, who has played since March 11, took Kuemper’s place.

The Coyotes ruled out Kuemper for the rest of the game with an upper-body injury.

UPDATE: Well, sort of. There wasn’t really one after the game.


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

Stunning numbers: It was a terrible March for Sabres

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Every month we take a look at some stunning numbers around the NHL.

What is standing out to us lately?

Let’s take a look…

The Buffalo Sabres didn’t win a game in regulation in March

The Sabres are not going to finish the 2018-19 season with the NHL’s worst record, but you could probably put together a pretty convincing argument that they are, in fact, the worst team in the league as their perpetual rebuild continues to go nowhere (read more about that here).

Everything about their early season success was built around a 10-game winning streak that, while impressive, was dominated by overtime and shootout wins. That is no way to sustain success in the NHL, and the Sabres most definitely did not sustain success this season and the month of March may have been their worst stretch of them all.

Their 4-0 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets on Sunday night, a game where they were booed off the ice after the first period, wrapped up a month where they managed to go just 2-12-2 in their 16 games. The six points they tallied in the standings was the lowest total in the league for the month, four behind the New Jersey Devils and five behind the New York Rangers, the two teams directly ahead of them. What is worse? Buffalo played one more game than both of them. Even the Ottawa Senators and Los Angeles Kings managed to pick up 13 points in their 14 games in March.

Even uglier for Buffalo? Neither of their two wins came in regulation, winning one in overtime (their first game in March against the Pittsburgh Penguins) and one in a shootout (against the St. Louis Blues). They went an entire calendar month without winning a game outright in regulation.

Even worse than that? They have only won 19 games in regulation all season, a mark that is currently tied for the worst in the NHL with the Detroit Red Wings.

Never before has a 10-game winning streak actually been a bad thing considering all of the flaws it masked with this team.

Panthers’ top players did not go away quietly

The Florida Panthers are going to miss the playoffs for the 16th time in the past 18 season, and sticking true to the form they displayed all season the month of March was a very hit-and-miss month for them with a four-game losing streak, a four-game winning streak, and a bunch of inconsistent results. What was consistent, though, was the play of their top forwards. Aleksander Barkov (24 points) and Jonathan Huberdeau (23 points) were the second and third leading point producers in the NHL for the month, trailing only Edmonton Oilers forward Connor McDavid (27 points). Evgenii Dadonov also had a huge month with 19 points, good enough for the seventh most in the league in March.

[Related: Is there quick fix for Panthers’ continued woes?]

Ben Bishop was nearly unbeatable in March

Goaltending has been one of the biggest factors in the Dallas Stars’ push for a playoff spot as Bishop and Anton Khudobin have both been outstanding this year. Bishop was at his best in March as he recorded a .969 save percentage in his nine appearances and only allowed seven total goals in more than 478 minutes of action. That also included four shutouts. Only 15 goalies in the NHL have recorded four shutouts for the season.

Oliver Bjorkstrand, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins scored all the goals for themselves

Two of the stranger stat lines in March belong to Columbus Blue Jackets forward Oliver Bjorkstrand and Edmonton Oilers forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.

In Edmonton, Nugent-Hopkins continued to be one of the few bright spots on an otherwise forgettable Oilers team as he scored eight goals in the team’s 14 games. He only recorded a single assist, the the second most lopsided goal-to-assist ratio in the league for the month.

The only player that had a more lopsided stat line was Bjorkstrand who finished the month with eight goals for the Blue Jackets and zero assists.

Darcy Kuemper takes a lot of penalties for a goalie

Kuemper has been amazing for the Arizona Coyotes this season, stepping in for the injured Antti Raanta and helping to keep the team’s playoff hopes alive. He was incredible in March, and if they make the playoffs he will be a huge reason why. But we need to talk about something here: He has 14 penalty minutes this season, by far the most in the NHL among goalies, and had eight penalty minutes alone in the month of March.

No other goalie in the league has more than six penalty minutes for the season.

The penalty breakdown for Kuemper: Three delay of game penalties and a tripping penalty in March. For the season, he has four delay of games and three(!) tripping penalties!

Only three goalies recorded more than 14 penalty minutes in a season over the past three years.

Then again, considering how good the Coyotes’ penalty kill has been this season and how many shorthanded goals they have scored maybe he is just looking to give his team an edge. (Obviously I am joking about that … I think?)

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.

The Buzzer: Bobrovsky does it again; Kuemper comes up huge

Three stars

1. Sergei Bobrovsky, Columbus Blue Jackets

Who are you going to call on when you need a win in for the Blue Jackets? Well, it has to be a man called Bob.

Bobrovsky made 26 saves in a 4-0 shutout — his eighth of the season and second in as many starts — as the Blue Jackets kept pace with the Montreal Canadiens, who also won on Tuesday. Bob has three shutouts in his past four starts as he tries to guide Columbus into the playoffs.

This is all set up for a Titanic matchup between the Canadiens and the Blue Jackets on Thursday. Columbus has a game in hand on the Canadiens and a win would see them leapfrog the Canadiens with five games remaining.

3. Tomas Tatar, Montreal Canadiens 

Speaking fo the Habs… Tatar set the pace in this one, scoring twice in the first period to help the Canadiens to a 3-0 lead.

Tatar would add an assist in a three-point night, which proved to be a huge win. The Habs moved to within one point of the Carolina Hurricanes, who own the first wildcard, and Montreal made sure the Blue Jackets didn’t gain any ground for the second spot.

Montreal has caught fire at precisely the right time with four wins and points in each of their past five games.

3. Darcy Kuemper, Arizona Coyotes

The Coyotes are level with the Colorado Avalanche for the second and final wildcard in the West thanks to Kuemper, who turned aside 31 shots for a massive shutout that makes Friday’s game against the Avalanche the biggest in Arizona for some time.

Colorado has a game in hand on the Coyotes, which they will use up on Wednesday against the Vegas Golden Knights.

Arizona had lost five straight prior to Tuesday as their surge hit quite the roadblock. Kuemper has been tremendous for Arizona in Antti Raanta‘s absence. It’s going to be quite the finish over the next week and a half.

Highlights of the night

Quite the pass here:

Draisaitl’s hatty:

These guys look like the Lightning out there:

Here’s Sam Steel’s hat trick goal — and the odd play that led to it:

Factoids

Scores

Capitals 4, Hurricanes 1
Blue Jackets 4, Islanders 0
Canadiens 6, Panthers 1
Senators 4, Sabres 0
Oilers 8, Kings 4
Ducks 5, Canucks 4
Coyotes 1, Blackhawks 0


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