Hockey

Blittner’s Blueline: Islanders and Rangers Open for Business By Matt Blittner, The New York Extra/TheNYExtra.com

Welcome to my new hockey column where at the start of every week we’ll delve into whatever news is percolating around the National Hockey League, with a particular emphasis on our local teams.

With a shortened off-season now in the works and the following weeks promising to be jam-packed thanks to the Expansion Draft, Entry Draft and Free Agency — all which will take place during a seven-day span from July 21st to July 28th — there will be a lot of rumors, news and announcements coming our way, so make sure to check in every Tuesday on TheNYExtra.com to get caught up.

So, let’s get started.

Our opening piece of news was first reported by The Athletic’s Arthur Staple and has been confirmed by multiple other sources; the Islanders are once again shopping defenseman Nick Leddy. 

Leddy, 30, has one-year left on the seven-year deal he signed with the Islanders in 2015. His cap-hit for the 2021-22 season is $5.5M and for a team in as bad a cap-crunch as the Isles, that’s likely too much for a second/third-pair defenseman.

This is nothing new of course. GM Lou Lamoriello has been attempting to shop Leddy for a couple of years but hasn’t yet found the right deal. After all, it’s not like Leddy is over the hill. He can still skate and his vision on the ice, as well as his ability to set up plays, remains intact. 

The problem is that in a flat-cap world and one in which another Expansion Draft is just over a week away, difficult decisions are becoming the norm. 

So, what type of deal makes sense? Well, a first-rounder is out of the question; unless an unexpected bidding war breaks out and some GM is foolish enough to overpay for Leddy’s services. 

A second-rounder could very well be the answer, but Lamoriello will need to get the right teams involved to pull that off. A third-rounder plus a lower round pick could be what the team settles for, but the second-rounder is what they’re striving for.

Meanwhile, the Isles shopping Leddy is a strong indication the team will protect Scott Mayfield and leave Leddy exposed. Should that be how this plays out, then Leddy’s cap hit will be removed from the Isles’ ledger, but at the price of getting nothing in return. That’s not an ideal situation either. And with a trade freeze going into effect once the protection lists are submitted, this is a situation that will be worth monitoring over the coming days. 

Now, let’s hop on the railroad and travel from Uniondale to Manhattan where the Rangers find themselves in a much better cap situation than the Isles. However, that doesn’t mean they’re not looking to unload some players too.

The popular name currently making the rounds is Pavel Buchnevich, who is a restricted free agent (with arbitration rights) and is just a year away from unrestricted free agency. The 26-year-old is coming off a deal in which his cap hit was $3.25M and after a breakout year that saw him become a reliable penalty-killer and two-way player, he is in line for a substantial raise. Most believe his new cap hit will be in the neighborhood of $5M and quite possibly much higher once he hits the open market as a UFA. 

If Buchnevich has become as good a player as he has, then why would the Blueshirts want to trade him? The problem is that he is a right-winger, as are Kaapo Kakko and Vitali Kravtsov; which means the two highly regarded youngsters are being blocked from playing top-six minutes. 

Could this situation be resolved with say a blockbuster deal that sees Kravtsov shipped out as part of the package for somebody like Jack Eichel? Sure. But the more likely answer is a short-term deal for Buchnevich that sees him traded at a later date.

In other Rangers news — which was first reported by The NY Post’s Larry Brooks — the Blueshirts supposedly have found two Assistant Coaches to help fill out new Head Coach Gerard Gallant’s staff in Gord Murphy and Mike Kelly. Murphy drew rave reviews for his work with the Hartford Wolf Pack while Kelly has previously worked with Gallant. The team is still looking for a third Assistant and will likely wait to formally announce the hirings of Murphy and Kelly until they have secured their final coach.

The Blueshirts are also expected to buyout defenseman Tony DeAngelo but are likely waiting until after the Expansion Draft so as to have some flexibility with trades while making sure they don’t have issues with exposure compliance. 

Regardless of when it happens, it will happen and DeAngelo will be on the move yet again; although, it’s no sure thing a team will be willing to take a chance on him with his baggage. 

Now, for around the NHL:

1) On Monday, the Blackhawks officially traded longtime defenseman Duncan Keith and forward Tim Söderlund to the Oilers for defenseman Caleb Jones and a 2022 conditional third-round pick. The condition is unlikely to be met as the pick will become a second-rounder IF the Oilers go to the 2022 Stanley Cup Final AND Keith is top-four in playoff TOI during the first three rounds. 

This trade also clears $4.7M off Chicago’s cap ledger for the upcoming season and also signals the team is continuing to move past its three-Cup-run from last decade as Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane are the only remaining players on the roster from those championship teams. 

2) Also on Monday, the Ottawa Senators announced they had hired NBC Inside The Glass Analyst Pierre McGuire to become the franchise’s new Senior VP of Player Development. When speaking to reporters, McGuire pointed out how he feels that analytics are essentially just one tool to be used when evaluating players, but not the only tool. McGuire still feels there is exceptional value in traditional scouting. And that is a breath of fresh air in today’s sports world where computers and numbers rule all. Here’s to hoping for McGuire’s personal and professional success in his new endeavor. 

3) The Tampa Bay Lightning held their championship boat parade on Monday and the Stanley Cup itself was worse for wear afterwards as photos online showed The Cup was clearly dented. Reports state The Cup is headed to Montreal for repairs and will then resume its celebration at a later date. So, for now, consider The Cup as being on the IR.

Far worse has happened to The Cup over the years but that was mostly before the age of social media. There’s no doubt the NHL isn’t happy about Monday’s “accident” and there will likely be some new protocols put in place going forward. 

That’s all for the first edition of Blittner’s Blueline, please check back in next Tuesday for more NHL musings. 

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