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”…
Here is a signing that no one saw coming, and that is tough guy Arron Asham completing his Atlantic Division tour by signing with the New York Rangers this afternoon for two years, at $1 million per season. While I was surprised to learn of the acquisition, I am very pleased with it, though it probably spells the end of Brandon Prust’s time on Broadway. However, Asham is a much better fighter and a lot more intimidating than the scrappy Prust. He might not bring as many intangibles, but his signing is a bargain price, something that Prust’s would most likely not be, as he is expecting to get both more years and more money with his new contract.
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.
Well, this is what we were all waiting for: the series of the year. While fans of the New York Rangers rooted wholeheartedly for the Florida Panthers, and, dare I say it, Philadelphia Flyers in the first two rounds, the New Jersey Devils’ fans cheered on the Ottawa Senators and Washington Capitals with a passion. All the ill-wishing was for naught, however, as it is only by destiny and the fate ordained to us by the Hockey Gods (with a little consideration for league economics; did you hear that sound at about 10:15 Saturday night? That was the thud of NBC Sports Corporation executives jumping up and down) that these are the two teams which will meet in the Eastern Conference Finals, the prelude to the Stanley Cup. These two teams met there once before, when the Rangers defeated them in seven games back in 1994, thanks to a double-overtime winner by Stephane Matteau, but that moment is long gone now, except for the Devils that hold onto the final shred: the only player still currently playing that was on either team, Martin Brodeur. That was his first full season, and now many think this one will be his last—either way, you can be sure that the Rangers would love nothing more than to see Brodeur’s career begin and end with a Conference Finals loss at their hands, while Brodeur will do everything in his power to have the last laugh this time.
Complaints about the way the Pittsburgh Penguins have conducted themselves this past season have become so commonplace that they blend right in with your general barrage of gripes that you can expect to see with each season. But how about one from a Penguins’ fan himself? Sure enough, these last few weeks have gotten so out of hand, culminating with yesterday afternoon’s debacle with the Philadelphia Flyers, that it prompted an Open Letter to be posted on their SB Nation blog PensBurgh. This is a very thoughtful yet straight-to-the-point message from a lifelong Penguins’ fan that really captures everything that the rest of the league has been saying for years:
Long has been the talk of how ridiculous the NHL’s final standings alignment is, in awarding the top three places to each of the three division winners. Naturally, the number one spot is always deserving, but sometimes two and three are in a higher place as a mere formality and not because they actually deserve it. In most seasons, usually it is the number three seed that can be called into question, but this year, we have a complete mess from top to bottom, with teams jumbled all over the place. The guilty conference is the East, more so than the West, that only has one team, the Phoenix Coyotes, out of place in that infamous three seed. We can always find a way to live with one team sneaking into a place they don’t belong, but how about when two of the top three teams don’t belong? The following is a look at the final standings for the Eastern Conference:
It’s just an ordinary day here at National Hockey League Elementary School, as the Pittsburgh Penguins, the school’s star student, continues to ace all of his tests and be a model of in-class behavior to the rest of the students. He behaves well to the teachers and never misses a homework assignment, and heck, he even gives the teacher an apple every Monday morning. You will not find anything on his record—the report cards are spotless and parent-teacher conferences are always brief. The teachers, and more importantly, the principal, all love Pittsburgh, but ask any fellow student what they think, and you will hear a whole different story. You see, there is something behind all of that seemingly wonderful behavior. Out on the playground during recess, when the teachers are at lunch and the only supervision consists of two ragged old ladies who are only there for a paycheck and the chance to raise their adrenaline by screaming at unsuspecting children, Pittsburgh is always involved in certain, dangerous activities. Try to climb the jungle gym and he’ll pull on your legs. Stand at the top of the slide and try to sit down, and he’ll push you head first before you are ready to set yourself. Play dodge-ball and forget about it, Pittsburgh is going to throw the ball at your head. Then comes time for a kickball game, and Pittsburgh is running to first base. An outfielder grabs the ball and pegs him, knocking him to the ground. Pittsburgh gets up, and goes right to a teacher to complain about what has happened to him. An egregious abuse of such a wonderful student, who is never in trouble! The person who throws the ball gets a detention and a warning of a suspension. Pittsburgh gets a free ice cream cone at the end of lunch. Then comes another game of dodge-ball a week later, and you get struck in the face by guess who. Approaching the principal, not even a teacher, with your nose bleeding and tears running down your face, you tell him what happened, that the throw was intentional and Pittsburgh does it all the time—hurting people and then turning the tables and complaining when other people do it to him—and the principal tells you to suck it up and be a man, that your actions are bordering on that dreaded term for an elementary school student: tattle-tale. That’s what you are, after all. You just took a swipe at the school’s star student, and now you are labeled the whiner, and it is you who will be disciplined in the end. Can’t you just grow up and be a man!?
For the past several games, the Columbus Blue Jackets have been showing a serious interest in the New York Rangers, so much so, that on Saturday in Philadelphia, their General Manager Scott Howson was in attendance as well. While no one knows exactly who they are interested in, or if the Rangers are even willing to make a deal, we do know that something is definitely brewing, because it is not often that a team’s GM tags along to scout a game. This leaves us to speculate on who exactly could be on the move within the next couple of weeks. There are only two players on the Blue Jackets that would even come remotely close to helping them, but each one comes with some serious baggage by means of an enormous contract. They are center Jeff Carter and left wing Rick Nash. Even though the Rangers sit in first place in the Eastern Conference, they are in no doubt in need of another offensive presence, yes, even after Gaborik and Richards seem to have broken out of their funk over this past weekend. But at what cost will the Rangers act?
For the New York Rangers this afternoon, history repeated itself, because the last time they played on a Super Bowl Sunday, they won on the same day that the New York Giants and New England Patriots squared off in one of the most memorable football games in recent history, four years ago. With the atmosphere in New York swelling around the big game on February 3, 2008, the Rangers headed up to Montreal where they got off to a very slow start, falling behind 3-0. But very quickly, the game started to turn around, and the Rangers made sure that the Giants were not the only New York team to win that day. After goals by Michal Rozsival, Brandon Dubinsky, and Scott Gomez to tie the game after two periods, the Rangers then went ahead and steamrolled the Canadiens in their home building (an extreme rarity) with two third period goals, scored by Chris Drury and Martin Straka. The feeling we felt after this game was complete elation, because Montreal’s arena had (and still has) always proved to be a House of Horrors. The happy feeling would only be eclipsed for Giants’ fans later in the day, as they defeated the Patriots, ending their incredible undefeated season.
Alan Bass and I have known each other since 2007, when we both started writing for a sports website called Bleacher Report. We quickly became friends, though the relationship was, and still is, a severe case of love-hate, considering he is a die-hard fan of the Philadelphia Flyers, while I root for the New York Rangers. In the summer of 2008, that intensity led us to create an online hockey radio show for the Youcastr Network, which has since dropped its programming of all individual shows. From July to November of that year, we broadcasted weekly, interviewing a wide array of people such as New York Rangers radio announcer Kenny Albert, Tampa Bay Lightning radio announcer Dave Mishkin, Toronto Maple Leafs television announcer John Bowen, and members of the Philadelphia Flyers broadcast team for both television and radio, Jim Jackson and Keith Jones, as well as their pre-game anthem singer Lauren Hart. We were also able to land interviews with then-current Rangers goaltender Steve Valiquette, and later, Colin Wilson, future center of the Nashville Predators. In retrospect, it is hard to believe how much time we actually spent doing these shows, even though they were only around an hour long each, and working on individual episodes, which were difficult in themselves to produce, because we had to talk through Skype, since we live almost two hours apart from one another.
When the radio show ended, Alan continued to write for Bleacher Report for a few more years, and I moved around to other blogs, before finally settling in on this one. He then got himself an internship with The Hockey News, and from there, the creativity kept on blossoming. It was in early 2010 when he first told me his initial idea to write a book on the 1967 NHL Expansion, and I offered my encouragement and said I would help him if he needed it. The topic was definitely an interesting one, as it was never written about previously. Little did I know, those early drafts and revisions that I got a chance to read through would actually turn into a finished product that would be published in 2011, titled, The Great Expansion: The Ultimate Risk that Changed the NHL Forever. This book, as I can personally attest to, was meticulously researched and mapped out, and will prove to be the definitive work on this great, important, and now, almost forgotten era of hockey history. Brad Kurtzberg, author of Shorthanded: The Untold Story of the Seals, said the following about the book, “Alan Bass has captured the history of the biggest turning point in NHL history. [He] brings both the highlights on the ice and all the important maneuvers behind the scenes to fans, including what happened and why. Full of in-depth analysis and interesting and never before heard stories, this book is a must for any hockey fan.” Below is our interview: