It finally happened. The trade that everyone has been waiting for just went down, and that was the New York Rangers acquiring Rick Nash from the Columbus Blue Jackets in the first blockbuster of the off-season. There were many guesses as to whether or not it would take an overpayment to get him, but I held fast with Glen Sather saying it would either be a robbery, or he would not be acquired at all. The magician has just completed his latest trick, because the Rangers somehow managed to only send Brandon Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov, Tim Erixon, and a first round pick. The Rangers also received a third round pick and a defenseman back from Columbus. All told, the Rangers still have more than $13 million in cap space, with nearly a full roster, as the only two players awaiting to be re-signed are restricted free agents Anton Stralman and Michael Del Zotto. Glen Sather has put himself in a wonderful position here to acquire more, some believing that Shane Doan will be signed shortly. The Rangers are also expected to pursue a defenseman.
Las Vegas could probably get a betting pool together with odds set on which NHL free agent will be the proverbial domino, as in the one player who signs or gets traded that causes all other players and teams to finally act in the middle of what has been a very stagnant off-season. So far, we have had plenty of single dominoes, but no domino effect. Anyway, at least we finally have some major news to talk about, regarding the other star defenseman on the Nashville Predators, Shea Weber, and the little offer sheet situation he and his team are involved in. Let’s take a look at that, and more, as we go “Around the NHL”…
Has there ever been a more boring start to an NHL off-season than this one? Granted, the free-agent pool might not be as deep as it has been in years past, and is only going to keep on getting thinner due to all of these mega-deals, but still, there are enough names out there for this to have been a pretty exciting few weeks in July. It’s funny that when Ryan Suter and Zach Parise actually signed, aside from the initial, “Wow! Minnesota got both!” reaction, the excitement was limited, and people stopped talking about it within two days. Now if Parise had gone to the Rangers, Flyers, or Penguins, and Suter to the Red Wings, not only would we still be talking about it, but suicide hotline workers would be raking in overtime cash.
These past few days have just been up and down with rumors, most revolving around Columbus Blue Jackets’ superstar winger Rick Nash, with nobody seeming to know anything at all about what is really transpiring. But before all of that, we had a couple of big deals, the first being Jeff Carter dealt to Los Angeles by Columbus so he could be re-united with former drinking buddy, err…I mean, teammate from Philadelphia, Mike Richards. The return on the trade was defenseman Jack Johnson and a first round pick. With that, I would say both teams made out rather well. The Blue Jackets get some much-needed offense from the blue line, though Johnson’s defense is anything but solid (I guess you can say he’ll fit right in, then?) as he currently sits at a -12 on the season, and a -90 overall for his career. That’s scary to think about, considering the offense he has put up. Carter, meanwhile, will help a stagnant Kings’ offense, as he will personally be revitalized by playing with a big market team in a city full of night life. You can expect him and Richards to be the bash-brothers they were with the Flyers.
With the NHL Trade Deadline less than three weeks away, the excitement and speculation is already underway, as we await yet another frenzy of trades and seeing who goes where. There are plenty of names on the block, which only adds to the suspense. I am not going to bother making predictions this year, just suggestions and observations for the New York Rangers, based on what their needs are. For a first place team, they have plenty of dead weight that they could afford to lose, and plenty of places to plug a player here and there. If they want to stay in first place and actually advance past the first round this season, the Rangers are going to have to be active. This does not mean a complete overhaul by any means (since when has Sather ever done that anyway, except for the 2004 fire-sale?) but rather a series of non-blockbusters (I hesitate to use the phrase “small deals”) that will sure up the team’s flimsy offense. Below are some options, as well as some other things we must consider:
At the culmination of the 1993/94 NHL season, the New York Rangers snapped a 54 year Stanley Cup drought, with their thrill-ride seven game series victory over the Vancouver Canucks. This team, the assembly of which, is one that people only dream about today,and has perhaps gone unmatched in hockey over the last 17 years, with its combination of veteran leadership, superstar power, clutch goal-scoring ability and goaltending, and a much less talked about presence of skillful youth. This is the one lineup, that, if given the opportunity, any fan of this team would ask for. However, two seasons later, the Rangers arguably fielded an even better team, but one that is largely forgotten, due to it being sandwiched between the Rangers’ Stanley Cup victory and the ensuing lockout, and later, the arrival of Wayne Gretzky in New York, to re-team with Mark Messier, a duo which won four championships in Edmonton. The mid-1990′s was the most exciting time to be a Rangers’ fan since probably the 1970′s. Anyone who has read Losing the Edge: The Rise and Fall of the Stanley Cup Champion New York Rangers (Pub. 1995), by Barry Meisel, knows that GM Neil Smith was poising his team to become a dynasty, but unfortunately, it never happened, and the Rangers would have to settle for only one. The 1995/96 season had even more promise at the start than 1994 did, and although they finished lower in the standings, this had all the makings of another championship.
The New York Rangers are on a road trip from hell. First they traveled more than 11,000 miles to Europe, through Scandinavian countries for exhibition matches, and now back to the United States, where they played one game on Long Island, and are now gearing up for yet another road trip, 3,000 miles to western Canada, to play four games against Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, and Winnipeg, before finally returning to back New York for their home opener against Toronto. This schedule, made so because of the prolonged renovation underway at Madison Square Garden, and the NHL’s fascination with having the Blueshirts travel to Europe what seems like every season, left the team exhausted for their first two games in Sweden, which they dropped to the Kings and Ducks respectively, in overtime, last weekend. With the way they played, they were lucky to have even gotten the two points. Lundqvist kept the Rangers in both games, while Gaborik and Richards were excellent together. Unfortunately, the list ends there in regards to players who actually impressed.
The Rangers could have blamed those two losses on any number of factors, which also included not having enough time to get in team practices, and playing four exhibition games on large-size hockey rinks. John Tortorella even exclaimed, “We can’t wait to get the hell out of here,” upon completion of last Saturday’s loss to Anaheim. Before last night’s game against the Islanders, he told the press that, “The season starts tonight.” If that is the case, than both starts to the season were disasters. With an entire week off to rest up, practice regularly, and prepare, the Rangers were flat once again, plagued by the same thing that dragged them down in Stockholm: penalties. The Rangers were shorthanded eight times last night, the Islanders cashing in on two of those chances. The most glaring of these undisciplined penalties came at the most inopportune time, with less than five minutes remaining, and the Rangers trailing 3-2. Marian Gaborik took the most obvious hooking penalty, one reminiscent of a pre-lockout defenseman trying to manhandle an opponent. I yelled at the TV, watching incredulously. This is the most undisciplined team I have ever seen in my life, I thought to myself. After eight last night, eight against Anaheim, and five against Los Angeles, this is not rust we are seeing, but an epidemic of laziness and stupidity.
The announcers on MSG last night mentioned just before the game that Tortorella preached better discipline to the team, and then Brandon Dubinsky takes a tripping penalty a little more than a minute in. Dubinsky, whose play has been less than lackluster all throughout the preseason and these first three games, clearly looks lost and devoid of hockey sense, and has managed to have taken 20 minutes in penalties thus far. Never being a big fan of his I-Play-Good-When-I-Want-To style of play, I wonder what will have to be done to wake him up, as with the money he is being paid, he needs to either start scoring or Sather has to start looking for a new team for the egotistical “power forward”. He is the prototypical third line center being paid second line money, who has a head the size of a superstar—not really the recipe for success, is it now?
People have also blamed these losses on the injuries to defense, because of Sauer’s recent shoulder injury and Staal’s long-term concussion problems. Aside from normal nerves and a bit of shakiness in the first two games, the Rangers young defense really has not been the issue. Would I kill to have those two guys back? Of course, but I don’t see the Rangers having any wins even with them in the lineup, with the way the offense has looked so far, and the amount of penalties that have added up.
And so I ask, is it time to start worrying? It may be only three games, but the Rangers, aside from Gaborik (2 goals) and Richards (1 goal, 2 assists), have been offensively challenged. Its not even the fact that they are not scoring, but they look terrible at times. The penalties have a lot to do with that, because a team cannot develop flow when they spend nearly an entire period’s worth of playing time in the penalty box. Though there is no “reffing” conspiracy against the Rangers as some fans may tell you, there were a few calls last night that were atrocious, including a delay of game call to Brian Boyle when the puck was still moving, and a goaltender interference penalty on Callahan, who had no way to avoid hitting the goalie. That aside, the cat is out of the bag regarding the Rangers. Word is, they are undisciplined and will take stupid penalties, so you know the referees are going to watch them even closer now.
Discipline is not something a team can learn, or hopefully, re-learn overnight. This is something scarier than if the Rangers were shutout in these three games. Lundqvist has been brilliant, and is the only reason why these losses are not blowouts. But what happens when he gets a night off or has a clunker himself? Will the team just implode? Under normal circumstances, a team would welcome a four game road trip, to get out west and get away from everything; it could be a chance to refocus. But the Rangers have been on the road for about a month now, and due to their first three games, this trip is going to be anything but fun. The Canucks have always been tough opponents, and the Flames and young Oilers team will be very tough to beat. The other foe on the swing, the Jets, are still looking for their first win—will it come against New York?
The Rangers need to win two of these four games, what could be an early season-saver. Be it as it may, only mid-October, but if the Rangers drop all four games or only win one, the hole dug will be even deeper. To the people who are not alarmed, John Davidson used to say, “The points you get in October are the points you don’t need in April”. If the Rangers keep losing, playoff chances will diminish, and it does not matter what time of the season it is. At 0-1-2, the Rangers could easily be 0-3-0, so you can imagine what a poor trip out west could mean—the future is really not too bright. With the Penguins and Flyers bound to have good seasons, and the Devils and Islanders set to surprise, we may be looking at the worst team in the Atlantic this season, without a quick turnaround.
According to Eklund (yeah, I know, he is not exactly the most credible source out there), the Tampa Bay Lightning are having trouble re-signing their restricted free agent superstar Steven Stamkos, who is one of the most talented, and likeable, players in the league. Regardless of the source, it is no secret that the team is having some difficulty locking him up. Supposedly, the two sides are currently nowhere close to reaching an agreement, and although another team could offer-sheet Stamkos, the return of four first round draft picks as compensation, probably does not sit well with management, even though it is such a hefty price. Let’s face it, the only team that would attempt to poach him would be a contender (or would become one with his acquisition), therefore, in the eyes of the Lighting, those draft picks would not yield much, since they would be near the bottom of the picking order. Should they know they are not going to reach an agreement, they can easily trade his rights to another team, and acquire current NHL roster players, draft picks, and prospects, which is more fruitful than just four picks.
If you remember the Larry Brooks article from this past season, on how the New York Rangers were so close to trading for Stamkos (I believe there was a handshake deal of some sort involved, before Steve Yzerman took over), you know they are interested in him. Glen Sather will never offer-sheet a player of that magnitude, just because he is much more classy than that. He has never done it before, and will never do it, so you can just forget about that option. The Rangers’ drafting in the hands of Gordie Clark also would not allow for the team to lose out on four first round picks, which would severely hinder the franchise’s ongoing development. If the Rangers want Stamkos, they will have to trade for him, in what will probably be the biggest blockbuster deal in recent memory.
One of the reasons why Stamkos has not yet signed is probably because he wants a front-loaded deal, and the Lightning either do not have the money for it, or just do not want to shell it out. Well, what is the one team that does have the money? The New York Rangers. Provided they can somehow maneuver the salary cap to fit him, they can give him whatever salary he requires in the immediate future. $24 million over the next two seasons? Book it. A no trade clause? Book that too, since Sather hands them out like candy any way. The Rangers need to be in on this, because even with an addition of Brad Richards, they still are not yet a contender. But if they were to add Stamkos, however, the team’s complexion would change dramatically, as they would finally have a legitimate (if not scary) top six, with solid role players on the bottom six.
But what would it take to acquire a player such as Stamkos? The Rangers would most likely have to send Brandon Dubinsky, another roster player, a first round pick, and a top prospect from the farm system. Michael Del Zotto could be that other roster player, while the prospect can be anyone in the team’s system, and I mean anyone—let the Lightning have their choice. I must admit, that as exciting as this thought is, it is highly unlikely, but should Stamkos become available via trade, the Rangers need to get in on it; Sather still has some magic left in the tank.
While Brad Richards barricaded himself in his Toronto office surrounded by agents, fielding contract offers and visitations from team officials around the league, Glen Sather and the New York Rangers just made a phone call. The Rangers knew that they were going to sign 2011′s top free agent, because of his longing to team up with coach John Tortorella again, who he won a Stanley Cup with in Tampa Bay, and to come to Broadway. It is obvious that Richards had made up his mind all along, and just wanted to be courteous to the other courting teams, because according to multiple sources, he actually took less money to play in New York (the Calgary Flames offered $65 million over the same number of years). The Rangers may have given him a massive contract in terms of years, with nine, but the annual cap hit will be only $6.67 million, bringing the grand total up to a $60 million deal. When you look at what other free agents have gotten, and what the Rangers have gotten for their buck in year’s past, this is an absolute steal.
I am still weary of signing a big name free agent, and I have said many times that I did not want Richards in New York, but when looking at what he can produce, and for the price he came at, it is really hard to not like this deal. The Rangers did not break the bank, and have done what other teams around the league have done, which is lengthen the amount of years, and front-load the salary at the beginning. According to sources, though unconfirmed, he is going to receive $50 million in the first five years, and $10 million over the last four. This is a smart structure, in case he decides to retire.
It seems the Rangers made Richards one offer, and waited for him to accept it—it did not matter what other teams were throwing at him, he was going to sign in New York. This is a feel-good story at a time in the year when we have nothing but confusion and anger over long-term deals. It is nice to know that there are still some players left that will turn down more money to go to a place they really want to play The Rangers needed a top-tier center, and they got one with Brad Richards.
Does it sting? Hell yes, it stings. Despite being thirty-nine years old, I wanted Jaromir Jagr back in New York Ranger blue. In the seasons after the lockout, he single-handedly brought the franchise back to respectability. How was he repaid? He asked for a two-year deal in 2008 and Glen Sather would not back down from a one-year contract. And so they parted ways, with no ill-will towards each other. Jagr went to the KHL and became a king with Omsk Avangard, proving he can still play professional hockey, and excelled at the last Winter Olympics. A few weeks ago, when it came to be known that he wanted back in the NHL, I was expecting the Rangers to take him with open arms. After all, the situation would have been perfect: he would get a one year deal for $2-3 million, and would not be the captain or under any pressure because he would not be the team’s go-to guy. He could have scored his 20-30 goals and sailed off into the sunset the way he was meant to.
The Penguins then entered the equation, and it made even more sense, figuring Jagr would want to end his career where it began. As more teams, included the Red Wings, became interested, the Rangers sat silent, causing Jagr to tell the press that they did not even call him. Then today came the bombshell…Jaromir Jagr has signed with the Philadelphia Flyers. They seemed to have come out of nowhere, how a lot of signings happen nowadays, leaving a lot of people either scratching their heads in confusion, or gnashing their teeth in anger. He has made a strange decision here, alienating fans of both the Penguins and Rangers. The Pens would have more of a reason to be angry, though, since Jagr’s camp was actually in contact with them for a few days.
But as for Rangers’ fans, why is there so much anger? As soon as it was announced that he signed with the team’s Pennsylvania rival, all hell broke loose on Twitter and message forums. All that Jagr meant to this team for those four seasons went out the window, and all of a sudden he became money hungry, a headcase, and locker-room cancer within minutes, none of those being true. Jagr is in Philly because he wants to play hockey, and they wanted to have him there. The Red Wings and Penguins withdrew their offers, and the Rangers never even made a call. Why be angry at him? This fan base has an obsession with youth, and I was quickly told by people on Twitter that signing him would have robbed a roster spot from a young player. This too is false, as the Rangers do not have any promising young players at the right-wing position to be ready this season, especially one that would have added another element to this team. At thirty-nine, Jagr would have come here, kicked ass, and taken prisoners. Whether this is a testament to how good he is or how bad the Rangers are, I do not know—bottom line, he would have been this team’s best player, but if he did fail, there would have been little risk attached. But in getting back to the youth movement, that is the direction the Rangers are heading in, despite my warning that all teams still need a veteran presence. The Rangers do not see the need for such an old player, and therefore, they did not bring him here. Please do not label Jagr a traitor, because I absolutely believe that if the Rangers wanted him, he would have signed here in an instant.
And so I wish Jaromir Jagr all the best in Philadelphia. It pains me to say, but I would like to see him succeed, despite the Flyers being near the bottom of my list in likeable teams. I cannot speak for everyone, but I harbor no hard feelings towards him in any way. It would be nice to see him score 30 goals, just to shut up all the people who say his career is over. Best of luck, Jaromir, you will still be one of my favorites.