Seven. Not one. Not two. Not even three. But, SEVEN. For many Rangers fans this number can represent a lot of different things. Personally, the first thing that comes to mind is the amount of times I find myself screaming at Marc Staal as he impersonates a traffic cone in his own end (in his defense he has played well so far this season). Others often think of the late great Jeff Woywitka and his magical 27 game run in 2011-12, but his number was actually six, not seven. The number seven you’re probably thinking of was the -7 next to his name in the box score before we shipped him out of town for a new washing machine.
His career highlight tape…
This level of sarcasm should be an indicator of what is to come throughout the rest of this recap/emotional rant.
In reality, the number seven symbolizes the week long break the New York Rangers had between contents after playing a mere two games so far this season. On Saturday, the blueshirts hosted the red hot Edmonton Oilers, who started their season 4-0-0 (without a pointless week gap in their schedule). The Oilers, led by their captain Connor McDavid, started out of the gate on fire after a substantial offseason that saw them acquire new talent around their superstar as well as a new addition behind the bench with the hiring of defensive minded guru Dave Tippett. The Rangers looked to keep their streak alive after winning their first two matchups of the young season and also hoped to maintain some of their early chemistry following a few lineup changes. On October 7th, following their win against the Ottawa Senators, the Rangers decided to trade winger Vladislav Namestnikov to the Sens for young AHL defensemen, Nick Ebert and a future fourth round pick in 2021. The Rangers also retained $750,000 of Namestnikov’s cap hit, while freeing an additional $3.25 million off of their books. (I will cover the trade in more detail in separate section later). Coach David Quinn indicated in Vladdys absence the Rangers would not look to call up any of the young guns from Hartford (yet) and instead would dress newly signed forward Greg McKegg. McKegg, who arguably has the greatest name in all of hockey and possibly in all of sports, would make his season debut for the blueshirts playing on the fourth line with Lias Andersson and Brendan Smith.
After what felt like 84 years and a lifelong belief that there was plenty of room on the floating door for Jack. Selfish…
The puck was dropped at the Garden the game was underway. The Rangers predictably appeared to be a bit sluggish out of the gate, but managed to maintain good possession of the puck in the Edmonton zone. An early takeaway by Zibanejad on Connor McDavid led to an early breakway that was denied. With Oilers penalties at both the 05:08 and the 06:29 mark of the first period, the Rangers found themselves on an early five on three powerplay. Despite the powerplay units being a profound bright spot on this team so far this season, the Rangers managed to create a lot of high quality scoring chances, but could not find a way to put the puck past the veteran goaltender, Mike Smith. On this powerplay, the Rangers had an opportunistic chance by Chris Kreider on a loose puck which he fired off the left post. The Rangers forward, who has become more a veteran figure on this team, has still yet to make much of a substantial impact in score sheet this season and following the golden opportunity his struggles continued. The iron seemed to be a reoccurring theme for the boys in blue, as late in the first period Brenden Smith also rang a shot off of the crossbar following a scramble in front of the Edmonton net.
However, at 18:28 of the first period the Rangers broke the scoreless stalemate. Our lord and savior and the future face of the franchise, Kaapo Kakko collected a beautiful pass from Ryan Strome and beat Mike Smith on the backhand to put the Rangers up 1-0 late in the period.
The Garden crowd erupted and gave Kakko and standing ovation following the scoring announcement. I almost cried. Didn’t do it, but almost. Instead, I did what every good Ranger fan would do and purchased a counterfeit Kakko jersey on an illegal, overseas website that should arrive in the next 10-78 business days. Kakko > Hughes. A quick reminder that the Devils also haven’t won a game yet this year and Miles Wood is a poor man’s Jake Virtanen.
…The period ended with the Rangers up 1-0.
The second period started off to a fast pace. The oilers open the period with a two on one which resulted in Leon Draisaitl snapping a McDavid pass off of the post. The Rangers also benefited from another early powerplay only 00:34 into the period after Zack Kassian interfered with Lundqvist but again came up empty. Later in the period, Lundqvist made a fantastic post to post save on an Edmonton two on one which kept the Rangers lead intact.
However, only a few minutes later, the Oilers tied the game up from a wrist shot through traffic off the stick of defenseman Oscar Klefbom. The period ended with the score knotted up at 1-1.
The third period again began with some early chances from Edmonton, who seemed to have most of the energy and high quality chances following the Rangers strong start in the first. Lundqvist again came up huge for the Rangers with early back to back saves on Leon Draisaitl to keep the game tied. At 08:33 of the period the blueshirts were victims of a phantom interference call on Brendan Lemieux against Connor McDavid. As most people watching could see, Lemieux literally just stood in front of McDavid and managed to somehow be guilty of a minor penalty. Considering the timing of the penalty and the fact that it was also a tied game, it was an awful call. As luck would have it, the Oilers scored on the powerplay shortly after. McDavid was the beneficiary of a bit of “puck luck” as his pass across the crease redirected off a sprawling Jacob Trouba and behind Lundqvist. Only a few minutes later at 13:12 of the period, the Rangers were once again victims of another questionable officiating decision. Oilers Leon Draisaitl was credited with a goal off a weak backhand shot that managed to slip through the pads of Lundqvist. However, after the initial shot was taken it appeared as though the puck was stopped and covered, but the officials did not blow the whistle and after the poking and pushing of the Lundqvist in the crease by forward Zack Kassian, the puck crossed the goaline. Despite opposition from both Lundqvist and the crowd that goal was not reviewed or questioned and the Oilers had taken a 3-1 lead late in the third period. The Rangers appeared to be deflated following the third Edmonton goal and never really put up much of a fight for the rest of the period. In fact, the Rangers offense struggled to gain entrance into the Oilers end for most of the second and third periods. After a late pulling of Lundqvist for the extra attacker, Leon Draisaitl buried the final Edmonton goal into the empty net and the Rangers had officially lost their first game of the 2019-20 season.
Although this was a frustrating game to watch, the loss was not too surprising. It’s difficult to imagine any team being able to maintain momentum and success after having a full week break and then having to face one of the hottest teams in the NHL. However, the scheduling woes are not over. The Rangers will once again have to wait to play. They will look to rebound back to their winning ways against the winless New Jersey Devils on Thursday, October 17th in New Jersey. I can only assume that the NHL is going to schedule the next 78 games in 78 days….
Quick Vladdy Trade Analysis.
As I mentioned above the Rangers traded Namestnikov earlier last week to the Senators in exchange for some AHL depth and a future draft pick. Personally, I am thrilled. Not only because I have never bought into the hype he had when he first arrived from Tampa, but mostly due to the belief that this deal put the organization in a better overall position. Look at it this way, Namestnikov is a former first round pick from Tampa Bay in 2011. He initially struggled to crack the nightly lineup there for almost three season before getting an opportunity to play alongside both Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov and many other talented players on that roster. During the 2017-18 season, in which he was traded to New York, Namestnikov was on pace for a career year scoring 44 points in only 62 games. After his trade to a younger and less talented Rangers roster, he managed to score only 4 points in his remaining 19 games that season. Despite this, the Rangers resigned him to a new two-year deal at an AAV of $4 million. Since then he had managed to produce an additional 31 points in another 80 games played.
My point here in pretty simple. Vladdy was never that good. The hype and assumptions that came with him after his stellar season on the top line in Tampa Bay were a fairytale. Obviously, he obviously did not have the same kind of talent around him as he did on the Lightning. However, he didn’t do much to create his own chances and offense either. He did not possess a great shot nor did he skate very well either. In fact, he wasn’t a great puck handler and additionally didn’t have great vision to help set up his teammates as well. In spite of Namestnikov’s resume, it was telling that Coach Quinn had used him solely as a bottom six forward and on the penalty kill on a roster as thin as the Ranger’s was last season. For $4 million a year, it’s fair to assume that he would bring more to a team than fourth line minutes and a few tap-in goals every season.
Overall, this trade makes the Rangers better. Not because of the return of the deal, a low potential AHL defenseman and a mid-round pick isn’t too shabby. But, the Rangers were able to both clear cap space and an additional roster spot. Within the Ottawa deal, the Rangers were only tasked with retaining $750,000 of Namestnikov’s contract and were able to clear $3.25 million in overall cap space. As many are aware, the Rangers have been extremely cap hamstrung after giving out the massive contracts to both Panarin and Trouba in the offseason, which so far appears to be a risk that has begun to pay off. Also, the buyout of the Shattenkirk contract will be on the Rangers books for $1.48 million this season and an additional $6 million next season. Although the $3.25 million will not eliminate all of the cap concerns for both this season and next, it does allow for the Rangers to be able to make additional roster moves during this season especially around the trade deadline if they decide to be buyers.
Most importantly this move frees up a roster spot. A spot in which all of us should hope is made available for either Chytil or Kravstov at some point this year. It should allow for Quinn to tinker with the lineup and inject more youth into their roster, rather than feeling obligated to play an overpaid forward with no long term future on the team. Although this spot is initially going to McKegg as I mentioned earlier, it is safe to assume that he is not a lock in nightly lineup if more talented options are available. Worst case scenario, the spot goes to Michael Haley and Kravstov goes back to Russia, in which case I will lead the riot and we can give Haley the Cody McLeod treatment…