Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Bye, Don't Let The Door Hit You ...

By now you've heard the news: come 2015 the Islanders will be moving to Brooklyn. While it does not bring the sheer joy that folding the franchise or moving it to Quebec or Kansas City would, it is still quite the delight.

This weird feeling I have now - happiness, I believe it is called - is making it hard to compose all my thoughts into one cohesive post so I will just go with my Late Hits-style bullet points:

*First off, if anyone gets on the demolition crew for the Mausoleum, let me know. I will pay top dollar to be the one to press the button to implode that dump.

*They are replacing one vile fanbase with another, as the Jersey Shore wannabe's that wandered the Coliseum concourse will be replaced by Brooklyn hipsters. That is actually great news for the Isles, as hipsters do things ironically, like adoring such awfulness as PBR and UCB. So they should come in droves for at least the opener, before they realize that irony is one thing and idiocy is another. But if Wang decided to bring back the Fisherman sweater? He may have a top seller!

*The stink - and not just the one of failure - may remain the same. The Coliseum had many problems with its piping and many parts of Brooklyn already smell like sewage. Tasty.

*In all seriousness, this could hurt the Rangers a little bit. If the Isles keep prices low to attempt to actually fill the 14,500 seat Barclays Center, it would draw many of the disillusioned hockey fans that have been ostracized by Dolan and company. Bringing in those Blue Bloods - and not just for games against the Rangers - would help a franchise that averaged 13,200 announced fans last season and just 10k two years ago. (In fact, not including last season, the Isles had the lowest attendance in the NHL since the lockout - lower than the Devils, Thrashers and the Coyotes.) I, for one, will be attending more than my usual half-dozen Islander games a year now that the train goes right to the building ...

*But those cheaper prices will be key - the Devils play in a nice new building that is easy to get to but they still barely pull in warm bodies. Then again, they are the Devils and no one wants to go to New Jersey if they don't have to so perhaps that is not the best comparison.

*Sure the Isles have a legitimate superstar and a legion of high draft picks in the pipeline but the odds of Charles Wang and his sycophant staff figuring out how to develop those kids into winners is about the same as me replacing Del Zaster on the Blueshirt blueline. The one plus now is that free agents will more more willing to come to town, seeing as they can live in a real city and avoid the traffic on the Meadowbrook.

*But more mercenaries won't be the key - as we've seen with the Rangers. Growing those aforementioned kids into a competitive team is what will truly help the Islanders. They'd be able to fill the falling-apart Fort (UsedTo)NeverLose if the team wasn't such a failure. Hell, they wouldn't need to move to Brooklyn as it would be easier to attract fans, sponsors and voters to help buy Wang that new building he initially wanted.

*The new proximity to the Garden is meaningless for the rivalry - plenty of puckheads rate the Pens and Flyers as the Rangers biggest rivals nowadays over the Isles and Devils. Many times over the last decade it seemed like I was the only one left who still truly loathed the Isles with every fiber of my being.

*This is another slap in the face to Canada, for several reasons. If I recall, Bettman made True North guarantee that they would have 13,000 season tickets sold in Winnipeg before allowing Atlanta to relocate. There isn't a snowball's chance in hell that the Isles could pull that off now. Both Quebec and Toronto could sell 20k tix a night and Bettman would rather wait to rape them for expansion fees rather than give them a broken down, underperforming, mismanaged joke of a franchise.

*It is worth noting that the franchise goaltender Rick DiPietro will still be under contract for the first six seasons that the team is in Brooklyn. DiPietro is currently spending the lockout in the German second division - a league so simple that plugs Chris Stewart and Wayne Simmonds laughed and left to upgrade to the mediocrity that is the Czech Extraliga. And, while in that piss poor German league, DP has played two games and allowed eight goals. Yep. Wonder which will be more rusty in 2015, DP or the exterior of the arena he plays in.

*Bettman saying in the presser that things are coming full circle with the Isles coming into Brooklyn after the long folded Americans (who never played there) is hilarious. The NHL and the Rangers colluded to ensure the Amerks never came back after World War II. The terrific Third String Goalie did a great piece on the history of that franchise.

*This dashes my hopes of a return of the Rovers. The Rangers long-time minor league team used to share the Garden before going the way of the dodo. With the XL Center's lease and AEG's contract to run the building set to expire in August and Barclays sitting empty the elements were there to bring the baby Blueshirts back to the city. Sadly Barclays will instead host a bush league franchise in 2015, rather than a minor league one.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Moving Matches

The unfortunate fact that there will be no NHL dates filling the calendars at area arenas anytime soon shouldn't stand in the way of there being hockey played there. All three of the metro franchises have AHL affiliates nearby, affiliates that they own. So once the NHL season is officially scrubbed, why don't they relocate a few minor league games to the major league ice?

It is certainly not like the minor league teams are exactly packing them in in their minor league towns either. The average attendance over 38 home games last season for all three was under 5,000. It would be easy to make any Islander joke right here, but restraint is a virtue. Plus, their AHL side actually had the highest attendance of the three - the Sound Tigers filled 4,875 seats out of the 10,000 at the Arena at Harbor Yard in Bridgeport, good for 20th in the league. In Hartford the Whale's attendance ranked 23rd they had 4,573 out of the XL Center's 16,294 seats filled. The little Devils, well, they were dead last in the AHL. Albany's Times Union Center received an average of 3,435 (out of a possible 14,236).

For the Islanders and the Devils, there is very little standing in the way of hosting AHL games in their NHL arenas - both have done it before. The Rangers would have a more difficult time, with MSG being a union shop and thus a far more expensive endeavor. But let's face it, the Blueshirts can easily cover the tab and they should want to show off the latest stage of renovations.

Hell, all three should do it and make the games free for season ticket holders (of both the NHL and AHL clubs) and sell the rest of the tickets off for charity. They would still collect considerable concessions and would keep their product on the market - something valuable in today's current A.D.D. society with it's plethora of entertainment options.

So which games should go? Weekend games are the lifeblood of minor league life so let's look past those. Another criteria for the kid league is rivalry games, as bigger crowds congregate when there is a little hate involved. So what selections are left?

For Hartford (with affiliate franchise and key players in parentheses):
Wednesday, December 12th v. Worchester (Sharks - where Tim Kennedy ended up)
Wednesday, January 23rd v. Adirondack (Flyers - Sean Couturier and Brayden Schenn)
Tuesday, February 5th v. Albany 
Wednesday, February 20th v. St. Johns (Jets - Alex Burmistrov and Carl Klingberg)
Tuesday, March 5th v. Portland (Coyotes - Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Andy Miele and Chad Dos Nueve, who is now wearing #30 actually)
Thursday, March 28th v. Worchester

For Bridgeport:
Wednesday, December 19th v. Albany - Forget the Coliseum, hell, the franchises owe the Barclays Center an exhibition game and the Brooklyn arena just happens to be empty that night ...
Tuesday, January 8th v. Hershey (Caps - our pal Braden Holtby in net)
Tuesday, February 12th v. Springfield (BJs - Tim Erixon and Jonathan Audy-Marchessault)
Tuesday, March 12th v. Springfield

And for Albany? Pretty much any game of theirs can go, last place in the league and all. They outright scheduled four of the Sunday games in Atlantic City, so that leaves 34 others that can be welcomed to the Rock and similarly ignored by New Jersey hockey fans.

If the owners do truly care about their public image, moving some matches would go a ways towards alleviating the hatred. And, certainly, free tickets for those matches would go even further ... but let's not get too crazy here - ownership's greed is why there are empty arenas in the first place. Let's drop the puck already!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Random Rangers: A MSG Moment

Last week Madison Square Garden's brass unveiled Garden 366, an interesting way to pay lip service to the great history that has taken place within the walls of the various buildings to wear the MSG monicker. The SNY guys published the various Ranger-related events that will be included on the new sixth floor wallpaper.

While that list does encapsulate some epic events in Blueshirt history, there are so many more. From time to time I hope to publish them here - whether they are firsthand accounts from fans and the famous or are accounts found in books and other materials.

We'll start with the latter, an excerpt from Scott Young's Hello Canada! The Life and Times of Foster Hewitt, which was published back in 1985. Foster, as you should know, was THE MAN when it came to broadcasting hockey. His radio calls helped entrench the sport in the very being of our northern neighbors and many of his idiosyncrasies have been passed down to broadcasters today: "he shoots ... he scores!"

Foster covered the Leafs and was there when the Buds came up against the Blueshirts in the 1932 Stanley Cup Final. I'll turn it over to Mr. Young, who turns it over to Foster himself:

"When the teams skated out in New York's Madison Square Garden on the night of 5 April 1932, more than sixteen thousand were in the rink, breaking the fire marshal's capacity limit. The New York crowd was always one of hockey's rowdiest, and that night they were definitely up for the game. Newspapers had been feeding the fans every extra bit of animosity that existed between the teams. A few years earlier (Lester) Patrick had decided that (Lorne) Chabot had lost his nerve after a bad eye injury. (Conn) Smythe had crowed ever since that he'd practically stolen Chabot in return for a goalie he didn't want, John Ross Roach, always soft-pedalling the fact that to make the deal he'd also had to give up Butch Keeling, who had become a mainstay of the Rangers.

Back in Toronto, Foster's dramatic account - still only on a local network - had the faithful on the edges of their chairs. Foster, later, eyes shining, smiling and sometimes laughing at some memory, often used the phraseology familiar to his broadcast listeners:
Never, before or since, have I seen such tenseness, or such a brilliantly played, wide-open game. The Cooks were tremendous. Lorne Chabot in the Toronto goal was magnificent. Red Horner was knocking them high, wide and handsome on defense. And every time the Kid Line went out there they seemed to be able to take charge.
Along in the second period, the Leafs were ahead 5-2 when Coach Dick Irvin put a rookie defenseman out on the ice for the first time. Bill Cook went around him like a rocket the first time he came down the ice, and scored. The crowd had been noisy before. But with that goal they let out a roar that never stopped until the end of the period. And they kept right on roaring right through the intermission! When the Rangers came out they'd been listening to that roar from the dressing room and it doubled and tripled and quadrupled when they hit the ice.
It set them on fire. They scored again and made it 5-4. But from then on, the couldn't beat Chabot. And near the end of the period Horner, of all people, broke away and scored the Leafs sixth goal to take the heat off. That game was almost the ultimate in hockey. I'll never forget it."
Ah, the power of loud and proud New Yorkers has virtually no bounds. While that particular moment did not have a happy ending, the Blueshirts were able to recover. They made the Cup final again the next year and avenged their loss with a victory over those same Leafs. It marked the second time Stanley came to the greatest city on Earth, the second of just four. But that is a story for another time.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Random Rangers: Catching Up With Kevin Miller

Rangers have drafted seven players with the last name Miller, including brothers Kevin and Kelly (the third brother, Kip, was picked by Quebec). Kevin was selected in the 10th round of the 1984 draft - 202nd overall - and he went on to have a 620 game NHL career, 103 of them in a Blueshirt. He compiled 57 points before being dealt to Detroit in March of '91 alongside Jim Cummins and Dennis Vial for none other than Joey Kocur and Per Djoos. 

Kevin, who works in finance now, is also the vice president of the Greater Lansing Amateur Hockey Association. The GLAHA is currently holding a fund-raising raffle, with the prizes being several hockey jerseys. Info on that at the bottom but before we get to that, Kevin took some time to answer some e-mailed questions about his career:
SH: You got your start in the Ranger organization, what was that like?
KM: It was Great! The City and the Fans were Awesome. Definitely one of the best places to play in the NHL!!

SH: You were part of a youth movement that saw a number of guys grow in the system and graduate from the IHL to the NHL, including that Mike Richter fellow. There wasn't another real group of home-grown guys like that for 15 or so years and now, the son of one of your teammates (Brad Stepan's boy Derek) is at the forefront of another. What was it like being part of that and what is it that creates classes like that - drafting, coaching, luck, timing?
KM: Whenever you have a group come through with that type of progress it usually comes down to drafting and not trading away your drafts. Of course I was a late draft so the scout either was very good or they got lucky.

SH: You eventually played for the Islanders, why would you do such a thing?
KM: If I had a chance to do that again I would not sign with them!!

SH: Near the end of your playing career you spent three seasons in Davos - Rick Nash is currently killing time during this lockout with that club. Did you enjoy your experience?
KM: It was Great and one of my best hockey playing experiences! The town and the fans are awesome. It is beautiful and I loved playing there.

SH: Aside from the NASCAR-ish, ad-covered sweaters, what differences did you find in Swiss league play as opposed to NHL?
KM: Bigger ice surface so less physical. Very talented and speedy players. Great flow to the games.

SH: And what do you think about NHLers heading overseas during negotiations? I just saw that your cousin Drew (Red Wings forward and brother of Buffalo goaltender Ryan) has already headed to Scotland ...
KM: Guys don't want to sit around so they are taking jobs and going to have fun. It is very sad the owners have taken this position. The game was really growing and this will be another set back!

SH: One of the issues to be addressed in the current CBA battle is NHL participation in the Olympics. You played for Team USA when it was amateurs, what is your opinion - go back to that or stick with the current brand of stars?
KM: If they could have all teams use non professionals then I say go back to the college players, but most Europeans are paid very early!

SH: You went through the 1994 lockout, as a player what was that like?
KM: It was Brutal! Players like the money, but more importantly love to just play!

SH: What differences do you see between that one, 2004's and the current situation?
KM: No Different! No Hockey = CRAP!! 

SH: Honest opinion - when do you think this lockout will end and why? 
KM: Thanksgiving

SH: And I end every interview with a variation of the same question: over your NHL career, how much fun did you have?
KM: It was awesome and would do it all again if I had another chance. The sweat and pain paid off and was really worth it!

Kevin has mentioned the raffle on his twitter account but I borrowed the info from Off-Ice Instigating:

To benefit the Greater Lansing Amateur Hockey Association (GLAHA) the drawing will take place on December 15th (2012) and you DO NOT need to be present to win (so those not in Michigan can still enter). Here are the prizes up for grabs:

1st Prize: Signed Ryan Miller (Sabres) Jersey
2nd Prize: Signed Drew Miller (Red Wings) Jersey
3rd Prize: Michigan State University Jersey (In case you did not know 10 members of the Miller family have played hockey for MSU). All proceeds from this raffle will go to help support youth hockey in the great Lansing area. Checks can be made out to GLAHA and mailed to:

Kevin Miller
1475 Lake Lansing Road
Lansing, MI 48912
Please be sure to include:
Your Phone Number
How Many Tickets for Each Raffle
A Self Addressed Stamped Envelop (so Kevin can send you your raffle tickets)
So good luck!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Gettin' Back My Game

Well, in the wake of Friday night's season opener - for the Whale and for me - I feel like it may be best to get back into the game myself. I won't be stepping on the ice - at least not anytime soon - but I'll start blowing some of those 140 character tweets back up into posts again.

There honestly has been more than a little bit of burnout from over five years of blogging about the Blueshirts but, with a new season underway everywhere outside of the NHL and Australia (their seasons go on over our summer, southern hemisphere and all that), the itch is back and my nails are long enough again to scratch it. At least for the moment.

I have about a half dozen pieces already underway about an assortment of topics, with the first due to be upped tomorrow. So stay tuned as I get the wheels on this bus going again and watch out, at some point I may just make it look mean too.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Opening The A

The 2012-13 Connecticut season started with a stumble, as the Whale blew a 2-0 lead to lose 6-4 to half of the New York Islanders.

In ridiculously-close-to-Ranger fashion, the Whale were handed opportunities to win and simply couldn't convert. But that does belie the fact that Connecticut was outclassed and outright dominated for the majority of the night. Two power play goals (on five opportunities!) in the third period made this one look competitive but, really, it wasn't. Given the lack of intensity by the home team, one would think they were still in preseason ... guess the lack of Camp Tortorella took its toll.

Not going to wrap all the Whale games, but I went to this one so why not? On to the Late Hits:

*The baby Blueshirts survived an early onslaught and actually appeared to get out of the first period not just unscathed but up 2-0. That was, until Micheal Haley got hammered by Blair Riley. Riley wanted to fight off the drop, Haley appeared to say no so Riley went to, I believe, Sean Collins. Collins, in his only smart decision of the night, declined the dance. Puck dropped, play went behind the Whale net, Riley laid a light hit and Haley lost his cool - and ultimately the game. The Sound Scum went into their room on the heels of Riley's decimation of Haley, surely enjoyed the intermission, came out for the second period and pounced upon the little Rangers to the tune of five straight goals. Textbook. Terrible.

*Gilroy was del zastrous: his shots were inaccurate, he couldn't hold the blue line to save his life and his passes helped no one. It is of little wonder he isn't playing top flight hockey overseas - surely no one wanted him. Sure he didn't have a full training camp and is still getting in the swing of things but, let's face it, he wasn't very good when fit - a healthy scratch for that poor Ottawa team in the playoffs.

*Kyle Jean was the top Whale player but that's not saying much because they were quite terrible. He has good hands, decent smarts and a TON of work to do with his skating. Kris Newbury had his moments but the AAAA player always does at this level.

*As @mavanco observed, the Whale forced their offense to go through Chris Kreider when the kid was on the ice - a philosophy that failed. On a team largely devoid of talent, Kreider will at least learn how to handle being 'the man.'

*J.T. Miller did virtually nothing, his highlight was having a Sound Tiger try to hit him and end up taking the worse of it. Although, that is more than Andrew Yogan or Christian Thomas had happen to them, so good on the first round pick.

*Missaen was stellar the first period, square to the shooters. But from then on his lack of rebound control and work-in-progress footwork severely hurt him, as did the team in front of him. It must be remembered that he is a project, one that is far, far from completion. And, man, is he tall.

*Wonder if they intentionally have terrible ice at the XL Center, just to prepare the guys for the notoriously rutted Garden.

*Not sure which bothers me more: that they sell a poorly printed replica puck for $9 or that I paid $9 for it. What can I say? I collect a puck from every arena I go to. I feel shame.

*The much-publicized $2 beer, $1 hot dog promotion was legit, although you certainly got what you paid for: two bucks for Bud Select headache water and a greenback for a poorly-cooked hot dog your grade school cafeteria served.

*Can cross out hearing Brass Bonanza in Hartford off the bucket list. Granted, I heard it at the Whale Bowl two years back, but that was outdoors and didn't count.

*Hartford hockey fans can cross out ever getting NHL hockey again. For the home opener - the home opener - they announced a crowd of just over 8,000 in a building that holds 15,635; and if there were 6,000 folks who actually showed up, that would be a surprise. Despite seeing some MSG regulars, it was clearly not a New York crowd.

*Three Stars:
3- Casey Cizikas - two goals.
2- Nino Niederreiter - one goal and two assists.
1- Kris Newbury - two goals.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3- Kyle Jean - the one consistent Whale threat.
2- Brock Nelson - one seriously talented kid, with (hopefully) one seriously miserable career ahead of him if he stays in the Isles organization.
1- Blair Riley - one fight by Riley, one win by Bridgeport.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Smarter Spending

The NHL preseason was due to start next week but because of the current bickering those games have already been cancelled, with more to come. If you are like me, you budgeted some of your hard-earned bucks in anticipation of the coming season.

Well, since the NHL and the NHLPA can't figure out how to divvy up our cash, screw 'em - let's spend it on something far, far more deserving. For that, I turn this over to a good friend of the blog:
Fellow Hockey Fans:
Far too frequently we read or hear about an American soldier who has recently been “Killed In Action”. Since 2001 over seven thousand men and women have given their lives in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. These incredible sacrifices have left too many American children without a parent.

To honor the fallen and to support their children as they grow, I will be participating in the first Warrior Ride Across America.  This Saturday, September 22, 2012, our team (12 cyclists / 6 support members) will spend eight days cycling across the United States, beginning in San Diego, California, and arriving in New York City - Ground Zero on September 30, 2012.  The ride is over 3,200 miles.

We are raising money for two wonderful charities, The Marine Corps Law Enforcement Foundation (MC-LEF) and the Travis Manion Foundation (TMF).  MC-LEF has provided over $60 million in scholarship bonds to the children of service members who have been Killed In Action, ensuring that their children can afford to attend college.  MC-LEF also provides for assistance if an unforeseen hardship such as a medical emergency befalls a military family. The Travis Manion Foundation (founded in memory of  Lt. Travis Manion, KIA April 29, 2007)  also provides scholarship funding for the children of fallen service members, in addition to providing financial, medical, and domestic support to those who have been severely wounded in combat.

I humbly ask that you consider making a donation to this cause.  If you are so inclined please donate here:
If you scroll down on the page you will see a section with my name and picture and a donation link.

I thank you in advance for your time and consideration.

Joe Burke
Joe has ridden for a cause before, last time earning over $40,000. So far this Warrior Ride has picked up corporate sponsors and collected close to half a million bucks! That's fantastic but it could be better. Your politics, your feelings about the righteousness of the wars, are irrelevant; these are good people riding for children in need. Please help them out.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

No NHL? No Problem

As it seems like midnight is certain to mark the start of yet another NHL lockout, it is time to look at other options for live hockey; gotta feed the addiction somehow and not everyone can take the ice themselves.

Sure it won't be the Blueshirts but that isn't a bad thing - I've found that less emotional involvement often equals more fun (surprise, surprise). There are many other teams out there at various levels of play and they are far more affordable than the NHL. Road trips are always delightful, but for now let's just focus on the tri-state area:

Should the lockout stretch into the New Year, you can catch a pair of regular season KHL games at the new Barclay's Center. Dynamo Moscow will face SKA Petersburg, which could mean Ovechkin vs Kovalchuk.

Connecticut Whale - The Rangers' AHL affiliate is just a two and a half hour drive from MSG. Brooksie tweeted that Kreider is the only kid off the NYR roster that will be allowed to play there but Future Blue will still be well represented - Bourque, Miller, Thomas, etc. Plus Jeff Beukeboom is now an assistant coach!

Bridgeport Sound Tigers - One of, if not the most convenient franchise to get to from NYC as Metro-North lets you off just blocks from the arena. For Long Islanders, it is an easy ride on the Port Jeff ferry - leave your car in Port Jeff, take the hour-15 cruise and walk two blocks to the arena. And they then hold the last ferry back until just after the game. It is entirely possible that the Isles will reschedule a few of the cats' games for the Mausoleum, as they did during the last lockout. It's not like they will be using that dump for anything else.

Albany Devils - Another two and a half hour drive from MSG, but a team not really that interesting. The only baby Devil worth watching will likely be Keith Kinkaid, the possible heir to Mmmaaaaaaaaaarrrttyy. Like the Isles with the Sound Tigers, the Devils could resched a few of Albany's games for the Rock; they are already set to play four games down in Atlantic City which might make for fun trips.

Also reachable by car are the other upstate franchises: the Binghamton Senators, the Rochester Americans and the Syracuse Crunch, Tampa's new affiliate (meaning most players won the Calder Cup last year in a dominating performance with Norfolk). The Providence Bruins also aren't too far and they will be hosting the AHL All Star Game at the end of January.

Elmira Jackals - If you are road tripping up to Binghamton, Elmira isn't too far away and the Jackals were the ECHL's regular season champs last year. The Craig Rivet-captained squad is an affiliate of the Ducks and Sens and they play in an old, quaint arena that is easy to get tickets to. The Rangers' E affiliate, the Greenville Road Warriors, will be there on October 13th and November 21st.

Trenton Titans - One of the closest teams to NYC at just over an hour drive, but not in the nicest neighborhood (or so I've been told) and the worst team in the E last season. Greenville visits the Flyers' affiliate on October 12th and November 24th. (Thanks to MNYR for the correction.)

Danbury Whalers - Sadly the Brooklyn Aviators are no more, leaving Danbury as the easiest Federal League option. It is reachable via Metro-North - a two hour ride - and they have some raucous fans. Interesting note, Mike Rupp played in Danbury during the last lockout, with the UHL's mob-connected Trashers.

NCAA Division I:
The Frozen Apple - There will be hockey at MSG this fall, that is for certain: the annual college game around Thanksgiving. Cornell will face Michigan on November 24th, allowing Ranger fans to watch this summer's second round pick Boo Nieves in maize and blue.

There are many other D-I collegiate options in the tri-state area, including Army, Canisius, Clarkson, Colgate, Niagara, Princeton, Quinnipiac, RIT, RPI, Sacred Heart, St. Lawrence, UConn, Yale, and Union. Wish I could expound upon them further but have yet to go to a single game at any of them - this lockout should afford me the opportunity to change that.

How are you going to get your fix?

Friday, August 31, 2012

MSG Update

Some photos from inside MSG this week, courtesy of friend of the blog Cono. They are well on their way... :

Friday, August 24, 2012

Odds & Ends

Apologies for not posting since the Rick Nash deal but, frankly, haven't been all that inspired. It's been bloody hot outside and not a whole helluva lot is happening in the NHL hockey world ... well, except the slow death spiral towards a lockout. And that is as depressing as the stifling heat and humidity.

Some random topics and random thoughts:

*RIP Bones Raleigh, one of the overlooked all-time Ranger greats. Stan Fischler, of course, knew him and wrote a nice piece that is worth checking out. It is a shame so many terrific players bled Blue and were all but lost in a history that the Rangers have chosen to ignore. You know, 1994 was amazing and all but the team did play 84 other seasons ...

*The news came out that that NBC will pay for this season no matter what, and if there is a lockout then extra year is added onto deal for no rights fee. Interesting. No word on if that means they get days, weeks, months back as well. If so, it may actually behoove the NHL to postpone the start of the season until just before the Winter Classic - that way, on the back end of the deal they have the Winter Classic in their pocket as negotiating power for a new deal. NBC would start the 2021-22 season, and be even more pressured to pay up if they want the sponsor-friendly outdoor game.

*Stop being furious at Gary Bettman. Yes, he is a smug, sleazy, smarmy former lawyer who lies to your face. But he is just a puppet of the powerful NHL owners. Ed Snider, Jeremy Jacobs, Jimmy Dolan - those are the true villains in this labour battle. They are blaming others for their financial mismanagement and capitalizing upon our everlasting passion for pucks to ensure they get away with it. Boardroom typical.

*Several pieces came out about the impact of a lockout on front office employees and on the Winter Classic. But also keep in mind the ancillary impact: spoke to the owner of a MSG-area bar the other day and the thought of losing Ranger fan income is driving him to drink (well, more than usual). After an anemic summer because of the renovation - no concert cash - losing the True Blue boozers could really hurt his business. While his particular pub could/should survive thanks to being in New York, you'd have to imagine other establishments in other cities may not be as fortunate.

*One good thing about a lockout - me looking on the bright side! - is it would give everyone the opportunity to expand their fandom internationally, even if the NHLers aren't allowed to steal jobs (the Elitserien has said no-go). Been to the Scandinavium twice so Frolunda is a certainty in Sweden, loooooved being in Zug (Zurich and Bern, notasmuch) so despite the Rangers losing to them, EVZ ole! Kings Park's Bobby Goepfert plays on the DEG Metro Stars in Germany so that's my DEL team. No love for the Czech league or the KHL, so that pretty much leaves England, Italy and Finland left for me to find teams. Puck around the planet!

*Still really, really hate the Arron Asham signing. Not for hockey purposes - the team needs someone who can and will fight for his teammates (Rupp sure as hell hasn't) but just because he is Arron Asham. It is not quite as egregious as Donald Brashear becoming a Blueshirt, but close.

*Del Zaster wants more than $2.5 million a year. Ha bloody ha.

*It's tough but try to temper your expectations for Chris Kreider this coming season, or whenever they play next. The kid showed he has serious talent, but now teams have seen him and his tendencies against NHL level defenders so they will be more prepared. It will be interesting to see how he fares, especially alongside Nash on the power play.

Wanted to unveil a feature this Friday but it looks like it will take at least another week, so stay tuned.

Monday, July 23, 2012

A BJ On Broadway

So the long-rumoured deal is done, the Rangers have acquired Rick Nash from the Columbus Blue Jackets. The cost? Brandon Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov, Tim Erixon and a first round pick.

First, on what the Blueshirts gave up to the Blue Jackets:

*Neither Dubi nor Arty have reached their potential and there is no telling if either ever would have in New York. Dubi could have been an Arnott-esque force but he struggled to reach that level with any kind of consistency. He got the big contract and, as is typical, struggled in the first season of the deal. In postseason interviews he acknowledged it and promised to work to be better and now, Columbus will find out if he stands by his word. Arty had multiple 'wow' moments but they came when he was paired with big, tough wingers. Without burly Blueshirts to have his back, the Russian played on the fringes and was ineffective.

*Losing Tim Erixon is the most painful part of this deal. To let Erixon go and keep Del Zaster is simply stupefying. In 18 games last season we saw Erixon improve and adapt, held back only by his size and the ice time allotted him. Meanwhile Del Zaster continues to make the same mistakes now that he did three seasons ago but Torts loves him so he avoids any accountability for his errors. That being said (through gritted teeth), Erixon is now unlikely to become the great player he could have been, as he will surely be unhappy in Ohio - a worse locale than Calgary, where he refused to play in the first place.

*The first rounder will likely be late teens, early 20s so it really isn't that big of a loss. When you consider that the kids that are in the system now, outside of Kreider, will need a few seasons of seasoning before coming to Broadway, losing one pick isn't the end of the world.

And now for Nash:

*You've seen the highlight reels; he's big, he has good hands and elite offensive instincts.

*Those instincts may be completely wasted in Tortorella's uncreative, talent-stifling, killer instinct-lacking, shot-blocking, defensive system.

*There is no denying the multiple moments of singlehanded sheer brilliance Nash has performed but, in typical fashion, the Rangers picked up a player who's numbers have decreased each of the previous three seasons.

*He is signed for the next six seasons, at an exorbitant cap hit of $7.8 million. Given that the NHL is looking to lower the cap, having a massive hit like that for what, come January and a full recovery by Gaborik, will be the second-line right winger is more than a little silly. He has a higher cap hit than Stamkos, Parise, Kovalchuk and Vanek (among many others).

*The captain of Columbus, Nash asked to be traded - a request that was made public and a sure reason to worry about his character. That being said, he stepped up his game with nine of his 30 goals in the 20 games after the trade deadline - either to make other teams more willing to increase their offers in the offseason or because there was no more pressure to carry the BJs.

*The only real centers during Rick's time in Columbus were old Sergei Fedorov and unhappy Jeff Carter, but he played alongside Joe Thornton in Davos during the last lockout (and may again in the next one!). Automatically thinking he will star alongside Richard$ may be a mistake; adding Gomez to Jagr seemed like it would be a sure thing but we all know how that worked out. Perhaps Nash can fall in with Derek Stepan, and help the kid meet his potential.

*As an outsider, it did not seem like Nash helped anyone in Columbus meet their potential. Gilbert Brule, Derick Brassard and Nikita Filatov all busted under his watch (there is still a little hope for Brassard, but who knows).

*It is interesting that Hockey-Reference lists former Ranger Bun Cook as a 'player with a career of similar quality and shape.' However, the Blueshirts are hoping and paying for Nash to be more Bill Cook than Bun though, as Bill was the best winger in the game and he led the team to two Stanley Cups.

And that is what it will come down to: winning Stanley Cups. The team just choked away a prime chance and the flash of adding Nash will be long faded if the team doesn't take the next step next season.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Halpern To Help

In 1926 the front office of the fledgling New York Rangers decided to market their goaltender Lorne Chabot as Lorn Chabotsky, in the hopes of appealing to the massive Jewish population of the city. Since then a few actual Jews have played on Broadway, including Hy Buller, '94 Black Ace Mike Hartman and Mathieu Schneider. And now Jeff Halpern will don a Blueshirt as well.

As with those guys, adding Halpern is no public relations gimmick. The recent Washington Capital fills the hole left by Blair Betts three years ago - a capable, consistent center who wins faceoffs, kills penalties and works his ass off. A former captain, Halpern will add some more veteran sense to the room and add another layer between Tortorella and the kids. He helps advance my Stockholm Syndrome theory, as he played for the egomaniacal dictator in Tampa in 2008.

This follows in the recent tradition of Glen Sather's signings - have one good addition, have one horrible addition. Well, after making the mistakes of Arron Asham and Micheal Haley, Sather has leveled the scales with Halpern and Taylor Pyatt. The only issue it presents is that the Blueshirts now have six fourth liners (if you include Haley as a NHLer, which he will hopefully never be again) and one first liner set to start next season. But the season is still a few months away so we just have to wait and see what Sather will do.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Taylor Time

The Rangers entered the offseason needing scoring help and defensive depth, so Glen Sather has gone out and added three bottom six soldiers. The newest addition is Taylor Pyatt, most recently of the Phoenix Coyotes.

Pyatt, on his fifth franchise at the age of 30, knows what he has to do to stay in the NHL and to be successful. As I mentioned on my free agent list, I hoped he would get signed because he is willing to pay the price and go to the net. The Blueshirts specialized in drive-by screening last season as guys (Boyle, Anisimov, etc.) would skate through the slot unwilling to take the punishment. When Cally and Kreider camped out good things happened but they clearly needed help. And now they have it.

While he is a low-line guy, Pyatt should be able to step up assist the attack. He won't score 25, 30 goals but if he contributes 15-20 and his effort gives the other guys more room - as he did with Phoenix - then the signing will be well worth it. The new guy's reputation helps eclipse the fact that his pedigree is soiled with the blue and orange of the Island. It will be his actions this fall that will keep the filth under the carpet.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Disappointing Opening Day Of Free Agency

Wow, is that a redundant headline or what? I mean, every opening day of free agency of Glen Sather's term has been disappointing to some degree or another. As the saying goes Trader Sather is a genius, Signer Sather is a fool.

And that fool continued to trouble Ranger fans as he tinkered with the team's roster. While he can't be blamed for Brandon Prust's greed, he can be hung for his idea of a replacement: Arron Asham. As he did with Donald Brashear, Sather signed one of the most loathed members of the opposition (who is all but certain to disappoint). Check that, two of the most loathed members - he also added Islander Micheal Haley.

Given that Asham has be-Deviled, be-Flyered, be-Penguined, be-Islandered the Blueshirts in the past all we can hope is that he does the same dirty, infuriating things against everyone else.

The signs are not good, especially when compared to the man he is replacing. In his career Asham has played in MSG 27 times and racked up all of one goal, one assist and 33 PIM. Asham has not played a full 82 game campaign his entire career; despite his injuries Prust did the last two seasons. Prust had nine shorthanded points in his last 164 games; Asham has three in 756. Asham blocked 40 total shots over the last three years, Prust blocked 51 this season. HOWEVER, the one good quality they share is that their teammates respond when they fight. I've mentioned the Prust stat a few thousand times and the Pens went 6-1-1 last season when Asham dropped the gloves (and he won too, going 7-1 in those bouts).

As for Haley, he is no more than a minor league neanderthal. With the group of prospects hitting Hartford this fall, it will be Haley's job to protect them. He has a long record with a good number of victories so hopefully he will intimidate the other teams into giving the kids who have futures some room.

Sadly Jonathan Audy-Marchessault won't be among them. The mite-sized scorer earned himself a spot in the Ranger franchise, earned himself a spot in the AHL All Star Game and Sather let him get away. It would have been nice to see JAM get a real shot with the Rangers, but that unlikely with Torts so at least Columbus will use him.

Another guy who had no future with the Rangers was Chad Johnson. Dos Nueve never earned the organization's trust but our old pal Maloney saw something and picked him up for the Coyotes. Like Al Montoya, he can go try to ply his trade in the desert.

John Mitchell is headed to the mountains as Colorado handed him a two-year deal. Tortorella may have loved him but few others did as he made some glaring mistakes and added virtually no offense.

Following that thread, Stu Bickel was re-signed by the Rangers. Tortorella's scapegoat, Stu will be back for two more seasons - or roughly a half hour of ice time - under the head coach's reign.

Kris Newbury also decided to return, taking a two-year, two-way contract. Heard he was a good team guy with the Whale so that will be good for the future Blue.

The near future is certain to see more moves, whether they be signings or trades. Gabby will be out for a while and, given the type of surgery, may never be the player he was again. So there is a mighty Nash/Parise/Whoever-sized hole in the lineup. It will be interesting to see which side of Sather addresses it.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Not-So-Free Agents 2012

The opening of free agency is a virtual holiday in Canada but here in New York, Glen Sather has turned it into a day to be dreaded like the arrival of inlaws. There is simply no way of telling what the cigar smoker will do on Sunday but I figured I would break down 60 impending UFAs in simple terms - guys I'd want, guys I wouldn't mind and guys I wouldn't want. All of the names are from Capgeek's Free Agent list. Sorry for the clutter, don't have the time to make it too pretty.

Even with the names below, the best idea I believe for the Blueshirts is to stay out of the free agent insanity and let the kids play. Mercenaries, by and large, have not worked too well for this franchise - just look at some of the names included in the poll on the right. There are kids coming up, Sather should not block their development with hired guns. The one exception being Justin Schultz, as he is a prospect himself; he is not included on the list below of UFAs as he has no NHL experience. They REALLY should sign him.

Guys I Want On The Rangers

Name Position/Age/2011-12 Salary - Cause

Adam Burish C DAL 29 $1,150,000 - Not quite Steve Ott but still a quality, defensively conscientious pest.
Shane Doan R PHO 35 $4,550,000 - If Coyotes leave Phoenix he may leave the Coyotes; hell yes. He takes losing personally.
Paul Gaustad C NAS 30 $2,300,000 - Imagine Boyle, but good at things like faceoffs and fighting and remaining consistent.
Jiri Hudler L DET 28 $2,875,000 - Great secondary scoring as long as the rate is reasonable.
Jaromir Jagr R PHI 40 $3,300,000 - Still scoring after all these years so as long as he isn't captain I'm ok with it,
Daymond Langkow C PHO 35 $4,500,000 - At a pay cut he could help balance out the lines a bit with solid, simple play.
Travis Moen L MTL 30 $1,500,000 - Blood n' guts team guy with a Cup to his credit.
Dominic Moore C SAN 31 $1,100,000 - Don't forget aboot it, the former Ranger is capable.
Shane O'Brien D COL 28 $1,100,000 - Tough, loved by teammates. Dammit, re-signed.
Jed Ortmeyer R MIN 33 $585,000 - It's Jed, I mean, c'mon! Jed!
Zach Parise L NJD 27 $6,000,000 - He's kinda good. I guess. Maybe.
Taylor Pyatt L PHO 30 $1,000,000 - Goes to the front of the net, the Rangers need that.
Steve Sullivan L PIT 37 $1,500,000 - Heart and soul and a little bit of scoring.
Ryan Suter D NAS 27 $3,500,000 - There's a reason why there will be a bidding war for this blueliner.
Ray Whitney L PHO 40 $3,000,000 - Worship the Wizard.

Guys I Wouldn't Mind On The Rangers

Name Position/Age/2011-12 Salary - Cause

Bryan Allen D CAR 31 $2,900,000 - Decent shutdown guy blocks shots and kills penalties.
Sheldon Brookbank D ANA 31 $750,000 - Gritty, solid citizen.
Ryan Carter C NJD 28 $750,000 - If you can't beat him (or beat him up) ...
Brett Clark D TBL 35 $1,500,000 - Veteran shot blocker.
Jason Garrison D FLA 27 $675,000 - First half was great, will want too much moolah.
Hal Gill D NAS 37 $2,250,000 - Slow but tough.
Jochen Hecht C BUF 35 $3,525,000 - Quite capable when healthy.
Kristian Huselius L CLB 33 $4,750,000 - Could be Vinny Prospal 2.0 if he can avoid fluke injuries.
Zenon Konopka C OTT 31 $700,000 - Fights, wins faceoffs. Also takes bad penalties though.
Michael Leighton G PHI 31 $1,550,000 - Helped the Flyers get to the Cup Final before being dumped.
Antero Niittymaki G SAN 32 $2,000,000 - Hank's rival in Turin; might be seeking redemption as he's sucked since.
Sean O'Donnell D CHI 40 $850,000 - Plenty of experience but quite slow.
George Parros R ANA 32 $875,000 - Can you imagine that mustache in NY??!?
Dustin Penner L LAK 29 $4,250,000 - After that playoff performance, who can turn down pancakes?
Bryce Salvador D NJD 36 $2,900,000 - As with Carter, if you can't beat him ...
Sheldon Souray D DAL 35 $1,650,000 - That slap shot, wow. But besides that, what's left?
Lee Stempniak R CGY 29 $1,900,000 - Average, two-way winger. Meh.

Guys I Don't Want On The Rangers

Name Position/Age/2011-12 Salary - Cause

Arron Asham R PIT 34 $775,000 - Man do I hate this guy.
Adrian Aucoin D PHO 38 $2,000,000 - Oooold.
Alex Auld G OTT 31 $1,000,000 - Auuuld.
Jason Blake L ANA 38 $4,000,000 - Former Islander scum.
Brad Boyes R BUF 30 $4,000,000 - Was never worth that money, still isn't.
Andrew Brunette L CHI 38 $2,000,000 - Oooold and sloooooow.
Matt Carle D PHI 27 $3,437,500 - Will want too much money.
Scott Clemmensen G FLA 34 $1,200,000 - Capable but cheaper options are available.
Ty Conklin G DET 36 $750,000 - Conk can't block a beachball anymore.
Joe Corvo D BOS 35 $2,250,000 - Uh Oh Corvo, no.
Radek Dvorak R DAL 35 $1,500,000 - Oooold.
Dan Ellis G ANA 32 $1,500,000 - Don't need his problems.
Kurtis Foster D MIN 30 $1,800,000 - Not the same since the broken leg.
Nicklas Hagman L ANA 32 $3,000,000 - Waaay too much money for waaay too little.
Scott Hannan D CGY 33 $1,000,000 - Far past his prime.
Mike Knuble R WAS 39 $2,000,000 - Sadly far past his prime.
Andrei Kostitsyn R NAS 27 $3,250,000 - An enigmatic Russian scorer? Why I never.
Filip Kuba D OTT 35 $3,700,000 - Older, slower, probably will stay in Ottawa. Or should.
Pavel Kubina D PHI 35 $3,850,000 - Soft Czech defenseman, been there/done that.
Sami Lepisto D CHI 27 $750,000 - Not much more than a seventh defender.
Torrey Mitchell C SAN 27 $1,366,667 - Low-line grinder.
Scott Nichol C STL 37 $700,000 - Old low-line grinder.
Cory Sarich D CGY 33 $3,600,000 - Play has dropped off dramatically.
Alex Semin R WAS 28 $6,700,000 - Heartless, gutless, enigmatic.
Jaro Spacek D CAR 38 $3,833,333 - Injury-prone and old.
Brett Sutter L CAR 25 $525,000 - Darryl's kid hasn't made the leap yet.
Colin White D SAN 34 $1,000,000 - Remember when he was a Devil? Yeah, no.
Dennis Wideman D WAS 29 $3,937,500 - Too expensive for a 3-4 defenseman.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Quick 2012 Ranger Draft Recap

Gordie Clark, Glen Sather and the rest of the Ranger brass went to Pittsburgh and came away with four Future Blue.

Last year Sather swapped his sixth rounder from this draft for Nashville's sixth rounder in that one and this time around he made two more moves with the Preds for picks. He got a third round pick for next year and a fifth round pick in this draft for this year's third rounder and a fifth next summer. Got all that?

While it is highly unlikely we will see any of the kids that were called in Consol for the next two, three seasons, let's take a lil' look at 'em anyways:

Brady Skjei - 1st round, 28th overall - You can never have enough defensemen, right? Especially ones that are favourably compared to Ryan McDonagh... Skjei is headed for Minnesota, where he will hopefully take the next step towards becoming a NHL defenseman. Keith Ballard, Paul Martin, Alex Goligoski, Erik Johnson, and Stu Bickel all played at Mariucci Arena since the millennium, showing how the Golden Gophers program can produce capable defenders.

Cristoval “Boo” Nieves - 2nd round, 59th overall - As Matt mentioned in the preview, Boo dominated the draft combine so he should be able to handle Camp Tortorella (should the coach still be around when the kid comes out of Michigan). While it will be a while before be becomes a Ranger, Nieves will grace the Garden ice this year when he skates for the Wolverines against Cornell on November 24th. Red Berenson is a former Ranger and a brilliant coach who bequeathed us Ortmeyer and Hagelin so there is cause for faith. Matt, an avowed UofM fan, offered more: "The one knock on him is he's too much of a perimeter player at times, Red will work on that though. His hands are silky smooth, Rangers have not had a prospect with the stick-handling control that Boo possess."

Calle Andersson - 4th round, 119th overall - Reports about Andersson read like he is a right-handed, Swedish version of Skjei - good skating, good size, good vision - just with more of an offensive edge. His dad was a fourth round Ranger pick himself but if Andersson he can follow another Calle's career path - former Cap Johansson - we'll have one workable defender in a few seasons.

Thomas Spelling - 5th round, 142nd overall - The Danish winger did quite well playing against men in his home country's highest league last season. Spelling helped the Herning Blue Fox to the title with four goals and seven assists in the seven-game championship series against Odense, including a goal and two assists in a 4-0 Game 7 victory. While the natural scorer is from the same hometown as Peter Regin and Frans Nielsen (BOOO), he likely won't be facing them for a while - Spelling will spend this season helping Rogle in the club's return to the Elitserien. He is listed at 6'1, 165 so he definitely needs to bulk up if he is to make the leap over the pond eventually.

Surprisingly Clark and company didn't select a single goaltender yet again, which is a bit of a cause for concern. Chad Johnson and Martin Biron are both UFAs and Cam Talbot is a RFO. That leaves Hank, Scott Stajcer and Jason Missiaen - not exactly organizational depth. Stajcer put up personal-best save percentage despite being a backup in the OHL and Missiaen did well as Greenville's starter (ECHL), but both of them are years away from the show. That position will have to be addressed by Sather soon - perhaps by signing camp-invitee Troy Grosenick - but that is a post for another time.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Preppin' For Some Pickin'

by Matt Lavanco

Scotty Hockey Note: This was due to run on the NY Rangers Blog but seeing as Kev called it quits for now, I offered to put it up. Matt is a friend of the blog and a diehard Ranger fan with an appreciation of the amateur game. Some good stuff.

The draft is a day away and it is my favorite event of the offseason. I do not claim to be a pro scout – I simply enjoy amateur hockey and looking at players that might help the Rangers for years to come. One of the main things I like to consider is who may be a good fit with the current make-up of the Rangers squad. Unfortunately where the Rangers pick at 28th, the odds of selecting a dynamic offensive scorer or an elite puck-moving defenseman are slim. Additionally the Rangers are organizationally thin when it comes to goaltending prospects. But, with only four draft picks in seven rounds, I don’t feel it’s appropriate for the Blueshirts to use a first round selection on a goalie.

So if a 30-goal scorer or a power play quarterback are not within reach, I think Gordie Clark and company could certainly look to add some toughness to their lineup. The Rangers were pushed around, knocked off the puck and just flat outworked along the boards all too many times during the playoffs. Right off the bat, or the puck drop, there are two potential draftees with familiar last names that play a tough, physical game that could contribute to the top-9 set of forwards.

First off, Stefan Matteau (Matteau! Matteau!) is a hard-nosed kind of player who is not afraid to go into the dirty areas and is a physically strong kid for his age. Matteau spent last season with the U.S. National Team Development Program, where he played all three forward positions. He has the skills to contribute offensively but would be better suited on a checking line. He has backed out of a commitment to play at the University of North Dakota and will head to the QMJHL next season to skate for Blainville-Boisbriand, where the elder Matteau is working as assistant coach.

And secondly Henrik Samuelsson has travelled a fair amount over the last 18 months. Ulfie's boy was playing with Matteau and the USNTDP until he followed his dad to MoDo in Sweden. After being dropped to MoDo's junior club, Samuelsson returned to North America to join 2011 Rangers 4th round selection Michael St. Croix on the WHL's Edmonton Oil Kings. Samuelsson jumped onto the Oil Kings' second line and contributed right away with 10 points in his first 8 games. At 6'3 young Henrik is a big body in front of the net and has a mean streak not unlike his pops. Samuelsson might have raised his draft stock with 14 points in the playoffs, which doesn’t include the five points he put up in four Memorial Cup games.

After toughness, the other glaring weakness that really lasted the length of the Rangers season was faceoffs. The team lost too many draws all over the ice, especially in their own defensive zone. Colton Sissons is a player I think would help with depth down the middle. Sissons plays a smart two-way game, is a quality faceoff man and has an NHL-caliber shot. Sissons served as the captain for the Kelowna Rockets (Gordie Clark loves character!) and finished third on the team in scoring despite a concussion-shortened season. He was able to return in time for the playoffs and by all indications has had a full recovery.

Should the team decide to shore up the blueline, there are two defensive draftees that project in the final third of the first round that interest me. The first is Dalton Thrower. Thrower has a particular snarl to his game that a team can never have enough of and he is unafraid of all physical aspects of the game. True to his surname, Thrower is ready and willing to fight to defend his teammates. His offensive skills might be underrated as well, as he is more than capable of chipping in offensively. The second defenseman is another USNTDP product in Brady Skjei. Skjei plays a solid well-rounded game, but his skating is what really sets him apart as he is one of the better skating defenseman available. At 6’3, Skjei has good size and played top-pair minutes for the gold medal winning Under-18 U.S. team.

If the Rangers do look at a goaltender – Malcolm Subban, Andrei Vasilevski and Oscar Dansk are at the top of this year’s goalie class. Subban is the most athletically gifted of the three and has worked hard in the OHL this past season to round out all areas of his game. Vasilevski is the most technically sound but his status playing in Russia might scare off some teams. Dansk is a big-bodied Swedish goaltender that plays somewhat deep in his net and is known for his intense focus. Sounds familiar doesn’t it? Now I’m not saying he’s as good as our beloved Hank, they just have some similar qualities. It’s hard to say if any of the three will be available in the second round, and it's even harder to determine if any are worth a first round pick.

Other options for second round and beyond include: Derek Stepan's cousin Zach. Zach is a two-way center that is starting to get some attention, is coming into his own both offensively and defensively. He does not project to be as offensively talented as Derek but would certainly be an asset. Cristoval "Boo" Nieves, a Michigan Wolverine-commit, would also be worth a look. Nieves has slick hands and a solid 6'2 frame to grow into that he has used last few years playing prep school puck in Connecticut. He also dominated the draft combine finishing in the top-10 in most fitness categories. Defensively, Shayne Gostisbehere is a name worth knowing (and knowing how to spell). Gostisbehere is a true puck-moving defenseman who played quality minutes as a freshman for the Union College Dutchmen. He showed real poise down the stretch for Union and was one of the better defenseman in the entire NCAA tournament.

These drafts are always impossible to predict as one never really knows who will be selected or when. Personally though, I like Colton Sissons. I think he does a lot of the little things that are needed for a team to be successful and most importantly could help this team in the face-off circle. I also think Boo Nieves could be a solid pick-up in the second round as his ceiling is still rising.

Whoever the Rangers draft, they certainly will be well scouted. Gordie Clark and staff have certainly done a good job the past few years and we are beginning to see the returns of their labor at the NHL level with Stepan, Hagelin and Kreider. Here’s to Mr. Clark and co. surprising us with a player we can get excited about and look forward to pulling on that blue sweater.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Grading The Brass 2011-12

Seeing as the players saw the red pen earlier, here are the grades of the men in charge. Their explanations are a little more in depth and, for the first time, Hartford's head honchos are included. For comparison's sake, here are the grades for '09-10 and '10-11.

James Dolan: As usual, Dolan represents upper management, because he himself has nothing to do with the team ... aside from making outrageous, idiotic Cup claims after someone showed him the standings. So this is perhaps more Scott O'Neil and his minions than Dolan but whatever. The Garden made money hand over fist yet again, raising prices across the board and getting suckers like us to pay them. The first phase of the renovation finished with positive reviews: the West Balcony was beautiful - even if it obstructed the views of several rows of blue seats - and fans seemed to enjoy the Delta Club and it's zoo-exhibit glass walkway for the players. Sather was green-lit to make whatever moves he deemed necessary, with the NHL's salary cap being the only limit. I don't know the numbers but surely the Garden of Dreams had a banner year and the Crown Collection of Lundqvist apparel (with proceeds going to the charity) was a hit. B

Glen Sather: As with the old Facts of Life that I used to do here on the blog, you have to take the good and take the bad. Sather signed Brad Richard$; Sather signed Mike Rupp. Sather gave Ryan Callahan a three-year, $12.8m deal; Sather gave Brandon Dubinski a four-year $16.8m deal. Sather added Anton Stralman off waivers; Sather added Jeff Woywitka off waivers. Sather didn't trade Chris Kreider away; Sather traded for John Scott. All that being said, good ole Glen promised victory in the Winter Classic and somehow got Mike Rupp of all people to make his claim come true. As president, Sather is likely the one who signed off on the European start to the season and that was a success as the team played in packed arenas while bonding better than they would have had they stayed stateside. B-

Jim Schoenfeld/Ken Gernander: As GM of the Whale, Schoenfeld made some inspired signings like Jonathan Audy-Marchessault and Marek Hrivik. Kelsey Tessier, Scott Tanski, Jared Nightingale and Jordan Owens were solid citizens, if unspectacular. Gernander dealt with the hand he was given by Schoeney (including Aaron Voros and an agitated Avery) and did well with it. The Whale grabbed the sixth seed in the playoffs after a 36-26-14 regular season and made it to the second round of the Calder Cup before being steamrolled by the Norfolk Admirals, the eventual champs. The coach taught the Ranger philosophy to guys like Hagelin, Mitchell and Deveaux, allowing them to jump right into the show and not look out of place. And whether it was Kenny G or Schoeney or the players themselves, the decision to make Wade Redden captain clearly worked out as every young call-up credited the former Broadway Blunder with help becoming a professional. B

John Tortorella: The egomaniacal blowhard yet again helped send his team spiraling to its demise with dubious decision making. Benching the top scorer in a tight game in the playoffs sent one message - the coach's way or the highway, damn the consequences - a repeat of the Avery benching back in 2009. Tortorella's entire idea of accountability was warped as he clearly played favourites, with guys like Del Zaster and Mitchell rarely drawing the coach's ire while poor Stu Bickel was publicly abused time and time again. Torts yelled, he screamed, he couldn't get his team to start playing at puck drop, he couldn't get the power play to work, he screwed with chemistry all the way through the playoffs and he never got them to turn the screw once they took a lead. The entire Avery saga was perpetuated by the coach, and it robbed the team of what would have been a valuable weapon in the playoffs. On the other side of it, his faith in his old friend Ruslan Fedotenko was repaid in the postseason. And, after he threw 'safe is death' out the window, he managed to get the guys to buy in to the shot blocking, counterattacking philosophy that helped get them as far as they did. But Tortorella's press conferences were the worst kind of theatre, car crashes that showed he could care less about the fans as a whole. Individually, his treatment of/friendship with Liam - the handicapped diehard - was really good stuff. C