The Rangers dominated earlier and withstood second period pressure to defeat the Flyers 4-1 on Thursday. With the victory, New York extended their win streak to four and have now won eight of their last nine contests. Igor Shesterkin stood tall, notching his 12th victory of the season, toed with two others one behind Jack Campbell for the league lead. Jacob Trouba, Dryden Hunt and Chris Kreider all scored with Artemi Pamarin sealing the win with an empty-net tally.
A few thoughts:
1) Overall, a solid win
. Down two forwards and still maintained a solid bit of pressure, though maybe not as extensive as in the first period, as lines were juggled. Defensively, faltered a bit starting in the second period after Philly went on the five-minute power play, but retained their structure. Running out of superlatives for Igor Shesterkin. The contract he signed is looking very much like it will be a major bargain for the Rangers.
- the goal was nice, but the sticktoitiveness and willingness not to be denied after he was stoned by Carter Hart earlier in the shift was more impressive. Hunt's ability to be effective on the second line has enabled Kaapo Kakko to slide up to the top unit. I still think New York needs a top-six winger and one will be and is likely available on the market. But as long as Hunt has success, it slightly lessens the need to overpay.
In terms of his penalty. He definitely slowed down but did make contact with a player whose back was turned, which is clearly going to result in a call. Contact also came a beat or after the puck was moved. I didn't think it warranted a major or game misconduct, but once the major was called, we knew this would be the case.
3) Barclay Goodrow
was very fortunate last night. A shot deflected off his stick, breaking his visor, hitting him in the face during the third period. He did not return for the final 13:12 of the game, but apparently avoided any serious damage. Coach Gerard Gallant said after that the puck luckily did not hit Goodrow in the eye. "Just a cut over the eye," he said, while adding that he expects him to be fine. Thank god this wasn't any worse and a pretty good advertisement for the benefit of the shield.
- brilliant again. His play has to have him in the early Vezina race. I know you all don't love analytics, but this is a pretty good representation of just how good and dominant he has been, especially compared to how Alexandar Georgiev has played.
Gallant said today the plan is for each goalie to get a start in the back-to-back games against San Jose and Chicago. He said he’ll announce his starter for the Sharks tomorrow. I think we all would prefer Igor, who was the first goalie off today, to get both games, but I would guess he plays vs. SJ and Georgiev against Chicago.
continues to thrive next to Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider. Still a work-in-progress but the confidence level is eons beyond where it was two weeks. This is what eight points in seven games, including one in six of them, will do. As we have noted in the past, confidence begets confidence even for elite athletes and Kakko was in sore need of success.
Brooks in his column goes through a comparison of Jack Hughes, who just signed an eight-year, $64 million deal, to Kakko, noting no discussions between the Rangers and Kakko have started. I don't think any of us expected Hughes to get that deal, but his contract now sets the standard. Even if Kakko takes a haircut off that deal, and again, his value will be dependent on how he plays the rest of the season along with his status as a winger, not a center, the Rangers tight cap squeeze will get tighter. If Kakko thrives the rest of the way as he has since moving to the top line, what do you think he gets on his second deal? Will a bridge contract be acceptable? Even if so, until that happens, the team will be at risk to an offer sheet, which many felt could happen even before Zib signed his extension followed by Adam Fox, though exacerbated by each.
The more interesting part in the column is Brooks noting the following regarding Strome: "the Post has learned that president-general manager Chris Drury and the pending unrestricted free-agent center’s representatives have begun to engage in talks aimed at maintaining the Strome-Artemi Panarin connection well beyond this season." I think most of us believed and believe that Strome is a goner. But his chemistry with Panarin cannot be discounted along with his stepping up as a leader on and off the ice.
Brooks adds the below. If that did happen, you can forget acquiring JT Miller, who is signed through next year. Instead, back to the rental market, which would be fine as several possible options there. If Miller comes on board, it's a pretty good indication that talks with Strome have gone nowhere.
So the Blueshirts would like to wrap up Strome, who will turn 29 in July and is completing a two-year deal under which he is earning an AAV of $4.5 million. On the market, perhaps No. 16 could attract a long-term deal in the neighborhood of $5.5 million-$6 million per. He is 21st among NHL centers in points per game and ninth in assists per game since the start of 2019-20.
But that’s probably going to be too pricey for the Blueshirts. This is me here, not a source, but somewhere in the neighborhood of $5 million-$5.25 million per sounds more like it. It might represent somewhat of a discount, but four or five more years of partnering with Panarin might have significant appeal to Strome. It does to the Rangers.
Brooks adds "the cap squeeze the Rangers are facing beginning next year is consequential. Based on a projected $82.5 million cap, the club will have approximately a net $12.5 million of space with which to accommodate Kakko, a top-six center, a pair of top-nine wingers, a backup goaltender and another defenseman and depth forward. A year later, Alexis Lafreniere’s second contract will come due." If Strome does get five million, now you are down to $7.25 mil for Kakko and the rest of the group. As Brooks noted, I believe you can wave goodbye to Patrik Nemeth at $2.5 million on the third pair after the season so at least the Rangers would have a pool of around $10 million available.
Options exist at Hartford for the depth forward and defenseman. Morgan Barron and Lauri Pajuniemi up front along with Brndan Othmann and Will Cuylle with some of those names possible for the third line. On the back end, Zac Jones, Braden Schneider and Matthew Robertson, just to name three to fill the sixth and seventh d-man spots. One consideration is the potential performance bonuses, for which cap room needs to remain, as we saw the past few seasons. With all that factored in, and seeing what the first three overall picks have received on their recent deals, the concern about losing Kakko could be more real than we hope. Signing him - especially if he continues to excel as he has - will be a major challenge for GM Chris Drury.