Just in case you live under a rock and haven’t read a shred of hockey-related news in the past week, the NHL is officially on its way back. Now that the NHLPA and the owners have agreed on a six-year extension for the collective bargaining agreement, the league can officially announce schedules, bubble protocols, and everything in between.
The players can finally begin their transition to Edmonton and Toronto as they adapt to life in a sport fueled bubble. There’s a fair amount of questions to still be answered, plus many players have already chosen to opt-out, but at least we’re returning back to some sort of normalcy.
Hockey Is Back
New York Rangers hockey will be returning to your television screens on Aug. 1 for Game 1 of their play-in series against the Carolina Hurricanes. A specific time is still to be determined, but it’s safe to assume they’ll be playing in one of the mid-afternoon time slots.
Four other series will begin the same day, all of which will be play-in series. If it goes the distance, the Rangers and ‘Canes will be playing five games in an eight-day span. That’s quite the cram of games in a small amount of time, but at least they won’t have to deal with travel.
The Rangers will be staying in Toronto’s Royal York Hotel along with the Hurricanes, New York Islanders, Toronto Maple Leafs, Columbus Blue Jackets, Florida Panthers, and Montreal Canadiens. The remaining Eastern Conference teams will be staying in Hotel X. One can only hope the NHL gives fans some sort of online access to these hotels. I can only imagine what kind of nonsense Tony DeAngelo or Artemi Panarin will get into during their stay in the bubble.
Should Kakko Sit Out?
Through all the excitement of hockey returning, it’s pretty easy to forget the severity and harrowing reason why the season was originally suspended. The health of players still reigns as the very top priority in the return to play plan.
With that in mind, the Rangers will have an interesting decision to make with Kaapo Kakko and his Type 1 diabetes in the coming weeks. John Davidson had originally stated that their plan was to keep their coveted rookie under tight surveillance under team doctors. (from ‘Kaapo Kakko’s diabetes may keep him from Rangers if NHL returns,’ New York Post, 05/28/2020) News of the Canadiens’ Max Domi foregoing his return due to his Type 1 diabetes and celiac condition may change that conversation though.
The Canadiens’ announced that Domi would wait 7 to 10 days before joining the team at training camp in order to avoid any potential COVID-19 outbreaks. To make the situation even bleaker, at least three Canadiens players have tested positive for the illness.
The Minnesota Wild’s Luke Kunin will also be faced with a similar situation. Despite what doctors may say, the Rangers must approach Kakko’s health with the utmost importance. He may be included in the 24-man roster, but there’s plenty of reason for him to spend some time outside of the bubble before things are under more control.
Brett Pesce Unlikely for Play-In Series
The Hurricanes will be missing a key piece of their defense when the playoff begin. Brett Pesce went under the knife for shoulder surgery back on March 5 and will reportedly remain out of the lineup.
Pesce logged the third most ice-time per game and second most time on the penalty kill for the ‘Canes blue line. He also only trailed Jaccob Slavin in five-on-five minutes per game. His absence should thrust Brady Skjei or Joel Edmundson into the limelight. How they perform is left to be seen, but Ranger fans know Skjei better than most and his defensive play can be…lacking at times.
Dougie Hamilton will be making his return to the lineup after breaking his leg earlier this season but the ‘Canes blueline will have some holes by the time Aug. 1 rolls around.
Rangers a Destination for Johnny Hockey?
There have been some rumblings that Johnny Gaudreau won’t be re-signing in Calgary when his contract expires following the 2021-22 season. (from ‘Is it time for the Flames to consider trading Johnny Gaudreau?,’ The Athletic, 11/18/2019) The 26-year-old star forward had spent the better part of his hockey career in the Northeast before he was draft to Calgary in 2011. Apparently, the Rangers could be a trade destination for the New Jersey native.
The Rangers seem to be connected to every trade or free agent rumor, but the two parties do have some reason to make a deal. The Flames have a big weakness in goal and the Rangers are blessed with young promising goalies. A trade surrounding Alexandar Georgiev could be an enticing package, but it’s tough to really do anything but speculate right now.
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Unfortunately, with the flat salary cap remaining at $81.5 million for the next two years, it’s unlikely to see either team making such a massive blockbuster deal at this time. Perhaps in the future depending on how the Rangers restricted and unrestricted free agents shape out, but for now, Johnny Hockey will remain in Calgary for their play-in series.
What’s Next For the Rangers
Aug. 1 will be circled on everyone’s calendars now. The Rangers will continue training camp and bringing the full team together as they prepare for their best-of-five series. The Rangers’ final 24-team roster will be unveiled on July 13, but changes may still be made before puck drop, depending on the status of the hub city bubble and the COVID-19 pandemic.