How Rangers, Isles & Devils Survived A Hectic Hockey Month

Exactly a month ago we all were sitting around wondering about a lot of uncertain hockey things and beings. The Big Three questions followed:

1. Which Met Area sextet would woo the hottest free agent defenseman in Kevin Shattenkirk?

2. How would Devils General Manager Ray Shero make his team better?

3. And what about John Tavares‘ future as an Islander?

That was just for starters. The Maven will deal with other issues later on in this missive.

You now know what just about everyone figured; Shattenkirk — ex-of New Rochelle — is now Mister Manhattan of the Rangers.

As for L’Affaire Tavares, we’re still in a spin. It’s possible that the Isles’ captain is lovin’ the spin he’s in, but not so much for fans of the Brooklynites.

Having survived Double-D-Day (Expansion and Entry Drafts) plus Free Agent Frenzy, the Rangers, Isles and Devs are in differing realms of still-unending progress.

Each of the local clubs is secure in the knowledge that July isn’t even over and so much can be accomplished — trades, trades, and more trades — between now and the October curtain-raisers.

RANGERS

The Rangers are moving toward a younger, faster team. Wails from the pro-Dan Girardi lobby are inaudible because The Girardi Faithful now must understand that The Warrior’s exit — along with Kevin Klein — amounts to addition by subtraction.

[Fischler: Warhorse, Workhorse; Girardi Leaves Rangers]

Dangerous Dan had given his all — especially in the playoffs — but Girardi is now living in the Tampa World of Diminishing Returns. Good for Klein; he got a gig in Switzerland where he’s sure to be Alp-ful with his vast NHL experience.

For a guy like Klein — who had just “retired” — skating with the Swiss is better than skating in no man’s land or, for that matter, the KHL.

[Fischler: Klein Walks Into Hockey Sunset Leaving Rangers, NHL Behind]

Meanwhile, Jeff Gorton has replenished his defense with a younger, speedier Anthony DeAngelo who could be a reasonable facsimile of Brady Skjei, whom of which could be a future Norris Trophy-winner.

While mic'd up at a recent practice, defenseman Brady Skjei explains why he thought his performance wasn't up to par.

Since in the NHL, you get nothin’-for-nothin’, Gorton had to deal to get. Which means that the scary parts are at center and goal; specifically the emigration of Derek Stepan and Antti Raanta to Arizona.

Say what you will about Step — and, yes, there is a lot to say if you forget about his disappointing post-season — he had been a beloved Blueshirt.

The Minnesotan opened his Rangers career with a hat trick and has a cabinet-full of playoff and assorted other key goals to be remembered by; and maybe beloved as well.

Fair enough; but Gorton was prescient; the time — and reasons — had come to move Step who lost his clutch-ability in the playoffs.

As a longtime Raanta fan, I was stunned that Antti was part of the Stepan deal. But in this very curious Salary Cap world, Gorton had to save big dough for Cap space. That he handsomely accomplished.

The “New Raanta” is vet Ondrej Pavelec by way of Atlanta and Winnipeg. Under the scrutiny of goalie coach Benoit Allaire, the Czech’s checkerboard career could have a surprisingly hotshot upswing on Seventh Avenue.

What matters is that Gorton hauled in the biggest fish in Lake Free Agency. A Rangers aficionado since his diaper days, Shattenkirk fulfills his dream.

Along with rising-star Skjei and dependable Ryan McDonagh — they provide New York with high octane offense from the defense.

Stepan’s new stand-in, David Desharnais, is a French-speaking version of another little guy you may know, Mats Zuccarello; which is not too bad. Granted, efficient Oscar Lindberg is gone but equally-efficient Jesper Fast answers that equation.

All things considered, Gorton solved the Cap conundrum, landed the most sought-after free agent and streamlined his team. Plus, he has plenty of time for more moves.

DEVILS

Across the river, Ray Shero is smiling because he’s upped the quality of his Devils. Adding ex-Ranger Brian Boyle and former Cap Marcus Johansson to his offense is a major coup.

“Those two guys move the needle for us in size, skill, experience and culture,” said coach John Hynes near the conclusion of his team’s development camp in Newark.

“Brian will be able to drive our team on the ice, first and foremost, and he’s a leader; a high character person. He chose this (Devils) situation because it’s going to be a good fit.”

Hynes raised the possibility that his first overall pick, newly-signed Nico Hischier, could very well emerge on a line with Boyle but, then again, that’s looking a bit ahead of things.

Right now, Shero has to hope that his instincts are right when it comes to goaltending. He retains faith in last season’s Cory SchneiderKeith Kinkaid tandem while adding some support with a new off-ice acquisition.

Ex-Islander Cup-winner Rollie Melanson replaces eternal Devil Chris Terreri as the club’s goalie coach. The trick here is that Mel did wonders for Schneider when the two worked together in Vancouver.

Hynes said, “Rollie has a strong track record working with goalies. We consider him a good fit and not just because of his relationship with Cory. We want to go in a different direction at that position.”

As for the defense, the departure of unfulfilling Jon Merrill was easily tempered by the arrival of 22-year-old Mirco Mueller from San Jose. Hynes bubbles over Double M’s skating and puck movement.

Hopefully, he’ll be as enthused over Damon Severson whose breakout season still hasn’t arrived the way Steve Santini‘s seems to have happened late last semester.

New Jersey Devils prospect Steven Santini talks about pushing to make the NHL club this season, having his Boston College teammate Chris Shero at camp and what it's like to be a veteran at the Devils Development Camp.

Islanders

Meanwhile, across two rivers — Hudson and East — residents of Islanders world await word on Captain Tavares and his future.

There are more theories out there than cars in a gridlock at the corner of Flatbush and Atlantic Avenues and I’ll leave it at that. Period!

Since the start of Summer, General Manager Garth Snow has been a veritable ferret on the spoor of a solid coaching staff.

Newly appointed Islanders Head Coach Doug Weight fields questions from the media along with GM and President Garth Snow.

With Doug Weight settled in as head coach, Snow added first-rate aides in Luke Richardson (defense), Kelly Buchberger (offense) and Scotty Gomez to work with talented young turks such as Josh Ho-Sang and Anthony Beauvillier.

The Travis Hamonic trade is reminiscent of Derek Stepan’s departure. The noble Hammer’s time had come — and gone — with the Brooklynites.

Ryan Pulock, Adam Pelech and Scott Mayfield, among others, will vie for that empty D-spot.

Another Snow-plus was ejecting oft-dismaying Ryan Strome for Jordan Eberle in a deal that rhymes with steal.

The area of most stability is goal. Now that J.F. Berube finally is out of the netminding picture, good pals Thomas Greiss and Jaroslav Halak can make some beautiful music together.

Yessiree, Bob, this was both a traumatic and dramatic NHL month up and down the line. What’s more, Summer isn’t half over yet.

Stand by for more wheeling, dealing and, most of all, rumor-mongering.

P.S. But not by me!