In the grab bag: In defense of Joy Tottman; an obscure player who’s just good enough; Dave Bolland’s upcoming contract disaster; the final installment of the Team Canada Olympic panic watch; and the YouTube breakdown you all demanded: Team Russia’s Olympic victory song.
Friday, February 28, 2014
In the grab bag: In defense of Joy Tottman; an obscure player who’s just good enough; Dave Bolland’s upcoming contract disaster; the final installment of the Team Canada Olympic panic watch; and the YouTube breakdown you all demanded: Team Russia’s Olympic victory song.
Thursday, February 27, 2014
Wednesday marks one of the most anticipated days of the hockey calendar: the 2014 NHL trade deadline. That means the league’s 30 general managers have less than a week left to work the phones in an effort to reshape their rosters for the playoffs.
This year’s deadline could be shaping up to be a busy one, at least according to the omnipresent rumor mill. Martin St. Louis and Ryan Kesler may have asked for trades, and the Rangers are apparently all but certain to move captain Ryan Callahan. Thomas Vanek and Ryan Miller should be on the move, too. It could all make for a fun day, which would be a nice change after a recent trend of deadline-day letdowns.
If history holds, we should expect to see a few dozen deals between now and next Wednesday. And they’ll all probably fall into one of these three categories:
• Rental deals, where a bad team trades one of its better players to a contender for futures, conceding it’s unlikely to win now but is hopefully speeding up the arrival of the day that it will. This is where players like Miller and Vanek should come in, along with plenty of third- and fourth-line depth guys.
• “We have no choice, so we’ll take what we can get” deals, where circumstances force a team into moving an asset for 70 cents on the dollar. Callahan, Kesler, and St. Louis could highlight this category.
• A guy you’ve never heard of for another guy you’ve never heard of.
None of it will be new. The NHL has always featured plenty of these types of trades, and probably always will.
But there’s another type of deal that used to rule the NHL’s trade market, and it was by far the most fun: the actual honest-to-god hockey trade, in which there was a good player (or more) on both sides of the ledger. These deals weren’t about rentals or rebuilds or kicking the can down the road. They were two teams, both trying to get better by aggressively addressing areas of need.
Remember LaFontaine-for-Turgeon? Hawerchuk-for-Housley? Chelios-for-Savard? Clark-for-Sundin? The six-player Ron Francis deal between the Whalers and the Penguins? The 10-player Doug Gilmour deal between Toronto and Calgary? Going back even further, the six-player Esposito-Park deal between the Hawks and the Bruins?
Those are just a few examples of the types of true blockbusters hockey fans used to wake up to. And they were, to put it bluntly, awesome. Seeing two NHL teams step up and slam their cards down on the table was great fun, and throwing around rumors and possible scenarios was, too, because there was always a chance it could actually happen.
In contrast, there have been 31 NHL trades made since September 1, which sounds like a lot. But look at this list. Forget about blockbusters — how many of those trades are even interesting? Not many. And how many include a star player going each way? None at all, unless you’re feeling charitable to Matt Moulson. The rest are all cap headaches, castoffs, and future considerations. If the NHL had banned trading during the 2013-14 season, at this point the league’s balance of power wouldn’t be noticeably different at all.
So, what happened? What killed the art of the blockbuster in the NHL? There are a few suspects, and we’ve rounded them up below.
The Salary Cap
Well, duh. The cap is the big factor that always comes up whenever trades are discussed. At this point, it’s practically mandatory that any story that mentions a trade must include an obligatory reference to how the salary cap makes everything so much harder for everyone.
In a salary-cap world, where so many franchises are tight against the upper limit, the thinking goes, teams are essentially forced to balance the dollars on either side of a deal as much as possible. That severely limits their options. And that’s especially true if they’re trying to deal a star player who has a big cap hit.
There’s no denying the cap has been a major factor in slowing the trade market. But when you look at the actual numbers, it’s hard not to wonder if its influence is being overstated.
For one, unlike the NBA, the NHL doesn’t have any complicated rules and exceptions about how salary balances out in a trade. If two teams want to swap an $8 million player for a $1 million one, then they can either afford it under the cap or they can’t. The rules are pretty basic.
But isn’t the problem that nobody can afford to make a move? Well, yes and no. For all the talk about everyone being up against the cap, the truth is that many teams aren’t. Half the league has at least $5 million in cap space today, and a third of the league has at least $10 million. (As always, all cap numbers are courtesy of the indispensable CapGeek.) Of course, many of those teams are working against their own internal budgets, but teams have always done that. If a team like Florida or Ottawa that’s always crying poor can’t afford to make a deal, that’s hardly the salary cap’s fault.
But even the teams that do spend close to the cap can have more room than you’d think, at least by the trade deadline. The cap is prorated over the course of a season, so a team acquiring a player tomorrow is responsible for only the last two months of this year’s hit. Even big-dollar players can fit into many teams’ caps by the deadline with little if any salary coming back.
For example, there are 24 teams in the league that have enough room to add a $3 million player at the deadline. That’s 80 percent of the league (and the Flyers and Sharks are just short). Even supposedly “capped out” teams like Boston, Toronto, and Vancouver have at least that much room to work with. Granted, $3 million won’t get you a superstar these days, but you’d think it would be more than enough room for a creative GM to get to work.
And all that’s true without factoring in that teams can now retain salary when trading a player. This was a change Brian Burke lobbied for, in the hopes it would make it easier for GMs to make deals. The new rule came into effect last year, and has been used a handful of times, most notably when the Sabres traded Vanek to the Islanders. But overall, it hasn’t seemed to loosen the trade market significantly.
It should go without saying that teams that plan to spend near the cap still need to watch their dollars carefully, especially when it comes to long-term commitments (though that doesn’t seem to stop them from going crazy during free agency). But the truth is that as the season goes on, the vast majority of teams in the league have the cap room to make significant deals.
And yet they rarely do. The cap is a major factor, but something else must be going on.
Tuesday, February 25, 2014
Hey, do you remember the NHL regular season? It’s just like all that Olympic hockey you spent the last few weeks watching, except with smaller rinks. And more teams. And way fewer star players per team. And a lot less at stake. And … you know what, it’s really nothing like Olympic hockey.
But it’s all we’ve got for the next two months, and at least we don’t have to wake up early to watch it. So to help you get back in the groove for the return of the season tonight, here are 10 key story lines to pay attention to over the rest of the year.
Next Week’s Trade Deadline
In a league in which major trades are becoming increasingly rare, the deadline has gradually morphed from must-see TV into an annual disappointment. But there are at least some signs that this year’s deadline, which arrives next Wednesday, could be different. Some major names are expected to move, including Rangers captain Ryan Callahan, Islanders sniper Thomas Vanek, and Sabres goalie Ryan Miller.
And in recent days, a surprising new name has surfaced: Tampa Bay Lightning star Martin St. Louis. Last year’s Art Ross winner doesn’t fit the typical trade deadline pattern, since he’s not an expiring deal and he plays for a quasi contender. But there have been reports that he asked for a trade after Tampa GM Steve Yzerman originally left him off Team Canada (he was later named as an injury replacement), and he’s been linked to the Rangers in a possible Callahan swap.
That deal doesn’t seem to make much sense, but that St. Louis’s name is being thrown around at all offers some hope that this year’s deadline might be the first one in years that ends up being worth calling in sick for. Uh, not that any hockey fans do that.
Monday, February 24, 2014
The 2014 Olympic hockey tournament is in the books. And after four years of anticipation, we wound up right back where we were in Vancouver in 2010: Canada wins gold in the men’s tournament, and Canada wins gold in the women’s tournament.
And that’s pretty much it. But should it be? After all, as we’ve already discussed, it seems unfair that every other sport seems to award dozens of medals while hockey gets just two events. For a sport that’s arguably the most popular in the Winter Olympics, it feels like we should have more hardware to hand out.
So let’s do that. As we bid good-bye to Sochi with one last look back at all the hockey action, let’s take the opportunity to hand out medals in 10 more Olympic hockey events.
The "Breakout Star of the Games" Event
Bronze: Mikael Granlund
Long considered one of the league’s top prospects, the 21-year-old’s talents have always been well-appreciated by Minnesota Wild fans. But Sochi may have served as his coming-out party as a top star leaguewide thanks to a strong performance that saw him named to the tournament all-star team.
Silver: Carey Price
Price has been a very good goalie over the course of his career, but he has always seemed to hover just outside of the “very best in the league” discussion. But after a dominating Games that ended with a 164-minute shutout streak, he may have finally ascended to that top tier. WHAAAT?
Gold: Phil Kessel
Sochi will be remembered as the moment that the world learned to love Phil Kessel. When he and his sister Amanda weren’t racking up points, he emerged as the most GIFable, memeable, Vineable, and just downright lovable athlete at the Olympics. It is Phil Kessel’s world now. The rest of us just live in it.
The "Most Ridiculously Contrived Script That Actually Happened" Event
Bronze: The T.J. Oshie Show
Sure, in the end it didn’t really matter, since neither team won a medal. And yes, we only got to see it because of a lucky no-goal call on a technicality. Still, Oshie’s solo effort in a shootout against Russia was great theater. Now let’s all agree to never say anything nice about the shootout ever again.
Silver: Teemu Selanne
The Olympics’ all-time leading scorer added two more goals in the final game of his Olympic career, helping Finland pound the U.S. to secure his fourth medal. Oh, and he got named tournament MVP at the age of 43. I’m assuming he didn’t also stop to perform CPR on a puppy because he’s saving that for his final NHL game in a few months.
Gold: The entire U.S.-Canada women’s final
Friday, February 21, 2014
That was one of the greatest hockey games I’ve ever seen. Let’s start there.
Thursday’s gold-medal showdown between Team Canada and Team USA delivered the game we all knew was coming: close, vicious, and almost impossibly tense. Two decades into one of the best rivalries in sports, we couldn’t have expected anything else.
The only open questions were who would win, how it would end, and just how crazy things could get in between. The answers: Canada; in overtime; and “beyond anything you could imagine.”
Is that hyperbole? I’m really not sure it is. But just to be sure, let’s break out the Madness Scale and take a walk back through the entire game.
Debating the NHL's Olympic future; do you believe in Maracles?; a vintage Don Cherry anti-Russia rant; and a YouTube breakdown of Canada and the USA throwing down.
Monday, February 17, 2014
With Team USA and Team Canada on an apparent collision course for the semi-finals, Grantland asked me an American to write about the two teams.
Needless to say, it started off civil, then devolved into photoshops and youtube clips. And it ends with my rant about Phil Kessel, newly discovered American hero.
Friday, February 14, 2014
In the weekly grab bag: Debating the spoiler police; a valentine's day kiss-io; too many Olympic events; and we revisit Mario Lemieux's 1987 Canada Cup winner.
Thursday, February 13, 2014
Welcome to Grantland’s Worst Contracts Week — NHL Edition. I like that title. It rolls off the tongue a little nicer than my original proposal: “Good god, NHL GMs, when will you learn to stop throwing money at unpredictable goalies and terrible free agents, why are you all so stupid???”
For the most part, we’ll be running with the same approach that Jonah Keri used for baseball. But hockey’s salary landscape has a few unique quirks, so let’s lay out some ground rules.
• The NHL assigns a cap hit by averaging a player’s total salary (including bonuses) across the entire contract, and that value never changes during the life of the deal. That’s really the number we’re interested in here, even if the actual salary rises and falls over the course of the contract. I noted a few cases where the structure was especially creative, but we’re focusing on the cap hit, not actual dollars spent.
• The length of the contract matters, and in many cases is a bigger factor than the cap hit. Contracts that expire within the next year or two had to be really bad to even enter the discussion. Dany Heatley’s $45 million deal turned out to be a disaster for several teams over the years, but it expires at the end of this season, so it’s not really a bad deal today.
• It won’t surprise you to see that several of the controversial “cap circumvention” deals from years past show up below. Remember, the new cap recapture rule makes those contracts especially tough on teams that are stuck with them.
• Yes, the salary cap will keep rising. We all get that. That helps in some cases, especially if a player’s production is likely to stay flat or increase, but it isn’t a blanket excuse for giving out ridiculous long-term deals.
• We won’t penalize or reward teams based on whether they have any compliance buyouts left, though I did note a few cases where it’s pretty clear that one could be used. If the best defense of a contract is “Well, they can always just buy it out,” then it’s a bad contract.
• Unofficially retired players like Chris Pronger and Marc Savard who are on the long-term injured reserve list aren’t considered bad contracts, since their teams are getting cap relief.
• We’re worrying only about contracts that are currently on the books, not extensions that have been signed but have not yet kicked in. You’re off the hook for now, Corey Crawford and Henrik Lundqvist.
And remember, this is a snapshot of the league’s worst deals right now. For each contract below, “years” refers to how many seasons are left (including this current one), not how many were on the original deal.
You may be expecting to see some of these guys on the list, but they didn’t make the cut. Here’s why.
Ryan Suter and/or Zach Parise, Minnesota Wild: Both their deals are obviously ludicrous. But hockey is increasingly becoming a sport where it’s worth paying big money for elite talent, even if you have to skimp everywhere else to do it. Are these guys elite? Suter seems to be. Parise … check back with me next year.
Shea Weber, Nashville Predators: He probably has the most ridiculous contract in the league, but if the Predators decided to trade him, their phone would be ringing off the hook.
Travis Zajac, New Jersey Devils: I really want to hate his eight-year contract. But Devils fans seem fine with the deal — even oddly happy with it. I still reserve the right to say “I told you so,” but for now, I’ll leave him alone.
Ondrej Pavelec, Winnipeg Jets: I’m not a big fan of his work, and $3.9 million is too much for what he brings to the table. But as far as goalie deals go, this one is practically reasonable.
Ryan Malone, Tampa Bay Lightning: Thankfully, just two years left.
Brian Campbell, Florida Panthers: A few years ago it probably makes the list, but his deal expires in 2016, and Campbell’s actually been pretty darn good this year.
Tyler Bozak, Toronto Maple Leafs: I didn’t like the deal at the time and I still think Mikhail Grabovski is better, but Bozak’s been earning his money this year.
Tuomo Ruutu, Carolina Hurricanes: To be honest, I already felt like I was being too hard on the Hurricanes. Uh, spoiler alert.
Any Member of the Philadelphia Flyers: I know, I was as shocked as you are. But while the Flyers have lots of bad deals — Mark Streit, Luke Schenn, Scott Hartnell — none are bad enough to make the top 15. And by the way, despite an off year, I’m not convinced the upcoming Claude Giroux extension was a mistake.
The 15 Worst Contracts
15. Marian Hossa, Chicago Blackhawks: $5.275 million x 8 years
Hossa is a great player, and he’s a steal at a cap hit just north of $5 million. So how can his contract be considered bad? Simple: It goes on forever.
Well, not quite forever. Just until 2021, at which point, Hossa will be 42 years old. Hossa’s deal was one of the most egregious examples of the blatant cap circumvention deals that swept the league toward the end of the old collective bargaining agreement. It wasn’t even especially subtle — Hossa makes $7.9 million a season in real dollars until 2016, then sees his pay plummet to an eventual $1 million over the last four years of the contract. That’s some serious front-loading. If he retires in 2016, the Hawks will take a cap recapture hit of $3.6 million a season for five years.
The Blackhawks signed Hossa in 2009 and went on to win two Cups with him (and counting), so it’s hard to imagine they regret this deal. But it’s going to look bad within a few years and stay that way for a long time.
Tuesday, February 11, 2014
After four years of waiting, the puck is finally about to drop on the Sochi Olympics men’s hockey tournament.
The NHL began sending its best to the Games in 1998, making this the fifth time the Olympics have truly been a best-on-best tournament. We’ve seen three different countries win gold and six nations earn at least one medal. There have been stunning upsets and predictable blowouts. But as we look back over those 16 years, some patterns begin to emerge.
OK, sure, we’re dealing with just four tournaments. Is that too small a sample size to draw legitimately meaningful conclusions from? Yes, it probably is. Are we going to try to do it anyway? You’re damn right we are.
So here are 10 lessons we’ve learned from the NHL’s Olympic history, and what they might mean for Sochi.
Lesson 1: Round-robin dominance won’t matter much.
Since 1998, eight teams have gone undefeated during the round-robin portion of the tournament. Not one those teams has gone on to win gold. Four of them didn’t even manage to win a medal. That includes Slovakia, which ran the table at 5-0-0 in 2006 and then immediately lost in the quarterfinals, as well as Sweden, which was 3-0-0 in 2002 and then had this happen.
By comparison, the four gold-medal winners combined to go a rather pedestrian 8-5-1, and not one finished in first place in their group.
This year, all 12 teams will advance to the elimination round. It’s nice if you can get a good enough seed to avoid running into a powerhouse early. But perfection doesn’t matter.
If history repeats: Given the format, in which each group of four has one or two weaklings, there will almost certainly be two or three perfect teams after the round-robin. We’ll all overreact, and assume they’re unbeatable. They won’t be.
Lesson 2: The tournament’s best player will probably be a goalie.
In each of the past two Games, the goalie named to the All-Star team has also been named tournament MVP — Antero Niittymaki in 2006, and Ryan Miller in 2010. And while they didn’t name All-Stars or an MVP in 1998, if they had, Dominik Hasek would have been a lock. The only exception to the “goalie as best player” rule was 2002, when Mike Richter lost out on MVP honors to Juh-yoe Sakic.
And of course, that’s exactly what you’d expect in a single-game elimination tournament. This is hockey, where a hot goalie is the great equalizer. It’s not that the team that gets the best goaltending is guaranteed gold (of the goalies above, only Hasek won it all), but it can get you awfully close.
Maybe the more interesting observation is that you never really know which goalie it’s going to be. Hasek was the best in the world, and Miller was in the middle of a Vezina season. But Richter was a borderline star on his last legs, and Niittymaki was a 25-year-old NHL rookie splitting time with Robert Esche.
If history repeats: Some team is going to go way further than we expect because their goalie stands on his head. This would be a good time to start getting nervous about Tuukka Rask.
Monday, February 10, 2014
The NHL’s Olympic break has arrived, with no further action until February 25 to allow for the league’s top players to compete in the Sochi Games. That means no games, no trades, and even no practices (until February 19) for the players who stayed behind. Essentially, the whole league goes on vacation.
But that doesn’t mean we don’t have plenty to talk about. After all, we’re already just 15 days from the season resuming with a mad rush to the playoffs. And while the pre-Olympic transaction freeze arrived Friday without any major moves, the rumor mill will undoubtedly keep churning as we approach the March 5 deadline.
So instead of the regular Monday weekend wrap, let’s take a run through the entire NHL. Here’s a look at all 30 teams, how they head into the break, and what one big question they’ll be looking to answer over the next few weeks.
At the break: They beat the Predators, 5-2, on Saturday to snap a three-game losing streak. Anaheim is three points up on the Blues and Hawks for first place overall.
One question: Has the great Anaheim Ducks Regression Reckoning finally arrived? Every team loses a few in a row sometimes (and Anaheim already lost five straight in November). But the Ducks have benefited from some awfully high percentages this year, leading some to expect that they’re due to revert from truly elite to merely very good.
At the break: They pumped the Senators, 7-2, on Saturday, and have points in 10 of their last 11.
One question: With a seven-point lead on top of the Atlantic, the Bruins seem to be cruising to an easy division title, and their fans may already be looking ahead to a conference final rematch with the Pens. But could fatigue become a possible stumbling block? After last year’s compressed schedule followed by a run to the Cup final, wearing down could become an issue, especially for the five key players who’ll be in Sochi.
At the break: They’ve lost four straight, cementing their spot in last place overall.
One question: Where does Ryan Miller wind up? It now seems all but inevitable that the team will trade its star goalie. And if he gets a chance to shine for Team USA, his price tag could go up.
Friday, February 7, 2014
In the weekly grab bag: Tortorella sings; a silky obscure player; enough with the dad shots; solo Don Cherry terrifies a nation; and the US women visit The Today Show.
Thursday, February 6, 2014
Imagine if the Stanley Cup or the World Series or the Super Bowl was only played once every four years. No playoffs, no best-of-seven. Just one game, winner-take-all, and then it’s over.
Now imagine that we already knew, with virtual certainty, which teams would be in that game. Those two teams could spend four years training, practicing, perfecting their rosters and strategies, and playing each other all over the world in preparation for that one game that would decide everything. Four long years, just to get to 60 short minutes that would settle everything.
Oh, and did we mention that the two teams seem to hate each other?
We’re two weeks away from watching that game. Welcome to Canada vs. the USA, and the world of women’s Olympic hockey.
First Things First
Women’s hockey is not men’s hockey.
Yes, that’s a stupefyingly obvious thing to point out, but some people still seem to have trouble with it. Despite the overwhelming similarities to men’s hockey, there are some key differences. Bodychecking is illegal. The skating is noticeably slower. You won’t see any 100 mph slap shots. Players with long hair have actual long hair, not ratty mullets.
Two things can be slightly different and still both be fun. You can live with that, right? Good, because the tournament starts Saturday. Let’s get to the good stuff.
A Brief History of the U.S.-Canada Rivalry
Women have been playing organized hockey in North America since the 19th century, with the first game reportedly played in Ottawa in the 1890s. But we didn’t get an internationally sanctioned tournament until 1990, with the inaugural IIHF World Women’s Championship. Canada and the U.S. met in the gold-medal game, with Canada winning 5-2. They met in the next two championships as well, in 1992 and 1994, both of which were won by Canada by a combined score of 14-3. But the U.S. started quickly closing the gap, and the 1997 final was closer; Canada needed overtime to win 4-3.
The sport debuted at the Nagano Olympics in 1998, where Team USA won gold by finally beating Canada in what was considered an upset. Canada won the next five major tournaments, including the 2002 Olympics, before the U.S. reclaimed the world title in 2005. Since then, the U.S. has won four of six world championships, while Canada won gold at both the 2006 and 2010 Olympics.
If you’re counting, that’s 19 consecutive major tournaments that have been won by either Canada or the U.S., with the two teams facing each other in 18 of those finals. (The one exception: The 2006 Olympics, when Sweden shocked the U.S. in a shootout during the semifinal.) The two teams also play each other in occasional secondary tournaments and tune-up games, including seven games at the end of last year, which saw Canada win the first three before the U.S. finished with four consecutive wins.
Wednesday, February 5, 2014
By this time next week, most of the world’s best hockey players will have arrived in Sochi for the 2014 Winter Olympics. The tournament will mark the fifth time the league’s top players will be participating in the Games.
In the years before all the world’s best players were allowed to compete, we saw plenty of players who dominated at the Olympics but had little if any impact at the NHL level. That list would include most of the top Soviet players of the ’70s and ’80s, as well as other European stars over the years. And of course, just about all the last century’s top NHL stars had little opportunity to make any sort of Olympic impact.
With a small handful of exceptions, throughout almost all the 20th century, players had the opportunity to lace up in either the NHL or the Olympics, but not both. But that equation changed in 1998, and now that we’ve had 16 years of the top NHL stars participating in the Olympics, plenty of guys have had the chance to shine on both stages.
But who’s done it best? That seems like the sort of thing that calls for a subjective and arbitrary ranking that will end with people yelling at me.
So let’s give it a try, using this question: Weighting NHL and Olympic performance equally, which 10 players have been the best of both worlds?
10. Marian Hossa, Slovakia
NHL: 1,071 games; 983 points; five-time All-Star
Olympics: Three appearances; 15 games; 25 points
Is Marian Hossa’s NHL career underrated? I feel like we can go ahead and say he’s underrated. Granted, it’s because he’s essentially gone his entire career without ever being the best player on his own team, but he’s going to retire someday, and we’ll all be shocked when we realize he wound up with 500-plus goals and something around 1,200 points.
But whatever you think of his NHL career, you’ve almost certainly underrated his Olympic résumé. Because he plays for Slovakia, he’s never won a medal (though he did play for bronze in 2010). And he only got to play in two games in 2002, because of the old tournament format that forced teams like Slovakia to play qualifying games without their NHL players. But despite that, he’s put up 25 points in just 15 games, for a 1.67 points-per-game average that ranks near the top of the list among NHL pros.
9. Pavel Bure, Russia
NHL: 702 games; 779 points; six-time All-Star; one Calder; two Richards
Olympics: Two appearances; 12 games; 12 points
Bure only played in two Olympics, but he makes the list for two reasons: One, I still think he was criminally underappreciated in the NHL, and I’m going to take every opportunity I ever get to pump his tires; and two, he was extra ridiculous in the 1998 tournament, when he scored nine goals.
That’s it, by the way. No assists. Just nine goals. When Pavel Bure was at his best, he didn’t do assists. And he may never have been better than in the 1998 semifinal, when he scored an Olympic-record five goals to almost single-handedly beat the Finns.
Look at how many breakaways he gets just based on pure speed. And that was against an elite international team. Imagine what he did in the mid-’90s against teams like the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Monday, February 3, 2014
Each Monday, we’ll wrap up three of the biggest stories from the weekend and how they’ll play into the coming week.
Rangers Earn an A, May Lose Their C
The Rangers returned to indoor hockey this weekend, beating the Islanders at MSG on Friday to finish off a successful week that also saw them sweep a doubleheader at Yankee Stadium. It was another strong performance from the Rangers, as they blitzed the Islanders early and then rode three third-period goals and near-perfect goaltending from Henrik Lundqvist to a 4-1 victory.
The win was the Rangers’ third straight and ninth in their last 12. That has moved them into sole possession of second place in the Metro, and while they won’t be catching the Penguins for the top spot, they’ve at least built a four-point gap over the non-playoff teams. That’s far from a comfortable lead, but as a team that’s been on the outside of the race looking in for most of the season, they’ll take it.
So given all that, you’d be forgiven for thinking that times are good in Ranger-land. Instead, the big news around the team these days is the status of captain Ryan Callahan. A pending unrestricted free agent, Callahan is reportedly looking for a seven-year deal that will pay him in the $6 million range annually. That might be too rich for even the big-spending Rangers, who could end up having to trade Callahan before next month’s deadline.
In fact, a deal could come even earlier, given the reports that Rangers GM Glen Sather wants to know where he stands with his captain by Friday’s Olympic roster freeze. That doesn’t mean a trade would need to be completed by then, but it’s worth noting that the Rangers have apparently already taken the unusual step of allowing other teams to contact Callahan’s camp directly to discuss a contract.
It’s possible this is all a bluff to drive down Callahan’s asking price (or, more likely, the number of years he’s looking for). But the Rangers have already dealt Michael Del Zotto rather than extend him, and are also rumored to be shopping pending UFA Dan Girardi.
The Rangers entered the season with a roster full of expiring contracts and expectations of Cup contention. The latter half of that equation hasn’t held up for most of the year, though their recent hot streak makes you wonder. At this point, it looks like Sather is willing to blow it all up rather than let valuable assets walk away for nothing. Every Ranger win between now and the deadline will make that call even tougher.