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It was around the 55th shot on goal by the Vancouver Canucks on Wednesday night when we all collectively began to wonder why Henrik Lundqvist would subject himself to this for the last few years of his legendary career.
Why a 36-year-old goalie, with a contract that runs through 2021 and a no-movement clause to match, would submit to being the hockey equivalent of a dart board during the New York Rangers' rebuild of an indeterminable length?
"It was a roller coaster, that's for sure. We gave up a lot," Lundqvist said, before breaking into a laugh after the Rangers' 6-5 overtime win. "But we scored a lot, and managed to cover it up. It feels good to win the game. Sit here and smile for once. I'm just tired of losing."
So were the Rangers, which is why team president Glen Sather and general manager Jeff Gorton took that unprecedented step for the franchise: declaring, in a letter to the fans, that this team was being blown up in favor of a youth movement, despite being in a playoff race. But before they did that, they had to communicate that same message to a goalie who has felt only the push toward a championship in his career, rather than the drag that is a rebuild.
"I spoke to him over a month ago about what's going on," Gorton said of Lundqvist, speaking to ESPN this week. "It's been very difficult on him. I'm not going to sugarcoat that. But at the same time, he wants to be here. He loves being a Ranger. He wants to win here. He understands this is a process. I think he understands that ... he has faith in the organization. He's a New York Ranger. He loves it here. His family loves it here. I was encouraged by our conversation, how open he was and how emphatic he was about wanting to stay."
Lundqvist watched as the Rangers purged their roster at the deadline. Gone were pending free agents in Rick Nash, Michael Grabner and Nick Holden. Gone were forward J.T. Miller and defenseman and captain Ryan McDonagh, both under contract. Gone was the pretense that the Rangers were contenders, or close to it.
"It's depressing. I've got to be honest," Lundqvist said.
But from this dire turn of fortunes for the Rangers comes renewed optimism ... well, depending how you feel about their NHL trade deadline bounty. I quite liked it: C/LW Vladislav Namestnikov, C Ryan Spooner, D Libor Hajek, D Yegor Rykov, C Brett Howden, D Ryan Lindgren, two 2018 first-round picks, a 2018 second-round pick and a 2019 second-rounder that becomes a first if the Lightning win the Stanley Cup this season or next.
For Gorton, the deadline was as surreal as it was for Lundqvist: turning the focus of his scouting and player personnel staff from buying veterans at the deadline to acquiring young, lesser known commodities in a sell-off.
Which one is more stressful?
"I would say this is ... different," Gorton said with a laugh. "As a buyer, we were quite comfortable. You're trying to win the Stanley Cup, you're adding pieces, you have a target in a smaller range of players. You know who you want and you do it or you don't do it. Here, I think we had a lot of balls in the air, right? We had a lot of stress on everybody -- the pro scouts, the amateur scouts, everybody has to do their thing to step forward and understand every player we were talking about."
McDonagh was the biggest piece to move, since he has another year on his contract. "We never felt desperation to move him. We had a lot of things to talk about as far as him: whether to move him now, whether we were going to get what we wanted to get or would we get more now or in the summertime. We looked through the past of other teams that were in this situation with similar players," Gorton said.
McDonagh's trade to Tampa Bay happened with about a minute left before the deadline. There was speculation that the availability of Ottawa Senators star blueliner Erik Karlsson mucked up the gears in the trade market for defensemen, and Gorton said that was accurate.
"It had something to do with it, but I would say that McDonagh's a different kind of player with a different kind of market. Based on the number of calls we were getting for him, we knew we were going to get a good deal. We were comfortable with that. But it's in the back of your mind that Karlsson's on the move. But the calls kept coming in," he said.
The Rangers could have cut deeper into their roster at the deadline, and came close to a few other trades that could materialize in the offseason. "When you make a statement like everyone is available, you're seeing what you can get for players and how that fits in to what you're doing when you're rebuilding. I think we have a really good grasp now on the value of our players around the league," Gorton said.
Hey, there it is: the 'R word.' In their letter to the fans, the Rangers used the word "reshape." Now, Gorton's saying "rebuild," a term that carries significant connotation. So which is it?
"Yeah ... well. Reshape, rebuild ... I'm not sure how I'd best describe it," Gorton said. "We're doing things that are changing the core of our team. We're going younger. I don't know how to describe it. I know the word 'rebuild' makes people think it's a 10-year process. But this is the new NHL. Young players are en vogue. They're coming into our game and doing things at an earlier rate that they've normally done. This doesn't have to be a forever process."
That's the hope, anyway, that centers Lias Andersson and Filip Chytil are the kind of future that justified trading Derek Stepan away last summer. That the seven picks the Rangers have in the first three rounds of the draft this season -- including three first-rounders -- are either used to build up their prospect pool or are flipped to expedite the rebuild. That the young players they just acquired at the trade deadline make an impact, especially on defense.
And that the team has the right coach for this next phase of the franchise.
"AV's a good coach. He's a good man. He's been a good coach here," Gorton said of coach Alain Vigneault. "I want to sit down with AV at the end of the year and figure out what's best for him and what's best for us, and where it goes. How he sees it, and how we see it."
The question is: How expedited is this rebuild going to be for the Rangers? And how expedited should it be when one of the most popular players in franchise history is 36 years old, has played 796 games and is still searching for his first ring?
"We read that a lot: 'You gotta win with Henrik ... you gotta do everything you can to win with Henrik.' I think that's true with all players. We're trying to win. That's at the forefront of what we're doing," Gorton said.
"But we also know we have a Hall of Fame-caliber goalie that we want to get a Stanley Cup, because he hasn't won one yet. It's not like we're constantly talking about 'Henrik, Henrik, Henrik's gotta win.' But we understand where he is in his career, and we have the same feelings. We want to win for him, too."
Jersey Foul of the Week
Puck Follower presents this Los Angeles Kings Foul:
- PuckFollower (@puckfollower) February 27, 2018
The thing is "Quick" almost seems like a descriptive nickname unto itself. And for the record, the Kings goalie isn't a burglar -- it's well-established he's a Jedi.
Would you buy ticket insurance?
I attended the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference last weekend in Boston, and it was all kinds of fascinating. Like, for example, that off-the-record speech that Barack Obama gave that no one was allowed to talk about -- except for every panel the following day quoting from it liberally during their Q&As. Good times.
One of my favorite parts of the conference was the "Shark Tank"-like product pitches from vendors, peddling everything from wearable workout tech to apps that analyzed in-game stats. But the one that caught my eye was a company that has found a way to combine the confidence of vacation insurance with the joys of speculative gambling.
Fansure is a new service that seeks to insure fans' tickets against the possibility that the player they're paying to watch in that game does not play.
The example they like to give: a family drives from Little Rock, Arkansas, to Cleveland to catch the Cavaliers, but LeBron James isn't playing. Oh no, money out the door! Well, not with Fansure: That family would get a 50 percent refund on their tickets if they "fansured" LeBron before that game in which he didn't play.
The service would work like trip insurance: you buy your ticket, show proof of purchase, and then request a quote on a specific player. The premium you pay to "fansure" that player will range between 7 percent to 10 percent of the ticket price. If he plays, you lose that premium. If he doesn't, you get 50 percent of your ticket price back from Fansure.
What the company told us is that it hopes to make its bones with season-ticket holders, who could "fansure" a specific player for a full season. While that might sound like a hefty investment, that's where the gamble comes in: Pick the right player to "fansure," and you start getting money back the moment he's injured. For instance, could you imagine if a Boston Celtics season-ticket holder "fansured" Gordon Hayward before the season?
Right now the focus is on partnering with a ticket company to offer Fansure as part of the buying process, and the sports focus in on the NBA. They admitted to me that hockey presented some unique challenges, including what one does with the frequency of starting goalies taking a seat for a backup -- couldn't a shrewd puckhead "fansure" a netminder in a way that correctly predicts when he would or would not play?
And let's not even get started on relief pitchers in baseball.
But still, an interesting concept, one of many I discovered at Sloan. If you haven't read my piece on NHL player tracking and the politics of biometric data, check it out here.
Tyler Seguin learns how to play Bop-It
I'll never understand the struggle to find new NHL All-Star Game events when "players figuring out children's toys" is sitting right there.
ESPN On Ice
Really fun episode this week as Emily Kaplan and I break down the NHL trade deadline chaos, from the big moves to the teams that inexplicably didn't make them. Stream our podcast here or find ESPN On Ice on iTunes here, where hopefully you like and subscribe.
Two billboards outside of NHL arenas
It used to be that hockey fans who were frustrated by the direction of their favorite teams would start a derogatory chant at the game or perhaps hold up a protest sign or two. But since we're in an age of crowdfunding and online community organizing, they're thinking bigger now.
Previous in this column, we covered the "Snow Must Go" New York Islanders billboards that protested the maligned New York GM. They went from concept to execution in 12 days, and two of them are up at the corners of Flatbush and 6th, and Atlantic and Classon in Brooklyn near Barclays Center.
BREAKING NEWS: New York Islanders fans have officially acquired two "Snow Must Go" Billboards in exchange for cash. pic.twitter.com/kgGcswhfZh
- James "Billboard" Duffy (@TwoTurtleDuffs) February 27, 2018
Perhaps inspired by that, Ottawa Senators fan Spencer Callaghan began crowdfunding a billboard as part of his "Melnyk Out" campaign, which protests the mismanagement, stinginess and general ineffectiveness of owner Eugene Melnyk. The goal was set at $6,500 on a Go Fund Me; Senators fans have blown past that, raising $10,227.
According to Callaghan, billboard space around Canadian Tire Centre won't open up until the fall, but plans for other billboard locations are moving forward. The real question, at this point, for the campaign: what the billboards will say.
Melynk is, shall we say, litigious in nature. And those who have gone after him have, at times, experienced some peculiar backlash -- if you haven't read up on blogger Travis Yost getting cyberattacked by Ukrainian hackers after reporting on Melnyk's finances, do yourself a favor and read it.
We were told that there was some concern that if the campaign used "Melnyk" on the billboards, the Senators owner could lawyer up. Callaghan tells us he has received no legal threat, but that he has received "advice and feedback to be careful."
With the money the campaign has raised, and the duty to represent a fan base that's ready to rally for a change, getting it right is paramount.
"I only want to do what is best for the fans that have placed their trust in me," Callaghan said.
Melynk, meanwhile, sent a letter to season-ticket holders:
Senators owner Eugene Melnyk's letter to fans. pic.twitter.com/71M87dkboP
- TSN 1200 (@TSN1200) March 2, 2018
What a pity party.
This breakdown of what an Olympic hockey team from Wakanda would look like was really clever. [Raw Charge]
In which Jeremy Roenick, who voiced his opinion on several occasions about protests during the national anthem and has frequently used his celebrity for political commentary, says Hollywood types need to pipe down about their beliefs. "They think for some reason they can tell us all about how we want to live our lives when they live nice little comfortable lives themselves. I'm not into that." [CBS Sports]
David Poile became the winningest GM in NHL history this week. Here are his top trades for the Predators. [Tennessean]
A cool interview with the U.S. Naval Academy Superintendent, a huge hockey fan whose call sign was "Slapshot." [NHL.com]
Fare thee well to the Maven, Stan Fischler, a legend who is retiring from television work. [Newsday]
Finally, our women's hockey heroes on "Ellen:"
- Ellen DeGeneres (@TheEllenShow) February 27, 2018
Hockey tl;dr (too long; didn't read)
Seattle sends a message to the NHL about its viability as a market. "It's fair to wonder if the astonishing verdict on the NHL's expanding to Seattle was a statement of backlash at the NBA, the basketball league whose former commissioner, David Stern, turned an arena saga into a cold war. Stern almost always got his way, and when he didn't get his way after appealing to Washington legislators, he took it personally." [News Tribune]
In case you missed this from your friends at ESPN
How the Chicago Blackhawks build their next Stanley Cup contender, from Rob Vollman. It's an ESPN Insider story, which allows me a moment to thank all of you who read our coverage of the NHL trade deadline last weekend, including those who signed up for Insider to read our trade grades. We appreciate your time and attention, and look forward to doing even more in free agency and next trade deadline. [ESPN]