On August 1, the National Hockey League will return to playing games in Toronto and Edmonton. The top four teams in each conference will play for seeding while the fifth through twelfth place teams will be battling to get into the playoffs altogether. Those series are known as the Qualifying Round. The New Jersey Devils were worse than that at the time of the NHL Pause back in March. Therefore, they will not be returning to play. They did not even qualify for the Qualifying Round. While the New Jersey Devils are not involved in these games, there are plenty of reasons to pay attention to them all beyond just having any kind of professional hockey in North America (and literally being on all day for at least four days). Since there are eight weekdays until the start of the Qualifying Round and there are eight series, I will be giving you a Devils fan-centric rooting guide for each one.
We will start this series with the one that will start first on August 1. It is also one of the more contentious ones in the East. The Carolina Hurricanes will be facing off with Our Hated Rivals, the New York Rangers. Surely, it is simple who we all want to win. Right?
The Series Information
What you need to know about the series in general.
The Records: The Carolina Hurricanes (38-25-5, 59.6% Point%, 6th in East) vs. New York Rangers (37-28-5, 56.4% Point%, 11th in East)
The Pre-Pause Season Series: The Rangers went 4-0-0 against the Hurricanes, outscoring them 17-9 across all four. Links go to the gamecenter page at NHL.com:
Game 1: November 7, 2019 - Rangers 4, Carolina 2 in Raleigh
Game 2: November 27, 2019 - Rangers 3, Carolina 2 in Manhattan
Game 3: December 27, 2019 - Rangers 5, Carolina 3 in Manhattan
Game 4: February 21, 2020 - Rangers 5, Carolina 2 in Raleigh
In the first three games of this series, Carolina shelled Lundqvist with lots of shots. At least 39 in each. Lundqvist saved the majority of those. Carolina did not get similar goaltending on their end. Igor Shesterkin was the man in net and faced a more modest 29 shots on goal as New York pretty much skated Carolina out of their own rink the fourth game. Needless to say, the Rangers have owned Carolina prior to the pandemic.
I do not know if they were really expected to be a playoff team, but New York is effectively playing with house money. They win this series, then they go on to an unexpected postseason appearance which is always a positive. Plus, they continue to hold onto a lot of bragging rights over the Canes when you add in the season series. They lose this series, then they pick higher in the NHL Draft and work on rebuilding a bit more. The pressure is on Carolina if it is on anyone.
The Broadcast Schedule: From NHL.com:
Game 1: Rangers versus Hurricanes, August 1, 12 PM ET - NBC SN, SN, SN360, TVAS
Game 2: Rangers versus Hurricanes, August 3, 12 PM ET - NBC SN, SN, SN360, TVAS
Game 3: Hurricanes versus Rangers, August 4, 8 PM ET - NBC SN, SN, SN360, TVAS
Game 4: Hurricanes versus Rangers, August 6, TBD
Game 5: Rangers versus Hurricanes, August 8, TBD
Games 4 and 5 may not be necessary as it is a best-of-five series. If they become needed, timing and broadcast information will be determined later. As per the NHL’s announcement, the home team is the second team listed. So Carolina will get the last change in Games 1, 2, and 5. Fun fact: This series will start the whole Qualifying Round.
A Quick Analysis: This series will come down to one word: Goaltending. You could say this about any of the eight Qualifying Round series, but it especially applies here. The big difference between these two teams is goaltending. This was apparent in the season series where Lundqvist and Shesterkin blocked out the Canes many times whilst the Rangers lit up the Petr Mrazek (Games #1, 2, and 4) and James Remier (Game #3) tandem. This is apparent from the regular season, too. According to Natural Stat Trick, the Rangers had the 12th best team save percentage in 5-on-5 situations at 92.01% whereas the the Canes finished the season at 26th with a 91.22% save percentage. To put that latter number in perspective, it was worse than the Devils. If these games are going to come down to who has the better netminders, then the Canes are likely going to the second NHL Draft Lottery.
This is not a new situation for Canes fans. For the better part of the last decade, they have been an awesome team in 5-on-5 hockey. They are very well structured and they handle a lot of opponents in the run of play. As one would expect, the Canes have some of the best 5-on-5 team stats in the NHL. And the Rangers are Devils-esque in 5-on-5 hockey this season. This will likely continue in August short of a massive system change on New York’s end. We will likely see the Canes pin back the Rangers a lot in this series. The problem is for Carolina is that New York’s goalies have given them the stops to survive those disastrous shifts. When it happens to the Canes, well, that has not been the case. Until the Canes figure out how to identify and obtain good goaltenders, they will remain a playoff bubble team instead of a contending team.
Throw in the fact that the Rangers have no real pressure to succeed. They announced a rebuild not that long ago. They are likely ahead of schedule but there is no demand that they make it or else. I do not anticipate anyone in Manhattan losing their job if things do not go their way. They’ll take the higher first round pick, Toronto’s or Carolina’s first round pick, and reload for 2020-21. If they win the series, then they get bonus playoff hockey and can be in a stronger position to make plays in free agency to improve. If the Canes crash out, one has to wonder how much longer they will continue down this path of being very good at a lot of things and still not finding consistent success.
The Stakes at Hand for the Devils
We know these two teams are playing for a playoff spot. But what is in it for the Devils?
As part of the Sami Vatanen trade, the Devils received a conditional fourth round pick in the 2020 NHL Draft. This condition is based on how many games Vatanen would play for Carolina. If Vatanen played in at least five regular season games with the Devils, then the Devils would get that fourth round pick. If Vatanen played in 12 regular season games or 70% of the Canes’ playoff games, then the fourth rounder would be upgraded to a third rounder. If neither happened, then there is no pick exchanged. Vatanen was injured at the time of the trade and did not dress for Carolina prior to the pandemic. So, no regular season games were played. However, the season was cut short and it could be argued that he could have played in five games had the regular season went on normally. He is healthy now and could appear in these Qualifying Round games. While these games are not playoff games from a team perspective, they are counted as playoff stats for players. So that may be something. There may need to be some further clarification from the league as to whether the Devils will get anything if Vatanen plays. Which is not a guarantee as Carolina has eight defensemen that could appear in this series. I would like to think Vatanen is better than Trevor van Riemsdyk and Haydn Fleury, but that is up to Rod Brind’Amour if he wants to dress him.
We should hope Vatanen plays as much as possible and maybe the Devils get something out of this. Given this is all for a midround pick in the 2020 NHL Draft, I would not lose a lot sleep over whether the Devils get it or not. Vatanen playing would at least help his own cause as he could hit the market in October.
As for other stakes, wanting to see Our Hated Rivals fail is always a good thing.
The Second NHL Draft Lottery Possibilities
We know that Alexis Lafreniere will be the top pick in the 2020 NHL Draft. That pick is owned by one of the eight losing teams from this Qualifying Round. So there will be a second lottery to determine it. How should we react if the loser of this series wins this one?
If the Rangers win the Second Draft Lottery: Many expletives will be uttered. Not only is this another point of pride for the Blueshirts, but the Rangers will get to add the most NHL-ready left winger in the draft. Lafreniere will make the Rangers better almost immediately and for the long term, possibly forming a dynamic duo with Kaapo Kakko in the future. Not only does this guy get to stay in the Metropolitan and do a lot of damage to the Devils, but he will make Our Hated Rivals even better than before. I would hate this. You would hate this. I almost want to see the Rangers win the series to avoid this fate. Almost is a key word.
If the Hurricanes win the Second Draft Lottery: I would probably sigh. Carolina was a team already ahead of the Devils and Lafreniere would push them forward. Say what you want about the Canes, but they know how to build strong 5-on-5 teams and get plenty out of their younger talent. They will be set at left wing for quite some time with Andrei Svechnikov and Lafreniere taking spots on the top two lines. Or if they can convince one to move to the right wing, then you could potentially have a Lafreniere-Aho-Svechnikov line just wreck opponents offensively. While he does not play goaltender, the Canes would get a player that could move them up from very good but always on a playoff bubble to actually very good and above a playoff bubble. I would not be a fan, but I would prefer it to the other possibility.
By the way, the Rangers actually own Carolina’s first rounder, but it is conditional. They will receive whichever pick would be lower, Toronto’s first rounder or Carolina’s first rounder. Carolina finished ahead of Toronto in the standings, so New York is going to get Toronto’s pick unless Toronto wins their series and Carolina loses this series and does not win the lottery.
Pending Free Agents to Look For
The Devils have a lot of cap space, a full-time GM, and a new head coach. Maybe they will spend in free agency this Fall. These games could be a real showcase for those looking to hit the market. These are some of the more notable potential unrestricted free agents in this series.
The Rangers: The list of pending free agents out of New York is not that exciting. There could be plenty of names to help out Binghamton, but not so much for New Jersey. The only one to really watch for is right winger and assistant captain Jesper Fast. Fast is 28 and coming off a three-season, $5.55 million contract where he is earning $1.95 million in 2019-20. Fast has never been a particularly productive player as his career high in goals and points came in the 2017-18 season where he put up 13 and 33, respectively. Fast could have surpassed both as he had 12 goals and 29 points prior to the pause, but he is not someone I would describe as a scorer. He was basically used as a second or third line winger with plenty of shorthanded ice time. Given that New York’s PK was not particularly successful in 2019-20, one would have to take a closer look to see if Fast’s PK work was positive or not. The Devils could use right wing depth. It would not be the very worst idea on the surface to see if Fast will hit the market and look to sign him. So it would not be the very worst idea to flip on this series and see how Fast does in early August.
By the way, Ranger GM Jeff Gorton will have a little less than $14.4 million with Anthony DeAngelo, Brendan Lemieux, Alexandar Georgiev, Phillip Di Giuseppe, and Ryan Strome all as RFAs. Some of these (Georgiev) will not last long as Rangers. But the money will go fast once these negotiations begin. Good luck, Gorton.
The Hurricanes: The list of pending UFAs coming out of Carolina is also not that impressive. And, no, I’m not going to tell you that a 39-in-October Justin Williams is one to watch. In theory, the Devils could try to bring back Vatanen. I do not know if that would really improve a whole lot, but its there. Joel Edmundson is 27 and coming off a one-season, $3.1 million contract. He is a not-very productive defender and his 5-on-5 numbers were the worst among all eight defensemen who played for the Canes in 2019-20 per Natural Stat Trick. Assuming he plays, he would have to be awesome to really be considered. Even then, I do not see him as anything more than depth. I am aware he is large but the Devils do not need size, they need good defenders. I feel similarly Likewise for 28-year old Trevor van Riemsdyk. While he had a better season in 5-on-5 compared to Edmundson, he did not produce very much or even play all that much when he did (49 games, 13:17 ice time per game per Natural Stat Trick). He is also a right-sided defenseman. I guess he could be an improvement over Connor Carrick, but that would be it. And, again, this assumes he plays. Carolina acquired Brady Skjei and Vatanen and with a healthy Dougie Hamilton, some defenders will need to sit. It could very well be Edmundson and/or van Riemsdyk.
The Canes have less cap space than the Rangers available for 2020-21, but they also have fewer free agents. Their RFAs are Warren Foegele and Fleury. If they let any or all three pending UFA defenders walk, then they will have some money to fill in the blueline and/or use their system to fill in the spots.
My Choice & Your Turn
There is an argument to be made that the Rangers winning this series would be more beneficial in the long run. Maybe Toronto wins their series so they have two picks in the middle of the first round, get over-confident in their dealings for 2020-21, and have future setbacks. But that argument would lead one to want the Rangers to win (and it assumes their over-confidence) and I cannot do that in good conscious. I will not commit this kind of heresy. Not here. Not at this Devils blog. I can’t go for that. No can do. So I will let my heart and soul take over - and honestly I am not a fan of that argument I came up with as it is - and hope the Hurricanes do not blow this series. I can trust their players and their coaching staff. But I am still relying on Mrazek and Reimer to not be bad. Or Alex Nedeljkovic if it comes to that. I am not supremely confident in my choice.
However, that is how I see this matchup. I want to know what the People Who Matter think of this series; I want to know what you expect and hope for in this series. Please leave a comment as to how you see this series going down, who you would want to win and why, and who interests you within this series. Also, please vote in the poll just to answer who you think will win this series. Tomorrow, I will provide a rooting guide for the second series to start on August 1: Edmonton-Chicago. Thank you for reading.
Who will win between the Carolina Hurricanes and the New York Rangers in this best of five series?
This poll is closed