Hard to believe that during the week before Christmas, Metropolitan Division players were already perusing the standings daily. That’s as rare as the Columbus Blue Jackets sitting atop the entire league as of Friday morning.
“Never seen that happen this early before,” said Rangers goalie Antti Raanta. “You’re always looking at highlights and checking scores, but not the standings.”
Said former Ranger speedster Carl Hagelin, now a Penguin: “It’s a topic of conversation, for sure, even though it’s not even the halfway point. There’s a little bit of separation between the top five and the next three (in the division), but it’s only a point or two among the top five. It’s going to come down to the last week of the season (for seeding).”
You kidding me?
On a day-to-day basis, these Metro foes just hope they can win a game. Or get a critical point.
Hundreds of games are left, an awful lot can happen, but one very strong possibility is that both Eastern Conference wild cards could come from the Metro, which sets up a scenario similar to last season, when the fourth place wild-card team in the Metro would cross over to play the No. 1 club in the Atlantic Division while the rest of the Metro grinds and groans through a brutal intra-division first round.
Remember last April?
The Rangers beat the Red Wings, 3-2, at the Garden in their regular-season finale and would have faced the Atlantic leader, the Florida Panthers, if the Islanders won. The Islanders didn’t dress a full squad and dropped their final game to the Flyers to secure the only Metro wild-card spot. There was no John Tavares, no Frans Nielsen, no Kyle Okposo, no Johnny Boychuk, just some call-ups and a 5-2 loss.
“We were playing to win. We’re not scared of anybody,” Marc Staal said. “We’re a good team that knows how to win. You play to play the game. You play to win. You start going the other way, and it’s bad hockey karma. You don’t lose to play somebody else. [If you do], you’re looking for bad things to happen.”
Well, the Isles beat the Panthers and advanced. The Blueshirts were eliminated in five by the Penguins.
This year, it might be trickier: a team might want to maneuver to finish in fourth and grab the first wild card — and not end up in fifth, the second wild card, and have to face the No. 1 Metro team.
Let’s say Pittsburgh, the defending Stanley Cup champs, finish first overall in points in the East. They’d play the second wild card. The Atlantic winner, let’s say Montreal, would host the fourth seed in the Metro. Never a walk in the park against Carey Price, but ….
To tank or not to tank? That may be the question in April 2017.
Memo to adidas: Please don’t screw around too much with the jerseys. It appears that there won’t be ads on the sweaters, at least not in the 2017-18 season, when adidas takes over from Reebok as official jersey provider. Not that Reebok distinguished themselves with the “Edge” jerseys, which met with less-than-favorable reviews in 2007-08 and were redesigned. But chances are there will be some changes. Their first crack at the market was the eight World Cup of Hockey jerseys: I though half were pretty good. The NHL is a horse of a different color and tradition. It’s doubtful that some of the most sacrosanct logos---the Canadiens, Blackhawks, Rangers, Red Wings, Bruins, Leafs ---will be touched. Adding adidas’ trademark three stripes somewhere? Hope not.
FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE
North Bellmore native and former Blueshirt Matt Gilroy, now 32, is second in the KHL in points for a defenseman (7-27-34 in 41 games for Moscow Spartak).
Several NHL executives say the trade market is extremely quiet, with clubs evaluating their own prospects before the Feb. 28 deadline. Watch for deals by teams in the Pacific Division, with five points separating fifth and first … Should be interesting to see how teams fare in the first games coming off their individual five-day break, especially when encountering a team that has practiced and played. In the Rangers’ case, it’s a back-to-back, Toronto at home on Jan. 13 and then in Montreal. We’ll take a look with a larger sample in late February.
JAROMIR JAGR’S LEGACY IN NEW YORK
The Czech legend, now 44, passed Mark Messier for career points (1,888) on Thursday. 319 came with the Rangers from 2004-2008.
The powerful right wing was 32 when he arrived in Manhattan in a trade with Washington for Anson Carter on Jan. 20, 2004, played 31 games, then all 82 for the next three seasons. His finest year was 2005-06, when he set the franchise record for goals, points and power-play goals in a season with 54, 123 and 24. Jagr also holds the record for shots on goal (368).