Watch Artemi Panarin throw his glove at Brad Marchand from the bench

The New York Rangers continued their great start to the 2021-22 season on Friday afternoon with an impressive 5-2 win over the Boston Bruins that featured a little bit of everything.

First, there was Rangers goalie Igor Shesterkin playing another sensational game by turning aside 34 of the 36 shots he faced to continue to strengthen his early season Vezina argument.

There was also another big game for Rangers superstar Artemi Panarin as he scored the game-winning goal late in the third period and added an assist.

All things you probably expect to see in a Rangers win at this point.

What you don’t always expect to see is a Lacrosse goal attempt from Chris Kreider and Panarin getting into it with Bruins agitator Brad Marchand and throwing a glove at him from the bench.

Let’s start with the latter clip because, really now, who throws a glove? Panarin, apparently.

The two star forwards were having words with one another from their respective benches in the closing seconds when Panarin decided to remove his glove and just chuck it at Marchand. You also have to love the “give it back” gesture from Panarin after willingly throwing his glove.

Panarin and Marchand both received misconduct penalties, and it is a good bet that Panarin will probably be facing at least a fine for throwing a piece of equipment at somebody.

The other unexpected highlight from this game was Kreider’s valiant attempt at the Lacrosse goal, just missing it off the post.

Kreider has been off to a sensational start for the Rangers this season and has been one of the top goal scorers in the league. That would have been one for the highlight reels had he successfully pulled it off.

With Friday’s win the Rangers are now 13-4-3 on the season and in a three-team fight with the Carolina Hurricane and Washington Capitals for the top spot in the Metropolitan Division.

Vezina Trophy race: Andersen, Campbell, Shesterkin, and more

With about a quarter of the 2021-22 NHL season in the books, PHT will break down races for major awards. This feature continues with the wide-open race for the Vezina Trophy. Here’s our look at the race for the Calder Trophy, as well as the Norris.

Note: stats collected from before Tuesday’s games, unless otherwise noted. The NHL’s general managers vote for the Vezina Trophy each season.

Vezina Trophy race: plenty of goalies off to impressive starts

Much like the Norris Trophy, there are a lot of goalies with a claim to Vezina relevance — at least late in November. Unlike the Norris, the reigning Vezina winner (Marc-Andre Fleury) is not one of the frontrunners.

As mentioned above, NHL GMs vote for the Vezina Trophy, rather than writers or goaltending peers. With that in mind, a simple stat like wins could be a more meaningful “tiebreaker” than it would be if analytics-minded people determined the Vezina Trophy winner.

(That said, this post will include some “fancy stats” to try to cover multiple dimensions.)

Last season’s Maple Leafs creasemates could be the frontrunners

In 2020-21, Frederik Andersen and Jack Campbell were key goalies for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Now they’re arguably the (very early) Vezina frontrunners, as both Andersen and Campbell combine top win totals with strong individual stats.

Andersen currently leads the NHL with 11 wins (11-2-0), with strong numbers to boot (.937 save percentage). By Evolving Hockey’s Goals Above Replacement (GAR), Andersen is tied with Igor Shesterkin for second overall with 13.1. Andersen ranks third in Hockey Reference’s version* of Goals Saved Against Average (GSAA) with 9.54.

Stats like GAR and GSAA aim to isolate a goalie’s performance from the team in front of them. That said, some might poke minor holes in Andersen’s argument because of the Hurricanes’ overall dominance.

As strong as Andersen’s early Vezina argument is, Jack Campbell’s might be even better. Campbell ranks second in wins with 10 (10-4-1), and his stats are even stronger (including a .944 save percentage).

Campbell’s 13.88 GSAA leads the NHL. He’s tied for seventh in GAR with Carter Hart and Connor Hellebuyck at 10.7.

Campbell serves as a workhorse for a strong overall Maple Leafs team, albeit one that can be charged with playing “high-event” games all-around. It could be interesting if Petr Mrazek eats into Campbell’s starts, too. Being that Campbell’s career-high is 31 games played, it also remains to be seen if he’ll run out of steam. But he’s been excellent for quite some time now, and he’s also a heck of a story as a first-rounder who no longer seems like a “bust.”

* – Several sites present different versions of GSAA, GAR, and so on. For the sake of simplicity, this Vezina Trophy post will stick with Evolving Hockey’s GAR and Hockey Reference’s GSAA.

A ton of other quality Vezina candidates

  • John Gibson is 9-4-2 with a .925 save percentage, and he’s accomplished that on a Ducks team with low expectations. Gibson generally checks the other boxes: 5.86 GSAA (10th) and 7.3 GAR (13th).
  • Consider Igor Shesterkin one of the top Vezina contenders. Judging by the Rangers’ Swiss cheese defense, he’s been remarkable (9-3-2 record and .931 save percentage). Again, Shesterkin ties Andersen for second in GAR at 13.1, and ranks fifth in GSAA (8.14).

Shesterkin turns heads for how technically sound he is, yet he’s also an explosive athlete. That putrid Rangers defense makes his strong work tough to sustain, though. Maybe they’ll improve, and thus avoid submarining his chances?

  • On the opposite end of the spectrum from Shesterkin, we have Jacob Markstrom.

Under Darryl Sutter, Flames goaltender is a relatively cushy gig. Note that Dan Vladar is 4-0-1 with a tremendous .946 save percentage and two shutouts.

That said, Markstrom’s off to a start that absolutely warrants Vezina consideration. Old-school GMs will need to see an improvement from Markstrom’s 7-3-4 record (or at least for other Vezina candidates to cool off).

Those five shutouts keep Markstrom in the mix. Behind Campbell, Markstrom’s the only other goalie who’s above double-digits in GSAA with 12.34. His 13.7 GAR leads all goalies.

  • GMs who love redemption stories will gravitate to Sergei Bobrovsky. You don’t have to bend the truth to make a Vezina case for Bob, either. He’s 8-0-2 with a .937 save percentage. His 8.16 GSAA ranks fourth, and he places sixth in GAR with 11.3. It would really be something if Bobrovsky won his third Vezina Trophy after many left his career for dead.

[PHT’s Adam Gretz has more on Bob’s redemption]

  • Now, there are some mainstays who are hovering in the picture, but aren’t quite in the top ranks. Andrei Vasilevskiy and Connor Hellebuyck remain sharp, and crucial to their teams. Their stats are closer to very good than the absolute top. You can say similar things about Juuse Saros. All three could easily move up the ranks as the weeks and months pass.
  • Carter Hart will need to play more, and win more (5-3-3). But he’s quietly off to a start that really must comfort Flyers fans and management.
  • Want some blasts from the past? Jonathan Quick‘s 4-4-2 record keeps his impressive .939 save percentage under the radar. Craig Anderson‘s save percentage is .921, in 2021-22. Even Martin Jones has a .920 save percentage. None of these goalies are really playing or winning enough to be serious Vezina Trophy threats, but it’s cool to see them rebound.

And, frankly, it’s a reminder of just how unpredictable the position — and thus, the Vezina Trophy race — can be.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Rangers playing with fire leaning so much on Shesterkin

If you only look at the standings, the 7-3-3 Rangers look like they’re right on schedule. Maybe even a bit ahead. These Rangers even handed a powerful Panthers team its first regulation loss of 2021-22.

However, peel a layer or two away, and things don’t look quite as healthy. So far, the 2021-22 Rangers lean heavily on Igor Shesterkin and a quick-strike offense.

Clearly, that’s worked well enough, but the red flags are waving. Let’s ponder the Rangers’ start, what might continue, and what needs to change.

Shesterkin looking like the latest elite Rangers goalie

Could this be like the Colts going from Peyton Manning to Andrew Luck? (You could cite Brett Favre to Aaron Rodgers, but then things could get weird.)

Just 57 games into his NHL career, we still don’t know if Igor Shesterkin can sustain elite play. But so far, so good. As in: good enough for people to evoke Henrik Lundqvist’s name when shouting out Shesterkin’s accolades.

Through those 57 games, Shesterkin sports an impressive .923 save percentage. He’s been raising his already high level of play so far this season, generating a .931 save percentage through 10 games (6-2-2).

Those simple stats are impressive enough. Delve deeper and it gets better.

Heading into Tuesday, Igor Shesterkin managed a 6.44 GSAA (Goals Saved Above Average), the fifth-best mark in the NHL by Hockey Reference’s version of the metric.

Early on, this doesn’t look like a situation where a system is sneaky-effective for a goalie. Consider that generally solid backup Alexandar Georgiev‘s suffered with a miserable .862 save percentage, and a minus-4.73 GSAA (fourth-worst).

Naturally, these are small sample sizes. Again, Shesterkin’s Rangers career isn’t really even a great sample at those 57 regular-season games.

But you can only perform in the games you’re in, and so far, Shesterkin’s more than lived up to the Rangers’ expectations. Simply put, they can’t expect him to keep doing this — not to this extreme, at least.

Serious red flags

Go with simple stats like goals (minus-4 differential) or the shots battle (25.7 shots per game, 33.8 against). Dig deep into analytics, like expected goals or high-danger chances at Natural Stat Trick.

Beyond that 7-3-3 record and Shesterkin’s stats, just about every Rangers-related number should cause some alarm.

It would be convenient if an attacking Panthers team threw off the Rangers’ stats. After all, they’re just 13 games into the season (with 10 Shesterkin appearances). No doubt, Chris Kreider and other Rangers realized they hung Shesterkin out to dry in that narrow New York win.

“Igor’s bailed us out a lot this year and for us to do that to him in the third [period on Monday] is unacceptable,” Kreider said, via Arthur Staple.

Most nights, the Rangers ask a lot of their goalies, or their ability to outscore problems. Chew on these tidbits beyond being caved-in overall this season.

• At five-on-five, the Rangers have only been on the positive (50.1%+) side of the expected goals battle in three of 13 games. In seven of those 13 games, the Rangers expected goals percentage was at 37.65 or lower.

• The high-danger chances battle is only slightly more favorable. In four of 13 games, the Rangers controlled 56.25% or more of the high-danger chances. In their other nine games, they controlled 42.86% or worse. Four of those games were at or below 25%.

• Volume stats tell the same basic story.

• If you’re more of a visual learner, check out these charts from Hockey Viz:

Rangers playing with fire leaning so much on Shesterkin offense defense
via Hockey Viz

Basically, the Rangers are yielding a ton of chances from the high-danger areas, and are struggling to generate those high-quality chances on offense. The worst of both worlds.

Can they turn it around?

As this post notes, a lot of signs point to the Rangers’ luck running out. That said, the Rangers already “banked” that 7-3-3 record. If they can turn things around, then they can chalk things up to growing pains.

Consider a few factors.

• Gerard Gallant is still new as Rangers head coach. As great as the Golden Knights’ debut season was, they weren’t a puck-dominant team in 2017-18.

• With such young players, big leaps are at least plausible. Perhaps the key is for Gallant to regain faith in Alexis Lafrenière, and for Lafrenière to put a slump behind him.

Through the first eight games of the season, Lafrenière was firing the puck like a confident player (21 shots on goal, three goals, one assist). Yet, during the last five games, Lafrenière managed just a single SOG and zero points. In November, he’s averaging less than 12 minutes of ice time per night.

That’s all bad, but maybe Lafrenière needs a do-over? There are signs that he can bring some positive influence on the level of play. He shows reasonably nicely in the Rangers xGAR chart from Evolving Hockey:

Rangers playing with fire leaning so much on Shesterkin xGAR team chart
Not perfect, but maybe Lafrenière can produce more in a sheltered role? (Via Evolving Hockey)

Maybe the solution isn’t to give Lafrenière more ice time. But, beyond the Rangers getting used to Galant’s system, the team should be looking for answers.

One simple solution might ruffle a feather or two.

Yes, the Rangers want to get tougher, but even 9:42 TOI per night might be a bit much for Ryan Reaves. Arguing as much might be a lost cause — the Rangers have that totally not about Tom Wilson mandate, and no coach has deployed Reaves quite like Gallant has extending back to their Vegas days — yet painful discussions may be needed if New York stops outscoring its mistakes.

Realistically, the Rangers would likely be better off giving some of those shifts to a skilled player such as Flip Chytil.

Either way, Galant and the Rangers should brainstorm solutions, because Shesterkin can’t always solve their problems.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Olympic Stock Watch: Brutal month for Jones; Russian goalie competition

The NHL currently plans on sending players to the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, China, with an early February break in the schedule. For some Olympic men’s hockey teams, most roster spots are no-brainers. That said, there’s room to move. Players can work their way off or onto Olympic rosters. In some cases, a fringe player could end up being key.

PHT’s Olympic Stock Watch monitors ups and downs for players for the U.S. men’s ice hockey team, Team Canada, and other countries hunting for medals.

Olympic Stock: Down

Seth Jones

Woof.

When USA Hockey named Seth Jones among its first three Olympic selections, people already grumbled. Rumblings were picking up about Jones maybe not being quite the elite defenseman many believe(d) him to be, and the Blackhawks hastily paid him to be. Beyond that, Adam Fox is the reigning Norris Trophy winner.

It wasn’t unreasonable to draw line between then-U.S. GM Stan Bowman and Jones being among the first three named (two of three were Blackhawks, as Patrick Kane also received that honor).

Apparently a lot can change in a month.

Bowman is out as both Blackhawks and U.S. Olympic GM. The Blackhawks aren’t just a disaster off the ice — they’re also a mess on it.

Now, it’s absurd to lay all the blame on Jones’ feet. Chicago’s problems stem from before he ever arrived. Yet, if you look beyond scoring totals (11 assists in 13 games), it’s tougher and tougher to argue that he’s anywhere close to a $9.5 million defenseman.

You can’t even just wave it away as Jones being sunk by bad teammates alone. By metrics like Expected Goals, he ranks among the worst even relative to his teammates:

Olympic Stock Watch: Brutal month for Seth Jones, Fleury xGAR
via Evolving Hockey

Without Bowman’s ego attached to the situation, it’s fair to wonder where Jones should slot in. This isn’t the U.S. defense of the past; there are a ton of quality blue liners to choose from.

• USA Hockey management, in general

Grimly, Stan Bowman isn’t the only high-ranking U.S. Olympic official embroiled in off-ice controversy. U.S. assistant GM Bill Guerin was named in a lawsuit steming from his time as Penguins assistant GM.

You may also recall USA Hockey executive John Vanbiesbrouck’s past (in 2003, he resigned as an OHL coach after using a racial slur while describing Trevor Daley).

It all makes you wonder if Bowman’s resignation may be part of a larger change in USA Hockey management. Or, at least, if there should be more changes.

• Marc-Andre Fleury

Much like Jones, you can’t blame the Blackhawks’ blunders on Marc-Andre Fleury alone. This team’s been an absolute disaster defensively — extending beyond when Jones and “MAF” were around.

But there’s no denying Fleury’s stock plummeted with Team Canada. Harsh or not, a brutal month can make people forget about a surprise (but deserved) Vezina win. Quicker than the Blackhawks giving up a lead.

• Jakob Chychrun

After 11 tries, Jakob Chychrun and the Coyotes finally won a game — and only by the skin of their teeth. Amid that misery, Chychrun’s come crashing to Earth.

During that 11-game losing streak, Chychrun went pointless. The big defenseman fired a ton of shots, but his puck luck reversed from last season.

For traditionalists, his minus-20 rating will tell the story. The drop-off in undelying stats is drastic, too.

Last season, Chychrun was elbowing in on a possible Canadian Olympic team spot:

Olympic Stock Watch: Brutal month for Seth Jones, Fleury Chychrun RAPM 1
via Evolving Hockey

After one month, he might be lucky to even receive more than passing consideration.

Olympic Stock Watch: Brutal month for Seth Jones, Fleury Chychrun 2
via Evolving Hockey

Ultimately, the true Chychrun lies somewhere between those extremes. He might be closer to that quite-good player who nonetheless rode an unsustainably hot 2020-21 season. But as the Coyotes suffer, Chychrun’s Olympic chances fade.

Olympic stock: Up

• Russian goalies

After you consider their options on defense, something becomes clear: whoever tends net for the Russian Olympic team is going to have to be sharp.

If some of those candidates stay as hot as they were through one month, maybe that will be the case.

  • Early on, Igor Shesterkin looks like the goalie of the future for the Rangers — and maybe Russia.
  • After some rough years, Sergei Bobrovsky‘s … actually playing like a $10 million goalie?
  • Yes, you can downplay some if based on the Islanders/Trotz/etc. factor, but Ilya Sorokin‘s off to a strong start.

Frequently, Olympic teams like to bring a mix of veteran and young goalies. Russia might get there quite organically.

• Carter Hart? And Braden Holtby?

Want a lesson in waiting to bring out that “Jump to Conclusions” mat? Carter Hart suffered a pretty brutal start to the season, to the point that he might not make it through an early start. The Flyers stuck with Hart, and while there are valleys to go with the peaks, he’s looking … quite good overall?

Neither Hart (3-2-2) nor Braden Holtby (2-3-1) boast great records. But each goalie has a save percentage above .920 so far this season. Generally, that indicates that Holtby and Hart are giving their teams a chance to win. At least most of the time.

That might not be otherworldly praise. Yet, with Team Canada, you often aren’t asking Dominik Hasek to doctor his passport. Instead, you’re generally hoping for competence.

Now, it’s possible that the U.S. men’s Olympic team or another country might raise the bar and force Canada to lean on elite goaltending. Either way, Canada’s options looked pretty limited heading into the 2021-22 season. Neither Hart nor Holtby inspire the utmost competence, but solid might be good enough for Canada.

(At least if Connor McDavid is healthy enough to be, well, Connor McDavid.)

• Jack Eichel?

If PHT’s Olympic Stock Watch went up last week, Jack Eichel’s stock may have been at an all-time low.

Thanks to a surgical impasse and maybe other factors, the Sabres were really dragging their feet when it came to an Eichel trade. That cost Eichel precious months of recovery from his preferred disc replacement surgery.

Logically, it still feels like Eichel is a longshot to play for the U.S. at the 2022 Winter Olympics even as he preps for a Friday surgery which should require a three-month recovery period.

That said, Eichel expressed doing exactly that. Considering how much pent up hockey Eichel must have in his system, would you really want to count him out? (The Golden Knights might be saying “Uh, yes please.”)

At minimum, Eichel’s chances to participate look much better after that trade, so consider his stock up. It would certainly be welcome news for a U.S. team that’s mostly been rocked by ugly headlines.

• To be determined: Evgeny Kuznetsov

Thanks to a past failed drug test, Evgeny Kuznetsov’s 2022 Olympic participation is uncertain and recent reports send mixed messages.

If you look at on-ice performance alone, though, Kuznetsov is off to a hot start. Through his first 11 games, he’s generated an impressive 13 points. Ultimately, the Russian’s Olympic hopes aren’t totally in his hands.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

NHL Rink Wrap: Goals, assists milestones for Ovechkin; Kings heat up

Top players from Monday in the NHL

Alex Ovechkin, Capitals

Later on in this post, we’ll focus on even more of the history. But we have to start with the headline-grabber. By scoring his 11th goal of the season, Alex Ovechkin reached 741 career goals. At 741, Ovechkin tied Brett Hull for fourth all-time in goals.

(Click here for more on that, including Ovechkin being 153 goals behind Wayne Gretzky’s 894 goals, the all-time record. Oh, and read this for even more on Ovechkin’s pursuit of Gretzky’s record.)

Let’s circle back to Ovechkin earning NHL player of the night honors for Monday, and his shockingly strong season so far. On Monday, Ovechkin scored a goal and two assists.

Heading into Monday, Ovechkin was already comfortably ranked third in NHL scoring behind Leon Draisaitl (23 points) and Connor McDavid (22). He’s now one of three players at 20+ points, as the goal and two assists put Ovechkin at 11 goals and 10 assists (21 points) in just 12 games.

Few bat an eye at Ovechkin scoring goals, even at age 36 — although 11 goals in 12 games is still really something. But playmaking to a level where he’s a stride behind McDavid and Draisaitl? Ridiculous.

Then again, with Ovechkin, maybe we should just expect this?

Highlights from Monday in the NHL

Watch as Ovechkin scores goal 741 and reaches 600 assists in the Capitals’ win over the Sabres:

The real highlight of this Phillip Danault goal was his reaction to said goal:

There were some exciting moments in Panthers – Rangers, but this K’Andre Miller goal stole the show:

Granted, this was fantastic stuff from (Mr.) Adam Fox, too.

Monday’s NHL takeaways

Ovechkin makes history, even beyond tying Hull for fourth all-time in goals

So, again, Ovechkin tied Brett Hull for fourth all-time with 741 goals.

While Ovechkin didn’t break his tie with Hull, he did add those two assists. With that, Ovechkin’s 598 assists shoots to an even, milestone-friendly 600. The Capitals churned out some interesting facts alongside Ovechkin reaching 600 assists:

Personally, it’s especially amusing that a) his 741 goals received a mention alongside those 600 assists and b) Sidney Crosby‘s name came up. That has to get your Ovechkin B-I-N-G-O board close to full. Maybe they just needed to include Ovechkin’s office?

Hey, look, the Kings are now on a roll

After an aggressive offseason, the Kings disappointed. They limped off to a troubling 1-5-1 start to the season. People understandably wondered if The Kings jumped the gun on accelerating their rebuild.

It was too early to tell then, and it’s too early to do a 180 now. After Monday’s win over the Maple Leafs, don’t blame people if the Kings renewed people’s belief in their chances of earning an NHL playoff spot. (Yes, the Oilers and Flames are hot atop the Pacific. However, when it comes to the third seed, the Kings have a shot.)

With that win against Toronto, the Kings are now on a five-game winning streak. Their record is now 6-5-1, putting them in the thick of things in trying to get ahead of the Ducks, Sharks, and Golden Knights. The Central Division’s not a lock to send five teams playoff-bound, either.

Interestingly, the Kings are heating up with Drew Doughty on the shelf. They lost their first two games with Doughty injured, but now are on this five-game winning streak. The Kings’ win also ended a five-game winning streak for the Maple Leafs.

Also: Phillip Danault just keeps tormenting the Maple Leafs. He’s worthy of Monday’s NHL player of the night consideration himself with a two-goal, one-assist game.

Shesterkin, counter-attack explain why Rangers gave Panthers their first regulation loss

When you see a 4-3 score, you don’t necessarily believe that the winning goalie put on a clinic. There’s a reason that fans at Madison Square Garden were chanting “I-gor” in honor of Igor Shesterkin, though. (And not just because it works pretty well as a classic two syllable chant.)

Considering that the Rangers went up 4-0 through the first 40 minutes, it might have seemed like New York dominated. And, sure, they counter-punched and created some great goals. K’Andre Miller’s goal was the best of the bunch, but Adam Fox authored a beauty of his own.

But Igor Shesterkin made the real difference. The Panthers fired 45 shots on goal to just 18 for the Rangers. During the final two periods, the advantage was 34-9. With three goals in the third, the Panthers were finally able to get to Shesterkin a bit. Yet not enough.

More than once, players made contact with Shesterkin. He was asked to make some difficult saves, and came up more often than not. This 42-save performance pushes Shesterkin’s save percentage to .931 in 10 games.

Tuesday’s big story

Lightning present latest test for Hurricanes

The Hurricanes lost for the first time on Saturday, and the Panthers really made no mistake about it. In an 82-game season, you’re going to have nights like those. Chances are, Carolina isn’t too shaken up. (They probably just got that negative energy out by getting some salty tweets and troll-ish web domains ready.)

On Tuesday, the Lightning present a different kind of challenge for the Hurricanes. Where the Panthers are healthy and rising, the Lightning are those cagey veterans. Sometimes those old dogs have a limp, but they can still be dangerous.

Will the high-flying Hurricanes pass this test against the Lightning, or will this be Carolina’s first losing streak? It’s one of the biggest stories to watch around the NHL on Tuesday.

Monday’s NHL scores

Capitals 5, Sabres 3
Rangers 4, Panthers 3
Kings 5, Maple Leafs 1

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Adam Fox extension shows Rangers spending like contenders

Are the New York Rangers done with their rebuild, and ready to contend? The Adam Fox contract extension provides the latest bit of evidence that, whether they’re true contenders or not, the Rangers are spending like one.

The Rangers confirmed that they signed reigning Norris Trophy winner Adam Fox to a seven-year extension. According to various reporters, including the New York Post’s Larry Brooks, the cap hit will be $9.5 million per season.

Fox, 23, just began what would have been a contract year. With that in mind, Fox’s extension carries that $9.5M cap hit from 2022-23 through 2028-29.

By itself, Adam Fox extension is a no-brainer for Rangers

During the 2022 offseason, prices went wild for top defensemen. Big deals weren’t just thrown around for clear top blueliners. Teams practically tore muscles stretching to pay up for defensemen they merely hoped would look like No. 1 blueliners. (Look at the hasty Seth Jones extension, and the trade cost to acquire him.)

Amid what sometimes resembled chaos, the Avalanche actually attained value for a genuine, young, No. 1 defenseman. Credit the relative value on RFA leverage, but either way, locking down 23-year-old Cale Makar for six years at a $9.M cap hit was a no-brainer for the Avs.

Apply the same logic to Adam Fox and the Rangers.

Like Makar, Fox is in the meat of his prime at 23. Both are rare defensemen whose best days might come after signing for $9M/$9.5M. Worries about the aging curve are muted, if they’re there at all.

Considering Fox still has this last cheap year left, the Rangers now have him locked down for his prime years. Honestly, the Rangers shouldn’t have even flinched at Adam Fox’s extension. Grunt at the Harvard connection or not, but Fox is truly a brilliant defenseman.

Costs starting to really add up for New York, though

You’ve got to “spend money to make money.” In hockey, you have to spend money to keep players beyond their RFA years. For the special ones, you often have to open up the wallet for their second contracts.

So, again, the Rangers should not feel a second of regret about the Adam Fox extension. He’s already well worth $9.5M per year. If that goes wrong, it’s likely due to something few could have seen coming.

But the Rangers’ larger spending profile still raises a red flag or two.

The easy to defend

To start, consider a few of the bigger contracts that are easy for the Rangers to defend.

  • Fox is a premium defender. If he maintains his current level of play, Fox’s contract extension is a bargain for the Rangers. At his age, he might even get better. Scary for the rest of the NHL.
  • It’s early, but Igor Shesterkin‘s $5.667M cap hit (through 2024-25) looks like a very nice value. If not, it was a reasonable bet on the 25-year-old goalie.
  • At 30, Artemi Panarin could tussle with Father Time fairly soon. Then again, his savvy style could also age well. Either way, he’s been MVP-adjacent since joining the Rangers, so that $11.643M cap hit’s totally fair.

Lingering mysteries

  • Kaapo Kakko, 20, recently began his contract year. He’s set to become an RFA after this season. Frankly, the Rangers might want to extend Kakko, too — before he possibly breaks out.
  • Alexis Lafrenière, 20, has two years remaining on his rookie deal. It’s a mystery what he’ll cost in 2023-24 and beyond.
  • What does the future hold for Ryan Strome (28, $4.5M cap hit set to expire after 2021-22)? Can they maintain a spot for Filip Chytil (22, $2.3M AAV through 2022-23)? Alexandar Georgiev‘s Rangers days may also be numbered.

Possibly extravagant

  • Mika Zibanejad is a heck of a talent. The 28-year-old could easily be worth it when his cap hit raises to $8.5M starting in 2022-23. How well will that age, being that Zibanejad’s under contract through 2029-30? Plenty of people thought Zibanejad might get lost in the shuffle. (Although some of those thoughts were Jack Eichel-related.)
  • Chris Kreider, 30, is another Rangers player whose extension was mildly surprising. Kreider’s useful, but his rugged style might accelerate his decline. His $6.5M cap hit runs through 2026-27.
  • In their quest for grit, the Rangers splurged on Barclay Goodrow. Might they regret signing a 28-year-old supporting cast member at $3.642M for so long (expires after 2026-27)?
  • To some real relief, Jacob Trouba‘s bounced back from a profoundly terrible start to his Rangers career. That $8M price tag still stings, especially since the 27-year-old’s on the books through 2025-26.

Things could get tight pretty quickly for Rangers

Just to emphasize it once more: the Rangers had to sign Adam Fox to this extension. It’s highly likely to pay off, too.

That said, for a franchise that’s frequently paid marquee prices for sometimes off-Broadway results, it’s a little unsettling to see breathing room choke away so fast. That’s especially true if an opponent tries to squeeze them on young players who could hit RFA status.

Via the indispensible Cap Friendly, the Rangers devote almost $71M in cap space to 15 roster spots so far for 2022-23. They’re slated to spend almost $60M for 10 roster spots for 2023-24.

(The sticker shock lingers. In 2024-25: $53.45M to seven players. Six players command almost $48M in cap space for 2025-26.)

Naturally, optimism outweighs gloom and doom. The Rangers are loaded with young talent, and if their veterans age well, they could be a force. At 6-2-1, the Rangers already provide some proof of concept.

If things don’t come together, or they feel a piece or two short of completing the puzzle? That’s when they might regret some of their more luxurious decisions.

(But the Adam Fox extension counts as a necessity for the Rangers.)

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

NHL Rink Wrap: Shesterkin steals another for Rangers; Hurricanes win again

Top player from Sunday in the NHL

Igor Shesterkin, New York Rangers

How good the New York Rangers actually are right now is certainly up for some debate. Their record? Strong. The process behind that record? A little flawed. What they have going for them, though, is the fact they have All-Star level, impact players at every spot of the roster. The most impactful of those is in goal where Igor Shesterkin is playing like the franchise goalie the Rangers want him — and need him — to be. He was sensational again on Sunday night in a 3-1 win over the Seattle Kraken, taking over a game in which the Rangers managed just 18 shots on goals. He has only appeared in 54 regular season games in his NHL career but he is already one of the league’s best goalies. Going from Henrik Lundqvist to him is a pretty nice transition.

Highlights from Sunday in the NHL

This Patrik Laine shot is exactly what the Columbus Blue Jackets hoped they would be getting when they traded for him a year ago (more on that in a minute).

Brett Pesce‘s late power play goal helped the Carolina Hurricanes improve to 8-0-0 on the season. They are getting great goaltending and dominating during 5-on-5 play this season. They look like a legitimate Stanley Cup contender.

This sequence here is the Rangers’ best players taking over a game at the biggest moment. Shesterkin shuts down at scoring chance, Artemi Panarin shows off his patience and playmaking, and Adam Fox joins the rush and scores the game-winning goal.

Three Takeaways from Sunday in the NHL

Laine stays hot as part of Blue Jackets’ surprising start

The Columbus Blue Jackets needed two things to happen to stay competitive this season. Goaltending and Patrik Laine. They are still getting both as part of a 5-3-0 start. They rallied for a 4-3 shootout win on Sunday where Joonas Korpisalo stopped 36 out of 39 shots and Laine added two more points (a goal and an assist) to give him eight points in the Blue Jackets’ first eight games. Laine was a pretty significant disappointment in his first year with the Blue Jackets, but a fresh start and a new season seems to have helped him get back to the impact player he has been.

Ryan Getzlaf makes history for Ducks at just the right time

Ryan Getzlaf is now the Anaheim Ducks’ all-time leading scorer, recording his 989th career point with the team in their 4-2 win over the Montreal Canadiens on Sunday. It came at a pretty important moment as well as it was an assist on Troy Terry‘s game-winning goal. That point moves him ahead of Hall of Famer Teemu Selanne on the team’s all-time list. Getzlaf has yet to score a goal this season but already has seven assists on the season and is closing in on the 1,000 point mark for his career.

Anze Kopitar‘s big season continues

Things have been a bit of a struggle for the Los Angeles Kings so far this season, but Anze Kopitar is showing that he still has what it takes to play at a superstar level. He scored a goal and added an assist in the Kings’ 3-2 win over the Buffalo Sabres on Sunday, giving him 13 points (seven goals, six assists) in the Kings’ first nine games of the season. Simply one of the best players of his era and still going strong.

Monday’s big story

Couple of big stories to watch on Monday. Let us start with the Chicago Blackhawks still looking for their first win of the season. They have a chance to get it against the Ottawa Senators. If they do not beat Ottawa, their next four games are against Carolina, Winnipeg, Nashville, and Pittsburgh. Not exactly an easy stretch.

Also, Alex Ovechkin looks to continue his great start when the Capitals, still unbeaten in regulation, visit the back-to-back Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning.

In Seattle, Connor McDavid makes his first visit to town to play the Kraken as the Oilers look to continue their strong start.

Sunday’s NHL scores

Carolina Hurricanes 2, Arizona Coyotes 1
Anaheim Ducks 4, Montreal Canadiens 2
Los Angeles Kings 3, Buffalo Sabres 2
Columbus Blue Jackets, New Jersey Devils 3 (SO)
New York Rangers 3, Seattle Kraken 1

NHL Power Rankings: Panthers take over top spot; Rangers, Oilers climb

In this week’s edition of the NHL Power Rankings we are still in that murky gray area of the NHL season where teams are producing some wildly unexpected results. There is a lot of noise at this point in the season where we try to sort out what is for real, what is a mirage, and who needs to start thinking about hitting the panic button.

One thing that does seem pretty clear, though? The Florida Panthers look legit, and they take over the No. 1 spot in this week’s NHL Power Rankings thanks to a 5-0 start they are carrying into Monday night’s game. Not only are they unbeaten, they have flat out dominated (what should be) some of the best teams in the league.

The Edmonton Oilers and New York Rangers also make big jumps this week, while Vegas takes an unexpected fall. We take a look at all of that and more.

Where does your team rank?

To this week’s NHL Power Rankings!

1.  Florida Panthers (Last week: 2). They look fantastic. Maybe even better than the preseason expectations. It is okay to get excited, Panthers fans. Your team is legit.

2. Carolina Hurricanes (LW: 1). If Frederik Andersen bounces back here that answers a big, important question for the Hurricanes.

3. Pittsburgh Penguins (LW: 3). They have spent the entire season so far playing without Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, and now are without Bryan Rust and Kris Letang. They are still scoring five goals per game and looking like their Stanley Cup window is open.

4. Edmonton Oilers (LW: 13). When you have Connor McDavid and Leon Drasaitil you should be one of the best teams in the league. Not sure if the Oilers are anything close to that, but you can not argue with the start.

5. St. Louis Blues (LW: 9). Jordan Kyrou looks like he is about to have a breakout season for the Blues, and that will be a welcome development.

6. New York Rangers (LW: 16). Now that Henrik Lundqvist is no longer there to steal games for them Igor Shesterkin has arrived to take over that role.

7. Boston Bruins (LW: 6). Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak are picking right up where they left off — dominating. As long as that line is going, they have a chance on most nights.

8. Minnesota Wild (LW: 7). They are 4-1 entering the week despite getting so-so goaltending and zero goals (but five assists) from Kirill Kaprizov. The goaltending will get better and Kaprizov will start scoring goals.

9. Washington Capitals (LW: 10). The two big questions for the Capitals this season were goaltending and Evgeny Kuznetsov bouncing back. So far so good on both fronts.

10. New York Islanders (LW: 12). They are starting to put it together, and Ilya Sorokin is taking over the goaltending job. He is dominating.

11. San Jose Sharks (LW: 26). A bounce back year for Erik Karlsson seems like a must for this team to be competitive. He has six points in five games so far.

12. Dallas Stars (LW: 14). They needed Tyler Seguin and Alexander Radulov back in the lineup. Now they need them to start scoring goals.

13. Tampa Bay Lightning (LW: 5). They have not yet found their game. Their only two wins came in overtime and they have not actually played with a lead during any game this season this season.

14. Colorado Avalanche (LW: 4). Do not get used to this spot. They are going to get this right. But they are not there yet.

15. New Jersey Devils (LW: 19). Jack Hughes’ injury takes a little wind out of the sails during a nice start. They need him. 

16. Philadelphia Flyers (LW: 17). Cam Atkinson looks like a perfect fit and Joel Farabee is at the very beginning of a major breakout season. All eyes shift to the goaltending, which has been very good so far!

17. Calgary Flames (LW: 20). What a great start for Elias Lindholm with six goals in the first four games.

18. Columbus Blue Jackets (LW: 23). They need Elvis Merzlikins and Patrik Laine to dominate to keep them in it. Both players have been very good so far.

[Related: Laine, Merzlikins powering Blue Jackets’ strong start]

19. Vancouver Canucks (LW: 25). It is going to be remembered as the Conor Garland trade and not the Oliver Ekman-Larsson trade.

20. Winnipeg Jets (LW: 27). Great sign for the Jets: Pierre-Luc Dubois is off to a fantastic start.

21. Detroit Red Wings (LW: 22). Get excited about Lucas Raymond and Moritz Seider. These are going to be the players to turn this thing around.

22. Toronto Maple Leafs (LW: 8). If there is a team that does not deserve the benefit of the doubt early in the season it is this team.

23. Vegas Golden Knights (LW: 11). The main problem here is injuries. A lot of them. To significant players. That better be the problem, anyway.

24. Buffalo Sabres (LW: 24). It was a fun start but reality is going to start setting in here.

25. Ottawa Senators (LW: 21). Even with .925 goaltending this season they have still only won two of their first five games. Not a great sign.

26. Seattle Kraken (LW: 15). They have lost two third period leads during this four-game losing streak entering the week. They spent a lot of money on defense and goaltending to protect those leads.

27. Los Angeles Kings (LW: 18). Anze Kopitar is still great but things have really gone down hill since that big season opening win against the Golden Knights. 

28. Nashville Predators (LW: 29). Big win against Minnesota on Sunday night, but still not sure about this team if Juuse Saros is not superman in net.

29. Anaheim Ducks (LW: 28). Nice start for John Gibson, and there is some promising young talent here. That makes for a promising future. Present is still pretty bleak for the Ducks.

30. Montreal Canadiens (LW: 31). Offense finally woke up against Detroit. Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield combining for zero goals and two assists through six games is making it difficult on the offense.

31. Arizona Coyotes (LW: 30). Not sure what else to say here except this has to be what everybody expected this season.

32. Chicago Blackhawks (LW: 32). Not sure what else to say here except this has been the absolute worst team in the league so far and every game seems to be a new embarrassment for them. Record setting.