Mike Milbury, an in-studio analyst for NBC and their newly formed network NBC Sports, has long been a critic of the New York Rangers. For years, his slanted, biased pre-game, intermission, and post-game anti-Ranger tirades have polluted the airwaves and have come with such regularity, that normally, they do not even upset or surprise me. Coming out of the lockout, Milbury never ceased to amaze, as he tore into then-Rangers superstar winger Jaromir Jagr all season long for being soft or not having what it takes to be a leader, even in the midst of his franchise record-setting 54-goal, 123-point season. One would think that the bias shown in those years bordered on xenophobia, but thankfully, we have Don Cherry up in Canada for that. More recently, before last night, that is, during the pre-game show of the Winter Classic, when describing the Rangers and using their nickname “Blueshirts”, he just so happened to leave the “r” out of the word, causing him to call the team an expletive. Accidental? Probably. But a Freudian Slip? Most definitely.
As much fuss is made about how young the New York Rangers’ defensive corp is, very rarely do we ever stop and look at just how young they really are. While this is definitely the correct step towards future progress, because the old man on last season’s team was Steve Eminger at a decrepit 27 years old, the Rangers, at times, were affected by the youth on the back-line, which was expected by the coaching staff. While endless glaring errors were avoided—the players seemed to learn from their mistakes very quickly, with the exception of Michael Del Zotto—there was a desperate cry for a veteran defenseman later in the season. The Rangers brought in Bryan McCabe who was a very average acquisition, and while I would have kept him around this season at a cheap price, he will not be returning to Broadway.
So once again, the Rangers find themselves needing that veteran presence on the blueline, one that can be a seventh defenseman to come in and give the younger guys a breather, and to mentor the rookies and other youngsters still in the learning process. Below is a list of defenseman who will/might be on the Rangers next season. The first four are players who are a lock, while the next five players have a chance for those final two spots (I do not consider Gilroy a lock, because I do not think he will be back at all). It also gives their age as of today, and below that is the average age of the defensemen:
- Dan Girardi: 27
- Marc Staal: 24
- Michael Sauer: 23
- Ryan McDonagh: 21
- Matt Gilroy: 26
- Steve Eminger: 27
- Michael Del Zotto: 21
- Tim Erixon: 20
- Pavel Valentenko: 23
- Average age: 23.5 (Holy sh*t!)
After witnessing the amount of old players the Rangers brought in the past, this is refreshing and will even put a smile on your face. However, if the Rangers hope to actually go far in the playoffs, they will need some stability. Not that bringing in a seventh defenseman will guarantee playoff rounds, but it will help guide them for the future. The one player out there that I would bring in for that is someone who we know can do it, because he has done it in the past for this very team, and that is Jason Strudwick. Before you laugh, keep in mind that Marc Staal was his defensive partner for the majority of the 2007/08 season, and I would surmise that his tutelage worked out rather well.
Strudwick would be brought in to play only about 30 games, and he will be even more valuable off the ice than on it. We all remember how good he was with such a young team after the lockout, almost like another coach out there in the middle of a game. He could also wear the alternate captain’s “A” (like he did in 2005/06), because he brings more leadership to the table than anyone else. He also would not be stealing the spot of a rookie. Because he would be only a seventh, the other two spots can be taken by younger defensemen out of camp, which I believe will be Tim Erixon and Michael Del Zotto, who will be given another chance. Gilroy will most likely not be qualified and Eminger will not be brought back.
The Rangers also need to consider cost here, being that they will be strapped for cash trying to lock up Brandon Dubinsky, Ryan Callahan, and Artem Anisimov, while wanting to bring back Brian Boyle and add one or two upper-tier free agents. Strudwick made only $725,000 last season, and I think that would be a fair price to offer him for this year. We know he loves New York and we know he can handle mentoring young players, so why not bring him back another time?
Christmas is only 35 days away, and fans of the New York Rangers have asked Santa Claus for Brad Richards. The Blueshirts barely snuck into the playoffs this season, mainly due to their anemic offense that was always a two periods late and a goal short. They rode the back of goaltender Henrik Lundqvist and a youthful defense for as long as they could, but it was not nearly enough. The team needed goals, plain and simple, or they needed passes going to someone who could get them goals, namely Marian Gab0rik, who disappeared more times than planes have gone down in the Bermuda Triangle.
Blame was placed on the offense in two directions: 1) Marian Gaborik was merely a flash in the pan, who came to Broadway, put up a 40+ goal season, got comfortable, and then went away, content with the salary he was given. He was no longer a big game player, no longer the superstar the Rangers gave a five-year/$37.5 million contract to in 2009. 2) Gaborik did not lose any skill himself, but rather, it was the fault of his teammates who could not get him the puck. Erik Christensen, Brandon Dubinsky, Vinny Prospal, and others whose names elude me at the present time all were blamed for not being a good enough set-up man.
Either way, Gaborik never had a star center in Minnesota (unless you think Pierre-Marc Bouchard is worth writing home about) but that did not stop him from putting up 42 goals in 07/08 and four other 30-goal seasons, all while never playing a full 82 games. So now, everyone is clamoring for Dallas Stars’ free agent center Brad Richards. He is going to be the answer and savior all in one shot. Why? I don’t know, you tell me.
This is where Rangers fans earn their paycheck, by going around the league every summer and seeing what players out there will instantly come here and save the day. Every season it is always a center, and while I agree that the Rangers desperately need a center (just like Christensen desperately needs a prescription for Cymbalta), I also want to make note of the high-priced free agents the Rangers have brought in over the years. Unless you are a fan of the way Chris Drury, Scott Gomez, and Wade Redden worked out, you will agree that when the Rangers throw the checkbook at somebody for how well they played in the past, it ultimately fails.
Brad Richards is a fantastic talent, don’t get me wrong. He has put up 91 points twice (Gomez put up 84 once) and has registered more than 40 assists in all but one season, which was when he was injured in 08/09. But why all of a sudden is he going to click with Gaborik and put up those points here in New York? Rangers fans have this Utopian idea in their heads more than half the time, one that includes severely over-rating our homegrown players and then automatically assuming every free agent in the world wants to play here. To go on a tangent for a second, Brandon Dubinsky and Ryan Callahan will be overpaid this summer, and neither will be worth the paycheck—trust me on that. But will you take off the blinders and see it too? There is not a player in this franchise (you read correctly, not one player) who should be considered untouchable in my eyes.
Now we must look at what price Richards can be had for. He clearly deserves between $6 and 7 million, easy. The Rangers currently have just over $18 million in cap space, with Dubinsky, Callahan, Brian Boyle, Artem Anisimov, Matt Gilroy, and Michael Sauer all restricted free agents. With those players eating up well over half of that, the Rangers will then need to replace Alex Frolov, whose money thankfully comes off the books, and then must reconsider bringing one (or none) of the pair of Ruslan Fedotenko and Vinny Prospal back—they should not re-sign both. Then there are defensemen Bryan McCabe and Steve Eminger also hitting free agency, and while I like McCabe’s potential as a leader and powerplay catalyst, unless he takes around $2 million for a one-year deal, I would not bring him back. As for Eminger, I am still on the fence about whether he should be brought back, but I am inclined to think no. So now where is this money for Richards going to come from, with most of it tied up in signing the Rangers’ own players? The logical answer would be to summon the ghost of Harry Houdini and make Chris Drury disappear (or they could just banish him to the minors or buy him out), or even find a way to trade Marian Gaborik, but something tells me that would defeat the purpose of signing Brad Richards, won’t it?
What Glen Sather and the Rangers have to do is get creative though trades, which is where the GM excels anyway. I would like to see what the return could be for a Gaborik deal, and although fans would worry about dealing him, if the Rangers can finish in 8th place and have a mediocre offense with him, they can finish in 8th place and have a mediocre offense without him. The Rangers must work the phones here, and find a way to get Gaborik’s contract off the books, and get some high to medium level talent in return, and maybe even some draft picks. With that money, perhaps they can then do what everyone really wants to see, and that is poach Zach Parise from the New Jersey Devils. But I will attach a disclaimer to that: do you really see Sather doing that to his old crony Lou Lamoriello? I don’t think so.
So, the answer to the question I initially asked is “No”, Brad Richards is not the answer. Sure he would be part of it, but unless the Rangers can solve all of it, I would not tie up a large amount of money like that in a 31-year old whose best days are truly behind him. I am tired of seeing the Rangers gamble with enormous contracts, thinking they are a quick fix when all they do is handicap the team further down the road. The Rangers need a center alright, but I would rather give Michal Handzus one year at $2.5 million and throw him next to Gaborik than lock up Richards for five to six years. The free agent market is drier than the Sahara Desert when it comes to centers this summer, but that doesn’t mean the Rangers need to settle for someone just because nobody else is there.
Think I’m joking about the laughably boring free agent market this year? Just click here to see for yourself.
Ever since the NHL started broadcasting “History Will Be Made” commercials last season, they became an instant hit. There have been many copies, and parodies done by fans since, showing how popular they have become. The music and excitement present in these is enough to pump up anyone who loves hockey, by showing some of the most famous goals and saves throughout history. Our very own Joe Aliello has created two himself, dealing with current New York Rangers Ryan McDonagh, who scored his first NHL goal yesterday, and deadline acquisition Bryan McCabe, and they are amazing.
When he first sent me the McDonagh one, I thought to myself, “Wow! He’s a rookie and he already has his own commercial.” Then Joe told me that he created them himself, and I was floored because of how real they look. He did a terrific job with these, and I just wanted to share them with all of you.
With the first round of the playoffs beginning this week, please share this with all Rangers fans you know, because they will get you primed and ready for some exciting playoff hockey. Once again, great job, Joe! Enjoy, everyone!
These last few days have provided horrific flashbacks to last season for fans of the New York Rangers, because just like last year, the Rangers had their fate in their own hands. In game 81, the Rangers needed to win the two final games of the season, both against the Philadelphia Flyers, and they were able to accomplish only half of that. With their final home game just two days before the season finale, the Rangers came through in the clutch, with a hard-fought 4-3 win that had Madison Square Garden rocking, giving a resounding cheer for the Blueshirts who then had to travel to the City of Brotherly Love to clinch a playoff berth. The scorer of the game-winning goal? Marian Gaborik, capping off a fantastic debut season on Broadway. Then the last day came, and after another well-played game that headed to a shootout, the entire Rangers’ season rested on the shoulders of Olli Jokinen, who flubbed the chance, and sent them home packing, without a playoff appearance for the first time since the lockout. Two games were all they had, two wins were all they needed.
This season, the Rangers had three games remaining, and found themselves trailing the Boston Bruins 3-0 in the second period of a game on April 4th. The crowd booed, and rightly so, but then the Rangers woke up, and scored five unanswered goals against one of the best defensive teams in the NHL to keep the season alive, but not only that, to keep it in their hands. This is more important than anything, because when you have control of your fate, all you have to do, as a team, is win. You do not have to scoreboard watch or hope for help from others. Unfortunately, last night, the Rangers ruined those chances against the 11th place Atlanta Thrashers. All they needed was a win, to get two points, and they failed miserably. There was no aggressive forecheck, no glaring scoring chances, just all around stagnant play. When the Thrashers exited the building with a 3-0 win, you can be sure that visions of last season were floating around the locker room. There is only one difference: the Rangers are not in control of their fate anymore.
Should the Carolina Hurricanes win their next two games in regulation, the Rangers season is over, even if they win tomorrow afternoon against the New Jersey Devils. There are also a bunch of other scenarios, but I will not waste time going into them because all of it should have been for naught anyway. There was no reason for this, the Rangers needed to win last night, and they failed. Just like last season, coming 0ff their biggest win of the season, they fell flat, and that will cost them.
There is no place to direct anger at, if the Rangers fall short, other than the team itself. Part of me says not to get angry, because this is a rebuilding year. The other part of me says, this team was in playoff contention all year long, has the highest paid goaltender in the league, and another $7 million goal scorer, so of course I will be angry if they come up short.
Just think, what if Lundqvist had not let in a slew of soft goals early in the season? What if Alex Frolov actually produced after signing here? What if Vinny Prospal wasn’t injured for most of the season? What if Martin Biron did not suffer a late-season practice injury? What if Sean Avery was just half as good as he was a couple of seasons ago? What if Marian Gaborik actually played like he gives a shit?
That is probably the most important of these “What if?” questions, and that is what happened to Marian Gaborik? He goes through months of being invisible, has a big game and gets everyone excited, only to disappear again. Well, Marian the Magnificent has now gone eight straight games without scoring a goal, and he only has 22 in 61 games, which equates to about a goal every three games, as opposed to last season when he averaged a goal per less than every two games. It might not seem like much, but in the long-run, they add up. It is one thing to slump, but it is another to just fall off the map and not care, which is where Gaborik is right now—skating around in circles, shooting from the perimeter, and just coasting. On the bright side, he may be due for an explosion tomorrow, since that’s what he does. After all, he hasn’t scored since March 20.
The Rangers powerplay is also to blame, even with the acquisition of Bryan McCabe who has only two goals and six assists in 18 games. After seeing him QB the powerplay, I am convinced that he is not the problem. He is not a bad player, in fact, he is the most skilled player out there who happens to be surrounded by players who are not on his level of thinking. His passes are hard, his shots are even harder, but when is someone ever in a position to do something with them? Take last night for example, with McCabe on the point and Gaborik in the right faceoff circle. McCabe released a hard fake-shot pass right to Gaborik, but the puck bounced over his stick. How is it that a player as skilled as he cannot handle a simple pass? Did he forget how to play hockey all of a sudden? Does Tortorella need to hold a fundamentals practice? These idiots skate around trying to make plays, the puck goes to McCabe, and when he passes it back, they seem like they have never seen that shiny, black, rubber disc before—it’s like they are shocked.
The shining of all examples of this ineptitude of course came on March 31 against the New York Islanders, in a game they had to win. To be honest, I don’t think anything thought the Rangers were going to lose that game, especially since they always play well on Long Island. The Rangers took a 1-0 lead despite playing sloppily, but then they somehow managed to give up six straight goals before adding one late, to fall 6-2 in their most embarrassing performance of recent memory. The killer in this one? Going a mind-numbing 0-9 on the powerplay. That’s almost the equivalent of spending an entire period with the man-advantage, only to score zero goals.
No matter what happens in these next two days, the Rangers can look at that matchup against the Islanders and say that is what did them in. For the second straight season, the Rangers can get eliminated by a division rival; first the Flyers, now the Devils (which is worse?). Even if they do lose tomorrow, the Rangers can still get in if the Hurricanes lose their last two games, but I would not count on it. Carolina is playing well and actually deserves to make the playoffs. The Rangers deserve absolutely nothing.
The Rangers just have to go out there and win tomorrow, then pray for some divine intervention. I can see the Rangers winning tomorrow, even though the Devils are going to come out firing on all cylinders since this is their playoff game this season, but what I cannot see is the Hurricanes losing their next two games. Either way, it is out of our hands. This season will be known as the one that got away, it’s that simple.
If I had the time, I would photo-shop a wanted poster for New York Rangers’ General Manager Glen Sather. Crime committed? Robbery. For the second time in as many months, the Rangers have stolen unwanted parts from teams in an attempt to rejuvenate a struggling squad that started out hot out of the gate, but has since fizzled over. Wojtek Wolski was the first acquisition, and has settled in nicely since coming over from the Phoenix Coyotes for defenseman Michal Rozsival. This afternoon, the Rangers have added veteran defenseman Bryan McCabe, to the youngest defensive core in the league, whose oldest player is 27-year old Steve Eminger.
McCabe, 35, is renowned for his lethal slap-shot and powerplay ability, though his defensive struggles are well documented. With the way the Rangers have been playing, though, defense has not seemed to be an issue (with the exception of Michael Del Zotto would could very well find himself elsewhere after Monday), so if the Rangers paired McCabe with the rookie Ryan McDonagh, or even Michael Sauer, who have really impressed me, it could prove to be quite an effective pair. McCabe has also missed some time this season due to injury, and only has five goals and 17 assists, but a change of scenery could bring back the one-time feared point man that scored 19 goals and 68 points in 2005/06.
Even if McCabe does not pan out, the Rangers do n0t lose much here, because all they gave up was a third round pick and Connecticut Whale forward Tim Kennedy, who was not going to see the light of day any way, and McCabe’s contract expires after this season. The only person I can see having a problem with this is Larry Brooks, because we all remember his fondness for third round picks last season, when he ripped into Sather for trading one for Brian Boyle (how’s that looking now, Larry?).
Joe Aiello and I were even discussing this before, and Joe still believes that the Rangers are still going to get Brad Richards from the Stars, and for dirt cheap. If Sather calls Nieuwendyk’s bluff, that Richards is not going to re-sign in Dallas, then the Rangers can make a move for him. With the way Sather makes trades, don’t be surprised if they get him for Christensen, Gilroy, and a draft pick, because it seems old Glen just calls up teams and tells them what he wants, then gets it.
Bryan McCabe is a veteran of 1116 NHL games for the Islanders, Canucks, Blackhawks, Maple Leafs, and Panthers, with 143 goals and 379 assists for 522 points. He has also has racked up 1729 penalty minutes, though he does not fight often any more.
The last few days have been rather busy as teams around the league have been making minor moves to prepare themselves for the final stretch run of the season. However, the New York Rangers continue to remain quiet, even as the losses pile up and the offense continues to struggle. Though they may not be looking to make a blockbuster, I would find it hard to believe that they will just stand pat and do absolutely nothing. The team is in need of a top-flight center, a physical defenseman, and an offensive defenseman. Unless Glen Sather pulls together some sheer magic, they will not be acquiring all three, but perhaps one or two may be able to be acquired.
Something keeps nagging at me regarding the “concussion” Marian Gaborik sustained yesterday afternoon against the Philadelphia Flyers. I am not going to say the Rangers are out-and-out lying about it, but the whole situation is rather strange. He only played six shifts in the first period, for a mere four and a half minutes, which would indicate something was wrong, but then he was on the ice for the last shift of the period, which does not make any sense. If he really had a concussion, he would not have even been put out there in the end. Now, unless Gaborik suffered this concussion by taking off his helmet in the locker room during the intermission, this situation looks to be one where the Rangers pulled him, because his name is being involved in trade talks. No one saw him get hit, at least not that hard, and the concussion is being announced as “minor” and only lasting five to seven days. How convenient, just enough time to last until the deadline passes. Whether the Rangers want to trade him or whether they will trade him are two completely different stories. As much as I want to see him moved, I just do not see a deal out there glaring at me, except the one I mentioned where the Rangers could trade him and another player to the Los Angeles Kings for Dustin Brown. I believe that deal will help out both teams. Other than that, where would Gaborik fit in?
There is another rumor out there today that the Chicago Blackhawks are interested in Steve Eminger. This could be a possibility, but the Rangers could only make this deal if they were to get a defenseman in return, and the only one on their corps that they would move and who would not affect the Rangers cap situation would be Nick Boynton. Perhaps that will be the veteran presence the Rangers are looking for, as Boynton is 32 and has 595 games of NHL experience.
As for who the Rangers could be getting in terms of an offensive defenseman, I would have to go with the crowd on this one and say Bryan McCabe of the Florida Panthers. The 35-year-old powerplay quarterback still has a lethal slapshot from the point, but is not very sound defensively. However, when compared to Sheldon Souray, who the Rangers scouted multiple times, I would say McCabe looks like a Norris-winner in comparison. Another possibility would be John-Michael Liles, the Colorado Avalanche quarterback who started out the season red-hot but has since cooled off into what his career averages suggest. He is a lot younger, cheaper, and still has a decent amount of experience. Online sources are saying that Colorado is in a lot of talks right now, but no names of players or teams are being revealed, so it is up to us to guess.
Now to who the Rangers should move, I would have to say Matt Gilroy and Michael Del Zotto. I do not really care one way or the other if they keep or trade Eminger—personally, he has not been that bad of late. Del Zotto, however, has been atrocious. Is it a sophomore slump or is this what the rest of his future will hold? To play it safe, the Rangers may just want to demote him for the rest of this season. If they feel like gambling, they may want to move him completely. As for Gilroy, have the Rangers ever had a more pointless presence? He doesn’t hit and has no offense. Yet another instance of good speed being wasted.
One last thing of note, and that is the speculation of the Rangers wanting Chris Neil from Ottawa, and him not waiving his no-trade-clause. I find it hard to believe that a team with Sean Avery, Brandon Prust, and an injured Derek Boogaard would have a place for a player like Neil, who is a better fighter than Prust and Avery, but is a decent instigator himself, and who plays very much on the edge. I would not want him, whatever the deal would be, unless Avery was somehow traded, but I do not see that happening. The only reason I can think of, besides wanting to goon it up, would be that Boogaard’s injury is more serious than we think, and he is done for not only this season, but the future as well. Maybe the Rangers should just quit when it comes to enforcers, because they never seem to have any luck.