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WATCH LIVE: Rangers visit Capitals on NBCSN

NBC’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Wednesday night’s matchup between the New York Rangers and Washington Capitals at 7 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports App by clicking here.

After a hot start to the 2018-19 season that saw them score 18 goals in their first three games, the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals have dropped back-to-back games and been outscored by a 10-2 margin during that stretch. They look to end that brief two-game slide on Wednesday night when they host their divisional rivals, the New York Rangers, at the Capital One Arena in the nation’s capital.

The Rangers, meanwhile, come into the game having won two of their past three games after dropping three in a row to open the season but are still searching for their first regulation win of the season. It will be the first meeting of the season between the two teams after the Capitals took three out of four from the Rangers a year ago.

The Capitals boast one of the league’s deepest lineups and are led by Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov. Kuznetsov has been one of the hottest players in the league to start the year with five goals and four assists in his first five games.

Trying to slow them down will be Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist who has been off to an outstanding start as he enters the game with a .939 save percentage in his first five appearances.

What: New York Rangers at Washington Capitals
Where: Capital One Arena
When: Wednesday, October 17th, 7 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Rangers-Capitals stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

Projected Lineups

New York Rangers

Forwards

Chris KreiderMika ZibanejadJesper Fast
Filip ChytilKevin HayesMats Zuccarello
Jimmy Vesey – Brett Howden – Vladislav Namestnikov
Cody McLeodRyan SpoonerVinni Lettieri

Defense

Brady SkjeiNeal Pionk
Marc StaalBrendan Smith
Fredrik ClaessonKevin Shattenkirk

Goalie: Henrik Lundqvist

[WATCH LIVE – 7 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

Washington Capitals

Forwards

Alex Ovechkin – Evgeny Kuznetsov – Chandler Stephenson
Jakub VranaNicklas BackstromT.J. Oshie
Andre BurakovskyLars EllerBrett Connolly
Nathan WalkerNic DowdDevante Smith-Pelly

Defense

Michal KempnyJohn Carlson
Dmitry OrlovMatt Niskanen
Brooks OrpikChristian Djoos

Starting Goalie: Braden Holtby

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

WATCH LIVE: Rangers, Predators open season at MSG

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NBC’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with a doubleheader on Thursday. First up, the New York Rangers host the Nashville Predators at 7:30 p.m. ET. You can watch that game online by clicking here

The season opens on Thursday night for both the Rangers and Predators — two teams in two entirely different situations.

The Predators are aiming for the Stanley Cup after having reached the Final in 2017 and falling short last spring with a second-round exit, thanks to the Winnipeg Jets. They have pretty much the same roster as last season and remain one of the NHL’s staunchest defenses, led by reigning Vezina Trophy winner Pekka Rinne.

New York is in a transitional phase where they’re kind of sort of rebuilding, but still have Henrik Lundqvist in goal. There are still plenty of veterans around like Mats Zuccarello, Kevin Hayes and Kevin Shattenkirk, but new head coach David Quinn will gives some kids a chance like Filip Chytil to allow them to solidify a spot in the lineup.

What: New York Rangers vs. Nashville Predators
Where: Madison Square Garden, New York, N.Y.
When: Thursday, October 4th, 7:30 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch Rangers-Predators on NBC Sports’ live stream page.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

Rangers
Chris KreiderMika ZibanejadPavel Buchnevich
Jimmy Vesey – Kevin Hayes – Mats Zuccarello
Vladislav Namestnikov – Brett Howden – Vinni Lettieri
Ryan Spooner – Filip Chytil – Jesper Fast

Brady SkjeiAdam McQuaid
Brendan Smith – Kevin Shattenkirk
Marc StaalNeal Pionk

Starting goalie: Henrik Lundqvist

Predators
Filip ForsbergRyan JohansenViktor Arvidsson
Kevin FialaKyle TurrisCraig Smith
Calle JarnkrokNick BoninoColton Sissons
Miikka Salomaki – Frederick Gaudreau – Ryan Hartman

Roman JosiRyan Ellis
Mattias EkholmP.K. Subban
Dan HamhuisYannick Weber

Starting goalie: Pekka Rinne

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 | Three Questions

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

Rangers give Brady Skjei Tom Wilson money, basically

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The New York Rangers avoided what could have been a tricky salary arbitration case by signing Brady Skjei to a six-year contract on Saturday. Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston reports that Skjei’s cap hit will be $5.25 million per season.

Hockey Twitter is still probably batting the Tom Wilson contract around as we speak – spoiler: it’s about as divisive as the pesty player himself – so it only seems natural to compare Skjei’s contract to that of Wilson. Even if it wasn’t fresh on the mind, the parallels would be tough to dismiss, because they’re very similar.

Wilson: six years, $31M ($5,166,666 per season).
Skjei: six years, $31.5M ($5.25M per season).

So yeah, as you can see, it’s a $500K difference over the life of the contract. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the two are related in anyway, but their proximity to each other makes it difficult not to make the comparison (and, if you’re the type, to make unflattering jokes for one or both sides).

The parallels pretty much stop at the contracts, though. Skjei is a big, talented defenseman who’s already shown some possession prowess, although the 23-year-old has enjoyed some cushy zone starts at times. Kevin Shattenkirk was by far his most common defensive partner at even strength last season, according to Natural Stat Trick. If that stands and Shattenkirk is more effective as a healthier player, it would be reasonable to expect better results from Skjei as well.

Even if he’s already close to his ceiling instead of just scratching the surface, Skjei’s already shown signs of promise, and potential to meet or exceed the value of his new contract. He scored 39 points during what was his first, impressive full season in the NHL in 2016-17, and while his numbers slipped a bit in 2017-18 (25 points in 82 games), there were still things to like.

Personally, this seems like a very good – maybe great – value, as strong top-four defensemen (and possibly suitable top pairing ones) are only going to get more expensive as the years go on and the salary cap increases.

It’s worth noting that some are higher on Skjei than others, and it’s not merely a fancy stats vs. “old-school” divide.

Remarkably, this $5.25M clip only makes Skjei the Rangers’ third-most expensive defenseman from an AAV standpoint.

Via Cap Friendly, the Rangers are spending about $25M on their defensemen in 2018-19, although that could slip a bit if they demote one of the eight listed to the AHL. Either way, it’s an expensive group, with Shattenkirk ($6.65M through 2020-21) and Marc Staal ($5.7M through 2020-21) making more than Skjei, while Brendan Smith isn’t too far behind at $4.35M through 2020-21.

It’s fair to say that, while Shattenkirk could easily turn things around – again, he was dealing with a bum wheel last season – the Rangers can’t be very happy with most of that defense spending as an openly rebuilding team. You wonder if they might try to throw an asset or two to another team (not unlike GMs liquidating assets by trading them to the Coyotes) to get rid of Staal and/or Smith. That could be especially prudent if the Rangers hope to make this a quick reset rather than a rebuild, as that cap space could theoretically go to Artemi Panarin and other hot-ticket items.

(How would Erik Karlsson or Ryan Ellis look in a Rangers sweater? Asking for a cigar-chomping friend.)

Whatever course the Rangers take, Skjei seems like he’s part of the solution, and this is a smart contract. In fact, it’s probably the best long-term deal the franchise currently has on the books, although Mika Zibanejad would spin a different story.

And, yes, it’s a better bet than giving nearly the same deal to Tom Wilson. Sorry, passionate Caps fans.

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.

Penguins’ big defense spending continues with Oleksiak

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Perhaps it’s fitting that the Pittsburgh Penguins put a bow on big defense spending by re-signing Jamie Oleksiak, one of the largest humans you’ll see roaming a blueline.

The team announced that they signed the 25-year-old to a three-year contract that will carry a $2,137,500 cap hit. He’s generally listed at 6-foot-7, which is just a couple inches shorter than Zdeno Chara.

(It only seems fair that he was frequently called upon to drop the mitts once he arrived from Dallas then, right?)

In a vacuum, it’s an inoffensive contract, although some will grimace a bit at giving three years to a potential depth defenseman. Your overall opinion of the big blueliner will vary depending upon how you value what he brings to the table. His size is valued by many, and he didn’t take on too much water from a possession standpoint.

There’s little denying that he enjoyed something of a career rejuvenation in Pittsburgh, echoing Trevor Daley and Justin Schultz, even though his gritty style makes him quite different from those fleet-footed defensemen. After averaging just 15 minutes per game with the Stars, Oleksiak’s ice time shot up to an average of 17:24 in 41 contests with Pittsburgh.

That ice time plummeted during the postseason, as he only logged an average of 13:43 per contest.

We’ve seen teams get burned by handing an extension to a defenseman who thrived during a brief audition, such as Brendan Smith‘s disastrous turn with the Rangers, although the Penguins didn’t shell out as large of a cap hit here.

The larger concern might be that the Penguins could be guilty of a mistake a lot of contenders fall victim of: locking up a lot of depth players when it might be wiser to allow more room to scour the market for cheaper options in the bottom of the order. On the other hand, maybe Oleksiak will end up being another successful reclamation project in Pittsburgh?

Either way, the Penguins are locked in with quite a few defensemen, so substantial commitments abound.

It’s a pricey group, too. Via Cap Friendly’s estimates, the Penguins are spending almost $27M on seven defensemen: Oleksiak, Schultz, Kris Letang, Jack Johnson, Brian Dumoulin, Olli Maatta, and Chad Ruhwedel.

For some, that’s the price of doing business for a team not far removed from back-to-back Stanley Cup victories.

Others will blanche at the thought that, at times, the Penguins overcome this group, rather than being propped up by it. Those critics surely won’t be over the moon about some of their recent commitments, especially oft-criticized Jack Johnson carrying a $3.25M cap hit mere months after the Blue Jackets couldn’t give him away during the trade deadline.

There are some red flags going on with that unit, and maybe the Oleksiak signing will be looked upon as a mistake.

Ultimately, it’s not the sort of decision that will derail the Penguins’ hopes for contending now and in the future. The worry, though, is that the mistakes might start to really pile up for the Pens. After all, flexibility can be crucial in the modern NHL, and GM Jim Rutherford risks painting himself into a corner.

(Then again, the Blackhawks reminded us today that you can often foist your cap problems on other teams, so maybe none of this is all that big of a concern?)

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.