Friday, July 29, 2011

Devils, Parise fail to reach long-term agreement and settle for one-year deal

How's my night going? Let's see...between 6 PM and 6:30 I got sucker-punched twice by the sports world, between the Nmandi Asomugha fiasco with him spurning the Jets (and Cowboys) for the Eagles at the last second after a three-day soap opera and then moments later hearing that talks between GM Lou Lamoriello and star winger Zach Parise came to a halt because the sides couldn't agree on a long-term contract. As the immortal Joe Benigno would say: 'What a disgrace!'

Clearly it's been a great night so far. So we avoided arbitration by inking Zach to a one-year, $6 million deal, whoopdie darn doo. As much as both sides wanted to put a happy face on and emphasize the fact that they could agree to a deal after January 2012, it is now obvious that after months between the end of the season and now to agree to a long-term deal, if it wasn't going to happen now it's just not going to happen before UFA next summer. Things really shouldn't have come to this, on either end. There are only a handful of reasons why it might have gotten to this point, none of which suggest a happy ending by next summer.

1) Ownership doesn't have the money to pay him...we've heard this for a while now, and while it's been denied right now those denials ring as hollow as the Mets' assertions that the Bernie Madoff fiasco would not affect club operations. Clearly there was concern about having two long-term deals on the books at big money, with the huge money payouts on Ilya Kovalchuk's deal starting next year. Sure, I can't prove that money actually is a factor but when ownership is in flux and has trouble dishing out money for Parise just one offseason after throwing $100 million at Kovy, you can't stick your head in the sand either.

You also have to wonder what the recent Brian Rolston trade was actually about now, if it wasn't to clear cap space for a potential long-term deal for Zach. Saving ownership a few more million? It sure wasn't about hockey talent, for as much as I couldn't stand Rolston he's a better player than Trent Hunter without question. And it wasn't about staying under the cap either since we still would have been at least a couple-few million under without trading Rolston.

2) Lou wants Zach to prove he's healthy...okay I could buy that except for two things, one we benched him towards the end of the season when he could have gotten in a few games and proved he was healthy. If his health was that big of a question mark then he should have played down the stretch for the benefit of both himself and management. And if his health (after a knee injury that forced him to miss 3/4 of the season) really is a big deal, then why exactly did we go through this tete-a-tete for the last three months regarding trying to sign Zach long-term? We should have just tendered him a one-year offer when the offseason began if that was the case and avoided this drama.

3) Zach wants out...I won't believe this one yet BUT the fact is while we spent all our time and attention on Kovy last offseason, when Zach wanted a long-term deal (and was healthy) we made no movement toward signing one. And when Lou had months to sign him this offseason little visceral movement was made towards that end, while we were signing everyone else from the waterboy to Mark Fraser to Cam Janssen and even the immortal Stephane Villeux. Sometimes being last-minute Lou does backfire and now we're staring at having Parise go UFA next offseason with half the league in a position to bid on him handsomely.

4) Zach wants a big payday...when you don't sign a long-term deal despite assertions to the contrary that you want one, a cynic might conclude that Zach was just conducting a PR campaign and had no intention of signing long-term until next offseason when he got to free agency. Granted, about 98% of sports athletes are all about the last dollar but in an offseason where Andy Greene, Johan Hedberg and even rookie Adam Larsson took less money to either stay or get to the Devils, it looks a bit disingenous at best that Zach couldn't find any common ground with us while claiming repeatedly he wanted a long-term deal.

Whichever reason or reasons you want to believe, the fact remains the same...it is now a lot more likely that Parise hits UFA and that was the absolute nightmare scenario from this offseason. And for that, I'm frustrated with the mess that is ownership, angry at Lou (though admittedly some of that is my overall frustration with him since the lockout - his head coaching carousel, his inability to replace our defensive stars walking out the door or adjust to the post-lockout NHL) and dissapointed in Zach. Shame on everyone involved if this ends in divorce next July!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Devils trade Rolston to Isles for Hunter



Since last offseason, Devils winger Brian Rolston has been rumored to be on the move and from mid-December on (when he got waived twice), nobody was more aware than Rolston himself that there was hard truth to the rumors. Particularly given his $5 million cap figure and declining production. However, nobody claimed him or dealt for him before last season's trade deadline and Rolston picked up his play in the second half of the season like a professional, turning in some of his best hockey in either of his stints as a Devil with twelve goals and seventeen assists in his last 44 games played - including a memorable shootout winner over the Isles in early March where he 'called his shot' on the bench.

Despite that improved production, Zach Parise's return this year - whether he signs long-term or not - would have relegated Rolston to the third line once again, a role he chafed in earlier in his Devil tenure. Between that and his still too-high salary for next season, perhaps it was inevitable something would finally happen now that Rolston was on the last year of his deal. And today, something did happen as Rolston finally got dealt to the Islanders for injury-prone winger Trent Hunter - giving the Devils $3 million of cap savings - and another option at RW, a position we are a bit thin at.

While Rolston does have a NTC and could have declined to be dealt to the Isles, he admitted post-trade that he had for all intents and purposes waived the NTC for any destination GM Lou Lamoriello wanted to send him. For his part, Rolston was pleased to be going to Long Island given the proximity to his home and the fact he has a near-guaranteed role in the top six. Not to mention you could feel the edge in his voice just by seeing his quote about it being nice to go somewhere that he was wanted.

I've had my differences with Rolston since he returned to the Devils and has largely underperformed his contract, but you have to at least give him credit for not going in the tank and being an asset to the Devils' second half run. Not everyone who knew they weren't wanted would have reacted with the same professionalism (cough Jamie Langenbrunner cough). So, despite his underachieving I do wish him well next season and beyond. And while the Isles' primary motivation may have been to acquire Rolston's salary to approach the cap floor, they do also get the better player in the deal.

As far as where the Devils go from here, well the 31-year old Hunter if healthy (he missed most of last season witha n MCL injury) provides another intriguing option to the third or fourth line, an upgrade over a lot of the guys fighting for spots here - particularly on the right side where we have only the young Nick Palmeri, inconsistent David Clarkson and hard-working but undertalented Danius Zubrus currently above Hunter on the depth chart.

Sure, you can argue the Devils' primary motivation for the deal was financial flexibility, since you can get rid of Hunter's salary (via the minors or LTIR) where you couldn't get rid of Rolston's because of his 35+ deal. That said, I didn't really think we needed another trade to fit in a possible long-term deal for Parise - not unless his cap figure was going to be north of $8 million and we wanted to give Bryce Salvador a chance to win a job in camp. Either way, getting rid of a non-essential piece and gaining much-needed financial flexibility (if not for Parise, then for another possible trade or signing down the road) should help us and gaining his salary and another vet presence should help the Isles.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Time running out for Devils, Parise to avoid arbitration

With d-day now less than a week away for the Devils to avoid next Wednesday morning's arbitration hearing with star winger Zach Parise, not only is the urgency there for both sides to get a deal done, but there really are no excuses not to get a deal done now that GM Lou Lamoriello's signed everyone but the waterboy and knows what a full roster could look like and exactly how much cap space he has right now. As Lou himself admits, Parise's the 'total focus' now with no other outstanding contract figures to consider for anyone who could conceivably be on the roster next season. I'll say this for Lou, as much as it's driven me mad that he's signed everyone but the waterboy (including Mark Fraser, who avoided his own arbitration hearing by inking a one-year deal for $550,000) before taking care of Zach, he really has lined all of his ducks in a row including finally hiring Pete DeBoer last week to be the head coach.

So now not only does Zach know how much room the Devils have for him, he knows who's going to be coaching next year and hopefully beyond. And make no mistake about it, it behooves both sides to get a deal done. Sure, a cynic could say Zach might want to ride it out to UFA where he'll almost certainly get more money than he could get in a deal with the Devils right now but two factors might preclude that - number one being the fact the CBA's due to expire before next season, and if there's a resolution to that before July 1 there'll almost surely be new rules in the new CBA with regards to contract structure that could curtail intense frontloading. After all, it's a lot easier for teams to hand out a 10 year, 70 million dollar deal if they can frontload a bunch of money now and buy out the deal at the back end when you have low-salaried seasons if the player's no longer worth his cap hit. Plus after having missed all but one game in eleven months' time between last October and this season's Opening Night, another major injury this year could prove devastating to Zach's open-market value.

Clearly from the Devils' end, they can't afford to lose their most dynamic home-grown talent since Patrik Elias was in his prime, and an American Olympic hero at that. Even with the Devils' great second half run without him last year, the Devils did still finish a point under NHL .500 overall with the worst offense in the league. Having Parise around will also make it harder for teams to key on Ilya Kovalchuk, who carried the offense almost single-handedly during the Devils' winter surge. Not to mention perennial linemate Travis Zajac looked lost offensively last year without Zach.

True, even if the Devils wound up going to arbitration next week they could still theoretically have months to re-sign him before Zach hits UFA next July 1 but the possibility of that is a lot more unlikely if both sides endure a messy arbitration hearing. And if both sides agree to a one-year deal to avoid arbitration, then I may be driven insane by all the speculation over whether we should trade Zach (which we won't) to get something back for him. It was bad enough last year when fellow fans were getting paranoid long before this looming arbitration hearing, it would be a total black cloud if it were allowed to hover into this season as well. Not to mention both sides have had months to negotiate this, almost as long as the NFL players and owners had to reach an agreement on a CBA where billions of dollars were at stake. If they can't come to any more than a one-year agreement now with exclusive negotiating rights, that doesn't bode well for any long-term deal next offseason.

At least cap space shouldn't be a problem. Currently CapGeek (a useful website for amateur GM's like me) has the Devils a few million under the cap, but that doesn't factor in the unfortunate Bryce Salvador situation. Seeing as he hasn't been cleared to play yet, it's likely he'll begin the season on LTIR. If Sal is cleared to play though, he could wind up facing a Dan McGillis-type fate with no NMC or NTC to prevent the Devils sending him to Albany, seeing as a trade would be extremely unlikely with Salvador having been out a year and one hit away from retirement if he even did get cleared. Either way, that would clear almost another $3 million in space.

So looking at a likely roster for next season, CapGeek has fourteen forwards (not including Zach) listed at $33.675 million combined. Having all of those forwards make the roster and factoring in Zach is extremely unlikely though, so figure on at least one of the forwards making under 600k - either Rod Pelley, Cam Janssen or Vladimir Zharkov - not making the team and the figure's closer to $33 million. I'll cut Janssen, giving us a $33.125 figure for 13 forwards not including Zach. Goalies Martin Brodeur and Johan Hedberg factor in for $6.425 million with another $1 million of dead cap space thanks to the buyouts of Jay Pandolfo and Andrew Peters last offseason. So adding that $7.425 would put us at $40.55 million.

Among our defensemen, if you go with the six returning players - including Fraser as the seventh D - and sub in Matt Taormina (a non-listed 550k salary) for the departed Anssi Salmela, you arrive at a cap figure of $15,267,500 for seven defensemen, not including Salvador or first-round pick Adam Larsson, whose cap figure would be 950k if he made the team. That would put our cap number at $55,817,500 which would be $8,482,500 below the $64.3 million cap celing. If Lou wants to give Salvador a legitimate chance to make the team, that does make the equation harder. If you sub out say, Fraser for Sal, that'd be around a net $2.35 million decrease in our cap space, putting our cap figure at just over $6 million. That would make it unlikely to sign Zach without either a trade or at least shortening the roster below 23 players.

Either way, if the Devils don't get Zach done, it won't be because of cap issues. Guess it's time for another few anxious days of waiting before a resolution, one way or another. At least I have the NFL free-for-all to keep me occupied until then, not to mention the MLB trade deadline. If there's been a nuttier week as far as total sports transactions, I'm hard-pressed to remember one. The first few days of NHL free agency following the lockout were somewhat comparable to what the NFL's going through but you didn't have corresponding action with another sport's trade deadline to complement that. For me it's particularly a goofy time, with literally all of my sports teams (the Mets, Jets and Devils) potentially making major transactions between now and next week.

Rangers, Callahan agree: Three years, $13 million

Ryan Callahan and the Rangers avoided arbitration by agreeing on a three-year deal worth a reported $13 million. The breakdown hasn't been posted yet but it'll cost the club an average of $4.33 million per season. A shade higher than the four-year contract Brandon Dubinsky signed last week, which is a cap hit of $4.2 million.

Both gritty American forwards, who teamed with Russian Artem Anisimov on the Draft Line to the tune of 65 of the Blueshirts' 224 goals (29 percent), are building blocks that helped get the Original Six club to its fifth postseason in six years since the lockout. Quite an accomplishment considering Callahan broke his right leg after diving in front of a Zdeno Chara point blast, which ended his season earlier than desired. The Rangers rallied for Cally, qualifying on the second to final day when their win over Hudson rival New Jersey combined with Carolina's loss to Tampa Bay clinched it.

Minus their emotional leader, the Rangers fought valiantly but fell to the Caps in five in a closely contested first round. Offense was at a premium with his team only able to score eight goals with Dubinsky's pair pacing them. John Tortorella consequently broke up Dubinsky and Anisimov, which definitely didn't help solve the scoring woes. In a physical series where they could've used Callahan's presence especially in front of the net, it was too much to overcome against a more skilled opponent. Not to say they'd have exacted revenge against Washington if No.24 played but the sides would've been a lot more even.

Despite missing 22 games during the regular season, the 26-year old Rochester native had his best year, setting new career highs in goals (23), assists (25), and points (48), while pacing the club with 10 power play goals and five game-winners. A fourth round steal back in the '04 Draft, Callahan's become the classic overachiever who gets the most out of his 5-11, 185 pound frame, never hesitating to finish a check. A solid overall player who can be deployed in any situation, he's combined with buddy Dubinsky to help form a potent penalty killing duo that can strike shorthanded at any moment. It's his desire to compete that comes out, winning fans over with the kind of style New Yorkers identify with.

While Cally will never be confused talent-wise with Dubinsky, his effort is second to none, which explains why the general consensus is that he should eventually replace recently bought out Chris Drury as the Rangers' next captain. Outside of Henrik Lundqvist and perhaps Marc Staal, you can make the argument that nobody means more to the Rangers' chances than the hard nosed right wing who plays with an edge.

The only drawback is how he plays, which could make him injury prone. Probably why the Rangers gave him three years instead of four with sidekick Dubi (6' 1", 210)better equipped for that taxing style. Each have missed time due to injuries the past couple of years. No doubt our team is much more effective when they're healthy, dishing out the punishment.

With Brad Richards expected to boost the offense sans Marian Gaborik, it should relieve pressure, hopefully allowing our second line to stay intact. Though the choices of buyout candidate Wojtek Wolski, Ruslan Fedotenko, Erik Christensen, Mats Zuccarello and Sean Avery, aren't overwhelming enough for Tortorella to consider trying Dubinsky on the top line. What that potentially does for Anisimov and Callahan remains to be seen. Even if Callahan is the main ingredient that makes it work.

The good news is Glen Sather has had a superb summer, sticking to the plan. After adding new enforcer Mike Rupp and top pivot Richards, he took care of business, re-signing Anisimov, Brian Boyle, Dubinsky, Steve Eminger and Callahan. A look at the roster makes one wonder if they'll retain Wolski.


NEW YORK RANGERS DEPTH CHART

G-Lundqvist, Biron, Johnson, Talbot, Stajcer, Missiaen

D-Staal, Girardi, McDonagh, Sauer, Eminger, Del Zotto, Erixon, Valentenko, Kundratek, McIlrath, Pashnin, Klassen

C-Richards, Anisimov, Stepan, Boyle, Christensen, Mitchell, Newbury, Lindberg, Miller, St. Croix, Fogarty 

LW-Dubinsky, Wolski, Prust, Avery, Zuccarello, Hagelin, Kreider, Bourque, Kveton

RW-Gaborik, Callahan, Fedotenko, Rupp, Weise, Kolarik, Thuresson, Thomas, McColgan

Monday, July 25, 2011

Sabres re-sign Enroth

For once, Sabre fans have plenty to get excited about. With new owner Terry Pegula's committment to winning at all costs, he's made it clear what the organization's goal is. Bring Lord Stanley to Buffalo. With our resident Sabre lurker hiding out in the woods literally, you just know he's plenty pumped for the upcoming season. Especially with Robyn Regehr, Christian Ehrhoff and Ville Leino added to a roster that boasts Thomas Vanek, Derek Roy, Drew StaffordRyan Miller, Tyler Myers and hopefully a healthy Jason Pominville.

Indeed, there's plenty to like about Darcy Regier's club that also features young guns Tyler Ennis, Nathan Gerbe and Marc-Andre Gragnani. Now, you can throw in real backup Jhonas Enroth, who re-upped with the club last week for two years at a friendly cap hit ($675 K).

The 23-year old from Stockholm was instrumental in getting the Sabres to a second straight postseason, filling in for Miller down the stretch. Amazingly, a player with only one NHL game prior to '10-11 won four critical games over the final week-plus to help his team make the cut. If you include two other wins in March, six of his nine victories came over the last five weeks. No small task for the former '06 first rounder who supplanted recently retired Patrick Lalime as Buffalo's backup. Cue an odd celebration somewhere in Long Beach. :P

For the season, Enroth went 9-2-2 with a 2.73 goals against average (GAA) with a .907 save percentage along with a 1-0 shutout of the Rangers in a pivotal match that nearly cost us. Thankfully, it didn't. For a guy who was basically new to the pressure, the Swede showed tremendous poise between the pipes, making some wonder if he couldn't be a No.1 elsewhere. Luckily for Western New York, they have what looks to be a steady backup for the first time in years, which should allow Lindy Ruff to feel more comfortable giving Miller a night off. That could be crucial if the Sabres are finally able to take that next GIANT step as a franchise.

Eminger re-signs, Callahan on deck

When summer began, Glen Sather had his work cut out, needing to not only fill the No.1 center need with landing Brad Richards AKA Richy Rich, but our much maligned GM also knew he had to get some vital pieces re-signed. So far, so good for Slats who today re-signed veteran blueliner Steve Eminger to a one-year deal (undisclosed). It probably should range between 800-925 K. A nice discount for a team guy who earned $1.5 million after coming over from Anaheim in exchange for Aaron Voros and Ryan Hillier.

The well traveled vet who turns 28 on Halloween looks to have found a home in the Big Apple after filling in admirably as the sixth defenseman most of last season. In 65 games, Eminger totaled two goals and four assists with just 22 penalty minutes. While nothing earth shattering for a former first round pick that's on his sixth NHL team, he more than made up for it with gritty play- registering 143 hits and 101 blocked shots as part of a team that sacrificed for the common cause.

When there were injuries to Marc Staal and Dan Girardi, Eminger adequately filled in even elevating his play with increased minutes. Considering that I wasn't too keen when we traded for him, he definitely won over a new fan. On a young D that's anchored by Staal and Girardi with kids Ryan McDonagh, Mike Sauer, Mike Del Zotto and likely Tim Erixon, bringing him back makes sense. There's nothing wrong with having an experienced player who actually isn't that old. Even if it makes it unlikely Pavel Valentenko or Tomas Kundratek will make the club. Considering how physical the game is, you can never have enough depth on the back end. See the '10-11 New Jersey Devils for why.

There's still the prevailing thought that with all the depth, Slats is cooking up something. Might camp result in a trade? With Mikhail Pashnin also expected to join the mix, it's sure to be crowded. Too close for comfort. After our top four, nobody should assume they have a spot. It should make for some stiff competition.

Cally On Deck: With Sather getting another player done, he's quietly had a nice summer. He also brought in vet pugilist Mike Rupp to fill in as team enforcer while getting Artem Anisimov, Brian Boyle and Brandon Dubinsky re-signed. All that's left is Ryan Callahan, who could go to arbitration this Saturday if the two sides don't reach a deal. Considering how they were able to work it out with Dubinsky, it's easy to conclude a similar scenario that'll make everyone happy.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Prospal finds new home in Columbus

It looks like someone else's fans will get to enjoy Vinny Prospal's awesome goal celebrations. After spending two years on Broadway, the 36 year-old crafty veteran forward signed with the Blue Jackets this afternoon for a year, $1.75 million.

"Vinny Prospal is a proven top six forward in the National Hockey League and we look forward to him playing that role for our hockey club," Columbus GM Scott Howson said of his latest acquisition that should help offset the loss of Kristian Huselius while fitting in nicely with Jeff Carter and Rick Nash. "We are very pleased to be able to add a player of his caliber to our team at this late date in the free agency process."
Following a successful debut in the Big Apple where he ranked second in team scoring with 58 points (20-38-58) over 75 games, a bad knee limited the Czech complement to Marian Gaborik to 29 games last season. Despite the injury, one of the Rangers' emotional leaders showed guts returning to help spark the club back into the postseason. His penchant for big goals along with the coolest celebrations you'll ever see often ignited teammates. Never was that more evident during a three-goal comeback against the Bruins in a pivotal match-up at The Garden.

With the team needing to win to keep pace with Carolina, they came out flat and paid dearly falling behind by three against a stingy opponent. When all felt lost, Prosp injected life back into the bench and crowd with two big goals that cut the deficit to 3-2 after two periods. Most noticeable was his reaction after scoring the first one, doing his trademark pump of the fists and then having some pointed words of encouragement for the bench. The response was overwhelming with the Blueshirts continuing to push until Brandon Dubinsky somehow tied it late followed by Mike Sauer's finest rookie moment with under three minutes left. Derek Stepan's empty netter would seal one of the bookmark wins that got our team in.

That's the kinda rugged determination Prospal demonstrated, going to the net for garbage goals. When the Rangers needed him most, he was there on the last day of the season, scoring and setting up another in a do-or-die win over the Devils before an incredible MSG atmosphere. Without his contributions that saw him scratch out nine goals and 14 assists for 23 points over 29 contests, they don't make the playoffs. I can honestly say I never expected him to return. Everything that was said made it sound like we shouldn't count on Prosp. But the prideful man who's had successful runs in five NHL cities (Phi, Ott, TB, Ana, NYR) discounting a spare part with Florida, proved why John Tortorella liked him enough to sign him.

Thank you Prospal for two good years and best wishes in Columbus.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Doc in class by self

Yesterday, we lost a great voice. Sure. Doc Emrick's not going away permanently as we'll still be able to catch the legendary play-by-play man exclusively on NBC and Versus. Home of hockey and Lord Stanley. Thankfully, he'll still grace our TV sets with that boyish charm that makes fans of us all. It's hard to believe that he will no longer be part of Devil games where he became a fixture for 21 brilliant seasons on the Turnpike.

Maybe it was fate for a franchise that hadn't had any true success because soon after, New Jersey would go onto win three Cups with guess who behind the mic. It was Emrick who got to call their first one after sweeping Detroit in '95, where he teamed with another great voice our metro area lost a few years prior, John Davidson on Fox. On national TV, of course he'd make an elegant call as the clock wound down at the old Meadowlands Arena saying:

"The championship to New Jersey! The Devils win the Stanley Cup!!!!!"

It was like Doc was speaking to the entire Garden State, representing them in the best way possible. That's who he is. To have been complemented by the equally classy and well stated Davidson, who represented our city for so many years, is what made them such a dynamic duo. The best Devil broadcaster and the quintissential Ranger color analyst are the best to ever do it at least in The States. Considering that our team broke Devil hearts a year earlier in one of the greatest series ever en route to its first Cup in 54 years, it was fitting that JD would congratulate the Devil organization as time ticked away. That kinda professionalism from both sides of the Hudson is something that makes the rivalry special. No matter which side you're on, our broadcasters are very complementary of the other. Something I'm proud to say still exists thanks to holdovers Sam Rosen, Chico Resch and Stan Fischler. It's still funny seeing Ken Daneyko as part of Hockey Night Live. But he fits in perfectly.

You can't replace a legend like Doc in the booth. Nobody is more knowledgable and as fun. I can still remember some of our production meetings when yours truly worked the Devils truck for home games during a majority of the '00-01 season. A job I got thanks to the most misunderstood hockey guy outside of Don Cherry, The Maven. Unless you work for him, you shouldn't judge. It was also through Fischler that I wound up in Bristol, Connecticut twice as an NHL researcher for another controversial network ESPN. We'll save that for another day.

During each game, the production team gets together an hour before game time to go over the rundown. A lot of relevant info is used but it always began with a Fischler joke. One stands out that can't be repeated and still brings a grin. Emrick was always well prepared like a hockey encyclopedia. Once, I mentioned to Chico that the two clubs with the most hat tricks were playing with a kid named Ilya Kovalchuk and the Thrashers meeting the A Line and the best second line I can remember (Brylin-Gomez-Mogilny). As the game was winding down in the third period while I was logging highlights, suddenly the affable Resch noted my discovery with my name mentioned on air. I barely noticed but thought how cool it was. That's the kind of quality people that work on these games.

As it pertains to Doc, he was the epitome of someone who cared about you. When I improved, he'd tell me, "Good job." Sometimes, you can just tell when a person is genuine. Mike "Doc" Emrick is and that's what matters most. He's not just another broadcaster in a tough business who worked his way up from doing radio for the Rangers to TV for the Flyers (go figure) to becoming an icon with the Devils. This is a quality individual who goes out of his way to meet and greet fans before and during games when there's time as Hasan accurately noted in his post. It reminds me of a game we went to in the mid-90's at The Garden. The Flyers were in town and I sat in the press box right beneath the broadcast booth. After the game, we climbed over and waited for Davidson, who had to leave quickly due to a Fox game the next day. When he came out, he still signed my media guide and greeted Dad and Justin. The similarities between Doc and JD are endless. Rosen too is a great guy. Basically, all four guys we grew up with are terrific. Chico is one of the sweethearts. Even if he can go a little ga ga with the Marty-isms, I still get a good chuckle.

In many ways, we've been fortunate to have such great announcers for all three clubs in this area. Howie Rose will always be synonymous with "Matteau! Matteau! Matteau!" Billy Jaffe was fun before he left for Versus full-time. The coverage we get even in the offseason is so much better than the TSN run NHL Network. You can thank MSG with their Vault that brings back classic memories for all three fanbases. I could go on here but won't.

This is about losing a man who knew when to be serious but also mixed in sarcasm and expressions that brought joy to our living rooms. Who else can pull off, "pitch forked out" and "hit the post with the shot," with such vigor? There are so many like "iron," "cage," and signature, "waffleboarded away by Brodeur." There aren't enough adjectives with Doc. He makes every game exciting. Who can forget during the lockout when he effectively called Olympic water polo? I was sitting in my room watching and started laughing hysterically. He basically turned it into hockey, which I mentioned to Justin, who also watched and laughed. Only one of the coolest things ever.

Doc is the best. This is coming from a big Rick Jeanneret guy, who enjoys the legendary Sabres' enthusiasm. There is only one Doc, who as one Devil game was going on, spoke through his headset to a production team that still includes director Roland Dratch and producer Larry Gaines and said about some loud music during a break, "Are we in Mardi Gras?"

Never a dull moment for Emrick. Now, at age 65 which I still have a hard time believing based on how he acts, the Hockey Hall Of Fame Foster Hewitt winner finally gets an easier schedule where he can concentrate fully on being the voice of hockey for NBC/Versus. We'll still get to hear him occasionally call our games, which will make it more special. But even more, I'll try to catch Doc as much as possible because of the total admiration I have. You made hockey here better and will be sorely missed. I hope one day the Rangers and Devils meet deep in the playoffs once more so the greatest voice I know can call it.

Our own hockey God.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Dubinsky, Rangers agree on new four-year deal

Sometimes, wishes do come true. On what's turned into a bittersweet day with the departure of legendary Devils' broadcaster Mike "Doc" Emrick, at least the Rangers and Brandon Dubinsky brought some happier news to one side of the Hudson rivalry- reaching agreement on a new four-year deal worth $16.8 million, avoiding arbitration today.

I wanted to be in New York, it’s the place I live, it’s the place I love and I want to be here forever,” an excited Dubinsky expressed to NY Post's own Larry Brooks. “At the end of the day, I think it’s a home run for me. I hope the team feels the same way.”


Perhaps it was because one of Dubinsky's biggest fans via Twitter @sarahhlokk actually wore his jersey to bed last night, braving the crazy heatwave we're getting that's close to the century mark. While that's about as loyal a fan as you can find, it sounds like logic prevailed between the two sides with Dubinsky's agent Kurt Overhardt and new assistant GM Jeff Gorton able to work it out before the doomsday scenario of a crazy divide that reportedly had Dubinsky coming in at $4.6 million while the Rangers were expected to counter with $2.8 million.

As it turned out, Dubinsky kept his word after stating he wanted the Rangers following our first round exit. Instead of letting a $500,000 difference come in the path of getting a long-term contract done, both sides came together to hammer out a logical four-year deal that keeps our '10-11 leading scorer on Broadway through '14-15. Even better, the average cap hit is better than expected at $4.2 million. Remember, I projected the number in the neighborhood of $4.75 M. In the first two years, he'll be paid $3.75 million with the annual salary increasing to $4.65 million for the final two seasons. Essentially, they split the difference, making the 25 year-old Alaskan a rich man. He posted career bests last season with 24 goals, 30 assists and a team-leading 54 points. Now, Dubinsky will be expected to increase production with our '04 second round steal capable of 30 goals and between 65-70 points. He definitely feels ready for the challenge. 

I can’t even tell you how much I’m looking forward to the season,” Dubinsky said. “With all the guys we have coming back plus the signings we’ve made with Richie [Brad Richards] and Mike Rupp, I think we’re going to be a contender in the East; I really feel that way.



I have high expectations for myself and for the team. The last couple of years we’ve talked about being contenders. Now I truly believe we have the team to do it, not just talk about it.”

With Dubinsky locked up, that leaves one more core player for Glen Sather to get done in likely captain Ryan Callahan, whose arbitration date is set for next Friday, July 30. Figure Slats and Callahan to come up with a similar conclusion, allowing Garden Faithful to breathe easier and look forward to the upcoming season.

Emrick to do national telecasts, leaves Devils after twenty-one seasons

In sports we always get hit with the reality that our favorite players and legends will one day be gone - Scott Stevens, Martin Brodeur soon, Patrik Elias down the line...but in some ways it's harder for me to cope with the fact that the talented and beloved Doc Emrick will no longer be doing Devils telecasts, since I literally know nothing else. It even sounds odd to hear old highlights of Emrick calling Ron Hextall's playoff goal as the Flyers PBP guy then, since I only associate him with the Devils, having become a more hardcore hockey fan in 1994.

So I've been a Devils fan for seventeen years, and Doc has been a big part of every one of them, even calling the first Devils Stanley Cup win when he and John Davidson were the lead team on FOX and they had the games. Other than Brodeur and GM Lou Lamoriello, I can't say that about any other member of the organization. Of course I understand his reasons for leaving, he's 65 and needs to scale back a bit - and being the main broadcaster on NBC and VERSUS provides an opportunity to still call games all over the league. Yet, as Emrick himself put it in his classy farewell letter to the fans:

A good friend advised me several years ago that before any major decision, you should look in the mirror and look at your birth certificate.

The full text of that letter can be found on the Devils' website - http://devils.nhl.com/club/news.htm?id=569804

His farewell to us, the Devils fans was typically classy. Of course I would have expected nothing less. I've met him myself for only like ten seconds before a preseason game, ironically our other bloggers have had more contact with him than me and will probably share their own experiences of working for and with the one and only Doc. Just the way he has carried himself throughout his whole career and at times where he was put in the spotlight (like Doc Emrick night a couple years back after he got inducted to Hockey's Hall of Fame), you can tell the man's genuine.

And anyone who's watched a hockey game that Doc's called can appreciate both his talent and enthusiasm for the game. It's that enthusiasm that I'll miss the most about him, not to mention his unique sayings, when he says a puck gets pitchforked out of the zone or play......continues?! after a pregnant pause during certain instances when a penalty doesn't get called - just to name a couple. Not to mention personalizing the players, like when he calls Colin White the big defenseman from Nova Scotia.

Used to be I didn't like when the Devils were on VERSUS cause it sometimes took away Doc from the telecasts and always took away from the MSG+ studio experience as a whole, but now I'll be looking forward to those games on the off chance Doc will be once again behind the mike for a Devils game. Of course, the easiest way to assure that will be if the Devils make another deep run in the playoffs - hopefully he'll be around long enough to call another Devils Stanley Cup even!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Dubinsky Dilemma

When Brandon Dubinsky indicated that he wanted the Rangers after they were ousted from the playoffs, it sounded like the club's leading regular season scorer was intent on getting something done weeks in advance to what could be a potential headache with arbitration scheduled tomorrow. As is his trademark Team President and GM Glen Sather put Brad Richards ahead of a core that also includes possible new captain Ryan Callahan, who if they don't get done, could only get one year before turning unrestricted next summer.


This isn't about criticizing how Slats operates. More over how he handles business. Other players always are priority once July hits. Instead of focusing on re-signing their guys, the Rangers cater to UFA's who have never played here. A risky way to do things even if a higher cap before the CBA expires, dictated the gamble that paid off in landing primary target Richy Rich. There's nothing wrong with Sather utilizing the rules that include tedious arbitration hearings that can sometimes do damage to both sides but usually more so the players due to management understanding the tact they must take.

Not every player can deal with how personal it gets, such as Bobby Holik, who loathed Devil architect Lou Lamoriello's paltry player comparisons to the point that he bolted for Madison Avenue, infuriating former fans. As fate had it, he never matched the success in Jersey, failing to fulfill lofty expectations while John Madden replaced him, helping the Devils win a third Cup.

Nobody knows what's in Dubinsky's mind that could make a guy who put up a career high 54 points (hardly overwhelming) believe he's worth a reported five million over the long-term that the two sides are trying to hammer out before Thursday. At least according to Larry Brooks latest, they're $500,000 apart with the Blueshirts still willing to offer a generous $4.5 million over a 5-6 years. Conversely, the respected Daily News beat writer Jesse Spector has a source that says it's more about length than cash. Which is it? All this led to a huge debate on Twitter involving yours truly along with other respected bloggers @BlueSeatBlogs @TheNYRBlog @RangersTribune and @jessespector himself chiming in, which is why he's so admirable. Diehards like @SomeLikeItBlue and @RangersGal also expressed their own sentiments.

It's what makes Twitter so enlightening. You get to know other fans/bloggers who share the same passion for your club. We all are hoping for the best, which means something between $3.8-4.4 instead of closer to $5 M for a player who still hasn't put up 30 goals or 60 points. If they're able to miraculously reach agreement on a long-term deal, figure the salary will increase with the average probably around $4.75 million. In such a contract, the annual pay would gradually increase, eventually hitting Dubinsky's target of over five million.

Here's where it gets tricky. Before it gets to tomorrow's hearing, the Rangers must decide if it's worth investing that kind of length on a player, who boasts more talent than do everything linemate Ryan Callahan but still lacks consistency. Who do they value more? Cally was the guy with the higher point-per-game production with his return sparking the team to its fifth postseason appearance in six years. Do you pay for potential, trusting Dubi here or allow an arbitrator to go right down the middle ($4.5 M) with a two-year reward meaning he could bolt after '12-13 if there's no work stoppage?

Personally, I like what Dubinsky brings. He's developed into a solid overall player who's flourished since John Tortorella converted him to left wing where he can use his size, strength and speed to an advantage. A superb penalty killer along with Callahan who can also take faceoffs if needed, it's hard not to like him. However, he still suffers some brain camps that are inexplicable which can frustrate fans. His buddy isn't like that, never taking a shift off.

The dilemma is magnified. How much will Callahan want before the end of the month? Shouldn't it be similar to whatever Dubinsky gets? And remember, if they somehow allow Cally to get to arbitration, he goes free next summer. Tough decisions for Slats and Co. to make. Like classic Billy Joel hit, "Pressure," the Rangers are feeling it.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Analysis: SomeLikeItGreen's Battle Team

In yesterday's post, we wondered what an all Battle Team would look like. Selecting the best of the four Battle clubs (Buf, NJD, NYI, NYR) certainly isn't easy but I wouldn't have it any other way. As we discovered, one response had some interesting suggestions. Let's take a look at what SomeLikeItGreen came up with before I take my crack:

Kovalchuk-Richards-Gaborik

Parise-Zajac-Grabner
Vanek-Tavares-Callahan
Avery-Gerbe-Zuccarello


Streit-Ehrhoff
Leopold-Staal
Larsson-Myers


Lundqvist
Miller


Coach: Tortorella; Asst.: Ruff

Right away, they took the most talented scorers and put them with top center Brad Richards. I just don't know if there are enough pucks to go around to satisfy both Ilya Kovalchuk and Marian Gaborik. But it paints a dream scenario with the dangerous right-handed sniper on the left side and the just as potent lefty on the right for Richy Rich to set up. SLIG's second unit is intriguing, combining all the elements a good scoring line should have. You got size in Travis Zajac, grit and skill in Zach Parise, plus high potential in Michael Grabner, whose second half still marvels. This could be a potent unit with game-breakers. Plus Zajac's ability to win faceoffs and battles in the corners along with Parise's competitiveness would make them tough to contain on the cycle.
 
What's not to love about a third line of Thomas Vanek and Ryan Callahan centered by emerging star John Tavares? Even though his production hasn't been the same since that monster '05-06, Vanek's a better player now- more responsible defensively and unselfish. He's never had a legit No.1 to play with. Tavares is ready to put it altogether. We see at least a 38-39-77 third year. Then you have the hardest worker pound for pound in Callahan, who'll do anything to win. His offense improved to nearly a point-per-game, which should land the future Ranger captain a nice contract. A perfect complement to the skill of JT91 and Vanek, who can outwork opponents. 
 
SomeLikeItGreen's (SLIG) fourth line is based on potential featuring Sabre mighty mite Nathan Gerbe, who came on strong. There's also wildcard Mats Zuccarello, who early in his recall on Broadway demonstrated some deft stickhandling and underrated playmaking. MZA has a lot to prove this Fall. The pressure's on. Taking pest Sean Avery is sensible to create space for the two midgets. Sean's not exactly a giant but plays bigger by finishing checks and winning puck battles. He'll also drive opponents nuts. Especially around the edge of the crease. There's grit, speed and finishing ability.
 
The D is unique because I wouldn't have come up with any of those combos. Teaming Mark Streit and Christian Ehrhoff puts an emphasis on puckmoving blueliners who can get involved. It'd be interesting to see if Ehrhoff could cover for Streit when he pinches. Both certainly are capable of contributing but Streit's the more physical player, which is risky. If you want an attacking team, they'll supply it. Jordan Leopold and Marc Staal are more conventional, combining a solid skater with a defensive D. If anything, Leopold's proven to be underrated due to health. When on the ice, he's fully capable of producing while not looking out of place in his end. Staal is already one of the best defenders in the game, who uses his reach and skating to get pucks out. While his passing still needs work, he does have the ability to jump in if needed as a highlight reel shorthanded goal proved versus Pittsburgh. But that's not his job. He's far more comfortable playing in his end as opposed to pinching. So, this would be a solid combo. If you like youth/potential, then Adam Larsson and Tyler Myers have it all. A smooth skater who's sound overall in the Devil gem that can chip when needed, while Myers brings the lumber along with a potent shot that intimidates. In a few years, they could be the premier duo among BONY. Good thing they're not on the same roster.
 
SLIG opted to go with King Henrik over Miller Time in net. If you preach consistency, then I agree that Henrik Lundqvist certainly qualifies with 30-or-more victories every season since the lockout, along with Olympic gold. Not bad for a seventh round steal. Ryan Miller has more credentials, including a Vezina along with a heroic Olympic performance in defeat. He's also been to two Conference Finals. I guess it depends on who you prefer. Miller is far more aggressive challenging shooters while Lundqvist stays back in his net to protect his glove, which has improved. Both have a tendency to allow softies. So, it's a tough call.
 
Choosing John Tortorella over Lindy Ruff is interesting. I guess SLIG likes an all aggressive style, which forces the goalie to make game-breaking saves. If you want emotion, Tort's got it. He hates losing. Ruff's not that different, sometimes sounding off to protect his guys. But he's also a little cooler off the ice, which would probably help. Since we now know that Pete DeBoer is coaching the Devils, we'll take him over Jack Capuano to complete the staff. He's got more experience and did a respectable job with Hawks South. I like the defensive element he brings. Besides, you can't have three loud mouths. It just doesn't add up.
 
Since we decided to analyze SomeLikeItGreen's Battle Team, I'll hold off on mine till tomorrow. Here's the breakdown per each roster.
 
Sabres-6
Devils-4
Islanders-3
Rangers-7

Devils hire DeBoer as head coach



When watching things happen with the Devils in Lou Lamoriello's world, sometimes I still have to look at the calendar to make sure it's 2011. If the Devils' coaching search proves one thing it's that twitter, blogs and an increasingly voyeuristic 24/7 news cycle is still no match for a Devils' GM in full lockdown mode. After a three-month long coaching search, the Devils surprised everyone and hired former Panther coach Pete DeBoer - someone who hadn't been mentioned in one single rumor all this time.

God knows, I've been hearing and reading about everyone from Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves to former Pens and Habs coach Michel Therrien to ex-Hab coach Guy Carbonneau. Not to mention former coach Larry Robinson, who ran prospects camp recently and denied a rumor from blogger Andy Strickland that he turned down the coaching job. This bears repeating...three months and not one single rumor about DeBoer anywhere.

Over the last few days, it was even rumored (by the Post) that Lou was still trying to convince Jacques Lemaire to come back yet again, and that Therrien was his Plan B. With both Larry Brooks and Mark Everson speculating on Lemaire version 4.0 in the matter of two days, I feared the worst since the Post has actually been spot-on with a lot of Devils news from the original Kovy contract to former coach Brent Sutter's departure and Jamie Langenbrunner's arthroscopic knee surgery in the playoffs a couple years back.

Fortunately with the Devils' press release at around 12:30 that there would finally be a coach announcement today, the speculation was at last nearing an end. Yet, still DeBoer's name wasn't mentioned until TSN's Darren Dreger tweeted just after 1 PM that he was a front-runner and believed he had been named coach - moments after Dreger promised the new coach wasn't Therrien and suggested we were in for a surprise. Although E.J. Hradek also had similar info later, it wasn't until just before three that DeBoer was finally confirmed as the Devils' coach.

Mea culpa Lou, I did fear the worst with this long delay - and that he wouldn't be willing to take a chance for a long-term solution to our coaching carousel after how spectacularly John MacLean failed last year and Sutter's wussing out of the job two years ago. Granted, DeBoer isn't a total rookie like either of those two were, as he was in Florida for three years. Still, he's not a proven winner either, though with the roster he had to work with it's amazing he even had the Panthers in position to make the playoffs (missing on a tiebreaker with Montreal) with an astonishing 41-30-11 record two years ago. And last year, the Panthers played us as tough as anyone in the second half of the season, beating us twice in overtime and only losing 2-1 at home in another second-half matchup.

Ironically, DeBoer's association with Sutter is one of the things I like most about his hire, since he was influenced by his close friend in juniors and believes in the same 'hybrid' system Sutter tried to instill here at different points, of defense without sacrificing being aggressive on the other end of the ice. Unlike Sutter though, DeBoer doesn't seem to have any ties hermetically binding him to Western Canada. He's also coached Devils Travis Zajac, Mark Fraser and most notably David Clarkson (who claims DeBoer to be one of the biggest influences of his career) at different points in his junior career. And lastly, he's 43 - which gives him plenty of time to carve out a niche, as long as things don't go awry.

For what it's worth, the Devils' GM gave no answers as to why the search took an inordinate amount of time (gee, what a surprise) but explained in detail exactly why he hired DeBoer at today's press conference:

“Peter DeBoer is an individual who I have watched coach over the past two decades at the junior, international, and professional levels. His teams have always been well-prepared and disciplined, while maximizing their effort each and every night.” said Lamoriello. “I am looking forward to working with him.”

Monday, July 18, 2011

Battle's Best: Who would be your team of Islanders, Devils, Rangers and Sabres?

It's about as hot as can be with basically no air quality out in our great metro area. And while it sucks even worse to live out in Staten Island, which doesn't help my sinuses, we're staying cool in the library over in Old Richmond Town. An area preserved that easily dates back to the 19th Century, with old school houses and even an 18th Century church around the bend.

So, what to do on a Manic Monday with temps near 100 with expected heavy storms approaching? What about some Battle fun as we attempt to come up with the best possible starting lineup, consisting of Devils, Islanders, Rangers and Sabres. It won't be easy because when you take the elite players from each club and whittle it down to 18 skaters and two goalies, it becomes an increasingly tough task. So, how would you rate the area's puckers we cheer? Imagine the possibilities chalk full of different line combos, etc. You can go so many ways, which makes it compelling.

What would your top line be? With talent such as Ilya Kovalchuk, Zach Parise, Patrik Elias, Thomas Vanek, Brad Richards, John Tavares and Marian Gaborik, you couldn't go wrong. If you're a Kool Aid drinker, you could be swayed by Kovalchuk and Zach Attack, taking your top two forwards. But would it work? As we discovered, the Dream Line (Kovalchuk-Zajac-Parise) didn't mesh before Parise needed surgery, missing the rest of the season except one game. Finding the right trio should play a role in how you choose. At least in our selection process, it has to be considered. If you're a True Blue supporter, dare you go with Richards and Gaborik before they've even played a game? Especially off Gabby's forgettable Broadway sequel. A Sabre fan might ask why isn't Derek Roy or Drew Stafford part of the competition. Roy's a solid No.1 not much different from Travis Zajac. Both fit their teams as No.1's but don't measure up to the talent of Richards or the pizazz of JT91. As for Stafford, he must duplicate his strong second half with a new contract increasing expectations.

Are Brandon Dubinsky, Michael Grabner, Ryan Callahan, Jason Pominville, Tyler Ennis and Matt Moulson worth considering? On a serious challenger, most are better suited for the second line while young talents Grabner and Ennis still have much to prove as does Derek Stepan, who could be a nice candidate for third line duty. If we're able to put together three lines from all the players mentioned, what about a physical checking line that can shutdown the opposition while dishing out punishment? Certainly, there are a plethora of choices in Brian Boyle, Brandon Prust, David Clarkson, Dainius ZubrusBlake Comeau, Kyle Okposo, Paul Gaustad, Patrik Kaleta, etc. How do you separate when we left out Artem Anisimov along with promising youngsters Jacob Josefson, Mattias Tedenby, Nino Neiderreiter and Nathan Gerbe?

While selecting the best possible 12 forwards could lead to plenty of bar debates, there's also the back end to consider. Who would make your top six? When looking at all four Battle clubs, there's not really a quote on quote, franchise guy who can do it all. There are some primary candidates though in Tyler Myers, Mark Streit, Christian Ehrhoff, Marc Staal, Dan Girardi, Anton Volchenkov and possibly Swedish teen Adam Larsson. While Devil fans might be tempted to go with either the potential of Larsson or even overlooked American Mark Fayne, it more logical to choose a tandem that's proven they are reliable. Do Sabre fans take newly minted German Ehrhoff and Myers? Would Garden Faithful keep Staal/Girardi together, overlooking the potential of Ryan McDonagh? Islander fans can make a good case for do everything man Streit, who must prove he's 100 percent after missing the season. They have to like Travis Hamonic's upside.

If you're going to get it right, pairing a defense first guy with a solid puckmoving type who can get involved offensively should get strong consideration. Perhaps it comes down to a Staal or Volchenkov for that role while Ehrhoff, Myers and Streit are all capable of the other department with Myers the meanest of the trio. If you wanted a heart and soul type who also could chip in occasionally, then Danny G's your man. A player who'll lay the body out for the good of the team who still possesses a decent shot that gets through. Since we've narrowed it down, there are plenty of ways to fill out your second pair with the third also strong. Does a Mike Sauer, Andrew MacDonald, Jordan Leopold or Andy Greene fit into your plan? Guess it depends what kinda roster you covet.

Last but certainly not least is your goalie. The last line of defense could be the difference between winning and losing. Who do you want? Fortunately, our four teams boast some great players with legendary Devil Martin Brodeur headlining a list that includes Henrik Lundqvist and Ryan Miller. All are capable of stymieing the opposition. MB30 has the most experience winning three Cups, Olympic gold along with Vezinas and all-time winningest and shutout king. Even the biggest Brodeurian supporter has to wonder if at 39 going on 40 next Spring if Marty's the right choice. Is it King Henrik's time to shine or American hero Miller's Time or as legendary Buffalo announcer Rick Jeanneret would echo:

"It's Miller Time!!!!!"
If you're going with either Lundqvist or Miller, the Sabre netminder has been to two Conference Finals while King Henrik has advanced past the first round only twice. Of course, Miller had the better teams including the '07 one that came back to edge the Rangers in six with that guy Chris Drury dashing True Blue hopes of a possible ECF for the first time since '97. Who do you want? Even if you love the Islanders, you gotta admit you're better off with a durable goalie over franchise man Rick DiPietro. Al Montoya's a nice story who becomes more vital if DP needs rest. Who's it gonna be? It's up to you.

If we're going to pick our team, we may as well have a coach too. Currently, the Devils still are leaving fans guessing while Jack Capuano, who did a solid job after relieving Scott Gordon, now enters his first full season. That leaves Lindy Ruff and John Tortorella. One who's the longest tenured coach that gets results while the other a fiery type that won with Tampa Bay. Both are quality choices. However, it's hard to argue with Ruff's overwhelming experience steering the Sabres to within an eye lash of Lord Stanley along with a few Conference Finals. Let's face it. Everytime you write him off as Brian seems to religiously, he gets it turned around. Case in point last year when the Sabres overcame a dreadful start before pushing the Flyers seven with Pominville missing a good chunk and Roy probably at best 60 percent. Ruff is an overachiever who is well respected. Tortorella certainly has proven he can motivate, getting the most out of his team even with Gaborik MIA. He's definitely been better at developing kids on the fly. Hardly an easy situation in the Big Apple. Now, he has his guy Richards from that '04 Bolt team. Let's see if he can get out of the first round.

When the dust settles, how would your team look? We'll unveil our's in the next post.

Video Of Day: Ryan Strome Spin-a-rama Shootout Goal



A couple of days ago at New York Islanders development camp, top pick Ryan Strome demonstrated why Garth Snow took him fifth overall following Devils' pick Adam Larsson. The potential Robin to John Tavares' Batman went to his bag of tricks during a Blue/White Scrimmage that ended with hockey's version of the Home Run Derby. Here, the teenage phenom undresses a poor goalie during the always entertaining Skill Competition. A bit different during a fun filled camp with nothing up for grabs.

Gotta love the call.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

FA Frenzy: Buffalo Sabres

In the past, the Buffalo Sabres have rarely taken part in the free agent frenzy (FA Frenzy) known to diehard puckers as July 1. Okay. Brian would probably correct me and say an emphatic:

"NEVER!!!!!"
So yeah. It is pretty cool to see his team jump in among the Big Boy$ thanks to new owner Terry Pegula's win at all costs strategy. When they traded with the Islanders for the rights to Christian Ehrhoff, I admittedly didn't think much, assuming the German blueliner would predictably wind up in Detroit to replace Brian Rafalski. Instead, the unthinkable happened with Pegula able to convince the Ehrhoff that he could win as he had with Robyn Regehr, who originally said no before a trade with Calgary was finalized. Yes!!!!! The Sabres have teased their fans for years. No Goal withstanding, they were close in '06 until injuries that must've meant the Mets team doctor was at work dashed their hopes against Carolina. If only Dr. Seuss had been a not more gentle. :P Who will garner the first reaction to these references? The Met fan or the long suffering Sabre fan. I digress. There also was '07 but we'll just leave that alone after Sambone's classic rant on his show Friday.

When the Sabres announced the astronomical 10-year frontloaded $40 million deal with Ehrhoff, to say I was floored was an understatement. Shocked. Appalled. Flabbergasted. You name it. I couldn't believe it and neither could Hasan, who expressed disdain at the way the contract paid out. This is what the NHL wanted. A couple of more crazy deals by two Battle clubs to two of the top free agents (Ehrhoff, Richards). So yeah. There also were the usual absurd Flyers with their insane contract with Ilya Bryzgalov that cost both Jeff Carter and Mike Richards in a makeover. Just wait till next year folks. The party's over.

If it wasn't enough that Pegula signed off on Ehrhoff, then came another bomb with his team landing ex-Flyer Ville Leino. The terms. A cool six years at $27 million. Yes again! These are the Buffalo Sabres. Leino is a good player who turns 28 in the first year of the megadeal. Not bad for a Finn the Red Wings didn't want, allowing Philly to steal him off waivers. It wasn't until the 2010 postseason that he performed, totaling 21 points (7-14-21 in 19 GP) during the Flyers' surprising run that Chicago ended. He followed it up with a career best 53 points (19-34-53) and had three goals and two helpers in 11 postseason games that ended with a disappointing sweep to eventual champ Boston. So. Is a guy who never scored 20 goals worth $4.5 million-per-season? Such questions are the norm in a buyer's market with the cap escalating- allowing teams like Hawks South (Florida) to buy as many guys as possible.

At least Buffalo got two of the better FA's, adding to an already talented roster that features Ryan Miller, Thomas Vanek, Derek Roy, Drew Stafford, Jason PominvilleTyler Ennis, Tyler Myers and other new D Robyn Regehr, who was swayed into coming thanks to talk of winning a Cup. On paper, the Sabres look pretty good with deadline pickup Brad Boyes in a contract year and miracle midget Nathan Gerbe along with Jordan Leopold and Andrej Sekera (arbitration). Still no idea if Buffalo re-signs backup Jhonas Enroth, who was largely responsible for getting the Sabres in the playoffs a second straight year before they fell in gut wrenching fashion to the hated Flyers. He's a Group II.

It's a roster you have to like after Boston, Washington and Tampa Bay with no clear favorite in the Atlantic. Certainly, the Sabres should be there. The time is now.

Devils continue to beef up adding Boulton

What had been an uneventful month suddenly turned around for the Devils, who over the past two days got top pick Adam Larsson signed while dealing away Pierre-Luc Letourneau Leblond to the Flames for a fifth rounder and then bringing back popular enforcer Cam Janssen. For Lou Lamoriello, he was able to get his top pick to agree to a rookie contract without bonuses as Hasan referenced in the post below. By agreeing to forego those clauses, it allows Lou more wiggle room for Zach Parise, who still might go to arbitration if they can't work something out long-term.

With the fourth overall pick signed, sealed and delivered, the Devil blueline is beginning to take shape with holdovers Andy Greene, Anton Volchenkov and Henrik Tallinder all back along with impressive rookie Mark Fayne, who was instrumental in the club's frantic run that fell short. Colin White is entering his final year and could be deemed expendable considering his price tag ($3 million). If he does stay put, the Devils suddenly have some decisions with Matt Taormina expected to re-sign and Mark Fraser headed to arbitration. Anssi Salmela likely won't return and Bryce Salvador is still suffering from concussion symptoms he suffered during a preseason game last year, which could mean LTIR again.

While the back end looks pretty set, Lamoriello also addressed the lack of an enforcer after dealing away vanished Leblond to Calgary for a fifth round pick. By bringing back Janssen, who took to the role well and is a good team guy, teammates should be pleased. He took a two-way deal on the cheap ($525,000), proving how much he wanted to return. The ex-Blue is a nice addition if he's on the roster. In a tough division that features heavies Steve MacIntyre, Mike Rupp, Jody Shelley and likely Trevor Gillies who the Islanders still should re-sign along with bulldog Michael Haley, team toughness is a necessity.

Lou wasn't done yesterday inking ex-Thrasher Eric Boulton to a multi-year deal worth $1.6 million. The soon to be 35-year old veteran is best known for his first ever hat trick, victimizing former teammate Ilya Kovalchuk and the Devs in a 7-1 Thrashing that was rock bottom. While that shouldn't be expected daily, Boulton has proven capable of contributing when he's not mixing it up. In '08-09, the former Sabre and original Rangers' ninth rounder in '94 posted a career high 13 points (3-10-13) and 176 penalty minutes (2nd most- 178 PIM w/Buffalo '02-03) in 76 games. Following four years in Western New York, his role expanded with Atlanta where he spent the past half dozen injecting energy on the ice. He now picks his spots while trying to contribute in other facets. His 10 points (6-4-10) this past season were the second time in three years he hit double digits.

Boulton's penalty minutes have dipped from 176 to 112 to 87, tying for the second lowest of his career. He still got into 69 contests and was signed by Lamoriello at a decent price. Figure the experienced vet to team up with either David Steckel or Rod Pelley on a grind line with perhaps Janssen. Something Kool Aid drinkers should remember dating back to the days of Mike Peluso, Bobby Holik and Randy McKay en route to a first Cup. On paper, the Devils became a lot tougher. The only question is will Janssen make a deal with Steckel for his old number 25 or does the ex-Blue stay with new No.55 he has on his Twitter account? Fun stuff to ponder during the dog days.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Larsson signs, Janssen comes back, Leblond traded



After an offseason of inactivity other than the re-signings of Andy Greene and Johan Hedberg, the Devils have made a series of small but good moves in the last forty-eight hours. The wheels started turning last night after New Jersey somehow managed to coax a fifth-round pick from Calgary for enforcer Pierre Luc-Letourneau Leblond. Granted, current Flames and ex-Devil coach Brent Sutter knows Leblond a little but geez, getting any draft pick at all is a gift for a guy who was basically blacklisted after his ill-timed selfish fight that resulted in a suspension while the Devils had a short roster early last year.

With Leblond gone and no true enforcer on the team, the Devils inked one-time fan fave Cam Janssen to a two-way contract hours later, and continues the Lou Lamoriello tradition of bringing back ex-players (particularly ones who have a good atitude). Also, in 'trading' out Leblond for Janssen, the Devils avoided having to pay Leblond's $500+k salary, which he would have gotten whether he was in the NHL or AHL this year, while Janssen only makes his money if he's on the NHL roster.

Surely the biggest move came down this morning however, when the Devils managed to sign fourth overall pick Adam Larsson at the eleventh hour to an extremely team-favorable contract. While Larsson is getting the entry-level max salary at both the NHL (950k) and AHL (70k) level, he will not be receiving any individual bonuses, by far the biggest obstacle in getting the prized defenseman inked before today's soft deadline of 5 PM - after which the Devils would have had one more month to sign Larsson for this season, but at the cost of a hundred thousand dollar transfer fee to his Swedish team.

Lamoriello went out of his way to praise the teen defenseman, who made the decision to forego the bonuses that almost every other top pick gets, because it isn't in line with team policy. During his 20-plus year career with the Devils, Lamoriello has never put performance bonuses into an entry-level contract and the fact that Larsson was a top five pick wasn't going to change that philosophy. Particularly with the fact that bonuses could have bumped Larsson's cap figure beyond $3 million, which would have made it prohibitive to have him on the NHL roster this year. Of course Larsson's agent J.P. Barry wasn't happy about the deal but was overruled by his client, who not only wanted to be in the NHL as fast as possible but also be one of the guys. As the Devils' GM put it:

“He understands what that means,” Lamoriello said. “He does not want to be different than the players in that room and he made a decision to forego all of those bonuses to get this signed, to get his career underway and to become a Devil and just get ready for training camp…He deserves all the credit in this.”

Personally I have to admit, between the fact that Hedberg and Greene both took less money to come back and Larsson taking less to try to get here as fast as possible makes me more excited about the team. Granted, it would be nice to have Zach Parise locked up long-term (not to mention an actual head coach) but I expect it to come down to early August with last-minute Lou. But hey, if that turns out as well as the Larsson contract, let him take all the time he wants!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Rangers and Boyle re-up for three years

The Rangers got another key restricted done today, re-signing Brian Boyle for three years to avoid salary arbitration. According to Larry Brooks via Twitter, the Blueshirts agreed to bump up Boyle to an average of $1.7 million- rewarding the checking center for a career year that saw the former King shatter marks across the board with 21 goals, 14 assists and 35 points with 74 penalty minutes and four power play goals while playing all 82 games for the first time. He also paced all Ranger forwards with 240 hits.

Boyle's career year came off a disappointing four-goal, two assist Broadway debut in '09-10. Using improved skating due to instruction from a figure skater along with a renewed commitment to diet and fitness, the 26 year-old from Massachusetts stunned Garden Faithful with a strong start, notching 10 of his 21 markers during the first two months. Along with sidekick Brandon Prust and surprise addition Ruslan Fedotenko, the trio formed a reliable checking unit that provided energy, physicality and even chipped in offensively. With Marian Gaborik unable to duplicate his first year success, John Tortorella entrusted them with more responsibility. A welcome change for a coach who's not a fan of rolling four lines. However, on some nights the Boyle line was his best.

In fact, the Blueshirts were pretty successful when Boyle found twine, going 13-5-1 when the former King scored. His career year was not the only development as Steven McDonald Extra Effort winner Prust also had his best season, going 13-16-29 with a club best five shorthanded goals. That production along with key vet Fedotenko, who also reached double figures in goals (10) while netting 25 points, allowed the Rangers to survive Gaborik's struggles. Combined with the success of the Draft Line (Dubinsky-Anisimov-Callahan) and rookie Derek Stepan, they were able to offset the lack of consistency from their top threat- making the playoffs in miraculous fashion by beating the Devils and then watching Tortorella's ex-team the Lightning end the Canes' season.

For Boyle, he gets a huge raise from $525,000 to $1.7 M, basically tripling his salary. There will be a lot more pressure to prove '10-11 wasn't a fluke where most of the production came in the first half before he cooled, notching only three goals after January, including one in March and none in April. Boyle was scoreless in the club's first round ouster to Washington. Three years is a big commitment for a guy who'd never proven why the Kings tabbed him 26th overall in the famed '03 Draft. Now, he's a Ranger and well liked by coaches and teammates, who have faith in him. That will be tested. Boyle's success reminds of a former player across the Hudson in John Madden, who went from undrafted free agent to unsung hero on two of three Devils' championship teams, including '03 when he replaced Bobby Holik and eventually won a Selke. Boyle still has a lot to prove to reach such lofty status.

Encouraging is that Boyle will center the fourth line due to big fish Brad Richards, while Anisimov anchors the Draft Line and Stepan the third unit. But as was proven last year, there were nights Boyle's line was the best. Tort didn't shy away from using them to change momentum. The Rangers should be a deeper team down the middle. A necessity to compete in today's NHL. Especially in a challenging division that could become the East's best.

With Boyle, Anisimov and Mike Sauer all done, now Glen Sather can turn his attention to key pieces Brandon Dubinsky and Ryan Callahan. Can he get either locked up before arbitration. We'll see.

Friday, July 8, 2011

An offseason about nothing

For a long time, the premise of the hit show Seinfeld about four friends in NYC was that it was 'a show about nothing'. Maybe it was but it sure kept audiences interested for a decade. In that vein, the Devils' offseason has become about nothing. A lot of rumors, sound and fury from the outside but with no actual news to report with GM Lou Lamoriello at his lockdown best. Any time there's even a hint of a rumor it's shot down. Even the one piece of information that Lou surprisingly allowed - that he was looking to make a trade - hasn't come to fruition yet.

So where does that leave the Devils? One week after free agency opened and with every big name having chosen a destination, the team remains unchanged from the one that finished last season hockey's best team in the second half. Well okay, there's the not-so-small matter of replacing Jacques Lemaire, the catalyst for the Devils' second half surge. While it's become common for Devil coaching decisions to take well into July, this year it seems more annoying due to the fact that really since December when Johnny MacLean was sacked, we've known that we were going to need a coach after Lemaire did a favor for his 'buddy Lou' and came out of retirement one more time.

While the lack of an actual leak is admirable on some level, compared to Lou proteges Brian Burke and Dean Lombardi who can't talk enough, when you couple it with the world we live in of twitter and people wanting instant news it can become a sour mix. Every time there's been something out of the ordinary that person gets linked to the Devils job. When Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves didn't return a few calls amidst rumors he was leaving his alma matter, people immediately linked him to the Devils with News 12 (local) even reporting he would be hired in a matter of days. Of course that didn't pan out. Neither did the scuttlebutt about Guy Carbonneau, who was leaving his junior team but shot down rumors he was coming to the Devils. And hopefully the most recent rumor about ex-Hab and Pen coach Michel Therrien is as inaccurate though I could see that one having legs given that we had rumored interest in him last offseason and he's the only one that is even known to have interviewed for the job (albeit months ago).

Waiting hasn't neccesarily been the best policy when it comes to the Devils' seemingly interminable head coach search though - both Lemaire and Brent Sutter were named coach on July 13 in the last few years but at least with Lemaire the delay wasn't as long because of the fact Sutter left a few weeks after the Devils' stunning first-round playoff loss to the Hurricanes in late April. And with Sutter, the wait was because Lou had to talk him into taking the job (in fact, it eventually came out that the Devils had been in contact with Sutter for a whole eighteen months before he ever took the job).

What worries me is it looks like the same thing's happening now, Lou's set on one choice - Eaves perhaps? - but can't talk him into taking the job. That didn't exactly work out in the case of Sutter so I'm wary about picking anyone who has to be talked into taking an NHL job - though the alternative of a stopgap like Therrien isn't exactly appealing either, especially since as in the case of Claude Julien, Lou'll be looking for the first excuse to dump him if whoever his first choice is does eventually say yes. Maybe some will think it's farfetched that Lou's waiting all this time to try to talk one guy into taking the job, but what other rational explanation could there really be for the search taking this long? One month after the Stanley Cup Finals, three months after the end of the Devils' season and more than six months after the firing of MacLean the Devils still don't have a coach for 2011-12 with prospects camp set to begin next week.

Of course all's quiet on the players' front as well, with negotiations between Lou and star winger Zach Parise still 'status quo', and it probably will remain so until at least days if not hours before the early August arbitration deadline. Really there's no excuse for there not to be an agreement between the two sides by then after months of negotiating already, especially taking both at their word that all parties involved want Zach to remain a Devil for a long time. Perhaps part of the delay is waiting for a trade to clear cap space, not that the Devils really need it but after what happened last year they surely want as much breathing room as possible. Of course we heard that song and dance last year, that we would do something to get under the cap and instead after a whole offseason of speculation - and a failed attempt to get Jamie Langenbrunner to waive his no-trade - we basically waited for the injury bug to take care of what Lou couldn't.

Granted, the preseason isn't going to begin for another three months - but it would be nice to have things settled unlike last year and be able to go into camp without any clouds over our head. For how inept MacLean was as a coach and unlucky to have Parise hurt for much of the season, the early-season uncertainty I'm sure took its toll in the room then as well.

Rangers re-sign Anisimov, Sauer, Dates set for Parise, Callahan, Dubinsky, etc.

Two down. Three to go. The Rangers re-signed both Artem Anisimov and Mike Sauer to multi-year deals. Each more than doubled their salaries. Anisimov will earn an average of $1.875 million over the next two seasons while Sauer gets a nice boost up to $1.25 M, avoiding salary arbitration.

A win win for the club who still must deal with Brian Boyle, Ryan Callahan and Brandon Dubinsky. In fact, their hearings are set with Boyle July 25, Callahan July 28 and Dubinsky July 21. That still leaves a couple of weeks for Glen Sather to try to hammer something out with the trio, who were instrumental in getting the club back to the playoffs. Credit to Bleeding All Blue for the correct arbitration dates.

As for Arty and Sauer, it's nice to see both done, allowing Slats to concentrate on Cally and Dubi, who should be harder to sign. It's expected to run anywhere between $3.5 to 4 million for the pair of homegrown forwards that have grown into leaders. Hopefully, they'll come to enviable conclusions not involving the tedious arbitration. Boyle definitely will see a considerable increase as well off his career year. How big who knows.

While the Blueshirts concern themselves with that, the Devils could have to deal with Zach Parise, who's hearing is scheduled for August 3. It leaves Lou Lamoriello more time to see if he can get Zach Attack to take a discount following an injury riddled year that saw the North Dakota standout limited to just 13 games. He earned $5 million. ... Islander forward Blake Comeau is set for the day after, 8/4 while Buffalo defenseman Andrej Sekera goes the same day as Boyle (7/25).

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Who Improved?

Every July, the Free Agent Frenzy creates a circus-like environment with TSN providing the best coverage on Day One. After that, it's fend for yourself especially in The States. I've always been jealous of Canada due to their love and devotion of everything puck. They benefit greatly from CBC, TSN and Sportsnet. I've probably left one out. Hockey is their sport even if our country still comprises a vast majority (23/30) of the league. Winnipeg coming back is positive. There will be a lot of attention for the right reasons.

While hockey is front and center up North, here it's still covered like tennis, which at least has ESPN providing a solid outlet. One of my gripes with Versus is they can't cover the offseason due to other commitments such as the Tour de France. Even NHL Network is reduced to 2011 Playoff Repeats and other stuff we've seen 100 times. If you want your hockey fix locally, there's occasionally the odd Devil game on MSG-Plus which aired New Jersey and Edmonton three times over 24 hours as @voicilizz noted on Twitter. MSG also does a solid job with their Vault, digging out old footage that even dates back to the 50's with Al Rotwig and Stan Fischler providing nostalgia, along with Dave Maloney giving his input. If you love hockey, it's a fun watch.

While it's nice to at least look back and see how different our sport once was with the equipment and size of players most noticeable, there's hardly much to go around on who improved and who hurt themselves. Say what you will. But Larry Brooks is the best reporter in town with his weekly Slap Shots a must for any pucker. You can also find decent coverage in The Boston Globe. The Daily News' Jesse Spector is a solid read and is always on Twitter answering stuff. There are a lot of blogs but most are Ranger themed and don't really examine the league as a whole.

Over the course of the summer, I'll do my best to look at each team's moves and assess how they did. If you noticed over at the top right sidebar, there's a new poll which asks Who Improved The Most? There are a few obvious candidates, including half of BONY represented courtesy of the Sabres and Rangers. I tried to be objective, nominating six other teams along with the always fun Other if you disagree. Whenever we get together for these bar debates, there's bound to be objection. Who knows? Maybe we'll even try a Round Table with our esteemed colleagues Brian and Hasan on who's won and who's lost. ;) We'll give it our best to keep you entertained.

Saw the other day, Tomas Kaberle moved to Raleigh where his brother Frantisek once played. With the Candy Canes moving Joe Corvo to Beantown for a fourth round pick, it's basically a swap. Even though I'm not the biggest Kaberle guy, I'll give Carolina the edge due to Kaberle still being a sound power play option, who should take pressure off Joni Pitkanen and provide more offense from the back end. I also agree with @KevinWeekes that the Canes have a system that works. Even if it doesn't produce playoffs every year, they remain competitive and health withstanding, should be in the mix. Corvo has a cannon and that's never bad for the defending champs, who rely heavily on Zdeno Chara. But his level dropped considerably. Maybe a scenery change will spark the much traveled vet.

I still am a bit perplexed why the Sharks made two trades. Is Martin Havlat really that much better than Dany Heatley for their system? They subtracted Devin Setoguchi, who was a good piece on back-to-back rosters that lost in the Conference Finals. Getting Brent Burns from Minnesota was a wise move but why not have just used Heatley instead of dealing away Setoguchi, Patrick Coyle and a #1 that allowed the Wild to select Zack Phillips. It seems like Doug Wilson parted with more than he had to due to the separate deals. While it still will be odd seeing Heatley in a Wild jersey, he's still a better player than Havlat who can boost hockey in St. Paul.

And finally, if the rumors are true about Michel Therrien to the Devils, I don't get why. Recycling another coach who often has worn thin, just doesn't make a lot of sense. He is a defensive coach who likes to sit back, which fits their system. But shouldn't the playoffs demonstrate that you need to play up-tempo to be successful? Even Claude Julien's Bruins made the necessary adjustment, battering the Canucks which explains why we still haven't found either Sedin. Having a strong D works to a point when you're headlined by a dominant big man like Chara. The Devs boast no such player with Adam Larsson still needing time. The fourth overall gem should make the roster but how well he performs is still a giant question. They must be careful not to expect too much. Is Therrien really the best fit for Zach Parise? TBD.

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