Adrift in the limbo of a postponed hockey season, it’s hard to keep up with the seemingly endless list of proposals for how (and if) the NHL might conclude the 2019-20 season and cobble together the 2020 Playoffs when COVID-19’s grip on the world as we know it weakens. Plans for what might happen next are, understandably, fluid and written in pencil if not with the dials of an Etch-a-Sketch.
Doesn't sound like any major announcements today after the NHL Board of Governors' call. The conversations continue.— Greg Wyshynski (@wyshynski) May 18, 2020
One proposal that seems to be gaining traction is a 24-team playoff structure centered around hub cities. To be clear: 24 teams would return to play to play regular season games and then potentially skate in play-in games in order to establish 16 teams for the 2020 Playoffs. According to Pierre LeBrun and others, a 24-team playoff is something that the league and the NHLPA discussed last weekend. Per LeBrun, there’s hope for resolution on this proposal sometime in the next week or so, but “there’s no guarantee.” There is similar uncertainty about when the 2020 NHL Draft takes place, but Bob McKenzie has reported that it is less likely it will happen before the 2019-20 season resumes.
An interesting wrinkle to a 24-team playoff format — which would include the Rangers returning to action — is the potential for teams to carry 30-man rosters. Why the bigger roster? Because before the gears start turning on actual games again, teams will need to have training camps to get players conditioned and ready for hockey again. Dallas Stars’ general manager Jim Nill believes his team “will need extra bodies, as it will be a training-camp format and there will also be a risk with injuries.” With the AHL season cancelled, teams have a pool of players to pull from without being concerned about taking talent from their affiliate team’s playoff push. So, why not have five more black aces?
From Elliotte Friedman’s 31 Thoughts column on Sportsnet:
19. There’s a lot of theorizing about the possibility of 30-man rosters for the playoffs, including AHL call-ups.
So, keeping in mind that nothing is set in stone and that there are asterisks sprinkled over everything like powdered sugar, what might the Rangers’ 30-man roster look like?
According to CapFriendly.com, the Rangers are currently carrying 13 forwards, six defenders, and three goaltenders. That’s 22 of a possible 25 players on the roster with Micheal Haley on the IR.
- Forwards: Artemiy Panarin, Mika Zibanejad, Chris Kreider, Pavel Buchnevich, Ryan Strome, Jesper Fast, Kaapo Kakko, Filip Chytil, Julien Gauthier, Brett Howden, Brendan Lemieux, Greg McKegg, Phillip Di Giuseppe
- Defensemen: Jacob Trouba, Marc Staal, Tony DeAngelo, Adam Fox, Ryan Lindgren, Brendan Smith
- Goalies: Henrik Lundqvist, Igor Shesterkin, Alexandar Georgiev
It would be shocking if any of the players listed above would be excluded from the Rangers’ hypothetical 30-man roster, let alone a 25-man roster. So, let’s assume that they are all givens.
From the Wolf Pack
That leaves eight roster spots to be filled by players on the Hartford Wolf Pack. Here are 10 of the top candidates to fill out a potential 30-player roster.
Boo Nieves: Teams could always use more centers, and this team in particular could always use a boost down the middle. Nieves has shown that he can be a capable fourth line center in New York, though he hasn’t always had the opportunity. He’s one of the more ‘experienced’ players when it comes to the NHL in this group, and that could be what gives him the edge if needed in a crucial situation like the playoffs.
Steven Fogarty: Again, center depth can be key. Fogarty has minimal NHL experience, but could provide depth to their fourth line when called upon. The Wolf Pack’s captain is what he is at 27 years of age, but if anyone has earned a chance to impress in a second training camp it’s probably him.
Vinni Lettieri: Lettieri has a right-handed shot that he isn’t afraid to use. Though his skill just hasn’t translated to the NHL level, the Wolf Pack’s leading scorer (47 points in 61 games) could be useful on the fourth line if the team is in need. He also has 46 games of NHL hockey under his belt.
Danny O’Regan: O’Regan provides more center depth to the Rangers. He finished second in scoring in Hartford with 38 points in 62 games. He’s less of a shooter than his teammate Lettieri, but he’s also more disciplined than the winger which could instill some confidence in his play.
Vitali Kravtsov: Kravtsov is obviously the standout option here for many, as his skillset and potential make him such an intriguing player. Teams often look at how players handle high pressure situations, and a strong playoff performance in the KHL put him on many scouts’ radars. With some experience on North American ice to acclimate, there may be more confidence in him than before, but him playing at all wouldn’t be a decision taking lightly. Still, being with the NHL club and absorbing this entire experience may also be valuable as well.
Then again, getting a chance to skate and work with the big club might be big confidence boost for him after a chaotic year. He should be a lock.
Tim Gettinger: Gettinger has played a few games at the NHL level and his size is something many teams value and look for, especially in the playoffs which are touted for ‘big boy hockey.’
Yegor Rykov: The Rangers are imbalanced on defense with a weaker left side, and Rykov could be a piece that elevates it in the future. First-hand experience with the team, even if he doesn’t officially dress, might mean more for him than others because he has a chance to be on the big club next year.
Libor Hajek: Hajek has the most experience with the Rangers of their Wolf Pack defenders, which could heighten his chances of playing if a spot opens up. Though there’s room for improvement with his game, there’s a familiarity there for him with the Rangers’ coaches, and vice versa.
Darren Raddysh: The Rangers may be set on the right with their three defenders, but it helps to be prepared in case necessary. Raddysh was the highest scoring defender in Hartford outside of Joey Keane who was moved at the deadline, so he may be the best option of their right-handed backs.
Adam Huska: With three capable goaltenders, a fourth may not be necessary. Huska very likely doesn’t see a second of playing time because it’s challenging enough to balance three netminders. However, you can never have enough safety nets, so another goaltender should be on the roster to be safe. Plus, it would provide a great chance for him to learn from their three NHL netminders, particularly Lundqvist, along with goaltending coach Benoit Allaire.