Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Stepan makes case to stay

They could be Derek and The Dominoes sooner than expected. Derek Stepan showed off the same skills that helped Team USA win the WJC and lead Wisconsin to the NCAA finals where they fell to Chris Kreider and Boston College. In the Rangers' fifth preseason game, the 20 year-old center from Hastings, Minnesota made a bid to stay on Broadway- posting his first preseason goal and an assist in a 5-1 win at MSG over the Red Wings.

Also having strong games were Ruslan Fedotenko (2 A), Sean Avery (G, +2), Erik Christensen (A, +2), Mike Sauer (G, +1) and Pavel Valentenko (A, +2). Along with Stepan, each bolstered their cases to make the big club. Marian Gaborik was dominant as well, recording a power play goal and a helper while linemate Alexander Frolov made a sweet dish to a cutting Mike Del Zotto, who finished a give-and-go for the night's final goal.

All in all, a good night for John Tortorella's club who continues to show offensive improvement thus far. A trend that must continue if they're to be taken seriously. Henrik Lundqvist was also sharp, allowing only a deflection to beat him while staying busy with 35 saves.

Earlier in camp, Tort tried Stepan with Gabby and Frolov to some success. Tonight, he played between Avery and Fedotenko with the trio having solid chemistry. They were effective on the forecheck and created all game. No wonder they combined for two goals and three assists, thrilling fans and probably the coaching staff as well. In fact, Avery had drawn praise from the fiery coach for his work in front. He's been real good the last three games, scoring in a second straight while driving Ilya Kovalchuk and David Clarkson cuckoo. If the instigator can sustain it, then he'll have a place in the lineup permanently.

Gotta also give due to Fedotenko, who's really done a solid job showing he still has hands. Granted. He's on a tryout and it's his former coach. But he has made the most of it. I see no reason why they can't start him on say a third line with Avery and Stepan. With Artem Anisimov also looking stronger than last year and Ryan Callahan playing like a beast, this team actually might be exciting. Especially if Vinny Prospal returns healthy.

As for Stepan, he came on late in a second Detroit dominated with ex-Devil Brian Rafalski getting the only goal while outshooting the hosts 14-9. However, a late shift by Stepan exemplified why many are encouraged by him. With over 10 seconds left, he outhustled a Wing to a loose puck and then got around Rafalski, forcing Jimmy Howard to make a tough save. That kinda yeoman effort is what separates Stepan from the pack. He rarely looks lost out there and is a solid all around player. Early in the third, he got rewarded when a Fedotenko kicked a Valentenko rebound right to Stepan, who deposited the loose change.

Even with a crowded position, it's hard not to see Stepan making the final cut. He obviously has tremendous vision and skill to go with it. If he struggles early, the organization can always send him down to Hartford for seasoning. After all, he's a first-year pro trying to make the quantum leap straight from college. If he's in, that leaves plenty of debate between Tim Kennedy and Brian Boyle for the fourth line. With Kennedy having another strong showing and Boyle showing better speed, it's anyone's guess who wins out.

The other bright note was the play of Sauer, who's being given one final long look to make good on that second round pick they took in the Brian Leetch deal. Injuries have been a bugaboo but he's come in healthy and had an effective game, finishing off a nifty Christensen backhand no-look feed while also playing stellar in his end.

It looks like he's got stiff competition versus both Ryan McDonagh and Valentenko. The Rangers have to like what they've seen. Spots actually could be earned before the October 9 road opener at Buffalo. Never a bad thing.

Injuries to Streit and Okposo challenge Islanders once again

Call it deja vu. The regular season hasn't even started and already the Islanders are facing an uphill battle. A couple of days after learning top defender Mark Streit likely will miss six months with a torn labrum and torn rotator cuff suffered in a collision with Matt Moulson during a team practice, third-year right wing Kyle Okposo will also be on the mend also due to a torn labrum in his right shoulder which will require surgery, keeping him out two months.

Hard to believe how much bad luck the club has as last year wasn't too kind either, placing in the top 10 in man-games lost to injury with 256- just ahead of the Devils (249). The biggest setbacks last season were to captain Doug Weight (46) and franchise netminder Rick DiPietro (74). Now, Scott Gordon's young club is faced with another challenge having lost its best defenseman and a top six forward 10 days before 2010-11 gets underway at home against Dallas October 9. GM Garth Snow already added ex-Devil Mike Mottau to the blueline with the vet inking a two-way deal per Newsday's Katie Strang

For Okposo, it was expected to be a big Year Three but now he'll have to wait. Last year, he caught a lethal Dion Phaneuf open ice hit which concussed him yet somehow missed only two games. Not surprisingly, it took a while for the former Islander '06 seventh overall selection to get untracked. But the 22 year-old from St. Paul finished his second season strong, attaining new career highs in games (80), goals (19), assists (33), points (52) and shots (249). He never takes a shift off, always finishing every check. It'll be hard to replace that skillset.

More pressure's on John Tavares, who'll need Moulson to duplicate last year while teammates Josh Bailey, Frans Nielsen, Blake Comeau and Rob Schremp all are vital to the club's success. Weight and vet Trent Hunter will be the unquestioned leaders but is JT91 ready to assume a role as well?

As for losing Streit who's their best scorer from the back end while logging the most minutes, offseason pickup James Wisniewski becomes even more important. He's capable of stepping up and should have something to prove on his third team in less than three years (Chi, Ana, NYI). The Wiz is a solid puckmover who plays a ferocious style that got him into trouble last season due to this late cheapshot on former Chicago 'mate Brent Seabrook. He must stay on the ice and help anchor a corps that allowed 40 more goals (254 GA) than the club scored (214). Blocked shot machine Mark Eaton should also provide help as well as experience. He helped the Pens win Lord Stanley.

It'll take a collective effort. Jack Hillen and Andrew MacDonald are solid skaters who could provide a lift. Adding Mottau to the mix can't hurt as he fared respectively in the Garden State, reviving his career. There's also former Cap Milan Jurcina who plays physical but lacks mobility. Figure him to be used sparingly. Does Bruno Gervais get back in Gordon's good graces? The third-year Islander coach must also decide if either Travis Harmonic or Calvin de Haan are ready. It might be worth taking a look.

Gordon also thinks DiPietro can start 60 games but it's hard to take seriously. Besides, vet Dwayne Roloson did an admirable job last year. So, they shouldn't have to rush DP back. Our advice is simple. Work him in slowly. That way his body can recover.

For a team that finished 13th in the East with a 34-37-11 record with 79 points, they hung tough most of last season. They were excellent at home posting a 23-14-4 mark while struggling on the road (11-23-7), which must change. This group is being asked to once again defy the odds. We'll see if they're up to the challenge.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Rangers cut down to 27

Earlier today, the Rangers made their second round of cuts. Team President & GM Glen Sather announced that the club assigned Chad Johnson, Wade Redden, Evgeny Grachev, Dale Weise and Mats Zuccarello to Hartford. Dane Byers, Kris Newbury and Jeremy Williams will also continue camp with the AHL affiliate. While those eight remain in the organization, defensemen Garnet Exelby, Brandon Manning and Alexei Semenov were all released from tryouts, leaving nine players competing for seven spots on the blueline.

Incumbents Marc Staal, Dan Girardi, Mike Del Zotto and Michael Rozsival comprise the top four. Steve Eminger, Matt Gilroy, Ryan McDonagh, Mike Sauer and Pavel Valentenko are all in competition for the final three slots. Out of the five, Gilroy, McDonagh and Valentenko have looked the best. But figure the club to start the season with at least vet Eminger as an extra, leaving Gilroy and McDonagh with the inside track. I'd like to see more from Valentenko and Brian Leetch trade holdover Sauer, who's getting one last shot.

As for what's up front, there are 16 players left. With both Chris Drury and Vinny Prospal banged up, it's given golden opportunities to rookie Derek Stepan along with vets Erik Christensen, Ruslan Fedotenko, Tim Kennedy and Todd White. Though Christensen should have a spot based on being re-signed after a solid stint last year, it remains unclear where he'll start. The club remains without a top playmaking pivot to center potential lethal Euro combo Marian Gaborik and Alexander Frolov. Does Stepan get a shot at the start in two weeks when the team visits Buffalo October 8 and the Islanders October 11? The 20 year-old former Badger certainly has the most upside. If he's not ready, they can always ship him to Hartford.

Brian Boyle is competing with Kennedy and White for the fourth line. Though White's capable of moving up due to his experience with Gabby in St. Paul. There's also Fedotenko, who's opened some eyes with a strong camp highlighted by a three-point effort in the Rangers' 5-4 overtime win over the Devils Saturday. John Tortorella knows him well from Tampa where Feds was a hero against both the Flyers and Flames en route to Lord Stanley. Still, the journeyman who also was part of the Pens' Cup in '08-09 would be used in a secondary role where he hopefully could supply offense on the third line with possibly some power play duty in store. Considering that he's here on a tryout, Fedetenko has done enough to warrant consideration. He's capable of contributing 15 goals and at least 30 points. You wonder if MZA could've done that. But he'll start with the Pack.

No surprise that the two goalies are Henrik Lundqvist and new vet backup Martin Biron, who's been steady thus far. Hopefully, King Henrik got the cobwebs out in Newark.

The Blueshirts have three exhibitions left, including the second of a home-and-home with the Red Wings, who dealt them their first defeat yesterday by a score of 5-3 (really 6 if not for ref incompetence). Biron played the first two periods permitting three while Johnson came in relief, letting in two. Sean Avery, Christensen and Artem Anisimov (SHG) were the goalscorers. Tomas Holmstrom netted the winner for Detroit while Brian Rafalski added a goal and three helpers with Jimmy Howard (18 saves) going all the way. They Original Sixes meet again at MSG Wednesday at 7 ET on MSG.


G (2)-Biron, Lundqvist

D (9)-Del Zotto, Eminger, Gilroy, Girardi, McDonagh, Rozsival, Sauer, Staal, Valentenko

F (16)-Anisimov, Avery, Boogaard, Boyle, Callahan, Christensen, Drury, Dubinsky, Fedotenko, Frolov, Gaborik, Kennedy, Prospal, Prust, Stepan, White

Sunday, September 26, 2010

After three preseason games, Devils still need to answer many questions

During the preseason a team's main priorites are finding out what players can potentially help out when the games start for real, and just flat-out staying healthy. Wins and losses are generally afterthoughts, although yes I would rather see the Devils actually win a preseason game at some point, since they've lost in overtime twice to the Rangers and in a shootout to the Flyers thus far. Scoring a power-play goal would also be nice, we've been shut out on that end during the preseason so far (after our hideous power play for the second half of last season) although Matt Taormina's nice one-timer in the second period last night came on a delayed call, so that's like half a power play goal.

At 0-0-3 with three preseason games left, my main concern right now is we're really no closer to finding out who the axe will drop on with cap d-day fast approaching, with rumors still swirling around just about everyone who makes over $2.5 million on the roster. Although with the instant chemistry that our Fantasy Line of Zach Parise, Ilya Kovalchuk and Travis Zajac have shown so far, at least it should put the rest the insane Zajac trade rumors the Post has been trying to propogate.

Two of the players who have been discussed as possible cap casualties - captain Jamie Langenbrunner and defenseman Colin White - didn't play last night when the Rangers scored four, yes four power play goals against poor Johan Hedberg, who you could probably only fault on Matt Gilroy's goal that trickled through his pads early in the third period. There is a mindset with certain Devils fans that whatever we need to do to get under the cap doesn't really matter but when you consider that the captain and Whitey are usually key components on the penalty kill, and that PK looked awful last night it just shows that losing either player would in fact, be a detriment. And I have no use for the captain personally but he's still a top six winger, PK'er and for what it's worth he's taken ownership publicly of his struggles last year...which is at least a start toward penance.

On the other hand, another player who has been the most likely rumored out the door in Bryce Salvador has, by all accounts been terrible in his two preseason games. He didn't impress me much last night, and from reading accounts he was culpable on a couple of Flyer goals in our first preseason game as well. Could be the speculation's getting to him, as much as players say they block it out and it's only been a week since camp started, really this speculation's gone on all offseason. It wouldn't be human not to be affected by the constant uncertainty. Besides all that, Salvador at this point is really a low second pairing, high third pairing-tier defenseman. He still should have value to a lot of clubs, since there isn't exactly a glut of even those type of players and he's a solid vet who will do what it takes to help a team, but without a no-trade clause his time may well be up here.

Moving Salvador alone wouldn't be enough to get under the cap though, so it's a certainty two moves have to be made if Salvador's one of them. Just from a talent standpoint though, if you move Salvador and have a defense including Anton Volchenkov, Henrik Tallinder, Andy Greene and Whitey I think it's conceivable either two rookies can make the team or you sign a placeholder like Mike Mottau and take one youngster to Newark for Opening Night. Teen sensation Alexander Urbom has impressed so far during camp although he forgot to account for Ryan Callahan on the Rangers' tying goal in the first period last night. Matthew Corrente hasn't looked terrible either, and does have a few games of pro experience - even if as a forward. Even Taormina, who looked shaky the other night at the Garden, rebounded with a good performance last night. Another candidate to fill our offensive d-man role is Tyler Eckford but he hasn't played yet due to a death in the family just after camp started.

Long story short, there should be enough depth to replace one veteran defenseman at least...despite our twelve goals allowed in three preseason games. It does seem like most of our breakdowns have come either from the vets, or players not likely to make the team such as Taormina and young Eric Gelinas. And you'd figure the PK is fixable at some point, seeing as we've been near the top of the league for a while now, even after losing long-time mainstays like John Madden and Jay Pandolfo. On the whole we only allowed twenty shots on net last night, which isn't terrible but the fact that a lot of them were quality scoring chances needs to be rectified.

One reason we had so many penalties against us last night was - just like 2008 - the Devils got too caught up in trying to 'get' Sean Avery and instead get punk'd themselves by the end of the game as Avery caused penalties and was a screen in front on a couple of the goals. I swear, this guy's like a bizarro version of Alexei Morozov - the former Pen who only did damage against the Devils on the scoresheet and was invisible against anyone else. Maybe Derek will say different but it seems for a long time that the Devils are the only team who Avery really bothers enough to have an impact on a game. Clearly David Clarkson still hasn't got it through his thick skull that Avery is too cowardly to fight him, and was lucky to avoid expulsion in the second period for being third man in on an altercation between Avery and Kovalchuk (fighting a star player who doesn't fight a lot and avoiding a guy your own size who does? Real tacky).

Granted, I laughed as much as anyone else when I saw Kovy tell Avery to 'zip it' on the bench and since it's preseason it didn't really bother me that much that the Devils went overboard but it was definitely an unpleasant reminder of two years ago. Seeing as we have a lot of new players since then - including Kovy - they need to be indoctrinated to the fact that you can't go out of your way to get Avery, and the Devils largely did ignore him last year when they split the season series with the Rangers.

While clearly our special teams need work, as evidenced by the four power play goals against last night and none scored ourselves in the preseason, our five-on-five has been pretty good far, led by the Fantasy Line of Kovy, Zach and Zajac. There instant chemistry shouldn't be a total surprise since Parise and Zajac have spent much of the last couple years playing together but the instant meshing of Kovy with them - as a right-winger no less - has come as a pleasant surprise to this point. I certainly wouldn't mind seeing them as a line for a longer period, from what I've seen in these two games against the Rangers when they've combined for four goals and twelve points, factoring in every goal but one in these two games.

Of course the key to that is getting secondary scoring, and our second line - at least on paper so far - is intriguing, with Patrik Elias and Jason Arnott already reunited, and at the moment slotting in captain Langenbrunner as their RW'er. Even though they last played together eight years ago, you probably don't have to worry about chemistry between the still-good friends Elias and Arnott and from what I heard it seemed like they had a good game with Jamie when they were together during the first preseason game against the Flyers. Elias and Arnott didn't have as much of an impact with rookie Alexander Vasuynov on their line last night though. Plus you still have other forwards on the roster (at least as of now) that can help on the scoresheet like Clarkson, Danius Zubrus and the $5 million man Brian Rolston, who even had a breakaway goal last night, how about that?!

Probably one of those latter three are more likely to be moved than any of our top six at this point. Unlike Glen Sather who dropped a swift axe on Wade Redden, GM Lou Lamoriello hasn't tipped his hand yet, waiting for camp to play out and seeing what players fit in best with this current roster. One thing that does seem obvious right now is there aren't a lot of scoring fowards ready for the big club yet, Matthas Tedenby looks at least a year away and though Jacob Josefson has earned praise so far he, like Urbom is still a teenager so it's hard to really expect him to fill a third-line center position day-in and day-out. In fact, one of the forwards I've heard the most praise for is the unheralded Brad Mills, who played for John MacLean in Lowell last year and could definitely fill an energy role on the fourth line (perhaps cutting into Rod Pelley's playing time) if he sticks.

Given the fact there don't seem to be any forwards waiting in the wings to fill a top-three line spot, that would make Lou's decision even harder, assuming he had to get rid of a forward. Does he wave a magic wand and find someone to take the overpaid Rolston for the next two years, or does he drop a better role player and more moveable contract in Zubrus? I really don't see Lou favorite Clarkson being moved, as he has 20-goal talent and his 'overzealous' issues are fixable but since the player himself is aware of speculation surrounding him according to Tom Gulutti's latest Fire and Ice blog, I can't totally dismiss it as a possibility either.

One of the few things we know for certain at this point is that Cap D-day is fast approaching. We must be under the cap by the close of business on October 5, which gives Lou approximately ten days to do whatever he's going to do to put us in cap compliance. Between now and next Sunday there are three more preseason games for players to impress and win jobs, starting with Tuesday against the Flyers at the Rock - their first trip in since they knocked us out of the playoffs last year - followed by a home-and-home with the Islanders on Friday and Saturday. I suspect we'll hear no later than next Monday what moves will be done, if we wait until the end of the preseason and then spend a day to evaluate possibilities.

Unfortunately none of the preseason games remaining will be on television (thanks a lot Jimmy Dolan) but I could have enough time to at least go to Newark and catch part of Tuesday and Friday's home games. If anything these preseason games are far more interesting this year because of the uncertainty, and that might be evidenced by a stunning 13,000+ crowd at the Rock last night. I honestly can't remember the last time a preseason game drew much over 10,000 for us, but then again putting the Ranger game on Saturday - which turned out to be one of the nicest days of the year - I'm sure helped the number.

However, it's about high time this uncertainty ends. I will be looking forward to the day where whatever happens, this constant speculation is over and done with and we can just focus on our own team and Opening Night on October 8.

Avery and Kovalchuk renew rivalry

For Ranger bad boy Sean Avery, his No.1 rival used to be Martin Brodeur. However, the future Devil Hall of Famer has been replaced by Russian teammate Ilya Kovalchuk. Ever since the electrifying former Thrasher's donned Devils black and red, Avery's been all over him when the bitter Hudson rivals have played.

It's almost as if the Ranger pest has a new boyfriend and we use that team loosely. :P This rivalry began during the Ranger first round sweep of Kovalchuk's Thrashers a few Springs ago. In a big spot with his team trailing in the series, Ilya lost it going after Avery and taking costly penalties. Perhaps all they needed was the Devils bringing the superstar to Newark. At least that's all it's taken for Avery to get better acquainted with his new nemesis.

There they were again front and center with the Devil investment taking the bait during a scrum, chasing Avery around while David Clarkson did his bidding. Speaking of Clarkson who's still letting Avery get to him, he's no angel either. Not with his coming from behind and jawing that somehow drew zilch along with the predictable 14 minutes for Gary Bettman's favorite E-Z target. Of course, Sean wouldn't go with the Devil antagonist, further angering his favorite audience at The Rock. At one point, he had Kovalchuk so upset that they exchanged barbs between benches with one of the game's best finishers pointing repeatedly at Public Enemy No.1.

If Avery was mixing it up, it means he was doing his job. An ugly description that includes playing on the edge, bantering and driving opponents batty. He was at his best Saturday pushing the envelope while also being in on two goals, right in front of Johan Hedberg. The question becomes will his chaos eventually wear thin in the room? Other forwards also impressed including former John Tortorella '04 Lightning hero Ruslan Fedotenko, who scored a power play goal and added two assists. Ex-Sabre Tim Kennedy had a strong game, distracting the Devils in front while Ryan Callahan fed Mike Del Zotto for the winner. If Brian Boyle continues to impress along with rookie pivot Derek Stepan, the competition should heat up.

There's also diminutive and skilled Mats Zuccarello-Aasen who looked good in his first taste of NHL action Thursday. He used his speed well and also took the puck to the net and made things happen. The question is what kind of team does Tortorella want? They obviously need to score more goals but also want to make life difficult on foes. If motivated, Avery certainly fits the second criteria. As long as he has his new Russian crutch, that shouldn't be an issue.

What about the other 76 games? That remains to be seen.

Del Zotto's OT winner gives Rangers preseason sweep of Devils

Being at a fantasy hockey draft in a league I'm defending, it's fairly tough to pay attention to these exhibitions. But we did catch a little bit early of the Hudson rematch along with the tail end that saw second-year blueliner Mike Del Zotto convert into a gaping net for the Rangers' second straight overtime win over the Devils by a wild count of 5-4 at The Rock.

For those wondering if you'll see that during any of the cool half dozen regular season match-ups, you just might. Let me be blunt. Both team defenses aren't that good. And the Devils seem to have gone from all D to offensive all the time. Yes. They should be quite potent with the Dream Line (Parise-Zajac-Kovalchuk) blazing opponents with Devil fire. And the new A-Line of Jason Arnott, Patrik Elias and Jamie Langenbrunner should provide nightmares. If the Devs' third line is a combo of Brian Rolston, Dainius Zubrus, David Clarkson and maybe Swede rookie Jacob Josefson, that shouldn't be bad either. But the challenging roster decisions Lou Lamoriello is faced with involves cutting salaries like Rolston and perhaps Bryce Salvador, who didn't look great tonight. Would they really cut ties with character guy Colin White? This blogger doubts it.

As for a game that saw the bitter rivals combine for nine after scoring seven at MSG the other day, Henrik Lundqvist was pedestrian in the first allowing a shortside Kovalchuk bomb off a turnover forced by who else but Parise and a routine Andy Greene wrister five-hole that had the Jersey hosts in front 2-1 after one. But the Devils despite dressing many regulars blew a pair of two-goal leads, with new backup Johan Hedberg permitting the final three in which he was hardly at fault. The Devs were victimized by a Ranger power play that converted four different times including Ruslan Fedotenko's tying marker off a Matt Gilroy setup. Yes. Fedotenko had a good game scoring and setting up Ryan Callahan to bolster his chances.

A late David Clarkson tug in the final minute of regulation led to Del Zotto's decider when just 52 seconds into the extra five, he took a Callahan cross-ice feed and calmly shot over an out of position Hedberg, who lost his stick. Taking up space in front was Tim Kennedy, who drew a secondary helper. Gilroy also got credit for a PPG which was largely due to Sean Avery being his usual self in front. He got in Kovalchuk's face a few times and also was leveled by Anton Volchenkov early on. There were two more scraps with Clarkson and Dane Byers going along with Kris Newbury and Salvador when Elias gave the AHLer a crosscheck.

Both goalies finished with predictable ugly lines with Lundqvist allowing four on 29 shots while Hedberg gave up five on 20. Parise netted three assists and Kovalchuk had a goal and a helper as did Greene. Undrafted Devil defenseman Matt Taormina also scored. For the Rangers, Del Zotto had four points (1-3-4) and Callahan three (1-2-3) with Artem Anisimov also tallying. Evgeny Grachev didn't stand out registering no shots. Though he did beat Salvador late with some solid board work to setup a chance.

If these two games were any indication, Battle fans should be in for a treat this season.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Rangers-Devils Part Deux Tonight

It's only preseason but try telling that to the Rangers and Devils, who already played one intense exhibition at The Garden the other night with New York prevailing 4-3 on Marian Gaborik's power play overtime winner. The game featured two scraps along with the Devils' unveiling of their Dream Line featuring Zach Parise, Travis Zajac and Ilya Kovalchuk. The lethal trio combined for all three goals with Parise tying it with 1:30 left forcing OT.

On the flip side, Alexander Frolov got off to a good start with his new team, scoring and setting up Gaborik twice. Also impressing was top prospect Derek Stepan, who centered the new Ranger top line for two of three periods and didn't look out of place, notching a helper. The new and improved Brian Boyle fought and also beat Martin Brodeur with a strong power move, boosting his chances. New backup Martin Biron also debuted for the Blueshirts, looking sharp in two periods despite permitting two rockets (Zajac one-timer, Kovalchuk breakaway).

Tonight, the bitter Hudson rivals do it again at The Rock. Figure the Devils to have their new A Line with '00 Cup members Patrik Elias and Jason Arnott reunited where they'll team with team captain Jamie Langenbrunner. Perhaps new backup Johan Hedberg will see some action as well. For the Rangers, we could see Artem Anisimov and Evgeny Grachev along with Pavel Valentenko. In their second preseason game, Henrik Lundqvist probably will be in net.

The game can be seen on MSG tonight at 7 ET.

Bye Bye Redden

The Wade Redden Era Error is mercifully over. It came to an end today when the Rangers waived the former All-Star defenseman. This move had been expected for a while. Though it's typical of Glen Sather to do it a couple of days after Redden's wife had a child. At least he wasn't revered like Brian Leetch.

Amazingly, Slats signed Tinman two summers ago to a six-year $39 million contract with an astronomical $6.5 million cap hit. That same day, he also re-signed Michal Rozsival for four years, $20 million- easily one of the worst days in Ranger history. Just how out of touch was Sather. He actually believed Redden was this:

"In our opinion he's the best first-passer in the game. He moves the puck up exceptionally. He's somebody that we had targeted immediately. He was our No. 1 guy on defense, as well as Rozsival."
Instead, Redden was a colossal bust, instantly becoming an MSG booing target along with Rozy who at least is still capable of contributing. In two seasons, the former Senator posted five goals and 35 assists for 40 points over 156 contests. He went 3-23-26 in Year One and just 2-12-14 in Year Two with the club missing the postseason for the first time since pre-lockout. If this is the end for him, he registered 106 goals and 344 assists totaling 450 points along with 654 penalty minutes while notching 53 power play goals (NYR-2), 21 game winners along with a solid plus-162 rating in 994 games.

Assuming he clears, the Rangers would finally be free of his hefty salary. Redden will take a few days to decide if he'll accept being designated to AHL Hartford or if he can find a new home. The question is, who'd be interested?

Just remember Garden Faithful. While you're all rejoicing that he's no longer part of the problem, the senile Team President/GM continues to haunt this club from Dolan's perch. It's why I can't get overly enthused despite what's a step in the right direction. Until the stench that is the Cuban smoking son of a gun is gone, it's awfully hard to see this team seriously challenging.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Drury sidelined four weeks with broken finger

Camp's only been open a few days. Unfortunately, the Rangers already have been dealt an injury to their captain. During yesterday's scrimmage, Chris Drury went down to block a shot, breaking his left index finger.

It’s a tough break for him,John Tortorella said. “He’s a big part of our club as far as what he brings on and off the ice.”

Coming off his worst season in which he produced just 14 goals and 32 points in 77 games, the 34 year-old former Little League World Series Trumbull, Connecticut hero is looking to bounce back. The veteran pivot, who also was an integral part of Team USA's silver medal in Vancouver alongside PK partner and teammate Ryan Callahan, missed five games last year due to a concussion suffered in Calgary. Prior to the disappointing campaign, he posted 58 points (25-33-58 in 82 GP) in Year One and 56 (22-34-56 in 81 GP) in Year Two on Broadway. If he can get back to that level without missing more than the club's first couple of games at Buffalo October 9 and the Islanders on Columbus Day (10/12), Dru could still be a vital piece.

In Monday's scrimmage, he was centering both alternates Callahan and Vinny Prospal. Figure the gritty forward entering his 12th year to anchor Tort's third line and contribute defensively, especially on the penalty killing unit. He also should see time on the power play just for his ability to deflect pucks and get to loose change in front.

For the mean time, the Blueshirts will look for someone to step up in camp with the first preseason game Thursday against the Devils. Prospal can always shift to center and Brandon Dubinsky is a natural pivot as well. Artem Anisimov figures to be looked to for secondary scoring. There's also Marian Gaborik ex-Wild 'mate Todd White, who was brought in off the scrap heap for Donald Brashear and Patrick Rismiller. Erik Christensen figures to be used everywhere. Who knows about Brian Boyle? Even if improved, how much better can he be? Too bad they didn't keep Lauri Korpikoski. Enver Lisin. What a disgrace. What if rookie Derek Stepan impresses? Does he automatically get sent down? You sure hope not.

We'll get a better idea over the next week on what the lineup might look like.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Devils open camp under cloud of uncertainty

After all the nonsense this summer surrounding the Ilya Kovalchuk contract contreversy, not to mention the other changes that have taken place this offseason - promoting Johnny MacLean to head coach, trading for one-time Devil Jason Arnott and signing defensemen Anton Volchenkov and Henrik Tallinder in UFA to go along with Kovalchuk and his ex-teammate goaltender Johan Hedberg - you would think camp would be a time to sit back, relax and enjoy watching the new additions. And to a certain extent it still is, since after five months it'll be nice to see any kind of Devils hockey, preseason or not. Plus no matter what happens, it is likely that multiple rookies and young players will have an impact on the 2010-11 Devils.

That said, the fact that the Kovalchuk contract saga got settled so late and was compounded by a severe penalty on the eve of camp means there are still move(s) for GM Lou Lamoriello to make some time between now and October 6, the day before the start of our season. For those of you counting, that's nineteen days. In fact, the Devils will play six preseason games in the next two weeks starting on Tuesday and Thursday with trips to Philly and the Garden, followed by home tilts next Saturday against the Rangers, Tuesday the 28th against the Flyers and Friday, October 1 against the Islanders. Our preseason concludes the day after that on Saturday the 2nd with a trip to Long Island.

So with a mere two weeks to go between now and the end of preseason, there's a little more urgency in Devils' camp than usual. Not only are prospects like former first-round picks Jacob Josefson, Matthias Tedenby and Matthew Corrente playing for spots on the team, but key veterans such as Danius Zubrus, Bryce Salvador and perhaps even captain Jamie Langenbrunner are playing to keep their spots on the team, or enhance their value to other clubs. Usually the only vets playing for spots on the team are fringe players, along with those who sign tryout contracts, such as Adam Mair and Marcus Nilsson. While I admit being nervous about Lou leaving our cap moves till the last minute, it does add an element of intrigue to what's normally a relaxing time of the season.

Pretty much the only locked position on the team right now is goaltender, with the 38-year old Martin Brodeur entering his seventeenth full season as a Devil, and expected to start the majority of the games once again. Unlike most years, we also enter camp with a capable veteran backup in ex-Kovy teammate (and fellow 38-year old) Hedberg, who was actually the Thrashers' starting goaltender much of 2009-10 as they made a push for the playoffs that ultimately came up short. Hedberg may play more than a typical Brodeur backup this year, but don't count on anything close to a platoon here.

Defensively you have to figure on new UFA additions Volchenkov (our most imposing physical presence on the blueline since you know who wore #4 in New Jersey) and Tallinder being here, as well as last season's revelation Andy Greene, who is our only proven puck-moving defenseman and still - for this year - under a cheap enough contract that he's not on any type of cap watch during the preseason. Seemingly those are our three definites for 2010-11.

Then you have question marks...obviously Salvador and Colin White are vets under contract, but given their nearly $3 million salaries they're also prime candidates to be moved. While it would seem easier to move Salvador as opposed to Whitey given the fact only the latter has a NTC, it's been rumored in the Post that Lou does not want to trade Salvador. Plus Whitey has had more of a key role the last couple years on our team so he might have more value to other clubs anyway, in spite of his physical limitations. Also, you have Mike Mottau still lurking in the background, not signed by any team yet - seemingly waiting for something to happen (or not) with the Devils.

Among our prospects, Alexander Urbom seems most likely to make the team, particularly after Tallinder was brought in partially as a mentor to his fellow Swede (who almost made the team last year). You also have to figure puck-moving defensemen Tyler Eckford and Matt Taormina will get strong looks in camp, especially considering both played under Johnny Mac in Lowell last year and they would fill a gaping need. Former first-round pick Corrente's also in the mix but given the fact he didn't play defense in the NHL last year plus the fact we have other physical presences currently on the blueline, he might be on the backburner once again. Then there's Mark Fraser, who's signed to a one year, $500,000 one-way contract. He has almost a full season's worth of experience too, but I'd rather not see him as anything more than a cheap #7 defenseman after the way he faltered down the stretch last year and with a limited skill set to begin with.

Up front, you have to figure on our two stud LW'ers Kovy and Zach Parise as 'definites' for this season, as well as new acquisition Jason Arnott - who fills a gaping need we had at second-line center. Despite persistent rumors in the Post, I don't think Travis Zajac is going anywhere, despite his nearly $4 million cap hit it wouldn't make much sense to trade our only proven long-term option at the pivot. Patrik Elias has been our longest-tenured forward, has a no-movement clause and is on the record saying he doesn't want to go anywhere so I don't see the long-time Lou favorite being shown the door either. Gritty winger David Clarkson just got signed to a three-year deal this offseason so it's hard to see him being kicked out, especially given his value's probably lower after a down year and he adds a nastiness not many of our other forwards do.

When you get past those six the question marks increase, though I don't think Lou will deal his captain on the eve of the season and add to the unrest, Langenbrunner did ackowledge the other day that it was a possibility - though he also has a NTC. I could do without his presence after the way he and most of the rest of the team quit last year, but I never really figured on him getting moved anyway since he's also a Lou favorite and has an expiring contract (which will factor in to next season's budget, when we need to extend Parise's contract and likely re-sign Greene).

Then you have two other likely candidates to get moved in Zubrus and Brian Rolston. Clearly Rolston would be the more problem-solving contract to wipe off the books given his $5 million salary for the next two seasons. If Lou could somehow get another team to take that deal and Rolston to waive his NTC, then he would be able to field a full roster without trading anyone else (if he didn't want to), but clearly that's easier said than done. Asking another team to take on that salary for even one season when most teams are either capped out or maxed out on their budget is a tall order, but the second year makes it that much trickier. Especially given the winger's declining production and advancing age.

Despite his own cap hit of $3.4 million over the next three seasons, you'd have to figure on Zubrus being easier to move given his lack of a NTC and his versatility (he can play wing and center). Personally I wouldn't want to see him kicked out at this point, especially when he was one of the few people who gave effort late last season when just about everyone else mentally and physically checked out. However, Zubrus's limited offensive skills and cap hit might force the issue.

Among the prospects that might make the team, Josefson is heavily speculated to make the team as a third-line center and Tedenby could make the team as a right-winger if either Jamie or Zubrus get moved. Though his natural position is left wing, it would probably behoove him to learn the right side in camp given that we have Kovy, Parise and Elias all under contract for multiple seasons and all with LW as their natural position (well technically, Zach came up as a center, but was ineffective there until moving to LW).

Rounding out the back lines you have fighter Pierre Luc-Letourneau Leblond, gritty Rod Pelley (who can play center and wing), and Russian winger Vladimir Zharkov who was the little engine that couldn't last season, failing to score a goal in almost forty NHL games but doing enough of the 'little things' right otherwise to earn respect. NHL vets Mair and Nilsson will also be looking to earn a spot on the team, having been invited to camp on a tryout basis.

As far as the eventual roster composition, what actually happens is anyone's guess, especially considering you have the added complication of losing a first and a third-round pick due to the first rejected Kovalchuk contract on July 17. When you add in the fact that we also traded a second-rounder this year to get Arnott it makes it less likely that draft picks will be used in trades and more likely we'll be asking for them back for players we deal off. Not to mention there were many unhappy owners and GM's in the wake of our 'cap-circumventing' deals with Kovy that no doubt influenced our heavy punishment and perhaps some, if not all will be less likely to deal with us as a result.

It might even become a total blackball situation, especially when you factor in that Lou's supposed closest ally in Brian Burke stabbed him in the back, then shot him in the chest (figuratively) throughout this whole process. Plus another Lou ally in LA - Dean Lombardi - was in direct competition with Lou for Kovalchuk during the early weeks of FA before the first contract. With all the anger directed our way, I wouldn't it past whiny NHL GM's to collude and force us to release or demote players, after all MLB owners and GM's colluded to not sign free agents in the late '80's. Hopefully I'm just being paranoid.

Aside from the roster questions, it'll be interesting to see how our new staff works - though Johnny Mac's a first-time NHL coach he's had plenty of experience being behind the bench since his days as an assistant under Pat Burns before the lockout. He continued to work behind the bench, even handling some of the day-to-day responsibilities as coach when Lou took over in the latter part of the 2005-06 and 2006-07 seasons, though last season in Lowell was his first actually at the head of a team. By all accounts he did well nurturing our younger players and getting our farm team in the playoffs for the first time in a decade and is expected to run somewhat of a more wide-open style than predecessor Jacques Lemaire.

Helping out Johnny Mac will be experienced assistant Larry Robinson, who's come back to the team so much it's like he never really left, though he last served on the bench during Brent Sutter's first season in 2007-08. Also on the staff is former great Adam Oates, who has limited experience as an assistant in Tampa Bay but his credentials as a former All-Star center are second to none. If anything his addition is only a surprise given that we've usually gone in-family to fill out our staff in recent years, but perhaps Lou's actually let Johnny Mac branch out a bit in hiring his own staff.

In spite of the cloudy skies on the way, for now the outlook still seems bright and sunny for the Devils, who at this hour are clearly an improved team from the one that won the Atlantic Division last season.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Lundqvist to Boomer and Carton: Absolutely On Playoffs

It wasn't exactly a Messier-esque guarantee but on yesterday's Boomer and Carton WFAN morning show simulcast on MSG, Henrik Lundqvist virtually said that the Rangers will be back in the playoffs this season.

The Ranger franchise netminder appeared in studio for an interview Wednesday, discussing last year's bitter ending with Carton pressing him on why John Tortorella didn't choose Marian Gaborik for the final shot. Of course, King Henrik didn't bite there or on whether he likes the more demanding coach. He talked about the differences between Tom Renney and Tort, referring to the former Ranger coach's system as "European" where as the Lightning Cup winner's is "more aggressive."

Lundqvist doesn't mind the change in style, pointing out that the number of shots have been the same.
"It's more about the quality of the shots. ... I don't mind having 30, 35 shots, even 40 shots if we're playing a good defense or not giving up breakaways or two-on-one's too often."
On the longer than expected layoff:
"It was a big disappointment. It was heartbreaking. The Last game. Being so close. You work the whole year to reach that goal and we didn't make it. It was tough. The couple of weeks after, it was low. You try to figure out what you can do better."

Will they make the playoffs:
"Absolutely. Yes, we will. We will. I promise."

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Rangers, Staal agree to 5 years, $19.875 million

They finally got it done. Just two days away from camp, Glen Sather brought back his most vital piece- re-signing top defenseman Marc Staal to a five year, $19.875 million contract. The deal averages $3.975 million, which should be a bargain for the 23 year-old former '05 first round pick who's the glue of the D.

It's a great day for Ranger fans because not only were they able to get Staal at a bargain but locked him up past free agency. Bringing back the younger brother of Eric and older sibling of Jordan was essential for the club to have any season and most importantly, for the future. Now that he's officially back, the Wade Redden watch can begin. Unless he blows away the competition, it looks like the Redden Era Error will mercifully end. Getting that $6.5 M albatross off the cap would be real nice. When it comes to this operation, don't count your chickens before they hatch.

In his first three seasons, Staal's tallied 13 goals and 39 assists for 52 points with a plus-six rating while racking up 144 penalty minutes over 244 games. Outside of missing two contests his rookie year, he's been a rock having played in 202 consecutive games including the playoffs. In '09-10, he established new career highs in goals (8), assists (19), points (27), plus/minus (11) and average ice time per game (23:07). Staal tied with partner Dan Girardi for 12th in the league among defensemen with 178 hits, trailing teammate Ryan Callahan (285) on the club. He also tied for third in blocked shots (97) with captain Chris Drury.

Most exciting is Staal's progression, going from two goals and 10 points in Year One to three goals and 15 points in Year Two to 8-19-27 in Year Three. He's not an offensive blueliner but possesses enough skating and instincts to contribute. Hopefully, we'll finally see Marc net his first power play goal while continuing to improve in all facets.

Look for the future alternate captain to become one of the franchise's leaders moving forward. A great thing for the club and for a fanbase dying for a contender.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Rating The Atlantic's Best

It's never too early to take a look ahead. Especially with a new season around the corner for one of the game's most competitive divisions. Whether you're in a fantasy hockey league or just a passionate pucker, there are always bar debates about who the best players are. Today, we'll be ranking the Atlantic's elite by position.

GOALIES: Let's start from the goal out. Goalie is still an important piece to any team. Even if proven otherwise by the Blackhawks and Flyers, will that trend continue? Or does the cream rise to the top? The Atlantic has three of the best netminders. Legendary Devil Martin Brodeur still is the man but Ranger Henrik Lundqvist is closing fast and Penguin backstop Marc-Andre Fleury has the hardware. It's a shame about career Islander  Rick DiPietro, who seemed on the verge of cracking the top 10. Now, DP remains a huge question mark. Dwayne Roloson will again be counted off the Meadowbrook. It's hard to predict if unlikely Flyer hero Michael Leighton can repeat his performance in the City Of Brotherly Love. If a loaded Philly team is to finally win its first Cup since 1975, they better hope so.

1.Martin Brodeur, Devils
2.Henrik Lundqvist, Rangers
3.Marc-Andre Fleury, Penguins
4.Dwayne Roloson, Islanders
5.Michael Leighton, Flyers

DEFENSEMEN: In today's game, defense is essential for a winner. Just look no further than the '06-07 Ducks, '07-08 Red Wings, '08-09 Pens and rating champ Chicago. All boasted superb bluelines where key players logged big minutes. Would the Oilers or Flyers have gotten there without wrecking ball Chris Pronger? The NHL's most loathed defenseman leads a pack that includes newest Pen Paul Martin, freight train Brooks Orpik and potential breakout player Kris Letang. The Devils hope blocking machine Anton Volchenkov and Henrik Tallinder add plenty of toughness in front of the net. Is Andy Greene legit? Can James Wisniewski aid Mark Streit on the Island? Marc Staal is probably the most important player to the Rangers. Three days to get that new contract done in time for camp. Unfortunately, there's not a place for Wade Redden on our list unless you're an AHL fan.

1.Chris Pronger, Flyers
2.Brooks Orpik, Penguins
3.Kimmo Timonen, Flyers
4.Marc Staal, Rangers
5.Mark Streit, Islanders
6.Anton Volchenkov, Devils
7.Paul Martin, Penguins
8.Kris Letang, Penguins
9.Andy Greene, Devils
10.Henrik Tallinder, Devils
11.Zbynek Michalek, Penguins
12.Dan Girardi, Rangers
13.James Wisniewski, Islanders
14.Braydon Coburn, Flyers
15.Michael Del Zotto, Rangers

CENTERS: Let's face it. If you're not good down the middle, you may as well throw in the towel. Guess nobody told Glen Sather. It starts in the Steel City where the Pens boast arguably the game's best in Sidney Crosby followed by equally all world Evgeni Malkin. On another team, Jordan Staal could be a No.1. Instead, he's in their shadow. One of the biggest reasons the Flyers stunned the East was due to captain Mike Richards and Jeff Carter. Oh. And converted wing Daniel Briere did damage. The Devils are hoping '00 Cup hero Jason Arnott can support do everything No.1 Travis Zajac. For the Islanders, it starts and ends with John Tavares, who should explode in Year Two. The Rangers' best is probably sophomore Artem Anisimov. But is he ready for prime time? If Brandon Dubinsky sees more time on the left side, he better be.

1.Sidney Crosby, Penguins
2.Evgeni Malkin, Penguins
3.Mike Richards, Flyers
4.Jeff Carter, Flyers
5.Travis Zajac, Devils
6.John Tavares, Islanders
7.Jordan Staal, Penguins
8.Jason Arnott, Devils
9.Brandon Dubinsky, Rangers
10.Josh Bailey, Islanders
11.Artem Anisimov, Rangers
12.Frans Nielsen, Islanders
13.Darroll Powe, Flyers
14.Brian Rolston, Devils
15.Chris Drury, Rangers

WINGS: Rather than separate left from right, we're going to combine. So, who are the division's elite wings? Ranger fans won't have much to say but there should be plenty of fun debate with Devil fans over Marian Gaborik and Kool Aid chugger Ilya Kovalchuk. Both are two of the best finishers in the game and breathtaking to watch. Whether it's Gaborik's acceleration and quick release or Kovalchuk's end to end rushes and twisted wristers, there should be plenty to cheer for between the Hudson line. Each could combine for 90 goals. Kovalchuk's teammate Zach Parise isn't far behind. Can the Zach Attack combine with his Russian comrade to hit the century mark? If he stays healthy, Briere should be in the mix. Does Patrik Elias reemerge now that he's reunited with Arnott? The do everything Czech has always been streaky. Perhaps he'll have a revival. The Devil offense looks scary. How much can LA import Alexander Frolov help Gaborik on Broadway? Will Chris Kunitz finish enough? The Pens aren't exactly loaded there but when you possess Sid and Geno plus Staal, we guess they don't have to. Is this the year Kyle Okposo breaks out? Can Matt Moulson prove last year wasn't a fluke?

1.Ilya Kovalchuk, Devils
2.Marian Gaborik, Rangers
3.Zach Parise, Devils
4.Daniel Briere, Flyers
5.Patrik Elias, Devils
6.Matt Moulson, Islanders
7.Alexander Frolov, Rangers
8. Chris Kunitz, Penguins
9.Vinny Prospal, Rangers
10.Nikolai Zherdev, Flyers
11.Claude Giroux, Flyers
12.Jamie Langenbrunner, Devils
13.David Clarkson, Devils
14.Kyle Okposo, Islanders
15.Mike Comrie, Penguins
16.Ryan Callahan, Rangers
17.James Van Riemsdyk, Flyers
18.Matt Cooke, Penguins
19.Pascal Dupuis, Penguins
20.Nino Niederreiter, Islanders

Monday, September 13, 2010

Devils stripped of two high picks, fined $3 million in punishment for first Kovy deal

Just like everything else this offseason for the Devils, when you think something's over it is in fact, not over. Even after Ilya Kovalchuk finally got signed, sealed and delivered after six weeks of hearings and negotiations there was still the specter of whether the Devils would get fined due to the first rejected contract. Although arbitrator Richard Bloch ruled that there was no intentional circumvention and the loophole of that first deal is forever closed, the league still decided to take a bite out of the Devils by fining the team $3 million dollars and more shockingly stripping them of not one, but two high picks - a 3rd rounder this year and a 1st rounder to be given up in any of the next four years.

On the surface the penalty is simply outrageous. If the loophole for long-term contracts still existed you could argue that making an example of the Devils sends a message to the rest of the league but in fact, our machinations actually helped the league get a settlement it wanted with the NHLPA. So nothing really is gained at this point by making an example of us to this degree. And still Gary Bettman and Bill Daly saw fit to punish us so harshly, perhaps a final insult for us taking advantage of a loophole in a CBA they negotiated.

Honestly though I don't blame Bettman as much on this one as I do the baby GM's and owners who were no doubt crying behind closed doors that we needed to be punished and punished hard. Chief on that list is Brian Burke, who not only testified in the NHL's behalf against the Kovalchuk contract but also came out strongly in the press against it afterwards, including an anonymous quote to TSN's Darren Dreger about how the second contract was criminal because it attempted to hide the circumvention, unlike the first contract. It seems obvious he was the source of that anonymous quote given that Dreger's a Toronto-based reporter and a few days later Dreger wrote an article about Burke's objections to the contract.

Yeah ol' Burkie's the chief of integrity, after he cut and run on the Ducks in-season once their cap hit came due and gave away Ilya Bryzgalov to a division rival on top of it, while he still worked for Anaheim. What's surprising about this is that Burke's always been seen as a protege and ally of Lou Lamoriello, dating back to their college days. Like Anakin Skywalker, Burke's gone over to the dark side, stabbing his friend and mentor in the back so publicly.

Not that he's the only one crying about this deal, owner Ted Leonisis of the Capitals also came out against this deal publicly, as have I'm sure most other teams behind closed doors that either weren't smart enough to attempt to exploit this loophole, or ones that stand to benefit from our being punished for it. New Jersey broke no rule, they violated the 'spirit' of the CBA, as did a handful of other teams that won't so much as be fined a penny for it, including the Canucks who were about to have Roberto Luongo's contract voided before the NHL and NHLPA settlement. So clearly we weren't the only ones to violate a spiritual rule and yet we are the only ones to get punished, and to this degree is just incomprehensible.

Sure, you can point out that the Devils lost no cap space in their punishment, but in fact they did...$666,666 per year for the next 15 years - the difference between the original Kovalchuk contract - legal under the letter of the CBA but denied by an arbitrator - and this one. It's likely that the harsh nature of this punishment was the NHL's pound of flesh for not further penalizing us cap space, which could have really crippled the team the next two offseasons. As it is they still have to make moves to get under the cap in the next three weeks.

Given the public (and private) whining about our deal and the fact we were able to sign Kovy to another so-called contreversial deal it's obvious Bettman and Daly took the path of least resistance here...why annoy twenty teams who are already screaming about how we were able to 'get away with this deal' when you can just punish us harshly and annoy only one? Still if I'm Bettman or Daly I'm not planning any trips to the Rock in the next decade, at least. This offseason has been so ugly I shudder to think of the booing either will get the first time they show their face in Newark.

Will Lou bother to challenge this ruling? Well he can appeal to the Board of Governors, but that likely will get us nowhere. I doubt any court battle will do either side any good and the league is empowered to punish teams for circumvention, so once again we have to take crap from the league who probably thinks we pulled one over on them. Now the official tally for the cost of Kovalchuk (and a higher second round pick this year) is $103 million in contract and fines, two first-round picks, a third-round pick, Patrice Cormier, Nicklas Bergfors and Johnny Oduya. And that's before we make our cap-clearing trades this offseason. So now it's setting up to where Kovalchuk is going to get A-Rod like criticism if he gets off to a slow start, with all we had to give up to get him and all the trouble we've gone through this offseason in the process.

The only good thing about this? Now the Devils know what the official penalty is and can plan their trades accordingly though with the way it's going it looks like any cap deals will come later towards the end of camp rather than sooner. I do think it would behoove the Devils to put this behind them before camp, but with only three days left before the vets report it doesn't look like that's going to happen.

Welcome To Camp Retread

Last year it was only Alexei Semenov who got a tryout with the Rangers. This year, Semenov will be joined by Ruslan Fedotenko and Garnet Exelby when camp officially opens this Friday, September 17. As of right now, the camp roster consists of 48 players due to Ranger prospects competing in the Traverse City Tournament.  Figure Chris Kreider and Ryan Bourque will join them at some point in Greenburgh next week. Correction: Kreider reports directly to Boston College following the tourney. Kudos to Jess Rubenstein of The Prospect Park.

As for the three-ring circus of inviting Semenov, Fedotenko and Exelby to compete for spots when the mantra has been about a "youth movement," it's so typical. This organization repeatedly does the same thing after preaching youth while superhyping our prospects. It's long been a complaint up in Section 411 as well as with other wise Ranger bloggers such as Scotty Hockey and the aforementioned Rubenstein. Whenever they talk about giving the kids a chance, it can never be taken at face value.

Do we really need to add another inconsistent finisher in Fedotenko to the roster? Sure. He's Cup proven as shown in the pic above where he delivered for John Tortorella's '03-04 Lightning and again with the '08-09 Penguins. Despite those credentials, he's only scored over 20 once carrying over his '04 heroics with a career best 26 goals and 44 points in St. Pete. Since, here are the 31 year-old vet's goal totals:

TEAM                 GP           GOALS
Lightning              80            12
Islanders              67            16
Penguins              65            16
Penguins              80            11

Hardly anything to write home about for the right wing from the Ukraine. Over 677 games, Fedotenko has registered 150 goals and 158 assists for 308 points while racking up 419 penalty minutes in nine seasons. Having already played for four teams (Phi, TB, NYI, Pit), the Rangers would be his fifth stop if he makes the club. Personally, I don't have anything against the guy but remain skeptical because the production hasn't been there. Wouldn't they be better served seeing if a kid like Evgeny Grachev learned from last year's experience with Hartford? That seems unlikely.

What about others in the system who have shown enough in the 'A' to warrant a look. Is Dale Weise ready? Will Dane Byers ever see the light of day? Unfortunately, we already know the answer. Where does proven pro Mats Zuccarello fit in? How close is Derek Stepan to being ready? All valid questions as another camp approaches.

As for Semenov, what's going to be different from last Fall when it seemed he made the club as an extra before his wife overruled, sending their family back home? It doesn't hurt to bring him in along with the rugged Exelby, whose in your face style can always be used on a club that's been notoriously soft. That's what Glen Sather brought Derek Boogaard in for. So teams don't take liberties with Marian Gaborik and Henrik Lundqvist. You have to wonder what Exelby has left if he couldn't impress Brian Burke.

Making the issue tougher is that how is this beneficial for Mike Sauer, who has gotten the Corey Potter treatment? So much for that disrespectful trade of Brian Leetch. To think that they could've had Paul Stastny with that pick, who instead fell into Colorado's lap at No.44. What would you expect from a club who loved Zach Parise so much that they went for Hugh Jessiman. There also was the trading up to take Lauri Korpikoski over Travis Zajac. Though to be fair, Korpedo only got one year before they mysteriously dumped him to Don Maloney and the Desert for Enver Lisin. Simply amazing.

While we fret over why these retreads are here along with Wade Redden, can anyone explain in good conscience why top blueliner Marc Staal hasn't been re-signed yet? Excuse me while I go bang my head against the wall.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Get Staal signed already

Summer's ending. You can feel it in the air as evidenced by the windy conditions at yesterday's U.S. Open in Flushing Meadows. Cooler temps are finally here and leaves are changing. Even Ilya Kovalchuk is finally signed. So, what's taking Glen Sather so long to re-sign his most important piece on a thin blueline? It's time for Mr. Cuban to get Marc Staal signed.

Staal is far too vital for the Rangers to consider screwing around. We get Slats' hardball tactics. He always treats his own with kid gloves while overpaying for free agents. Even if Alexander Frolov might not be overpaid, assuming the enigmatic yet gifted former King pans out under the bright lights. While it's nice to be optimistic about a new season which is a month away, not even the biggest Dolan Kool Aid drinker would think this team is going anywhere without it's top defender.

In three seasons, the future alternate captain has improved. Already a strong defender who's reliable, Staal made strides under John Tortorella offensively- posting career highs across the board in goals (8), assists (19), points (27) and plus/minus (11) where he fared well despite Ranger deficiencies. Quite frankly, the 23 year-old younger brother of Eric Staal deserves a nice raise. It doesn't have to be astronomical. Considering that Sather gave a ton of respect to shutdown partner Dan Girardi ($3.325 M), why shouldn't the mature kid from Thunder Bay be due something in that ballpark? To reiterate, the former '05 No.1 pick is the team's most valuable.

It's time for the games to end. They must get him locked up. If they don't, there won't be a season.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Callahan ready to go

Who's ready for hockey? With training camps on the verge of opening, it's finally time to get excited for a new season. No question Ryan Callahan's ready. The popular Rangers' right wing appeared on NBC's Mike'd Up the other night with Bruce Beck to discuss the upcoming Fall as well as last year's bitter disappointment.

On how the Flyers ended the Ranger season in a shootout and then made a run all the way to the Cup Finals, Callahan noted how wide open last year's East was. Absolutely but still, Philly was not your normal low seed. Relatively speaking, they were loaded up front and on the back end compared to our team. Unless Henrik Lundqvist and Marian Gaborik got hot, it's difficult to figure that roster going that deep. Of course, we'll never know.

Ranger Tribune's Nick Montemagmo had more on Cally's interview, which was better than expected. Speaking of King Henrik, the future captain heaped plenty of praise on the franchise's most valuable player:

"I am amazed at how good he is sometimes. Sometimes it's frustrating in practice. You can't score on him so you want to go shoot on the other goalie."
Not surprising. You wonder if that kind of goaltending even in practice can put players into slumps. The 25 year-old Rochester native followed up a career best 22 goals and 40 points with 19 markers and 37 points over 77 contests. The spark plug who plays an in your face style, ranked third in hits (285) trailing only Olympic teammate Dustin Brown (287) and St. Paul wrecking ball Cal Clutterbuck (318). When asked about his style by Beck, Callahan indicated that that's how he has to play to be effective. He enjoys dishing it out and definitely looked jacked.

He's also excited to add former King Alexander Frolov, who can aid a lowscoring club, taking pressure off Gaborik. It will still take a collective effort, which means guys like Callahan and Brandon Dubinsky must be more consistent. Cally's final message to the Garden Faithful was positive:

"You're going to be in for an exciting year. We're going to start the year off with a bang and not only make the playoffs, but make a run at it."

Let's hope he's a prophet.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Kovy finally a Devil - with no strings attached!

And our long national nightmare finally came to an end early this morning when the NHL and NHLPA agreed on amendments to the CBA in regards to long-term contracts and as a result, the NHL finally approved the Devils' second Ilya Kovalchuk contract of 15 years, $100 million with a $6.66 million cap hit and also dropped its investigations of other alleged circumvention contracts around the league.

Of course this process being what it was, there was more drama than there needed to be last night. After the parties allegedly came to an agreement in principle around 3 PM or so, the official deadline kept getting pushed back in two and three-hour intervals until the agreement could be formally drawn up and the ink finally dried on everyone's signatures at 3 AM. With all that's happened you couldn't help but think there was somehow a chance this could still fall apart after the last minute.

For once though, that didn't happen. Of course now that everything's worked out remarkably well in the end for us - getting Kovy at a reasonable cap hit and closing the loophole for everyone else - the conspiracy theorists are throwing bouquets at Lou Lamoriello, swearing that this was his endgame all along. While I admit Lou is smarter than a lot of us put together let's be honest, so much crap happened throughout this process that was beyond his control. From the arbitration hearing to the NHL and NHLPA's back and forth and counting on Kovy to stick it out through this whole mess. If it was his true endgame (to not only get Kovy signed but to close a loophole he admitted he didn't like), I'd say it was a terrific gamble but not some great master plan.

Whatever the case, now on September 4 we can finally get on with the business of completing the remodeling of the 2010 Devils. As of now we're around $3 million over the cap with 21 players signed and a month to get under it before the October 1 deadline (a week before the season starts). I suppose the dominoes will have to fall soon enough with camp less than two weeks away, especially since you have to figure the framework for deals are already in place by now.

True, there's still a question as to whether the Devils get fined or lose a pick due to the first contract being rejected but according to the Post's Larry Brooks any fine will NOT include the loss of cap space. So worst-case scenario you're talking about losing a mid-round pick I suppose which would still be a travesty since our contract was within the rules of the CBA at the time and the arbitrator himself said he saw nothing that suggested intentional circumvention. I don't think we'll even lose a mid-round pick or be fined but I can't say I trust the league not be petty and shoot itself in the foot one more time with unwanted attention. You would hope they would be just as anxious to get this mess behind us as the rest of us are.

At least now I can finally breathe a sigh of relief, which was basically my reaction when I found out both yesterday that a deal had been agreed on in principle and this morning when I saw it was finally official. With everything that's happened in this process you almost hope someone writes a book on it one of these days (not that Lou ever would or permit Kovy to, haha). I wouldn't want to read one at this point but in a few years, definitely. This has been one terrific roller-coaster. To wit:

-July 1, the start of free-agency and the nineteen days of rumors and speculation involving Kovy's initial signing including an outrageous (and never confirmed) rumor of the Islanders offering a 10 year, $100 million contract, numerous King offers followed by staged walkaways by Dean Lombardi, and of course KHL rumors.
-July 19, the announcement of a Kovy deal at last with the Devils just hours after it looked like he was destined for LA, followed by what would soon become a contreversial press conference the next day once it became known that the league told the Devils the contract would likely be rejected, which it was later that night on July 20.
-Over the next two weeks, the NHLPA filed a grievance of the rejection of the contract, both sides agreed to have the disputed settled by arbitrator Richard Bloch, then after the two-day hearing concluded in early August, Bloch's surprising rejection of the grievance on August 9 set more events in motion.
-After more negotiation between the Devils, Kovalchuk and the league which included a trip to NHL headquarters to discuss concepts that were rejected, the Devils submitted a second contract for approval on August 27, mere hours after the KHL rumors really heated up with chatter (a bluff?) that Kovy was getting tired of the NHL's red tape and wanted a decision from the league on that contract soon.
-With a deadline of this Wednesday (the 1st) to accept, reject or ignore - and tacitly accept - the second Kovy contract the league and NHLPA surprisingly agreed to extend the deadline till Friday 5 PM, then with the announcement of an agreement yesterday came more extensions of the deadline till finally the end of the Kovy saga...66 days after Kovy became an unrestricted free agent and 47 days after he agreed to the first contract.

Like I said, someone should make a lot of money writing a book on this.

At least now it's over and I can get excited about a Devils team that managed to add the top offensive free agent on the market in Kovy, the top defensive defenseman in Anton Volchenkov and other additions in Henrik Tallinder, Johan Hedberg and Jason Arnott. Even if there's still a little consternation over who will have to depart to make room for Kovy - you'd figure on Bryce Salvador being one of the departures since we currently have a glut of stay-at-home defensmen along with a couple of prospects that may make the team in camp, to go along with the fact that Salvador's easy enough to move with no NMC or NTC to worry about.

That gets the Devils right about at the cap number but it's likely they'd still have to make another move, probably a forward. There's been a lot of speculation that Danius Zubrus will be the one to go since he also doesn't have a NTC or NMC and moving him would clear $3 million plus. Personally though I'd hate to see that, yeah Zubrus is only a role player and a bit overpaid but that said, he was one of the few who actually gave effort in the mess that was the end of last season and looked somewhat effective on offensive lines late in the season.

I doubt Lou would move Jamie Langenbrunner at this point, granted I wouldn't shed any tears over his departure personally after his inexcusable behavior last year but at this point I really can't see Lou trading his captain just two weeks before camp. We've had a summer of turmoil as it is, that would create even more going into camp. Plus the captain has a NTC, as does Brian Rolston - who would be the ideal candidate to move (and also the hardest) given his declining production and $5 million salary for the two years remaining on his deal. I still wouldn't be shocked if Lou found a taker for Rolston in the end though, even if he has to give up a B-prospect or mid-high round pick to make it happen.

In any event, it's finally time for the fun and games to resume!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Kennedy good addition but Rangers need more

In a move which was of little surprise, the Rangers added some grit up front in signing ex-Sabre Tim Kennedy Monday. Funny how sometimes, something in your gut comes true, meaning that after he was surprisingly bought out by Darcy Regier, I actually had a hunch Glen Sather would scoop up the Buffalo native who became a fan favorite in his one season spent back home.

After being drafted by the Capitals in the '05 sixth round, the former Michigan State product spent a season with AHL affiliate Portland before departing for his hometown in a trade. Under Lindy Ruff, Kennedy became a fixture on the Sabres' third line, providing energy while playing responsibly and chipping in offensively. In his first full season, he posted 10 goals and 16 assists for 26 points while racking up 50 penalty minutes over 78 games, finishing minus-three with a power play goal and three game-winners. Previously, the 24 year-old who can play both center and wing got into one NHL game, debuting for the Sabres in '08-09.

Kennedy acquitted himself well in the playoffs tallying a goal and two helpers while going plus-three in Buffalo's six-game first round defeat to Boston. He'll likely battle Sean Avery, Brandon PrustBrian Boyle and Derek Boogard in camp. The newest Ranger should be popular as he brings a tireless work ethic to the rink.

Initially, I was not floored by the move because while I like the addition, it doesn't really improve our roster a ton. Especially offensively where outside of Big Ticket Marian Gaborik and key July addition Alexander Frolov, there aren't any proven finishers. In order for the 2010-11 Rangers to have success, they'll need a team effort. Continued improvement from Brandon Dubinsky along with more consistency from spark plug Ryan Callahan are keys as is the continued development of Artem Anisimov, who must carry a strong finish into this Fall. The second-year Russian will need a bigger role. Is he up to the challenge?

The Blueshirts need better years from Avery and captain Chris Drury. Both are capable of bouncing back. A lot also depends on Erik Christensen and Todd White, who was brought in because he's worked with Gabby before in St. Paul. The club lacks skill at center. Hoping Derek Stepan will be ready is just that. The Badger has to adjust to the pro game. Unless he overly impresses in camp, Hartford's where he'll start.

In an era error where we continue to be haunted by Wade Redden (until off roster, I'm not popping the bottle), now more than ever, Blueshirt Faithful's patience will be challenged. Along with the uncertainty of top blueliner Marc Staal and whether Matt Gilroy improves and Ryan McDonagh proves ready, this team is flawed. No wonder recent new Gray Line Tour Bus face Henrik Lundqvist voiced his concern, stating that he didn't expect this outfit to be a top contender.

When the face of the franchise basically calls out the organization, it speaks volumes. If that doesn't send a message, what else will? When Henrik speaks, people listen. An elite goalie who has carried this team on its back since the lockout deserves better. The Rangers were picked by THN to finish 13th in the East. I'm not overly optimistic either, seeing them anywhere from 8-12. Realistically, they should compete with Tampa Bay for the final spot. However, other clubs have improved including Atlanta and the Islanders. Montreal may take a step back unless Carey Price ($2.75 million) can make Habs fans forget Jaroslav Halak. Even the Leafs should be marginally better if top '09 pick Nazem Kadri is ready for primetime.

It won't be easy. But since when is it ever with an owner who sells mediocrity to diehards starved for a contender that can seriously challenge? Sure. Ticket prices for subscribers remain the same. But is making the playoffs really the goal in such a huge market?

Only time shall tell if this year's roster can surprise many including this blogger. The puck's in their zone.

NHL's power play keeps Devils, other teams in holding pattern

Well the supposed decision yesterday turned out to be the five hundredth delay in this madness known as the Summer of Kovalchuk, as the NHL and NHLPA agreed to extend the deadline for a verdict on the second Ilya Kovalchuk contract till at least tomorrow at 5 PM. Why this occured wasn't immediately clear, until Larry Brooks' exclusive in the Post late last night about how the NHL had presented an ultimatium to the NHLPA which supposedly is as follows:

-If the NHLPA agrees to not count years of 40 and above on long-term contracts towards the cap and also acedes to allowing the cap hit on all contracts five years and above to be weighted towards the five highest paid years of the deal, the NHL will allow the Kovalchuk contract to be grandfathered in before the new rules take effect and end investigations of all the other so-called 'contreversial' deals that are cap circumvention according to suits Gary Bettman and Bill Daly (above).
-If the NHLPA will not agree to those terms, the NHL will immediately reject the Kovalchuk contract, void the contract of Vancouver's Roberto Luongo (which goes into effect this season and takes the goaltender to 43 years of age) and open a 'formal' investigation into the Marian Hossa contract.

So basically the NHL is holding the Kovalchuk contract hostage and now holding a guillotine over one or two other big-name players and their team's heads until they get what they want from a weakened and clueless NHLPA - a change to the current CBA that it took the sides over a year and a lost season to agree to - before the CBA's term expires. Is it smart of Bettman and Daly to take advantage of the capital they gained from Richard Bloch's initial decision in favor of the league almost a month ago? Sure it is, but it doesn't make it right or even legal.

If the NHLPA had even half the power of the MLBPA this might already been in court for any number of reasons but instead the NHL's power trip of interpreting the CBA the way they want is going pretty much unchecked. To be fair, the terms aren't exactly unreasonable...eliminating years above 40 from the cap hit pretty much ends the possibility of a 20-year deal to Drew Doughty or whatever other deal the next GM can dream up to take advantage of a loophole that is now holding up the entire NHL.

How is the NHLPA supposed to fight this really? Bloch's decision on Kovy contract v1.0 gave the league the upper hand in all contract disputes and even if the NHLPA calls the league's bluff and dares them to void a Luongo deal a year after it got signed and reject a Kovalchuk contract the Devils came up with after checking and double-checking with the league, the league has proven they are adamant about tying up every questionable contract in arbitration and threatening to put other teams through what the Devils and their fans have gone through these last two months.

Plus as of this point the NHLPA still doesn't have a leader. Sure, former MLBPA head Donald Fehr has been advising the NHLPA over the last few months, but if his list of demands for taking the job full-time is any indication, it sounds like he's only going to come on his terms. Can you really blame him though? With the unstability of the NHLPA leadership after multiple coups and general ineffectiveness after being beaten up by Bettman over and over, it's not exactly a rebuilding job a man in his early 60's really wants to tackle. Not with a CBA war looming in two years that will probably lead to yet another work stoppage.

Still, this NHL power play - while smart from a ruthless business point of view - is doing a tremendous disservice to NHL fans, players and even executives everywhere. For the players, it's a sham that they're basically forced at the point of a bayonet to accept a change to the CBA that wasn't collectively bargained for (even if the change is mostly for the better). Of course Devils' GM Lou Lamoriello can't be happy that he's being made to wait even longer to have a resolution of this mess, not with multiple moves that need to be made to get the Devils under the cap if the Kovy deal gets registered. Not to mention the Devil players who have been rumored to be on the move all summer long and still don't know their fate.

And how do you think Mike Gillis in Vancouver's feeling right about now? He's facing the prospect of having his Olympic-winning goaltender get his contract voided because of events that had absolutely nothing to do with him. Chicago's had enough problems this summer with having to deal with cap issues already on the books, adding a 'real' Hossa investigation would only put a further cloud on the defending Stanley Cup champs - who today found out that former goaltender Antti Niemi took a one year, $2 million deal from the Sharks weeks after the Hawks were forced to part with their Cup-winning goalie over the difference of $1 million.

Of course agents are up in arms too, Marc Savard's agent is threatening to sue the league if they make a move towards his client's contract. Fellow agent Allan Walsh mused a while back that the NHL was now writing the Kovalchuk contract and of course Kovy agent Jay Grossman has about a cool $3 million on the line with the outcome of this sham, since if Kovy's contract does get voided the KHL becomes a more likely option. For his part, the vice president of the KHL got in a good dig when he said if Kovy came over, he could sign any contract and SKA will pay the luxury tax because 'we're democratic and free'. Who am I to argue at this point, since the NHL system is getting more Communist by the day?

As usual though, the biggest losers are us - the fans. We're the ones that have been obsessively checking the internet, radio, TV, whatever for news over the last two months and we're the ones that have been jerked around the most with all of this red tape, endless rumors, delays and now being used as pawns in a high-powered game of chess between billionaires and millionaires. We're the ones that pay for tickets, buy jerseys and make up the TV ratings and we've been ignored and crapped on all summer long while the league selectively punishes some teams, rejects legal contracts and tries to illegally impose new restrictions on a good-faith CBA. And we're the ones that are going to suffer the most if (when?) the league locks out or strikes yet again after next season.

Like my fellow blogger would say though, it's never about the fans, is it? We're always the last ones to get any respect from any of these clowns, if ever. And yet we keep coming back because we love our team, the sport or both. So the endless cycle continues, as does the waiting for the resolution of this insanity.

The Puck Stops Here


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