Monday, June 30, 2008

Hey Glen, Save My Money

As the hockey world prepares to loosen the pursestrings on Tuesday and spend our season ticket money on the horses that are expected to bring the cart to the Cup, I can't help but be really concerned - especially as a Ranger fan.

The post-Cup Blueshirts were notorious for bad decisions when it comes to free agents; before you start, the jury is still out on Dru and Gomer. Before the lockout they were attempting to improve upon Frankenstein's monster with a part here and a part there. Those pieces certainly didn't match and the lumbering result never made it to the stage to tap dance with its creator. After the labor tragedy, the monster spoke Czech and made it to the stage but could barely do more than a two-step.

The brain now knows what to do in the spotlight, but Tuesday will determine way too many of the body parts that has to do the dancing. If you look back at the Cup winners since 1994 they all had a corps (get it?) made up primarily of home-grown or long-term talent and the biggest parts of those teams came from top picks after the team completely fell on its face. The Rangers fell on their face but blew the draft picks (five top 10 picks in the 10 years after the Cup). They never were able to draft Steve Yzerman, Mike Modano, Vinny Lecavalier, Eric Lindros (who turned into Peter Forsberg) or Eric Staal. Recent Ranger drafts appear to have been able to produce a nice bounty but the main parts of this monster still need to be signed in free agency.

We have a goaltender, that's for sure, but beyond that there are a lot of positions where we may have something down the line, but nothing right now. We don't have a No. 1 defenseman (Rozy is free). We don't have a power play quarterback (and we haven't since Leetchy left). We don't have a scoring winger (Jagr appears as good as gone). We don't have a heart (bye Sean, we loved having you). This is pretty damned depressing. As I said, we may have solid substitutes in a few years - Marc Staal, Bobby Sanguinetti, Alexei Cherepanov, Brandon Dubinsky, respectively - but we don't have it now. Replacements for 2008-09 will have to come from a shallow free agent pool that will incite salaries that are certain to send this league to another lockout when the CBA runs out.

I've been asked many times who I want the Rangers to sign and, while I think it would be neat to see Sundin or Orpik or a few others, I have to say that I would probably be happiest if the Rangers stood pat. This hired gun thing, the picking up pieces of different puzzles and hoping they fit together isn't the right way to build a team. The time when it worked to win a Cup is long gone. In the last few years the monster got some new parts grafted on so it could shuffle around and get the crowd to clap but that's about it. It isn't until the Ranger brass puts him together the right way that he will be able to dance with Stanley. If the current crop of Ranger free agents want to leave, let them go, but don't bother breaking the bank to replace them. Use the extra money earmarked for salaries towards the planned renovation of the Garden.

In a few years we should have a team worth playing in it.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Lucky Number 13?

Thirteen is an infamous unlucky number and just five New York Rangers have donned the number in franchise history.

Jack Stoddard was the first. Stoddard played 80 games for the Rangers in the early '50s and I know nothing about him other than his numbers. Thirty years later Bob Brooke wore it as a big third-line center (if my memory holds). The next decade saw the most famous 13 (so far) in Sergei Nemchinov, who won the Cup. Sergei was one of the best checkers in the league for a short period of time and also will go down as one of the Rangers best draft picks - 12th round, 244th overall in the 1990 draft. Trading him at the 1997 deadline was one of the many errors that the Blueshirts made while disassembling a great team. Another of the mistakes of the post-Cup era, Valeri Kamensky, also wore #13. It's a shame he could never recreate the magic he had with the Aves. And the fifth and final Ranger (so far) to wear 13 was tough guy Richard Scott, who was called up a few times before the lockout but never amounted to anything.

Will Mats Sundin be the sixth??

While Sam over at Rangers Report doesn't see signing Sundin as a good move, I do. I mentioned it in a post a month ago and see no reason to change my mind. Sam, among others, have held Sundin's age against him and that is just a mistake. The Swede was as good as he ever was last season and brings an air of dignity and class to the team that will be necessary should Sather not re-sign Shanny. Sundin provides the big body in the middle that the Rangers needed so badly and, if the Blueshirts can fit him in while re-signing Jagr, can you imagine the two on the power play together? He also would provide support to Henrik, which could help him finally avoid that dreadful mid-season slump that has cost him the Vezina the last two years. (Yes he was a finalist the last three but I don't think he really had a chance to beat Kipper in '06.)

Handing Sundin a one year contract works because the unrestricted free agent class of next summer features some fantastic younger players including Marian Gaborik, Vinny Lecavalier (although rumour has it he is signing an extension on July 1st) and the Sedin twins and the restricted free agents are even better: Evgeni Malkin, Paul Stastny, Eric and Jordan Staal to name a few - all of whom should be well worth offer sheets if they don't get big money deals before then.

Signing Sundin to a short-term deal would keep star-power on Broadway and keep the Rangers in contention while ensuring that the future of the team is allowed to mature until they are capable of grabbing the reins themselves. You satisfy the yuppies in the purples and Blue-bloods in the blues at the same time.

Get that man a contract.

Must Read Musings 2

Just a warning, this has nothing to do with the Rangers:

Whether it is because I have been in the media so long or because the media has so consistently produced mountains of generic drivel, I rarely read an article that makes me sit up and think, 'wow, that was amazing.' Yes Sean Avery's insight into his own life was remarkable, but that was because of the content rather than the way it was described. Sometimes you have a great topic and sometimes you have great writing, but I have found that lately it is rare that the two come together. I often lament the lack of beautiful sports writing in modern journalism but an article that I read today has renewed my faith.

Harlan Goode of The Washington Times did a profile of Alexander Ovechkin's older brother that I found utterly marvelous. The cynical side of my brain says that the piece is so incredible because it isn't sports writing, it is the story of a person working a job. But while that is true, but I instead chose to look at it as a sports story that transcends its genre and appreciate it all the more.

Much like with the Avery piece, I won't do it a disservice by excerpting a random part of it. You just have to read it yourself.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Must-Read Musings

A thanks to Greg over at Puck Daddy for putting up a fun post about Sean Avery today. His piece is a fun read, but the really interesting article is Avery's on

I won't excerpt it, you just have to read the whole thing.


Sunday, June 22, 2008

NHL Draft: Day 2 Talk

I had started up a long analysis of each of the players that the Rangers picked with plenty of links but let's face it, who cares? I haven't seen these kids play and there are plenty of places that the same info can be found (Blueshirt Bulletin is a good one, as always and the Rangers also looked at their new additions).

Instead I will just throw out some big picture notes:

*The Islanders were one of the big winners in the draft, picking up 13 players to restock their system. That's incredible and some of the picks are actually good prospects. Hartford will be in for one helluva fight in a few years.

*Speaking of the Pack, the Rangers dealt away Alex Bourret to Phoenix so they could draft Czech defenseman Tomas Kundratek in the third round. Kundratek was the highest-rated Czech in the draft but really, does that mean much? Every country has its ups and downs in development and the CR has rarely produced top flight defensemen with Petr Svboda and Tomas Kaberle being two exceptions. And don't throw Rozy out there as he has been pretty damn mediocre but the Rangers thrust him into the No. 1 spot because Jagr loves him. Bourret may have been fat and lazy but he still put up the points, especially in the clutch - 15 in 12 playoff games with the Pack. Who knows how he could have developed if the Rangers actually invested some time in him?

*Then again, while other teams ping-ponged up and down the draft with deals, the Rangers were relatively quiet. They made two moves - the Bourret deal and the reacquisition of their own fourth round pick for next year's fourth rounder and the seventh rounder from this year. They used the fourth rounder on WHL late blooming winger Dale Weise.

*With a gamble on a late bloomer like Weise, they also rolled the dice for their sixth rounder, Mitch Gaulton. Gaulton could end up a total stud or a total bust as he is coming off of a major injury. But I guess, like with all draft picks, it's really a crap shoot.

*There was no guessing when it came to the best story out of Ottawa. David Carle, the brother of San Jose defenseman Matt, was expected to be a early round pick. During the pre-draft physicals, Carle was diagnosed a heart condition that puts him at risk for sudden cardiac death if he exerts himself too strenuously. He withdrew his name from the NHL draft but the Tampa Bay Lightning used their last pick on him anyway. New owner Oren Koules said, "The kid worked his whole life to be drafted in the NHL, and I don't see a reason he shouldn't be." It was an incredibly classy move and I tip my hat to him and the Lightning organization for making it - it's the people that make this sport so great.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

NHL Draft: Round 1 Thoughts and Observations

I was at work so I missed the beginning of the draft on Versus but followed online and was at the bar in time to watch the Rangers draft the Jason Biggs look-alike, Mike Del Zotto. The Blueshirt Bulletin has a good look at him, pointing out that he tumbled in the draft and fell in the Rangers lap. When I had made my top five choices for the Rangers pick at No. 20, I had figured he would be off the board. Then again, I probably wouldn't have picked him anyway. From all of the scouting reports that I have read, he is a lesser version of a prospect we already have - Bobby Sanguinetti. (And, as I just read, Inferno over at Rangers Review sees it the same way.)

Don't get me wrong, I am glad the Rangers went after Del Zotto as opposed to one of the seven kids picked who come in under 170 pounds, but it isn't like this kid is a physical defenseman by any means. And let's face it, that is what this organization sorely needs so Sather had better put some of those types in Ranger jerseys on Saturday (or on July 1st). Del Zotto has great offensive skills but is surely at least two years away from challenging for a blueline slot on Broadway.

As for the other local teams, the Islanders shrewdly turned their first round draft pick into four picks - all within the first three rounds of either this year and next. Oh yeah, and they still got the type of player they wanted most: a playmaking center to work with Kyle Okposo. Joshua Bailey seems to have all of the tools and I have to say its very disappointing to see the Isles do so well.

The Devils also managed to procreate picks by dealing their selection twice. They went from 21st to 24th and added second and third round picks. However, I do think Lou stumbled with the first rounder in taking Mattias Tedenby. The Swede was the third-ranked Euro skater, but he is also 5'10, 176 and years away from the NHL. I thought it was certain that they would take Scott Stevens wannabe John Carlson as he was still on the board but whatever, one less dominating physical defenseman to face in the division (Carlson ended up in Washington).

A few other notes:
*In another questionable move, the Flyers got rid of their playoff hero R.J. Umberger for a first round pick. Umberger, who went to Ohio State, should be a nice draw for the Jackets, but what was Philly thinking? Their boy finally develops into an NHL player and they deal him for a first round pick? I am sure money came into it as they are rumoured to have re-signed Jeff Carter for five million a year for three years but still, a first round pick for the one Flyer other than Mike Richards who consistently performed in the playoffs? Eesh.

*Credit to Don Maloney for adding Olli Jokinen but I am not sure losing Keith Ballard was worth it. Jokinen is sure to boost the Desert Dogs offense, but you would think Maloney would want the Phoenix youth to learn from a winner, not some guy who hasn't ever played in the playoffs. Ballard has a big upside still while Jokinen is on the downslope. And Nick Boynton may have never developed into the stud he was supposed to be in Boston, but he was still pretty dependable for the Coyotes.

*Once the dust settled from their two moves, Calgary essentially dealt away Alex Tanguay for Mike Cammalleri and a second round pick while dropping eight spots in the first round. I can't say I care as neither Tanguay nor Cammalleri have been fantasy sports studs over any prolonged period of time (I knew I shoulda traded Camms after that red hot start last year. I knew it!).

*I am against plastering broadcasts with graphics, but TSN needs to be a little more proactive. Sitting in a loud bar with no audio, I had no idea what was going on. GMs were flipping picks and there were no graphics explaining the deals to be had that I saw until Washington dealt Steve Eminger.

Let's hope TSN, and the Rangers, do a better job tomorrow. Until then, cheers!

Friday, June 20, 2008

Something To Ponder/Annoy

Why is it that both the Devils and the Islanders are holding draft parties tonight while the Rangers aren't doing anything for their fans? And they wonder why they get buried in the New York sports sections?

Ah, I have an idea! They are probably plotting how much more money they can get out of us for our season tickets next season ...

My Apologies

I haven't posted much this week. I wanted to but I find it difficult and ridiculous to post about Sean Avery's taste in swimwear. The players' lives off of the rink are irrelevant (unless you are an opponent, then it becomes fodder). And the politics, well these are just getting ridiculous.

I feel obligated to address the idiotic litigation, so I will just say this: While I am far from a fan of the Dolans, having them removed as the owners of the team (while they maintain ownership of the Garden) would remove the Rangers from New York city so I can't say I am in favour. The Rangers are right in that the NHL is operating like a monopoly, whether it's within their rights or not.

Gary Napolean is continuing to drag the game down in the public eye and wants to ensure that everyone goes down with him. Is it any wonder he gets booed by fans everywhere? His powertrip has steadily driven the sport into the ground and because we, as fans, love our hockey so much we have allowed it - just so we still have a sport.

The Rangers are a big enough target that he can attack them without much retribution - he can't possibly pick on Toronto or Montreal - and the small teams are the ones that make up his primary powerbase. But one has to wonder, once he starts flexing his 'muscles' against the Dolans, how soon until other owners sit up and think, "hey, that could be me that he is going after" and depose their pet commissioner? I hope it's sooner rather than later ...

In the meantime, the draft is tonight. Well, the first round of it anyway. Splitting the draft into two days is just silly and ruins most of the appeal of it. The NHL won't get any better ratings or coverage just because the opening round is on a Friday night and it pisses the hardcore fans who would actually sit and watch hours of the draft off. Of course I will still cover it, but I won't be happy about it! Goshdiddlydarnit. Kevin over at BMR put together a fantastic guide to watching that is a must-read. So check it out and make sure to come back here this weekend for a recap of how the Rangers did.

*Fingers crossed*

Monday, June 16, 2008

Good Luck Mike!

... you'll need it.

Mike Richter is among the players under consideration for a spot in the hallowed Hall of Fame on Tuesday.

The 17 men who will choose up to four new inductees for the Hall are: NHL senior vice-presidents Jim Gregory (who also chairs the committee) and Colin Campbell; former general managers Emile Francis, Pat Quinn, Serge Savard, Harry Sinden and Bill Torrey; former players Lanny McDonald, Peter Stastny and John Davidson; former coach Scotty Bowman; media members Dick Irvin, Mike Emrick, Eric Duhatschek, Mike Farber and Yvon Pedneault and former International Ice Hockey Federation general secretary Jan-Ake Edvinsson.

Now none of those people have done the Rangers any favours - including J.D., who gave us gonorrhea, I mean Christian Backman, as a parting gift. But J.D. appeared to be good friends with Mike Richter so who knows? Maybe he will help get his buddy a pass, even if he is a former Ranger who helped erase J.D.'s failure in '79 from the minds of most Ranger fans.

Other former Rangers eligible for consideration include Rick Middleton, Pavel Bure, Glenn Anderson, Kevin Lowe, Steve Larmer and Pat Verbeek. Adam Oates, Doug Gilmour, Dino Ciccarelli, Phil Housley, Igor Larionov, Guy Carbonneau, Dale Hunter, Kevin Dineen, Claude Lemieux and Tom Barrasso.

This is an incredibly mediocre group so pretty much any of them have a shot. Richter vs. Barrasso is a good battle but in the end, the former Pen prevails. He has more wins, one more Cup and a Vezina while Richter has one Stanley and the World Cup of Hockey win and - as many Russians know - international achievements are often overlooked when it comes to the Hall. But I don't think either of them deserve to be enshrined.

That being said, I think Larionov will make it. The Professor earned three Stanley Cups in over 900 NHL games along with two Olympic golds, a Canada Cup gold, four World Championship golds and two World Junior golds for USSR/Russia. That's a lot of hardware right there. Sure Anderson won six Cups, but he was never a major contributor to any of the six.

Puck Daddy makes a good case for Bure, Ciccarelli and Gilmour but I would have a hard time putting two of those three in. The one I wouldn't mind seeing was Bure. The Russian Rocket was an injury case but scored a ton of goals so while I think he came up well short of his potential, I can see him Cam Neely-ing his way in. As for the other two: Ciccarelli never won anything and racked up some points in the goaltending-poor '80s and Gilmour never reached superstar status (at least outside of Toronto - he was good in Calgary but Toronto needed a hero and he gave them one).

So who do I put in the Hall? Larionov.

That's it.

The committee should not feel forced to fill out the draft class just for the sake of filling out the draft class. It's that philosophy that got such mediocre players as Bernie Federko, Dick Duff and Larry Murphy into the Hall. As the saying goes, its the Hall of Fame, not the Hall of Very Good. Ushering in middling talent who did not reach the pinnacle of their positions, who did not exemplify the best qualities of hockey players or that did not dominate in any way, means or form belittles the true honour that a place in the Hall bestows.

Finding Future Blue

While some pundits (especially Larry Brooks) have the Rangers looking for a future replacement for Jaromir Jagr, at No. 20, the Rangers just aren't going to find one in this draft. Actually, in theory, the Rangers already have one waiting in the wings: last year's top pick Alexei Cherepanov. If Cherry can't make it out of the Red, the Blueshirts already have good young wingers in Nigel Dawes, Ryan Callahan and Petr Prucha in the NHL and Alex Bourret, Hugh Jessiman (haha) and Lauri Korpikoski just waiting for a shot.

The Rangers head into the draft with six picks over the seven rounds: 20, 51, 75, no pick in the fourth, 141, 171 and 201.

While the Blueshirts are known for just picking the best pick available, they would be foolish not to pick a defenseman or three. They picked just one blueliner over the last two drafts and this year's crop is thick with quality prospects. Plus, let's face it, there isn't much depth on the team right about now. Andrew Hutchinson, Marek Malik, Paul Mara, Michal Rozsival and Jason Strudwick are all free agents and at least two of them are as good as gone - Malik and Mara. As for the other three, you have to figure that Hutch will leave looking for a guaranteed NHL spot, Strudwick isn't a top six defenseman so who cares and Rozy will not be worth the money he wants - especially now that he underwent hip surgery.

That leaves the Rangers with Dan Girardi, Fedor Tyutin, Marc Staal, Christian Backman, Thomas Pock, Michael Busto, Michael Sauer, Corey Potter and Bobby Sanguinetti. Backman - who was actually drafted two spots before that Scott Gomez guy back in 1998 - is utterly worthless. Sauer is coming off injury, Busto couldn't get out of the ECHL, Sather seemingly hates Pock and Bobby needs pro seasoning. And that means that the Rangers need to move to solidify the blueline and fast.

The top prospects who are clearly NHL-ready are at the top of the draft (top four or five) so Sather would have to make a deal - maybe someone will take the 20 pick with Prucha? Somehow I don't think so and if the offering price is higher, I wouldn't bother. Prucha was the one Ranger youngster not to carve a role out for himself last season and despite his dedication, he doesn't really have a place on the team anymore since Nigel Dawes came in. Regardless, the Rangers need blueliners so here are five guys I've read good things about that should be fitted for a new hat:

*John Carlson: He is not one of the Hanson Brothers kids, but he does have a mean streak. He's big - 6'2", 212 - and patterns his game after Scott Stevens. I couldn't think of one player I hated more that I wanted to have on my team than Stevens. Carlson could be perfect. Plus it would be a nice jab at the Devils since they supposedly have him in their sights at No. 21.

*Colten Teubert: He is taller than Carlson and has better experience (WHL vs. USHL). He definitely doesn't back down and I remember seeing him hammer some kid back in that stupid Russia/Canada series last summer. The Rangers could certainly use a big hitter ... (understatement of the offseason right there.) And just did a profile on him and his penchant for hitting.

*Shawn Lalonde: An OHL kid that has tasted the bitterness of team failure with Belleville (they lost to Kitchener in several big games), Lalonde could/should use that as motivation to push himself harder to be the Lidstrom-esque defenseman he wants to be. They say he has the tools, so why not? He was coached by former Binghamton Rangers coach George Burnett and the Ottawa Citizen said some good things about him.

*Jack Gardiner: The thought of an American high school kid getting picked is unnerving but Gardiner has already made the good call to commit to Wisconsin. Mike Eaves is a helluva coach and UW has done well with Rangers in the past (Richter, Granato, Brian Mullen, Bruce Driver). Gardiner is very mobile and would be a decent safety net should Sanguinetti not work out.

*Jyri Niemi: Outside of Kimmo Timonen, Finland hasn't produced a stud defenseman in almost 20 years. Maybe they're due? Niemi supposedly has a Souray-esque slap shot and man, the Rangers could have used that this past season. He may turn out to be a Sami Salo clone without the injury problem so that would be nice.

For all of the prognosticating, the amateur draft is a crapshoot and we will just have to wait and see how things work out three, four years down the line. Any immediate help will come on July 1st (or thereafter) so this coming weekend's draft will just be some fun fodder to fill the time (and the blog) until the free agent signing begins.

Friday, June 13, 2008

NHL Awards Wrap

I have to keep this brief as its past 7 a.m., I just got home from work, photoshopped the Vezina onto a picture of the fattest man on earth and want to wake up by noon to watch Romania beat on the Italians in Euro 2008. So, lets get right into what happened in Toronto last night:

*Nabby got robbed by Flabby.

*The NHL hates Swedes (Backstrom and Zetterberg should have won; Hank has to watch the Krispy Kream Krybaby win the Vezina; and Nick Lidstrom doesn't count since he sounds like he is from Grand Rapids at this point).

*Bruce Boudreau looks like Mickey Rooney.

*Alexander Ovechkin is a more endearing superstar than Cindy Crosby ever will be.

*Ron MacLean is not funny.

*Not being able to speak English is (thanks Pavel).

*Versus can't tell time.

*Dom Hasek is still bitter about losing his starting job to Chris Osgood, even if Ozzie got him another ring.

*Pat Kane has hot jailbait sisters and his teammates, who are all older than him, are all trying to mack on them. Perverts.

*Surviving a mild case of cancer that didn't stop you from doing something like, say, playing hockey deserves an award.

*The NHL is secretly in love with Sean Avery.

*Billy Smith and Mike Bossy on the same awards show. Where's Dennis Potvin? Probably still out hunting Ulf Nilsson.

*Adam Graves is a better human being than you.

*Mr. Hockey is old. Like, really old. So is Red Kelly.

*Seeing Evgeni Malkin crushed again as a loser doesn't get old.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Good Luck Hank!

Tonight is the NHL Awards show. It will be on Versus for the extremely bored. While I don't care for awards shows, or Versus for that matter, there is some interest as a Ranger will be involved.

While Brandon Dubinsky got jobbed in the Calder contention (Two Blackhawks? C'mon! They were terrible and Dubi solidified the game of a slumping superstar while helping the Rangers make the playoffs. Playoffs. Remember them Chicago? Didn't think so.), Henrik Lundqvist made the final three nominees for the Vezina Trophy as best goaltender.

His competition will be fierce: Evgeni Nabokov had a helluva year while Fatso - Marty Brodeur - made it on reputation. Again.

While their goals against average were both slightly better, neither Nabby nor Fatty can claim to have put together 10 shutouts behind a defense that features such stalwarts as Marek Malik, Christian Backman, Jason Strudwick. And neither the Sharks nor the Devils played as poorly as the sloppy, chemistry-challenged Rangers did for several stretches over the season. For all of the Rangers stupid penalties, they killed 84.6 of them - two percent higher than the Devils - and you know that a team's best penalty killer is its goaltender. Granted, Nabokov led San Jose to the best p.k. in the league (NY was sixth), but I'll ignore that part. Aren't stats great??

So on that note, we wish Henrik Lundqvist the best of luck as he heads to Toronto for the third straight year as a nominee for the Vezina Trophy. Let's hope this one is the charm and he brings back the hardware to Broadway!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Well, So Much For That ...

Mattias Norstrom has retired from the NHL.

The defensive defenseman called it quits today, thus ending my dreams of him returning to New York to solidify the Rangers' blueline.

A Scotty Hockey Hero, Norstrom played more than 900 games of nearly-impeccable defense. He goes down as a part of one of the worse trades in Rangers history, when he was traded with Nathan LaFayette, Ian Laperriere, Ray Ferraro and a draft pick in 1996 to the Los Angeles Kings for Marty McSorley, Jari Kurri and Shane Churla.

A great factoid from his Wiki:
He received much admiration in Sweden during the NHL Lockout in 2004–05 when he rejected to play with any other team than his original AIK Stockholm, no matter what salaries others where offering. The team was playing in the third tier league, struggling to advance, when Norstrom arrived just in time to help them through the playoffs and secure a spot in the second tier league the following year. Not only did he play for free, he also paid his own insurance during his time in AIK.

Is that a class act or what? He is going to return to Sweden to be with his family and told the AP he may become a carpenter. After building such a wonderful career over here, he is sure to have success in his next endeavour.

Best wishes Matty.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

No Heat Wave Can Kill Hockey

As the weather gets hotter and hotter here in New York, my longing for the frozen pond grows exponentially ... and its not even July yet. So, as my brains become scrambled in the torturous heat, I figured what better thing can I do to cool down than to write about a winter sport?

*Larry Brooks asked "are the Blueshirts better off with a combined $6M investment in Rozsival and projected third-pair defenseman (Josef) Melichar, or with a combined $6.5-7M investment in (Brooks) Orpik and, say, impending Montreal free agent Mark Streit"? I would say no, they aren't. Melichar didn't play in the U.S. this year, and didn't do so well when he did, often falling victim to a bum shoulder (more in his Wiki, which was clearly edited by a Pens fan). Rozy was a mess this year, no matter how Brooksie wants to justify it. Orpik is a hitter and Streit is a power play stud - both qualities needed by the Rangers that neither Rozy or Melichar would be able to provide. Although I think Streit and Orpik will end up costing at least a million more than Brooks estimated.

*Jaromir Jagr wants to remain a Ranger. Should he return, he had better play like it ... for the entire season. If he doesn't come back, I said it before: I think Mats Sundin would be a fantastic replacement for around the same cost.

*The Rangers have yet to give out any information about season tickets for next year or even anything about their Eurotrip to open the year. The Tampa Bay Lightning, their opponents in Prague, have had a travel package available for weeks. What could the Blueshirts box office folks be doing? The Rangers have been out since the second round, the Knicks ... hahaha and the Liberty are already well underway.

*I went through some of my archives and noticed a lot of pictures were down. Sorry about that. When I first started I would just grab Yahoo! photos without realizing they dump their archives. I'm not about to go back through all of them (sorry) but have taken some steps to avoid that going forward.

*Its kinda funny: I lament the loss of the Jets, Puck Daddy memorializes the Whalers and this week's Hockey News brings up the Nordiques (no direct link, sorry). Do you think many people will fondly remember the days of the Thrashers and the Predators as fondly?

*And I love the Hockey News. I have read it on regularly for most of my life but they have to improve their production schedule. As a subscriber, I received the June 10th issue on June 7th and it talks about the upcoming Stanley Cup Final series, while the damn parade already made its way through Detroit on the 6th. Jason Kay and the crew have done a really good job trying to make THN not as time sensitive but for things like this, they need to do better and altering the production schedule by condensing it and improving the means they print will help keep them relevant.

*For Wings fans, the Behind The Jersey blog is a must-read by a great young writer but this photo is a little bit unfortunate/perverted/leading for the poor girl, don't you think? Maybe I just have a dirty mind ...

*Pierre McGuire pointed out that the ice at the Igloo wasn't the greatest due to the heat and humidity in the building. As the NHL continues to stretch their schedule into June, don't you think they would prepare for this kind of thing by now? The ice was awful in Florida and Tampa Bay and, well, pretty much everywhere in the states during June hockey. Why wouldn't they have insisted the Pens bring in more dehumidifiers and air conditioning units?

*For everyone who is still salivating over the thought of the next Winter Classic, I just want to again voice my concerns. The Heritage Classic in Edmonton that got the outdoor thing started wasn't nearly as good as the Winter Classic but was so well received because it welcomed back some of the best players in history in an exhibition before the game. The NHL had better have one helluva gimmick up their sleeve for the next one because you just can't replicate what happened in Buffalo.

*Those Winter Classic jerseys will be back as third jerseys next year. The NHL Tournament of Logos has been having a lot of fun pitching other prospective kits so check them out.

*Speaking of jerseys, if anyone hits a garage sale this summer and sees someone selling an Islanders fishsticks jersey in XL for 10 bucks or less, let me know. I want one of those, just for laughs. Maybe I'd get it personalized "HAHAHAHA 94" or something.

*The NHL Draft is again scattered across two days, so they can put the first round in primetime the night before the second through seventh rounds. Simply said, I think its terrible. Aside from a few geeks like me (and probably you), who is going to sit home on a Friday night to watch the draft? And aside from viewership, by splitting up the draft, it kills any kinds of draft parties team might/should hold. I remember going to MSG on the day of the 1999 draft for all sorts of festivities including tours of the locker room, player appearances and bubble hockey. Of course I left early when they traded Dan Cloutier and Marc Savard and drafted Pavel Brendl and Jamie Lundmark, but the party was still a good idea.

*And no time-killing post would be good without some YouTubage so I turn it over to the Sharks fans over at We Bleed Teal for a look at the best NHL commercials.

Ok, that's it. I'm spent. Time to revel in some air conditioning.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

The End Of Times?

As I search for something else to occupy my time now that the Cup has been raised, the New York Times was there to give me a momentary distraction. The Times asked what we learned this season and what do we have to look forward to next year in their latest edition of Hockey Night in Blogdom. Click here to check it out and scroll down for my answers. I don't know what the future holds for the HNiB posts now that the season is over (I hope they continue!) but if its the last one, I think I went out on a high note.

While I was over there admiring my handiwork, I also read a great article by Lynn Zinser on the Rangers draft philosophy as compared to that of the Stanley Cup Champion Red Wings. Check it out, I have to say that she seems to have hit the nail on the head. I will, of course, address the draft a few more times in coming days but for now feel free to check out two really good mock drafts - Going Five Hole's and My NHL Draft. At the moment I have to say I disagree with the former and agree with the latter as I think a defenseman will be picked either in the first or second round by the Blueshirts, but I still have quite a bit of research to do.

In another programming note, I did my Scotty Hockey Three Stars already but keep an eye out for my first and second team All Stars - the best of the best across the NHL who embody the qualities I hold so dear: the unheralded, real reasons that teams win like the defensive defenseman, the grinder, tough guy, etc.

Just because it is supposed to go over the 90 degree mark here in New York doesn't mean that the ice has melted!

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Stanley Cup Final Game 6

"2008 Stanley Cup Champion Detroit Red Wings."

What a wonderful thing to read. I was a tad upset when my prediction - Wings in five - didn't work out but right now, I am just happy they won. The Red Wings put on yet another beautiful display of hockey to beat the Penguins 3-2 and win the Stanley Cup. They did it with dignity and grace and showed a certain elegance that other recent champions were unable to attain. Nick Lidstrom showed his class by handing the puck to Dallas Drake because of the veteran's hard work and effort. It wasn't Stevie Y putting it in Vlad's lap, but it was still pretty damn impressive.

I am sure that I will do a bit of a postmortem as well, but here are some thoughts from the game:

*After listening to NBC place Marc-Andre Fleury in the pantheon of great NHL goaltenders during the pregame and the first intermission, it was a true pleasure to see the second and third goals go right through his legs. Soft goals kill and their newly anointed goaltending god killed the Penguins.

*Quick quiz: The officiating was A-Inconsistent B-Infuriating C-Incompetent or D-All of the Above? I'll take D. That late penalty that led to the Pens second goal was a joke. After missing huge penalties all period long, the ref calls a little hook and gives Pittsburgh a gift. However, a nod has to be given because one of the refs was in the perfect position to judge the Wings third goal. There was no quick whistle like there was when Marty Straka scored what would have been the equalizer on Fleury back in the second round.

*Hopefully the demise of the Penguins will be the start of the end of this Italian soccer league style of playing hockey - you know: dive, cry and whine to grab the officials' attention. I don't think it will be - there is too much to gain from power plays - but one can hope. For now I am just happy to see that Cindy's hopes and prayers went unanswered.

*Still, I have to ask, why did Pittsburgh put Adam Hall on the ice with three minutes left while down two goals? I know Max Talbot scored the big goal last game, but still ...

*Brian Rafalski's goal to open the scoring was awesome, if only for the sharp contrast to the typical power plays that I am used to seeing watching the Rangers. Detroit cycled the puck around while keeping a guy in the paint to draw the attention of a defender and the goaltender before Rafalski got a great shot off through traffic to give the Wings a 1-0 goal.

*I also hope that Chris Osgood gets his number retired by Detroit when he retires. Three Cups - two that he was a primary reason for them winning - and over 300 wins in the red and white should assure him a spot in the rafters of Joe Louis.

*As a national broadcaster, NBC should be objective. Instead, the first 15 minutes of the broadcast was spent raving about Pittsburgh - even when interviewing Nick Lidstrom. Leave it to local broadcasters to pick a team to root for, there are fans out there of both squads watching a national telecast. NBC and Versus both did it all playoffs and thank goodness their prize children lost and will not make it to the Finals again anytime soon so I don't have to hear this garbage again.

*Greatest line of the night was by Pierre McGuire on Lidstrom and Rafalski: "They just squeeze the life out of the game." Yes, watching two of the best defensemen in the NHL work (and score) is watching them squeezing the life out of the game. Funny, he didn't say the same when Therrien put Hal Gill or Rob Scuderi on the ice ...

*How is it that when Fleury made a big save, he was treated by NBC as the second coming of George Vezina, but when Osgood made a stellar save, say when he rolled back against his body momentum to get his stick down and stone Gary Roberts during the second period, it was because Roberts couldn't make a good shot ... ???

*While I am picking on NBC, I am glad they got rid of that high power play camera, but they managed to suck more on their replays, setting up the replays too far in advance so they miss most faceoffs. I will repeat what I said earlier in the playoffs - NBC is treating the Stanley Cup Final as just another broadcast rather than something special. If they pulled half of the nonsense they did in these games during the Super Bowl, people would be fired.

*Much respect given to Ryan Malone. He had his face bashed in (broken nose) in Game 5 and played Game 6 without a visor or a cage. Serious man points for being a warrior. Same to Dan Cleary, who took a skate to the face in the third period and finished his shift before coming to the bench for repairs.

*Darren McCarty went from bankruptcy and rehab to raising the Stanley Cup. Wow.

*PHW Three Stars
3-Evgeni Malkin - one goal and one assist.
2-Brian Rafalski - one goal.
1-Henrik Zetterberg - game-winning goal and one assist.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-Brian Rafalski - Rafalski's puck movement was key. I was going to give this star to all of the Red Wings defensemen but let's face it, the Penguins were gassed. And once Cindy finally took a real hit, crybaby was pretty much done for the game.
2-Pavel Datsyuk - Where I put Rafalski in for his puck movement, Datsyuk's puck possession was hugely impressive. He seemed to be the linchpin in Detroit's control of the tempo.
1-Henrik Zetterberg - Another Conn Smythe performance in a string of them. Big Z was tremendous in everything that he did - he forechecked, he backchecked, he killed penalties, he made smart passes, he scored. NBC didn't show it but I am sure he drove the bus over to the rink too. Zetterberg secured his place in the discussion for best overall player in the NHL (with Iggy, Vinny 04 and Ovie).

Enough Already!

I am sick and tired about hearing how amazing it was that Petr Sykora called his shot. He didn't. He said he would score, then found himself wide open to slam home a gimmie on a power play. Was it impressive? Sure. Was it an amazing display of skill?


That Babe Ruth called his shot and then hit a homer to that spot was amazing.

This was amazing:

Petr Sykora got lucky. Get over it.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Stanley Cup Final Game 5

The Red Wings lost a disgraceful triple overtime game to the Pittsburgh Penguins last night 4-3 in Detroit. Why do I say disgraceful instead of epic - the word most writers are using? Because Detroit utterly dominated 90% of the game and allowed a lesser team to beat them with the biggest prize in sports on the line at home. If the Pistons can fire Flip Saunders after three seasons where they go 176-70 in the regular season and 30-21 in the postseason, with back-to-back trips the Eastern Conference finals each year, then Mike Babcock should start getting nervous. He needs to get his team to dominate on the scoreboard the way they do everywhere else in the arena.

Blowing the game with 34.3 seconds left was bad enough but it happens. Not being able to score over the next two and a half periods against a team that was clearly exhausted was pathetic. And what is worse is that they weren't beaten by the Penguins top players - Cindy and Gina weren't all that good (actually I would go so far as to say Malkin was pathetic). It was depth guys like Jordan Staal, Adam Hall and Max Talbot who did the most damage. That is playoff hockey - its the time when the best team, from top to bottom, wins and Detroit wasn't it last night.

*Everyone is raving about how well Marc-Andre Fleury played and he did have a solid performance. I am finally giving the kid with the day-glo smile some credit ... but not much. His performance was nothing compared to that of either Marty Turco or Evgeni Nabokov in the Stars/Sharks four OT game. I'm sorry, I'm just not that impressed. He did play solid and made two or three amazing saves - that kick save on Samuelsson was fantastic - but for all of the pressure Detroit put on, most of their shots were quite savable. That was mostly thanks to the Pittsburgh defense, who blocked an amazing 31 shots (including 10 by Brooks Orpik).

*Putting Talbot on the ice at the end of regulation for Fleury was a masterstroke by Michel Therrien. As Kurt Russell said to Noah Emmerich in Miracle as Herb Brooks to Craig Patrick, "I didn't even see him out there." Detroit didn't recognize him as a threat and allowed him to set up on the doorstep where he got two chances to bang home the equalizer.

*I watched the game at the ESPNZone in New York where there were a bunch of Canadians watching as well. They pointed out that Ryan Whitney makes an obscene salary of four million dollars. For the most part he hasn't been worth it, but when you look at the numbers, he played almost 51 minutes in the win - five minutes more than Nick Lidstrom. That's impressive no matter how you look at it.

*Petr Sykora was completely absent from the series, having done nothing over the first four games. Then he steps out and 'calls his shot' saying he would score before getting a gimme goal. And Pittsburgh people are hailing him as a hero? Give me a break.

*Sure Darren Helm scored a goal and had a game-high six hits in just 13 minutes of action, but he should still consider another career. When you have a breakaway in the most important game of your life, you have to at least put the puck on net. It was mortifying to see the Wings best scoring chance of the game go flying over the bar. At the same time, you have to wonder why Babcock gave him such little ice time when he was so dangerous.

*In keeping with questioning of Babcock's decisions, you have take a look at dressing Tomas Holmstrom. He clearly wasn't playing his best hockey and wasn't a factor in the game. Most of the Wings shots were blocked before it got to him or he was on the wrong side of the crease when they did make it on net - another credit to the Pens defense perhaps. Darren McCarty didn't see a lot of time in Game 4 while subbing for Homer, but his presence was huge. As a motivator and a grinder, he could only have helped Detroit.

*The officiating was terrible - both overtime interference calls were really weak while some severe infractions were missed - but the deciding call that ended up winning the game was clear-cut. I have to say that it was impressive that the refs were able to catch it, considering there wasn't much blood - they couldn't see it cascading down Chris Drury's face earlier in the playoffs but they saw it on Rob Scuderi's bearded mug. Amazing how that works when he is a teammate of Crosby's. (Bitter? Yes, yes I am.)

*Dan Cleary played just over a half an hour of the game. Did you see him? I didn't.

*PHW Three Stars
3-Henrik Zetterberg - two assists.
2-Petr Sykora - game-winning goal - this is why I do my own stars. He doesn't do anything for (four games and) 109 minutes and gets a gift power play goal and he was a star in the game? Give me a break.
1-Marc-Andre Fleury - 55 saves.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-Pavel Datsyuk - I thought Big Z played great too but Datsyuk quietly had the best offensive performance of any player in the game. As I said earlier in the series, if he ever gets more confidence in his shot, watch out ...
2-Fleury - Detroit took over 100 shots so the kid had to stay on his toes.
1-Pittsburgh's defense - If I had to pick one, it would be Orpik over Whitney by a hair but the whole unit (even Frankenstein Hal Gill) played solid hockey while the Pens offense was incapable of pushing back at the Wings.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Scotty Hockey Three Stars Of 2007-08

This year I decided that the three stars awarded by the Professional Hockey Writers after each Ranger game were grossly inadequate. The PHW all-too-often made their choices based upon statistics rather than actual performance. So, I took it upon myself to award the Scotty Hockey Three Stars based on toughness and impact. Well, the time has come to tally up all those stars.

As per the typical model, I gave three points to each player when named as the First Star, two points for Second Star and just one for Third. As I regularly awarded co-stars, each of those players were given the points; if they NHL can give three points for some games and two for others, I can be free with my points. As I had no issue being sarcastic, duh, I also gave negative tallies for those smart-alecky stars.

There were three games that I did not make picks due to, well, I can't remember -- all were losses in the first 10 games so I will pretend that they didn't happen. That means that I had 89 games worth of reports to tally up and thus, my excuse for it taking so many weeks after the boys were eliminated to get to this. After doing the math, my brain hurts. I mean, after doing the math, here are the results:

*Opposing players earned 183 points, led by - who else but - Evgeni Malkin. Malkin put up 14 actual points against the Rangers this season in 13 games. He earned 10 'star' points - a tally that would certainly be higher because one of the three games that I missed was against the Pens and he scored the lone goal of the game. As I mentioned, my stars aren't based on statistics so I won't automatically give him first star (the PHW made him second star for that game behind Marc-Andre Fleury, who made 36 saves and if I recall, Hank had a great game too so who knows?). Like I said, I will pretend it didn't happen.

*Three opposing coaches got points - Ted Nolan (10), Claude Julien (6) and Wayne Gretzky (3).

*Tom Renney took just two points.

*That was because the coach was one of four Rangers to get negative/sarcastic points: Renney, Jagr, Straka and Rozy. Actually, Rozy was the only Blueshirt to end up in the red at -3. All four hurt the team severely at various times over the season. Renney made tactical mistakes as well as poor lineup choices. Jagr didn't start leading by example until the playoffs, and his moodiness early on while he tried to get used to his buddy Nylander not being around led to a slow start that cost the team a better playoff position and force them to burn a ton of energy down the stretch just to get into the playoffs. Straka is a good soldier but for someone who gets as much ice time as he does - especially on the power play - 14 goals (including just two in January, two in February, and two in March) is just not enough. As for Rozy, he was shoved into the No. 1 defenseman slot and didn't play like it. His defensive play slipped from last season, leading to an even plus/minus and for all of the talk of his offensive skills, he had just two (actual) points in the entire month of March (13 games) and just one goal in his last 36 games (including playoffs).

*Just two Rangers who played in 10 or more games earned no stars, purely because I couldn't bring myself to even give them negative ones: Marek Malik and Christian Backman (surprise, surprise).

*Even without the dynamic duo, the Blueshirts put together 363 points. That includes vagaries like "penalty killers," "the kids," "defense other than Rozy" and "the iron behind Hank."

*One retired player earned a star: Brian Leetch.

And without further ado, the Scotty Hockey Three Stars of 2008-08:

Brandon Dubinsky/Chris Drury: 37 points - The two Americans were great in their first seasons as Rangers. Dubinsky was a star in 22 games, Drury in just 15. While Dubi is growing into into his role as a leader with just two first stars, Captain Clutch came up big to grab first in eight games. Hopefully their sophomore seasons in red, white and blue will be even better.

Sean Avery: 42 points - Despite missing 11 games due to injury, Avery still managed to come in second. I named him a star 18 times and nine of them were as number one, the most of any player. But that is of no great shock as his importance to the team is well acknowledged. Now we just have to hope that Sather realizes it as well and makes a solid-enough offer to him to ensure another command performance.

Henrik Lundqvist: 57 points - If there is anyone more important than Sean, then it would be Hank. He was a star 29 times thanks to his brilliance and the ineptness of the team's defense. Further proving how valuable goaltending was on this team, his backup Stephen Valiquette was a star in seven of the 13 games he played in.

While the 2008-09 season is sure to feature a few fresh faces, many of the primary characters are under contract and will be back. The moments this year that made these players stars showed just how great the team can be so the thought of Stanley making a return to Broadway is not so far fetched.

One hopes ...

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Stanley Cup Final Game 4

I think the picture says it all. Yes, they were at home and yes, they scored first but Pittsburgh was outplayed all over the ice as Detroit took a 3-1 series lead with a 2-1 win. The usually deadly Penguins power play was held to one goal on six chances as they were completely held in check by the Red Wings team defense. As someone who loves defense almost as much as seeing Cindy Crosby skate off the ice angry as a loser, I found the game wonderful.

*However, it may finally be time to give Marian Hossa a little bit of credit. I had been reluctant because of his tendency to disappear but his lightning fast hands gave the Penguins the first goal of the game. Of course, it came on a gift from the referees, but that is something else entirely.

*The refs called another inconsistent game on both sides. But that really isn't news so I won't dwell on it (this time).

*Cindy the Diver reared his pretty little head again, skating into Andreas Lilja and throwing himself forward to draw an obstruction call and give the Pens their five-on-three with 10 minutes left.

*There is something about the power play that makes television networks decide to cover it differently than the rest of the game. Where Versus seemed obsessed with the behind-the-net robo cam, NBC relied on a robo cam hung from the scoreboard above center ice. There are major problems with using both of those cameras: 1- you lose spacial perspective, 2- they are miles away from where most of the action is happening and 3- they are robo cams, a guy with a joystick in the truck is controlling them so they don't move smoothly. Don't get me wrong, both are good for replays, but for live action they just do not work.

*What did work nicely was the NBA-style shot chart that Pierre McGuire and Mike Milbury used in between periods. During the first intermission it showed how the Pens were keeping the Wings to the outside - a great observation.

*It was great to see Ron Francis again during the second intermission. Always one of the classiest guys while he was playing he showed the same poise and intelligence that were the hallmarks of his understated but wonderful Hall of Fame career.

*Back to the game itself and where was Johan Franzen in this one? For that matter, the search continues for Evgeni Malkin. Hopefully he will be found in Sweden circa October 4th (when the Pens start next season against the Senators).

*Before the series a lot of people looked at the series as a nu skool vs. old school match up. Well, folks, in the NHL playoffs experience matters. The presence and poise of the Detroit geezers was as much of a factor in the win as the goals were. Even in limited minutes, guys like Darren McCartny, Dallas Clark and Kirk Maltby played a big role in keeping the Wings their game and in keeping the Pens off of theirs.

*The goaltending was pretty equal. While Chris Osgood made more flashy saves, Marc-Andre Fleury did so behind a defense that was under pressure all night. They blocked 21 shots to Detroit's 10 and if you combine that with being outshot 30-23, it was a firing gallery out there.

*Despite being under so much pressure, the defense was not to blame for either Detroit goal. Lidstrom's goal was a seeing-eye shot and Fleury should have come up with the stop of Hudler's eventual game-winner.

*Interesting stat of the game: for a puck possession team, the Wings were battered in getting the disc off of the drop, losing 32 of the 54 faceoffs.

*PHW Three Stars
3-Marian Hossa - one goal.
2-Chris Osgood - 22 saves.
1-Nicklas Lidstrom - one goal.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-Hossa - What hands. He had the beautiful lone goal for the Pens and hit the iron moments later in what could have been a backbreaker.
2-Lidstrom - The captain played more than 28 minutes and scored on an incredible blast through traffic. He was in the vicinity when Hossa got his but there was nothing he could do.
1-Henrik Zetterberg - Doc Emerick said Zetterberg's penalty kill shift midway through the third period "was a Conn Smythe shift." I disagree; that was a future Hall of Fame shift. Zetterberg seems to combine the best on-ice qualities of Steve Yzerman - both the young Stevie Y (offensive stud) and the older Stevie Y (Selke winner). He knows his role and dominates at both ends of the ice. Awe inspiring work by the underrated Swede.