Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Return of the Rubber Rats

By Jonathan Lungo

The cats of South Florida are finally awakening and are ready to jump back into the playoff scene. Last year revealed that the Panthers have a lot to look forward to. For example. an excellent blend of youth and experience is found from top to bottom on this Panthers roster up front. Coming off last year's nail biting race for the last playoff spot, the Panthers will be back ready to prove that last year's jump was not just a fluke. The Panthers finished the season with 93 points, tied with Montreal for eighth, but lost the tiebreaker and so were sent packing to the beaches of South Florida.

This season will be a trial of consistency for the Panthers forwards. The Panthers will only go as far as their forwards can take them making the forward corps their Achilles Heel. If there are too many injuries or shortcoming among the forwards it will be a long season in Sunrise. Veterans Radek Dvorak and Steven Reinprecht will be leading the young forwards who are hopefully the future of this respectful franchise. Among the youth is 24-year-old American David Booth who scored 31 goals and 29 assists in 72 games played last season. Expect this youngster to get more playing time and to lead the team in scoring. Booth is shaping up to become a team captain some day, possibly as soon as sometime during this season.

Last year’s rookie sensation in Sunrise was Michael Frolik. Another promising ray of light to the Panthers success and future in South Florida, Frolik is an extremely fast and agile center who totaled 45 points in 79 games played. Being that it was only his rookie season he did not play on the top line but his +/- was a plus 10 so expect Frolik to keep himself on the top two lines of the Panthers. The Panthers now have the energy back in the building, which will help energize this squad and help other young forwards like Stephen Weiss (14G, 47A), Gregory Campbell (13G, 19A). But not to worry, Head coach Peter DeBoer knows how to sculpt these players into winning shape...hopefully just not when my Flyers are in town because I have already purchased the tickets.

If I were Randy Sexton, the Panthers Assistant General Manager, all I would be worried about would be the depth on defense. The loss of Jay Bouwmeester was no doubt a huge loss of talent but the distraction brought by the Bouwmeester trade rumors was too big a distraction. Perhaps the best addition to this defensive corps is Jordon Leopold who came over during the offseason in a trade with Calgary. Leopold is looking for a place to settle down after his second stint with the Flames and what a better place to do it than here in Sunrise. The team around him is still young and blossoming and he has an opportunity to become a leader in the locker room and his postseason experience will play a crucial role in getting the Panthers into the playoffs. The other top defenseman positions for the Panthers this year will probably be Bryan McCabe, Keith Ballard, and newly acquired Dennis Seidenberg, who also has postseason experience with both the Flyers and Hurricanes. If one of these guys goes down the next guy up is not going to be as experienced and can prove to be a thorn in the paw for these Panthers.

Goaltending should be of little worry, since two excellent net minders are between the pipes. I say enough of Tomas Vokoun as the starter and put in Scott Clemmensen. Sexton brought in Clemmensen from the Devils this offseason and why not use what you acquired?The 32 year old Clemmensen showed amazing skill last year in New Jersey after Martin Brodeur went down with an injury. When Clemmensen stepped in the Devils were down in third place in the highly competitive Atlantic Division and led the Devils to an Atlantic Division title going 25-13 with two shutouts in 40 games and holding opponents to under three goals a game. Of course Brodeur came back at the end of the season to record his record breaking win and Scotty was tossed aside like chopped liver and the backup job was given back to a cheaper Kevin Weekes. Scotty is looking for revenge and this will only add to the Panthers fury this season.

My prediction: the Rubber Rats will be back and they will be numerous.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Coyotes Adding Some Veteran Leadership?

For the last few years the Phoenix Coyotes have been all about young players and rebuilding. While developing young players is important a team needs veterans to help lead the youth of their team.
According to Jim Gintonio of the Arizona Republic and fan sightings at practice the Phoenix Coyotes have reached a contractual agreement with veteran center Robert Lang pending a physical. Lang is coming off an Achilles tendon injury suffered last season while playing for the Montreal Canadiens but it seems that he will be ready to go. Expect a formal announcement later from the Phoenix Coyotes.
Lang had 18 goals and 39 points in 50 games last season before being hurt. New York fans will remember when Robert Lang scored a hat trick at Madison Square Garden in January.
What does this do to the Coyotes? It adds a few things. First they get a great locker room veteran. Robert Lang is one of the best Czech players to ever lace them up in the NHL and he will be joining a team that already has a bit of a Czech flavor with Radim Vrbata, Martin Hanzal, Petr Prucha, and Zbynek Michalek all hailing from the eastern European nation. Having that sort of dynamic on and off the ice can really be a comforting factor for players.
Second is that Lang can still play. He has broken the 20 goal plateau seven times and the 30 goal plateau once. Obviously his main skill is in setting up players for goals and Phoenix has alot of talent on the wings. Players like Shane Doan, Mikkel Boedker, Peter Mueller, Petr Prucha, Scottie Upshall, and Radim Vrbata will benefit greatly from having a solid setup man like Robert Lang skating down the middle. Phoenix was sorely missing offense last season and a guy like Robert Lang can not only boost that with his own scoring abilities but by making others around him better.
This is a great signing if Lang passes his physical. The positive effects this will have both on and off the ice will only benefit the Coyotes as they try to get some wins and be competitive in the Western Conference. However let the Coyotes officially announce Lang's arrival.
In other NHL news the Chicago Blackhawks lost in the Victoria Cup to ZSC Zurich by a score of 2-1. The Lions were able to hold off Chicago in the third period as Zurich's goaltender Ari Sulander played outstanding. The Victoria Cup is out of the hands of the NHL until next season. The New York Rangers were the first winners of the Victoria Cup last season when they defeated Metallurg Magnitogorsk in a dramatic comeback.
Also the home opener for the Phoenix Coyotes is almost sold out. The entire lower bowl is sold and there are limited seats left in the upper bowl. Go out there and get them.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Rangers and Coyotes Make Final Trimmings

Both the Phoenix Coyotes and New York Rangers made some more cuts today which has gotten them down to the amount of players needed to start the season.
Brett MacLean and David Schlemko were sent to the San Antonio Rampage by the Phoenix Coyotes to bring their roster number two 22 players while the New York Rangers sent Evgeny Grachev to Hartford and are now at 22 players.
Both teams are carrying seven defensemen and youngsters are apart of the mix on both teams. In the desert Kevin Porter will be looking to make an impact as he will try to stick with the team for the duration of the season. Porter started the year in Phoenix last season but was eventually sent to San Antonio to get more ice time.
In New York, the Rangers will have some young talent abound. Michael Del Zotto has earned his nine game tryout. Del Zotto can play nine NHL games and still be sent back to his major junior team, the London Knights. Because of his age Del Zotto cannot go to the Hartford Wolfpack.
Matt Gilroy has made a great case to stay in New York as he has been impressive on both ends of the ice. He will only get better as he learns more about the system and the rest of the NHL.
Technically each team can make one more cut as the minimum amount of players to be on your active roster is 21. Looking at the Phoenix Coyotes there is not really any one person who has stood out in a very bad way and should be cut. Keeping the roster as is gives Head Coach Dave Tippett plenty of options. This team has a very good mix of speed and skill that will be complemented by a very structured defensive system. Saturday night's preseason shutout over the San Jose Sharks was a good start but more will be learned and the Coyotes will be even better.
On the east coast there is one person who should be cut immediately. Michal Rozsival has been absolutely atrocious. During today's game against the Capitals Rozsival fumbled the puck right in front of Henrik Lundqvist and Brooks Laich took it and put it in. The entire preseason Rozsival has blown it in the defensive zone and has not looked that spectacular on the other side of the ice. He is not mobile enough for a high octane offensive system and is frequently caught making bad plays whether in the defensive or offensive zones. He is quickly becoming a turnover machine. Maybe no one noticed Rozsival was so bad because Marek Malik was worse.
If I was John Tortorella Rozsival would be on his way to Hartford regardless of how much he makes. The younger players have looked much better. Free up $5 million in cap space, sign a veteran defenseman like Alexei Semenov (He hasn't looked spectacular either but at least he would be cheaper) and get ready for Friday.
Whatever does end up happening over the next week should be very interesting. The Phoenix Coyotes and New York Rangers are making the finishing touches on their rosters and will now get into an intense week of learning new systems. The teams are now set roster wise but now is the time where they forge their identity on the ice. What do you think they will look like?

Some Hope in the Desert?

The Phoenix Coyotes had their final preseason game Saturday night as new head coach Dave Tippett got to see his new team in action for the first time. With Joe Thornton and newly acquired Dany Heatley coming to town it was not going to be easy.
However the Coyotes did very well as they won a very tight game 2-0. There was no scoring until the third period when Martin Hanzal who will be looked to improve on his offensive totals in years got the Coyotes going scored just 15 seconds into the final frame. Matthew Lombardi scored on the power play just over 7 minutes later to add some insurance. From then on it was all about defense for the Coyotes as Ilya Bryzgalov stopped all 27 shots that came his way.
So what is there to take from this? Since it was the final preseason game the two teams fielded rosters that will be pretty close to what is on the ice come the start of the season. Am I saying the Coyotes are going to have the Sharks' number all season? Of course not. But it is a sign that maybe Phoenix will be much better with an actual structured system.
Since I was not at the game and nor could I watch it I do not have first hand account of what went well but reading what other people have said there are a couple of points that looked really good:
1. The special teams over the last few seasons have been absolutely atrocious but last night they did not. The Coyotes power play looked much more creative and, as one fan puts it, was "unpredictable and organized". Phoenix has the talent in the lineup to run a good power play. With a veteran defenseman like Adrian Aucoin at the point experience will help a young team. Add when Ed Jovanovski starts to play and you have a pretty solid back line on the power play. 2. One of the best players on the ice for Phoenix was Peter Mueller. Last season was a dismal sophomore year for Mueller as he struggled to find his game and avoid injury. Yet last night he led the team in shots with seven, most of which were quality shots according to fans. He looks much faster having dropped a few pounds and worked on his skating alot. Despite not ending up on the scoresheet, Mueller's play has Coyote fans excited.
3. Phoenix will be counting on Ilya Bryzgalov to be a foundation in the crease and will have to steal some games for the young Yotes. Stopping all 27 shots last night is a huge step in the right direction, ten of those in the third period. Facing a pretty good offensive team like San Jose has got to be promising.
4. The overall structure of the team was very evident. There was a difference on the ice that, while still learning a new system, there is a purpose and a method to the madness if you will. As one Coyotes fan put it, "I never had that nagging feeling that failure was inevitable that I had alot last year". Tippett's defensive system has already begun to work an with just under a week until next Saturday's first game against the Los Angeles Kings you can bet Phoenix will be working to perfect the system and it will be ready to go to start the season.
A little glimpse of hope that this team can be much better? I hope so but this is still preseason. If Phoenix can do this again next Saturday and do it consistently then who knows where the ceiling may be. Their opening schedule is tough considering they are on the road for three games before coming home. They begin in LA, then move to Pittsburgh and close out the short road trip in Buffalo before coming home to face the Columbus Blue Jackets. Coming home undefeated would be a nice little surprise for Coyotes fans and would help get fans in the seats for the opener but a 2-1 record is by no means out of the question.
Do not forget that for the Coyotes home opener tickets are very affordable on anyone's budget so everyone in Phoenix should go out and support the team. This is a good young team with alot of promise and motivation for this season. With a bonafide head coach and a strong system this team will be making alot of noise. I sound like an advertisement but click here to get opening night tickets.
Today the New York Rangers have their final preseason game as they visit Washington to visit the Capitals. Game time is Noon EST and will be on MSG. Look for the roster to be posted with the pre-game notes on the Ranger website at some point and the final cuts to be made within the next few days. Head Coach John Tortorella has said he wants his final team to be skating at the MSG Training Center on Tuesday.
Less than a week until the regular season folks. Get those jerseys out.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

I'm A Little Pissed...

There are a couple of things I want to address here when it comes to being a Phoenix Coyotes fan and about the organization.
First of all, stop bashing Coyotes fans. This whole financial mess has led to other hockey fans jumping on the back of the media in attacking the Coyotes and their fans. Whether it is saying that there are not enough fans in Phoenix or that Phoenix fans just are not as good as fans in other markets, it needs to stop. Everyone hockey fan is a hockey fan. Sure we may hate the teams they root for but you do not insult a fan's dedication to their team. I may hate teams but I do not hate fans who know their hockey and root for their team with pride. We are all hockey fans loving the same sport.
Secondly, the Coyotes can work in Phoenix. By letting Gretzky and his $8 million salary go, 1/5th of the $30 million lost by the Phoenix Coyotes is gone. Right off the bat. If the Coyotes can get a competent owner who will keep the team in Phoenix long term and makes good business decisions the organization can thrive. Yes the team needs to win but having a smart brain-trust in charge of the organization makes a huge difference. The marketing department won awards last year for Pierre the Snowman which is a good start. Now get someone in charge who will help make the organization a success off the ice. I have worked in sports organizations and no matter how good your team may be in the standings, if the internal workings are not going well it can affect every facet of the team including on the ice, field, court, or whatever you play on.
It takes time to build a fan base. This is not a traditional hockey market but that does not mean it cannot be successful. It takes time and effort to get a fan base built up. You start with drawing kids into the game and then as they grow up they pass the fandom (spell check accepts that word?) to their children. It is a process that is slow and can be painful at times but the signs are already showing. Arizona youth hockey programs are all over the Phoenix area and kids are playing hockey. David Spina, who is looking to make the Coyotes roster, is looking to be the first Arizona trained player to ever play in the NHL. Colten St. Clair, born and raised in Arizona, is a highly touted player and will be playing Division 1 hockey at Colorado College starting next season. The PF Chang's (Yes the Chinese restaurant) youth hockey organization is one of the best youth teams in the entire United States.
And where did all of this come from? Where did the funding, training, equipment, and even the ice rinks come from? The Phoenix Coyotes. Their involvement in the community over the years has laid down a very good foundation for hockey in the desert for the long term. Like rebuilding a franchise it takes time and alot of growing pains but it will work.
This was a bit more informal than the other posts but I felt like I needed to write this way to get my point across. A personal rule of mine that I have is to never wish a sports fan to lose their team because it will come back to haunt you some how. How would you feel if people were badgering you about how you should lose your team? Exactly, you would not like it. So stop doing it.

The Gretzky Experiment Is Over

Well the day has finally come.
Wayne Gretzky has officially stepped down as the Head Coach and Director of Hockey Opertions of the Phoenix Coyotes. Anyone who has talked to me about the Coyotes situation or has read articles I have written know how against Gretzky I was in his position as head coach. He never got the Coyotes to the playoffs with the team always collapsing in the second half of the season. You can read the full press release from The Great One himself here.
According to the statement released by Gretzky, Maloney has found a replacement and it was only when Maloney had found this new candidate would Gretzky leave. No formal announcement has been made by the club but the recent hiring of veteran hockey coach Dave King seems to have rumors swirling it may be him. However, according to Elliotte Friedman of Hockey Night in Canada (gotta love Twitter), the Coyotes are talking with former Dallas Stars head coach Dave Tippett about the position.
Out of those two choices I would have to pick Dave Tippett. In six years with the Dallas Stars his team never finished below a .500 record and he missed the playoffs just once (last season). His furthest accomplishments was the conference finals two seasons ago where Dallas lost to the eventual Cup champion Detroit Red Wings. The Stars won the division two times under Tippett's direction.
Outside of the actual accomplishments Tippett has been coaching in the NHL. Dave King never coached in the new NHL and has had very little success in terms of head coaching and winning. He has never made it beyond the first round, just like the Coyotes. However, I am very much in favor of keeping King around as an assistant coach. The man has knowledge of the game from all over the world and years of experience which will be a major asset to the young players within the Coyotes organization.
We can not forget Ulf Samuelsson in this equation. The interim head coach has been running the team's training camp and is really rising to the occasion. However Ulffy is not NHL head coach material. Keeping him as an assistant coach would not be a bad move considering he knows the players the best right now.
What does this do for the financial situation? Honestly I do not know nor do I care. All I know is that if Don Maloney has hired a competent replacement for Gretzky the Coyotes will win more games and will draw more people. It is as simple as that. The Coyotes will be in Phoenix all of this coming season no matter what happens in the courts but you can bet they will be out to prove everyone wrong and so will Coyotes fans.
It has been real Wayne...thanks for bearing the burden and taking the criticism...but it just was never meant to be.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Enver Lisin Debate

As many readers know, I patrol Hockey's Future message boards daily reading up on what fans around the NHL have to say about their teams.
Naturally I am a frequent visitor to the New York Rangers section of the site and the last few days there has been a subject which baffles me.
Of course the Rangers have a lot of depth up front. Right off the bat you can name some definite names who will make the team like Marian Gaborik, Vinny Prospal, Chris Drury, Ryan Callahan, Brandon Dubinsky, Christopher Higgins, Ales Kotalik, and Sean Avery. Then there are the names where you are really unsure of whether they will end up in New York or on call in Hartford. One of the names in that category seems to be Enver Lisin, the Russian winger who came over from the Phoenix Coyotes in the Lauri Korpikoski trade.
This preseason Lisin is trying to solidify his spot on the New York Rangers and has made a very good case. He is tied for the team lead in goals with Artem Anisimov this preseason with 3. He has consistently used his speed to help create offense and is not afraid to put the puck on net. With 10 shots on goal in three games Lisin is third on the team in that category.
The biggest problem for the Rangers last season was a lack of scoring talent. Lisin was brought in because of his offensive abilities but now some Ranger fans don't think that he will make the team? He has been one of the best players in camp.
Lisin does have some defensive deficiencies. His defensive play does need to improve but, watching the game vs Detroit Monday night, Lisin was seen on the penalty kill at one point. Head Coach John Tortorella wants his players to play a very aggressive game at both ends of the ice. Lisin is willing to learn that aspect because he wants to be in the NHL and knows if he does not this could be his last contract in North America.
But that is besides the point. Ranger fans want offense? You want potential game breaking talent up front besides Marian Gaborik? Then you want Enver Lisin. He will make the team and will be a twenty goal scorer if given his opportunity in the top six this season.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Gaborik to Play Tonight

New York Rangers fans will finally get a glimpse of their new star.
Marian Gaborik who has been held out of preseason games as a precautionary measure will debut for the New York Rangers tonight at Madison Square Garden as the Blueshirts will host the Detroit Red Wings. Game time is 7 PM and the game will be televised on MSG.
Gaborik has been kept out of the first four preseason games due to tightness in his groin but has been skating the last few days and feels ready. After this morning's skate Gaborik mentioned he wants to play in the rest of the preseason games in order to get acclimated with his teammates and get ready for the regular season which is less than two weeks away.
Ranger fans are excited to see their new main man but a small nagging feeling sits in the back of their minds. Gaborik's first shift will be watched intently by the Ranger nation as he will skate with Vinny Prospal down the middle and Christopher Higgins on the opposite wing. Here is the full list of lines per Andrew Gross:

Del Zotto-Girardi

Lundqvist and Valiquette will split the goaltending duties tonight.

Speaking of injuries, Sean Avery limped off the ice this morning after colliding with Ryan Callahan during a practice drill. It is unknown if Avery's injury is serious but he was being examined by one the Ranger doctors. He was supposed to play tonight but Voros as taken his spot. Better to let Avery rest and heal rather than risk worse injury.
Brandon Dubinsky skated this morning for the first time with the team after resolving his contract issues. He will not play tonight but will most certainly be put into the lineup on Thursday when the Rangers play the Washington Capitals. No doubt Ranger fans will be expecting Dubinsky and Gaborik to be paired together at some point to see if the chemistry can be formed to form a potent one-two punch on the top line of the Rangers.
Rangerland is beginning to heat up as we get closer to the season opener next Friday in Pittsburgh. Head Coach John Tortorella is looking to trim the roster down to 21 or 22 by Thursday's preseason game so the next few days should be interesting. Make sure you watch tonight's game with a keen eye as the roster rounds out. Players on the fringe will be playing with more vigor than ever before as they try to solidify a spot on the big club's roster.
If you would like to see the lineup for the Detroit Red Wings, check the HF Rangers board game day thread here.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

A Big Day for the Rangers

Today was a crazy day for the New York Rangers.
After an absolutely horrible loss to the Detroit Red Wings on Friday night, the Rangers traveled to Boston to take on the Bruins for the second time this preseason.
However, before the game, the team was able to re-sign Brandon Dubinsky to a two year deal with a cap hit of $1.85 million each year. Not a terrible salary for Dubinsky who was supposedly looking for somewhere in the vicinity of four years $16 million. General Manager Glen Sather and the Rangers bumped themselves up about one million to meet Dubinsky's demands which are pretty reasonable. However he will have to prove that he is worth this money. The Rangers are putting faith in him to be an important piece to the team. No doubt this will help Head Coach John Tortorella round out his roster.
Speaking of rounding out the roster, the Rangers made a few more cuts after today's big win over the Bruins. Heading to the Hartford Wolf Pack training camp are Chad Johnson, Matt Zaba, Ilkka Heikkinen, Corey Potter, and Paul Crowder. It must have been tough to send down two defensemen like Heikkinen and Potter who both played very well in the preseason. However with the logjam on the blue line, Tortorella was forced to make a decision and he made the right one. The young blue liners left in the Ranger training camp are Matt Gilroy, Michael Del Zotto, and Bobby Sanguinetti.
Today's game was absolutely great. From Artem Anisimov's highlight reel goal, which you can see here, to the power play the Rangers had everything going well for them. You have to wonder if John Tortorella looked at today's defense, without Wade Redden and Michal Rozsival, and wishes they could maybe go away. It is wishful thinking those veteran defensemen will be gone before the beginning of the season but maybe a seed has been planted for the future seeing how the defense fared today.
It should now be an interesting week for Ranger fans. From waiting to see when Marian Gaborik plays in a preseason game (possibly Monday) to which of the young defensemen (Michael Del Zotto, Matt Gilroy, Bobby Sanguinetti) will make the team, and how Brandon Dubinsky will mesh with Gaborik. We are just under two weeks from starting the regular season. The air is beginning to get is almost hockey time.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

First Round of Cuts for New York

New York Rangers Head Coach John Tortorella made the first round of cuts from training camp this afternoon. To see a complete list of who is left in camp check out the Ranger website or you can check out Andrew Gross' blog here.
Not really alot of surprises as many of the younger players were sent back to their junior teams or the Hartford Wolf Pack. Among the young players surviving you have Matt Gilroy, Michael Del Zotto, and Evgeny Grachev. Surprisingly Ilkka Heikkinen survived the first round of cuts despite not having suited up in a Ranger uniform. He must have impressed while playing for the Wolf Pack against the Lowell Devils at the Prudential Center.
Also surviving is defenseman Bobby Sanguinetti who has yet to play in any preseason games after cramping up during conditioning skates in the first few days of camp. Sanguinetti will get his shot but he is on a very short leash and will have to seriously impress if he does not want to spend another season down in Hartford.
Returning to major junior hockey in Canada are Tomas Kundratek (Medicine Hat WHL), Ethan Werek (Kingston OHL), Ryan Bourque (Quebec QMJHL), Roman Horak (Chilliwack WHL), and Scott Stajcer (Owen Sound OHL). Bourque will be starting his rookie season in the Quebec Major Junior league under the direction of Patrick Roy with the Quebec Remparts. After an impressive Traverse City and preseason game with the Wolf Pack. Look for him to have a big year in the Q.
Tortorella said that the team will be down to two goalies by the end of the weekend. No doubt the two left standing will be Henrik Lundqvist and Steve Valiquette. However there is no question that Chad Johnson has impressed during camp and will be competing for the job in Hartford.
In other news Marian Gaborik will not play on Friday but is a possibility for Saturday. Either way Torts and Gaborik have both said he will play in the preseason at some point. Gaborik did skate in a scrimmage today and scored a goal so it seems he is on his way to being healthy. While it may be frustrating, it is good that the organization is handling this situation with care and not taking unnecessary risks with their new star player.
If there is one person I could throw off the roster right now it would be Michal Rozsival. He played absolutely horrible against the Devils being the main cause of both goals. Whether it would be through waivers or trading him away Rozsival must go. Considering the whole Dubinsky situation I hope the Rangers can package Rozsival in that deal and free up space while getting rid of someone who does not deserve the money.
I'm not expecting it to happen but with Glen Sather at the helm one never knows how this will turn out.
On the Coyotes front, they made a few cuts of their own, most notably Jared Staal (Sudbury OHL). They also sent back Michael Stone (Calgary WHL) and Mathieu Brodeur (Cape Breton QMJHL). Phoenix is not making the cuts as fast as the Rangers but both will get down to the required number just the same. Ulf Samuelsson is still running camp as Wayne Gretzky figures out his contract situation away from the ice.
The season is two weeks away and still so much needs to be sorted out. Should be an interesting couple of weeks to whittle the roster down.

Matt Gilroy: A Breath of Fresh Air

One player who has got Ranger fans excited this coming season is former Boston University stand out Matt Gilroy. Even after just two preseason games fans of the New York Rangers are just drooling over Gilroy and the skill he has shown. Just watch his goal from the preseason game against New Jersey on Wednesday night. Click here and go to about the 30 second mark.
Gilroy displayed his offensive abilities by blazing by the two New Jersey defensemen and then faking goaltender Yann Danis out. Seeing the play develop you just knew this kid was going to put that puck in the net somehow. He managed to score in the shootout as well putting the puck under the left pad of Danis before the Devils won the shootout.
However there is something else much more important. Being a defenseman Gilroy's first responsibility is to stop the opposition from scoring. Duh right? An unfortunate trend among hockey players is the fact that offensive defenseman are usually not great in their own end. Whether you want to look as far as Mike Green of the Washington Capitals or right to the Rangers and Wade Redden, examples of defensively inept defensemen are abound.
For Gilroy it is a significant change between the NHL and the NCAAs. The speed of the game has increased almost exponentially as well as the skill of the players. But watching Gilroy the first few games he understands his defensive responsibilities. He pinches as much as possible and is aggressive on the puck but also knows when pinching is the wrong choice. He back-checks very well which is no doubt helped by his skating abilities.
Unlike his counterpart Michal Rozsival, who was the main cause of the two goals scored by the New Jersey Devils last night, Gilroy has been sound all over the ice. He does need to improve in his end but that will happen as he understands the NHL and the defensive system that John Tortorella wants to employ. While I am usually a pretty skeptical person, especially since I am a Ranger fan, I cannot help but be a little bit excited seeing Gilroy play this well.
I always loved the original # 97 Jeremy Roenick. But Matt Gilroy is making me like the number 97 for a different reason. Lets hope it continues.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Reaction to Ranger First Preseason Game

The New York Rangers dropped the puck on their pre-season this evening as they hosted the Boston Bruins in an exhibition match. The Rangers lost the game 2-1 as Christopher Higgins scored the lone goal for New York.
Of course, because this is preseason, the score does not matter but rather how certain players performed on the ice. Here are a few that stuck out in my eyes:
Matt Gilroy- The Hobey Baker award winner looked a little shaky at the beginning of the game but really showed what he can do. His skating was phenomenal and seeing him carry the puck up the ice looked a little reminiscent of Brian Leetch flying through the neutral zone back in yesteryear. As the game went on Gilroy got much better as he had two big chances in the game to score but could not put it home. He does need to work on his play in his own zone but Ranger fans must be pleased with the way Gilroy has started things off.
Evgeny Grachev- The big Russian forward was put on a line with Artem Anisimov and Enver Lisin and did not look out of place out there on the ice. He had a few good chances including a turn around wrist shot that rookie goaltender Tuukka Rask somehow stopped. Grachev's speed was noticeable and he used his large size to his advantage. While I still do not think he will make the big club on opening night, it is clear that Grachev does not have very far to go.
Michael Del Zotto- Easily one of the best Rangers on the ice, Del Zotto played with poise and showed his skills at the point on the power play. While New York did not convert on the man advantage Del Zotto helped instill a puck moving game that forced the Bruins to be on their heels. Del Zotto has a chance to make this team.
Donald Brashear- I bet you were not expecting to see this name pop up. Despite getting booed every time he touched the puck, which fans really should stop, Brashear had a good Ranger debut. While it was a little weird to see him in Ranger blue Brashear won me over by his hard style and constantly driving to the net. He had a few chances to score and played a solid physical game. Hopefully he can do that and more consistently over the course of the season.
Matt Maccarone- Did you see that kid's mustache?
Those are a few who stood out to me and who I really was paying attention to the whole time. I liked the physical play that set the tone and when the Rangers were moving the puck around it was a beautiful sight. Seeing Ales Kotalik bomb shots from the point was great while the cycling and hard work of the team as the game went on was very refreshing.
Of course this is only one preseason game so the team can't be completely judged especially since the whole squad was not on the ice. The next preseason game is Wednesday night at the Rock in Newark as the Rangers will ice a different squad to take on the Devils in some preseason action. Game time is 7 PM. Look to the Ranger beat writers for a roster for tomorrow's game. Check out the recap of tonight's game over on the Ranger website by clicking here.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Ready or Not: Coyotes Hit Camp

If there is one thing that the Phoenix Coyotes are happy about is that they are back to work.
After a summer filled with off ice distractions concerning the ownership situation the Coyotes began camp without Head Coach Wayne Gretzky who is waiting to see what happens in court considering his contract with the team as head coach is under dispute. In the interim, assistant coach Ulf Samuelsson is in charge.
For Coyotes fans, discussions can go from bottom lines to the forward lines and who will play where. With a few new faces the Coyotes have a radically different looking team than opening night this past season.
Up front Phoenix has brought back many of the young players they acquired at the deadline last season. Petr Prucha, Scottie Upshall, and Matthew Lombardi all return after showing their stuff after the deadline.
Another new face up front who was acquired via trade during the offseason was forward Lauri Korpikoski as the Coyotes sent Enver Lisin to the New York Rangers. While Phoenix sacrifices some offensive firepower in losing Lisin, they gain a more all around player in Korpikoski who can play both sides of the puck very well. His offensive abilities will continue to grow as his career goes on and General Manager Don Maloney is hoping that he can help on the defensive side of things as well.
Continuing the look at trades, the Coyotes re-acquired a familiar face in Radim Vrbata by shipping off Todd Fedoruk and David Hale to Tampa Bay. This trade was an absolute steal for the Phoenix Coyotes who got rid of two useless players while acquiring a guy who can score and be a threat in the shootout. Vrbata had 27 goals in his previous tour with Phoenix and the team will be looking for him to provide that and more.
There are a few other new names up front that were signed during the free agency period. The first, Vernon Fiddler, was brought in from Nashville. While he may not be putting the puck in the net much he is a great faceoff and defensive forward, two aspects that the team was lacking in this past season. The penalty kill was a weakness and Fiddler will no doubt be the spear head for the PK unit.
On the wing Don Maloney signed Taylor Pyatt from the Vancouver Canucks. A big body, Pyatt has relatively good speed and some offensive instincts. Considering his size it would behoove him to use it more often. If he could Pyatt may become a very good power forward. Hopefully Coyotes captain Shane Doan, who plays a power forward game, can help Pyatt hone his skills.
Throw in the usual suspects of Doan, Peter Mueller, Martin Hanzal, and Mikkel Boedker and the Coyotes forward corps rounds out nicely. Young players such as Kyle Turris, Kevin Porter, Daniel Winnik, and Viktor Tikhonov will have to show they belong with the big club.
On defense there have been big changes. Two new defensemen have joined the blue line group of the Coyotes and both of them are from Calgary. First they acquired Jim Vandermeer, a tough and physical defensive defenseman. The Coyotes have needed some more physicality on the back line ever since Keith Ballard was traded away in the Olli Jokinen deal.
However a more important addition is veteran defenseman Adrian Aucoin. Not only do you add a very talented blueliner who can play a good all around game but he is also a veteran and a leader. The Coyotes have been lacking in veteran leadership in recent seasons and adding someone like Aucoin to the mix helps to spread the responsibility around on a relatively young team. Having a mentor like Aucoin for young players like Keith Yandle and Zbynek Michalek will only help improve their games. Add in Ed Jovanovski and the Coyotes defense is the strongest it has been in years.
In goal, barring a big surprise, it seems that Ilya Bryzgalov will be the starter. However, Don Maloney went out and signed veteran Jason LaBarbera as a man who can push Bryzgalov to be better. The former New York Ranger draft pick has shown he can be a solid goalie at the NHL level and will certainly force Breezy to be on top of his game all the time.
Al Montoya had an impressive showing towards the end of the season last year and will no doubt get another shot to prove he is ready to move up from the AHL permanently.
Phoenix has their first preseason game tomorrow night against the LA Kings at Arena. If you are from the Phoenix area, go to the game. Support this team and show everyone that hockey does belong in the desert and can work. The roster for that game can be found here.
Look here later for another post about the Rangers upcoming pre-season matchup with the Bruins tomorrow night!

Tidbits Abound

If you have not noticed it has been just about five days since I last posted on here and the news has come out flying all around the NHL. Lets get started:
Unless you have been under a rock for this whole summer Dany Heatley has been the man who has made you want to put a screwdriver to your head. From rumors that involved the New York Rangers, to his request for a trade and then blocking it with his no trade clause, the Heatley saga has seemed infinite. However, it finally came to an end two days ago. The Ottawa Senators traded Heatley and a fifth round pick in 2010 to the San Jose Sharks for Milan Michalek, Jonathan Cheechoo, and a 2nd round pick in 2010.
It looks like Bryan Murray got the kind of deal he wanted. He adds some much needed depth to his roster with two solid young players and gets rid of a potential problem in Heatley.
At first glance it seems the Sharks may be Stanley Cup contenders with this move...but not really. Yes they gain a very talented scorer in Heatley but to win the Cup you need the depth. With the departures of Michalek, Cheechoo, Marcel Goc, Jeremy Roenick, Travis Moen, and Mike Grier depth is becoming a serious issue for the Sharks.
The New York Rangers finished in third at the Traverse City prospects tournament by defeating the St. Louis Blues 5-4 in the third place game. Evgeny Grachev had two big goals in the game as he tied the game up at 1 with his first goal and gave the Rangers the lead for good on his second goal in the third period. Daniel Bartek had two assists while tournament invitee Luke Walker continued to impress as he scored a goal to tie the game at 3.
Overall the tournament was a huge improvement for the Rangers from last season. A third place finish shows improvement over last season where the Rangers finished in sixth place. Alot of development was shown as top prospects like Grachev and Michael Del Zotto improved from last year while 2009 draft picks like Ethan Werek and Ryan Bourque showed what they are capable of. It is showings like these that is making Ranger fans drool over the prospect of what these young guns will be able to do once they reach the NHL.
To the Coyotes fans who read this blog, an apology must come from me as I have not written anything about them in a decent amount of time even though alot has been happening. The entire financial situation has been an issue that is above and beyond my knowledge which is why I have not covered it very much. The business and legal lingo that has been thrown around is very complicated and is covered by more qualified people than myself.
Although some news that has happened on the ice is the fact Wayne Gretzky is not present at camp. Gretzky is waiting out the ownership situation which includes what will happen to him as the head coach of the team. Assistant head coach Ulf Samuelsson is running the camp as of now for a Coyotes team that is looking to get back on the ice and focusing on hockey.
From interviews done with players over the summer, it sounds like they are very ready to go and eager to prove to everyone that not only can hockey work in Phoenix but it can be successful. The players know they have to win and the veteran additions of Adrian Aucoin, Vernon Fiddler, and the return of Radim Vrbata should help boost the Coyotes.
So keep an eye out for a Coyotes piece later today as I balance school work, college work, and this. I may combine it with a bit on Brandon Dubinsky and that entire situation so keep an eye out!
Also I may not have mentioned this but Twitter seems to be a new way to get articles and other information out to alot of people at once. If you would like to follow me on Twitter you can click here and click "Follow". The only updates I do are for new articles so no spam. I also put these articles on Facebook.
Thanks again to everyone for reading and keep spreading the word. I really enjoy doing this for everyone and can't wait to do more as the season gets going.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Sean Avery: A Dying Breed

There have been times in the history of the NHL when a player has come along and sparked a team to succeed when they did not have such an effect on their previous squad.
In the case of the New York Rangers, Sean Avery has been that player since he originally came to the Rangers in February of 2007. Playing in New York has brought out the best in Avery in terms of offensive production and being a fan favorite.
Avery showed last year that New York is the only place he is effective. After signing a four year deal worth $4 million a year with the Dallas Stars, it was hoped that he would have the same effect. Dallas' management could not have been more wrong as Avery created a rift in the Dallas locker room to the point where the team would not let Avery dress in the dressing room.
The last straw fell when Avery took a shot at Flames defenseman Dion Phaneuf and his girlfriend Elisha Cuthbert who had previously been Avery's, as he called Cuthbert his "sloppy seconds". Avery was suspended and sent through the disciplinary system of the NHL, including being subject to therapy.
Avery came back to New York as the Rangers picked him up off re-entry waivers from the Stars. After having just 10 points in 23 games with Dallas, Avery had 12 points in 18 games for the Rangers to help them get into the playoffs.
The Grate One showed a weakness during the postseason as his emotions got the best of him and he hurt the Ranger cause. After being benched for a game by head coach John Tortorella he came back without his edge and the Rangers fell out of the playoffs.
The question now is if Avery can get back his edge without crossing the line. His aggressive style will fit into the system of John Tortorella well but he needs to know when to stop. In the last game of the regular season, Avery played superbly getting under the skin of the Philadelphia Flyers and led the Rangers to a victory with a goal.
Despite the new found depth the Rangers have up front, Avery will have to continue to play his game, one that it seems is slowly disappearing from the NHL. His style of play is similar to that of older players who used to drive the old rivalries that has helped make hockey so popular. Just as there were villains in the old days, Avery has become a villain for most of the hockey world.
Except of course in New York where Sean Avery has won over the fans of the Rangers with his hard work and "in your face" attitude. It is this kind of personality that the NHL needs more of. Whether it is someone like Sean Avery willing to cross lines or someone like Jeremy Roenick who was never afraid of speaking out, the NHL needs more antagonistic personalities if it wants to keep interest.
The Grate One will need to continue to do what he is good at...being the villain for the rest of the NHL and a positive force for the New York Rangers. If he can do that while putting up 30 points or so, Ranger fans will be chanting Avery's name non-stop in Madison Square Garden.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Halftime For the Baby Blueshirts

The New York Rangers began play at the Traverse City prospects tournament two days ago where a handful of NHL teams send a team of prospects in the hope to gauge how ready their prospects are.
The Baby Blueshirts have played two games so far going up against the Carolina Hurricanes and Atlanta Thrashers, finishing the first two games with a 1-1 record.
Game 1 was a 5-3 loss to the Hurricanes where 2009 draftee Scott Stajcer started in net for the Rangers, giving up four goals. However, he played a solid enough game that allowed the Rangers to get even as fellow 2009 draftees Roman Horak and Ryan Bourque both scored quick to knot it all up in the third period. Unfortunately, the Hurricanes got a late goal and added an empty netter at the end to finish New York off 5-3.
Game 2 was a much more successful affair for the Blueshirts as they took on Evander Kane and the Atlanta Thrashers in a game New York needed to win if they wanted a chance at winning the whole tournament. Despite going down a goal early, the Rangers were able to roar back as Sam Klassen, Evgeny Grachev, Tomas Kundratek, and Dale Weise all scored to lead the Rangers to victory.
Chad Johnson, who was acquired from Pittsburgh at the 2009 Draft started in net for the Rangers and made 28 saves for the team's first win at the tournament.
If New York wants to have a shot at the tournament title, they will need to win their game against Detroit on Wednesday while Carolina will need to lose. The Ranger scouting staff has been very impressed so far with the 2009 draft class in the tournament and are hoping they will continue to lead the team to wins.
Also impressing the Ranger brass are two 2008 draftees in Michael Del Zotto and Evgeny Grachev. Both had great years in the OHL this past season and are close to being NHL ready. New York was hoping for Del Zotto to focus more on his defensive play and he certainly has shown he has improved.
Grachev had an explosive year in the OHL and the Rangers expect him to become a scoring winger in the future. Despite only one goal in the tournament so far, the Rangers have been impressed with the way he has created room for himself, with Ranger Director of Player Personnel Gordie Clark going as far to say that Grachev has been a "dominating force".
Grachev and the rest of the Baby Blueshirts will need to build on the momentum and confidence they got against Atlanta if they want to defeat a tough Detroit squad tomorrow. Look back here after the last game for a wrap up of the last few days. Click here and here to go to recaps of each game so far.
Also do not forget that training camp starts on the 12th with the first game on September 15th. Hockey is almost here folks. Start getting those jerseys out.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Ranger Leadership

This past week the New York Rangers held voluntary informal workouts where many of the players came to the MSG Training Center to begin working out together. These informal workouts were not run by the Ranger coaching staff or the organization but by the players themselves.
The big names were all there as Chris Drury, Marian Gaborik, Brandon Dubinsky, Wade Redden, Marc Staal, and many more showed up for an entire week to get ready for what will be the toughest training camp they have ever gone through.
The new names like Gaborik, Chris Higgins, Donald Brashear, Ales Kotalik, and Enver Lisin all participated in the practices beginning a long process of conditioning for the club. However, they do serve another purpose that is just as, if not more important, than the physical conditioning.
Any team that has won the Stanley Cup has been a very tight knit group both on and off the ice. Last season the Rangers attributed much of their success early in the season from being able to become a close group while on their trip to Europe during the Premier Series. With many new players joining the Broadway Blueshirts and a relatively new coaching staff, any extra bonding time that the team can have is a plus.
One of the toughest jobs the team will face is figuring out the leadership group that will be at the forefront of the team this season. Chris Drury will retain the captain's C but with both alternates from last season, Scott Gomez and Markus Naslund, gone head coach John Tortorella will have to look for new leaders to emerge.
There are many candidates for the two positions so the running will be fierce for the titles. My guess is that at least one of the alternates will be someone who just joined this offseason. Marian Gaborik was a captain for a short time in Minnesota where they rotate the captaincy every month but he is the only newcomer with any captain experience in the NHL.
Although there is another route that the head coach could go and it would be consistent with what he said this offseason. Torts mentioned he is not afraid of putting youth into the lineup and in important positions on the team. Don't be surprised if you see a young player like Marc Staal, Brandon Dubinsky (if and when he signs), or Ryan Callahan don one of the letters on the shoulder. There is a young core developing with the team that is slowly becoming the foundation for the future. Like the Rangers of the early 1990s had Mark Messier, Brian Leetch, Adam Graves, and Mike Richter the Rangers of now have Brandon Dubinsky, Ryan Callahan, Marc Staal, and Henrik Lundqvist for the future.
Of course I am not saying that this group is nearly or will be as good or have an impact as great as they did. But it seems that some parallels can be seen between the two different eras. Could a Stanley Cup be on the way? That takes alot of luck and a couple of bounces your way. But you never know.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

2009-2010 NYR Training Camp Roster

Just in the last half hour, the New York Rangers released the full training camp roster for the team's upcoming camp. Of course the usual suspects are on the list including unsigned center Brandon Dubinsky. However there is one name that will jump out at you as not a New York Ranger right now. Click here for the full roster.
It has been known that the Rangers are looking for a veteran defenseman to anchor the lower pairings so that John Tortorella is not forced to play two rookie defensemen. Rumors of going after players like Francis Bouillon and Dennis Seidenberg have been abound in recent weeks, but a new name has been thrown into the pot.
It seems Kyle McLaren has been given a tryout by the New York Rangers, as his name appears on the roster. Known for his highly physical play, McLaren used to be one of the biggest hitters in the NHL. Looking on Youtube you will see numerous examples of McLaren's hip check expertise as well as his infamous elbow to the head of Richard Zednik (he just has the worst luck).
Obviously McLaren has had problems with his conditioning in recent years and has not played in the NHL since the 2007-2008 season with the San Jose Sharks. He spent part of last season in the AHL with the Worcester Sharks. San Jose attempted to trade him to the Philadelphia Flyers but McLaren failed a physical and was not allowed to play for the Flyers because of an injured hand. He has had problems with his defensive positioning recently and is not a big point scorer.
However the Rangers are not looking for points from the blue line as they have Rozsival and Redden to do that. New York needs a guy who can go out and throw the big hits and be a physical force on the ice. If McLaren can show his hand has healed and is at 100% and he can still be a solid defenseman, do not be surprised to see him on the ice October 2nd.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

THN: The Hypocrite News

The Hockey News puts out a yearbook before every season with their predictions for the season along with a fantasy guide with point predictions for players of each team. Apparently some people were not on the same page.
Lets start with the yearbook. In here they do projections on how the final standings will look at the end of the regular season and even have a Stanley Cup prediction. In the yearbook, The Hockey News has the Rangers finishing 13th in the Eastern Conference in front of only the Islanders and Thrashers. That is 13th...3rd to last in the conference after four consecutive playoff trips.
Many Ranger fans, myself included, do not agree with this. Yes the Rangers have had a high turnover from last season with a brand new coach to start the season. Are their reservations? Yes. Could this actually happen? Of course. It is anyone's guess right now as to who will win the Stanley Cup.
But if you are going to make predictions like this, your prediction should be across the board. Lets look at the fantasy pool guide that The Hockey News put out as well. They did not do projections for every player but for the key guys on each team. Here are the Rangers:
Marian Gaborik 47 G-47A-94 P
Sean Avery 18G-20A-38 P
Brandon Dubinsky 17G-32A-49 P
Chris Drury 25G-38A-63 P
Ales Kotalik 20G-25A-45 P
Vaclav Prospal 25G-38A-63P
Chris Higgins 23G-20A-43P
Artem Anisimov 12G-22A-34P
Ryan Callahan 28G-23A-51P
Tyler Arnason 11G-20A-31P
Michal Rozsival 10G-22A-32P
Wade Redden 5G-25A-30P
Matt Gilroy 12G-33A-45P
Henrik Lundqvist 37W 2.45 GAA .915 SV% 5 SO
Steve Valiquette 8W 2.65 GAA .909 SV% 1 SO

If you read that and take a minute to think about these predictions you will notice certain things. Bear in mind that The Hockey News who did these predictions, also has the Rangers finishing in 13th in the Eastern Conference. So lets assume that this coming season plays out and these stats are what the players put up:
1. The Rangers will have six twenty goal scorers with Gaborik, Callahan, Drury, Prospal, Higgins, and Kotalik will all break the 20 goal plateau. For a point of reference, the Rangers only had four true 20 goal scorers (Nik Antropov had twenty goals but most were with the Toronto Maple Leafs).
2. The Rangers will have a 45+ goal scorer in Marian Gaborik.
3. Henrik Lundqvist will finish with 37 wins while Steve Valiquette will add for a total win column of 45 wins on the season. That is 90 points right there, not including extra points gained for losing in overtime or the shootout.

Lets start at point number one. When you add up all the goals from those projections for those players, you get 168 total goals. The entire Ranger team last season scored 200 goals even and made the playoffs. I am supposed to believe the Rangers will get 168 goals from six players and not make the playoffs? Right. Another goal scorer who will make this team, not included in these predictions, is Enver Lisin who has the potential to be another 20 goals scorer. If you add in Avery's 18 goals and Dubinsky's 17, the Rangers are already over last season's total goals.
Looking at Marian Gaborik, 47 is a healthy amount of goals. Of course he has the skill to score more than that but it would be the most since Jagr's record breaking 54 goals after the lockout. This past year, no team with a 45+ goal scorer missed the playoffs. Only two teams missed the playoffs when having at least one 40 goal scorer.
Last but not least, we take a look at the foundation of the New York Rangers, Henrik Lundqvist. The Hockey News has him finishing with 37 wins, which is a respectable amount. You throw in Steve Valiquette's 8 wins and you have a total of 45 wins on the season for 90 points. This does not include points gained from overtime and shootout losses. Who else had exactly 45 wins this past season? The Carolina Hurricanes and the Pittsburgh Penguins...the two Eastern Conference finalists and the Stanley Cup Champions.
So...the Rangers will finish in 13th with six 20 goal scorers, a 45+ goal scorer, and the same amount of wins as the final two teams in the Eastern Conference this past year? A nice cracker jack job by the Hockey News staff up there in Toronto actually thinking this through. Many people read the Hockey News and consider the people there as experts on the sport.
Don't get me wrong. I think The Hockey News has great writers and I enjoy their publication as a subscriber myself but this was a sub-par effort by one of the biggest hockey publications in the world.
Were these coordinately written and made? Probably not but the Hockey News looks like a huge hypocrite to Ranger fans right now.