Quick Hits: Rangers Sidestep Smith Disaster While NHL Flirts with Houston

Phil Kocher
@ me

Phil Kocher

Managing Editor at Cleared for Contact
I believe in Nate Silver, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Christopher Hitchens, and hockey analytics.
Blogging between diaper changes.
Phil Kocher
@ me

Welcome to a new feature (well, an old feature made new again) here at ClearedForContact: Quick Hits. Each Sunday, we’ll cover some of the recent happenings, statistics, and anecdotes from the previous week’s games, as well as touch on important goings-on around the NHL as a whole to cap off the week and to get your Monday mornings started.

Sidestepping Disaster

Let’s be honest here. How many more games would Brendan Smith have needed to view from the Press Box before an official trade request was submitted to management – two, maybe three? The Rangers’ six-game winning streak was snapped by the Blackhawks on Wednesday night, but had they won that game, what are the chances Alain Vigneault would have bucked his tendency to not touch a winning line-up to get Smith in against the Blue Jackets on Friday night? Slim to none.

Smith referred to his situation as a “double-edged sword”, citing a desire to want the team to win but also in wanting to play, perfectly illustrating how silly AV’s decision to keep him out as long as he did has been. Winning is the goal of every head coach in the NHL, but somehow, icing the best possible lineup isn’t conducive to that? It’s water under the bridge now as Smith drew back in against Columbus, but it’s important not to gloss over how backward this logic was. The Toronto Maple Leafs have won six straight games, all without the injured Auston Matthews in their lineup. Were he healthy tomorrow, should Mike Babcock keep him out so as not to touch a winning lineup? No? Then why was the same not true of Smith, who is demonstrably better than Kampfer?

Parity Party

In an Eastern Conference playoff race where just two points separate the New Jersey Devils, currently first in the Metropolitan division, and the Washington Capitals, who sit in the second wild card, it’s kind of incredible that the Rangers won six straight games and still weren’t in a playoff spot. Amazing still, despite dropping two straight, they’re still just five points out of the division lead.

Steady the Scope and Wait for the Shot

Given the prorated nature of the league’s salary cap, what are the chances the Rangers actually pull off an early trade to bring in a desired middle-six center before the trade deadline? Even with an estimated $2.5M in available cap as of today, it’s rare that NHL clubs agree to sizable deals this early in the season. A deal closer to the February 28th trading deadline is far more likely than one before Christmas, let alone U.S. Thanksgiving.

Speaking of Mathieu Perreault, how does 12 games sound for “The Guillotine” Radko Gudas?

NHL Lockout IV: The Return of Escrow

During a 30-minute Q&A session at the annual PrimeTime Sports Management Conference in Toronto this past Monday, Gary Bettman answered a flurry of questions from TSN’s Gord Miller on topics including the Olympics, the World Cup, Expansion, and of course—because the two go together like lamb and tuna fish—another potential work stoppage regarding the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA).

“I don’t like work stoppages, but you do what you’ve got to do. You look at the way the game is being played — competitive balance, the health of the league, how much players are making — we needed a new system. I’m always quizzical of why work a stoppage gets laid at management. At the end of the day, the players, 12 years ago, 13 years ago, whatever it was, got what they would’ve gotten without the work stoppage. At the end of the day, we had to have a new system.” Bettman said, justifying the League’s decision to sacrifice the entirety of the 2004-05 NHL season. Most interestingly he went on to add: ”I hate work stoppages. I would much rather go to games. I would much rather go home at night and watch multiple games on television. But, it will be interesting to see [which side] reopens [the CBA] and who doesn’t.”

Translation: Ownership is largely OK with the way things are operating at the moment, so if and when the players opt to use the early escape clause for the CBA in 2019, owners will summarily blame them for enacting NHL Lockout IV: The Return of Escrow. Cue John Carpenter’s Halloween main title.

Houston, We Have Lift Off?

In other Bettman news, when asked by The Athletic’s Katie Strang about whether the league was actively looking for relocation options in the wake of the news that Houston Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta recently met with the NHL at the league’s offices in New York City, “we’re not relocating any clubs right now,” was part of his response. Meanwhile, in Arizona, we go live to the sound of a pin dropping at center ice.

Cap Not So Crunched

Assuming the report of upwards of $5B in revenue for the NHL this season, an $82M salary cap, give or take a few bucks, would sure go a long way for the Rangers next season with new deals due to key RFAs Kevin Hayes, J.T. Miller, Jimmy Vesey, Brady Skjei, and Boo Nieves.

By the Numbers

• Thanks to Friday night’s shutout loss, the Rangers averaged just 1.5 goals per game this week through two contests.

Ryan McDonagh (27:29) lead all Rangers skaters in average ice time – more than 7:00 more than the next leading minute-muncher, Brady Skjei (20:04).

• McDonagh’s five shots also lead all Rangers skaters through both games last week.

• The Blueshirts’ power play, which operated at just north of 42% through the six-game winning streak, went ice cold (0-for-6).

• The Rangers were also collectively outshot 85-64, giving up more than 40 shots against in each game against the Blackhawks and Blue Jackets.

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