ESM’s New York Rangers 2020-2021 season preview

New York Rangers

The New York Rangers are entering their 95th campaign in the National Hockey League. This season has been delayed due to the Covid pandemic, but the hard work during the offseason has kept the organization focused since last season concluded in the Toronto Bubble.

The club has been preparing for a marathon 56 game schedule, which begins on Jan. 14 against the New York Islanders at Madison Square Garden and concludes on May 8 in Boston against the Bruins.

Empire Sports Media writers Jim Bay and Frank Curto take a look at what has transpired since the Blueshirts were eliminated from the playoffs last summer in the qualifying round against the Carolina Hurricanes.

Team President John Davison, along with general manager Jeff Gorton is set to bring the youngest team in the NHL back to the playoffs in an attempt to win the Stanley Cup for the first time since 1994. Plenty of obstacles stand in their way, yet the team is set up for success as they play in the toughest division in the NHL this season.

Players come and go, but the one constant is the name on the front of the sweater. Here is a look at the upcoming season’s preview, oh baby, this is going to be a lot of fun.

Departures

Marc Staal
Jesper Fast
Henrik Lundqvist
Vinni Lettieri
Boo Nieves
Gregg McKegg
Michael Haley
Steve Fogarty
Lias Andersson

The Rangers traded veteran defenseman Marc Staal to Detroit on Sept. 26, 2020, and the forward Jesper Fast signed as a free agent with the Carolina Hurricanes. The toughest transaction was the buyout of 15-year veteran Henrik Lundqvist.

Arrivals

Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

Alexis Lafreniere
Kevin Rooney
Anthony Greco
Johny Brodzinski
Colin Blackwell
Anthony Bitetto
K’Andre Miller
Jack Johnson
Tarmo Reunanen
Keith Kinkaid

The Rangers selected the first overall selection in this year’s NHL Draft, Alexis Lafreniere. Gorton and Quinn have high expectations for the success of rookie defenseman K’Andre Miller as he looks to make the team out of training camp. Brendan Smith could be on the bubble with so many new faces on defense.

Goaltender Keith Kinkaid was originally brought in to help ease the team’s expansion draft requirement, but now could be a valuable asset in the Covid pandemic abbreviated season.

Offense

The first line will be led by Zibanejad, who was a goal-scoring machine last year with 41 goals in 57 games, a ridiculous 59-goal pace over a full season, with 15 of those coming on the power play. Zibanejad made some nice improvements in creating more chances at both even strength and on the power play, with the hope that the 15 percent and 26 percent rates continue into this season.

Kreider and Buchnevich will again flank Zibanejad on either side, and both have “analytically” graded out as productive top-six players for the team. The chemistry that the trio achieved was a huge reason why the Rangers improved so much in the second half of the season.

The second line will be anchored by Panarin, who will have Strome returning, will see Kakko added as his linemate to start the season.

What Panarin has brought to the Rangers is not only on-ice results but also how much of a positive influence he has on his linemates and teammates. This will hopefully hold true for Kakko, who showed signs of improvement upon returning to play in the summer after the league was paused due to the pandemic.

The bottom six is where the Rangers struggled last season. Help will come in the form of the first overall pick in the draft, Alexis Lafreniere.

It is tough to see how quickly Lafreniere will adapt to the NHL game with a small camp and no preseason games to evaluate his skills. However, many projection models have him getting 57 points this year. That may seem high for a first-year player, but with the skills that he brings to the team, this seems achievable.

Much of this may depend on his linemates. Chytil has been projected for improvement this year after being a negative goal contributor last season to an expected positive one this year. Gauthier presents some grittiness and size that could complement his linemates.

Howden will hopefully solidify the third line and has had a nice camp. During Zibanejad’s absence at the beginning of camp, Howden stepped in on the first line and did quite well. He also impressed those with his play during last summer’s playoffs. Lemieux provides the grit for this line, and hopefully, not too much-unwanted attention from the referees. Last season, Di Giuseppe provided the solid and steady play that you want to see from a bottom-six contributor.

Projected Opening Night Lineups- Forwards

Chris KreiderMika ZibanejadPavel Buchnevich
Artemi PanarinRyan StromeKaapo Kakko
Alexis LafreniereFilip ChytilJulian Gauthier
Brendan LemieuxBrett HowdenPhilip Di Giuseppe
Kevin Rooney

Defense

The defense will look to improve this season. Jacob Trouba will enter his second season on Broadway and needs to be better than he was last season. By his own acknowledgment, he was not happy with how things progressed, though he seemed more comfortable as the season concluded.

The dynamic duo of Adam Fox and Ryan Lindgren was the highlight of the defense corp. The two rookies became stronger once they were paired together by former defensive coach Lindsy Ruff. With a year under their belt, the two could be the team’s top pair and see plenty of ice time once again.

The club has plenty of new faces on the back end, with rookie K’Andre Miller leading the way. Miller has been praised by the head coach in training camp earning a roster spot on opening night.

Jack Johnson along with Anthony DeAngelo and Brendan Smith will be pushing each other early on to be in the lineup every night.

Projected Defense Pairings

Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

K’Andre MillerJacob Trouba
Ryan LindgrenAdam Fox
Anthony DeAngeloJack Johnson
Brendan Smith

Projected Goalie

Igor Shestrkin
Alexandar Georgiev

Igor Shesterkin will take the reigns as the team’s number one goaltender this season. With such a condensed schedule, Alexandar Georgiev should expect more playing time and responsibility with the teams playing a marathon like a schedule.

Taxi Squad Projected Players

The taxi squad will be a big piece of the puzzle for the Blueshirts. With the AHL delaying the start of their season until Feb. 5, the Rangers are eligible to carry a minimum of 4 to a maximum of six players. These players can practice and travel with the team but are not on the active roster until they are recalled.

Anthony Bitetto
Colin Blackwell
Morgan Barron
Libor Hajek
Matthew Robertson
Keith Kinkaid

Predictions for the MassMutual North Division

  1. Philadelphia Flyers –  The Flyers were one of the most complete teams in the NHL last season, finishing in the top 10 in both goals scored and allowed. With their team from last year mostly intact, they are my favorite to win this division.
  2. Boston Bruins – Boston suffered some notable losses on the blueline in Torey Krug and Zdeno Chara, and that might be enough to put them behind the Flyers. However, with a top offensive line and goaltending tandem, don’t be surprised to see them win this division.
  3. The Pens still have Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, so you have to put them in the top four.
  4. Washington Capitals – The high scoring offense should carry them, put questions with their goaltending may them one of the leading contenders to get bumped by either the Rangers or Islanders.
  5. New York RangersThe Blueshirts have many obstacles with this season that will be difficult for a talented but a young team to overcome. A short training camp with no preseason games is not ideal for a young team, especially when you have the first overall in Alexis Lafreniere coming to town. Playing a 56 game season will not help either.
  6. New York Islanders – In addition to not wanting to put them ahead of the Rangers, this is still quite a mysterious team. Last season, they were two games from the Stanley Cup Final in spite of the fact they allowed more goals than they scored in the regular season.
  7. Buffalo Sabres – The Sabres did get better in the offseason, but playing against such tough divisional opponents every night will mean that they will finish ahead of only New Jersey.
  8. New Jersey Devils– The Devils hope that Jack Hughes will be better, but the Devils are still destined for the bottom of the division. The recent retirement of Corey Crawford will not help either. 

Team Awards

New York Rangers, Artemi Panarin
Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

MVP: Artemi Panarin
Rookie of the Year: Alexis Lafreniere
Top Defenseman: Adam Fox
Most Improved: Kaapo Kakko
Players Player: Brendan Lemieux
Steven McDonald Extra Effort: Mika Zibanejad
Leading Goal Scorer: Mika Zibaenjad – 48G
Points Leader: Artemi Panarin- 90 Pts.

Schedule


Photo via NewYorkRangers.com

The unusual 56 game schedule will see the Rangers face only the other members of the temporary Eastern Division and will not have any preseason games for their young players, such as first overall pick Alexis Lafreniere, to gel with their new teammates outside of the two-week training camp period.

One of the “benefits” of this schedule is that the Rangers will also get eight contests with some of the rivals, including the Islanders, Devis, and Flyers.

In this compact schedule, there are some important times that stand out over the slightly condensed schedule this season that commences for the Rangers on January 14.

Like in a horse race, it is important to get out of the gate well, and this will also be the case for the Blueshirts this season. Easier said than done, especially as they face the Islanders in their first two games to start the season. The opening stretch will also see the Blueshirts face the Devils, as well as four meetings split between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Buffalo Sabres.

February will be a challenging month as, on the 10th, the Rangers start a stretch of games with two against Boston before a two-game battle with the Flyers. They then head to Washington to play the Capitals twice, play the Flyers once more, capping things off with two more meetings with the Bruins. This stretch should show whether the Rangers are a true playoff contender or not.

After facing three games against Sabres and Devils, March will again see the Rangers run through a gauntlet of Boston, Philadelphia, and Washington for most of the month. If they are going to survive this stretch, they must reverse the fortunes of 2019-20 that saw the Rangers go a combined 0-5-1 against the Bruins and Flyers.

April will see the Rangers play many games against the Islanders, Devils, and Sabres. In fact, starting on April 9, the Rangers will have back-to-back road games against the Islanders and then play four straight against the Devils before capping it off with a final tilt with the Isles. Any chance to stay or get into playoff contention may hinge on the outcome of the games, against teams that the Rangers went 3-1 against (Islanders) and 2-2 (Devils) in 2019-20.

The Rangers will need their top players to play as they did last season. The pressure will be heavy once again on Mika Zibanejad and Artemi Panarin to have consecutive great seasons shield the Blueshirts look to replicate last season’s playoff run.

Igor Shesterkin takes over for Henrik Lundqvist, huge skates to fill but something Shesterkin is capable of doing.

The wild card is the head coach himself. Dave Quinn and his coaching staff will walk a fine line between coaching the veterans, along with bringing the younger players through one of the most demanding schedules since the early 1970s.

There are no easy games this season, no time to take a night off.  A team that has a rich tradition along with high expectations from its fan base will need to find the right chemistry out of the gate in order to keep up with the teams within this division.

This season will be like no other. A schedule that has the Rangers playing each division opponent eight times, Covid protocols that will have games postponed and re-scheduling at almost a daily pace, and playing most games in front of little or no fans at all.

2020-2021 season will be the hardest battle of endurance and stamina the Rangers have ever encountered. The reward will be more precious should the team exceed their expectations.

It all begins Thursday night at the world’s most famous arena when the Rangers host the biggest rivals in the NHL.

Empire Sports Media Writers Predictions

We have some great writers at ESM, So Jim Bay and I asked what they predict will transpire in the upcoming season.

Brandon Schnapp
Most Goals: Panarin
Most Points: Zibanejad
MVP: Panarin
Best Defenseman: Fox
Rookie of the Year: Lafreniere
The team will miss the playoffs (Brandon is an Islanders fan, BTW)

Jim Bay
Most Goals: Panarin
Most Points:
Panarin
MVP:
Panarin
Best Defenseman:
Trouba
Rookie of the Year:
Shesterkin
Playoffs:
Not this year

Frank Curto
Most Goals: Panarin
Most Points: Zibanejad
MVP: Panarin
Best Defenseman: Fox
Rookie of the Year: Shesterkin
Playoffs: Yes, will be eliminated in the second round

Looking at the New York Rangers through the lens of fantasy hockey

Whether it is the New York Rangers, Yankees, Jets, Mets, or Giants, it is sometimes interesting to take an independent look at the status of your team. One of the ways this can be done is through fantasy leagues, especially more high stake leagues eliminate the home team bias in examining how well that team will perform.

In the case of the Blueshirts, we will look at data from the highly competitive NFC leagues and Fantasy Alarm/ Friends with Fantasy Benefits hockey analyst Andrew Dewhirst to see how this year’s Rangers are looking through an independent lens.

For example, how does the fantasy industry see the Ranger’s first overall pick, Alexis Lafreniere? Currently, his Average Draft position stands at 131. That doesn’t sound great for the first overall pick but there is a reason for this according to Dewhurst. “I don’t have big expectations for Alexis in year one. Much like we saw with Kappo Kakko last year, he likely isn’t going to see time in the top six, and if he does it could be due to injury. Keep in mind, this isn’t because he isn’t a really good hockey payer, this is more because of the Rangers’ depth in their top six.”

However, if the league is what is known as a keeper or dynasty league, where players are drafted for multiple years, then Lafreniere’s value goes way up. “Lafreniere has been a top-tier player throughout his junior career, in the World Junior Championships, and he even made Team Canada at 17 which is rare,” Dewhirst explains. “Long term he will be a point per game player or better.”

Ranger fans will also not be surprised that Mika Zibanejad and Artemi Panarin are at the top of average draft positions in the highly competitive leagues. Zibanejad is being drafted on average at seventh overall while Panarin is being drafted on average at 11.

“My rankings have Panarin as a top-five fantasy player.” Dewhirst states. “He was a point per game player in Columbus(a team notorious for suppressing scoring), and in his first year with the Rangers in what would have been a 100 point season, if not for the shortened season. There is little reason to expect that the same if not more isn’t’ possible for the Breadman, as he grows more familiar with his linemates, and if anything the Rangers have only gotten deeper, which will keep teams from focusing just on his line.”

As for Zibanejad, Dewhirst feels that “we will not see anything close to 41 goals again from him this year. His near 20% shooting percentage likely sustainable, and he will likely fall back to his career norm of 12 percent, which will bring him back closer to a 30 goal pace.”

As Igor Shesterkin begins his first full year in a Rangers jersey, fantasy owners have taken notice and the young goaltender has an average ADP of 55.

“We are going to find out what Shesterkin is this year.” Dewhirst states. “The last time Shesterkin had a save percentage below 0.930 was in the 2014-15 KHL season when he was 20. He is primed to become a star this year, and if your league counts saves, he is all that much more valuable, as he will likely see plenty of them if last year was any indication.

As the leagues usually draft anywhere from 200 to 300 players per league, here is the average draft position for some other Rangers:

Jacob Trouba – 94

Chris Kreider – 95

Tony DeAngelo – 113

Adam Fox – 160

Ryan Strome – 166

Alexandar Georgiev – 179

Pavel Buchnevich – 204

Kappo Kakko – 235

Other Rangers have been selected but not in enough leagues to calculate a fair ADP.

You can follow Andrew Dewhirst at Twitter  – @andrewkdewhirst

 

 

New York Rangers Training Camp Notes: Mika Zibanejad had COVID-19

New York Rangers, Mika Zibanejad

As the New York Rangers season gets ready to kick off on Thursday, some interesting news came out of training camp, one of which being the status of star forward Mika Zibanejad. 

The Rangers’ star center told members of the media after practice on Monday that he feels good now but is taking things day-by-day. He was on the ice with familiar linemates Pavel Buchnevich and Chris Kreider. It was also revealed that there are no guarantees that Zibanejad will play in the Rangers season-opener this Thursday against the New York Islanders.

The Rangers did not reveal this news as per league protocols, players who are placed on non-roster status due to COVID don’t need to be identified during training camp. That is not the case during the regular season.

Also coming out of training camp, head coach David Quinn has been experimenting with the defensive line pairings by having rookie K’Andre Miller skate with Jacob Trouba.

The duo was paired recently in a scrimmage that performed so well that might Quinn to keep them together for Thursday’s season opener.

“That’s one of the reasons why we wanted to see them together tonight,” Quinn said after Sunday’s scrimmage. “See what type of chemistry they had, see how they played off each other. Obviously, they did a really good job tonight. I thought it was a very good pair. I really like that ‘D’ pair, they certainly take up a lot of space.”

Finally, the Rangers announced that they have placed Colin Blackwell, Anthony Bitetto, and Anthony Greco, Keith Kincaid, Jonny Brokinski, Brandon Crawley, and Gabriel Fontaine on waivers. Blackwell, Bitetto, and Greco were signed to two-year deals in free agency.  Brodinski is on a one-year deal worth $700,000, and both Fontaine (171st overall in 2016) and Crawley (123rd overall in 2017) are on similar deals. Kincaid was expected to be on the taxi squad but some wonder if the goaltending starved New Jersey Devils might take a room at him.

 

The New York Rangers need Filip Chytil to be more than just a caddy for Alexis Lafreniere

New York Rangers, Brett Howden, Filip Chytil

Many are anxiously awaiting for the New York Rangers debut of first overall pick Alexis Lafreniere. However, an important part of the Lafreniere’s and the team’s success will in part, rely on the improved play of linemate Filip Chytil. The 23-year-old Czech native will need to be more than a guy who gets the puck to Lafreniere and then just gets out of his way.

After beginning the 2019-20 season in the AHL, the young forward was recalled and tallied 23 points in 60 NHL games. He struggled on a line with the up-and-down Kaapo Kakko and Brett Howden. The basic thought was that this combination was not a good mix to create a productive line.

Chytil did show some of his true skills early last year when he filled in for an injured Mika Zibanejad. While centering a line with Chris Kreider and Pavel Buchnevich on his wings, he helped the trio snag a stellar 63.4% expected goals for percentage across 110 minutes of five-on-five ice time.

Even though Chytil will be expected to be on the third line with Lafreniere and Julien Gauthier, he may not last long if he does not play well. Waiting in the wings to take a shot of playing on this line is Brett Howden or even the highly touted prospect.

This year, things can and need to be different. One of the things that Chytil did well last year that can help his teammates was that of his nine assists, six were primaries, showing his involvement in creating plays. He also showed flashes of superb puck handling, by making moves on defensemen look easy. He was at his strongest when he had the puck on his stick and was equally proficient in driving to the net with the puck, utilizing his size, strength, and speed. The more ice Chytil receives, the more confident he looks and it earned him more ice time last season. All of these are needed this year to make this third line click.

 

Rangers D K’Andre Miller stands out in first week of camp

New York Rangers rookie defenseman K’Andre Miller is standing tall among the defensemen in his first training camp with the club.

Miller practiced with the team this past summer while the team prepared for their qualifying round against the Carolina Hurricanes, but he was not eligible to be placed on the playoff roster. He left a good impression with the coaching staff in July and brought that work ethic with him to training camp looking for a spot on the 23 man roster.

“I thought K’Andre Miller was really good tonight,” Quinn said after the scrimmage. “He just moves so well, he takes up so much space, he’s got such a long reach, he closes on people quickly. His puck decisions, to me, have really been the surprise to all of us. We knew he made some good decisions, but to adapt as quickly as he has so far — and again, let’s keep it in check, it’s bubble practices and now it’s training camp — but he’s certainly shown a lot of things you look for in a defenseman,”

David Quinn

New York Post Larry Brooks reported how excited head coach David Quinn was following Thursday nights 6-1 Team B win over Team A.

Quinn elaborated on what he saw from Miller prior to the team going into the Toronto bubble last summer.

“I’m sure that gave him a lot of confidence coming into training camp this year,” Quinn said. “We were disappointed we weren’t able to bring him with us [to the bubble], but right from the get-go when he got here last year, you could tell this guy’s got a lot of things that you like. Obviously we drafted him high and we thought very highly of him when we took him. He certainly hasn’t disappointed, that’s for sure.”

Miller played on the left side and was paired with Brendan Smith. The 20-year-old is battling for a left defenseman position along with Jack Johnson, Libor Hajek, and Anthony Bitetto.

The rookie still has plenty of work in front of him in order to make it out of camp. Hajek, Johnson, and Bitetto were all on the losing team Thursday night but that was just one game. Quinn and his staff will be looking to see if Miller can remain consistent while the team continues to scrimmage against each other with no preseason games scheduled due to Covid protocols.

The practices and exhibition games will gain more intensity with less than a week to go before the regular season begins.

Miller most certainly is on the taxi squad, but he is looking to hear his name announced, in an empty arena, unfortunately, next Thursday night when the Blueshirts host the New York Islanders.

The first-round pick in the 2018 NHL entry draft by the Rangers played his college hockey at Wisconsin under former Ranger Tony Granato and signed his entry-level contract during the pandemic shutdown last year.

Exhibition Game Recap

Team Blue (group B) defeated Team White (group A) be a score of 6-1.  the Blue team was lead on the score sheet by their first line with Brett Howden, filling in for Mika Zibanejad, recording two points (one goal) along with Chris Kreider (two goals) and Pavel Buchnevich (one goal, two points).

Philip Di Giuseppe and Filip Chytil, assisted by Alexi Lafreniere, had the other two goals for Team Blue. Ryan Strome had the lone goal for Team White which was assisted by Artemi Panarin.

 

 

 

Zibanejad to miss the start of the New York Rangers training camp

New York Rangers, Mika Zibanejad

The day before the New York Rangers will start training camp, General Manager Jeff Gorton and President John Davidson addressed the media to bring everyone up to date on the current status of the Blueshirts.

Among the information that was shared, Gorton revealed that all of the training camp participants are in New York, but it was also mentioned that Mika Zibanejad will not practice when the Rangers begin their on-ice sessions Monday and is day-to-day. Gorton also said forward Justin Richards and goalie Keith Kinkaid will also not be available Monday and are day-to-day.

Zibanejad led the Rangers with 41 goals last season, an NHL-career-high, and scored 75 points in 57 games to help New York advance to the Stanley Cup Qualifiers. He was second on the team in points behind forward Artemi Panarin.

Gorton also announced that Vitali Kravtsov will finish the KHL season in Russia. He mentioned that the Rangers have been impressed with how he’s playing and want him to continue on that path, with a plan to bring him back to the U.S. when the KHL season ends.

One of the situations that both Gorton and Davidson addressed is the temporary division that the Rangers will be playing in this season. Davidson referred to it as “a great division, a very tough division” and that playing in that division “will be a great experience for our players.”

Gorton was also asked about the possibility of K’Andre Miller making the team and stated that he believes that Miller has a great chance to make the team, and has been impressed with Miller’s commitment in the off-season to improve his skills. Gorton also mentioned that “they are excited to see him here with NHL players.”

Another interesting topic that brought up to Davidson was the news concerning Henrik Lundqvist’s heart condition, and what the Rangers knew about his heart during his days in New York. Davidson replied that he and the Rangers organization was “shocked” when he heard the news and that the organization will help him in any way they can, because “Hank is a Ranger, and will always be a Ranger.”

 

 

 

 

20 names in New York sports that made 2020 tolerable

In 2020, we learned just how small sports were on the grand scale. Even so, these New Yorkers brought hope and joy to the beleaguered area.

Ah, 2020…we knew ye too well.

“Auld Lang Syne” will hit a little differently this New Year’s Eve, as the country and the world entire prepares to bid farewell to one of the most brutal 366-day cycles in recent memory. The year even took away sports at one point in time, which might’ve almost been seen as a merciful act considering the modern endeavors of New York sports. Metropolitan athletics have consistently fallen far short of their inflated expectations. Save for the New York Islanders’ surprise trip to the NHL’s Eastern Conference finals, each of New York’s teams either endured early postseason exits or missed out entirely.

Yet, there were several names in the sports world, before and after the period of pause and reflection, that gave the metropolitan area hope in this brutal season. ESM bids farewell with 20 legends…

Josh Allen

So brutal were metropolitan affiars this season that we had to turn to our friends in Western New York. But, unless you’re a Jets who has two annual meetings with Allen to dread for the foreseeable future, it’s hard not to appreciate what Allen has done for the Bills’ franchise, defying draft day expectations out of Wyoming and playing a vital role in ending their 17-year playoff drought and turning them into Super Bowl contenders. Entering Sunday’s regular season final against Miami (1 p.m. ET, CBS), Allen has broken Jim Kelly’s record for most touchdown passes in a single season of Bills football (34) and is within striking distance of Drew Bledsoe’s yardage record of the same variety. Allen has also taken home six Offensive Player of the Week Awards in his career (four this season), second only to the ten earned by the aforementioned Kelly.

Mathew Barzal

As the New York Islanders go through a period of both transition and prosperity…being one of the rare metropolitan teams to experience postseason success in 2020…Barzal has evolved into a face of the franchise, taking over from the Toronto-based John Tavares. Appropriately, it was Barzal that informed the hockey world that the Islanders were going to be a problem in the bubble, scoring the game-winning goal in the their 2-1 win over Washington in the Eastern Conference quarterfinal round, a tally that gave the Islanders a 3-0 lead in the series. Ironically, Barzal’s moment of glory came in Tavares’ current stomping grounds of Scotiabank Arena.

Mekhi Becton

The New York Jets have a lot of questions to answer once the calendar officially flips. But Becton, the Jets’ first-round choice (11th overall) out of Louisville is crossing one need off their offseason shopping list. Called upon to protect Sam Darnold’s blindside, Becton has become one of the most dominant young blockers in football, ranking at or near the top of several analytical rookie lists. The Jets aren’t quite sure who their quarterback is going come next September. They do know, however, that Becton will be serving as his security.

James Bradberry

Formerly under general manager Dave Gettleman’s watch in Carolina, Bradberry came to New York with relatively little fanfare. He has since gone on to become one of the biggest reasons why the Giants have a shot at anotherwise inexplicable playoff spot. Bradberry has done his part to make sure that Big Blue is at least well represented in the SportsCenter Top 10, making several acrobatic interceptions that led to his first Pro Bowl nomination.

Steve Cohen

A lot of adjustment was required to make it through 2020, but the Mets remained their same disappointing selves, tying with the defending champion Washington Nationals for last place in the NL East. But, thanks to new owner Cohen, there’s legitimate hope in the organization for the first time in ages. The Great Neck-born hedge fund manager has immediately endeared himself to fans with promises to use his surplus budget in free agency (which manifested early with the signing of James McCann), his willingness to clean house shortly after his arduous purchase was completed, and his lighthearted interactions with supporters on Twitter.

Gerrit Cole

The shortened seasons denied Yankees fans the full Cole experience in the early going, but it’s safe to say the newly minted $324 million man lived up to the hype. He saved the best for last, earning a 1.00 ERA over four starts in September and later struck out 13 without a walk in the Yankees’ Wild Card Series win over Cleveland. Such a feat had been accomplished since Tom Seaver’s endeavor in the 1973 NLCS.

Stefon Diggs

The trade for Diggs feels like it happened years ago, as do all the tweets and thoughtpieces that claim the Bills gave up too much for the former Minnesota Viking. But the Minneapolis Miracle worker has made the four-pick exchange worth it, even erasing the fact that the Bills missed out on rookie sensation Justin Jefferson. Like Allen, Diggs is rewriting the Bills’ record book, breaking Eric Moulds’ former marks for single-season for receptions (120) and yardage (1,459). Both of tallies lead the NFL entering the final week of the regular season.

Kevin Durant

Brooklyn Nets fans received a bit of a special Christmas gift this year, as they were finally treated to Kevin Durant’s debut in black and white. Teamed up with Kyrie Irving, the ten-time All-Star hasn’t lost a step, putting 28.3 points and 5.8 rebounds over his first four games. Durant apparently saved the best for first, torching his former compatriots from Golden State for 22 points on opening night before scoring 29 in a Christmas win over Boston.

Sabrina Ionescu

The draft lottery has turned into a cruel custom for the blue and orange hardwood representatives in New York, but the Liberty hit the jackpot with the drafting of Ionescu in April. The city didn’t get the full Ionescu treatment in her rookie season, with an ankle injury limiting her metropolitan antics to three games. But the Oregon alumna is on pace to be a true face of women’s sports in the area, with her jersey sales ranking fourth in the WNBA this season. Ionescu gave her new Brooklyn fanbase something to be excited about before fate stepped in, scoring 33 points in only her second career contest.

Kyrie Irving

Irving’s 2020 heroics likewise required patience. He partook in only 20 games during the shortened 2019-20 campaign (none of them during the Nets’ endeavor in Disney World) but managed to drop 54 points (on 19-of-23 shooting from the field) in a January win over Chicago. Irving likewise emerged as one of the most vocal voices in social change alongside his basketball brothers and sisters. He was more than willing to carry on his basketball antics on the court once he was ready to get rolling again, torching the Celtics for 37 points on Christmas.

Jazmine Jones

Perhaps no one defined the 2020 New York Liberty sense of resiliency and development better than Jones. Bookending the first round of the 2020 WNBA Draft with Ionescu, Jones took full advantage of relatively consequence-free basketball, making herself essential when the Liberty’s plethora of veterans potentially return in 2021. The Louisville alumna took over point guard duties after Ionescu went down, resuming a role she last played during her high school days at Florida A&M University’s Developmental Research School. She put up 10.8 points, 4.1 rebounds, and 1.4 steals per game, earning a spot on the league’s official all-rookie team.

Brock Nelson

Signer of a six-year deal to remain an Islander before the season started, Nelson became one of the team’s most reliable and clutch performers during their run to the conference finals. He scored three game-winning goals and finished second on the team in postseason points with 18.

New York Guardians Defense

The second attempt at XFL feels like an endeavor from years ago, but briefly took over the February calendar with a slate that wound up lasting five games. It allowed MetLife Stadium to enjoy at least some form of victorious football, as the local Guardians won each of their two games at the venue. Their defense was particularly strong, as Cavon Walker led the league in sacks (4.5) and six different defenders earned at least one interception.

Artemi Panarin

If there was ever a year to not take risks, 2020 was certainly at, or at least near, the top of the list. Despite Panarin’s many talents, many saw the Rangers’ seven-year, $81.5 million deal with the former Blue Jacket (a smaller price tag after Panarin spurned the Islanders) as too much dedication to a single player. But Panarin lived up to the massive deal, finishing off the shortened season with a career-best 95 points (good for a third-place tie on the NHL ledger).

Logan Ryan

As a Rutgers alum, New Jersey native, and the man who took Tom Brady’s final New England throw back for a touchdown, Ryan seemed destined for a metropolitan collaboration. The Giants took the plunge shortly before the season began, and Ryan has rewarded them with a strong showing that has included good coverage, 91 tackles, and an interception that clinched the season sweep against Washington (which will come up big if the two sides tie for the NFC lead after Sunday). It has been an emotional season for Ryan, whose wife Ashley endured an ectopic pregnancy. Ryan later inked a three-year deal to stay with the Giants on Christmas Day.

Kailen Sheridan

The National Women’s Soccer League was the first North American team sports league to make its return this summer, staging its annual Challenge Cup festivities in Utah. Sky Blue FC, their debut season at Red Bull Arena pushed back due to obvious reasons, had struggled in recent years but put on a strong showing with a fourth-place finish. Sheridan was the driving force behind the effort, winning the tournament’s Golden Glove award to the tune of three shutouts. Sky Blue also had a respectable showing in the NWSL’s fall showcase, earning a matching fourth-place mark.

Tom Thibodeau

Wishing someone association with the James Dolan-owned sounds like a punishment one would avoid giving their worst enemy…at least their worst hardwood enemy. Thibodeau, however, returns to the ranks of head coaching to face what’s his toughest challenge yet. But, unlike his predecessors, it appears Thibodeau has a plan for the Knicks moving forward, seeking to change the culture and build a team-centered atmosphere. So far, it’s played in the Knicks’ favor. The team has played competitively in the infantile stages of the season, sitting at 2-2 after the first four games (including a dominant win over Giannis Antetokounmpo and Milwaukee). They’ll have chance to end the season on the right note on Friday night against Toronto (7:30 p.m. ET, MSG).

Semyon Varlamov

The jokes against Islander goaltending officially ended, or were at least put on hold, through Varlamov’s efforts. He came up with several big saves during the playoff trek and was one of only six goalies inside the Canada bubbles to record multiple shutouts. His 2.14 goals against average was also fourth amongst goalies with at least 10 playoff starts.

Quinnen Williams

Williams retook control of the narrative surrounding his career, as many felt he was destined to be a bust after struggling in his rookie season (and with Pro Bowler Josh Allen going shortly after him). But Williams responded with a stellar sophomore season, leading all interior defensive linemen in both traditional and analytical categories as one of the most consistent backfield invaders in the league.

Mika Zibanejad

Zibanejad is perhaps responsible for the most dominant one-man effort of the 2020 sports season, tallying a jaw-dropping five goals, including the overtime winner in a March win over the Capitals. The yield from one of the biggest robberies in New York sports memory (the biggest loss being Derick Brassard to Ottawa in the trade), Zibanejad again put up his best numbers despite a shutdown, scoring 41 goals (fifth in the league) in 57 games.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

The New York Rangers may want to pursue this disgruntled star

The New York Rangers have certainly made quite the headlines in the offseason. From winning and drafting the number one pick in the draft to wading their way through the mire of a tight salary cap, the Blueshirts have done quite a bit of work. However, there is still one area that the Rangers could address. Most experts feel that the Rangers could benefit from a top-six center and recent events in the Windy City could open the door for the Rangers to inquire about the availability of a three-time Stanley Cup-winning center.

Last week the Chicago Blackhawks sent a letter to their fan base explaining their recent moves and how they planned to move forward.

Sound familiar Ranger fans?

This letter did not sit well with their captain, Jonathon Toews, who said he’s surprised the Blackhawks are making big changes to their roster with a focus on young players replacing key veterans.

His comments came on the day forward Brandon Saad was traded to the Colorado Avalanche and one day after goalie Corey Crawford signed a two-year, $7.8 million contract with the New Jersey Devils as a free agent.

“It’s sad. It’s really disappointing,” Toews said. “[Crawford] has given so much to this team. I feel he was ready to bring more in the next few years and still be a big part of this group. He had that mindset that he could help this team go deep in the [Stanley Cup] Playoffs again, and there’s no doubt that he could.”

It might be wise for the Ranger’s brass to make a call to Chicago to see what it would take to get Toews to trade in deep dish pizza for New York-style pie, in spite of the fact that publically, Toews has stated that he has no desire to be traded.

“I haven’t been a part of that conversation,” he said. “This has all happened pretty suddenly, but the answer is no. Chicago’s my home, and I want to win here again.”

Assuming that he changes his mind, or that he is just being diplomatic, there are a couple of other roadblocks in this scenario.

First of all. Toews has a full no-trade clause in his contract. Realistically though, how enticing would it be for the 32-year-old veteran to come to the Big Apple and play on a line with either Mika Zibanejad or Artemi Panarin? Playing on a team with his old teammate Panarin would be enticing as well. The wise Toews will obviously know that donning the Blueshirt would be a wise move like it was for Panarin. A quick little phone call from Panarin couldn’t hurt either.

The other issue is that pesky salary cap. Toews has a cap hit of just over $10 million. However, since the Blackhawks would probably want multiple young players in return, this could ease the pain of such a high cap hit.

Obviously, there are quite a few players who are untradeable for the Rangers, but they do have enough young talent to pull this off, especially if the Blackhawks might be willing to absorb some of Toews’s salary.

Many Ranger fans have been wanting someone to wear the “C” for quite a while. Here you go, an instant captain in Toews. Earning the nickname “captain serious” for his business-like approach to the game, he would make an excellent addition to this team.

Between getting Toews to commit, working around the salary cap, and letting the Blackhawks prepare for the Frankenstein like the torch-wielding mob to storm their offices, it will take a lot to make this happen.

But It is not too early to start making your wish list for the holidays.

 

 

 

 

 

Who will be the next king of hockey in New York?

Yesterday marked the end of an era.

Henrik Lundqvist, the goalie for the New York Rangers for the last 15 years and a surefire Hall of Famer, was bought out by the organization with one year left on his seven-year, $59-million contract he signed in 2014.

The decision to buyout the 38-year-old was almost written on the wall ever since the arrival of Igor Shesterkin — the organization’s highly-touted Russian goalie — towards the middle of the season, and the rise of 24-year-old Alexander Georgiev the past two seasons. Still, it was a painful day not just for Rangers fans, but for all hockey fans in the metropolitan area who watched Lundqvist’s reign to becoming one of the greatest goalies ever.

Lundqvist truly was a King. And New York was his kingdom, especially from the hockey portion of the sports landscape in the area. He was the best player — other than the short stint of Jaromir Jagr — at his position of any of the three Metro teams from the moment he made his debut.

But that time has come to an end. A new king shall arise.

The question now is, who will be the next to take the throne? There’s plenty of worthy candidates who all have a case.

Igor Shesterkin

The youngster who was being groomed to be the heir-apparent to Lundqvist. He’s now the Blueshirts’ starting goaltender and will be for the foreseeable future. Shesterkin showed the fans and his teammates all the hype was real about him — and that he could very well be a dominant force moving forward — when he went 10–2-0 in his 12 starts before the coronavirus pandemic took hold of the hockey season.

The future looks bright for Shesterkin and the Rangers. And he has all the capabilities of being the ruler of the sport in this town if all things play out.

Ilya Sorokin

Shesterkin isn’t the only new name on the scene that might help lead to New York’s next great era of hockey. His Russian counterpart, Ilya Sorokin, is now officially with the Islanders, and he is positioned to be the franchise goaltender on Long Island for hopefully the next decade.

The 25-year-old Sorokin was a king in his own right back in his native homeland and oozes winning and star power. He could very much take this market by storm with those traits and if he’s backstopping the Isles back to the glory days they once had back in the early 80s.

Artemi Panarin

Panarin has only called New York home for one year, but it’s already proven that he’s become one of the best athletes in any of the four major sports. We know he was already a household name before he arrived last summer, now though, the 28-year-old has a strong chance of being the next one to take the thrown around here. The guy is a superstar — he was a Hart Trophy candidate this past season — and he’s got that infectious personality which makes him a joy to watch play (the Rockette goal celebration is also very Broadway).

Panarin is going to be here for a while, another six years to be exact. In that time, the Rangers have the makings of being a powerhouse and he as the face of it all.

Mathew Barzal

As the Islanders continue to build toward a perennial winner, it’s Barzal who has become the face of the franchise and who the entire league recognizes when the franchise is mentioned.

Only 23, Barzal has already accomplished some great things in his career, including a Calder Trophy back in 2017-18. And he’s not even close to being the star everyone knows he’s capable of being. Beyond that, Barzal — most likely being an Islander for the next decade and more — has the off the ice qualifications too.

He’s got his own style. His flow has made him an internet sensation. And he’s got the look of someone who you’d put on a billboard.

All of that resonates around these parts.

Jack Hughes

Look everyone can discredit New Jersey as not being a part of the NY hockey landscape, but they still are very much a part of the fabric and its history. That’s why Jack Hughes gets a nod on this list.

The number one pick overall in 2019, Hughes is just at the beginning of his career. He was a superstar during his time at the U.S. National Development Program, and the hope is it will be the same for his time over the next number of years with the Devils. The franchise is leaning on him to bring back those years of consistent winning and championships.

Hughes is just 19, so he’s still raw. But he could very much own this town if he can help turn the Devs around and live up to his top pick status.

Kaapo Kakko

The kid picked right after Hughes at last summer’s draft, Kaapo Kakko is also just starting what hopes to be an excellent career on Broadway. Kakko definitely showed his warts as a freshman this past year, but the greatness which made him a top-2 pick flashed on a number of occasions. Being from Finland, he’s another European export who is expected to be one of the major pieces to the puzzle for the Rangers.

Kakko said when he first landed in New York, “it’s a nice city”. Well, the city has the chance to be his very much down the road.

Nico Hischier

Hischier, who also plays on the Jersey side of the Hudson, has quietly become one of the best players in the area. Another former top overall pick, he’s trying to bring the Devils back to respectability; and he has in some ways. He also is only getting better.

Just 21, he might be the best player in the area down the line.

Mika Zibanejad

The Blueshirts are loaded for the future as said above. Zibanejad is on that list. He’s become one of the synonymous names on Broadway and had the best season of his career in 2019-20.

Zibanejad is also the kind of star who can shine big in the city.

The guy is a DJ in his own right and has released his own music. That’s a total win-win if you’re looking for the next guy to be the face of the sport in the city. Add in winning, and Zibanejad is a sneaky contender for the crown.

Alexis LaFreniere

The soon-to-be number one pick, next Tuesday to be exact. LaFreniere has been compared to some of the greats playing in the game right now, and he will have the Worlds Most Famous Arena — Madison Square Garden — as his playground. The 18-year-old phenom has already expressed his love for the city and the chance to play with another star at the top of this list, Panarin.

He’s going to get his chance. Aside from that, he’s got all the hype of being Broadway’s next big hit, pardon the pun.

That itself could make him the next in line to wear the crown.

Who do you think will be the next king of hockey in New York?

The business side of New York Rangers hockey is nearing it’s dreaded reveal

Henrik Lundqvist, Ryan Strome, Jesper Fast, New York Rangers

Despite the global pandemic that shut down the New York Rangers and a three-game sweep in the qualifying round to the Carolina Hurricanes, the Blueshirts had a positive season with plenty of good things to take into next year.

Unfortunately for Rangerstown, good news almost always seems to be followed by bad. Here is where our story turns ugly, the business side of hockey will change the landscape of the Blueshirts.

The grim reaper could make an appearance as early as Friday.

Friday, Sept. 25 is the first day of the NHL buyout period and will be open until Thursday, Oct.8.  The Rangers are looking to free up some space and the buyout process is one way to do that, but it comes with some risk.

Buyout Prospects

The most likely player to be bought out has been talked about since the team was knocked out of the qualifying rounds, Henrik Lundqvist.

Hank is in the final year of a seven-year contract that includes an $8.5 million cap hit. A buyout of his contract would pay the King $5.5 million this season, saving the club $3 million. The buyout doubles the remaining years left on a player’s contract meaning the team would have to pay him $1.5 million next season for a total of $7 million.

The Rangers already have their share of dead salary on the books with the team still paying out buyouts for Dan Girardi and Kevin Shattenkirk totaling a little over $2.5 million for the 2021 and 2022 seasons respectively.

Finances are a tough side of the game to manipulate, with a hard $81.5 million cap for the 2020-2021 season, the buyout is the best option for the Rangers to take should the two sides be unable to work out a trade of some kind which is very unlikely.

Other buyout options such as Marc Staal, in his last year of contract with a cap hit of $5.7 million, or Brendan Smith also in gis last year of his contract with a cap hit of $4.35 million.  The savings for the upcoming season dot seem to equal the cap space to help the club.

The buyout of Henrik is the best choice for the team but will cause some friction with the fan base.  The business side of the game is never pretty.

Free Agents

Free agency begins on Oct. 9 and will be a tough situation for the club to navigate through.

The team has five Restricted Free Agents, Philip Di Giuseppe, Ryan Strome, Alexandar Georgiev, Brendan Lemieux, and Anthony DeAngelo.  All five are arbitration-eligible (a contract negotiation method that uses a third party arbitrator to determine a fair contract term and length for an expiring RFA player) which will make it that much harder for Jeff Gorton to hold on to all of them.

Ryan Strome may be the toughest decision. He has had played well since he was put on the same line as Artemi Panarin. A hard skater, good set up player, Strome has been a great weapon on this team over the past two seasons.  2020-2021 was his best season in point production as he amassed 59 points in 70 games played. His highest point total prior to that was in  2018-2019 when he recorded 35 points splitting time with Edmonton and the Rangers.  His 18 goals were his second-highest total (19 2018-2019) in his seven-season career.

The 27-year-old forward has been very successful having Artemi Panarin on his line, yet the contract that he may be seeking and could be awarded by an arbitrator if contract talks lean that way could be too rich for a club that has some depth in it.  It’s doubtful the Rangers would be willing to pony up a six or seven-year deal in the $6.5 or $7 million dollar neighborhood.

Georgiev’s future with the club will be predetermined by the decision the team makes regarding Lundqvist. The idea of having Georgiev play with Igor Shesterkin is becoming more of a reality. He will be needed to be protected for the Seattle expansion draft at the end of next season, but Shesterkin is exempt from being drafted,  the club may have a long term goalie tandem if they can workout Geogeive’s contract status.  A Henrik buyout or trade would show the team is ready to lead with theses two Russian goalies.

John Davidson and Jeff Gorton will do all they can to sign Georgiev prior to an arbitration hearing.

Add to this equation three Unrestricted Free Agents, Jesper Fast, Michael Haley, and Gregg McKegg. Haley and McKegg are sure to walk away from the team.  Fast is a tough situation to handle.

Fast and the team has not been able to agree on a new contract and it is looking more like he will see what opportunities await him via free agency.  It’s tough to see a player like Fast leave as he brings so much to the rink every night.  With 9 games played, Fast scored 12 goals with 29 points.

His strong suit is as a  checking forward and penalty killer.  Fast will be on the ice at the end of close games or killing penalties when they are needed most. Head coach. David Quinn has had full confidence in him whenever he is needed on the ice.

He was the winner of the team’s Player Player Award this season, his fourth consecutive year that his fellow teammates have voted him for the award.  The award “best exemplifies what it means to be a team player.”  This award displays the respect the team has for Fast and why it will be hard to move on without him.

Despite the accolades from his teammates and the respect of his coaches, it does appear that he no longer has a spot on this team. His contract would be another issue that could see him elsewhere next season.

Future Business

The upcoming contracts are not the only thing the club must prepare for.  The Seattle expansion draft, and the contracts of Pavel Buchnevich, Brett Howden, Filip Chytil, Julien Gauthier, Ryan Lindgren, and Igor Shesterkin will be restricted free agents at the end of the 2020-2021 season. The financial decisions made in the upcoming month will have ramifications on those contracts too.

Let’s not forget the most important issue after Henrik Lundqvist. The status of center Mika Zibanejad.  The team’s most important player’s contract will expire following the 2021-2022 season where he would be an unrestricted free agent. He will be 29 -years old and looking for another big contract which he deserves if the past few seasons are any indication. J.D. and Gorton might want to lock him in earlier rather than waiting it out, though that is something the organization rarely does.

Predictions

Predictions can be amusing and a good topic of conversation among fans, bloggers, and beat reporters. They have little if no value, but here is what I think the club will do.

The Rangers will buyout Lundqvist not because they have to, but because he has earned the opportunity to play elsewhere without involving the pieces needed for some sought of trade. Yes, it adds more dead cap space next season, but Henrik has earned that for his play over the past 15 years.

  • Mckegg and Haley will walk away since they are no longer needed players with the depth the club has in Hartford and overseas on loan.
  • Jesper Fast will sign elsewhere, a decision that may have been already decided by this point.
  • Ryan Strome’s asking price will be too high and will be traded during the offseason.
  • Di Giuseppe, Lemieux, and Georgiev will be re-signed. They all have an important role on this team for the future.
  • Anthony DeAngelo will remain a defenseman on this team as the two sides will agree on a contract extension. Then they will lose him in the expansion draft next year.
  • Zibanejad will sign a contract extension in the next 18 months and sometime between now and then be names the next captain.

Predictions are a funny thing, it really has no weight to what the club does. The trues value of a team is what the team does on the ice.

Finances, salary caps, and long term contracts dictate the direction a hockey team goes towards. For the Rangers, that process is never-ending and the next month’s planning will hopefully lead towards the elusive Stanley Cup.