Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Peepin' Foes Preview Edition: Chicago Blackhawks

Because of the ridiculous NHL schedule, the Rangers will play reigning Stanley Cup champion and fellow Original Six side Chicago Blackhawks just once this season. Luckily for us, it will be at MSG - the first time the Hawks have made the visit since the Ranger home opener in 2008.

Familiar Foes: While a significant portion of the Cup-winning team has moved on (mostly to Atlanta), the stars that shined the brightest will still be there - Toews, Kane, Hossa, Sharp, Seabrook, Keith and Super Nintendo Hjalmers. Yeah, that's about it. A young, smart, strong core of home-grown players augmented with a few mercenaries to build a Cup winner ... basically the exact opposite of the Rangers over the last dozen years.

N00bz: Well, he isn't a n00b to us but Huge Mistake Hugh Jessiman may very well crack the Chicago lineup this season. The Hawks added him while bargain basement trolling to get a full roster that would fit under the salary cap. With Ben Eager gone, the Hawks brought in the Boogyman's big backup in Minnesota, John Scott. Fernando 'Colitis' Pisani and speedy Viktor Stahlberg were also brought in but the real free agent addition we need to watch out for is Marty Turco. Turco, who hates Sean Avery as much as anyone, came dirt cheap and will be out to prove that he is still a capable starting goaltender.

Last Year: Wednesday, December 9th, 2-1 overtime loss.

This Year: Monday, November 1st at the Garden.

What They Mean To Blue: A guaranteed sell-out and a decent test on the ice. Defeating Chicago could be a good confidence booster, even if they are sure to be suffering from a bad case of Stanley Cup hangover.

Peepin' Foes Preview Edition: Carolina Hurricanes

The Rangers will face the Carolina Hurricanes four times this season and find a young, hungry team. The Canes will be without two of their long-time warriors: Rod Brind'Amour and Ray Whitney. Rod the Bod was on the decline for a few seasons but he was always a star in the circle while Whitney, well, he has the nickname the Wizard for a reason. Rod retired while Ray moved on to the desert - Mr. Maloney snapped him up in Phoenix.

Familiar Foes: Even without them, there are still several folks who have hurt the Rangers in the past - Joni Pitkanen, Jussi Jokinen, Tuomo Ruutu, Chad Larose, Sergei Samsonov, Tim Gleason and the best of the Staal brothers, team captain Eric Staal. Somehow some people thought that Staal had a letdown of a season as he missed a dozen games due to an upper body injury and yet he still averaged a point per game.

N00bz: Oh No Corvo decided to return to Carolina this offseason and he will be joined by a pair of blue chip blueliners - Jamie McBain and Bobby Sanguinetti. We never got to see just how good Bobby's World can be in the NHL (thanks Torts) but McBain positively starred at the end of last season, averaging more than 20 minutes a night in a 14 game debut down the stretch. Up front Zach Boychuk and Jared Staal - the fourth of the brothers - are just two of what could be five forwards 21 and under on the opening night roster. Boychuk has 33 NHL games and nine points on his resume over the last two seasons and is poised for a breakthrough this season. Staal is more likely to start in San Antonio but he has the skills to make the team with a good camp and he certainly could be up by the time the Rangers face them in January.

Last Year: Monday, December 21st, 3-1 win; Thursday, December 31st, 2-1 win; Saturday, January 2nd, 2-1 overtime loss; Wednesday, January 27th 5-1 loss.

This Year: Friday, October 29th at MSG; Wednesday, January 5th at MSG; Thursdya, January 20th in Carolina; Tuesday, February 22nd in Carolina.

What They Mean To Blue: Cam Ward will keep Carolina competitive but the Canes should be one of the teams to finish below the Blueshirts this season. As you can see from above, the Rangers went 2-1-1 against them last season and should do just as well this time around.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Sather Signs A Sabre

It is not on the official Ranger website yet but all of the NHL writers on Twitter have announced that the Rangers have signed Tim Kennedy to what is expected to be a one-year, one-way, $550,000 deal.

Now that I got my initial outrage out, it looks like an actual solid signing. That is, when you consider where the franchise is and what its goals are. All of the Ranger actions run contrary to what they have said in public and show one thing: they are not going to give any of the kids a shot this season. The roster that has been methodically built this summer ensures that the Blueshirts will be competitive for the eighth spot this season - par for the course. However, they will give them a chance either in 2011 or 2012, quite likely 2012. Once he rids himself of Wade Redden, Glen Sather will have a team that can survive any possible labour stoppage when the CBA comes up. It will be young, it will be skilled and it will be pretty cheap. It will look good in the renovated Garden and justify the massive price increases that will come along with it.

But that is then and this is now. Now we have yet another capable third or fourth line player with something to prove. Kennedy skates hard, is defensively responsible and should be good for a dozen or so goals. He went through three seasons of college, one of the AHL and one in the NHL. He took Buffalo to arbitration, was justifiably awarded a $1 mill and the Sabres walked away. The Blueshirts are getting him for a little more than half that. Not bad.

The aforementioned outrage of mine stems from what the impact of the deal is. It all but assures Dale Weise will be back in Hartford and it puts even more pressure on Sean Avery. I think Weise worked hard enough last year that he should be rewarded with a shot and the added pressure will hurt Avery. Sean walks a fine line as is, now that he has to earn his job night after night, it will either knock him back to the ineffective form of last season or over the line to the craziness that led to his banishment. An in-form Sean Avery, as we have seen, is far more valuable to the franchise than a soldier like Kennedy.

A lot of the Sabre fans I know really liked Kennedy and it wouldn't surprise me in the least if he builds a following here in New York. We love our hard-hat guys. We just don't enjoy the mediocrity that has become acceptable fare for the Garden brass.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Peepin' Foes Preview Edition: Calgary Flames

Oh, thank goodness for the Calgary Flames. Last season they took Higgins and Kotalik and gave us Jokinen and Prust. And then they took Jokinen back. Aaaaaand they still have Kotalik around (even though they passed him through waivers). It is truly amazing how they can have such a brilliant talent as Jarome Iginla and such a clueless brain trust as the Sutter brothers.

Familiar Foes: Iginla is a Scotty Hockey Hero - the best combination of offense, defense, toughness, class and leadership in the NHL. After him, well, things drop off. He still doesn't have a center, leading the Flames to bring old Craig Conroy back yet again. Rene Bourque has some talent but the Flames fortunes rely on Alex Tanguay, Jay Bouwmeester, Robyn Regehr, Daymond Langkow and Jokinen to find their long-lost form. Kipper will be a work-horse for yet another year with no real backup under contract and we know how well that has worked out for Calgary since the lockout ...

N00bz: The Sutters took Nik Hagman, Matt Stajan and Ian White back from the Flames in return for Dion Phaneuf and added Steve Staios from Edmonton at the deadline last season. The big splash in free agency was the stupidity of bringing back Jokinen for another run. But the most important n00b could be another Scandic player - young Mikael Backlund. Backlund had 10 points in 23 games last season, including five in a four game span right before the end of the season. He could be quite the fantasy sleeper ...

Last Year: Saturday, November 7th, 3-1 Flames win in Calgary.

This Year: Monday, November 22nd @ MSG.

What They Mean To Blue: We will get to see just how long the Ranger memory runs. Should they do the right thing, Derek Boogaard will beat the living hell out of Curtis Glencross for his dirty hit on Drury last year - as no one got retribution that night.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Peepin' Foes Preview Edition: Buffalo Sabres

That other New York team isn't flashy. That other New York team isn't much fun to watch. But that other New York team owns our New York team so they will have a big hand in the fate of the Rangers this season. Two seasons ago we had some success as Scott Gomez tripped over Ryan Miller, taking the best player out of Buffalo for over a month and ending their chances. Last year he was healthy all season, they went 3-1 against the Blueshirts, earned 100 points and won their division before bowing out to Boston. Considering there are no Olympics this year, should Miller make it through the year uninjured, this uninteresting team should make it well past the opening round of the playoffs.

Familiar Foes: You know the names - Roy, Vanek, Connolly, Pominville, blah blah blah. Old friend Pat Kaleta will hopefully, finally, be dissuaded from headhunting by Boogey (that is why we signed him, right) but Paul Gaustad should still cause havoc in front with the soft Blueshirt blueline. Oversized Tyler Myers will face a sophomore season. Little Tyler Ennis tortured us in the fourth and final matchup between the two teams and is entering his first full season in the NHL while their other mighty midget Nathan Gerbe will try to make the roster and stick this time around.

N00bz: Rob Neidermayer (Scott's grinding brother), Jordan Leopold (on his fifth team in three years), Shaone Morrisonn (Washington's mediocre mucking defender) and Cody McCormick (Colorado energy guy).

Last Year: Saturday, December 5th, 2-1 Ranger win; Saturday, December 12, 3-2 Sabres win; Sunday, March 7th, 2-1 Sabre OT win; and Tuesday, April 6th, 5-2 Sabres win.

This Year: Saturday, October 9th in Buffalo (season opener); Thursday, November 11th @ MSG; Tuesday, March 1st @ MSG; and Wednesday, March 30th in Buffalo.

What They Mean To Blue: Four likely losses. Lindy Ruff is a former Jack Adams winner for a reason: he gets the most out of mediocrity. And with Miller playing like the world class goaltender he is (USA! USA! USA!), Buffalo will be quite tough to beat.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Peepin' Foes Preview Edition: Boston Bruins

There won't be many team that will be more motivated next season than the Bruins. After their legendary implosion to the Flyers, the B's should come out as big and as bad as ever. It was the ultimate slap in the face and there is no way Claude Julien lets the proud boys in black crumble into mediocrity.

Familiar Foes: Even with his contract under fire, our old buddy Savvy should be lining up at center with the B's as will David Krejci and Patrice Bergeron. Marco Sturm will be hurt to start the season but there is no way Milan Lucic will suck as bad as he did last year and Mark Recchi has played Ponce De Leon and found the Fountain of Youth. The guy is the cockroach of the NHL - can you believe he won a Cup with Pittsburgh 20 years ago?!? Unreal. Tuukka Rask and Timmy Thomas will be inside the crease while Zdeno Chara will make sure no one bothers them.

N00bz: As if adding the number two pick at the draft - Tyler Seguin - wasn't enough, the B's went out and added Nathan freakin' Horton. Horton has 14 points in 19 games against the Rangers since the lockout. He cost them Dennis Wideman but a healthy Dennis Seidenberg could be huge. I mention Seidenberg here as he only played one game against the Blueshirts last season after being traded to the Bruins. (He played 28 minutes and had six shots in that one, and if he doesn't get hurt in the playoffs, Boston doesn't epically choke.)

Last Year: Sunday, Nov. 1st, 1-0 Ranger win; Monday, Jan. 4th, 3-2 Ranger win; Saturday, Jan. 9th, 3-1 Ranger win; Sunday, March 21st, 2-1 Ranger loss.

This Year: Saturday, Oct. 23rd in Boston; Wednesday, Nov. 17th at MSG; Saturday, March 26th in Boston; Monday, April 4th at MSG.

What They Mean To Blue: The Original Six rivals can bring out the best in the Blueshirts - like MDZ's goal or they can bring out the worse - the entire 2-1 loss on March 21st. The Rangers will hope for the former this season as they face the Bruins twice in the all-important late season lunge at eighth place. They are one of five teams that the Blueshirts play twice after March 1st (Sabres, Sens, Isles and Flyers).

Friday, August 20, 2010

Peepin' Foes Preview Edition: Atlanta Thrashers

After teams win the Stanley Cup playing a certain style, other teams emulate that style in order to take the cherished chalice. When the Ducks were tough, other teams got tough. When the Wings played puck possession, other teams learned to play puck possession. When the Pens used homegrown top draft picks to power their way to a Cup, other teams tanked to build from within.

Well, Chicago won the Stanley Cup so Atlanta went out and took a chunk of the Hawks roster. While it won't get them a Stanley Cup, it certainly will help them maintain some semblance of respectability - especially in the wake of the Russian defection (Kovalchuk).

Familiar Foes: Borat will be back, as will Rich Peverley, Ron Hainsey and Tobias Enstrom. Evander Kane and Zac Bogosian should be tougher with last season's experience under their belts, and you don't want to mess with Kane. And you can't forget their punching bag Eric Boulton ...

N00bz: The return from the Kovy trade Johnny Oduya and Nic Bergfors, St. Louis stopper and beard-grower extraordinaire Chris Mason, and those Hawks: Dustin Byfuglien, Andrew Ladd, Ben Eager and Brent Sopel. Prospects Patrice Cormier (Devils) and Akim Aliu (Hawks) should both get shots as well.

Last Year: Thursday, Nov. 12th, 5-3 Ranger loss; Monday, Dec. 14th, 3-2 Ranger shootout loss; Thursday, Jan. 7th, 2-1 Ranger shootout loss; Friday, March 12th, 5-2 Ranger win.

This Year: Wednesday, October 27th in MSG; Saturday, January 22nd at Atlanta; Friday, February 11th at Atlanta; Thursday, April 7th in MSG.

What They Mean To Blue: Of all of their acquisitions - Buff included - Mason is the biggest. Ondrej Pavelec may have a good future ahead of him but Mason can win games by himself right now. He singlehandedly carried St Louis to the playoffs two seasons ago and is one of the most underrated goaltenders around (and this season he will rock an awesome mask). All he will need is a little help from the offense. If Buff isn't a bust in his new city, if Alexander Burmistrov can make the leap from the O, if Aliu and Cormier contribute, if Kane avoids the sophomore jinx and if Bergfors keeps improving, their young talent could emulate the aforementioned Blues and edge into a lower-seeded playoff slot ... exactly where the Rangers are aiming. But that is a lotta ifs ...

Making Their Cases For The Mount

By now you've seen Puck Daddy's Mount Puckmore summer series where a blogger has been selected to honour four of the pillars of their respective franchise. As Leahy explained, they are "the four defining faces of their franchise. These four people are who you remember most when you think of these teams -- whether they be players, coaches or executives." Playing the part of the Borglums (the father and son who carved the original) for the Rangers will be whomever Wysh picks. While I don't think that fella will follow suit with the overwhelming majority in the "who you remember most" all being '94 guys, I figured I go through some of the candidates (alphabetically) and explain why they should and why they shouldn't be etched in digital stone. My selections are bolded ...

Andy Bathgate
+ The face of the Rangers for the 50s; 1958-59 Hart Trophy; eight All Star berths; 729 points in 719 regular season games.
- No Stanley Cups with New York; captained the team for just three seasons.

Frank Boucher
+ Won two Stanley Cups as a player and coached the Blueshirts to a third; had the Fan Club's most popular player trophy named after him; was with the team from 1926 through 1954 as a player, coach and GM.
- Walk around the Garden now and 90% of the people will have no idea who he was.

Bill Cook
+ One of the most dominant players in NHL history; won two Stanley Cups; 367 points in 474 games in the original dead puck era.
- Walk around the Garden now and 95% of the people will have no idea who he was; a Gretzky-esque failure as a coach in the early 50s.

Emile Francis
+ Sixteen years with the franchise; coached the team to the '72 Finals; drafted Brad Park, Steve Vickers, Pat Hickey and Rick Middleton; started the New York Junior League.
- No Cups; wasn't a particularly good goaltender.

Eddie Giacomin
+ Greatest goaltender in Ranger history; adored by the Faithful; 267-174-89 record; team-record 49 shutouts.
- No Cups.

Rod Gilbert
+ Collected 1,065 points and a team-record 406 goals over 15 seasons; team ambassador; eight All-Star games; Masterton Trophy winner.
- No Cups; had some great help with GAG linemates Jean Ratelle and Vic Hadfield.

Adam Graves
+ Beat Hadfield's regular-season record 50 goals with 52 in 93-94; 1994 Stanley Cup; team ambassador; Masterton Trophy winner.
- Played in the shadow of Messier.

Ron Greschner
+ Played over 1,000 games including playoffs; second-most career points by a Ranger defenseman; helped drive the Rangers to the 1979 Cup Final; defensive stalwart.
- No Cups; never considered among the best blueliners in the league.

Harry Howell
+ Played more games in a Blueshirt than anyone; defensive stalwart; 1966-67 Norris Trophy.
- No Cups; named the Rangers' MVP just once over his entire tenure.

Brian Leetch
+ All-time leading scorer among Ranger defensemen; two Norris Trophies; 1994 Stanley Cup; '94 Conn Smythe; Calder Trophy.
- Horrible as team captain; stupid injuries robbed him of some prime time.

Henrik Lundqvist
+ Three-time Vezina finalist; 177 wins in 338 regular season games; collected 30 or more wins each of his five NHL seasons.
- No Cups yet; no awards; biggest successes came overseas.

Mark Messier
+ Messiah; the Guarantee; The Captain; 1994 Stanley Cup.
- Everything was downhill after 94; went after Vancouver's money; second-stint nothing less than horrible.

Lester Patrick
+ One of Hockey's Royal Family; took over for Conn Smythe and built the Blueshirts; coach, GM and VP over a 24 year career; Lester Patrick Trophy; Patrick Division; one game as goaltender a puck legend.
- Walk around the Garden now and 90% of the people will have no idea who he was.

Mike Richter
+ All-time Ranger win leader with 301 victories over 666 appearances; stopped Pavel Bure on perhaps the most famous penalty shot in hockey history; 1994 Stanley Cup.
- Only two seasons with 30 or more wins; variety of injury woes; never considered among the best goaltenders in the business.

Neil Smith
+ Built the 1994 Rangers including trading for Messier and Graves and drafting Sergei Nemchinov, Alexei Kovalev, Doug Weight, and Sergei Zubov.
- Played a big part in steering the NHL towards the lockout with outrageous salaries.

Others deserving of a moment's consideration: Bill Gadsby, Buddy O'Connor, Jaromir Jagr, Chuck Rayner, Lynn Patrick, Phil Esposito, Dean Prentice, Rod Seiling, Walt Tkaczuk, Jim Neilson, John Vanbiesbrouck, Steve Vickers, Ratelle and Hadfield.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Peepin' Foes Preview Edition: Anaheim Ducks

So here is the first of the team puck previews for 2010-11. I'll try to do one a day or every two days leading up to preseason. Gotta get back into the rhythm again ...

The Ducks will be missing two of the old familiars this season, with J.S. Giguere sent to Toronto late last year and Scott Niedermayer retiring. Seriously this time. After loathing him for so long while he was a Devil, it was a little odd to see him raise a Cup in Anaheim. Despite all of the hatred, even a Ranger fan has to appreciate his resume. Too bad a lot of it happened across the Hudson ... But back to the Quack Attack.

Familiar Foes: The Ducks have that albino Islander bridge troll Jason Blake but at this point in his career you hardly have to worry about him. You do have to be concerned with Ryan Getzlaf - one of the best all-around players in the NHL - and his wing-man Corey Perry. Jersey boy Bobby Ryan has not been re-signed at this point but it seems like a Dubinsky-esque certainty. Todd Marchant and Saku Koivu are shadows of the players they once were but Teemu Selanne is still dangerous. And if they add Paul Kariya (as is still rumoured) he and the Finnish Flash may be able to find a little of their old form.

N00bz: Nick Bonino, Andy Sutton, Toni Lydman and Aaron Voros. Bonino was assistant captain at BU and had a nine game guest appearance late last season; he has serious skills. Sutton does not, as we well remember from his time headhunting with the Thrashers and Isles and his time as an expert in Ottawa. Lydman is quiet and capable but certainly not a real threat on either side of the ice. And the People's Champ, well, he may be able to block some of Prust's punches with his face, maybe hurting the Ranger's knuckles.

Last Year: Sunday, October 11th, a 3-0 Ranger win.

This Year: Just one game this season - in Anaheim on Wednesday, March 9th, 2011. That should be right before the annual 'oh crap, the playoffs are coming' last ditch pitch for eighth place.

What They Mean To Blue: Very little aside from two points. As a team out west, they won't be battling the Blueshirts for a playoff spot and there is no historical hatred. But, as we saw last year, two points can be the difference between the postseason and golf and the Ducks will likely be battling for a position in the playoffs as well so those two points could be tough to get.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Who Else Will Get Hired?

Seeing as Jimmy Dolan felt it best to bring Isiah Thomas back to the Knicks, I thought it might be fun to brainstorm some possible re-hirings on the hockey side, and the positions they would be best suited for:

Brian Trottier - Stenographer - What with his exceptional ability to write things by hand, what better job for Trots than to take dictation in the front office?

Bobby Holik and Matt Cullen - Financial Advisors - Teach the players how to get the most out of their contracts before leaving town.

Mark Messier - Team Psychiatrist - Forget this GM-in-training stuff. Mess would be the perfect person for the players to speak to, to find out that it is ok to cry.

Tom Poti - Allergist - Who better? My boy Tom knows all about allergies. After all, he is allergic to peanuts, chocolate, fish, checking, playing defense, making smart passes, standing up for his teammates...

Perry Pearn - Assistant Coach - Bring him on for the penalty kill this time, since he boosted those numbers for the opposition every night the first time around.

Jeff Bloemberg - Team Pastor - The born-again Bloemberg could pacify the tortured souls of Sean Avery and Derek Boogaard.

Sandis Ozolinsh - Designated Driver.

John Ferguson Sr. - Fashion Consultant - Seeing as the culprit for those horrid Liberty jerseys isn't public knowledge (as far as I know), perhaps the Rangers should dig up Ferguson to design the coming third jersey. I may own and enjoy the 1978 Ranger sweater but there is no denying that screwing with the original Blueshirt was just wrong.

Colin Campbell - Disciplinarian - Hahahahaha.

Rico Fata - Power Skating Coach - Maybe good ole Rico could put a spring in the Boogeyman's step. And, luckily for him, Fata wouldn't have to teach Boogey how to stop as the big man will just run into the opposition!

Marek Malik - Game Night Staff (seasonal) - Someone has to scare the kids on Halloween.

Ryan Hollweg - Rangers City Dancer - Considering what Holly did in the locker room, imagine what he could do on a grand stage? And he wouldn't be sexually harassed like the old Ranger City Skater girls were!

Esa Tikkanen - Translator - There has never been a more cunning linguist in Ranger history.

Glen Sather - Head Janitor - Sather has proven quite adept at cleaning up many of his free agent messes, why not have him take care of those MSG bathrooms? Oh wait, You have to be leave at some point if you are to be re-hired? At this rate, the only thing he will be good for after he leaves is to stink up the opposition dressing room with his decomposing carcass.

And on that happy thought, I open the floor to you guys - who could/should be re-hired and in what position?

Monday, August 2, 2010

Cause For Celebration & Exasperation

Oh Donald.

The times we had with you. We cried, we laughed, we cheered.

We cried when you were signed.

We laughed when you got your ass handed to you by Colton Orr.

We cheered when you were demoted to Hartford.

And again now that you are gone. Don't let the door hitcha where yer momma splitcha pal.

Yet another of Glen Sather's free agent failures, Brashear was a disasterpiece from the second he was signed. There is no need to rehash the hatred here, only cause for celebration as ding-dong, Brashear is finally gone. It is remarkable how good ole Glen can be so completely inept when it comes to signing players and so deftly skilled trading them.

While people are fretting over the cap concerns of adding Todd White, they need to realize that numbers can always be massaged. The Blueshirts improved the organization by bringing in a friend of Gabby and by removing the blight of Brashear.

It is odd how the Rangers got rid of the younger, stronger, better Orr and replaced him with Brashear by using the rationale that Brash would stand up for his teammates more and could skate better. When he didn't do either, they picked up Jody Shelley, who actually could skate better. Then they turned around and replaced Shelley with Boogaard, who barely fights and can't skate. And Colt stands as the reigning top fighter in the NHL.

I digress, let's get back to this deal. After letting the People's Champ go, Sather replaces him with another Wild forward, one who should push Erik Christensen for the first line center slot alongside Gabby. Should the claims of Arty getting a top-six slot be true, we could very well have another Isbister situation on our hands where White or Christy either plays on the first line or is out of the lineup. I know you guys are quick to get Brian Boyle out - as am I - but his size and penalty killing could be too tempting to scratch or demote for Torts.

We will just have to wait and see how that pans out. But it is clear as always that Glen Sather's idea of improving the team does not include patience. The so-called rebuilding and promises of playing time is limited to the Hartford Wolf Pack. The goal in New York is not to build a Stanley Cup winner - or even a contender. The goal is simply to make the playoffs and earn the extra revenue. I said it before and surely will say it again, setting the bar at eighth place is simply infuriating. All we can do is all we have been doing: ride this out and hope for an end to the Dolan/Sather era.

I don't know about you, but I'm not holding my breath.