Ben Harpur’s insertion in Rangers lineup alarming for Libor Hajek

PHILADELPHIA — Ben Harpur’s insertion into the Rangers’ lineup does not augur well for Libor Hajek, who, to accommodate the veteran defenseman, was scratched for a second straight match, this one a 6-3 victory over the Flyers on Saturday night.

Hajek had gotten a run of six straight games following Zac Jones’ assignment to the AHL Wolf Pack, but Saturday represented the 24-year-old’s 16th healthy scratch in the Rangers’ first 32 games after he played just 17 contests a year ago.

The future is probably not here for the once (over)hyped centerpiece of the 2018 deadline deal with Tampa Bay, in which Ryan McDonagh and JT Miller went the other way.

More than that, going with the 6-foot-5, 27-year-old Harpur on Braden Schneider’s left side on the third pair indicates that the Rangers are going to be in the trade market for a big-bodied, physical blue liner to fill the left side behind Ryan Lindgren and K’Andre Miller.

Ben Harpur
Ben Harpur
Libor Hajek
Libor Hajek
NHLI via Getty Images

The Canadiens’ 29-year-old, 6-5, 221-pound Joel Edmundson could be a target, though the seven-year veteran, who was an integral part of the Blues’ 2019 Stanley Cup-winning defense corps, has a contract with an annual $3.5 million cap hit that runs through 2023-24. Perhaps a sweetener would convince Montreal to take 50 percent of the contract.

The Rangers, facing an extremely tight cap squeeze, would not have the ability to keep Edmundson, Lindgren and Barclay Goodrow next year while also extending Filip Chytil, Miller and Alexis Lafreniere, even at that 50 percent discount. That would add another layer to general manager Chris Drury’s offseason decision making.

But Edmundson’s addition would bulk up the back end for coach Gerard Gallant, who believes — and correctly so — that might make right in the postseason.

Harpur, signed as a free agent in late October after he spent the past two seasons with the Predators organization after having spent parts of the previous four seasons with the Senators, was recalled from the Wolf Pack on Dec. 3. He played 12:26 in his first game for the Blueshirts on Thursday in a 3-1 victory over the Maple Leafs, but got only one shift worth 39 seconds over the final 12:13 as Gallant cut down to five defensemen.

Julien Gauthier, who had played 23 straight games following his Oct. 26 recall from Hartford, was designated as a healthy scratch, while Sammy Blais was reinstated after one game in street clothes.

Gauthier has six points (4-2) overall, but had gone 0-1 in his last nine and 1-1 in his last 12 games.

Blais joined Jonny Brodzinski and Vitali Kravtsov on the fourth line.

Jaroslav Halak got the call in net and made 29 saves on 32 Flyers shots in the first end of a back-to-back weekend that will conclude in Chicago on Sunday.

It was the first start in two weeks for Halak, who entered the match with a 1-6-1 record, 3.04 goals-against average and .888 save percentage. Igor Shesterkin had started all five games of the Rangers’ win streak while recording a 1.96 GAA and .933 save percentage over the 5-0 run.

Halak ranks 52nd of the 62 goaltenders who have played at least eight games in goals saved above expected, with a -0.266 per 60 minutes, according to MoneyPuck.

Kevin Hayes, nailed to the bench by head coach John Tortorella in the third period of the Flyers’ 2-1 victory over the Devils on Thursday, was a healthy scratch versus the Rangers.

The one-time Ranger leads the Flyers, who are 31st in the league with 2.39 goals per game, in scoring with 29 points (9-20).


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