Thursday, June 30, 2011

Grading The Brass 2010-11

As I pulled out the 'red pen' for the players, it would only be proper to do it for the front office as well. Last year I wrote that "we don't really know what Dolan, Sather and Torts have done - all that can be judged are the public actions and the results of the behind-closed-doors actions. We're not in the boardroom, office or locker room. Two of the three rarely talk to the press so what they are thinking and doing is unknown and the third, well, his loathing of the press clouds everything just a shade."

A year later that still holds true. I am going to combine memes here and do this the Facts of Life way - take the good, take the bad and take them both and see what we have, then assign a grade.

John Tortorella:
Take the good: The Rangers improved six points from 09-10, going from 38-33-11 to 44-33-5. Tortorella gave more kids shots to play in the NHL and several rewarded his faith with solid seasons. He found several good lines and shockingly stuck with them as long as he could (Cally-Dubi-Arty, Feds-Prust-Boyle). Torts managed not to publicly embarrass the organization in the playoffs against Washington again.

Take the bad: The Rangers lost in the playoffs against Washington again. Tortorella couldn't motivate the team against lesser opponents like Florida. He couldn't ignite Marian Gaborik no matter what he tried. He couldn't find a solution to the power play. He completely mismanaged Sean Avery. He stuck with MDZ and MZA longer than he should have, although that is hard to attack. His petty public battles against Larry Brooks were unprofessional and ridiculous.

Take them both and then we have: If teams do indeed adopt the mindset of the coach, then Torts looks good as the boys bought in and became the hard-working, shot-blocking team that we loved to watch. Could they have finished even higher in the standings and lasted longer in the playoffs? Probably. But they were arguably more than the sum of their parts and injuries and disappointing veterans doomed them to their fate. Final grade: C

Glen Sather:
Take the good: Sather dispatched Donald Brashear to Atlanta and buried Wade Redden in Hartford. Sather opened the July 1st festivities by signing Marty Biron, who proved to be the perfect backup until he got hurt. He tied up Girardi and Staal long term and re-upped Mike Sauer. He lured Mats Zuccarello over from Sweden and Step and McD from Wisconsin. Sather invited Ruslan Fedotenko to camp back in the fall and Feds became one of the hardest working Rangers. He managed to rid the team of Michal Rozsival's contract and dealt the disgruntled Dane Byers to Columbus for Chad Kolarik.

Take the bad: Sather signed free agents Alex Frolov and Derek Boogaard and extended Erik Christensen. Frolov, who failed his way out of LA, brought his brand of disappointment to New York before getting hurt. Boogaard himself admitted to letting everyone down with his performance. Christensen rested on the reassurance and was invisible most of the season. Tim Kennedy very well could have helped the team down the line but he was buried in the minors before being traded away. Speaking of such, Sather's gamble to bring in the old failure Bryan McCabe at the deadline did not work out.

Take them both and then we have: In this day and age where youth is taking over the NHL, not a single player drafted in '09 or '10 has played a single game for the Rangers. Now that is either a very good thing - they don't have to be rushed - or a bad thing - none are ready or simply have the ability. I am going with the former as the first wave of home-grown kids are beginning to establish themselves. Sather is admitting his mistakes and is correcting them. Final grade: B

James Dolan:
Take the good: Dolan doesn't meddle in the affairs of the Rangers, at least publicly. Because the team did not make the playoffs the season prior, ticket prices were not raised for the regular season. CDs by his band JD & The Straight Shot are just $4.99 - but a guy born into a family worth $3.3 billion singing the blues, that's just priceless ...

Take the bad: Dolan is a money-hungry businessman with no regard for the people who are making him even richer than he already is. Despite ever-increasing merchandise revenues and a salary cap limiting costs, ticket prices were still extravagant. The Garden renovation got underway and inconvenienced those fans willing to pay to show up. The 85th Anniversary 'celebration' was just a shameless money grab - who the hell celebrates 85 years (outside of senior citizens)? The team has won one Stanley Cup in the last 71 years and yet the team ranks fourth in the NHL in Fan Cost Index. MSG Network was dropped by Dish Network, screwing the fans who didn't want to pay ticket prices and those who still had the network were still subject to Joe Micheletti.

Take them both and then we have: Dolan made $15.33 million during a down year in the economy where most Ranger fans were hamstrung. For him, that's fantastic. For us, notsomuch. Now Garden president Scott O’Neil is likely the cause of everything above but Dolan signs the paycheques and reaps much of the benefits so the complaints fall upon him. One redeeming factor to keep him from failure? The team isn't moving to Winnipeg. Final grade: D

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Captain Conundrum 2011

The news is out, the Rangers are done with Chris Drury, leaving the Blueshirts without a captain.

Before the C was sewn to Drury's sweater I held the belief that the team needed a cult of personality to lead them and, if anything, the last few seasons strengthened that philosophy. Us fans will never know what Drury brought to the table in the room and outside the rink - he may very well be responsible for the quick acclimation to New York by all of the Ranger kids the last few seasons. We will never know. But it is sad the way things worked out from what we did see.

We are pretty much right back where we started from. Back in 2008 the Rangers were transitioning from the Jagr generation to the Renney's American Rangers and it was clear that the C would go to one of the two big money Cs that were signed, Drury or Scott Gomez. Seeing as Gomez was a clown, that pretty much sealed the deal for Dru. Now the team is transitioning from the mercenary Sather signings to a generation of home grown kids.

So who will it be?

The obvious choice is Ryan Callahan. Cally's on-ice abilities are well known and he matured before our eyes as the New York media turned towards him in Drury's injury-caused absences. Callahan may very well be the next captain and he may very well prove to be worthy of the letter (and I truly hope so) but April 7th opened the door to doubt. Cally stood on crutches alongside Steve McDonald to present the extra effort award before an important home game against Atlanta. The sight of their injured teammate alongside New York's hero cop did nothing to inspire the team and they fell 3-0 in an utter embarrassment.

What we need to figure out is who will be able to inspire this team and lead them to a Stanley Cup? Callahan may very well be the man, but let's just look at a few other candidates:

Henrik Lundqvist: Hank is clearly deeply emotionally tied with the team and it's performance - after wins he is happy, after losses he looks like someone kicked his puppy. He doesn't hide from the media and isn't afraid to call out his teammates. As much as he is the King, he is also the Atlas holding up the Ranger world. But Roberto Luongo proved that goaltenders just shouldn't be captains in this day and age. While Hank can surely handle the pressure, he doesn't need or deserve the distractions.

Brandon Dubinsky: Dubi has been right there alongside Cally, growing up and giving all he has for the team. He is willing to fight for his teammates - physically at times - and call out the opposition *cough, cough, Crosby, cough, cough*. But he is on the verge of yet another possible contract holdout and you simply don't want to see that from the captain.

Marc Staal: The Rangers' top defenseman, Staal is yet another product of the developmental system who is rightfully taking his place among the best blueliners in the NHL. On the ice he is quiet and steady and perhaps the best foil for Alex Ovechkin in the league. While we saw a hint of a sense of humour with him at the All Star draft, Staal is usually as straightforward, bland and dour as Drury was with the media. He is best just going about his business rather than having to deal with all that captaincy holds.

Derek Stepan: In his first season Step stepped right in and often didn't look like a rookie. With the media and the fans he is gregarious and gracious and is already well loved by his teammates. A leader at Wisconsin and with the junior Team USA, Stepan clearly has the personality and ability to be 'the man' when called upon. But, going into his sophomore season he needs to be able to work to avoid the infamous slump without having the team's fortunes weighing upon him.

Brad Richards: Since it seems to be all but certain Richards is signing with the Rangers on Friday, he should be considered a candidate. The former Conn Smythe winner already has a good relationship with the head coach and several of the players and at 31 years old has plenty of experience in dealing with the ups and downs of the league. However, Richards will need to acclimate to the city and, unless his contract demands are far less than expected, will be just another mercenary coming to New York for the money.

Twice in recent history the Rangers chose poorly between two candidates for captaincy - picking the reluctant Leetch over Graves and Jagr over Shanahan. Drury was definitely a better selection than Gomez would have been but he didn't prove to be the leader the Rangers needed. Let's hope that they decide on the right one this time.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Rangers Report Card '10-11

After slogging through a player-by-player assessment in my NYR Facts of Life series, I figured it was finally time for my usual report card.

As I've done in the past, I graded each player based on expectations, performance all season long and performance when it counted. I am, admittedly, a tough grader. If you feel so inclined, you can refer back to the report cards for the last few seasons: '07-08, '08-09 and '09-10. Explanations are brief, if only because I already hit upon each player in the Facts of Life.

By my math the grades worked out to a 1.85 GPA, which is between a C and a C- in my system but the overall grade was a C+ because the team was more than the sum of its parts at times. There were some great performances by a handful and there were great disappointments by a few more. A reminder that these guys are graded against themselves and their own limits, not against other players.


#42 Artem Anisimov: Skilled to be sure but all too inconsistent. C

#16 Sean Avery: Sean wasn't Sean for too long. C-

#94 Derek Boogaard: Yes he scored that goal that time but he fought for no reason and got hurt. D

#22 Brian Boyle: Incredible start but goals dried up midway through. B-

#24 Ryan Callahan: Heart and grit, injured in the line of duty. A

#26 Erik Christensen: Mr. Softie the Backstabber? D

#23 Chris Drury: See the Sad Commentary. C-

#17 Brandon Dubinsky: Career numbers but should be so much better. B-

#39 Brodie Dupont: Wasn't given a real shot. Inc.

#19 Ruslan Fedotenko: Training camp invitee turned invaluable third liner. A-

#31 Alex Frolov: The wrap-around king was an all-around failure. F

#10 Marian Gaborik: Lackadaisical, lackluster and just plain lacking. D

#91 Evgeny Grachev: Showed he could skate and defend but pointless in eight games. D

#25 Chad Kolarik: Ice time was too limiting for a full assessment. Inc.

#45 Kris Newbury: Won some faceoffs and played bigger than his size. C

#20 Vinny Prospal: Vet proved his value when he finally returned. B

#8 Brandon Prust: Steven McDonald Extra Effort Award winner. A

#21 Derek Stepan: Accounted himself well for a rookie. B+

#32 Dale Weise: Dane Byers 2. D

#12 Todd White: Could be an A just for not being Brashear but no. F

#86 Jeremy Williams: Four minutes of ice time. Inc.

#86 Wojtek Wolski: Where was the guy who starred in Phoenix in the playoffs? D

#36 Mats Zuccarello: Skillful but still transitioning to North America. B-


#4 Michael Del Zotto: Utterly disappointed on both side of the ice. F

#44 Steve Eminger: Had a few good stretches of solid defense. C

#97 Matt Gilroy: Never took that next step. D

#5 Dan Girardi: Shot blocker extraordinaire. A

#28 Bryan McCabe: Power play actually got worse with him on it. F

#27 Ryan McDonagh: Midseason call-up showed he could play. B+

#33 Michal Rozsival: Injuries didn't help veteran get his game back. F

#38 Michael Sauer: Steady and dependable as a rookie. A

#18 Marc Staal: Overworked but still the best of the blueline. A


#43 Marty Biron: Blew away expectations before getting hurt. B

#29 Chad Johnson: Not good that the coach didn't trust him. Again. INC

#30 Henrik Lundqvist: Vezina-caliber season with career-best .923 save %. A

Saturday, June 25, 2011

How Things Went Wrong With Hobey

The news broke today that Matt Gilroy was not qualified with the rest of the Rangers Group II restricted free agents.

Given Gilroy had a two-year, $3.5 million contract and would have to had to been qualified at $2.3 million. Financially the numbers just don't work for a player who was a third pairing blueliner ... at best. The Rangers apparently offered him another deal at a lower number but Gilroy will test the waters on July 1st.

So what went wrong?

Gilroy raised the Rangers' expectations (and the final amount of his contract) with a Hobey Baker Award-winning senior year at Boston University. Looking back, the fact that he was joined on the BU blueline by five guys who were all drafted and have all gone pro since should have brought some doubt into the equasion. Opposing schools had to worry about NHL first round selection Kevin Shattenkirk, giving Gilroy more time and space.

Hobey then raised the fans's expectations with this and this. But that came during a time the team came out of the gate flying - the Rangers opened 2009-10 with a 8-3-1 run and everyone was focused on supposed phenom Michael Del Zotto.

Del Zotto was getting prime ice time, especially with the man advantage. Gilroy was left at the bottom of the depth chart, forced to skate with Wade Redden or Michal Rozsival - not a good position to be in. A guy who was supposed to be able to carry the puck and put up points was left cleaning up his partners' mistakes and dumping the disc off the glass. This last season was even worse as he was leapfrogged by Mike Sauer and Ryan McDonagh and his minutes per game dropped well below the 15 minute mark. Gilroy did step up his game late and played some solid, if unspectacular shifts in the playoffs but they were not enough to earn another big money deal.

This fall should see Tim Erixon, Tomas Kundratek, Pavel Valentenko, Jyri Niemi and even Mikhail Pashnin challenge for spots on Broadway. Seeing as Glen Sather is considering adding a veteran on July 1st as well, well, that doesn't leave any room for Hobey. Best wishes to the Bellmore boy.

Quick 2011 Ranger Draft Recap

Gordie Clark, Glen Sather and the rest of the Ranger brass went to Minnesota and came away with six more Future Blue. Yes, six. Sather swung a deal with St. Louis to get the Blues third round pick; he had to give up Evgeni Grachev, but given how often Grachev himself gave up on the ice, it is no big loss. And he swapped next year's sixth rounder with Nashville's this year.

While it is highly unlikely we will see any of the kids in the next two, three seasons, let's look at 'em anyways:

JT Miller - 1st round, 15th overall - It was a classy move by the Rangers to have Aaron Boogaard announce the selection, it was just disappointing that it was this kid. The Hockey News ranked him 59th just two months ago and there were several other players on his own team that would have been better selections - big Tyler Biggs, bible-thumping sparkplug scorer Rocco Grimaldi or goalie John Gibson. Miller committed to play at the University of North Dakota next year but doesn't plan on being there for long, which is not something you really should admit ahead of time. He is just another grinding north-south player with third line upside, a decent second or solid third but first? Perhaps after the Jessiman embarrassment the organization just wants to make sure their guy makes it to the NHL, no matter the role.

Steven Fogarty - 3rd round, 72nd overall - Grachev was a third round pick in 2008 and he brought us back a third round pick in 2011 - that's actually pretty good considering how inconsistent his play was in the AHL. Let's hope Seven Fogarty is steadier down the line. Fogarty looks pretty good in this video but it was against high school kids in Minnesota, so who knows? Looks like he has that Datsyukian timing and sneakiness to steal the puck and the ice sight to do good things with it.

Michael St. Croix - 4th round, 106th overall - A WHL scorer with flash but little grit but he will stand up for his teammates. St. Croix put up points on a bad Edmonton team and helped them to the playoffs. Unfortunately he disappeared once the postseason started, getting just one goal and no assists as the Oil Kings were swept by Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and the Red Deer Rebels.

Shane McColgan - 5th round, 134th overall - While he is willing to stand up for himself, McColgan is a skill guy first and foremost. A background in roller hockey (I like him already) has given him great hands and he has the speed to make them work in the new NHL. Kelly at Behind The Net spoke to him earlier this month after he had a good showing in the WHL playoffs.

Samuel Noreau - 5th round, 136th overall - After drafting a small skill guy in McColgan, they flipped the coin and took a dreadnought two picks later. Noreau is a defensive defenseman who has a tendency to lose his gloves and beat people up. He sounds like a McIlrath-kind of player without the upside.

Peter Ceresnak - 6th round, 172nd overall - Just the fifth Slovak selected in the draft, Ceresnak is several seasons away from the NHL, if at all. The boys at Copper & Blue did their due diligence and took at look at him thinking he could end up in Edmonton. They saw Jan Hejda in him but he sounds more like Radek Martinek to me, without the stink of Islander all over him.

Surprisingly Clark didn't select a single goaltender with any of the six picks to fill the one true hole in the organization. Tortorella doesn't trust Chad Johnson, the Whale relied on journeyman Dov Grumet-Morris even after Cam Talbot got healthy and Scott Stajcer couldn't seize the starting job on Owen Sound. But apparently Sather was convinced by Benoit Allaire that free agent signing Jason Missiaen is enough to supplement those three disappointments. Let's hope they can turn things around and that the injury bug doesn't strike again.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Scotty's Selection?

The first round of the NHL draft, as you are surely aware, is tonight in Minnesota. Because the Rangers made it to the playoffs but flamed out in the first round, they select 15th overall. They dealt away their second round picks to Calgary for Tim Erixon and sent their third rounder to Florida in the McCabe deal. That leaves them with 104th in the fourth, 134th and 136th in the fifth (134 was part of the Erixon deal).

Things worked out that my selection for the Rangers matched that of Gordie Clark and we got Dylan McIlrath. I was lucky enough to have seen McIlrath play but did not make it to any junior games this year so it is far harder to judge. Jess from Prospect Park, the blogging guru when it comes to the Ranger kids, presented a few options and likes Finland's Joel Armia at 15 or American Tyler Biggs if the Rangers trade down in the first round. Personally I am hoping they do deal away the 15 pick and drop, because they can get back a third rounder to be sure - maybe a second if the other team is desperate. If there is a way to trade it and get back a top-six player, well, I do that in a second.

Strange to say, right? After years of begging for a rebuild with youth it is finally here. We have a young core with another wave of kids about to come through. We need to ride that wave and quickly. Those kids need to enter a culture of winning - not mediocrity - where they can succeed before they go sign somewhere else or need to be dealt away in this salary cap world. If we needed a reminder of that, well Philly just gave us one.

The Rangers clearly are building a team that will be successful when the renovations are finished in MSG, to justify the extraordinary prices. Given the parity in the draft picks after the top six or seven this year, would a project kid be able to not just play but to succeed in two seasons time?

Twenty years ago the Rangers picked Alex Kovalev 15th overall. Since then the Rangers drafted one player who turned out worthy of the title 'First Round Pick" - Marc Staal. That is, of course discounting MDZ, Kreider and McIlrath as the jury is still out on them. A few guys made it to the league and became worthwhile players - Sundstrom, Cloutier, Malhotra - and a few didn't - Cherneski, Brendl, Jessiman. One would like to imagine that Clark has set the team back on the path of regularly drafting guy who can make the shot but who knows?

However, since it isn't fun not to have a horse in the race, if I had to throw some darts at the wall and guess at who the Rangers will pick - I'd like Mark McNeill if he is still around, Nicklas Jensen, David Musil or even goalie John Gibson. As long as Sather doesn't make an awful trade and Clark does select a netminder at some point, the 2011 draft will be successful for the team.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The NYR Facts Of Life '10-11 Master Post

After finishing off this year's The Facts Of Life: New York Rangers series, I figured it would be best to have a one-stop shop where you can check out the individual players of your choice without having to delve into the archives.

#4 Michael Del Zotto
#5 Dan Girardi
#8 Brandon Prust
#10 Marian Gaborik
#12 Todd White
#16 Sean Avery
#17 Brandon Dubinsky
#18 Marc Staal
#19 Ruslan Fedotenko
#20 Vinny Prospal
#21 Derek Stepan
#22 Brian Boyle
#23 Chris Drury
#24 Ryan Callahan
#25 Chad Kolarik
#26 Erik Christensen
#27 Ryan McDonagh
#28 Bryan McCabe
#29 Chad Johnson
#30 Henrik Lundqvist
#31 Alex Frolov
#32 Dale Weise
#33 Michal Rozsival
#36 Mats Zuccarello
#38 Michael Sauer
#39 Brodie Dupont
#42 Artem Anisimov
#43 Martin Biron
#44 Steve Eminger
#45 Kris Newbury
#86 Wojtek Wolski
#86 Jeremy Williams
#91 Evgeny Grachev
#94 Derek Boogaard
#97 Matt Gilroy

The NYR Facts Of Life: #4 Michael Del Zotto

For each player who suited up in a Blueshirt this season we will take the good, we will take the bad and take them both and see what we have. And this time around we started with the high numbers and finishing up with last (and one of the least) #4, Michael Del Zotto.

#4's #s: 47 games, two goals, nine assists, -5, 20 PIM.

Take the good: Del Zotto came out of a summer spent training with Gary Roberts and laid a nasty hit on Pat Kaleta in the season opener.

Take the bad: It was all downhill from there. Scenes like this were all too familiar this year, where Del Zotto was walked around by the opposition. For all of the big hits he attempted, he often simply waved his stick at the bad guys as they came near. For all of the speed he has, he often was outhustled to the puck. The flashes of offensive greatness that we saw during his rookie season were gone and he was outright disastrous on the power play. He quarterbacked like he had a live hand grenade, and he either tossed it away harmlessly or got his fingers blown off while overhandling it, resulting in a shorthanded break for the bad guys.

Take them both and then we have: A player who was clearly number one with Ranger fans (watch the video). It is hard to say that he had a sophomore slump when he was just as inept in his own zone as he was when he was a freshman. But at the end of the day he was just a immature 20 year old living the dream in the big city. Hopefully the trip to the bus league helped him grow up and set him on the the path to being a capable NHLer - if not the rightful heir to Leetch that so many hoped for.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The NYR Facts Of Life: #33 Michal Rozsival

For each player who suited up in a Blueshirt this season we will take the good, we will take the bad and take them both and see what we have. And this time around we started with the high numbers and was almost finished before realizing that we missed #33, Michal Rozsival.

#33's #s: 32 games, three goals, 12 assists, +3, 22 PIM.

Take the good: Now I know that there have been plenty of people following this Facts of Life series, but no one noticed that Rozy was skipped - perhaps that says quite a bit about Rozy but it doesn't say it all. Rozsival was the quiet, calm veteran from whom you knew exactly what to expect. He even surprised us with a several good performances at the beginning of the season (five points in a five-game span in late October) and then one outstanding shift in the otherwise forgettable 3-0 loss to Florida just after New Years. He was a crutch for Tortorella and saw an average of 22 minutes of ice time a night.

Take the bad: There was a time where he was the team's number one defenseman (which wasn't saying much about the blueline back then) but that was a long time ago. This season the 32-year-old Czech fought hip, shoulder and rib injuries that stripped away whatever effectiveness he had left. Rozy was soft, he was slow, he had bad turnovers and he took bad penalties. More often than not he was a liability who brought his partner down as said partner had to scramble to cover for him.

Take them both and then we have: The last piece of the post-lockout Czech-mate Rangers to be removed. His teammates respected him - even if we fans did not - and not one of them doubted his effort - even if we did. Rozsival played a total of 467 games with the Blueshirts, a solid tenure (that he was paid handsomely for). The decision to trade him away not only opened up salary cap space but it secured a permanent spot for Ryan McDonagh on the blueline.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The NYR Facts Of Life: #5 Dan Girardi

For each player who suited up in a Blueshirt this season we will take the good, we will take the bad and take them both and see what we have. And this time around we started with the high numbers and are up to #5, Dan Girardi.

#5's #s: 80 games, four goals, 27 assists, +7, 37 PIM (5 playoff games, no goals, no assists, -2, no PIM).

Take the good: Girardi was half of the top defensive pairing on the Rangers and thus saw the toughest competition and played a ton of minutes. Henrik Lundqvist would not have been able to put together the Vezina-caliber season that he did without Dan. Girardi was the regular season league leader in blocked shots with 236 - 24 more than second place Greg Zanon (who played two more games). He then added 26 more in the five playoff games against the Caps. He improved his points and plus/minus each of the last two seasons and appears to be heading into his prime. And he did all that while laying down more than a few hits - he collected 195, which ranked ninth in the NHL among defensemen. Girardi is no fighter but after the awful, awful Gaborik incident has learned to stand up for his teammates ...

Take the bad: Girardi is pointless and -7 in his last 18 playoff games. There were numerous times this season where he gave his opponent too much time and space and was burned. When Staal was out with injury Girardi was clearly out of sorts. Needs to realize that a stick check is no check at all when you are going one-on-one against the top talents in the NHL.

Take them both and then we have: Some players get contract extensions and get complacent. Dan Girardi is not one of those players. Girardi re-upped with the Rangers for four more seasons last July and kept up the hard work that earned that deal. He had surgery for a hernia after the season, which makes you wonder just how much pain he fought through and how long he dealt with it. When you see a guy dealing with that and still playing at a high level, you want to be your best, and Girardi definitely set a good example for McD and Sauer in their first playoffs. Interestingly, Girardi was the assistant captain in Guelph in '04-05 - showing his leadership ability. The captain? Ryan Callahan.

Monday, June 20, 2011

The NYR Facts Of Life: #8 Brandon Prust

For each player who suited up in a Blueshirt this season we will take the good, we will take the bad and take them both and see what we have. And this time around we started with the high numbers and are up (or down) to #8, Brandon Prust.

#8's #s: 82 games, 13 goals, 16 assists, +2, 160 PIM (5 playoff games, no goals, one assist, even, 4 PIM).

Take the good: Brandon Prust earned the Steven McDonald Extra Effort Award. The throw-in to the Olli Jokinen deal busted his ass and became an indispensable part of the roster this season. Prust was the prototypical modern-day enforcer - a guy who could fight and a guy who could play. He threw down the gloves 18 times and came away with an 11-5-2 record. He had the respect of his teammates and the fear of his opponents: he fought in the first two minutes of a game four times, and his team went on to win that game all four times. With his gloves on Prust paired with Brian Boyle to become a shockingly difficult pairing for opponents to deal with at even strength and shorthanded. When combined with Ruslan Fedotenko, the three made for one of the best checking lines in the NHL. They forechecked, they backchecked and then they checked some more, wearing down opponents and forcing turnovers. Prust surprised with his speed and it helped him to tie for third in the NHL with five shorthanded goals.

Take the bad: "It's only pain" is one spectacular motto and it endeared him even further to fans and teammates alike. But there is being brave and there is being stupid - there were multiple games where Prust was clearly playing with one arm because his shoulder was so screwed up, limiting his effectiveness.

Take them both and then we have: A tough guy for the rebuilding Rangers and a fan favourite for the Garden faithful. Prust drew a legion of fans with his work and set career numbers for the low, low price of $800,000. He raised expectations playing with Shelley and Anisimov immediately after the Jokinen trade and he blew them away this season. Prust has raised the bar and he will have to keep on working hard to reach it going further. Just think of what he will do next season when he is in a contract year ...

Friday, June 17, 2011

Chris Drury: A Sad Commentary

Larry Brooks wrote today that the Rangers can't buy out Chris Drury. Because of Drury's knee injury, Glen Sather can't hand him a golden parachute and send him out of town. Instead, should things play out as Brooks expects, Dru will be placed on Long Term Injured Reserve because the knee "will render him medically unable to play next season." So no matter what happens in the next few days/weeks/months - whether Dru is bought out, placed on LTIR or pulls a Naslund and retires - one thing is all but certain: Chris Drury will not play for the Rangers again.

Please, wait a moment before hosting a celebratory pizza party.

Sure, Drury's tenure as a Ranger was not a good one. But the proud man, a winner throughout his career prior to his time in New York, is headed off Broadway as a loser. While being handsomely compensated, the guy lost his job and it was not for a lack of effort on his part. That is the one thing - when all is said and done - that can be said about Drury as a Ranger: he never gave it less than everything he had. And for that we should pause before delighting in his dismissal.

No, seriously, put that slice of pizza down.

It is not his fault that Glen Sather handed him that ridiculous contract, five years at $7.05 million per. It is not his fault that the bar was set in accordance to that contract and not his abilities. Throughout his NHL career he succeeded when he wasn't relied upon to be 'the man' and that role was thrust upon him. Granted, it was shared by the grinning Gomez, but the MexiCan't clearly didn't care. It weighed heavily upon Drury and he did care, except when it was Christmas time.

Ah, the infamous Christmas quote. On December 23rd, 2008 Drury assisted on three of four Ranger goals as they leaped out to a 4-0 lead against the Capitals before blowing it and losing in overtime 5-4. After the game Dru told the media, "“I’m certainly not going to let it ruin my Christmas and I don’t think anyone here is going to let it ruin their break, either."

Now only the insane would ever truly believe that the players, in this day and age, live and die with the results the way fans do. We may want it to be that way - we even may often delude ourselves that it is indeed so - but, deep inside, we know that that just isn't how it goes. These guys are professional athletes doing a job - if you have a bad day at work, are you going to let it ruin your holiday? But the problem is that Drury said it out loud. And, in doing so, he burst our bubble of delusion. And that is unacceptable.

Before Drury was given a sweater with a C stitched on the breast, I wrote that "the C brings with it a legacy and it should not be tarnished just because fans or pundits feel that somebody has to have it." Since that time, especially post-Xmas comment, I called Drury the worst captain in Ranger history. It is a harsh statement but one I stand by. Now that is based on the observations of an outsider; reports say Drury was respected and loved inside the locker room and that is all fine and good. Hell, that is wonderful. But that doesn't change that for us fans in the stands his ability was never apparent. Drury never picked the team up on his shoulders on the ice, never gave impassioned speeches on the bench and was a monotone, benign cliche machine in interviews.

The Rangers had many great captains over the years from Bill Cook to Red Sullivan to Dave Maloney, but the station will forever be defined by Mark Messier. The Captain set a standard that will be, frankly, unmatchable. It will take something and someone extraordinary to simply get out of the shadow cast by him. The sheer skill of Jaromir Jagr couldn't do it and the quiet determination of Chris Drury couldn't do it. We can't blame Drury for that because like his contract, that shadow was not of his doing.

What can we blame him for? For not having Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg around to distract defenses? For not being Mark Messier and willing this team to victories? For not being the exceptional fourth liner that he was in the Olympics? No. We can't blame him for any of that. Say what you want but his character and his effort were completely unassailable.

And because of that the pizza should be put away. Seeing someone with the class and dignity of Chris Drury exit the organization is not cause for celebration. The Drury era was brought about by Glen Sather and now Glen Sather has ended it. Best wishes to Drury and a warning to the GM, for he can't possibly put us through that again.

It might ruin our Christmases.

The NYR Facts Of Life: #10 Marian Gaborik

For each player who suited up in a Blueshirt this season we will take the good, we will take the bad and take them both and see what we have. And this time around we started with the high numbers and are up (or down) to #10, Marian Gaborik.

#10's #s: 62 games, 22 goals, 26 assists, +8, 18 PIM (5 playoff games, one goal, one assist, even, 2 PIM).

Take the good: Gaborik had two hat tricks, a four goal game and a five-goals-in-five-games stretch that helped the Rangers go on a 7-1-1 tear in March. He finished tied for second on the Rangers in points despite missing 20 games. He had nearly as many points on the road (23) as he did at home (25) during the regular season.

Take the bad: Where to start? Gaborik averaged 0.77 points per game, his lowest average since before the lockout. He scored in just 15 of the 67 games he played, building up his goal total against bad teams. Gabby was all but invisible in the playoffs, putting up two points and neither were on the power play where he averaged, AVERAGED four minutes of ice time. The Slovak averaged nearly 51 minutes per goal scored this season (50:57) and had a goal drought stretch for 12 games from late March through Game 3 against the Caps (awful timing). He did not break 20 minutes of ice time per game from February 1st though the end of the regular season - a span of 24 games - and then played over 20 in each of the five postseason matches against Washington. He had all of four game-winning goals, but just one of them was really the determining goal of a game.

Take them both and then we have: A player still named Marian Gaborik, which means that other coaches feel the need to guard him closely, giving more room to the rest of the Ranger lineup. While the introverted Gaborik rarely looked interested in playing, it must be said that he had trouble getting into any kind of groove with any linemates aside from Sean Avery, of all people. Where post-Nylander era Jaromir Jagr connected with a young Brandon Dubinsky, the Rangers need to find someone to re-energize their scorer. If that is Avery, so be it, but the coach needs to realize that. And the franchise needs to ensure that the 20 games he missed this season doesn't mean he is slipping back down the injury-plagued path that he has tread so often in the past.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The NYR Facts Of Life: #12 Todd White

For each player who suited up in a Blueshirt this season we will take the good, we will take the bad and take them both and see what we have. And this time around we started with the high numbers and are up to #12, Todd White.

#12's #s: 18 games, 1 goal, 1 assist, -2, 2 PIM.

Take the good: Donald Brashear is no longer a Ranger; the Blueshirts picked up White last summer by getting rid of the goon (along with failed experiment Pat Rissmiller).

Take the bad: White became a failed experiment himself. He never reformed any chemistry with his old Wild teammate Marian Gaborik and spent much of his NHL time confined to the fourth line. He was a slow shadow of the player who had 73 points two seasons prior with Atlanta. For the energy that he brought, he simply did not have the size or strength to make it translate into anything positive.

Take them both and then we have: A 36-year-old veteran of 653 NHL regular season games that has reached the end of the thread. White cleared waivers three times before heading for Hartford just before New Years. Once there he played just nine games in the bus league - putting up five points - due to several injuries, including a concussion suffered when he ran into one of his teammates. The writing is on the wall.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The NYR Facts Of Life: #16 Sean Avery

For each player who suited up in a Blueshirt this season we will take the good, we will take the bad and take them both and see what we have. And this time around we started with the high numbers and are up to #16, Sean Avery.

#16's #s: 76 games, 3 goals, 21 assists, -4, 174 PIM (4 playoff games, no goals, one assist, -1, 12 PIM).

Take the good: When Sean Avery was being Sean Avery, well, he was Sean Avery. He was a prime pest, a hustling dervish who drove his opponents to distraction. On multiple nights when the Rangers played flat, uninspired puck, Avery was one of - if not the only - Rangers to bring his game, in fact he seemed to step it up when his teammates stepped down. He forechecks well, he is one of the best skaters on the team and he was one of the few Blueshirts to actually get Gabby to wake up. Despite putting up a team-high 174 PIM, he showed remarkable patience as he was often a prime target for opposing checkers and rabble rousers. For all of the talk about what a dirty player he is, Avery had just two unsportsmanlike conducts and no diving calls the entire season. The Rangers were 12-4-1 when he registered a point.

Take the bad: That means he made it onto the scoresheet in just 17 of his 76 games. Not enough. Avery scored just three goals - his lowest total since his rookie season in Detroit - and his .022 shooting percent was the lowest of his career. His penalty minutes were the highest they've been since he was a King, thanks to six 10 minute misconducts. Avery had 12 fights, his highest season total since before the lockout, and he won just four - going 4-5-3. Fighting minor league nobody Mike Haley on the Islanders may be one of the dumbest things he has ever done.

Take them both and then we have: One confused hockey player with a dubious future with the franchise. Avery averaged 11:14 minutes per game but played far less than that in 15 of the last 16 games he played during the regular season. That was before the playoffs where he played four of the five games and averaged 12:22. Torts never gave him the chance to gain any chemistry with his teammates, bouncing him around the lineup. And the super pest was stupefyingly scratched for several games down the stretch and once during the playoffs (Torts clearly not learning his lesson from 2009). The unadulterated adoration of the Garden faithful wore down as his effectiveness diminished this season but the class he has shown in his public backing of gay marriage has gone a long way to restoring support throughout New York and the rest of the NHL.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The NYR Facts Of Life: #17 Brandon Dubinsky

For each player who suited up in a Blueshirt this season we will take the good, we will take the bad and take them both and see what we have. And this time around we started with the high numbers and are up to #17, Brandon Dubinsky.

#17's #s: 77 games, 24 goals, 30 assists, -3, 100 PIM (5 playoff games, two goals, one assist, -3, 2 PIM).

Take the good: Dubinsky collected career high numbers in goals, assists and points. He made a good transition to the wing, where he was able to use his size and skill to power off the boards along the goal line. After stepping to the side, he combined with Arty and Cally to form one helluva home-grown line that worked very well together from the moment Tortorella's darts hit the roster board until the sad second when Cally went down with injury. His set up to Cally's game winner in the fantastic November 15th game against the Pens was outstanding. Dubi won three of his four fights (although the lone loss was humiliating - Mike Green? Really?). There is something to be said that Dubi's two biggest archenemies in the NHL are Mike Richards and Sidney Crosby.

Take the bad: Dubinsky overhandles the puck, gets frustrated at times and disappears too often. Personally, I thought he would grow into an Arnott-esque first line center but he has never taken that leap. While many hoped that he would be the pivot for Gaborik, he never clicked with the Slovakian Slacker the way he did with Jagr. Dubi looks ridiculous with a mustache.

Take them both and then we have: A good second line player. Dubinsky's moments of dominance are few and far between but the chemistry he showed with the other Wolf Pack pups raised his game to another level. At just 25 years old he acts and speaks like a veteran to his teammates and the media. Two years ago he held out thinking he deserved more money and proved he was worth that pay day. But will he be worth another?

Monday, June 13, 2011

The NYR Facts Of Life: #18 Marc Staal

For each player who suited up in a Blueshirt this season we will take the good, we will take the bad and take them both and see what we have. And this time around we started with the high numbers and are up to #18, Marc Staal.

#18's #s: 77 games, 7 goals, 22 assists, +8, 50 PIM (5 playoff games, no goals, one assist, -3, no PIM).

Take the good: Staal was the workhorse of the defensive corps, averaging more than 25 minutes per game and playing against the top talents in the league. He is one of the only defenders singlehandedly capable of containing Alexander Ovechkin. Strong and sturdy, he combined with Dan Girardi on the Rangers' top pairing. Staal rarely takes bad penalties and has apparently sworn off fighting (he has not thrown the gloves since the infamous bongo incident) ... although he should have tossed off the gloves after getting a stick to the crotch by Alex Burrows. He had my favourite hit of the season against the Islanders.

Take the bad: Had the NHL wheel o' justice been turning the way it did in the playoffs, we would have lost Staal for quite a while for his hit on Matt Stajan. Staal clearly was battered, bruised and tired by the end of the season. Despite the maturation of Sauer and McDonagh, he only saw less than 20 minutes once the entire year. He unleashed a personal best 116 shots but few were of the quality that he is capable of. Staal saw plenty of power play time and never looked comfortable. And he got absolutely hammered by his own brother, the same brother who waited until the seventh round to draft him at the All Star game. That can't be good for family dinners.

Take them both and then we have: Our number one defenseman, for now. Staal is big, he is strong and he is smart. He skates hard and is rock solid in his own zone. He still doesn't know when to carry the puck or join the rush and surprises most everyone when he does it. I mean, the guy can score a goal like this, why doesn't he do it more often?

Monday, June 6, 2011

The NYR Facts Of Life: #19 Ruslan Fedotenko

For each player who suited up in a Blueshirt this season we will take the good, we will take the bad and take them both and see what we have. And this time around we started with the high numbers and are up to #19, Ruslan Fedotenko.

#19's #s: 66 games, 10 goals, 15 assists, +9, 25 PIM (5 playoff games, no goals, two assists, -1, 4 PIM).

Take the good: After the last pre-season game I wrote, "I didn't like the guy on Pittsburgh, I was worried he would take Avery's job and yet now I can't imagine the Rangers starting this season without him." Everything that Fedotenko showed during the exhibitions he followed up with during the regular season. He was a fantastic lunchpail player who came to work every game and did his job. When the Tortorella line generator put him with Prust and Boyle the Rangers suddenly had one of the best grind lines in the entire NHL. He is certainly not a fighter but he handles himself quite well in his one bout (I'm a sucker for anyone who beats up the Islanders). After he went down with a shoulder injury in the second period of the game against the Leafs - a game where he had a goal - the Rangers went on a rough stretch, going 5-8-1.

Take the bad: The 31 year old isn't getting any younger, he isn't getting any better. If he every stops forechecking, then he stops being useful. Had arduous goal droughts of 10, 8 and 14 games but, frankly, he wasn't being paid to score.

Take them both and then we have: A fantastic training camp invitee. Fedotenko definitely provided bang for the buck, putting together 150 regular season hits and 23 in the playoffs - and all for just a million bucks. He knows his role on a Tortorella team and does it pretty well. Feds is the kind of veteran a growing team - one with a fantastic work ethic, over 700 games played and a pair of Cups - definitely needs.

The NYR Facts Of Life: #20 Vinny Prospal

For each player who suited up in a Blueshirt this season we will take the good, we will take the bad and take them both and see what we have. And this time around we started with the high numbers and are up to #20, Vaclav Prospal.

#20's #s: 29 games, 9 goals, 14 assists, +4, 8 PIM (5 playoff games, one goal, no assists, +1, no PIM).

Take the good: Prospal was the only player to maintain some chemistry with Marian Gaborik. He scored in his first game back from injury on February 3rd and then put up 13 of his points in an 11 game span a few weeks later. Had 58 hits in his 34 games, 14 of which came in the five playoff games. Ten of his 23 points came on the power play. Not a single player - not even any of the rookies - was as happy as he was when he scored.

Take the bad: Prospal is old, he has slowed and he missed more than half of the season thanks to his bad knee. He didn't get a single shot on goal in two playoff games, one being the double OT disaster - for someone in a top-six spot, seeing serious ice time and with a 14.8 shooting percentage, that is just ridiculous.

Take them both and then we have: There were stretches of last season where Prospal disappeared but he didn't play enough this time to run into the doldrums - unless you count the playoffs. As we saw at the fan forum, the players love him and respect him so having the old man around isn't a detriment. But he is just keeping Chris Kreider's spot warm until the kid grows a pair and jumps to the NHL.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Erixon To The Rangers

In case you haven't already heard/read it, the Rangers traded for Tim Erixon today:
New York Rangers President and General Manager Glen Sather announced today that the club has acquired defenseman Tim Erixon and a fifth-round draft pick in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft from Calgary in exchange for forward Roman Horak and two second round draft picks in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. The Rangers also announced today that the club has signed Erixon to an entry level deal.
Calgary had to make the deal as Erixon was about to re-enter the draft and had told the team that he was not about to agree to play in Abbotsford next season. The Rangers, well, I guess they decided Hobey Gilroy isn't good enough to come back and aren't sold on Michael Del Zotto's future after a season and a half of horrible hockey. Can't disagree on either count.

Now, you know you are old when the kids of the players you cheered for are entering the league. I could cope with Stastny but Erixon ... Jan was a personal favourite (along with Beezer). Now Tim is a far different player than his dad but you can be sure that the kid will have a good grasp on the game. Tim has said that he patterns his game after Nick Lidstrom but from what I've seen he has a lot of qualities that Brian Rafalski displayed during his now-concluded career, just in a bigger body. He sees the ice well, can carry the puck, has a decent shot and is capable in his own end.

The cost, in my opinion, was high. Roman Horak is a legitimate NHL prospect averaged better than a point per game on a middling WHL team and is adept in the faceoff circle. Scoring and draws are two major deficiencies on the Rangers right about now. However, Jess from The Prospect Park pointed out a few weeks back that the Rangers didn't invite Ethan Werek or Horak to the Whale after their junior seasons ended and now both have been traded. Jess saw Horak a bit this year and wrote that the kid needs to fill out a bit and may spend next year in Europe. But the two second round picks is what gets me, considering the talent they have found in that round in recent years: Dubi, Sauer, Arty, Step, Werek and Christian Thomas - a far better haul the first round selections. The fifth rounder that they received from Calgary is all but worthless - in the last 20 years they have developed just three players from there: Dale Purinton, Tomas Kloucek and Nigel Dawes (the jury is still out on Scott Stajcer, Horak and Jason Wilson).

Many have immediately awarded this as a win for the Rangers (especially Flames fans) but I am not that quick to jump for joy. Erixon has played with men, he has been proven competent and he should get an immediate shot on Broadway. If it motivates MDZ to act like a professional and make him a decent hockey player or it sets him on the road out of town, I am all for it. But if this kid thinks that he deserves a spot (and acts like that) then the Rangers could have pissed away a useful player who was needed and two picks that could have eventually contributed for another arrogant child with a dubious future.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The NYR Facts Of Life: #21 Derek Stepan

For each player who suited up in a Blueshirt this season we will take the good, we will take the bad and take them both and see what we have. And this time around we started with the high numbers and are up to #21, Derek Stepan.

#21's #s: 82 games, 21 goals, 24 assists, +8, 20 PIM (5 playoff games, no goals, no assists, -5, 2 PIM).

Take the good: Stepan stepped off of campus and onto Broadway and rarely looked out of place, playing with a poise beyond his years. The rookie seized a top-six spot, played every single game and earned priceless experience in all situations. He worked hard and yet did it with a smile, showing he was comfortable being a professional. He took hit after hit after hit and bounced right back and stayed involved. Step showed skill and he showed grit and he went far beyond being that new kid with the attractive mom that MSG keeps showing.

Take the bad: There's a wall and Step hit it - at least we have to hope that was the issue and not the situation - the kid didn't get a single point in the playoffs and was -1 in every single game ... then again he played four minutes per game than he did in the regular season. He tried to do too much too often and was marginalized by stronger, more experienced defenders. After opening with a much-publicised hat trick, Step went on an 18 game drought. He averaged more than two minutes of power play time per game and had just 10 points with the man advantage.

Take them both and then we have: One of the building blocks for the new era of the Blueshirts. Stepan epitomizes the kind of leadership and character that Gordie Clark has targeted in recent drafts - you can easily see him wearing a letter someday. He is willing to pay the price to make the play and has great timing and good patience but he needs to stay involved and keep learning. Stepan needs to pick up the tricks of the game, especially those in the faceoff circle - 38.5% this year was simply awful. He showed great chemistry with Zuccarello (if only the Norge kid would shoot the damned puck occasionally) and a strong, veteran power winger could really complete a dangerous second line.