Kyrie is an agenda whether he likes it or not

Is that really where you want to be, Kyrie? This is a collection of people who merely stand apart from logic, reason, and decency only to stand apart from logic, reason, and decency. There’s no other goal than that. But then again, that might be Kyrie’s only goal, too, to stand out. There is no overarching ethos at work. It’s just being a petulant child for the sake of proving that you can be a petulant child.

I don’t know who these people are that Kyrie hears about losing their jobs due to not wanting to take a safe and free vaccine that helps keep us all safer, but the only ones I hear about are cops. Y’know, the people Kyrie wanted to cancel the playoff bubble in 2020 over to protest and work against. So how does this all line up, exactly?

Kyrie claims he’s not hurting anybody. But he is. It can be as micro as his teammates in a quest to win a championship, or as macro as anyone he interacts with while he’s not vaccinated. Maybe it’s minuscule, maybe not enough for him to care, but it’s there. We tried letting people just get it themselves, because we assumed for our stupid rational and logical reasons that people wanted the pandemic to be over. That didn’t work. We tried bribing people. That didn’t work. So all that’s left is to force people in the ways we can, which is in the workplace and threatening livelihoods. Carrot, stick, all that.

At the end of the day, Kyrie almost certainly isn’t interested in standing for anyone. These are just noises he’s making to justify being different for the sake of being different without really making any statement. It’s not even a rebel without a cause. It’s just a wannabe without a cause.

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TNT drops puck

TNT debuted its hockey coverage last night, an evening after ESPN did so. I don’t know what it is, but everything looks brighter on TNT. That goes for their NBA coverage, and even AEW. It helps the white surface of a hockey rink really pop. When they get some better jerseys to display it’s going to be awesome.

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That said, there wasn’t too much new about anything they did either. Unless we count Wayne Gretzky’s dye job that made him look like he just walked off the set of “Battle Of The Network Stars.” They added a penalty timer imposed on the ice during power plays which was cool. They had a shot counter on the scorebug which ESPN didn’t. All pluses.

But it sounded just about the same as we’re used to. Most of the personalities on TV are ones that we heard on NBC, and those that weren’t provided zilch. At the conclusion of the Rangers-Capitals game, we had Rick Tocchet saying he would have liked to have seen Ryan Reaves run some anonymous Capital because the Rangers got their ass whooped. Gee, can’t figure out why Tocchet’s stint as coach in Arizona ended up with everyone’s dick in the dirt.

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We also had Gretzky being brought in during the Caps-Rangers game and having to stumble while two goals were scored and they were talking about pretty much nothing. Unless you count Eddie Olczyk hotly reminding Gretzky and everyone else that they played in the league at the same time. No one cares what player Gretzky thinks Ovechkin reminds him of from 35 fucking years ago. And yes Eddie, a very small sliver of us remember that you and Wayne played at the same time, because the images of those Oilers turning your Hawks into a used sponge are burned into our psyches. But no one else cares.

It’s only one night, and there’s plenty of time to work out the kinks. God knows there’s enough of them.

Capitals – Rangers about Ovechkin passing Dionne, not Tom Wilson

Like it or not, Tom Wilson was on the tip of many tongues heading into Wednesday’s Rangers – Capitals season-opener. Ultimately, goals win games, not knuckle-sandwiches. Maybe Alex Ovechkin‘s big game (and the Capitals’ 5-1 win) can serve as such a reminder for a Rangers team hoping to take a step toward contending.

Ovechkin passes Dionne for fifth all-time in goals

Heading into Wednesday’s Rangers – Capitals game, it wasn’t even clear if Alex Ovechkin could play. Naturally, he didn’t just play — Ovechkin starred.

Not surprisingly, Ovechkin and the Capitals did their greatest damage against the Rangers on the power play. At first, though, it was Ovechkin notching assists.

Just 4:39 into the first period, Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov collected assists on a T.J. Oshie power-play goal. About midway through the second, Ovechkin and Kuznetsov also assisted on a Justin Schultz PPG.

Then, in the third period, Ovechkin returned to goal-scoring mode. First, Ovechkin tied Marcel Dionne for fifth all-time in goals with number 731. (Yes, it was on the power play.)

Next, Ovechkin scored goal 732 (technically) shorthanded, moving all alone to fifth in NHL history. Watch Ovechkin pass Dionne for fifth-all time with goal 732 in the video above this post’s headline.

Dionne wished Ovechkin the best, noting that he’ll likely pass Brett Hull (fourth, 741 goals) soon. It’s a fun watch, as Dionne discusses Ovechkin’s pursuit of Gordie Howe and Wayne Gretzky, too.

Take a look at where Ovechkin sits among the NHL’s all-time goal scorers after goal 732:

  1. Wayne Gretzky – 894 goals.
  2. Gordie Howe – 801 goals.
  3. Jaromir Jagr – 766 goals.
  4. Brett Hull – 741 goals.
  5. Alex Ovechkin – 732 goals.
  6. Marcel Dionne – 731 goals.

Heck of a way to show that Ovechkin’s not slowing in his pursuit of Gretzky’s record. At least not yet.

Quiet night on the Rangers vs. Tom Wilson front

Did the Rangers focus on anti-Tom-Wilson-weaponry this offseason? If so, they didn’t want to admit it. (Wilson doesn’t want to either, it seems.)

Either way, Tom Wilson wasn’t much of a focus in the Rangers – Capitals season-opener. That’s true even though Lead Wilson Deterrent Ryan Reaves ended up being available.

Perhaps this 5-1 game hit the sweet spot: not competitive enough to get truly nasty, not embarrassing enough to set off a series of fights?

For those wanting Tom Wilson – Rangers fireworks, they’ll need to wait quite a while for the next chance. The two teams don’t face off again until Feb. 24 in Washington.

Maybe Ovechkin will be breathing down Jagr’s neck (766 goals) by then?

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 stick together after Reaves injury, Kreider – Subban fight

Yes, it’s the preseason, but the Rangers’ offseason direction faced an early test thanks to a situation involving Ryan Reaves, P.K. Subban, and Chris Kreider.

As you can see in the video above, Reaves was shaken up after getting tangled up with Subban. Opinions may vary, but Rangers coach Gerard Gallant didn’t believe Subban was malicious toward Reaves.

“I don’t think it was a vicious hit or a slew foot,” Gallant said, via The New York Post’s Larry Brooks. “But you know, when you see a guy get hurt and guys step up and do a little bit of a response there, that’s what you want.”

Indeed, the Rangers did respond. Specifically, Chris Kreider challenged P.K. Subban to a fight later in that game.

At the moment, Gallant considers Reaves day-to-day with a lower-body injury. Perhaps the outlook will change, but right now, the Rangers believe Reaves avoided a major injury. Considering how awkward that fall looked, that’s a relief for Reaves and the Rangers.

Subban understands Rangers’ response; Kreider responds after Reaves injury

Generally speaking, Subban understood Kreider and the Rangers’ responses, and hoped Reaves avoided injury.

” … Listen, things happen on the ice,” Subban said, via Corey Masisak of The Athletic. “It was obviously an accident. I’ve been playing in this league a long time. I don’t go out there and try and injury anybody or anything like that.”

Rangers such as Kevin Rooney viewed it all as an example of the team sticking together.

That said, the true test boils down to the Rangers finding the right balance between responding and avoiding the penalty box. The Rangers may not admit it, but most view their larger offseason gameplan as a reaction to Tom Wilson‘s menace. Trading for Reaves was a part of that, but not the only area of emphasis, something the Rangers displayed in the enforcer’s absence in that exhibition bout.

During Wednesday’s preseason game, they struck that proper balance. The Rangers beat the Devils 6-2.

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.

New York Rangers: 2021-22 NHL Season Preview

The 2021-22 NHL season is coming and it’s time to take a look at all 32 teams. Over the next month we’ll be examining best- and worst-case scenarios, looking at the biggest questions, breakout candidates, and more for each franchise. Today, we preview the New York Rangers.

2020-21 Season Review

• Record: 27-23-6 (60 points); fifth place in East Division
• Postseason: Missed playoffs. Drafted Brennan Othmann with the 16th pick.
• Offensive leader: Artemi Panarin (42 games, 17 goals, 41 assists).

• Free Agent Additions: Barclay Goodrow (trade from Lightning), Ryan Reaves (trade from Golden Knights), Patrik Nemeth, Dryden Hunt, Sammy Blais (trade from Blues), Jarred Tinordi.
• Free Agent Subtractions: Pavel Buchnevich (trade to Blues), Tony DeAngelo (buyout), Colin Blackwell (Kraken expansion draft), Phillip Di Giuseppe (Canucks), Brendan Smith (Hurricanes), Brett Howden (trade to Golden Knights).

Biggest question for Rangers

• Did they lose their wits chasing grit?

Did the Rangers abruptly fire Jeff Gorton and make other key front office changes because of the Tom Wilson – Artemi Panarin incident? Was countering Wilson the guiding light during Chris Drury’s first offseason as Rangers GM?

Ryan Reaves said that he wasn’t acquired because of Tom Wilson — at least not directly. Even Tom Wilson himself insisted it wasn’t all about him.

Sometimes people want to ignore the elephant in the room. Sometimes they’re stubborn, or in denial, about obvious truths. Especially when one person seems to leave you wildly flustered, and possibly overreacting.

[PHT’s offseason trade tracker]

Wilson-related or not, the Rangers sacrificed skill for grit before the 2021-22 season. Maybe losing Pavel Buchnevich will make sense in the long run. But next season? It sure feels like a painful subtraction, and maybe even an unforced error.

When the Lightning traded for Barclay Goodrow, it was part of a series of moves to go over the top. That was already a stacked team, one that forged a historic regular season. The Rangers, meanwhile, haven’t truly made the playoffs since 2016-17.

(No, you should not count getting squashed like a bug during the 2019-20 Qualifying Round.)

So, was this team already skilled enough to focus so much on sandpaper? It seems dubious. Then again, Gerard Gallant worked wonders in Vegas, and sometimes that team got a bit fixated on ferocity.

What’s the salary cap situation?

Even during a genuine rebuild, the Rangers weren’t shy to spend big money on big names. They’re still the Rangers, after all.

Artemi Panarin and Jacob Trouba combine for about $19.6M in cap hits through 2025-26. Maybe the Rangers should have traded Chris Kreider. Instead, they kept him on a deal that could get scary ($6.5M AAV through 2026-27). Igor Shesterkin could end up being better than a $5.67M goalie. With just 47 games of NHL experience, Shesterkin still counts as a leap of faith.

That’s already a lot of money for a team that hasn’t delivered yet. And things could get even more expensive for the Rangers after the 2021-22 season. (Or there could be some agonizing losses.)

Ryan Strome ($4.5M) and most importantly, Mika Zibanejad ($5.35M) are both 28-year-old centers entering contract years. Two different players, sure, but both present the Rangers with riddles to solve.

[PHT’s 2021 NHL Free Agent Tracker]

Adam Fox was already surging toward a big payday. He’s 23, a right-handed defenseman, and just won a Norris Trophy. Mix in a sometimes-outrageous offseason of spending on defensemen, and ominous music plays for the Rangers’ salary cap. Fox merely being an RFA gives the Rangers a key advantage, but Cale Makar‘s $9M seems like a reasonable placeholder. If maybe an optimistic one.

Fox isn’t the only young player the Rangers need to leave room for.

Kaapo Kakko enters a contract year, while Alexis Lafreniere has two years left on his rookie contract.

Overall, the Rangers need to get the balance right. If they sign both assuming too much growth, they could get burned. If they wait too long, Kakko and Lafreniere could drive up their value. There are worse problems to have, but these are challenges nonetheless.

The Rangers approach the tougher stages of a rebuild. Will they turn young prospects into stars, ideally on team-friendly contracts? Can they support that young talent with savvy additions? Chris Drury has his work cut out for him.

Breakout Candidate

• Kakko/Lafreniere

All but the most patient observers would admit that there have been some disappointments with both prospects so far.

In the cases of both Kakko and Lafreniere, they were hyped as very NHL-ready prospects. Instead, each player has struggled with immediate jumps to the big time.

Those stumbles aren’t the end of the world. Thanks to having two seasons in the NHL, Kakko serves as the best reminder to be patient.

Consider his Evolving Hockey Player Card from 2019-20, which was concerning even with caveats for young players:

Kakko Evo Player Card 2019-20 New York Rangers: 2021-22 NHL Season Preview
via Evolving Hockey

Yikes, right? Then, in 2020-21, Kakko looked like a player who could really gain steam.

Kakko player card Evo New York Rangers: 2021-22 NHL Season Preview
via Evolving Hockey

Frankly, if I were running the Rangers, I’d be tempted to extent Kakko before he surges to another level. (If he’d listen to offers right now, of course.)

With some prospects, people picture too much growth. They assume a 25-year-old player has more runway than maybe they actually do. But Kakko (20) and Lafreniere (19) are both indeed in the age ranges where players can take big leaps.

Don’t be surprised if both do so. Maybe the Rangers are assuming too much, but betting in young players is better than hoping aging veterans can hold on.

Bonus points if other young players come through for the Rangers in 2021-22, too. Ideally, Vitali Kravstov isn’t just learning from Ryan Reaves …

Best-Case Scenario for 2021-22 Rangers

Gallant represents a huge coaching upgrade. Panarin – Zibanejad tear it up, and stay healthy. Their defense improves, and Shesterkin cleans up the rest. Kakko, Lafreniere, and others flourish. The Rangers become dangerous, and in a hurry.

Worst-Case Scenario for 2021-22 Rangers

That fixation on feistiness leaves the Rangers with more fights and hits, but the same middling standings results. Kakko and Lafreniere stagnate. Gallant’s system can’t overcome limitations on defense beyond Fox and a few others. Things fall apart, and management takes all the wrong lessons from that collapse.

PointsbetNew York Rangers’ Stanley Cup odds

+2200 (PointsBet is our Official Sports Betting Partner and we may receive compensation if you place a bet on PointsBet for the first time after clicking our links.)

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.