Friday, September 16, 2011

Traverse City Closes and Training Camp Begins

Someone looks good in blue (MSG Photos)
The New York Rangers were unfortunately unable to win the Traverse City Prospects Tournament as they lost in the finals by a score of 5-2 to a much bigger and more skilled Buffalo Sabres squad. However there were plenty of bright spots from the tournament and it shows in the training camp roster of the big club.

Today is the first day of training camp starting with John Tortorella's infamous conditioning tests. It may be obvious but conditioning in the NHL is important with such a long season and you can bet the Rangers are planning on being on the ice for a long time. Per Andrew Gross here is the entire training camp roster.

There are two things you will notice looking at that roster. The first is that there are no veteran invites. There may be different reasons for this but I see it as a good thing. The team and organization believes that they can fill their roster out with homegrown talent which has been a mantra for the last few seasons. I would have liked to have seen a veteran defenseman come in but with Tim Erixon impressing people at the prospects tournament I am not shocked none were invited.

The second thing that you will notice and has been reported over the last day or so is that Wade Redden was not invited to training camp. He has been sent to directly report to the Connecticut Whale of the AHL which I guess is not really a surprise to anyone. The thing to watch is whether or not he will report to that camp. If he does not his contract is void but there has been no reason to think that he will not report to that camp. The obvious thing here is that it seems Redden is destined to sit in Connecticut for the entire season. 

The story lines involved with the main training camp are evident and I will be going through the bigger ones throughout the next week or so leading up the Rangers first preseason game on September 21st in Albany against the Devils (school work permitting). For now we will have to see who survives the conditioning tests and who will fall out of favor. I would suggest following the tweets of the beat writers for this information as well as their reports later for much more in depth coverage.

Monday, September 12, 2011

C is for Cally...Its Good Enough for Me

C is for Cally
In the midst of the Traverse City Prospects Tournament the big club made a big announcement when they announced that Ryan Callahan will start the 2011-2012 season as the Captain of the NY Rangers. Marc Staal and newcomer Brad Richards were named the alternate captains. (Yes the title is a play on a Cookie Monster song).

We all know the connotations that come to mind when the captaincy of the Rangers is brought up but the last time a Rangers captain was a drafted player was Brian Leetch. Before that? Ron Greschner.

The point here is that the Rangers have decided to follow through on what they have been implying lately and that is the fact that the young core of players who have developed in NY are the core the organization is going to roll with as the leadership group for the long term. Callahan and Staal seem to have stepped up as the leaders of the room among the younger players and Head Coach John Tortorella has acknowledged it as such.

I have seen people say that Brad Richards does not deserve to have a letter on his jersey since he has not played a game nor been in NY. However I disagree. Yes, it is important to acknowledge your core and show that you trust them. However, an important part to any leadership group is experience and Richards certainly has that on his resume'. He has won a Stanley Cup and a Conn Smythe trophy. He has been from the bottom to the top and experienced almost everything you can in the NHL. All of those experiences add up to become something that the Rangers young core will need at times. As much as Ranger fans don't want to admit it about Staal and Callahan, there will come a time where they will not be able to address a situation having never been in it. There is a good bet that Brad Richards will.

Many have asked about why Brandon Dubinsky did not receive a letter. Dubinsky is most likely a leader on this team. If anything he is the emotional and much more abrasive leader. His attitude is one that is very emotional and open. However I don't think that is the type of leader the Rangers are looking for. The last few NYR captains have been very soft spoken individuals in Chris Drury and Jaromir Jagr. Callahan isn't the most soft-spoken person but he is much more subdued than Dubinsky who is a guy not afraid to speak his mind. A captain shouldn't be afraid to speak his mind but at the same time they cannot allow their emotions to run them and that is something, as we have seen in the past, Dubinsky has been known to do.

Obviously everyone will be expected to provide some kind of leadership in NY this season but the coaching staff has chosen a strong trio to lead the team into a season that is one of the most anticipated in recent memory.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Another Dark Day in the Hockey World: Lokomotiv Charter Plane Crashes

There are no words...
Waking up this morning and turning on Twitter I am usually looking for something good to get my day going. However, today was not the case...not at all.

The Russian Kontinental Hockey League team Lokomotiv Yaroslavl's plane was taking off in route to their opening game when, due to reasons that I am sure will be uncovered, the plane did not get high enough off the ground and crashed. The entire team basically gone in an instant.

Many players and personnel from the hockey world are flooding Twitter and the news wires with this information and condolences to the families of all of those involved. But really, what is there to say? As many have said, everyone is just in shock. No one knows how to react to such a tragedy.

The hockey world has endured the worst offseason in its history. With the passings of Derek Boogaard, Rick Rypien, and Wade Belak this summer, this tragedy just adds to the pile of terrible tragedies. Knowing just how connected the hockey world is internally just about everyone has been affected personally by all of these tragedies. And while getting back on the ice as quickly as possible is something everyone wants, no one is ever going to forget how tragic this summer was.

For the Rangers many have been touched personally by this tragedy. As Steve Zipay has reported from Artem Anisimov, "I knew half the team. I didn't believe it at first...then I felt sick."Anisimov played in the Lokomotiv system before coming to North America and the NHL.

Rangers forward Marian Gaborik has lost two of his best friends this summer which is an unimaginable loss to anyone. The loss of one friend is tough enough but something like this just compounds it. Pavol Demitra was known as one of Gaborik's best friends.

Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist was a teammate of Stefan Liv's during the 2006 Swedish Gold Medal run at the Olympics and had become close friends since then.

Reports about who was on the plane as well as if there are any survivors are still trying to be confirmed. Ruslan Salei, a member of the team, has been said to already have been in Minsk waiting for his team to arrive but it has not been confirmed by anyone. Only two from the plane itself are still alive including Alexander Galimov who has supposedly suffered burns to 80% of his body. The kid is still fighting and hopefully he pulls through. The other is a crew member who is fighting to stay alive as well.

But the damage has been done and many have been lost. I still can't believe it and its been about an hour. There is really nothing else to say.

Here is a list of the confirmed dead. Not everyone has been accounted for as of right now though (courtesy of Sovietsky Sport in Russia):

1.Anikeenko Vitaly
2.Bahvalov Yuri
3.Belyaev Alexander
4.Balandin Mikhail
5.Vasyunov Alexander
6.Vashichek Joseph
7.Vyuhin Alexander E.
8.Ditrih Robert Genrikhovich
9. Pavol Demitra
10.Zimin Andrey
11.Kalimulin Marat Natfullovich
12.Karpovtsev Alexander G.
13.Kalyanin Alexander I.
14.Kiryuhin Andrey
15.Klyukin Nikita
16.Korolev Igor Borisovich
17.Krivonosov Nikolai
18.Kunnov Evgeny
19.Kuznetsov Vyacheslav Mikhailovich
20.Liv Stephen Daniel Patrick
Jan 21.Marek
22.MakKrimmon Brad Byron
23.Ostapchuk Sergey I.
24.Piskunov Vladimir Leonidovich
25.Rahunek Karel
26.Sidorov Evgeny
27.Skrastinsh Karlis Martinovic
28.Snurnitsyn Pavel
29.Daniel E. Sobchenko
30.Tkachenko Ivan Leonidovich
31.Trahanov Pavel
32.Yuri O.Urychev
33.Churilov Gennady S.
34.Shuvalov Maxim A.
35.Yarchuk Artem Nikolaevich


36.Solomentsev Andrey, Commander
37.Zhivelov Igor Konstantinovich, second pilot
38.Zhuravlev Sergey, bortmehanih
39.Sarmatova Elena, flight attendant
40.Maksumova Hope Murzafarovna, flight attendant
41.Shavina Elena, flight attendant
42.Matyushin Vladimir Yurevich, flight engineer

Condolences to the friends and families of all of these people. It doesn't get worse than this folks. If anything the hockey community will have to get together once again and offer support and comfort because everyone knows they need it.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Quiet End to A Career

Drury leaves the NHL like he came in: Quietly (Goldfield/NY Daily News)
Going to take a minute to go back a few days. On August 19th, Chris Drury decided to call it a career and retire from the NHL.

Overall his career was an absolute pleasure to watch going from a star at Boston University all the way to being a Stanley Cup champion. He was a face for USA Hockey and a player that many people wish they could emulate.

When Drury got to the Rangers, the expectations that were lopped on him were great even if those expectations were ones that Drury had never met during his career. The toll of his style of play began to get to him last season as injuries started mounting, the result of a career played hurt and ignoring pain. From concussions to wrist injuries, Drury persevered and continued to play.

The buyout this offseason signaled the end of Drury's career as a New York Ranger but I don't think anyone expected it to be the end of a career, including Drury. There are some who believe that he intentionally waited until after the buyout to retire so he could receive the remaining money on his contract. Looking at the way things went I do not think this is the case. The reason for such a long delay, I believe, is that Drury believed he would find another team and would continue training during the summer. However, as the summer went on, he realized that his conditioning could not reach the level necessary that he believed is needed to be the kind of player he is. A degenerative knee condition like Drury makes it very difficult for any player to continue playing, especially one like Drury, whose style involves sacrificing his body.

What the truth is, no one may ever know but what is known is that a great career is over. Drury holds a special place for me being from Connecticut and having gone to prep school where my alma mater (Fairfield University) lies. I had the fortune of meeting his family on one occasion and wish him only the best in his future.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Eastern Conference Wild Gues...err...Preview

Another crazy season in the East
The previews continue here on GootzHockey as I am going to widen the scope a little bit here and focus on the entire Eastern Conference which will have many story lines. Spent about 45 minutes looking at this list and going over it in my head but I have finally come out with a list I think I am happy with...not sure everyone will be quite happy is a recap of last season's final regular season standings:

New Jersey

But that was last season. We now have a whole new game. Lets take it from the bottom

15. Ottawa Senators
      Key Additions: Nikita Filatov, David Rundblad, Zenon Konopka, Alex Auld
      Key Departures: Ryan Shannon

It isn't going to be a fun year in the Canadian capital as it seems the Senators organization has committed to starting from scratch. Whether the rebuild will be starting a little further on than most other rebuilds remains to be seen but it looks like the Senators will be looking up at the Eastern Conference for most of the season. Having retained Jason Spezza and veteran captain Daniel Alfredsson means the Senators aren't completely hopeless. There are some young stars who could possibly add to hopes as Filatov and Rundblad and considered high end talents, joining a cast of youth which includes Nick Foligno, Peter Regin, and Erik Karlsson. Having veterans like Sergei Gonchar, Chris Phillips, and Filip Kuba makes for a solid veteran backend to help mentor some of the kids. Craig Anderson in between the pipes will help keep some games close, and may steal one or two, but its going to be a long season in Ottawa.

      Threat to NYR: Alex Auld: If there is one guy in the entire NHL that I would hate to see the Rangers play any given night, it isn't going to be Sidney Crosby, or Ovechkin, the Sedins, or any other superstar. Nope...its going to be Alex Auld. We all know the unbelievable talent of NYR to turn backup goalies into Ken Dryden. In this case they have with Auld. His career averages overall? 2.77 GAA, .905 save percentage. However, when it comes to the New York Rangers, this guy has put up hall of fame type numbers. In seven career games against NYR (six starts) Auld is 4-0-2 with a 1.02 goals against and a .963 save percentage. To be honest, I wouldn't be surprised if the Rangers don't even see the mask of Craig Anderson this season. If that is the case, I wouldn't be surprised at four losses to the Senators.

14. Winnipeg Jets
      Key Additions: Eric Fehr
      Key Departures: Anthony Stewart, Radek Dvorak, Eric Boulton

The celebration of a team returning to Winnipeg may still be going on right now but things are going to quickly change. A young team that has potential will be on the ice but the growing pains will be very evident. A youthful core including Evander Kane will need to find a way to vastly improve their numbers if Winnipeg has any hope of success. Veterans such as Andrew Ladd and Nik Antropov will help provide some veteran leadership up front. Zach Bogosian needs to have a bounce back season while Dustin Byfuglien will have to be as good if not better than last season as he will be key in trying to lead the team. Duties will be split in net between Ondrej Pavelec and Chris Mason but they will be counted on to stop a lot of shots, especially in the high-powered Southeast division.

13. New York Islanders
      Key Additions: Brian Rolston, Marty Reasoner
      Key Departures: Radek Martinek, Bruno Gervais, Zenon Konopka

A team budding with youthful talent will suffer another year of growing pains as this young core grows together. It won't be as bad as a stretch during last season where they lost 21 of 22 games. But there are many questions abound. John Tavares needs to take the next step if he is going to become the kind of player Islander fans are hoping he becomes while Matt Moulson will be counted on to provide another 30+ goal season. Michael Grabner's breakout season will need to be repeated. Can Josh Bailey bounce back after a low season along? Can Blake Comeau and PA Parenteau be counted on as consistent offensive threats? Those remain to be seen but the Islanders will gain two players who were gone for almost the whole season last year in Kyle Okposo and Mark Streit. Adding them into the mix will help support the other players.

On the blueline, Streit will lead the way while Mark Eaton and Andy MacDonald will have to provide some support. Can Travis Hamonic have a good sophomore season? As always the concern in net is there. With no more Dwayne Roloson, the burden will fall to Rick DiPietro and Al Montoya. We all know about DiPietro's injury problems so the burden will probably fall to Montoya. Is he going to get tattooed with goals? Sorry...couldn't resist.

12. New Jersey Devils
      Key Additions: Eric Boulton, Adam Larsson
      Key Departures: Brian Rolston, Colin White

Another year in New Jersey has led to another offseason where not much change was made from the end of the season. Rolston and White were sent out of Newark with the biggest name coming in being Adam Larsson who the Devils acquired at the NHL Draft and considered to be a top tier pick. Zach Parise will be back for a full season after losing most of last year to injury. Ilya Kovalchuk will begin another year with the Devils with plenty to go with the huge contract he signed last summer. Last year's rookies in Jacob Josefson and Mattias Tedenby will be the focus of Devils fans as this one-two punch will be counted on to take a big step. A big problem will be top center Travis Zajac missing some time at the beginning of the season, making the development of Josefson even more critical. Veterans Dainius Zubrus and Patrik Elias round out the offense up front.
  The blueline will get Larsson in as a fresh face joining veterans like Andy Greene, Henrik Tallinder, and Anton Volchenkov. However, the bottom two spots will be up for grabs. Matt Taormina, Bryce Salvador, and Matt Corrente will vie for those spots. In goal it has always been about Martin Brodeur but as the age has gone up, things have finally started to fall. Injuries in recent seasons have slowed Marty down but he will be starting again this season with Johan Hedberg (another Ranger killer) right behind him. I have them at 12 but the Devils always seem to find a way to make things work and get the best out of their players...don't be surprised if they finish higher.

11. Florida Panthers
      Key Additions: Kris Versteeg, Tomas Fleischmann, Scottie Upshall, Sean Bergenheim, Tomas Kopecky, Marcel Goc, Matt Bradley, Brian Campbell, Ed Jovanovski, Jose Theodore
      Key Departures: Tomas Vokoun, Rostislav Olesz, Marty Reasoner

One of the biggest shakeups in the NHL this offseason, the Florida Panthers went into the free agent market and have completely reinvented their image going from a team that wasn't highly thought of to something totally different. There are seven new faces up front with three more likely on the backend. This is going to be a team that could be a big time spoiler later in the season and may even be clawing at that eighth and final playoff spot. All the names above join a few familiar faces in Stephen Weiss, David Booth, and Mike Santorelli. Throw in the continuing young development of players like Dmitry Kulikov, Erik Gudbranson, Keaton Ellerby, and Jacob Markstrom as well as a top notch developing coach with Kevin Dineen and the future is suddenly much brighter in Florida. For the record, this is where things started to get very difficult in terms of making the predictions.

10. Carolina Hurricanes
      Key Additions: Anthony Stewart, Alexei Ponikarovsky, Tomas Kaberle, Brian Boucher
      Key Departures: Erik Cole, Joe Corvo

The Hurricanes are another team in the Southeast division that really could end up anywhere. This is a team that finds ways to win behind the strength of superstar forward Eric Staal and goaltender Cam Ward. The backbone of the team, they will need more support this season with a tougher division. Last year's Calder Trophy winner, Jeff Skinner, will need to match last season, if not improve. Jussi Jokinen, Tuomo Ruutu, Brandon Sutter, and Alexei Ponikarovsky will have to support up front.

It is the defense where a lot of offense will come from. Offensive defensemen like Joni Pitkanen, Jamie McBain, and newcomer Tomas Kaberle will be counted on to help spark the scoring attack of the 'Canes especially on the power play. With Cam Ward in net and a capable veteran back up in Brian Boucher behind him, the Hurricanes could be poised to make it back to the playoffs and cause some havoc.

9. Toronto Maple Leafs
      Key Additions: Tim Connolly, Matthew Lombardi, John-Michael Liles
      Key Departures: JS Giguere

The Maple Leafs may finally be able to make it into the playoffs this season but it isn't going to be easy. They have helped bolster their offense with their key additions above as they join Phil Kessel, Mikhail Grabovski, Nik Kulemin, and other talents to form a decent offensive group that is deep and will take some of the pressure of young players like Nazem Kadri and Tyler Bozak. Suddenly, the center group for Toronto looks very strong, if they stay healthy.
Brian Burke's teams are built from the blueline and he certainly has done that in Toronto. Liles and Cody Franson joins Dion Phaneuf, Luke Schenn, Keith Aulie, Mike Komisarek, and Carl Gunnarsson. No doubt there will be a tough battle during camp for spots on defense. Phaneuf will have more pressure to get his numbers up on offense, if there is anymore pressure that can be put on for being a captain in Toronto.
The key to this whole house is the goaltending and the hope that the Leafs have put in James Reimer. Optimus Reim came in last season and took Toronto by storm with his stellar play and lifted the hopes of Leaf fans about their goaltending prospects. If Reimer can get off to a good start and be the consistent starter Toronto has been looking for in recent years then there is no reason the Leafs can't jump up into the top eight.

8. Montreal Canadiens
      Key Additions: Erik Cole
      Key Departures: James Wisniewski, Roman Hamrlik, Jeff Halpern, Benoit Pouliot, Alex Auld

Montreal didn't make too many changes this offseason except adding some offensive depth up front with Cole. The familiar faces like Mike Cammalleri and Tomas Plekanec will lead the charge up front with a small but speedy forward corps. that includes Brian Gionta, Scott Gomez, and the recovered Max Pacioretty. The real power of the Canadiens is from their back end however and the return of Andrei Markov will be key to the success of the Canadiens. They have consistenly had one of the best power plays in the league and Markov is a big reason. PK Subban will be counted on to raise his level of play as he has now become a guy people are going to go after. Josh Gorges and Hal Gill will play key shutdown roles but the most concern will come down to Carey Price and whether or not he can replicate his stellar season from a year before. They will have a tough time hanging onto the last spot and even have a chance at missing the post-season.

7. Philadelphia Flyers
      Key Additions: Ilya Bryzgalov, Jaromir Jagr, Brayden Schenn, Wayne Simmonds, Jakob Voracek, Maxime Talbot, Andreas Lilja
      Key Departures: Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, Kris Versteeg, Ville Leino, Sean O'Donnell, Danny Carcillo, Darrel Powe

What a summer it was in Philly as it was time for an overhaul. Whatever reason Paul Holmgren decided to do this there is a lot of uncertainty into how the season will play out. If there is anything that is certain, its that the expectation to be a top team in the Eastern Conference hasn't changed. Up front has been overhauled and has pushed young stars like James van Riemsdyk and Claude Giroux to the top of the list when it comes to production. The return of Jagr to the NHL has many people interested. Based on talent, Jagr will find a way to be productive but the extent to which he will be is unknown. Schenn and Simmonds come over from a deep roster over in Los Angeles and will now have the chance to be apart of the spotlight and a major part of the offense.

The defense did not change too much with Chris Pronger and Kimmo Timonen leading the charge. The real pressure will be behind them in Ilya Bryzgalov. Coming over from Phoenix, the Flyers are hoping they have finally found that number one goaltender that will get them over the hump. Fans will be expecting it with the big contract Bryz garnered. How will he fare in a system that is much more open than that of Dave Tippett in Phoenix?

6. New York Rangers
      Key Additions: Brad Richards, Mike Rupp, Tim Erixon
      Key Departures: Matt Gilroy

A team that scratched and clawed its way into the playoffs on the last day of the season (with some help) has added a couple of pieces and is hoping to do better. Richards I have talked about and the combination that is hoped will be created with Marian Gaborik. The core will be back with Ryan Callahan, Brandon Dubinsky, and the rest of the supporting cast. Eyes will be on rookie Derek Stepan and whether or not he can improve on a solid rookie season. Rupp joins Brian Boyle, Brandon Prust, and Sean Avery as guys who bring jam and will be charged with shutting down the opposition along with Ruslan Fedotenko. Wojtek Wolski will get a chance to be on the top line. Erik Christensen and Mats Zuccarello will also be fighting for spots in the forward corps.

The defense is young but solid enough. Marc Staal and Dan Girardi are the top pairing while Ryan McDonagh and Michael Sauer will form a sophomore pair that is looking to be even better. It is assumed that Erixon will gain a spot with veteran Steve Eminger and Michael Del Zotto fighting for the final spot.

Goaltending is Henrik Lundqvist and Martin competition there. Just have to hope Biron does not get hurt this season and will be able to spell Lundqvist down the stretch.

Tried to keep NYR short as I will be going into further depth on them but a small piece.

5. Boston Bruins
      Key Additions: Joe Corvo, Benoit Pouliot
      Key Departures: Michael Ryder, Mark Recchi, Tomas Kaberle

The defending Stanley Cup champions were not big spenders this offseason. If Recchi had not retired he may have even re-signed with the team which would have kept them much more the same. It will still be the similar cast of characters. Milan Lucic, David Krejci, Brad Marchand, and Patrice Bergeron will be the big leaders on offense with Nathan Horton returning from a concussion and Tyler Seguin certainly getting a larger role. The supporting cast of Daniel Paille, Chris Kelly, Greg Campbell, and Rich Peverley will have to be consistently effective at shutting down the opposition while Shawn Thornton provides the muscle.

The blueline will be an anchoring force once again with Zdeno Chara providing the calming presence. Him and Dennis Seidenberg have formed an effective two-way pair. Johnny Boychuk, Andrew Ference, and Adam McQuaid will be providing some tough defense as well but offense from the blueline will be at a premium this year. The reason being Chara and Boychuk already have bombs from the point. Adding Corvo to the mix adds yet another weapon and another power play specialist.

In net Tim Thomas will be reappearing and while it will be difficult to replicate what he did last season during the playoffs and regular season people will expect good things. Tuukka Rask will have to wait another season before getting the starting job. Can this team repeat? I will say yes because they do have the talent and personnel again but I am not counting on it.

4. Tampa Bay Lightning
      Key Additions: Ryan Shannon, Matt Gilroy, Bruno Gervais, Mathieu Garon
      Key Departures: Simon Gagne, Mike Smith, Sean Bergenheim

Another high scoring member of the Southeast division the Tampa Bay Lightning will be looking to get over the hump of the Eastern Conference Finals and back to the Cup. With Steven Stamkos, Martin St. Louis, and Vincent Lecavalier leading the way, there is no reason to think they can't do it. The Lightning were really about unsung heroes during the playoffs with players like Dominic Moore, Teddy Purcell, Nate Thompson, and Steve Downie showing their worth.

The defense is stacked as it is the same from the playoffs and it isn't short on size. Eric Brewer, Victor Hedman, Pavel Kubina, and Mattias Ohlund will be towering over the opposition to form the top four. Marc-Andre Bergeron is always the lethal power play weapon while Brett Clark, Matt Gilroy, and Bruno Gervais will be rotating into the last spot.

Dwayne Roloson will be starting again and hopefully can have another stellar season. Much like the Bruins, a poor season for Roloson will mean tougher times for the Lightning. However, with their offense, it should not be a concern as Roloson will not have to stand on his head like he has in the past.

3. Buffalo Sabres
     Key Additions: Ville Leino, Ales Kotalik, Robyn Regehr, Christian Ehrhoff
     Key Departures: Tim Connolly, Rob Niedermayer, Chris Butler, Steve Montador

With a new owner and a much larger checkbook, the Buffalo Sabres made some splashes as they ramped up the pressure to try and become a big force in the Eastern Conference again. Leino replaces Connolly and will be surrounded by many familiar faces to Sabres fans. Thomas Vanek, Derek Roy, Jason Pominville, and Drew Stafford are the front line offense along with Leino. With them are young stars Nathan Gerbe and Tyler Ennis who, despite their small statures, are finding success at the NHL level. Brad Boyes had a resurrection after being traded to the Sabres and will be counted on for goal-scoring as well.

The blueline is where Buffalo has improved most with the additions of Regehr and Ehrhoff. They join veteran Jordan Leopold and the big Tyler Myers who is looking to rebound from a rocky season. Andrej Sekera will be a defensive stalwart with the sixth spot open to a kid in the system. Toughness won't be missing from this back line.

Ryan Miller in net which won't be anything new. What the Sabres are hoping for is a bit of a rebound from last season after the stellar season before. He will not have to play as many games though with Jhonas Enroth proving last season he is a capable goalie in the NHL and a possible future starter.

2. Pittsburgh Penguins
      Key Additions: Steve Sullivan
      Key Departures, Eric Godard, Maxime Talbot, Mike Rupp

In a nut shell, the hope of the Penguins all depends on whether Sidney Crosby comes back to the lineup healthy. Offseason reports have suggested he will not be back in time and may have long term effects. If Crosby misses a significant amount of time, the Penguins will have to be creative and will then be leaning on Evgeni Malkin for offense with Chris Kunitz, James Neal, Jordan Staal, and Steve Sullivan providing support.

The defense is the same as last season with Kris Letang leading the blueline. Another strong offensive season from him will certainly get him into the Norris conversation and he will be backed up by Paul Martin, Zbynek Michalek, and Brooks Orpik. Matt Niskanen and Ben Lovejoy will round it out.

Marc-Andre Fleury was a big reason the Penguins finished as high as they did last season and he will be counted on again to provide stellar goaltending, especially if Crosby misses significant time.

1. Washington Capitals
     Key Additions: Troy Brouwer, Joel Ward, Jeff Halpern, Roman Hamrlik, Tomas Vokoun
     Key Departures: Semyon Varlamov, Jason Arnott, Marco Sturm, Eric Fehr, Matt Bradley, Boyd Gordon

The Capitals went through a little overhaul themselves but they have come out a much better team for it. Add the new additions to the usual cast of Alex Ovechkin, Niklas Backstrom, and Alex Semin and the team has become much deeper which may help them get over the playoff hump. After a down season for Ovechkin, know he will be back out with a vengeance and looking to solidify himself back atop the NHL when it comes to scoring.

The defense added Roman Hamrlik to help shore up the back end but it will rely on a young pairing in John Carlson and Karl Alzner to be the anchor. Of course Mike Green will provide much offense with Dennis Wideman, Jeff Schulz, Tom Poti, and John Erskine being cycled in based on the need of the team.

Tomas Vokoun has been on teams that were good and didn't quite make it while in Florida it was all his show. In Washington, Vokoun took less money and will be looking for a Stanley Cup. If he can play at his usual high level, he will win more games than he ever has with a strong offense in front of him.

So there you have it folks. After hours of deliberation, writing, re-ordering, and banging my head against the wall I came out with this. Am I going to be right with all of these? Nope. But hopefully it will give you a taste of what is to come this season. One thing I do know for certain is that these standings could end up in a completely different order by the time the season ends in April. The conference has tiers to it in terms of talent but how those tiers pan out by season's end is anyone's guess at this point. Its a mess.

Hope you enjoyed. I am always looking for feedback and want to hear your opinions as well. Also, if you would like me to write about a certain topic I would be happy to entertain any suggestions.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Pump The Brakes: Realistic Expectations for Brad Richards

Pressure is on for Richie (Ozier Muhammad/ New York Times)

If you asked Rangers fans about the single thing that has them most excited for this upcoming season I am sure you would get many answers. Whether its seeing the young core continue to progress, if the sophomore seasons of Derek Stepan, Ryan McDonagh, and Michael Sauer are better than their first, or maybe even what MSG will look like with the lower bowl transformed.

One answer you will most certainly hear involves two words: Brad Richards.

The ink hadn't begun to dry from Richards' signature on his brand new nine-year $60 million contract with New York and expectations for the team shot up to the stars by many fans. I saw people saying the Stanley Cup was a lock for New York this year and beyond. I also saw the other side of the spectrum with people believing this would be another botched contract by NYR management and Richards would be gone in a few years as an albatross.

I certainly don't think that it is going to be the latter. Richards has played at a very high level his whole career and it doesn't look like he is slowing down. Was I a fan of the fact that this deal was nine years? Not particularly but it could have been much worse. Ranger fans don't have to look far to see a contract that is even worse in terms of length (use your imagination).

I have been asked about Richards and what to expect. Am I excited? Absolutely. The day the Rangers signed him I went on and watched every goal he has scored the last two seasons. I've watched countless highlight videos on Youtube. Of course I am hoping for him to click with Marian Gaborik and they become the best one-two punch in the NHL.

That being said things don't always work out exactly how we want. Ranger fans know this from a few different scenarios in recent history that we won't go back into.

For me I am keeping my expectations realistic and modest. Why you ask? The odds of Richards scoring 100+ points are small. Only one person scored 100 points last season with Daniel Sedin and the only other people scoring 100 or more points on anywhere near a consistent basis are Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby with Evgeni Malkin thrown in there a bit. Its probably not going to happen folks. Richards has not gotten to the 100-point threshold before and nor should we expect him to.

We also can't expect that Gaborik and Richards are a sure lock for the top line together as well. When the Rangers signed Scott Gomez and Chris Drury, everyone believed Gomez and Jagr were going to be an unstoppable force. What happened? Brandon Dubinsky, as a rookie, ended up being Jagr's center and did pretty well there.

So could Richards end up centering Ruslan Fedotenko and Ryan Callahan on a line? Sure. Head coach John Tortorella will find the best combinations. Who knows? Maybe Sean Avery will end up on the top line with Richards. It is all up in the air right now and until we see some training camp and people on the ice we won't know for sure what is going to happen.

My prediction for Richards? A happy medium: 75+ points. Then again, Richards could score one goal the whole season and if it happened to be the Stanley Cup clincher I would be an ecstatic man.

Honestly though if Richards can match and beat his total from last season (77 points) then I will be a happy man. Some people won't be happy but you can't please everyone all the time.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Traverse City Prospects Tournament: A Glimpse at the Fut-ure (Near and Far)

Tim Erixon (NHL/Getty Images)
Before the NHL lockout everyone knew that the Rangers were about signing big name free agents and did very little when it came to developing their own players. My how things have changed.

For the last six seasons the Blueshirts have participated in the Traverse City Prospects Tournament in Traverse City, Michigan. This event has become so prominent that MSG will now be televising the four games NYR is involved in and will have an unprecedented amount of coverage for a fan base looking to learn more about a prospect pool that seems to be deep.

Why has it become so important? A significant reason has to do with the young players on the team right now. Players like Brandon Dubinsky, Ryan Callahan, Artem Anisimov, Marc Staal, Derek Stepan, and others on the team now all played in at least one of these tournaments. If you combine them with all the players from other organizations who have played in this tournament and are now NHLers, the number grows.

This season will showcase many intriguing prospects in the Ranger pool that NY fans have been excited about...some even to the extent of drooling. You can find the complete roster here but I will highlight a couple of names who will garner the most attention:

Ryan Bourque, F, (Quebec Remparts QMJHL)
       It has been two years since the Rangers drafted Ryan Bourque but he is showing some potential. Having played for Patrick Roy in Quebec as well as on the United States World Junior Championship team two years ago, Ryan has plenty of experience. With no more years of junior eligibility left it is time to get into the professional circuit and take his game to the next level. There have been some injury concerns in recent times but that shouldn't be any reason why Bourque can't become a solid professional player. He will be considered a leader on this Traverse team considering it is his third go around at this event and is expected to start the year in Connecticut.

Carl Hagelin, F, (Michigan CCHA)
      One of the more interesting players in the Ranger system is the speedy Swede who has spent the last four years at the University of Michigan. When originally drafted in the 6th round (168 overall) in 2007 there was probably not a lot of expectation when it came to Hagelin and his potential as a future NHLer. However, after the last two seasons scoring over a point per game and being one of the best players in all of college hockey, that has changed. Participating in his first tournament there is no doubt that the Rangers brass and fans are expecting big things from the former Wolverine. One of probably two players on the Traverse team that has a shot at making the NHL, everyone will be paying very close attention to every shift of Hagelin.

Christian Thomas, F, (Oshawa Generals OHL)
      If anyone has been paying attention in Rangerland over the last year you will know that Christian Thomas has certainly rocketed up the charts in terms of fan excitement. How could it not happen? Thomas finished the season with 54 goals in the OHL, good for second in the league. Its understandable that people are getting riled up. However people need to temper things a bit. I have seen people say that he will make the Rangers much like Stepan did last season after a good season at Wisconsin and impressive showing at Traverse. Is it possible? Sure. I would love to see him come in and just light the lamp so much they have to change the bulb inside the light every game. Is it going to happen? I doubt it. This isn't a knock on Christian's ability but it is more about what the make up of the professional club is right now as well as how the Rangers have been treating their prospects recently. Slow and steady has been the policy for NY for the last few seasons. Add that to the fact it is either OHL or NHL for Christian, he will really have to wow the Rangers brass and head coach John Tortorella. I say he will be sent back to Oshawa and this tournament will be a determining factor.

Tim Erixon, D, (Skelleftea SEL)
       The big trade that the Rangers made during the off season saw them acquire Erixon who is one of the more touted defensive prospects in the NHL. Having played the last two seasons in arguably the second best league in the world and being a noticeable player for his team, Erixon will get his first crack at making a NHL roster. The Rangers expect him to make the team and so do the fans as he would join a defense corps. that is already on the lower end of the age spectrum. He is a unique prospect in that while he hasn't played in the NHL, his experience is already very high and will hopefully help make the transition to the NHL much smoother. He will be expected to anchor the blue line for the Rangers at this tournament and be a significant force for the team from the back end.

Dylan McIlrath, D, (Moose Jaw Warriors WHL)
      The last prospect I'm going to profile is one who has been surrounded by debate ever since the Rangers drafted him last summer. The big bruising defenseman will be going to his second tournament and the eyes of fans will be on him big time. However there are a lot of encouraging reports from the Rangers in their rookie camp they had in July saying his skating has improved as well as his overall game. Whether that translates onto the Traverse ice remains to be seen but I have faith that McIlrath is really going to impress people at the tournament and prove a lot of his critics wrong.

All of the draft choices from the 2011 draft will be attending the camp as well and they will all be scrutinized. The five I have gone into detail about will have the most focus as many fans are already imagining what each of them will look like someday playing on Garden ice. It is fun to imagine but the reality is that there are no guarantees when it comes to development. These tournaments are a measuring stick and provide yet another chance for team executives to see their future.

The tournament starts late next week and will certainly be viewed by all and everything will be analyzed. Is this a team that can win the whole thing? That remains to be seen as the other teams boast deep teams as well. However there is no doubt that fans will be expecting the organization's first tournament win since 2007.

Hopefully this works out...

Well everyone I'm back at it now. The hiatus has been awhile but I figure that getting back to doing this and providing whatever opinions I have about hockey. I have changed the layout a bit and will mostly just be focusing on the New York Rangers and general hockey topics now.

I've graduated from Fairfield University and am now a graduate student at St. John's U in Queens, NY working on my sports management masters so now sports really is my life. I think beginning writing again may help me get some ideas out and, hopefully, I will be able to take some time every so often to provide readers with articles for your enjoyment.

Last season is gone and the new one is only weeks away so it is an exciting time, especially with the summer the NY Rangers have had. Unless you have been living under a rock you know that NYR has added Brad Richards and Mike Rupp through free agency while acquiring a top defensive prospect in Tim Erixon who is expected to jump right into NHL play.

Look for another article probably later tonight where I will start doing a bit of a season preview for the Rangers, beginning with next week's Traverse City Prospects tournament.

The Danbury Whalers are ramping up their team as we speak and have a tryout camp next Friday and Saturday. I can tell you from working on it that some good talent is coming in and will make it difficult for the Whalers to turn some of these players away. Whether any of them actually make the team remains to be seen but they will certainly help push the veterans to excel a bit more. Nothing less than a championship will do for the Whalers players and staff.

Hope everyone enjoys what I have to write and will provide some good feedback. Lets Go Rangers.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

What a Season it Was

For the people of Connecticut, hockey has always been a sport that is close to the heart of the state. When the Hartford Whalers were here the state had a professional sports team they could call their own. However years have passed since those Whalers came out onto the ice at the Hartford Civic Center (for the young ones, the XL Center).

The city of Danbury, CT has held host to a few hockey organizations over the last half decade and has seen each one of them come and go. It was because of this that a little skepticism about a new league called the Federal Hockey League and a new organization, the Danbury Whalers, was raised. However the fans of Danbury embraced the new organization and found they were embraced as well. 

For those who do not know the recent result of the Whalers' season, it ended on Sunday afternoon in Brooklyn, NY after losing in overtime in the fifth and deciding game of the first round playoff series against the New York Aviators. Despite losing some of the best players to injury, the team stuck through to the end but fell just short.

However, this loss should not be the face of the season. If anything, this season was one to remember in Danbury on several fronts. Starting at the top it was clear this organization was serious about doing business in Danbury and being apart of the community. CEO Herm Sorcher came in and immediately established a credibility with the fans of Danbury and quickly earned their respect. I still remember being at the press conference a little over a year ago and seeing Herm officially announce the club in Danbury with tears in his eyes and with choked up words. It was there that I and the rest of the fans in Danbury knew this man was serious about his job and his objectives. 

Herm's passion and perseverance for making this organization successful was evident in every sort of communication I had with him. He began to surround himself with people he knew would share in his passion and brought in Chris Firriolo as the first head coach of the team. A man with plenty of hockey experience, Chris came in and immediately went to work finding talent for the team that would not only fit his style of hockey but also the blue-collar work ethic of the city of Danbury. 

The whole season was an absolute roller-coaster ride for the fans but it was filled with many more ups and downs. Danbury finished at the top of the league in terms of a home record going 21-5-1 and, thanks to the fans of Section 102, the Zoo Crew, and the rest of Danbury had the highest attendance by far in the league, averaging 1,733 fans a night...almost tripling the second place New York Aviators who averaged 602. 

I personally only attended one game during the season due to my schooling. I knew that the team had been doing well at the gate and was expecting an excellent turn out but I was still amazed at the sight. Almost 2,000 screaming fans cheered on the Whalers with a fervor that reminded me of some playoff games I have been to. The first time I heard Brass Bonanza and the subsequent "Lets Go Whalers" chant chills were sent down my spine as I reminisced for just a brief moment of being back at the Civic Center. The taunting by Section 102 and the Zoo Crew was infectious and got the crowd going as the Whalers flew up and down the ice. I was very impressed with what I saw and was so happy to see that the Whalers were doing well after months of hard work by the organization. 

While at school, I checked the results of every game and began to see the team take shape as some familiar hockey faces like Nick Niedert, Igor Karlov, and Chris Seifert led the way and new names like Alec Kirschner, Martin Moucha, and Leland Fidler rose to the top of the scoring charts for the team. Corey Fulton came to Danbury as just another name on the roster and ended up becoming a fan favorite who scored his first professional hockey goals. I followed some of the games online and jumped out of my desk chair a few times when the team scored in overtime to win a big game, like Game 3 against the Aviators. 

With the season over, I am sure plenty of people are saddened by losing that last game in a tough way but its gives every Danbury fan hope for next season. The Federal Hockey League is looking to expand and the Whalers will certainly look to go much further next season and beyond that

The success of the season is a credit to everyone involved both inside and out. So here is to Herm, Chris, the rest of the front office, coaches, and staff, the players, and the fans for an absolutely outstanding season. It lifted the hearts and passions of the city of Danbury and surely will be a fixture in the city of Danbury for a long time. 

To quote The Bravery:

So give me something to believe
Cause I am living just to breathe
And I need something more
To keep on breathing for
So give me something to believe

Well Danbury, Herm and the rest of the Whalers have certainly given you something to believe and they will give you something more next year when the Whalers come back ready to go all the way. 

For a look at the season highlights put together by the team click here