Monday, June 23, 2008

A Look Back and a Look Ahead

This past weekend was the NHL Draft as teams crowded into Scotiabank Place for 2 days of selecting the newest members of their organization and hopefully stars in the making. 
The Rangers entered the draft looking for defense. Rumors were abound that the Rangers were possibly looking to trade up to try and snag one of the big 4 on defense (Drew Doughty, Zach Bogosian, Alex Pietrangelo, and Luke Schenn). Of course, to even get a sniff at these guys, the Rangers would have had to give up assets that they weren't willing to part with. So they stayed put at #20 and waited. They have had some luck in the draft as kids have fallen to them or close enough that they could trade up to get them, namely Cherepanov, Sanguinetti, and Marc Staal. So they sat at #20 and waited to see what would happen. I was hoping that, seeing the players available, they would trade up to get consecutive picks and get two players that intrigued me (Mattias Tedenby and John Carlson). However they picked Michael Del Zotto, an offensive defenseman who had been rated among the big defensemen at the beginning of this past season. The fact that his point total only increased by 6 points (from 57 points to 63) is what dropped him as other players improved more than he did. But 63 points in the Ontario Hockey League for a defenseman is nothing to shake a stick at. In fact, this kid outscored all of the big 4 defensemen this year. His defense has been knocked a bit but that is something that can be fixed especially has his hockey sense and body develop further. Overall, a very good pick. The Rangers could have really used a player anywhere except for goaltending and they got a very good one in Del Zotto. 
The other pick of note that should be mentioned was in the 3rd round. The Rangers wanted to get a Russian that would go along with Alexei Cherepanov and Artem Anisimov. Ideally, this would have been Nikita Filatov who played on the same line as these two in many international tournaments. He was another target that the Rangers might have been trying to trade up for. But since this didn't happen, Kirill Petrov was another Russian that they were targeting, despite the fact he had a contract in Russia which is now much harder to get out of due to the lack of a Transfer Agreement. But the foes on Long Island took him a few picks before the Rangers. But another good Russian kid, Evgeny Grachev, fell to the Rangers. He is a very big kid, listed at 6'3 and 211 pounds, about the size of the Coyotes Martin Hanzal. He is a center that has alot of skill and once he is skating, he is an absolute bull. Putting him down the middle would greatly increase the size for the Rangers in the position and would create one heck of a line. A good draft for the Rangers although I would have liked to have seen them acquire more picks whether from the deadline or trading rights at the draft.
As for free agency, the Rangers are full of question marks. Larry Brooks of the NY Post reported a few days ago that GM Glen Sather was not going to negotiate with any of the Rangers' free agents until July 1st. Reports are all over the place that Sean Avery has played his last game as a New York Ranger. He has asked for alot more money than the Rangers are willing to offer. I am hoping that he will see that he really isn't worth as much as he thinks and will re-sign with the Rangers because he is a perfect fit in New York City. Rumors are abound that the Rangers have been granted permission to speak to Brian Campbell, one of the more highly sought defensemen on the free agent market this summer. 
Sather needs to be realistic here. Shanny, Straka, and Jagr all need to go. It doesn't matter what kind of offense they provide and how much of a majority it makes up, they all need to go. Jagr's age is finally catching up to him and despite his performance in the playoffs, it was a last ditch effort for another shot at the Stanley Cup that he will not be able to replicate again. This team signed Chris Drury and Scott Gomez last summer to show they are going in a new direction and are looking for a more north south game with more speed. Letting these three veterans go will be the first step in achieving this. It was great having all three but the organization needs to move on.
So how will they replace the offense? Let us take a look at who is available. There are some gems in this free agent market that can pick up the scoring and will be more suited to guys like Gomez and Dubinsky. For some veteran leadership, Brian Rolston would be a good pickup. He still has a great shot coming off the wing which would give the Rangers a point man on the powerplay. Plus, he can still skate and would be perfect for a guy like Gomez. Of course I would have loved to have gotten Jeremy Roenick, despite the fact no one thinks he can play anymore (see Calgary series winner). Michael Ryder is another guy who could play on Gomez' wing. He seems to be on his way out in Montreal, almost signed, sealed, and delivered since they acquired Alex Tanguay at the draft. Another winger to look at is Radim Vrbata. Petr Prucha must be given a chance to show his offensive skills again but it will be his last chance and he will be looking to impress this coming year. All I ask is no Hossa (either of them) and no Mats Sundin.
On defense, there are questions as well. Rozsival, Mara, and Malik are all free agents. Despite the fact that every Ranger fan hates Malik, there is no doubt that the Rangers' defensive depth is taking a serious blow. Rozsival is being rumored to be asking for alot of money, more than he is surely worth. He is coming off of hip surgery and a season where he dropped off a bit offensively and defensively. Paul Mara is a guy I would definitely try to keep since the Blueshirts' defense is anything but physical outside of the occasional Tyutin hip check. With Marc Staal, Tyutin, and Dan Girardi all definite to return to the team, the Rangers will have to look at free agency for help. Brooks Orpik should be a target for the Rangers considering his physicality. As I said before, the Rangers are talking to Campbell but Wade Redden will also be in their sights. This wouldn't be the New York Rangers if they didn't go after the big name free agents. Other defensemen available are John Michael Liles, Brad Stuart, Mike Commodore, and Ron Hainsey. 
On the other side, the Phoenix Coyotes made 3 huge splashes in the first round. Let's start right at the top. What could be classified as one of the biggest trade acquisitions since the Coyotes got Jeremy Roenick and as one of the biggest trade steals in recent history, the Coyotes sent Keith Ballard, Nick Boynton, and a 2nd round pick (49th overall) to Florida for center Olli Jokinen. I almost fell over in astonishment right before I started running around in my old Coyotes jersey yelling, screaming, dancing outside until I noticed it was about 118 degrees out and went back inside. The Coyotes somehow stole a center who has been rumored to be traded for more than 2 years, a guy who has been thought would cost an enormous amount to get him out of Miami. Despite the fact I loved Keith Ballard and would have liked to have kept him, from an objective point of view, this is a huge steal for Phoenix. They finally get that number one center which has been missing for years. He is a big guy (6'3 214 lbs) who will be a counter to other big centers in the Pacific division who have absolutely wrecked the Coyotes namely Joe Thornton of San Jose, Anze Kopitar from LA, and Ryan Getzlaf of Anaheim. Besides, Kyle Turris going up against those guys is almost laughable and the Coyotes needed to do something to allow him to develop without going up against these big guys. I will miss Keith Ballard a ton but this trade makes Phoenix so much better. 
As I was just settling down, the Coyotes got the man they had wanted all along in Mikkel Boedker, a Danish forward from the Kitchener Rangers who had an absolutely amazing year for the OHL champions. He tallied 29 goals and 44 assists for 73 points in 62 games during the regular season and added 9 goals and 26 assists for 35 points in 20 playoff games. He also added another 6 points in the Memorial Cup where he played absolutely sensational. This kid loves Marian Gaborik and models his play after him. He was the kid the Coyotes wanted and they got him. A great pick for them. Can anyone say "Blake WHO?!"
As in the past 2 years, the Coyotes traded back up into the bottom of the first round to snag another player. The last two times it was for defensemen (Nick Ross and Chris Summers) but it was a different look here. The Coyotes traded 2 of their 3 remaining 2nd round picks to Anaheim for the 28th pick. It was here they drafted Viktor Tikhonov, a kid who was born and has grown up in the United States but is the grandson of the coach of the 1980 USSR team that the US upset who goes by the same name. He speaks absolutely perfect english and is someone that Darren Pang has reported as someone that the Coyotes were not leaving Ottawa without. If Gretzky and Maloney really believe in this kid, then there is something there. Teams like San Jose, Detroit, and LA were all looking to snag this kid. He could be a pick that really turns out to be a diamond in the rough. Other draftees include Jared Staal (yes the 4th brother) and Brett Hextall (son of former Flyers goalie Ron and great grandson of Ranger who scored 1940 Cup winning goal). An awesome draft for the Coyotes that made all of its fans proud to be Coyote fans, something that hasn't happened in a long time.
As for the team this year, the Coyotes will continue to bring in the youth that they have accumulated over the past few years. Hobey Baker winner Kevin Porter, Chad Kolarik, OHL leading goal scorer Brett MacLean, Jonas Ahnelov, and Joel Gistedt have all signed contracts with the Coyotes. Not to mention Kyle Turris will begin his first full year and Enver Lisin is looking to get a full time spot. The forward position will not be a place to put much focus on. However, signing Radim Vrbata would be a very good move at the right price. The Coyotes would also like to improve their penalty kill that was ranked 24th in the league. Guys like Niklas Hagman and Anti Miettinen would be good depth players who specialize in penalty killing and defense. If the team wants more offense Kristian Huselius would be a good pick up.
The Coyotes main focus when July 1st rolls around will be on defense. With a lack of NHL ready prospects on the blue line outside of Keith Yandle and the loss of Ballard and Boynton in the Jokinen trade, the Coyotes will have to fill the holes with free agents. They should look for 1 offensive and 1 defensive defenseman. On the offensive side, Michal Rozsival and John Michael Liles would be good targets. This team has alot of cap room and can afford to get some defense. On the defensive side Jason Smith, Brooks Orpik, Paul Mara, Brad Stuart, Bryce Salvador, and Ron Hainsey should all be closely looked at as possibilities. 
It will be a very exciting couple of days. With the July 1st free agent deadline a week from tomorrow teams will be scrambling to re-sign the players they want to keep and look at who they want to target. Rumors will be everywhere but it all comes down to next week. Tomorrow I will be going to the Coyotes Prospect Practice where I am going to be taking notes (mental and real ones) on some of the big names there. I am going to add some links on the side of the blog to some good hockey sites where you can get information. I hope you enjoyed reading my first post, even if it was long. Thanks for stopping by and always check back for new posts. You never know when I am going to post again!

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