Sunday, August 30, 2009

Jonathan's Atlantic Division Preview - (Flyers Version)

It is not so often that you see a Flyers fan writing for a Rangers blog. But for the first time in the known universe the impossible has become possible. Firstly I would like to thank my good friend Gootz who is giving me this opportunity to brain wash, I mean, give you my Atlantic division predictions.
Now just because I am a Flyers fan does not make me a biased, crying, and ever complaining fan. Nor am I a supporter of dirty play, and unsportsmanlike conduct.
I would like to begin by with another first, by congratulating the Pittsburgh Penguins on an extraordinary year and for winning Lord Stanley's Cup over the much favored Detroit Red Wings.
Second I would like to comment on what a wonderful year this division put together. The Atlantic Division has become the powerhouse of the Eastern Conference and can contend with the loaded roasters of the Western Conference. All in all this means just one thing for you Atlantic Div. fans: another season of intense, nail biting, heart pounding, glass shattering, bone crushing, high scoring, rivalry filled hockey. Just typing that line made my heart race and my hands sweat. Now on to the predictions which I promise will be neutral as can be:

1. Pittsburgh Penguins
As long as they hold the cup in their corner and not the corner of Section 420 then they must be favored. But the Pens should be aware that they don't make the same mistake they did last season and that is have a midseason collapse. They plummeted in the standings and were out of the top 8 for quite a number of weeks. They were lucky they were able to get their game together in time so they could make the cut. But another stretch like that this year could mean the difference between repeat and hitting the showers early. There are two reasons: The Atlantic division has made itself stronger than last year through free agent acquisitions, expert drafting and blockbuster trades. Secondly it isn't good for a team to think they can slack off and still make the playoffs because it is a horrible mentality for a game that demands full attention and full desire.
The Penguins still have a team with players that have made more than a name for themselves such as Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby and Marc Andre Fleury. But the team also has a Staal and a weapon like Jordan Staal, who is lethal on both sides of the puck, has no where to go but up. The team down the stretch showed its well roundedness and can put together another great season if they manage to stay healthy and Fleury stays consistent.

2. Philadelphia Flyers
I swear to you all I am not listing the Flyers second because they are my team. The Flyers had a year where they played wonderfully throughout but closed out the season horribly falling from 4th to 5th and having to play the Pens in Pittsburgh which some can argue ended the season for the Flyers. But the Flyers has a strong set of 4 lines and an improved defense which will be quite formidable. Stars like Captain Mike Richards, arguably one of the best two way players around and Jeff Carter, one of the best shooters in the league lead the way for Philadelphia. Not to mention a quick handling Simon Gagne and a finally healthy Daniel Briere give the Flyers plenty of firepower.
The defense will no longer be anchored around Kimmo Timonen and Brayden Coburn. The addition of Pronger and the emergence of Matt Carle and Ryan Parent give the Flyers a very complete team.
The Flyers pose something that many teams have lacked coming out of the lockout and that is an abundance of offense. This offseason the Flyers gave up some of that offense to make up for a porous defense by trading RW Joffery Lupul, first round pick Luca Sbisa (Italian Pride from Sardegna, Italy) a 2009 and 2010 first round pick for Anaheim's Chris Pronger and a minor leaguer. Pronger instantly brings power to a blue line that has been picked on by talented fowards along with a winning attitude having won a cup with the Ducks.
The Flyers also made a major adjustment to their goal tending by not signing either of last year's net minders and signing former troubled NHLer Ray Emery and former Flyer Brian Boucher. Emery's last season in the NHL was with the Ottawa Senators but he failed to follow a Stanley Cup visit with anything nearly as good so he was bought out and fled to Russia. Brian Boucher had an average year with the San Jose Sharks so there is no telling which of the two will be a clear starter by the Winter Classic (Flyers @ Bruins in Fenway Park January 1st 2010). But their is no doubt the Flyers season will depend on consistency with their goaltending.

3. New York Rangers
Scott Gomez, Marcus Naslund, Chris Drury, Nikolai Zerdev, and Petr Prucha sounds like a lineup of forwards assembled by a manger who wants to win. Too bad the coach wanted to play defense for 55 minutes and send 2 forwards into the offensive zone at a time. The Rangers excelled in defense, except for Wade Redden whose head many ranger fans are calling for. The Blue Shirts spent most of the year tumbling and trying to find an identity. There identity was not found until head coach Tom Renney was fired and John Tortorella was put in the driver's seat. And boy did Torts wake that team up. The team had a strong push into the playoffs but failed to make any noise after letting the series against the Capitals slip away.
This offseason was another filled with Glen Sather's desperation attempts to keep his job. No more Scott Gomez or Zherdev and a retired Marcus Naslund helps give the Rangers a new face. The addition of Christopher Higgins, a New York native can be a boost to the fan base and a shake up to the roster. Oh and did I mention the Rangers signed Marian Gaborik to hopefully be the player to knock the Rangers out of their offensive woes? The emergence of Brandon Dubinsky will also be a great help to a team that could fail just as easily as it can succeed.

4. New Jersey Devils
Is this team ever going to have another bad season? Even with an injured Martin Broduer this team finds ways to win and the swamps of New Jersey continue to spit out consistent well rounded teams. The Devils played a majority of their season with out Vezina Trophy winner Brodeur and still had an amazing year, they won the division for crying out loud! The Devils though have suffered a couple crushing loses this offseason with star forward Brian Gionta and always ready for a fight John Madden departing. Both were key players to the Devils success this year and it will be interesting to see how the Devils fare without them. But they still have the likes of Patrick Elias and Zack Parise.
The team has a great GM in Lou Lamorella, whom can be found every morning at the Starbucks in Edgewater, NJ. Thats insider information you will not get anywhere else other than here at the Corner of Section of 420 and Glendale. Lou is very devoted and knows what he is doing, and has no problem with coming down from his box to have to coach the team into the playoffs. Unfortunately the team is going to take a turn for the worst this year. Although they will not fall farther than 4th and won't have to worry about the Islanders they will not make the Top 8 at seasons end.

5. New York Islanders
Maybe a new arena will help out the Islanders because the Coliseum is getting pretty dingy and the team is starting to take a turn for the better. Well where else could they go they have been in dead end for the last few years all locked up with net minder Rick Dipietro for the next half century? But the team has a series of young goalies and newly acquired Martin Biron could spell the end of Ricky's injury filled days in Long Island.
Then there was the #1 Draft in the 2009 NHL entry Draft where the Islanders selected John Tavares, a highly skilled forward ready to see some intense NHL action to better improve his already high skills. The future is looking good for the Isles with young skaters such as Kyle Okposo and Sean Bergenhiem who can be great foundations for a team that needs some good youth. Don't expect the Islanders to be fighting for a playoff position but they certainly will not finish last in the Conference.

So there you have it fellow puck heads. The only problem was you could read these predictions and the ones from Gootz and say they are the same. They are which is weird because he is a Ranger and I a Flyer. So enjoy the rest of this gruesome offseason because soon you will be watching Atlantic Division stars like Crosby, Richards, Parise, Gaborik and Tavares making the highlight reel every night. Good Luck and God Bless.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Gootz' Atlantic Division Preview

With only two days before I go back to school at Fairfield University and things begin getting busy again, I believe a preview that I can put time and effort into is in order.
The Atlantic Division of the NHL has no doubt become the best division in the league. With names such as Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, Chris Pronger, Marian Gaborik, Henrik Lundqvist, Martin Brodeur, Zach Parise, and Mark Streit the Atlantic division is absolutely stacked. From top to bottom the division is the strongest of the six divisions in the NHL.
The race for the division title has always been an interesting one. The rivalries in the Atlantic are intense and lead to playoff races that are as intense and nerve-wracking as any big rivalry in sports. With four of the five teams making it each of the last three years, the Atlantic has been able to be the powerhouse in the East.
In fact, dating back to 1979-1980, the Eastern Conference has won the Stanley Cup a total of 15 Stanley Cup championships. Of those fifteen championships, eleven of them have gone to a team in the Atlantic Division. Granted the Atlantic Division itself may not have actually existed for all of those championships but you can see that the Atlantic has been dominant. A breakdown plays out like this:

New York Islanders: 4 Cups
New Jersey Devils: 3 Cups
Pittsburgh Penguins: 3 Cups
New York Rangers: 1 Cup

Obviously the Rangers and Flyers have some catching up to do when it comes to championships but the fact is this division is tops in hockey right now.
So how will it play out? It is anyone's guess at this point but I will give it a crack. I mean who needs sleep at 2 AM right?
1. Pittsburgh Penguins
As much as I do not want to admit it, the Penguins will take the division. The reigning Stanley Cup champions have not changed much this offseason. They have added players like Jay McKee and Mike Rupp to their lineup. More importantly will be how they handle the loss of their big shutdown defensive pairing in Rob Scuderi who left for Los Angeles and Hal Gill who left for Montreal. Max Talbot will miss the beginning of the season after having shoulder surgery but with names like Crosby, Malkin, Staal, and Fleury leading the way, the Penguins should win the division title.
2. Philadelphia Flyers
This offseason has been a big one for the Flyers and they have let everyone know that they are gunning for the Stanley Cup now. Pronger was acquired by the Flyers from Anaheim in exchange for Joffrey Lupul, Luca Sbisa, two first round picks, and another conditional pick in 2010 or 2011. The Flyers are sacrificing their future to try and get another Stanley Cup and adding Pronger will certainly do that. Someone with his impact will make a huge difference on the blue line for the Flyers. However, the one weakness that has been a constant for the Flyers in recent history has been their goaltending. Martin Biron left for the Islanders and was replaced by a tandem of Ray Emery and Brian Boucher.
It is in the crease that the Flyers season will be made or broken. However, a tough defense and an offense that has Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, Simon Gagne, and a healthy Daniel Briere will be enough to get them second in the division. If one of the goalies can become a number one man, the Flyers will be able to challenge for the division title.
3. New York Rangers
In any fantasy world, the Rangers would be at the top of this list. But when it comes to reality, the Rangers are right in the middle. As has been noted on this site and everywhere else in creation, the Rangers have a very different team from last season. With new faces like Marian Gaborik, Chris Higgins, Vaclav Prospal, Ales Kotalik, and many more to go with a coach who will have his first training camp with the Rangers in John Tortorella, no one knows what to expect from the New York Rangers this season. There are alot of IFs that need to go right for the Rangers to have success.
But being the optimistic little man I am, the Rangers will have a tough team to play against on any given night. With a high octane system combined with a focus on physical play, the Rangers will be a real pain in the behind for any team to play against, especially with someone like Sean Avery running around. Offense was a problem last season but general manager Glen Sather has done alot to try and address this.
The weakness is on defense as the Rangers only have four NHL defensemen on the roster. Young guns like Matt Gilroy, Bobby Sanguinetti, Ilkka Heikkinen, and Mike Sauer will have a shot at filling the bottom two spots. But with Henrik Lundqvist in net, the Ranger defense will be solid.
The Rangers probably are the most volatile team on this list, meaning if everything goes right they could end up at the top. If everything goes wrong, well it will be a very long season on Broadway.
4. New Jersey Devils
In all of my years of following hockey and the Rangers, the one constant has been the New Jersey Devils. No matter who they lost or who they gained, they were always in the mix and a team that had success in the playoffs. But honestly, how long can this go on?
This offseason has been one of loss for the Devils as Brian Gionta, John Madden, and Bobby Holik have all left the team while they have not been replaced. Brent Sutter left to be the head coach for Calgary and is replaced by defensive minded Jacques Lemaire. With the offensive power of the team being reduced with the loss of Gionta, the Devils will have to fall back on defensive play and the back of Martin Brodeur for salvation.
At this point I am not counting this Devils team out of the playoffs yet because, like I said, they always find a way to make it work. But how long can they keep it up?
5. New York Islanders
Last but not least is the New York Islanders. I will say right now that I do not expect them to make the playoffs unless Rick DiPietro magically gets a new body to work with and many players have crazy career years. That being said, the Islanders do have a bright future. John Tavares has Islander fans filled with excitement as he joins young players like Kyle Okposo, Frans Nielsen, Trent Hunter, and Josh Bailey. Throw in a mix of veterans like Doug Weight, Mark Streit, and Brendan Witt you have a team that is poised for success in the future.
The crease is where things get interesting for the Islanders. Rick DiPietro's injury problems have been nagging him for years now. With the uncertainty in DP, Garth Snow went out and grabbed Dwayne Roloson and Martin Biron to shore up the goaltending position for Long Island. A strong tandem, Roloson and Biron will be fighting for the number one spot after having that position at their previous employers.
The Islanders will have a better year than the last one, but the playoffs are probably another season or two away.
So for those of you who are lazy and were looking for the short short version of this:
1. Pittsburgh
2. Philadelphia
3. New York Rangers
4. New Jersey Devils
5. New York Islanders
At this point predictions are completely a guess and who knows what is going to happen. There is still time in the offseason for more changes to be made that could affect these standings.
However with training camp right around the corner, hockey fans are starting to gather up those jerseys. Even as I sit out here at just before 3 AM, the winter cold is starting to creep back into the air. Its almost hockey time folks!

Friday, August 28, 2009

Foppa Looking to Return

I already know that this will not go over well with fans of the New York Rangers but you have to take some shots when you write articles.
The Rangers are in need of a number one center right now. With the roster the way it is, fans are assuming that Brandon Dubinsky will be the top center (if and when he signs) who will most likely have Marian Gaborik on his wing. I have faith that Dubinsky could be a dynamite player with Gaborik on his wing and believe that he has a high upside. He plays the same style of game that Philadelphia Flyers captain Mike Richards plays and it is what the Rangers need.
However it is not ensured that A) Dubinsky re-signs with the Rangers and B) he will be a good fit with Gaborik. After all many fans believed Scott Gomez and Jaromir Jagr would be a good pairing and, well it never came to be.
So who could be a fallback to Dubinsky. In one of my earlier posts I said that Artem Anisimov would eventually become the number one center for the Rangers. I stand by that but that is only if the roster stays as is. With Glen Sather as the general manager, that is never a certainty.
Who is out there? Of course there is Mats Sundin who has been all over the map about coming back this season. But that is not the Swede I am looking at. The man I am looking at is Peter Forsberg.
I can sense the mobs trying to find my address and come to burn my house down. But hear me out.
Forsberg is attempting another comeback to the NHL as he is playing with MoDo in the Swedish Elite League. He played his first game last night, anchoring the top line of the team. He did not score any points in the 2-1 MoDo win but the more important piece of news was about his foot, which has nagged Forsberg for years now.
The news was that there was no news. The foot held up fine and he had no problems. Of course this is just one game and it is unknown how well the foot would hold up over an 82 game season.
But if Forsberg plays part of the season in Sweden with MoDo and then makes Team Sweden for the 2010 Olympics and has no problems with his foot, then why shouldn't the Rangers take a chance on him at the deadline? Signing him now would not be the best idea considering the amount of salary the Rangers have left and the foot needs to be put through more games. However this guy is one of the best players to ever play in the NHL and is certainly the best Swede ever. Hands down. Just ask some of the people that Forsberg completely embarrasses in this video.
It is unknown how much money Forsberg would be looking for if he does get offers. The man has made enough money to not have to worry about it for the rest of his life. If he is looking to come back to just win and get another Stanley cup win then the Rangers will be looking into this.
This is not based on any rumor that has gone around or any information from another source. All of this is just suggestion by me.
It can't hurt to give one of the best players of all time a shot at being a New York Ranger. The rumors were around last season and you can bet anything that if Forsberg is healthy and ready to go around the trade deadline, Glen Sather will be giving Foppa and his agent a call.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Where It All Matters: King Henrik's Castle

Something that has been missing from the New York Ranger organization is a constant. Players come and go but with every team there has been a constant that has not been disturbed and is the identity of the team. Names like Mark Messier, Brian Leetch, Mike Richter, and Adam Graves were the constants for the team for many years. Since they have left there has not been a constant...until now.
The success that the Rangers will have this year and for the foreseeable future comes down to how well Henrik Lundqvist plays every season. All the changes that have been made within the last six months will create a different looking team in 2009-2010, but Henrik Lundqvist will be the deciding factor in how this team finishes.
This past season the King had 38 wins to go with a 2.43 goals against average and a .916 save percentage. It was the first year that Lundqvist was not in the running for the Vezina trophy as the NHL's top goaltender but he continued his streak of 30+ wins. Henrik is the only goalie to start his first four NHL seasons with 30 wins or more each season. At this point it is expected that #30 will put up 30 wins every year for the rest of his career.
However, one thing that Lundqvist does need to improve on is being consistent over the entire season. He always starts off hot and then cools down in December, January, and early February before turning it back up and being amazing down the stretch. The Rangers need him to have a whole season where he plays at peak performance. This season will make Ranger fans especially nervous because of the Olympics, where Henrik will no doubt retain the starting goaltender position for Sweden, who he led to a gold medal back in 2006. When Lundqvist came back he faltered and fell apart. As expected, the Rangers did as well.
Coach John Tortorella has made it known that he wants Henrik to be fresh and ready all season, especially when it comes down to the big games at the end and playoffs. To do this, he may have to cut back on the amount of starts King Henrik will have, putting Steve Valiquette in the crease. Vally has shown he can be a capable goalie and is a great teammate. However confidence in him was some what lost by the fans after the debacle against Dallas. I don't think I need to remind everyone about that one.
Of course if the Rangers can provide more offense, they won't have to rely on the tandem of Lundqvist and Valiquette to stop every shot every night. But while the kinks in the Tortorella system get worked out Henrik Lundqvist will have to continue to be the rock solid foundation that the Rangers have relied on since the end of the 2004-2005 NHL Lockout.
In the NHL the goaltender can be your make or break position. It is the reason that the Flyers, who have had some good teams in recent memory, have been unable to win it all. Who knows where Devils would be with Martin Brodeur or where Vancouver would end up without Roberto Luongo. The Rangers have a bonafide goaltender in their cage and they will rely on him for years to come. The seasons of players like Marian Gaborik, Chris Drury, Ryan Callahan, and other will matter but it all comes down to one King. Just ask Dan Carcillo how good Lundqvist is. He knows.
Lundqvist will need to continue that kind of play if the Stanley Cup hopes of the Rangers will become reality.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Line Juggling: Lets Play Guess Who

One topic that has been a major point of discussion among New York Ranger fans is who John Tortorella will put together on the forward lines. With so many new players and a certain unfamiliarity in terms of skill and talent, it will be interesting to see how things play out. Most fans I have talked to think the lines will shake out to something like this:


Sure these lines seem sensible as they resemble the depth chart of the franchise right now. However, one flaw here is that things never end up the way the depth chart is on paper. Ranger fans saw the combination of Scott Gomez and Jaromir Jagr fail after hopes of always having them together on the top line. Brandon Dubinsky went on to be Jagr's center that year and the rest is history.
There are so many different combinations that could be put together because of the depth the Rangers have right now. I am going to attempt to put something together. These lines are not necessarily what will be the lines on opening night but what will shake out as the season goes on:


I am guessing these are not the lines you were expecting. At this point it is anybody's guess as to how John Tortorella will use his forwards but here is an explanation why I think this.

Most Ranger fans believe Dubinsky will be the top center for the team next season. While that may be true on the depth chart, someone with the playmaking ability of Artem Anisimov has to be considered on the top line. It is true that "Artie" will be a rookie in the NHL this coming season but that shouldn't make the coaching staff afraid to put him in a situation to succeed. Pairing Anisimov with someone like Marian Gaborik will allow the young Russian to find space on the ice to make plays.
Many people are under the impression that a winger needs to have a center who can set him up to score. However someone of Gaborik's talent, which there are few, can start, create, and finish plays all by himself. He does not need someone setting him up.
The rationale for Anisimov is that he can thrive in this situation. With a goal scorer in Higgins to his left, Anisimov will be able to create plays with him or have the space to make his own plays. If all else fails, just give the puck to Gaborik and get to open ice.
Having Higgins on the line will give the group a player who will grind it out along the boards and is not afraid to go to the front of the net, giving a playmaking option to Anisimov and Gaborik. Higgins will be determined to show that last season was just a fluke and that he is a consistent 20 goal scorer in the NHL.

Brandon Dubinsky and Ryan Callahan played together in the playoffs and showed some chemistry forming. The two play a similar style as they are not afraid to grind out along the boards and fight for the puck. Dubinsky can dish the puck while Callahan can take it and put it on net. It only makes sense that the two players who succeeded the most under John Tortorella's system be put together. They will create space for themselves and their fellow linemate, Enver Lisin.
Coming over from Phoenix, Lisin's two biggest assets are speed and skill. He has a nose for the net and can be a big difference maker on the ice. One of the fastest skaters in the NHL, Lisin will be able to find areas for a playmaking center like Dubinsky to get him the puck.
The young Russian needs to work on his defensive play but putting him with two defensively responsible players in Callahan and Dubinsky may help him further his learning in the defensive zone. A combination of speed, physicality, and skill is what John Tortorella wants and that is what he has with this line.

While the third line is usually reserved for a more defensive style, Torts will be expecting all of his lines to be playing defense. Chris Drury and Ales Kotalik played together in Buffalo years ago and they will be reunited after having good chemistry for the Sabres. Kotalik's main asset is his shot. Whether he is using a wrist or slap shot, Kotalik is a danger to score off the wing all the time. He would be an even better player if he used his size to his advantage more often.
However, Drury and Kotalik both like to shoot the puck and will need someone who can be a playmaker. Vaclav Prospal has played at the center and wing positions in his career. Having him on this line will allow for flexibility in having him either on the wing or moving Drury to the wing and having Prospal in the center. He is a playmaker who will be able to feed the forwards on his for shots. If he can't, then he has the scoring ability to finish off the play.
Prospal and Drury together will be a good shutdown unit for the Rangers as Prospal knows John Tortorella's system while Drury has been known for his good two way play. This is a solid third line that can provide scoring depth and solid defensive play.

I know many Ranger fans will not be a fan of having Sean Avery on the fourth line, but the fact is that he is outskilled by those in front of him. Ranger fans want scoring on all four lines and Avery will be able to provide that on a lower line playing against the lower lines of other teams. Throw in the fact Avery is the most annoying thing on skates and you have yourself a solid fourth liner.
New York acquired center Brian Boyle in a trade with the Los Angeles Kings at the draft this year and are hoping he can revive his career. The big center, who stands at 6'7 250 pounds, showed his offensive abilities in the NHL by scoring four goals in his first 7 games, including against the New York Rangers. If he can learn to use his body more, Boyle could become a surprise reclamation project for the organization and provide a big body down the middle.
The Rangers replaced Colton Orr with Donald Brashear this offseason in what many Ranger fans thought was a bit of an odd move. However, Brashear is a much better overall player than Colton Orr is. The veteran can mildly skate and is a very intimidating figure as one of the premier enforcers in the NHL. When he is not needed, the Rangers can sub in a player like Aaron Voros.
Like I mentioned before, all of this is a guessing game. Who goes where and with who is a mystery that will be solved in the coming month at training camp and during the preseason. Even more is that the offseason is not done yet and with many players still available and trade rumors floating around, it is almost moot at this point to make up lines, especially on defense.
But the forward lines I put above seem to me a reasonable place that the Rangers will end up. One thing that Ranger fans need to remember about the line combinations that will come about is that people need to keep an open mind. I highly doubt Donald Brashear and Marian Gaborik will be on the same line...but then again with such a new team and an open roster, don't be surprised if it is tried.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Rangers Talking to Dennis Seidenberg

According to the German hockey website, Eishockey, the Rangers have interest in free agent defenseman Dennis Seidenberg. The full article can be found here in German.
In the interview with the German born defenseman, Seidenberg says that he is in daily talks with the New York Rangers as well as the Florida Panthers and is looking for a three year deal. However, neither the Rangers or the Panthers may be willing to give Seidenberg a three year deal.
It is understandable that Seidenberg is looking for a long term deal as he has been around the NHL in his short career. Having played for the Philadelphia Flyers, Phoenix Coyotes, and Carolina Hurricanes, Seidenberg wants to establish himself somewhere for he and his new wife. However, with the market being the way it has been, it has not been easy for him and he may have to take less than what he wants to sign with a NHL team.
However, from a Ranger perspective, a move like this would be a huge benefit. Seidenberg had a career year last season with Carolina with five goals and 25 assists for 30 points, adding six more points in the playoffs for the Hurricanes. The only defensemen with regular NHL experience for the Rangers right now are Wade Redden, Michal Rozsival, Marc Staal, and Dan Girardi. Personally, I'm not a fan of having two spots open to rookie defensemen and any team that has won the Stanley Cup the last few seasons has had serious depth at every position. Seidenberg would provide this for the Rangers.
I understand that the Rangers have serious depth in their prospect pipeline at the defensive position but that is all those players are, prospects. Glen Sather needs to make sure the NHL roster is ready to go this season and if that includes adding a player like Seidenberg then he should go for it. I like the stock of prospects the Rangers but there is no guarantee any of them will pan out like Ranger fans hope.
The 27 year old made $1.2 million with the Hurricanes last season. My guess at a salary figure for him would be $2 million or less considering the amount of money available to teams right now. However, adding a solid veteran like Dennis Seidenberg would only help to solidify the Rangers on the back end, something they need to do if they want any shot at being a contender in the Eastern Conference.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

2009 Traverse City Roster Announced

According to Red Wings Central, the New York Rangers have released their roster for the 2009 Traverse City Prospects Tournament, held every year in Traverse City, Michigan before training camp starts. See the full roster here.
With the success of Ranger prospects in recent years, more and more fans have turned their attention to these young players with this tournament as a way to see how they fare against others at their level. In 2007, the Rangers won the tournament as they went unbeaten in four games en route to the tournament title.
This season, New York will be looking to get back to the top of the heap as they send some of the top prospects in the organization.
Headlining the forwards is Evgeny Grachev, who played for the Brampton Battalion of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) last season. The young Russian scored 40 goals and 40 assists in 60 games and will be looking to move up to the Hartford Wolf Pack this season, if not the New York Rangers. Personally, Grachev should probably spend a little bit of time in Hartford to see where he is but Ranger head coach John Tortorella has made it known he is not afraid of putting youth into the line up. If Grachev wants to make the New York Rangers this season, he will have to start by having a good showing in Traverse City.
The 2009 Draft class for the Rangers will be well represented in the forward corps. Second round pick, Ethan Werek, will be on the squad. The Kingston Frontenac will most likely be returned to his junior team this coming season regardless of his performance at Traverse City, but that is not a bad thing. The young center will be learning from one of the best in the history of the game in Doug Gilmour, who is the head coach of the Kingston junior team. In 66 games, Werek had 32 goals and 32 assists for the Frontenacs who were the worst team in the OHL last year.
The other headline from the 2009 class will be forward Ryan Bourque who was selected in the third round. The young forward had 54 points in 51 games for the US under 18 National Development team. The son of Ray Bourque, Ryan has been somewhat knocked for his small size but he will be out to prove those critics wrong when he goes up against players who are a few years older than he is and physically more mature. Bourque will be playing with the Quebec Remparts of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL), under the direction of Patrick Roy.
Invited as free agents in the forward corps are Craig Cunningham from the Vancouver Giants, Daniel Bartek from the Everett Silvertips, and Luke Walker from the Portland Winterhawks.
The strength of this team will be on the blue line and it is headlined by Michael Del Zotto. The first round pick in the 2008 draft for the Rangers, Del Zotto impressed many at Ranger camp last season before being sent back to the Oshawa Generals. The young defenseman continued to show his offensive skills by scoring 33 points in 34 games for the Generals before being traded to the London Knights. In 28 regular season games, he put up 30 points while he had 19 points in just 14 playoff games.
However, the aspect of Del Zotto's game that the Rangers were looking for improvement in was his defensive play and, according to scouts, Del Zotto has done that. Unfortunately for the young defenseman, he will need to make the New York Rangers this season or be sent back to the OHL for another junior season, as he is not old enough to play in the AHL. With spots open on the blue line, look for Del Zotto to make a push by having an impressive Traverse City tournament.
Other notables on the blue line include Tomas Kundratek, Mitch Gaulton, and 2009 6th round pick, Daniel Maggio.
Unfortunately for the Rangers, a few of their top prospects play in the NCAA, making them ineligible to play in this tournament. Players such as Derek Stepan, Chris Kreider, and Ryan McDonagh are bound by the rules of college athletics to not participate in this tournament. However, the fact the Rangers are able to field a formidable roster without these talented players shows the depth the organization has achieved in its farm system.
In net, the Rangers will be looking to Chad Johnson, whom they acquired from the Pittsburgh Penguins at the 2009 draft. Backing him up will be Scott Stajcer who was drafted in the fifth round of the 2009 draft.
The Rangers will be facing some formidable teams. They will play a round robin game against each team in the Eastern Division which includes the Detroit Red Wings, Atlanta Thrashers, and Carolina Hurricanes. The top team from this division will play the top team in the Western Division which includes the Columbus Blue Jackets, Minnesota Wild, St. Louis Blues, and Dallas Stars.
The first game for the Rangers will be on September 6th when they open against the Carolina Hurricanes with the tournament lasting until September 10th, when the last games will be played.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

John Tortorella Speaks at US Olympic Camp

With the Olympics coming up in February this year in Vancouver, countries are beginning to get teams together and trying to figure out who will be on the team. One of the people who will be helping determine this is New York Rangers head coach John Tortorella who is an assistant coach from Team USA.
Jeff Klein from the New York Times caught up with Torts at the camp and asked a few questions that seemed interesting. You can read the full article here.
Concerning the newest Ranger, Vaclav Prospal, Tortorella believes "He’s ticked off. He was bought out. He has something to prove here. I think it’s a good situation on a one-year deal, and show us maybe for when another contract comes around. Some other people in the organization need to understand that too".
When a player has motivation it is often when they play at their best. Being bought out by Tampa seems to have lit a fire in Vinny Prospal and he is really looking to prove to teams in the NHL that they should not have passed up on him. Being under a coach that Prospal knows well and having a player that Torts knows how to get the best out of is a combination that can only lead to positive results.
On what the Rangers will be working on in training camp: "That’s where we can establish what our mindset is going to be, conditioning, which I think is a weakness of our club. As I’ve said, and I make no bones about it, I don’t think we’re a stiff team mentally. I think we have to be a little bit tougher in that area, in mental parts and preparation.”
Coach Tortorella has mentioned this in interviews from earlier in the offseason and continues to reiterate a mental softness to this team. Softness has been a concern by many fans over the last few years and the Rangers finally have a coach who will be trying to address this. While Tom Renney was big on conditioning, Tortorella will bring a whole new level to the Rangers, a team that will be playing a very aggressive system which will require a superior level of conditioning. Hopefully having a conditioning regimen such as this will help keep the Rangers a consistent team this season rather than fizzling out in the middle of the year and then coming back strong towards the end.
When it comes to who will be on what lines, "No one’s locked into any positions — people are going to earn their time, they’re always going to have to earn their time. Even if they get some, if they don’t keep on going they may get moved around a little bit. I think that makes it into more of a hard-type situation. This is a hard game. I just think we’re soft mentally, and I think we have to grow in that area."
This is what will make training camp so interesting. A combination of having such a different team and no one having a guaranteed position is what will make the players be more motivated this camp more than any other in recent memory. It has been made known that young players will have a chance to make the team and play key roles during the season. With so many new faces Ranger fans and the coaching staff are unfamiliar with how young guys like Enver Lisin and Brian Boyle play on a day to day basis, making it a very open training camp where every single position is open to anyone...except of course the starting goaltender position.
And as many Ranger fans are ready for the season, so is the head coach. "I’m ready to go — I’ve been ready to go for a couple of months now. I just want to get up to New York. Next week I’m going to be there and get going."
To be honest, not being excited as a Ranger fan this season would be a shock to me. New system, new players, new team. Then again you wouldn't be a Ranger fan if there was not some kind of doubt nagging at your emotions no matter how excited you may be.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Chris Drury: His Team, His Time

When Chris Drury signed his five year deal two years ago for a whopping average of just over $7 million a year, many people were skeptical at the contract. Drury had only broken the 30 goal barrier twice in his career and never reached the 70 point plateau. Even now, Ranger fans complain about the large contract the 25th Ranger captain has, especially since it contains a full no movement clause meaning Chris Drury has to approve any move that happens with him, even if it means being sent down to Hartford.
One problem I have noticed with New York when it comes to sports is that people expect athletes to play better when they get here. I have heard many people say Drury should be putting in 40 goals with his contract. Why? He has never scored 40 goals in his career. Not even in his high school days at Fairfield Prep did Drury break the 40 goal mark.
Of course it would be nice if Drury could get over that hump but realistically it is a long shot to happen. All I am hoping for from Drury is to be a solid two way player who breaks the 25 goal barrier. He does not score as many goals as other players in the NHL but he scores the big ones. When you are tied in overtime of the playoffs or down by one late in the third period, Drury is the guy who you look at to put the puck in the net at the right time.
Another assumption that I have come to when it comes to New York fans regards being the captain of the team. When it comes to New York, especially Ranger fans, we have been spoiled. From Joe Namath to Mark Messier, captains in New York have always been very outspoken and even made guarantees for their teams to win big games.
Drury on the other hand is not someone who says alot to the media. When your team has the greatest captain in the history of hockey or even sports, you get spoiled about your image of "The Captain". While that title will always be reserved for Messier in the minds of Ranger fans, someone still has to wear the C on their chest. Fans are not in the locker room during intermissions or on the bench during the game so it is impossible for us to know what Chris Drury says. However, John Tortorella has tabbed Chris Drury as the Captain and will keep him as such.
As long as Drury is using his voice in the locker room around his players, then what do Ranger fans care about what he says to newspapers and the media? Drury is a man of action, not words. Maybe not that much action has happened but because of the large turnover this team has had this summer, the New York Rangers are Chris Drury's team now.
It remains to be seen what happens this coming season but Drury will be looking to bounce back after a rough year last season. I am hoping for a good season for the Trumbull, CT native. With more scoring talent on this team, Drury may be able to sneak under the radar a bit as he will not be looked to provide the bulk of the scoring.
This may be a dream but if Chris Drury is the man who puts the puck in the net to win the Stanley Cup, then he is worth every penny of that contract.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Red Rising: Young Russians Ready to Go

One feature of the New York Rangers since the early 1990s has been their acceptance of Russian players. Sergei Zubov, Alex Kovalev, and Sergei Nemchinov were the first Russians to have their names engraved on the Stanley Cup and ever since then Russian players have graced the Ranger lineup. From those three players, to Pavel Bure, to this year's young crop of Russians the New York Rangers have been a destination for those of the former Soviet Union.
This coming season a few more Russians will be with the Broadway Blueshirts and will be looking to make an impact.
Most likely to play at the center position, Artem Anisimov has been in the New York Ranger system for the last two seasons with the Hartford Wolf Pack of the American Hockey League (AHL). This past season was a breakout year for the skilled Anisimov as he tallied 81 points in 80 games (37 goals and 44 assists) to lead the team in scoring and rank 5th overall in the AHL.
A very skilled forward, Anisimov came out of Lokomotiv Yaroslavl in Russia before coming over to adapt his game to the North American game.
Anisimov will have a unique opportunity in camp this season as Ranger head coach John Tortorella has made it clear that the lines are completely open in terms of who is playing where. From talking to Ranger fans this summer, many expect Anisimov to start at the third line center position behind Brandon Dubinsky and Chris Drury. Whether it is because they believe he is too young or Dubinsky and Drury are better than him, the fact is that Anisimov has pure skill and talent down the middle which the Rangers need.
Probably not on opening night but I expect to see Artem Anisimov centering the first line with Marian Gaborik on his wing. Tortorella will give Anisimov a shot in training camp to be successful.
The other Russian who will most likely be making the squad in New York came over in a trade that happened on July 13th. The Rangers traded forward Lauri Korpikoski to the Phoenix Coyotes for Enver Lisin.
Last season, Lisin scored 13 goals and added 8 assists while playing on Phoenix's fourth line in 48 games. Many Coyote fans, including myself, do not believe he was given a fair chance in Phoenix by head coach Wayne Gretzky but such is life in the NHL. There is no doubt that Lisin will get a chance in New York.
With John Tortorella's system based on speed, Enver Lisin will be a huge beneficiary of this. One of the fastest skaters in the entire NHL, Lisin combines that with the ability to put the puck in the net. I think of him as Nikolai Zherdev but with motivation and drive to play every game. His speed alone created chances for himself and his teammates as it threw opposing defense off balance. A strong wrist shot and quick hands will help young Enver become a quiet scorer on the Rangers.
Will these two Russians play together this coming season? Tortorella will try everything in training camp to see who plays well together. He likes to keep two people together on a line and then shift the third person around so don't be surprised if Lisin and Anisimov get paired together. The reason is not just because they are Russian players but because of their similar skill. While Anisimov is no where near as fast as Lisin, the two of them could form a secondary scoring dynamo for New York. Pair the both of them with Marian Gaborik on a line...well the speed and skill of the line would be able to speak for itself. Gaborik and Lisin come flying down the wing, hit the trailer in Anisimov...
One can dream. But there is no doubt that these two Russian players will be looked to provide scoring depth that was non-existent for the New York Rangers last season.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

My Future Boss? Messier Appointed Special Assistant

News keeps coming out of Ranger land. Along with the reported signing of Vaclav Prospal, Larry Brooks of the New York Post broke the news that Mark Messier has been hired as a special assistant to Ranger general manager Glen Sather.
It has long been speculated that Messier would eventually become the next general manager of the NY Rangers after Glen Sather decides to step down. However, while Messier does know his hockey and talent, being a general manager is more than that. By having this position Messier has the chance to learn everything from one of the best general managers in the history of the National Hockey League.
Other great players in recent memory have taken similar positions with their former organizations. Players such as Steve Yzerman (Detroit Red Wings) and Al MacInnis (St. Louis Blues) have been appointed to similar posts in the hopes they will be able to use their hockey knowledge to build a team for the Stanley Cup.
People who know me know that I want to be a general manager in the NHL. Of course it is a long shot but if I am going to do it, I may be getting to Messier's position as a special assistant to the general manager someday. Who knows? Maybe I will be Messier's special assistant.
Right...time to put the rose colored glasses away.
Messier is one of the greatest leaders not only in the history of hockey, but in all of sports. He willed the New York Rangers to a Stanley Cup in 1993-1994 while also being apart of the dynasty years of the Edmonton Oilers in the 1980s. He will now start a whole new career, one that Ranger fans hope is just as successful and storied as his playing career.

Rangers Ink Prospal: What Now for Dubinsky?

Ranger fans woke up this morning to the news that Vaclav "Vinny" Prospal had been signed to a 1 year deal worth $1.1 million, according to Larry Brooks of the NY Post here.
Recently bought out by the Tampa Bay Lightning, it was known that the Czech forward was not going to be looking for a large contract as the Lightning owe him around $1.2 million every year until the 2014-2015 season. Instead Prospal was looking more for a place where he could get another crack at the Stanley Cup, and what better place than where your Stanley Cup winning head coach is?
Prospal played under John Tortorella with the Tampa Bay Lightning and certainly knows the style of play Torts likes and how to prepare for such a system. A very versatile forward, Prospal has been known to play both center and wing which gives some flexibility to the coaching staff looking for a number one pivot. This signing gives the Rangers some insurance in case Brandon Dubinsky cannot handle being the top line anchor.
Of course, Dubinsky's contract situation is still being ironed out. In the same article, Brooks mentions that Dubinsky may sign a one year deal and go through what Henrik Lundqvist did two years ago. Lundqvist signed a one year deal and was given a contract extension after January 1st so the extension didn't count on the salary cap during that year. Lundqvist got his money and extension and is now locked up to be a Ranger for a long time. Dubinsky should sign his qualifying offer, which is just under $700,000, and play this season to show what he has.
Then again, there is another possibility which is going through the minds of Ranger fans now. Bringing in Prospal means Dubinsky could be on his way out. Trade rumors have been abound this summer that teams are interested in getting Dubinsky for high priced talent including Ottawa Senators' winger Dany Heatley. If I am Glen Sather, however, I am only trading Dubinsky for a top line center. New York got its scoring winger in Marian Gaborik on July 1st and with young players like Ryan Callahan, Enver Lisin, and Christopher Higgins rising through the wing ranks, it seems unnecessary to get someone like Heatley.
On the other hand, a big name like Heatley would mean a big contract would have to go out. If it is for Heatley, the most likely candidate would be Michal Rozsival. I doubt the Senators would like Wade Redden back and Chris Drury will most likely not waive his no movement clause to allow such a trade.
We know Glen Sather to be very in touch with his head coach during the summer and will consult with the coach on what the team needs on the ice to succeed. A former player who may be available, like Brad Richards of the Dallas Stars, could be another target of the Rangers as has been hinted by Larry Brooks and others in the hockey world. Whether it is true or not, another big salary would be going back to Dallas and in this case, it could be Wade Redden. But then the issue of what to do on the blue line is raised.
Dubinsky will be signed and the Rangers then sign a depth defenseman, like Francis Bouillon, and go into training camp with a solid roster. Sather has said he will not give up young talent just to get a star so a trade will really have to wow the Ranger general manager, especially for someone like Brandon Dubinsky.
As for Prospal, this is a good signing at a cheap price. Prospal has been a consistent scorer in his career and will certainly make the Rangers a more dangerous team.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Ranger Wildcard

When it comes to disappointment from last season, Wade Redden was at the top of the list. A recipient of an inflated Glen Sather contract, Redden was immediately swamped with pressure and high expectations. After a few rough years in Ottawa, the fans of the New York Rangers were hoping Redden could bounce back and become the offensive defenseman he had been in the past. The Rangers believed they had found the point man for their power play.
Unfortunately this did not come to pass. Redden struggled with his defensive play and tallied only 26 points. The Ranger power play remained awful finishing 29th in the league at 13.9% and gave up 14 shorthanded goals. A time came when Redden was booed when he touched the puck at Madison Square Garden and the season kept going downhill from there.
However, when John Tortorella replaced Tom Renney behind the bench, flashes of the old Wade Redden began to emerge. After Torts took over the team Redden had a goal and five assists. It may not sound like much but his defensive play improved as well as he found himself more on the even or plus side of his plus/minus more often than before.
One of the biggest knocks on the veteran defenseman was his skating. I admit that watching him skate this last year was painful. He seemed to be very nonchalant on the ice and slow.
There are many things that could have been going on in Redden's head that may have made the situation tough in New York. Whatever it was, he needs to solve it. I am remaining optimistic that Redden can get everything together and be the defenseman that he used to be. Playing in a much more high octane offense with more skilled players may help the Saskatchewan native but he needs to be much better than last year. His passing is very good and his shot is a heavy one.
While many will continue to get on Redden's back this upcoming season, I am giving him another chance. If he can get his offensive game back, his best chance will be under John Tortorella. The conditioning and playing level of Redden will need to be much better this coming season if he and the New York Rangers want to prove the critics wrong.
Talk of sending Redden down the minors has cropped up during this off season. I doubt Glen Sather does this because he hates being wrong (who does?). But his patience will only go so far...just ask Scott Gomez.

Friday, August 14, 2009

The New Look Rangers

When it comes to this offseason, the New York Rangers have undergone a face lift. Names like Scott Gomez, Paul Mara, Markus Naslund, Derek Morris, Nikolai Zherdev, Lauri Korpikoski, and Colton Orr are out while names like Marian Gaborik, Christopher Higgins, Ales Kotalik, Enver Lisin, and Donald Brashear. Oh and do not forget the head coaching change when John Tortorella replaced Tom Renney. Also joining Tortorella will be his assistant coach from Tampa Bay, Mike Sullivan.
New faces, new coaches, new system, new philosophy. Not since Mike Keenan was helping New York raise its first Stanley Cup in 54 years have the New York Rangers had such a fiery and animated coach like Tortorella. "Torts" will be implementing a high octane offense that plays a fast, aggressive style of hockey, one that matches the style of play needed to win in the National Hockey League today.
When Torts tried to implement his system late last year, it was obvious the Rangers were not in the right physical condition to sustain the style of play as the team would fall apart in the third period. But with a full training camp coming up, the Rangers will need to be in top physical condition if they want to make the team this season. John Tortorella and the Ranger training staff has outlined a rigorous training regimen for the players to follow this offseason until training camp. It is there that the players will be put through a boot camp to get them prepared for what will be the toughest camp of their hockey lives.
Of course, when the camp is all said and done, Tortorella and the coaching staff will have a team that is in top physical condition and will be able to endure the long season and be ready for a long playoff run.
But to say the Rangers are done with this offseason would be a mistake. While Tortorella has mentioned that young players will get a chance to make the team, the head coach and Sather need to realize you cannot have too many young players, especially on the blue line. As of right now, the top four defensive positions are taken up by Wade Redden, Michal Rozsival, Dan Girardi, and Marc Staal, leaving the bottom two open. Rumors of signing feisty Francis Bouillon have been abound this past week. Signing him would be a good move considering he will be relatively cheap, is a veteran, and brings a physical element to the blue line despite his small stature.
With the departure of Scott Gomez, the hunt for a top center is on. Brandon Dubinsky still needs to be re-signed but it is unknown if he can make the step to be a top center in the NHL. Behind him are Chris Drury, Artem Anisimov, and Brian Boyle. Personally, it does not really matter who the top center on this team is. A guy like Marian Gaborik is good enough that he can create and make plays for himself. Dubinsky was able to mesh with Jaromir Jagr, who played a very slow style compared to Dubinsky playing a much more direct play like Gaborik will. Gaborik and Dubinsky will mesh very well while having a winger like Christopher Higgins, Ryan Callahan, or even Sean Avery who will get in the corners and grind it out, getting the puck to one of Dubinsky or Gaborik to make a play.
For now though fans must wait and see what happens over the next few weeks. August is a tough month to get through because of the lack of hockey news. However, that does not mean hockey fans should be out of the loop. With many good free agents still left out there and the Rangers needing to fill a couple of holes, this offseason is far from over.