I have not written about hockey in a long time, but this is something that I felt I needed to share with everyone, because it shows there are still athletes out there who serve as class acts, and who want to do good things for their fans. A couple of weeks ago, when the New Jersey Devils were facing the Tampa Bay Lightning, one of the announcers for the Devils remarked that Cory Conacher, a rookie center for the Lightning, is a type 1 diabetic, and how great it was for such a player to reach the NHL. Watching and hearing this, one of the players I coach, a 14-year-old named Jake from Middletown, New Jersey, who also has type 1 diabetes, said how awesome he thought that was, and that it was the first time he had ever heard of a player with the same condition as him actually making the NHL. I have known Jake for several years, and have seen him develop in front of my own eyes. He has a lot of skills and is one of the best players in our league, but coaching him also helped my development, because it served as a wake-up call of sorts to see a player have to keep track of his sugar levels, or maybe even pump insulin in the middle of a game, while on the bench. This might keep most people from playing such an intense sport, but it has not stopped him, and thankfully, did not stop Cory either.
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.
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:
Coming off a huge win over the Phoenix Coyotes, when Brad Richards scored the game-winning goal with .1 seconds remaining to give the New York Rangers the win and snap a two-game losing streak, the team finds themselves down a defenseman yet again, as Steve Eminger took a check and went shoulder first into the boards during the second period. While we do not know what exactly is wrong, we do know that he left the arena with his arm in a sling, and by looking at the replay, it seems as if he might have separated his shoulder. Severe or not, the Rangers are in a bind. Marc Staal has been out the entire season with post-concussion syndrome and Michael Sauer, more recently, suffered a concussion as well. The Rangers, who, at the beginning of the season, had one of the best defensive depths in the league, are now losing that by the game.
At just over 13 minutes into the second period, New York Rangers forward Artem Anisimov scored a beautiful goal off some tic-tac-toe passes shorthanded to give his team a 2-1 lead against the Tampa Bay Lightning, but then, he skated to the top of the circle, turned around, and made a shotgun motion with his stick, aimed towards the net. This celebration, which is called a “sniping”, went on to cause an absolute frenzy as Lightning players proceeded to attack him. This will no doubt be the center of conversation in the NHL for the next few days, and so it deserves additional attention on here.
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.
The New York Rangers re-signed one of their unrestricted free agents yesterday, in bringing back winger Ruslan Fedotenko. I was of the opinion that they were going to bring back only one of the pair of him and Vinny Prospal, so now that he is signed, I think that Prospal is done in New York. If that is the case, so long and thank you very much, because he did the job he was supposed to do. While Fedotenko is not going to blow anybody away, he is very good at what he does, which is blocking shots, checking, and scoring the occasional goal. He finished the season with 10 goals and 15 assists for 25 points, and was rewarded with a one year extension at $1.4 million. He is a great role player to have on the bottom six, and is someone who could jump up on the top line for a few games if need be.
As 32 years old, there is still some gas left in the tank for him, unlike Prospal, unfortunately. These two guys played under John Tortorella in Tampa Bay, which was the reason they were brought in. But now, there really is no place in the future for Vinny, and I do believe the Rangers will not make an effort to bring him back. Fedotenko is the epitome of a Tortorella player, and the Rangers missed his presence in the 16 games he was out with injury last season.
We are now in the morning of Day Two of the NHL’s Free Agent Frenzy, with big names such as Brad Richards and Simon Gagne still out there for the taking. I really hope that Richards, wherever he signs, will do so today, so this does not drag out like Kovalchuk’s saga did last summer.
If the Rangers don’t go far in the playoffs, I hope the Tampa Bay Lightning do. In a game that meant absolutely nothing to them, they worked hard, and ended the Carolina Hurricanes’ season, thus berthing the Rangers into the playoffs.
It’s nothing new: the New York Rangers do not do things easily, and probably never will. This season, their fate did not come down to the last minute, but the last millisecond, as they eagerly awaited the result of a game between the Lightning and Hurricanes after defeating the New Jersey Devils this afternoon. In the end, the team that deserved to be in made it, despite what I said angrily a few days ago. This new ridiculous tiebreaker the NHL has where regulation and overtime wins decide who makes the playoffs, while completely ignoring shootout wins, is atrocious. Because the Hurricanes would have had more “ROW’s” with a win tonight, the Rangers would have been ousted—penalized for winning a facet of the game that exists, whether or not you agree if it actually should be there anyway.
Last season, the Rangers missed the playoffs because they lost in a shootout. This season, they had the opportunity to miss the playoffs for winning in shootouts. Make sense? Well, let’s just stray away from politics and get to the topic at hand: the New York Rangers are officially a part of the 2010/11 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Despite being shaky at times, this will be a fantastic chance for such a young team to learn while playing through a so-called rebuilding process. Given the fact that Lundqvist has played a tiresome 26 games in a row, and that this team’s offense is nothing to write home about (wink-wink-nudge-nudge Marian Gaborik), I do not give them much of a chance to go far, though I do think they can defeat the Washington Capitals, their first round opponent. The Rangers fared well against them this season (3-1-0; 18 goals), so hopefully that will carry over into the playoffs.
Now, I did not watch all of the Lightning game tonight, but in checking the score every half hour or so, I could not help but feel that they were playing so hard, perhaps, in thanks to their old friend, ex-coach John Tortorella, who led them to their only Stanley Cup in 2004. Hats off to coach Guy Boucher for taking this meaningless game seriously, and having his guys play hard.
That’s going to be all for now, folks. We will now take the next few days to relax, before the stress will begin once again in the first round of the playoffs!
The fate of the New York Rangers’ season is now in the hands of the Tampa Bay Lightning. With their backs to the wall, the Rangers needed to win this afternoon over the New Jersey Devils, or their season was over. They would accomplish that, with a 5-2 victory, but unfortunately, whether or not they make the playoffs rests with the Stamkos-led Lightning, when they take on the Carolina Hurricanes tonight in Raleigh. The Rangers did all they could do today, which was win, and will now sit and watch the scoreboard to see whether or not they will make it to the postseason.
- First period: The Rangers got off on the wrong foot when they allowed an early goal, originally credited to Ilya Kovalchuk, before it was changed to Nick Palmieri. The Blueshirts could have folded right there, but instead, they got a much-needed goal from an unlikely source, Chris Drury (1), who returned to score his first goal of the season and first in 25 games, dating back to a year ago today. The Rangers continued to play well, before being deflated by a late goal by Kovalchuk, to trail 2-1.
- Second period: It was in the middle frame that it seemed the Rangers decided that they were not going to take a loss for an answer this afternoon. Wojtek Wolski (12) scored less than two minutes in on assists from Fedotenko and Sauer to tie the game. Ten minutes later, Ryan McDonagh (1) would score his first career goal, in this, his 40th game of the season. He would cap off a fantastic rookie campaign, that will also see him finish with a +16 rating. With Prospal waiting behind the net, Gaborik fed him the pass and he was able to find the open rookie inside the circle, who shot it over the shoulder of Martin Brodeur. In scoring that goal, McDonagh now becomes part of a trio of Rangers’ defenseman, including Matt Gilroy and Marc Staal, who scored their first NHL goal against Brodeur. Four minutes later, the Rangers would jump ahead by two, when Brandon Prust (13) knocked home a loose puck after it was shot to the net by Brandon Dubinsky. The Rangers headed into the third with a 4-2 lead.
- Third period: The Rangers were 28-0-0 on the season when taking a lead into the last period, and thanks to some good offensive pressure and a defense that kept the Devils to only seven shots, the Rangers could tack on one more win to that stat. It was a relatively calm period, and the Rangers were in charge the whole time, and when Vinny Prospal (9) scored on a 2-on-1 with Artem Anisimov midway through, that sealed the deal.
Feelings are still bittersweet at the moment, because as happy as us fans want to feel about a great win over the Devils on the final day of the season, it might all be for naught if the surging Hurricanes keep on flying tonight. The Rangers, who never seem to play well in day games, played an excellent and intense one today, and did everything they needed to do to at least have a chance tonight.
With the exception of the Devils’ second goal, Lundqvist was solid, and stopped what he needed to in order to give his team a chance to win in what became his 26th consecutive start. Chris Drury also came through in the clutch today, scoring in his first game back from yet another injury stint. It truly is amazing how injuries work, and how Drury happened to be ready just as Callahan broke his ankle. It really makes one wonder if Drury wasn’t ready for longer than what was let on, and just kept on the back-burner because he was not needed. I don’t want to yell conspiracy here, but it’s just very odd.
We will now all hold our breath to later tonight, where we will find out if the Rangers will be advancing. I will not say “Goodbye” just yet, to all my Rangers readers, because I will be putting up something tonight once we learn of the outcome. Until then, just try to relax and have some fun during crunch time. I know it will be stressful, but it is out of our hands. All we can do is wait.
According to ESPN, the New York Rangers are one of six teams that have been asked by the NHL to take part in the annual Premiere Games in Europe, an event that began in 2007 when the Anaheim Ducks faced off against the Los Angeles Kings in London, England. It was so successful that the Rangers and Tampa Lightning played each other the following season in Prague, Czech Republic. The NHL is going to continue with these games for the foreseeable future as they serve as free exposure for the league, and also to showcase to the up-and-coming European players that it is their league they should play for, and not the KHL.
That said, this news is just preliminary, according to ESPN as nothing has been finalized. I did not like the idea of the Rangers starting the season in Europe last time, and even though they won both games against the Lightning, it leaves a longer lasting effect on the team than the standings after game two in the season. The traveling oversees and getting used to time zones combined with an irregular preseason that consists of games played in both America and Europe causes players to sometimes not correctly get into their preseason rhythm.
I really hope the Rangers will decline this invitation because their season and development of prospects is more important than the NHL’s fascination with Europe. The article does mention that the Rangers may not be able to play at MSG early next season anyway because of renovations, but I would much rather have this team go the entire month of October on the road than take part in this gimmick.
The other teams included are the Edmonton Oilers, Washington Capitals, Buffalo Sabres, Los Angeles Kings, and Anaheim Ducks. I’m really surprised to not see Pittsburgh on that list since the world should behold the glory of Sidney Crosby.