Some Rangers would like to answer.
With a deadline looming for the NHL to decide whether to participate in the 2018 Winter Olympics in the Republic of Korea and the league’s Board of Governors meeting next week to discuss the options, several Rangers who are former Olympians said they hope there’s a path to East Asia.
The issue: The NHLPA has voted to reject an offer by the league which would have extended the current collective bargaining agreement by three years in exchange for its decision to participate in the games, to be held in February 2018 and will be televised by NBC.
“There’s got to be a little give and take,” Rangers center Derek Stepan told Newsday. Stepan played for Team USA in Sochi in 2014 and is the Blueshirts’ player representative. “I felt it wasn’t going to be a take-it-or-leave-it, and we hope there will be more discussions.”
There is some urgency: The schedule for the 2017-18 NHL season in starting to be assembled, and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has said recently that a decision should be made by early January.
Some owners are reluctant to shut down the league for three weeks, and aren’t sure that any bounce from the Games — with a 14-hour time difference to the East Coast — is worth the interruption. NHL players have participated in the last five Olympics, but some owners are wary.
Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh, another member of Team USA in 2014, said there was trepidation about going to Russia, which was unfounded.
Said McDonagh: “Everybody said there would be problems in Sochi, and that turned out not to be the case, it was a great event and we all enjoyed it. I don’t see why this would be any different.”
In 2015-16, NHL players lost about 16 percent of their paychecks to escrow, and that appears to have been one sticking point in extending the agreement.
“You always want another opportunity to represent your country,” said Henrik Lundqvist, who won gold with Team Sweden in 2006 and silver in 2014. “Certainly, players look at the escrow issue,” he added.
Rangers forward Mats Zuccarello played for Norway’s national team this summer in the Olympic qualifiers to secure a spot for his homeland.
“Of course, you want to go, you always want to play for your country,” said Zuccarello, who played in Sochi and the 2010 Games in Vancouver. “If not, I’d be disappointed. But this is the team that’s paying me and I have to listen to what they, and the league, decide.”
ON THE ROAD AGAIN
The old Celtic blessing that begins: “May the road rise up to meet you . . . ” sounds appropriate for the Rangers for the rest of the season. Actually, the road could rise up to haunt them.
Starting in Arizona two days before New Year’s Eve, 24 of the last 45 games will be on the road.
The Rangers (currently 7-4-0, 14 points on the road) were mediocre away from Madison Square Garden last year, with the fewest points (43) in their last seven full seasons. They’re on pace for 50 or more points, but the schedule is jammed in the second half and two of the final three games to close the regular season are in Ottawa and Washington.
Here’s their road record in recent seasons:
2015-1619-17-5 43 pts
2014-1528-11-2 58 pts
2013-14 25-14-2 52 pts
2011-12 24-12-553 pts
2010-11 24-16-149 pts
2009-10 20-16-5 45 pts
2008-09 17-19-5 39 pts
The Rangers’ minor-league affiliate — Hartford Wolf Pack (6-10-3, 15 points) — have hit a rough patch. The Utica Comets also have 15, the Bakersfield Condors have 13, the Binghamton Senators, 12. Twenty-six AHL teams are better so far. Nicklas Jensen (7-5-12 ) leads Hartford in shots with 61; defenseman Ryan Graves (3-9-12) has 60.
A LIFE-AFTER-LUNDQVIST POSSIBILITY?
Prospect Igor Shestyorkin, who many view as the heir apparent to Henrik Lundqvist, is dazzling observers of the KHL. The 20-year-old netminder, who was drafted in the fourth round in 2014, has a stunning record for St. Petersburg SKA. In 28 games, he is 21-2-3, with eight shutouts, a 1.55 GAA and a .942 save percentage. Shestyorkin is signed there through the 2018-19 season.
Against Ottawa last Sunday at Madison Square Garden, Rangers defenseman Nick Holden’s attempted clearing pass struck referee Frederick L’Ecuyer at the faceoff circle and caromed to the far boards, where Mike Hoffman fed Mark Stone alone in the slot, who beat a surprised Antti Raanta, the Rangers’ backup goalie. Should a rule change be considered? Unless the player who last touched the puck is the first to retrieve it, why not whistle the play dead?