There are only a few more days left in this break for the New York Rangers and their hockey starved fans. Play resumes on Tuesday night as the Blueshirts host the Boston Bruins and it will be interesting to see how they respond to the lengthy break. Coming off a dramatic win over the Florida Panthers, the question will be if New York will be rusty after not playing for two weeks.
On the good news front, Adam Fox was officially removed from the Injured Reserve list so he will be ready to play.
There’s no news about Kaapo Kakko or Filip Chytil who were out with injuries before the break. Chytil was labelled as “day-to-day” and appeared ready to return while Kakko is still on Injured Reserve. Patrik Nemeth is also off the roster for personal reasons.
On another personnel note, the Rangers sent Jarred Tinordi to the Hartford Wolf Pack. It’s worth noting that there are no more Taxi Squads, a temporary move that ended with the All-Star break.
What about the Bruins?
Boston has not been off during the break and by the time they play the Rangers they will have played three times. They will have two days off before they take on the Blueshirts. One player who will not be in the lineup is Brad Marchand who will be serving the third game of his six-game suspension for assaulting Penguins goalie Tristan Jarry.
In what has to be an incredible lack of discipline, Marchand first took the puck away from Jarry as he was trying to give it to a fan (in Boston no less) and then he sucker punched Jarry and speared him in the neck. The video below includes both incidents.
Marchand has 11 goals and 36 points in 41 games against the Rangers in his career, so it has to be a positive that he won’t be in this game. To editorialize a bit, considering that this is his eighth suspension, you have to believe that he got off lightly thanks to the NHL Department of Player Safety. Sure, it’s the longest suspension of his career so it isn’t a slap on the wrist, but just six games?
The hockey world was excited to see Jack Eichel back on the ice taking part in full practices with the Vegas Golden Knights, though in a non-contact jersey.
Considering that he brings a $10 million cap hit to the team when he comes off Long Term Injured Reserve, it will send Vegas way over the salary cap ceiling and they will have to shed payroll.
When it comes to the Rangers, the Vegas player that everyone has been talking about is Reilly Smith, a right winger and pending unrestricted free agent. The 30-year-old is third on the team in scoring with 13 goals and 32 points and has a cap hit of $5 million. The Rangers can afford to take him on as a rental and Brendan’s little brother played for Gerard Gallant in Vegas.
It’s worth noting that a trade may not be imminent. Though Eichel is back on the ice, the team has maintained that he is probably two months away. Observers don’t believe that and with him cleared for contact, it may be a matter of weeks and not months.
No matter what, the Golden Knights have a tenuous hold on first place in the Pacific Division. Calgary trails them by five points, but have five games in hand. You can be sure that Vegas would prefer to field a lineup that includes both Eichel and Smith. Who knows what cap circumvention tactics they will use to get around their cap problem.
At any rate, Chris Drury has some tough decisions to make in the next few weeks and Jack Eichel’s status could play a big role in determining what he does.
Wolf Pack update
With the end of Taxi Squads, that means the Hartford Wolf Pack will be at full staffing for future games. Since the Rangers’ break began, the Pack have played three games, winning two and losing one in overtime.
The team is in first place in the Atlantic Division with a record of 22-12-6, not the most points, but the best points percentage. If anyone thinks that the team is rife with reinforcements for the Rangers, it’s worth noting that their leading scorers are Jonny Brodzinski and Anthony Greco, both players who didn’t get much of a look when the Rangers were shorthanded due to COVID.
Of the highly regarded prospects, Finnish forward Lauri Pajuniemi and eight goals and 18 points in 35 games while getting accustomed to the North American game. On defense, Matthew Robertson, Zach Jones and Tarmo Reunanen are among the top blueliners. Nils Lundkvist has played in 10 games. He had only one assist in his first nine games, but had a goal and an assist in the last Hartford win and was named the second star of the game.
The good news is that when needed, the Hartford players have been able to step in and fill in. The bad news is, apart from Braden Schneider, none of them have been able to win a job with the varsity.
Marty St. Louis the new coach of the Canadiens
Ex-Ranger Martin St. Louis was named interim head coach of the Canadiens today. It’s the first coaching gig for the Hall of Famer who retired as a New York Ranger in 2015. While he was named the coach by new General Manager Kent Hughes, Canadiens’ president Jeff Gorton knew St. Louis from his days with the Rangers. Gorton was Assistant General Manager when the Blueshirts swung for the fences and traded for St. Louis from Tampa.
St.Louis replaces Dominique Ducharme who guided the Canadiens to the Stanley Cup Final last season, but who has seen the team become one of the worst in the NHL this season. In the ultimate irony, Ducharme and St. Louis were teammates for two years for he University of Vermont Catamounts.
St. Louis had been living in Connecticut and served as a special coach for the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2018-19. All Ranger fans wish Marty the best of luck, he’s got quite a steep mountain to climb to get one of the highest profile teams in the NHL back to contention.
In other NHL news, the Edmonton Oilers fired head coach Dave Tippett today. That means five coaches in seven years for Connor McDavid. There’s a persistent fantasy among Rangers fans that McDavid will ask out of Edmonton and the Rangers would be a preferred destination. Don’t hold your breathe.