You know what I think of when flashing back to that play in the corner early in the third period of the Nov. 14, 2021 match at the Garden on which PK Subban took out Sammy Blais’ right knee?
I recall the comment made by an NHL management person during the 2012-13 lockout that it is the owners who take the risk.
Blais might take particular exception to that sentiment.
Because 14 months after the incident created by the Devils defenseman’s recklessness, and more than halfway through the following season, Blais’ game is not only in ruins but his NHL future is in jeopardy as a pending unrestricted free agent.
Blais was entering the second season of a two-year deal at an AAV of $1.5 million per when the Blueshirts acquired him as the main feature coming back from the Blues in the Pavel Buchnevich trade in July of 2021 as part of a designed makeover to include more physicality.
After going down for the count in Game 15 last season, Blais is working on a one-year deal for $1.525 million. He will undoubtedly face a problematic time of it on the open market this summer in this final offseason of the hard cap.
Now have one of the league’s barons talk about the risk of hockey.
The 26-year-old winger was designated as a healthy scratch for Monday’s game against the Panthers. This would mark his second straight, third in the last five games and sixth in the last 16 that Blais would watch in street clothes.
This is a function of Blais’ inability to keep up with the pace and regain his natural instincts after going through months of serious rehab following surgery to repair both a torn ACL and MCL. Everyone knew this was going to be difficult, but no one expected this return would be quite so challenging.
“It’s been really hard. I mean, there’s no doubt,” head coach Gerard Gallant said following Sunday’s practice. “He had an extremely bad injury, we all know last year, didn’t play at all, comes back this year and things haven’t gone the way he wanted to, for us or Sammy.
“He’s played some OK hockey at times and other times it looks like, you know, that he’s a step behind again. We just want him to keep working and have a positive attitude. In this game, things change in a hurry as we all know. We’re hoping the best for him, just keep working, stay with a positive attitude and when you get back, try and contribute.”
The Rangers entered the season with a hearty dose of wishful thinking as applied to Blais. Indeed, Blais was penciled in as the right wing of the first line with Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider on their opening training camp depth chart. That’s where he had been for a third straight game when Subban took him out.
This time, it lasted for about one period of one exhibition game. Blais needed more time. He sat out the first three games of the season. He still needs more time. At the moment, the Rangers are going in a different fourth-line direction with speed and talented wingers Vitali Kravtsov and Julien Gauthier flanking Jake Leschyshyn.
This is not a standard physical-oriented, forecheck-heavy, momentum-changing type of fourth line on which Blais would ideally have partnered with the since departed Ryan Reaves. It’s a dog’s breakfast.
“It’s kind of a fourth line, but we’ll see how things go with them,” Gallant said. “I like our mix. When you build lines, you sort of start at the top. There’s not much left, [but] I like all those players and hopefully, they’ll mix in together.
“I can’t call them a checking line and I can’t really call them a fourth line. We’ll see where it goes. It’s a little exciting, actually, with this. It’s a pretty good fourth line with talent, skill and speed.”
The Rangers are in Toronto on Wednesday and at the Garden on Friday against Vegas before going on their bye period that will last until practice on Feb. 5. Maybe Blais could go to Hartford for conditioning after the break.
“It’s not about…I don’t want Sammy to go out there and think he’s got to get 10 hits in a game and to start fighting more,” said the coach. “That’s not it. It’s about getting back up to speed, getting some confidence and catching a break sooner or later.
“He’s a good kid, he’s worked hard, he’s got a good attitude. Things just haven’t gone his way. He’s just going to have to wait and when the opportunity comes again hopefully things will break for him.”