New York Post
Over a year after hit, Blais still suffering
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 P.K. 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 not only is in ruins but his NHL future is in jeopardy as a pending unrestricted free agent.
Blais was entering the second season of a twoyear deal at an AAV of $1.5 million per year when the Blueshirts acquired him as the main feature coming back from St. Louis 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 $1.525M. He will undoubtedly face a problematic time of it on the open market this summer in this final offseason of the flat cap.
Now have one of the league’s barons talk about the risk of hockey.
The winger was acquired as part of incoming general manager Chris Drury’s effort to remake the team with added muscle and sandpaper. Over a two-week stretch in late July of 2021, the Blueshirts acquired Barclay Goodrow, Ryan Reaves, Patrik Nemeth, Dryden Hunt and Blais.
Reaves, Hunt and Nemeth are gone. And Blais — obtained in the controversial deal for Pavel Buchnevich that in essence has yielded next to nothing — has lost his hold on a job. No. 91 has been scratched for each of the last two games, three of the last five and six of the last 16 contests.
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. He is a mere shadow of his menacing self.
“It’s been real hard. I mean, there’s no doubt,” head coach Gerard Gallant said before Monday’s 6-2 Garden victory over the Panthers in which the difference in score exceeded the difference in play between the two clubs. “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, he was penciled in as right wing of the first line with Mika Zibane- jad 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 still needs more time. The Rangers may be able to give him more of that than another opportunity. They can’t wait. Adopting a different approach, they’re going with more speed and talent with Vitali Kravtsov and Julien Gauthier flanking Jake Leschyshyn on the fourth unit that
debuted versus the Puddy Tats.
“I can’t call them a checking line and I can’t call them really a fourth line,” said Gallant. “We’ll see where it goes. It’s a little exciting, actually. 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 AHL Hartford for a two-week conditioning loan after the break. That may be his best route to regaining a spot here.
“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,” the coach said. “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.”