Because I swore to not write one post on the NHL lockout last month, hockey has pretty much been invisible on this blog. That is going to change today, because I could not help but pass along these exquisite images of New York Rangers’ Henrik Lundqvist, Brad Richards, Brian Boyle, and restricted free agent Michael Del Zotto, as they recently posed for Esquire during their unfortunate elongated period of free time this fall. The images were just released today, so I thank DKC for sending them over to me. Enjoy!
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.
This is going to be a two-part series, the second of which will feature some guest writers and their take on the surprising rise and disappointing fall of the New York Rangers in this 2011/2012 season.
The NHL playoffs can be described as one word: relentless. The pace is non-stop, the play is aggressive, and there is never a moment’s peace where one can step back and take a deep breath. On that basis alone, one could argue that the New York Rangers have been in the playoffs for the entire season, starting before the season actually started. Playoffs are full of endless trials and tribulations, elated moments of victory and agonizing moments of defeat. It does not matter how it ends, and people rarely think about how it even begins. For the Rangers, it started with a 10,000 mile trek across Europe for some pre-season match-ups with local teams, culminating with two season-opening games in Stockholm, Sweden against the Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks. When they returned to North America, they then had to go on an elongated break and even more road games, as Madison Square Garden’s phase one transformation had not yet been completed. It took a while for the Rangers to get going, but once they did, there was never a break. Even with some bumps in the road along the way, the Rangers managed to lose three regulation games in a row only twice in the regular season, and then once in the playoffs. They did all of this while being watched by HBO’s cameras 24 hours a day, seven days a week for the month of December, and then had to prepare for a mini-Stanley Cup game, as I refer to the Winter Classic, against the Philadelphia Flyers in Citizens Bank Ballpark, in front of 50,000 fans, a game which they won with a late comeback and some stellar goaltending.
Even though the NHL season always seems like a long a grueling one (it is), I always find myself in amazement at how fast it actually all goes by. It is January 28th, and the proverbial first half of the season has come to an end with every NHL team skating into the All Star Break for a restful few days before the playoff chase officially begins. Who would have thought at this point, that the New York Rangers would be second in the entire league and in first place in the Eastern Conference? I can guarantee no one had it pegged as such. The highest aspirations I had for the team for the regular season were what they have been for the last few years: battling for a playoff spot the entire year, and going down to the last day.
Obviously, that could still be a possibility depending on which Rangers show up when the second half starts on Tuesday against the New Jersey Devils, but for now, let us look back on a first half that has, overall, been a great one. It seems like a long time ago that the Rangers were literally traveling all over the world to play hockey games and having a bumpy start to the season. But from then until now, Ranger fans have watched a team gel and combine to form a potent force that finds ways to win. If you think about it, it is kind of amazing that the Rangers are where they are when you consider a few things. First, the defensive core has never been healthy for a long period of time. Whether it was Marc Staal starting late, or him coming back and Mike Sauer and Steve Eminger going out, the D-corps has not been at full strength.
Yes, Virginia, he can write a positive article on the Rangers!
The New York Rangers, after starting off with an abysmal record and level of play seem to have reversed themselves in a stunning 360. Perhaps it was overreaction, or maybe a European trip hangover, where recovering from many different changes in time zones while traveling more than 10,000 miles took its toll. Now, 14 games into the season, the Rangers are playing how everyone expected. Okay, so all of these games have not been masterpieces, but they did not have to be—the bottom line is, the Rangers are playing some great hockey, coming through when they need it the most, and all while experiencing some self-examination and quite a few blessings in disguise.
The Rangers needed a center for Marian Gaborik, but unbeknownst to them, he was already on the team when Brad Richards was signed. After starting out the season like almost everyone else, youngster Derek Stepan seems to be blossoming into a force to be reckoned with, after being placed on the team’s first line (one that has gone three games without be juggled by John “The Mixologist” Tortorella). He had only one assist in his first eight games, and he now has three goals and six assists in his last six. Meanwhile, Marian Gaborik continues to be the goal scorer that they signed two seasons ago, when he put up 42 goals in his debut year on Broadway. After experiencing a myriad of injuries last season and never being able to find his game except in a few multi-goal outbursts, he has settled in nicely with his new-found linemates, with nine goals and six assists for 15 points in 14 games. Should he score two more goals, he would have cut last season’s 62 game total in half. In actuality, he only scored in 14 games last season, including two hat tricks and one four-goal game. This season, he has already scored in seven.
The blessing in disguise here, for the Rangers, is the fact that Brad Richards is not centering Marian Gaborik, the exact reason why he was signed to a very expensive, multi-year deal to begin with. This is actually the best thing that could have happened to the Rangers, because now, instead of a first line, two third lines, and a fourth line, they have lines 1a and 1b, followed by a third line and a fourth line. Everybody has found their niche and the role they are supposed to be playing in—no one is being asked to do more, at least offensively. Defensively, poor Dan Girardi is probably going to have a heart attack by Thanksgiving, after averaging nearly a half a game’s worth of playing time every night. Not to jinx him, but his play has been nearly flawless, and his style has been gritty and effective. Throw Ryan McDonagh, and a nice $4 Thank-You card from Hallmark to Bob Gainey, into the mix, and I would say that the Rangers have the best defensive corps in the league, one that additionally sports the solid and physical Mike Sauer and a revitalized Michael Del Zotto, who has matched the amount of goals he scored in 47 games last year already this season.
As much as we Rangers fans like to complain, we sure like to eat crow as well. Who would not want to eat their words as opposed to seeing this team transform right before our very eyes? The development over the last two weeks alone is very encouraging, because they will only get better. As much as I like to rag on Brandon Dubinsky, he is not going to go the entire season without scoring a goal. Hopefully, once he nets one, they will come in bunches. Until then, though, fans do have a right to be on him, especially since he is coming off signing his first really big contract. He reminds me of Chris Higgins, during his short stint in New York. Higgins too did everything right, everything except score— he got plenty of shots on goal and chances, and was good at killing penalties, he just could not get that little black disk into the net. Once he gets going, and Richards actually has wingers to pass to, the Rangers may find themselves as one of the more formidable teams in the eastern conference.
The Rangers can also say they have one of the best goaltending tandems in the league, with perennial Vezina candidate Henrik Lundqvist, and the always dependable Martin Biron. Combined, the two have a 1.96 GAA, which is good for third best in the league. The Rangers have also shown a considerable amount of toughness in and around their own net. As opposed to years past, where opponents had free reign near Henrik Lundqvist in the crease, the defense, namely Ryan McDonagh, have done a good job in promptly setting such people on their rear end.
This may finally be the Rangers team we can be excited about. There is still a long way to go, but this is definitely a step up in the right direction, and if they keep playing this way, we will all be in for a treat on Broadway in this 2011/12 NHL season.
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.
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?
The New York Rangers made their first move of the summer this afternoon, when they dealt two 2nd round picks and prospect Roman Horak to the Calgary Flames in exchange for a very promising defensive prospect in Tim Erixon, who signed a contract with the Rangers immediately after the trade, to beat the 5 pm deadline he was not going to reach with Calgary. I do not know much about Erixon, but many have compared him to current Rangers’ defenseman Ryan McDonagh.
The son of former Ranger Jan Erixon (he was born in New York, and watched his dad play with the Blueshirts), Tim was drafted in the first round (23rd overall) in 2009, and has played in the Swedish Elite League since then. His totals in four seasons with the SEL are 140 games played, with 14 goals and 30 assists. Hockey’s Future had this to say about him in April:
Calgary’s most recent first round draft pick has emerged as one of the organization’s top overall prospects. Tim Erixon turned in another strong season for Skelleftea, averaging almost 20 minutes of ice time per game and playing in all situations in his third SEL season. His point production and role have increased each season and the 20-year-old defenseman finished this one with five goals and 19 assists in 48 games. His 24 points ranked second among defenders, trailing only David Rundblad’s (OTT) explosive season.
Next season’s training camp ought to prove very exciting because of the many young defensemen the Rangers have, in addition to who is already on the roster. This bold move could prove ominous for Michael Del Zotto, and perhaps the Rangers will look to trade him, since analysts across the board are saying that Erixon is NHL ready. It is really hard to get excited about a hockey trade with temperatures above 90 degrees where I am, but this is a solid move, and I think Erixon will improve the team with his speed, and further reinforce a very strong, young, Rangers’ defensive corp.
Heading into this off-season, the New York Rangers find themselves in quite good shape when compared to the last few summers. The Rangers must establish a true first line in order to justify their investment in Marian Gaborik, whose disappointing 2010/11 campaign could have been attributed to injuries and lack of chemistry with players around him. He will, and must, look to regain his form found in the previous seasons.
Brad Richards is the only marquee free agent on the market when it comes to offensive players. Richards, 31, is the number one center the Rangers need if they would like to take their development one step further. The mentality of the Rangers’ youth movement is nice, but they need top line talent to win. Unfortunately, this top line talent does not exist anywhere in the organization outside of Marian Gaborik. Pairing Richards with Gaborik and Wojtek Wolski would give the Rangers a top line. Wolski is a question mark on that line, but given he gels with talented players we could see him have a breakout year.
The Rangers have two players in Chris Drury and Sean Avery who are both primed for buyouts. The Rangers cannot endure one additional season while carrying Drury’s 7+ million cap hit. They need to spend their money elsewhere in order to improve the club. Drury’s 3.7 million buyout hit will give them additional flexibility. When it comes to doghouse player Sean Avery, it does not make sense for the team to keep him around, unless he can reclaim past success, which is doubtful. Avery’s role with the Rangers has seemed to disappear and he has turned into more of a liability than anything else on the ice. Cutting his salary cap hit almost in half will give the Rangers an additional $1 million in spending money. In order to bypass buyout ramifications, the Rangers could also send Avery salary to Hartford, removing it entirely from the cap as well.
When it comes to other players on the free agent market, there is only one forward I would not steer clear of. Jamie Langenbrunner is a forward, who if used in a 3rd line role, could prove valuable to the club. The Rangers should take a long look at Langenbrunner. Despite his age, a team needs a few veterans sprinkled in if they want to find any type of success. Jan Hejda, a veteran defenseman from Columbus, can also help the Rangers if paired with youngster Micheal Del Zotto. The Rangers have had interest in bringing Hejda in for several years via trade with the Blue Jackets, but were never able to make a sensible deal. Now that Hejda is a UFA, a one or two year deal may make sense.
Stay: Anisimov, Boyle, Callahan, Christensen, Dubinsky, Fedotenko, Gaborik, Prust, Stepan, Wolski, Eminger,Girardi, McDonagh, Sauer, Staal, Biron, Lundqvist
Go: Avery, Drury, Prospal, Gilroy, McCabe
Your 2011-2012 New York Rangers
Salaries calculated through CapGeek and are noted in parenthesis next to the player’s name.
1st line: Marian Gaborik ($7.500m)- Brad Richards ($6.750m)- Wojtek Wolski ($3.800m)
2nd line: Ryan Callahan ($3.975m)- Derek Stepan ($0.875m)- Brandon Dubinsky ($3.975m)
3rd line: Jamie Langenbrunner ($2.300m)- Artem Anisimov ($1.350m)- Mats Zuccarello ($1.750m)
4th line: Brandon Prust ($0.800m)- Brian Boyle ($1.225m)- Ruslan Fedotenko ($1.250m)
Scratches: Erik Christensen ($0.925m) and Chris Drury ($3.716m)
1st pairing: Marc Staal ($3.975m)- Daniel Girardi ($3.325m)
2nd pairing: Ryan McDonagh ($1.300m)- Mike Sauer ($1.505m)
3rd pairing: Jan Hejda ($2.500m)- Michael Del Zotto ($1.087m)
Scratch: Steve Eminger ($0.650m)
Starting: Henrik Lundqvist ($6.875m)
Backup: Martin Biron ($0.875m)
Salary Cap: $62,500,000
Cap Payroll: $62,284,167
Cap Space (23-man roster): $215,833
[Note from Greg Caggiano] Even though Joe and I disagree about Brad Richards, I must say this looks like a decent line-up, or at least more so than last season’s. The three free agent moves he has made here are realistic and certainly not out of the question, though fans may be wary in bringing in another ex-Devil in Langenbrunner. But out of all three moves, I like that one the best. The players that he let go I agree with, though I would have added Christensen to the list.
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.