Greetings and salutations everyone and welcome to another blog here on BlueCollarBlueShirts.com. I know we say this every year, but yet again – this summer flew by.
By the end of the week, we’ll be into the month of September. After that, it’s Labor Day in America, where once the holiday comes and goes – everything gets rolling again.
Once all of the fantasy football drafts are completed, the NFL kicks off, and the kids are fully returned to school – it will be time for NHL teams to open their training camps, in preparation of the 2022-23 season.
As I said last blog – weren’t we lighting off fireworks on the Fourth of July just last week?
Tonight’s blog will cover a wide array of subjects. Since there isn’t any real Rangers news, nor NHL news either (unless you’re deeply invested about a video game cover), I’m going to share a few columns that I wrote for Stan Fischler, articles that have appeared, or will appear, in “The Hockey News” or on NHL.com. (Truthfully, sometimes I don’t know where Stan will post them!)
As repeatedly mentioned on this site – whatever I write for Fischler gets chopped and edited due to space constraints and word counts – stuff I don’t have to worry about here.
Three columns that will be featured below include, “Why the Metropolitan Division Still Reigns Supreme,” “Who’s Better: Igor Shestyorkin vs Andrei Vasilevskiy,” and “Rangers Beware!”
Of note, “Rangers Beware,” the edited/chopped version, appeared in “The Hockey News” on Monday. You can read that article, plus my other contributions, here: https://thehockeynews.com/news/fischler-report-mackinnon-vs-mcdavid-matching-money-vs-magic
However, before getting all of that, the “DIARY” segment, as I give you an update on my book projects.
As mentioned last week, “One Game at a Time – A Season to Remember,” in e-Book, paperback and hardcover formats, is now on sale.
To buy signed physical copies through me directly, visit: https://bluecollarblueshirts.com/onegamebook/
To buy unsigned copies, visit: Amazon.com
Thanks for all of the support. I don’t run ads, spyware or crowd-funding links on this site, so if you’re looking to support me, buy the books!
In another note, the great Diane Eck, who edits all of my books, is available for freelance work. Diane is an experienced editor. Outside of editing my books, Diane has also edited blogs, websites, documents and other such versions of the printed word.
If you need something professionally edited, you can contact Diane at email@example.com
With “One Game at a Time – A Season to Remember” complete (even though I’ll soon be shipping out all of the pre-orders that I have received – and hopefully by Labor Day); it’s my goal to bring “Tricks of the Trade – A Century-Long Journey Through Every Trade Made In New York Rangers’ History” across the finish line before the first puck drop of the 2022-23 campaign.
However, and as mentioned all summer on this site – I don’t want to rush the book for any sort of a self-imposed deadline.
Currently, the title, which will have to be released in volumes, is in the proof-read phase. I originally had 3,000 pages in my rough draft. I’ve been able to trim 1,000 pages from my rough draft, stuff that was somewhat redundant. That said, it’s just impossible to cover nearly 700 trades and over 3,000 players in just one book, hence the need to release this title in volumes.
As I write these words, I’m nearly complete with my proof-read of volume one, a volume that covers Conn Smythe through Fred Shero (1926-1980). Depending on edits and formatting, this title will run at least three volumes, if not four.
And if you’re wondering how I could fit approximately 60% of Rangers’ history in one title, and then need multiple volumes to cover the rest, that answer is easy. Simply put, as the NHL has evolved over the years (and with more teams too), the more recent general managers of franchise history made more trades than the ones that preceded them. And of course, there’s that Phil Esposito fellow too!
Lastly, I did think that I’d have this book out by now, but as said at the top of this blog – this summer has flown by! However, I promise once published – it will be the best Rangers’ history book on the market. (Confidence, not cockiness!)
Let’s now get into the three meal course of articles. (And yep, I know I could publish these all separately, but you how it works here – one click, 10,000 words and no ads!)
“Why the Metropolitan Division Still Reigns Supreme”
The 2022-23 season marks the NHL’s 105th birthday, where ever since the hockey world’s ousting of Eddie Livingstone in 1917, the NHL has experienced many changes.
During the league’s inaugural year, the NHL only had one division where four teams were featured – the Montreal Canadiens, the Toronto Hockey Club, the Ottawa Senators, and the Montreal Wanderers. By January 2nd, 1918, the league was down to three teams, as a fire at the old Montreal Arena extinguished the Wanderers too.
(A topic for another day? Wanderers’ owner, Sam Lichtenhein, who got the “blackball” rolling on Eddie Livingstone. On one hand, the three letters of the “NHL” as we know it today wouldn’t exist without Lichtenhein. On the other hand, the NHA could have been blowing out 112 candles on their birthday cake in just a few weeks time.)
The NHL pioneers of 1917 would have been head over heels if they saw what their league has become today. Presently, the NHL features four divisions and thirty-two teams. No longer exclusive to Canada, the NHL’s presence is also felt in every major market in the United States.
In 2013, the NHL had their most recent divisional alignment, where as a result, the four divisions that we know today, the Metropolitan, Atlantic, Central and Pacific divisions, were created. Since 2013, there have been a few tinkers, including the additions of two new teams, the Vegas Golden Knights (2017) and the Seattle Kraken (2021). Then there was that pesky pandemic-plagued 2021 season too (the NHL re-aligned to make travel easier), but the less said about that, the better!
During the past nine years, the teams from the Metropolitan Division have been very successful, where the division has fielded three Presidents’ Trophy winners and three Stanley Cup champions.
It’s my belief that not only has the Metropolitan Division been the best of the lot since the latest incarnation of realignment – but the division will continue to be the cream of the crop in Year Ten. Hear me out.
The Pacific Division, and as been the case for many years, is arguably the worst division in hockey. Case in point? The Atlantic and Metropolitan divisions produced four 100+ point teams during the 2021-22 season. The Central Division produced three 100+ point teams (and the Stanley Cup champion too). The Pacific Division featured only two 100+ point teams, as the top two teams of the division, the warring teams that compromise the “Battle of Alberta,” the Flames (111 points), and the Oilers (104 points), were able to feast upon the many bottom-feeders of their field of eight.
While admittedly, the Colorado Avalanche were a dominating club; when push came to shove, the Oilers were swept right out of the 2022 Western Conference Final. Heading into the 2022-23 campaign, the Pacific Division feels like another two-team division, although two of the Californian teams, the Kings and the Ducks, could make it interesting. Even so, neither of these teams are true contenders.
Joe Sakic’s crew in Denver, the now reigning and defending Stanley Cup champions, and who finished with 119 points last season (only the Panthers, the 2022 Presidents’ Trophy winners, fared better during the regular season, as they finished with 122 points), may have an easier course to the playoffs than they did last season.
Just like any other champion from this salary cap era; the top team of the Central Division was forced to shed parts during this off-season. However, so did the teams who nipped at their heels last season, such as the Wild and the Blues. Helping Colorado’s cause in 2023 is that they have two teams from their division that are in full-blown rebuilds, the Blackhawks and the Coyotes. There’s also causes for concern in both Winnipeg and Nashville.
In other words, while Colorado will still have to fend off their rivals – they’ll be ready – and win the Central Division again too.
If there’s any division that can challenge the Metropolitan Division for title of “best division,” it’s the Atlantic Division. However, outside of the impressive Tampa Bay Lightning, perhaps a dynasty team to some – it’s tough to buy any team from the division as a true Stanley Cup contender.
The four lesser ranked teams of the division, the Sabres, the Red Wings, the Senators and the Canadiens, have all improved their rosters this off-season. While the Senators are most likely the team to break through, and give the Bruins (fourth-place last season) a run for their money; the three other teams are still in a state of reconstruction. There’s also no point in kicking teams when they are down, so the less said about the Sabres’ playoff drought, the better!
The top three teams of the Atlantic Division, the Panthers, the Maple Leafs and the Lightning; outside of Jon Cooper’s bunch – neither of these teams feel like true playoff threats. The Panthers, a fun team to watch in the regular season, were exposed during the playoffs. The team from Toronto? I believe everyone is aware of that “1967” number – and all of the first-round exits too – exits which also predate the founding of the Atlantic Division.
Throughout the tenure of the Metropolitan Division, it were Alex Ovechkin’s men that have won the most division titles (5). They also won a Stanley Cup in 2018. However, each team has had their success in the playoffs, including the Pittsburgh Penguins, who won back-to-back Stanley Cups (2016 and 2017).
The Capitals and Penguins have been perennial playoff contenders during the past decade. While their glory years may be behind them – neither team can be counted out. They still remain as threats – and they will be active during the 2023 NHL Trade Deadline too.
The two teams from New York, the Rangers and the Islanders, feel like two clubs who are going in different directions – but I wouldn’t rule out either team.
The Islanders, who prior to having their 2021-22 season marred by scheduling and COVID issues, gave Tampa their most amount of headaches during the two years where the Lightning won the Stanley Cup (2020 and 2021). While they are an aging team, and with a new coach to boot; Isles’ head-honcho Lou Lamoriello is banking that last season was an aberration.
The Rangers, just like the Isles, have also played the Lightning on two occasions during an Eastern Conference Final (2015 and 2022). “The Turk’s” team is on the rise, featuring the 2022 Vezina Trophy winner, Igor Shestyorkin, and many successful superstars such as Adam Fox, Mika Zibanejad, Chris Kreider and Artemi Panarin.
One team that will look to derail a Rangers’ return to the Eastern Conference Final are the Carolina Hurricanes, a team that after dropping the Bruins in seven games during the first-round of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs – were then dropped themselves in seven games during the second-round by the Rangers.
Somewhat similar to previous Stanley Cup champions, including the Avalanche, Lightning and Capitals – the Canes, no longer made of candy anymore, have been knocking at the door. They just haven’t blown the door off yet. Rod Brind’Amour, bench boss in Raleigh, will have his troops rallied up, as Carolina tries to win their second Stanley Cup in franchise history (2006).
The three cellar dwellers of the 2021-22 campaign, the Blue Jackets, the Devils and the Flyers, have all made tremendous improvements during this off-season. Of course, no move was more shocking and bigger than Columbus’ free agent acquisition of Johnny Gaudreau. While Johnny Hockey can’t be tasked to do everything; the state of Ohioan hockey should improve – including the Blue Jackets’ attempts to lure other name brand players.
The Devils, who feel like they’ve been rebuilding ever since their first-round loss during the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs (five-games to Tampa), should take the next step this season. Jack Hughes, now handsomely paid, looks ready. The addition of Ondrej Palat only helps the residents of Newark, NJ. And if head coach Lindy Ruff has a slow start? Andrew Brunette, who coached the Panthers to the Presidents’ Trophy in 2022, only to then be exiled during the off-season, will be waiting in the wings.
The orange-and-black attack in Philadelphia weren’t supposed to fall to the depths of the division. However, following a seven-game second-round series loss to the Islanders in 2020 – the team hasn’t been the same since. In fact, you can say their “bubble was popped,” ever since the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
While the Flyers may have a tough time regaining prominence, they have added two strong-willed men to their organization, in the form of head coach John Tortorella and the offensive-defenseman point machine, Tony DeAngelo. The Flyers will lose games like any other NHL squad, but at the same time – losing won’t be tolerated.
When I look at all four divisions, the Metropolitan Division, and like always, continues to feature the most amount of Stanley Cup contenders. Conversely, I see the other divisions as two team divisions, where come playoff time – it becomes a one-team affair.
Then again, who knows what will happen next season? That’s why they play the games on the ice!
Drop the puck.
“Rangers Beware! Potholes Chris Drury and Company Should Avoid”
It’s my opinion that the New York Rangers recently completed their most stupendous 180 in their 95-year history following the events of the 2021-22 season. I feel so strongly about this, that I just released a four-volume book set on the campaign, entitled “One Game at a Time – A Season to Remember.”
In other words – I have a ton of confidence in both Rangers’ g.m. Chris Drury, and head coach Gerard Gallant, as the duo approach their second season together in the Big Apple.
While no NHL season is “easy,” Drury and Gallant’s sophomore outing won’t be as easy as their first. Just like any other franchise, those three ugly words, “the salary cap,” have altered the Rangers’ trajectory and roster.
Following the second-best trade deadline of franchise history (1994 being the first); Drury was able to add Andrew Copp, Frank Vatrano, Tyler Motte and Justin Braun to a team that featured stars and depth players such as Ryan Strome, Alexandar Georgiev and Kevin Rooney. All of these men, pieces of a team that reached the 2022 Eastern Conference Final, will begin the 2022-23 season elsewhere.
From a “big-splash” perspective (where this splash may be more of a ripple than a cannonball off of the highest of diving boards); during this off-season, Drury signed center Vincent Trocheck as a way to off-set his salary-cap driven losses. After inking Trocheck, Drury then made a flurry of depth signings, including Louis Domingue, Jaroslav Halak, Ryan Carpenter, Gustav Nydahl and Turner Elson.
With life-changing money contracts having already been signed with Igor Shestyorkin, Artemi Panarin, Jacob Trouba and Chris Kreider; huge raises for Mika Zibanejad and Adam Fox also go into effect during the 2022-23 season, where in the case of the 2021 Norris Trophy winner – he goes from a player earning $950,000 per season to a player earning $9,500,000 per season. Not a shabby raise if I say so myself!
The key for the Rangers, and really, what they will be banking on during the entire 2022-23 season, is the growth of their youths – especially with another wave of cap issues to deal with come the summer of 2023.
Alexis Lafreniere, famously known as the first overall selection of the 2020 NHL Entry Draft, has shown improvement during his young career – a career that started in the most unorthodox of fashions (the pandemic).
During the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Lafreniere showed us that he could hang with the big boys. It’s up to him to follow-up on that performance during this upcoming season. He’s also one of the players that will be up for a new contract once the season is complete.
Lafreniere’s first-round pick peers, Filip Chytil (twenty-first overall in 2017), Vitali Kravtsov (ninth overall in 2018), and Kaapo Kakko (second overall in 2019), will be relied on to take the next step of their careers this season. This trio, collectively, has been more disappointing than impressive thus far; but for the Rangers to replicate their success from a season prior – these three need to step up – and step up big-time.
Other first-round picks of the Rangers’ youth movement could play into the equation.
Defenseman Braden Schneider (nineteenth overall in 2020) is already penciled into the Rangers’ 2022-23 line-up. All he has to do is avoid the cliched “sophomore jinx” and he’ll be fine.
A pair of 2021 draft picks, Brennan Othmann (sixteenth overall) and Will Cuylle (sixtieth overall) have a puncher’s chance of making the roster.
Archaic NHL rules prevent Othmann from spending the season in the AHL. If he doesn’t make the varsity roster, he’ll be forced to return to the Flint Firebirds. Cuylle, due to being eleven months older than Othmann, can play in Hartford if the Rangers can’t accommodate a spot for him.
Drury and Gallant, now steering the wheel of a Stanley Cup contender, will have to find a perfect mix of veterans and young players in their quest for the silver. It’s up to the two hockey savvy men, both who finished as second runner-up in their respective 2022 NHL year-end award categories (Jack Adams and Jim Gregory), to not get caught up in one player at the expense of the team.
If Kakko, Kravtsov and/or Chytil can’t turn it on, instead, for the sake of the greater good; Drury and Gallant will have to rely on veterans such as Dryden Hunt, Sammy Blais, Ryan Reaves, Ryan Carpenter and Johnny Brodzinski to shoulder the load.
With Strome now in Anaheim, if “The Breadman,” Artemi Panarin, can’t recreate his chemistry with his new center, Vincent Trocheck, it may be time to explore an All-Star line featuring Chris Kreider, Mika Zibanejad and Panarin – a line that Gallant exclusively used whenever chasing a goal late into a game.
Defensively, the Rangers have their top five spots locked-up, with Adam Fox, Ryan Lindgren, Jacob Trouba, K’Andre Miller and Braden Schneider leading the way. A battle for the sixth-and-final spot will take place between Zac Jones, Matthew Robertson, Nils Lundkvist and the rarely-used Libor Hajek.
As is always the case, whatever roster the Rangers field on opening night won’t be the same line-up come playoff time.
If the Rangers can’t find a steady sixth defenseman, in addition to their other perceived issues, Drury should be willing to replicate his 2022 NHL Trade Deadline, and beef-up his team for a run at the Cup – and at all expenses. (Hello Patrick Kane, goodbye Kaapo Kakko?)
Then again, at the end of the day, the Rangers’ season, just as was the case last year, may rest on the laurels of the 2022 Vezina Trophy winner himself, Igor Shestyorkin.
No matter what the team in front of him does, most likely, it will be #31 in the barrel who determines how far the Rangers go. I’m looking forward to it.
“Who’s Better: Igor Shestyorkin vs Andrei Vasilevskiy”
Throughout this summer, a time where “Who’s Better?” debates are commonplace, we’ve seen many hockey pundits weigh in on Connor McDavid vs Auston Matthews, Adam Fox vs Cale Makar, and other NHLers dripped in hardware. One stone left to be turned over? The goaltenders.
The hockey world can argue about who is presently the best puckstopper of the league, but what can’t be argued are the two names of that argument – Igor Shestyorkin of the New York Rangers and Andrei Vasilevskiy of the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The fact that both Shestyorkin and Vasilevskiy are Russian is not a coincidence. In a way, the two top goalies of today have a link to perhaps the best Russian goaltender to ever do it, the Class of 1989 Hockey Hall of Famer, Vladislav Tretiak.
When Vladislav Tretiak was elected as the head of the Russian Ice Hockey Federation on April 25th, 2006, one of his main objectives was to produce the most tremendous youth goalies in all of the world, goalies who would then grow into potential Hockey Hall of Famers – just like himself. Over time, Vasilevskiy and Shestyorkin would benefit from Tretiak’s vision.
Vasilevskiy, born on July 25th, 1994 got there first, as he’s nearly eighteen months older than Shestyorkin, who was born on December 30th, 1995. Vasilevskiy, who has multiple international medals to his name, won his first medal (a bronze) during the 2011 World Junior Under 18 Championships. Shestyorkin, who followed in his peer’s footsteps, won his first medal (a silver) during the 2015 World Junior Championships.
Once arriving to the NHL, the two goalies took a somewhat similar path, as both would eventually replace successful franchise goalies – although Shestyorkin taking over for Henrik Lundqvist may have not been as easy as it was for Vasilevskiy, when “The Big Cat” took over for Ben Bishop.
Vasilevskiy made his NHL debut during the 2014-15 season, where at the time, his surname created havoc for most spell-checkers! Today, he’s a household name.
During the 2016-17 campaign, #88 in Tampa blue became the team’s starter. It’s been smooth sailing ever since.
Since becoming Tampa’s main man, Vasilevskiy has backstopped himself into four NHL All-Star games, one Presidents’ Trophy (2019), one Vezina Trophy (2019), two Stanley Cups (2020 and 2021), and one Conn Smythe Trophy (2021).
If you consider names like Lundqvist, Carey Price, Marc-Andre Fleury, Jonathan Quick and others of that ilk from a previous generation – then without doubt – Vasilevskiy, who may be a Hall of Famer already, is the best goalie of his generation.
Enter challenger, #31 from the Rangers, Igor Shestyorkin.
The 2022 Vezina Trophy winner’s path wasn’t without obstacles as Vasilevskiy’s was – far from it.
Between having to wait for the end of the Lundqvist era, a drama-filled 2020-21 season, and COVID-19 – Shestyorkin had to toil around a bit in the AHL before making the jump to the NHL in January of 2020. Once called-up, the pandemic hit less than two months later. Once the NHL returned to play, the Rangers started to drown in controversy.
Come the 2021-22 season, Shestyorkin’s first 82-game campaign as a starter, the net was his, and all of the never-ending negative back-page stories were gone.
By the end of the 2021-22 season, this became apparent – Vasilevskiy began his career with a Stanley Cup contender. Shestyorkin MADE his team a contender. Suffice to say, there’s a reason why Shestyorkin not only won the Vezina Trophy in 2022 – but finished second runner-up in the Hart Trophy too – a MVP award that’s decided by a pro-Canadian media.
Entering the 2022-23 season, Vasilevskiy has played in 365 NHL games, where he’s compiled a record of 229-101-24, a GAA of 2.50 and a save percentage of .919. Shestyorkin has played in 100 NHL games, where he’s compiled a record of 62-29-7, a GAA of 2.31 and a save percentage of .928.
Perhaps more important than that (especially if you consider playoff hockey as the end-all be-all), it’s Vasilevskiy who has an Eastern Conference Final win (2022) over Shestyorkin. Furthermore, it’s Vasilevskiy who currently owns a slew of playoff records, records that go along with all of his impressive performances during elimination games.
Due to age and experience, Vasilevskiy is still the top goaltender of the league. Had the 2022 Olympics featured NHLers, it’s most likely that Shestyorkin would have been backing him up.
However, if there’s any goalie that will wrest away the title of “best goalie of the league” from Vasilevskiy, it’s his comrade, a goaltender looking to replicate all of Vasilevskiy’s winning, accomplishments and hardware, Igor Shestyorkin.
Perhaps the two will see each other again, a “Round Two,” during the 2023 Eastern Conference Final. If that’s the case, sit back and enjoy the best goaltending on the planet.
My first plug of tonight’s blog – the mandatory plug for my book, “The New York Rangers Rink of Honor and the Rafters of Madison Square Garden”.
As mentioned previously, the book is now available in hardcover, in paperback and in Kindle formats. To purchase a copy of the book, visit this link:
For those still looking for signed paperback versions of the book, I have re-ordered more copies. I now have a few signed copies for sale at $25 a pop (includes shipping price) through me directly. Here is all the information on that:
Here are my last few blogs, in case you missed them:
Ryan Strome Interview; New Duck Quacks About His Entire Rangers’ Career; The Unimpressive World Juniors Tournament & The Disney Finish, Evaluating Prospects; Thoughts on Othmann, Garand and Cuylle, “ONE GAME AT A TIME” Now On Sale & More
Sample Chapter of Upcoming NYR “Tricks of the Trades” Book; Glen Sather, James Dolan & The Henrik Lundqvist Draft, Nazem Kadri Flames Islanders; Isle Problems, Three NHL Teams To Watch, An Interesting MAF Return Scenario, “One Game at a Time” Presale & More
“Then and Now: Alexei Kovalev and Artemi Panarin,” Phil Esposito and Russian Entry into the NHL, “One Game at a Time” Preorder Info, World Juniors & More
If you haven’t already, subscribe to this blog for the next update:
Up next for yours truly: rifling through pre-orders and completing “Tricks of the Trade!” I can’t wait to turn this book over to my editor!
Enjoy the rest of your summer and the holiday. I should be back next Monday – barring anything major taking place. And I hope nothing major takes place!
Thanks for reading.
LET’S GO RANGERS!
@NYCTHEMIC on the Tweeter machine