- Larry Brooks of the New York Post reports that minor league forward Ryan Gropp has been suspended by the Hartford Wolf Pack for failing to report to the Maine Mariners of the ECHL. Gropp, 23, was a second round pick of the Rangers in 2015 and has spent the last two seasons in the minor leagues. He is on the final year of his entry-level contract and scheduled to become a restricted free agent at the end of the season.
This season hasn’t gone according to plan for New York Rangers prospect Vitali Kravtsov. Coming into training camp it seemed as though the 19-year old was destined for a roster spot in the NHL and a chance to show exactly what he can do after scoring 21 points in the KHL last season. Unfortunately that didn’t work out as planned and Kravtsov was sent to the minor leagues to start the year, and then subsequently made a healthy scratch by the Hartford Wolf Pack. With one assist in three games for Hartford to date, rumblings are now beginning over where Kravtsov will spend the rest of the year.
His entry-level contract does include a European Assignment Clause, which he could exercise at some point to return to the KHL, should he be kept in the minor leagues. That’s exactly what he’s considering according to Igor Eronko of Sport-Express, though it is important to note that Larry Brooks of the New York Post reports that as of Tuesday afternoon, there had been no discussion on that topic between the Kravtsov camp and the Rangers.
Whether there has been any talk or not, the fact is that Kravtsov hasn’t found his footing in North America yet and still does hold that clause. Heading back overseas is not necessarily a bad thing depending on how the team feels his development is going, but obviously they will hope to be involved in the decision.
Selected ninth overall in 2018, the 6’3″ Russian winger has one of the highest offensive ceilings of any draft prospect, but still needs work putting it all together at the professional level. Should he exercise the clause at any point, it does not void his NHL contract and he could still be recalled by the Rangers.
While it’s less than two weeks into the season, several teams will soon be faced with an important decision when it comes to some of their top young talents. Once a junior-aged player plays in his tenth game of the season, it officially burns the first year of their entry-level contract. Some teams have shown a willingness to do so in recent years while others have been more hesitant. Here are the players that teams will need to need to make a decision in the near future.
Games played totals are as of Saturday, October 12. The list of players has been restricted to players that have played in at least one NHL game this season or are currently up with their team.
Tobias Bjornfot (Kings) – 3 GP – He has played in all but one game so far but it’s fair to say that Bjornfot has struggled at times. Los Angeles isn’t the deepest team defensively but from a longer-term perspective, it’s reasonable to think that Rob Blake would like to keep an extra cheap year on the books for when they’re likely to be more of a postseason contender so while Bjornfot is up for now, that may change before much longer.
Noah Dobson (Islanders) – 2 GP – Unlike a lot of players on this list, it’s the NHL or the CHL for Dobson and he was pretty dominant at the junior level a year ago. That makes it a bit more understandable that New York is keeping him around even if he isn’t a full-time member of their top-six yet. Dobson is probably going to be in a similar spot over the next month or so where he’ll get a few games but will spend a lot of time as a scratch as well. If they do decide to send him back to the QMJHL, they’ll be limiting how long he actually spends there.
Martin Fehervary (Capitals) – 3 GP – Feharvary making the opening roster one year after being a mid-second-round pick came as a surprise but he held his own. However, with Washington having some cap concerns, they’ve already sent him down. They did so early enough that he could come up for a couple of weeks without triggering the first year of his deal but instead, it will be how he performs in the AHL that determines whether or not his contract will begin this season or next.
David Gustafsson (Jets) – 0 GP – This isn’t an injury situation; the Jets have simply made the 2018 second-round pick a healthy scratch in every game so far. He’s still under contract in the SHL (though his contract isn’t known to contain a European Assignment Clause) so this could simply be a case of them trying to decide what path is the best for his development. It’s hard to imagine him going past nine games at this stage.
Barrett Hayton (Coyotes) – 2 GP – For the second straight year, Hayton broke camp with the Coyotes but playing time has been sparse so far. Similar to Dobson, he’s in NHL or CHL territory and there isn’t much left for him to prove in junior hockey. This should be another case where he’ll be up for a while yet but his playing time will be limited until they decide whether or not to keep him for ten games or more.
Ville Heinola (Jets) – 5 GP – A month ago, Heinola wasn’t even on the radar for a roster spot coming into training camp despite the departures of several key defenders. Now, with Dustin Byfuglien gone as well, there’s even more ice time up for grabs and he has made the most of it, logging over 19 minutes a game. Unless Byfuglien changes his plans quickly, there’s a reasonable chance he’ll get past the nine-game mark (though he has been scratched for two straight games now) but the second threshold may be one to watch for here. (More on that shortly.)
Jack Hughes (Devils) – 5 GP – This one is pretty much a given. While he has looked a little overmatched at times, Hughes has still shown several promising flashes. Top picks will get a long look and there’s no reason to think that won’t be the case here. Barring a big surprise, he’ll be up for the full season.
Kaapo Kakko (Rangers) – 3 GP – Playing time has been limited due to a strange scheduling oddity that has the Rangers playing just three times in the first two weeks of the season so that means it will take until a little later in the calendar for him to get to nine games. He hasn’t looked out of place through his three games and there’s little reason to think he won’t be up for the season.
Rasmus Sandin (Maple Leafs) – 6 GP – Sandin has played in every game so far, albeit in a rather limited role. Travis Dermott’s return isn’t too far away and once he’s activated, there may not be a spot for Sandin. Accordingly, Toronto could hold Sandin out for a couple of games in the next couple of weeks if they wanted to play it safe. If he does get into ten games, he’s another player who the second threshold will be a factor on.
For some teams, preserving that extra cheap year on an entry-level deal is crucial but others have been more inclined to go past that threshold and focus on the second one instead. That one is 40 games on the roster and that one includes games as a scratch; it’s not games played-focused. Once a player meets that threshold, they accrue one year of eligibility towards unrestricted free agency. In other words, they burn a year of team control at that time.
Getting to that threshold would allow for more evaluation for the prospects and in the cases of Dobson and Hayton, it would limit how much time they’d ultimately be forced to spend in junior at a level they’re already above if they were indeed sent back. Anyone who goes past the ten games played mark but doesn’t reach 40 on the active roster won’t have enough service time to be eligible for an offer sheet at the expiration of their contract either which also has to be taken into consideration.
For players like Hughes and Kakko, it’s a safe bet that the decision is all but made already; they’ll be sticking around for the entire season. Others like Gustafsson appear to be likely to not get to ten games played. But there are a handful of prospects that teams are going to make a call on before too much longer, even if they do scratch them for some games to delay having to make that decision. With things largely quiet on the trade front in the early going, this will be one of the elements to watch for over the next few weeks.
Michal Kempny’s name has become a constant when it comes to injury updates for the Washington Capitals. Yet after skating today at an optional practice, the blueliner stated that he believes he’s ready to return to game action and intends to talk to the trainer, doctor and the coaches today in order to make a plan on when he can come back, according to NHL.com’s Tom Gulitti.
“I feel like I can play a game right now, so we’re going to discuss everything today with (head athletic trainer Jason Serbus) and (team physician John Klimkiewicz) and we’re going to pick a game, pick a day. It’s real close.”
The Capitals face off Monday against the Colorado Avalanche, which could be a possibility for Kempny, who has been out with a hamstring injury. If not, then he’s expected to return to the lineup sometime this week.
- After blocking numerous shots during Saturday’s loss to the Edmonton Oilers, it was noted that New York Rangers winger Chris Kreider wasn’t at practice. According to New York Post’s Brett Cyrgalis, head coach David Quinn said the forward is considered day-to-day and the undisclosed injury isn’t considered “long term.” The 28-year-old, who could find himself on the trade block when the trade deadline nears, has yet to score a goal this year. He has two assists in three games.
- The Athletic’s Aaron Portzline (subscription required) writes that Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Vladislav Gavrikov has won the No. 6 defenseman job. The 23-year-old blueliner has broken through and has bonded with David Savard to form a shutdown pair and look like they will both hold down their third-pairing role. “Savvy’s just a really good player. He understands how we have to play,” head coach John Tortorella said. “Gavi’s made tremendous improvement in the last couple of games in making the decision and going with it, being more aggressive in his thinking and not playing in between.”
Ted Green, a longtime member of the Boston Bruins during the 1960s and a head coach for the Edmonton between 1991-94, passed away at the age of 79. The Oilers announced his death today and he was honored at Saturday’s New York Rangers game. Green was an assistant coach for the Rangers between 2000 and 2004.
Green was known as “Terrible Ted” during his playing days due to his physical style of play on the ice. In fact he had more than 100 penalty minutes in six of his first seven seasons in the league. In 11 season with the Bruins, Green picked up 254 points (48 goals and 206 assists) and 1,029 penalty minutes in 621 games. He played in the 1965 and 1969 all-star games and was named an the NHL Second Team All-Star in 1969, while finishing third in the Norris voting that year. Green was on the team that captured the 1970 Stanley Cup Championship, but he never played that year after sitting out the season after being hit in the head with a stick during the preseason that year. Regardless, his name still engraved on the cup.
The blueliner played for the Boston Bruins from 1961 to 1972 before opting to sign with the New England Whalers of the WHA where he played for three seasons and then played another four years with the Winnipeg Jets, winning three championships. He retired in 1979.
After he retirement, he took up coaching, working as an assistant with the Edmonton Oilers under former teammate Glen Sather from 1982 to 1990 before becoming co-coach for the 1990-91 season and eventually becoming head coach of the Oilers in 1991-92. The team went 65-102-21 in his two and half years at the helm in Edmonton. He was eventually fired after starting the year off at 3-18-3 in 1983. After taking a few years off from coaching he returned to the Oilers as an assistant once again in 1997 and stayed until 2000, before joining the New York Rangers in the same capacity after that.
Everyone at PHR wishes the best for the family and friends of Green at this time.
Monday’s trade of Vladislav Namestnikov to Ottawa that yielded blueliner Nick Ebert and a 2021 fourth-round pick seemed like a light return on the surface for a player that had a 48-point season back in 2017-18. Speaking with reporters including Newsday’s Colin Stephenson, Rangers GM Jeff Gorton provided some insight into the swap:
While the Rangers ultimately retained $750K, the move still freed up over $3MM in cap room which, if unused in the months to come, would give them plenty of space to work with by the trade deadline. At the very least, it will give them some flexibility for in-season recalls when injuries arise. Speaking of recalls, Gorton indicated that the team doesn’t plan to call anyone up to take Namestnikov’s spot on the roster just yet. They have just one game between now and next Thursday so there’s no rush to pull anyone up from AHL Hartford.
The New York Rangers will be signing another one of their top prospects, as the team announced they’ve agreed to terms with Matthew Robertson. The 18-year old defenseman will sign a three-year entry-level contract, though it actually won’t kick in right away. Robertson is playing with the Edmonton Oil Kings of the WHL, meaning his contract will slide at least one year.
Selected 49th overall in June, Robertson joins a wave of prospects set to turn the Rangers into contenders sooner or later. The 6’4″ defenseman put up 41 points in 68 total games with the Oil Kings last season and is was a strong force at both ends of the rink. Part of the Canadian team that won gold at the Hlinka-Gretzky Cup last year, he was actually ranked 26th among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting and expected by many to push for a selection in the first round. Even without that designation, the Rangers surely consider him a big part of their future and will show it by quickly signing him to an entry-level deal.
The next step for Robertson is to really dominate at the WHL level this year and next, while also lending his talents to Canada’s international contingent once again. Though he may find himself on the outside looking in for this year’s World Junior team as an 18-year old, you can bet he’ll be in contention for a spot after another year of development.
It didn’t take long for the big trade of the regular season to occur. Less than a week into the new campaign, and after just two games, the New York Rangers have traded away forward Vladislav Namestnikov. Agent Dan Milstein revealed that his client had been traded to the Ottawa Senators and the Ottawa Sun’s Bruce Garrioch reports that the return is a 2021 fourth-round pick and defenseman Nick Ebert. The Rangers will also retain $750K, or 18.75%, of Namestnikov’s $4MM salary this season, the final year of his current deal. New York has confirmed the terms of the trade
The meager return for Namestnikov is a fitting end to an overall disappointing tenure for the forward in New York. Acquired by the Rangers as the lone veteran piece that came back from the Tampa Bay Lightning in the deal that sent Ryan McDonagh and J.T. Miller the other way in 2018, Namestnikov, 26, was expected to flourish in more of a headlining role in the Big Apple. After just a 19-game stretch run to close out the 2017-18 season, the Rangers more than doubled Namestnikov’s salary with a two-year, $8MM contract extension. He rewarded them last season with 31 points – a 17-point drop-off from the year prior – in a campaign filled with frequent disappearing acts. Namestnikov ended up relegated to a bottom-six winger role by the end of the year and unsurprisingly became a fixture on the rumor mill this summer. The Rangers are surely disappointed in how his acquisition worked out, but happy to be rid of $3.25MM off the books this season, especially as they had been positioned precariously close to the salary cap ceiling. They receive a mid-round pick in return, as well as an intriguing depth option in Ebert. The 25-year-old blue liner is an AHL veteran who played phenomenally well in Sweden last season and hoped to return to North America in hopes of finally seeing NHL action. Given the depth of defensive prospects in Ottawa, he may actually have a better shot of achieving that goal with New York.
This trade is essentially risk-free for GM Pierre Dorion and the Ottawa Senators. They surrender only minor trade chips and land a capable player in his prime. Namestnikov’s future in Ottawa can play out in three ways. The first is, like in New York, Namestnikov fails to take advantage of a core role and has another disappointing season by his standards. This is the worst-case scenario, but it still allows the Senators to walk away at the end of the year having cost them next to nothing. Alternatively, Namestnikov could embrace this change of scenery and return to form for Ottawa. The team could try to re-sign him as a new centerpiece of their rebuilding team. However, they could also simply flip him at the trade deadline and almost certainly recoup more than they gave away. Either of those scenarios would be considered a major win for Dorion and company. It remains to be seen just how well Namestnikov – a player who has always excelled when surrounded by other elite talent – will respond to joining the rebuilding Senators, but the club has the means to give him considerable ice time and return him to his natural center position if they so choose. That could create a great opportunity for both player and team the rest of this season.
The NHL has released their Three Stars for the first week of the season, and New York Rangers center Mika Zibanejad leads the way. Zibanejad leads the NHL with eight points through his first two games, including a hat-trick on the weekend against the Ottawa Senators. The Rangers are off to a fast 2-0 start in a season that they hope will end in a playoff run for the young squad, and Zibanejad will be a huge part of that process.
Anthony Mantha and Auston Matthews take home the other two spots after scoring five goals each in their first week. Mantha did it in just two games, including a four-goal performance last night against the Dallas Stars. The 25-year old winger is looking to build off his career-high 25 goals a year ago, which he recorded in just 67 games. Matthews meanwhile continues his October dominance, scoring in each of the Toronto Maple Leafs’ first three contests. The 22-year old center now has 30 goals in 35 career games in the month of October.
- Michael Leighton has decided to hang up his pads after a long professional career, announcing his retirement through Scott Powers of The Athletic (subscription required). The veteran goaltender played for 21 different teams over an 18-year career, suiting up 111 times in the NHL regular season. Perhaps most notably though was his appearance for the Philadelphia Flyers in the 2010 playoffs, where he started 13 games and recorded a .916 save percentage. The Flyers would lose in the Stanley Cup Final to the Chicago Blackhawks, with Patrick Kane scoring his classic Cup-winning goal in overtime of game six against Leighton.
- Josh Morrissey returned to practice for the Winnipeg Jets today, and his presence will be welcomed wholeheartedly whenever he’s able to suit up for a game. The Jets defense has been ravaged by everything from free agency, to injury and even potential retirement, leaving Morrissey as the most important blueliner on the team. The team is back in action tomorrow night against the Pittsburgh Penguins, before returning home for a game on Thursday night.
The good news for the NHL and the NHLPA is that both sides continue to have bargaining talks to work towards a new CBA contract. While many thought talks might cool down between the two sides after the players opted out of its option to terminate the current agreement, that has not happened. However, Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston writes that there are other issues that could make it an interesting negotiations.
One of the biggest roadblocks is Olympic participation as the league isn’t that interested in allowing players to play.
“I’ll say, because I think I need to say, from the NHL owners’ perspective, Olympic participation is not seen as something that’s either essential or even useful to our business,” said deputy commissioner Bill Daly. “It’s highly disruptive to our season, puts our players in jeopardy of injury with no financial benefit to the NHL or the clubs.”
If the NHL wants to bend on this aspect of negotiations, they would have to not only change their stance, but then begin negotiations with the IOC in regards to travel, insurance and hospitality arrangements, which had been the issues that the NHL had with the IOC in the past.
- The Washington Capitals are already getting forward Evgeny Kuznetsov back from suspension, but they might just be closer to getting back defenseman Michal Kempny, who has been out with a hamstring injury, according to The Athletic’s Tarik El-Bashir (subscription required). Head coach Todd Reirden said that until Kempny competes in 5-on-5 practice and can prove he’s healthy, Reirden won’t even consider playing him. The next opportunity to prove himself will be Monday.
- Newsday’s Colin Stephenson writes that New York Rangers defenseman Brendan Smith, who was used as a fourth-line forward Saturday, but also used as a defenseman in short-handed situations, could find himself in a similar role for a while. Head coach David Quinn said that he likes using Smith in that role. “I think he had a really good (training) camp, and he had a great stretch last year when he played forward and no problem playing it for an extended period of time,’’ Quinn said of Smith, who scored an empty net goal in the season opener Thursday against Winnipeg, when he was on the ice as a defenseman in a six-on-four situation.
- Sticking with the Rangers, The Athletic’s Rick Carpiniello (subscription required) writes that after hearing that New York prospect K’Andre Miller was suspended at the University of Wisconsin, he immediately called Wisconsin head coach Tony Granato, who acknowledged that the infraction that got him suspended wasn’t serious. “Nope. Nothing major,” said Granato. “I have done the same with probably seven or eight guys already. … It is exactly what it is. He broke a team rule and is suspended for (Sunday’s) inter-squad game. Nothing more.”