Seriously, when was the last time the New York Rangers called someone up from the minors during the season and they instantly caused a sensation, not only by succeeding early, but continuing that success for more than just a game or two? It has been a long time, we know that much, and so, it is with open arms that we have watched rookie Carl Hagelin (8 GP; 3 G, 3 A) play in these last eight games. There is much reason to get excited here, and I am not worried about him being a mere flash-in-the-pan, because he has not been getting lucky with his goals, but actually creating them. Last night, against the Buffalo Sabres, he scored two; one at even strength and one shorthanded. Each one was nearly identical: he used his speed to cut down the wing before blasting a shot home. That is the reason why he will succeed in New York this season, because of his speed and determination, and also, his willingness to just shoot the puck (he has 21 shots so far on the season). He even shows signs of backchecking and defensive zone awareness, which is something that rookies often lack mightily.
Just like peanut butter and jelly, Brandon Dubinsky and Ryan Callahan of the New York Rangers need each other to stay relevant. Overrated as they may be, they are two of the young faces of this franchise, both of which are hitting restricted free agency this summer. Dubinsky has given us something to talk about regarding money, as he has done before, because according to Larry Brooks of the New York Post, he is seeking a multi-year deal at $4.5 million per. If that is the case, the concierge better get the door, because as Brooks also notes, a comparative player in Drew Stafford of the Buffalo Sabres was just given a four-year deal at $4 million, and he had 31 goals last season.
We all know of the love affair between fans and hardworking players. As much as I like to laugh at how overrated Callahan and Dubinsky are to this fan base, I still recognize that they are important cogs in the machine. If I had to choose between the two of them to keep only one, I would take Callahan, because of his speed and shot-blocking ability. While I would trade both of them (or anyone else in the organization, for that matter) if the right deal came up, I could trade Dubinsky without thinking twice. There was already a similar situation when I had this mentality, when back in 2009, Dubinsky was a training camp holdout, lasting until the end of September. He became the first New York Ranger since Mark Messier to do so, and had people wondering if the move was going to cause any bad blood with teammates and management. With that now two years behind us, it seems that a deal will once again not be easy to reach.
With team defensive cornerstone March Staal having a cap hit of $3.975 million, then I would say Dubinsky and Callahan should get that amount or lower, since they are not any more important to the team’s success than Staal is. Furthermore, since both players rely on each other for bettering their play (remember how Dubinsky fell off the face of the earth when Callahan was injured?), they should get identical contracts. At this present time, I would offer them both three-year deals at $3.6 million per, take it or leave it. I think that is a very fair deal for two players who have never eclipsed 25 goals or 60 points in a single season. With teams all over the league retaining homegrown players for fair prices, why should the Rangers be the only team out there to overpay year after year? If these two players truly love playing in New York, they will accept that offer. If they are hungry for money and don’t want the deal, then by all means, go play somewhere else.
Had Jacques Lemaire not brought this franchise their first Stanley Cup back in 1995, fans of the New Jersey Devils would have thrown a ticker-tape parade when the defensive-minded coach announced that he would be retiring after last season. Lemaire, who became legendary for instituting the neutral zone trap, a smothering defensive system, took note that the style for which he became famous was no longer relevant in the new NHL.
But even as fans sat back and complained, the Devils made their way to yet another division title, playoff appearance and recorded the most wins in their franchise history with 48. Imagine that as a coach, leading your team to their best season ever and still the fans want to boo you out of town.
So desperate for a change of style were the Devils that they did something Lou Lamoriello had never done in his twenty-plus years of being a General Manager—do something stupid. It may sound ridiculous, but any way one spins it, the Ilya Kovalchuk contract is going to bog down this team for the immediate future. Don’t believe me? Check out the roster for the Devils game against the Penguins on October 11, when they dressed only three forward lines. They did this because they had injuries and could not afford to call anyone up. The NHL even investigated it because it was against the CBA, which stated that a team cannot play unless they have a minimum amount of players.
Conveniently, higher paid players Brian Rolston and Bryce Salvador are injured, so the Devils barely escape the claws of salary cap death early on this season.
Still, it was all worth it, right? Kovalchuk, the two-time fifty goal scorer was going to put fans in the seats, set career highs, and get rid of those two evil words forever associated with New Jersey Devils hockey…defense first!
Getting back to why this move was just plain stupid (putting aside the 15 year part, that is just laughable), the Devils had 27 games last season to see what Kovalchuk would bring. The team did not experience any dramatic increase in attendance (Newark is still Newark), and the Devils were not much better with him than without him. Sure he scored a point per game while he was here, but points are not all that matter. Kovalchuk is everything the Devils have not been in their 28 year existence. He’s flashy, offensive minded, careless on defense, not a terrific teammate, and has never done anything in the playoffs (not really his fault when you consider the team he played for prior).
The best part is he loves to overstay his shifts. This is important because we can all look back at a time when the Devils rolled four lines equally, sometimes with the fourth line getting more than the first, especially if the team was winning and they went into trap mode. During the end of last season and playoffs, if the Devils had a four-minute powerplay, he would be out there the entire time and look lethargic by the time it was over. The reason why this is important is because what effect will this all have on Zach Parise?
Before Kovalchuk’s acquisition last season, Parise saw that he had only one full season in front of him before reaching restricted free agency. As this team’s franchise player, he was going to make out like a bandit, sign a long term deal, and be content with the fact that the Devils were his team. But now the Devils will never be his team, because of Kovalchuk. Just think, you were going to be the team’s go-to guy, the player everyone looks to for the clutch goal late in the game—the hero, and now, that is all gone. No matter what kind of contract he signs, he cannot out-wait Kovalchuk because of the immensity of that contract.
Other teams may recognize this and try to poach Parise next season, and given the Devils financial situation, they may not be able to retain him. Either that or Parise signs a short term deal and then bolts when he hits unrestricted free agency. Either way, I do not see Parise being on this team a four years from now. You may think that players can put aside their differences and harmoniously play together on the ice, and be friends in the locker room, but more often than not, that is not the case. After all, hockey players are people too.
So now the Devils are six games into their new era, with the gun-slinging John Maclean as their head coach. The Devils began the season playing what was probably the most fast-paced hockey in the franchise’s history, and where did it get them? They lost a close one in overtime 4-3 to Dallas on opening night, got embarrassed in Washington 7-2 causing Brodeur to get pulled, lost to Pittsburgh 3-1 when they dressed only three forward lines, tightened up for a 1-0 win in Buffalo, fell to Colorado 3-2, and last night, played well in the first period to take a 1-0 lead on the Bruins before giving up four goals in the second to lose 4-1.
The Devils are not sacrificing defense for offense here, they are simply sacrificing defense. One could excuse the poor performance on a new system, if the team was actually scoring. But they have only scored 10 goals in six games, and have allowed 21. Martin Brodeur has looked awful, and he has been the goalie of record for all six games. Backup Johan Hedburg, who relieved Brodeur in the second period of the Washington game, did not look to hot himself—he allowed a goal on the first shot he saw and gave up another one shortly after.
It is because of all this that I give John Maclean until the end of October before he is reverting the team back to their old ways. Perhaps not a trap, but a defensive minded system. Lamoriello will insist on it because I have no doubt that he was not the one behind Kovalchuk, and wants to say, “I told you so.” to Jeff Vanderbeek. Brodeur, meanwhile, will insist on it because all he cares about now are what the stats will look like on the back of his hockey card. Should one look out of place towards the end of his career, we may have a catastrophe on our hands. That and the fact that Brodeur just cannot handle the work load he normally gets. Let’s face it, the 77 games he appeared in was the Devils post-season death sentence last year, but he still was playing behind a trap defense, and did not get as much work as other goaltenders in the league. Now he is going to want to play the same number of games, but because he will now have to face scoring chances like a real goalie, he will whine until the Devils change their system.
If John Maclean does not change this Devils style back to defense in the next two weeks, he will not be coaching this team much longer.
The New York Rangers opened the 2010/11 season on the right foot with a 6-3 thrashing of the Buffalo Sabres tonight at HSBC Arena. But what was even more special than a convincing win in the season opener, was the performance of rookie Derek Stepan, who recorded a hat trick in his first NHL game. He also had multiple scoring chances on top of that, and ended up having the biggest night of his life, while becoming the first player in team history to record a hat trick in his first NHL game, and the first Ranger since 1955 to record one on opening night.
The game got off to a very quick pace. Neither team seemed rusty as there was end to end action early on. The first goal of the season would belong to Derek Stepan, who netted his first NHL goal off a crazy deflection that went off the skate of Sabres defenseman Tyler Myers and in. Girardi and Avery would get assists, and Avery was effective all night long; he would finish with two assists on the night.
Five minutes later, Brandon Dubinsky would also score on a great feed from Artem Anisimov from behind the net, to get the Rangers up 2-0. The first period would end with the Rangers up by a deuce.
The Sabres would get on the board almost midway through the second, on a far-away slapshot from Jordan Leopold. This was one Lundqvist should have had, as there was hardly any screen in front of him. But the Rangers would answer back with two more goals that period, both from Derek Stepan, to give him the hat trick (and prompting a kiss on the visor from Brandon Dubinsky during the intermission). The Rangers would further increase their lead early in the third on an Erik Christensen goal, with assists going to Gaborik and Frolov, giving him his first point as a Ranger.
Minutes later, Stepan would have a chance at a forth goal when he missed on a breakaway. Four minutes later, Leopold would score his second for the Sabres and Derek Roy would net one later in the third to cut the Rangers lead to 5-3.
With the Sabres on a powerplay late in the third and the goalie pulled, Brandon Dubinsky would ice it with his second of the game, giving the Rangers a season opening victory.
To nit-pick a little bit, Lundqvist was not very strong tonight and he should have had the first two goals he gave up, while the defense just standing around for the third goal did not help matters. The defense really needs to wake up and shake off the rust in time for their next game against the aggressive Islanders on Monday. Steve Eminger also had a horrible game, and took two penalties.
The Rangers offense definitely looks better than last season, even though it is only one game. The Rangers may get chances like they did tonight all season long, but if the defense plays like this consistently, they could be in trouble.
The Blueshirts next game is on Long Island on Monday afternoon. The injured Chris Drury is a slight possibility to play, though Friday seems to be a more realistic scenario.
A new season of pain, frustration, anger, and high blood pressure New York Rangers hockey, begins tonight when the Blueshirts head up to Buffalo to take on the Sabres at HSBC Arena (7pm). This will probably be one of only a few game previews this season, because I do not like writing them; there are just too many sites out there that preview every game and the information becomes redundant. I will, however, attempt to write a recap of every game this season.
Anyway, to tonight’s game, the Rangers will be sitting Matt Gilroy on defense and the pairings will be Staal-Rozsival, Del Zotto-Girardi, and Sauer-Eminger. I still think the Rangers are going to make a move shortly for an experienced defenseman, because Gilroy struggled all of last season and wasn’t so amazing in the preseason. Meanwhile, with Eminger, I just don’t feel comfortable with him playing defense on a regular basis. Hopefully we will see some more offense out of Rozsival, who has a great shot when he decides to actually use it.
Tonight’s forward lines will be Frolov-Christensen-Gaborik, Dubinsky-Anisimov-Callahan, Avery-Stepan-Fedotenko, and Boogaard-Boyle-Prust. It will be interesting to see if Christensen can nail down the job as the team’s top line center, because he goes through stretches of good-looking hockey, before going invisible for an equal amount of time. The line to really watch here will be the third line. Stepan and Fedotenko played great together during the preseason, and it looks like Avery may be back on his game, something that was missing for most of last season.
As for the fourth line, the Rangers finally have some size and physicality. Prust will probably fight more regularly than Boogaard, simply because no one wants to fight the “Boogie Man”, but I would love to see him destroy Patrick Kaleta tonight (wouldn’t we all?). But even if he does not drop the gloves, as long as he does his job policing the rink and stopping people from running Lundqvist or going after Gaborik, he will be worth it.
The goaltending matchup for tonight will be Lundqvist versus Ryan Miller, who was outstanding last year, both in the regular season and Olympics. It is also worth to note Sabres rookie Tyler Ennis, who I think will have a solid breakout season this year, and will be an excellent fantasy hockey sleeper.
Here’s to another season of New York Rangers hockey in 2010/11!
For in-game updates and news throughout the season, please follow me on Twitter: @gregcaggiano
Every year, Joe and I sit down to make our predictions for the final NHL standings. Here is our selection for the Eastern Conference in the 2010/11 season:
1. Washington Capitals*
2. New Jersey Devils*
3. Boston Bruins*
4. Pittsburgh Penguins
5. Tampa Bay Lightning
6. Montreal Canadiens
7. Buffalo Sabres
8. New York Rangers
9. Toronto Maple Leafs
10. Philadelphia Flyers
11. New York Islanders
12. Carolina Hurricanes
13. Atlanta Thrashers
14. Ottawa Senators
15. Florida Panthers
1. Washington Capitals*
2. New York Rangers*
3. Montreal Canadiens*
4. Pittsburgh Penguins
5. Philadelphia Flyers
6. Tampa Bay Lightning
7. Boston Bruins
8. New Jersey Devils
9. Buffalo Sabres
10. Toronto Maple Leafs
11. Atlanta Thrashers
12. New York Islanders
13. Ottawa Senators
14. Carolina Hurricanes
15. Florida Panthers
The New York Rangers will be without their $7 million, 14-goal scoring captain for the next four weeks after he blocked a shot during a scrimmage this afternoon and broke a finger. The time-table to return will be about a month-long, and will cause Drury to miss the first few games of the regular season, which begins for the Rangers on October 9 in Buffalo.
Regarding the injury, Marian Gaborik said, “[This is] not good news…it’s frustrating, but it is what it is…we’ll have to manage without him for a while.” He later noted, “[Drury] is definitely big part of our team…we are going to miss him, but will have to manage best we can without him.”
Drury was most likely going to be the Rangers third line center this season, after losing his duties in an offensive role towards the end of his disastrous campaign last season, which resulted in career lows in goals (14), assists (18), and points (32), and only the second time in his eleven year career that he failed to reach 20 goals. He was also relegated to fourth line duty, a spot which he thrived under late in the season.
This may be a blessing in disguise for the Rangers, as even though Drury is a more than adequate penalty killer and defensive forward, we may get to see an extended look at Derek Stepan, one of the Rangers top prospects at center. He was going to get a long look during camp and the pre-season anyway, but he may actually start the season with the big club. Should he perform well, the Rangers will have a second dilemma on their hands, with the first being what to do with Wade Redden.
Today on Puck Daddy, Ryan Lambert stated, in essence, that there is no way that Redden is going to play in Hartford, but this seems to be just speculation on his part and not based on any inside information. Rangers fans will still wait with bated breath to learn the fate of the defenseman whose contract has a stranglehold on their salary cap situation.
In the meantime, the Rangers have announced the signing of this guy:
According to Andrew Gross, the New York Rangers will sign forward Tim Kennedy, a left-wing who played for the Buffalo Sabres last season. This move is actually quite puzzling, because the Rangers do not have room for him to fit into the lineup, after they said the youth in the system will get a chance.
Nevertheless, the 24-year-old Kennedy will add some bottom-six depth to the team. He has been in the NHL for two seasons, playing only one full one. After only one game in 2008/09, he played 78 last season while recording 10 goals and 16 assists for 26 points.
With those numbers, he outscored fourth line center Brian Boyle by 20 points, and Boyle’s job looks to be in jeopardy this coming season, especially if Todd White makes the team.
I would have to think that Glen Sather is working on a trade of some sort because he has added a lot of depth this summer and no player that can really help this team succeed farther than where they finished last season. The trade may not be a big one, but I do not think the Rangers are done just yet.
Let’s start off with the smaller piece of news this afternoon, and that is Rob Niedermayer signing with the Buffalo Sabres. Way to go guys! Looks like Niedermayer is going to be your shiny new toy this season until he runs for his life next summer after spending the year in Buffalo.
Now to free agent Evgeni Nabokov, who signed a four-year deal with SKA of the KHL today. Although I originally predicted he would end up in Washington, it really only took a few hours past noon on July 1 to realize that there was absolutely no market for him in the NHL.
At 34 years old, Nabokov has never accomplished anything in the playoffs or international play, despite his 293 regular season wins. This will all but spell the end of his NHL career; if no one wanted him now, he will not find a job when his contract runs out at 38. My question is, in the distant future, will Nabokov ever find himself on the hall-of-fame ballot?
Now to the Ranger related news we have all been waiting for.
Joe and I have been saying it for days, that Kovalchuk and the Rangers were, or should be, dancing the tango together, even with no official word or rumor from anyone. But today, Darren Dreger of TSN Tweeted, “Kovalchuk should simply declare, publicly his want to play for the New York Rangers. I bet Slats would clear the deck and make it happen.”
I would not expect the Rangers to rush things here as clearly Kovalchuk is in no rush to sign a contract any time soon. The Rangers would definitely have to lock up Staal before even thinking about throwing the checkbook at Kovalchuk. And a move like this would ultimately spell the end of Wade Redden after training camp.
Also involving Kovalchuk, which is very convenient, the Los Angeles Kings are back in talks with the superstar, who probably contacted them to get a bidding war going. I would narrow his teams down to the Kings, Rangers, or back to Russia to play in the KHL. He is not going to the Islanders, the Devils would have to dismantle the team to acquire him, and the rumored Maple Leafs would be the worst possible career choice for Kovalchuk, who has never played under the intense pressure that exists in Toronto.
Finally, we have former Ranger great Nikolai Zherdev about to sign with the Philadelphia Flyers. This is coming from at least two very solid Russian sources on Twitter, and I expect the signing to happen soon. With Simon Gagne already asked to waive his no-trade-clause, that will all but be the end of his career in Philadelphia.
Two days ago, Joe and I sat down to chart our predictions. We chose fifty of the top one hundred, and surprisingly, the top ranked Ilya Kovalchuk is still on the market. We still have some names left to sign, and this will be updated every few days throughout the summer to see who had the most correct predictions.
Chart key: Strikethrough means an incorrect prediction, bold is correct, and italics indicates the player has not signed anywhere yet.
1. Ilya Kovalchuk (NJD): Agreed on LAK
2. Sergei Gonchar (PIT): Agreed on SJS
3. Paul Martin (NJD): Agreed on OTT
4. Evgeni Nabokov (SJS): Agreed on WAS
5. Pavel Kubina (ATL): Agreed on ATL
6. Dan Hamhuis (NAS): Greg: VAN; Joe: CLB
7. Anton Volchenkov (OTT): Greg: CAR; Joe: NYI
8. Willie Mitchell (VAN): Greg: VAN; Joe: NJD
9. Zybnek Michalek (PHX): Agreed on PHX
10. Matthew Lombardi (PHX): Greg: PHX; Joe: NYR
11. Alexander Frolov (LAK): Agreed on Europe
12. Teemu Selanne (LAK): Agreed on ANA
13. Chris Mason (STL): Greg: ATL; Joe: PHI
14. Antero Niittymaki (TBL): Agreed on TBL
15. Marty Turco (DAL): Greg: PHI; Joe: SJS
16. Henrik Tallinder (BUF): Agreed on BUF
17. Ray Whitney (CAR): Greg: LAK; Joe: DET
18. Vaclav Prospal (NYR): Greg: NYR; Joe: PHX
19. Lee Stempniak (PHX): Agreed on NYI
20. Matt Cullen (OTT): Agreed on CAR
21. Olli Jokinen (NYR): Agreed on ATL
22. Toni Lydman (BUF): Agreed on BUF
23. Alex Tanguay (TBL): Greg: COL; Joe: VAN
24. Maxim Afinogenov (ATL): Greg: BUF; Joe: CLB
25. Alex Ponikarovsky (PIT): Agreed on TOR
26. Kim Johnsson (CHI): Agreed on Europe
27. Dan Ellis (SJS): Greg: SJS; Joe: MTL
28. Saku Koivu (ANA): Agreed on ANA
29. Joe Corvo (WAS): Agreed on WAS
30. Bill Guerin (PIT): Agreed on PIT
31. Brendan Morrison (WAS): Agreed on WAS
32. Joe Theodore (WAS): Agreed on Europe
33. Colby Armstrong (ATL): Agreed on TOR
34. Derek Morris (PHX): Agreed on PHX
35. Marek Svatos (COL): Agreed on Europe
36. Johan Hedburg (ATL): Greg: NJD; Joe: NYR
37. Martin Biron (NYI): Greg: NYR; Joe: CAR
38. Raffi Torres (BUF): Agreed on BUF
39. Pavol Demitra (VAN): Agreed on ATL
40. Ray Emery (PHI): Agreed on Europe
41. Chris Higgins (CGY): Greg: CGY; Joe: MIN
42. Ruslan Salei (COL): Agreed on Europe
43. Slava Kozlov (ATL): Agreed on Europe
44. Owen Nolan (MIN): Agreed on retiring
45. Mike Modano (DAL): Greg: MIN; Joe: SJS
46. John Madden (CHI): Agreed on NJD
47. Robert Lang (PHX): Greg: PHX; Joe: Europe
48. Ruslan Fedotenko (PIT): Agreed on PIT
49. Alex Auld (NYR): Greg: SJS; Joe: NJD
50. Miroslav Satan (BOS): Agreed on BOS
Predictions made: 50
Signings happened: 22
Greg’s Correct: 7 (32%)
Joe’s Correct: 3 (14%)
Nothing to write home about for either of us, but hopefully our totals will increase as the days move along!