November 2006


No, I did not commit a spelling faux pas in my headline.  The word “Fourth” refers to coach Tom Renney’s stubborn refusal to play four lines.  While power plays and penalty kills do wreck havoc with a coach’s ability to run four lines, it seems that Renney has just decided to ignore what worked so well last year.

Yes, the Rangers do not have a fourth line comparable to last year’s HMO Line of Ryan Hollweg, Dominic Moore and Jed Ortmeyer.  However, Renney and Rangers management has made no attempt to work a fourth line into the mix.

The biggest problem about giving the fourth line any meaningful fourth line time is the case of Colton Orr.  In the Blueshirts’ 5-4 overtime loss to Atlanta, Orr saw only four shifts for a total of 2:21 in ice time.   Steve Zipay of “Newsday” had the following quote from Renney in reference to Orr’s presence in the lineup, “Dialogue with our players. We like our team with Colton in it. We seem to be a stronger, more assertive team with him playing. It’s sort of karma among the players … they like having Colton’s presence.”

I still find it hard to believe that the coaches or players could really believe that.  How effective can an enforcer really be when he receives such limited ice time?  The problem is he can’t be an effective deterrent.

<>Orr aside, Renney’s forgetfulness has cost Hollweg ice time – even though he might be the team’s best physical presence among the forwards – Brendan Shanahan excluded.  Hollweg saw five shifts for a total of 3:33 in ice time.  The only fourth liner who received any kind of ice time was Adam Hall – and that ice time came outside the realm of fourth line duties because he played 1:49 on the power play and 0:36 on the penalty kill.

If a team is not going to run four lines on a semi-regular basis, then the fourth line players have to be able to get ice time during special team play.  Both Hall and Hollweg are capable of seeing and getting more ice time killing penalties with Hall needing to get more power play time so that the Rangers can use Matt Cullen on the point.  The problem is that Orr is not going to see any special team play.

Some might argue he should get a look on the power play.  I say nay-nay.  Orr is a player who has only 1 career point in the NHL (an assist) in 53 games.  He has never registered double figures in goals in his junior/pro career.  His best season came in 2000-2001 when he scored 8 goals and 13 points in 60 games in the Western Hockey League.

My spirits received a boost when I found out that Hartford’s leading scorer Ryan Callahan had been recalled.  Sadly, the team has no plans to give Callahan any ice time.  It seems that Callahan was recalled so the coaching staff could take a closer look at him and because the Wolf Pack are off until Saturday.  Hopefully, the coaching staff sees enough during practice to warrant some playing time in the NHL.  If it isn’t going to be Callahan. then call up Brandon Dubinsky or Jarkko Immonen because the Ranger forwards run the risk of running out of gas late in the season if the team continues to be one line shy.

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On the night the New York Rangers played their most complete game, President/GM Glen Sather traded Jakub Petruzalek and a conditional 2008 fifth round draft pick to the team the Blueshirts had just shutout 4-0.  In return, the Rangers received veteran power forward Brad Isbister from the Carolina Hurricanes.

The 29-year-old Isbister signed with the Hurricanes as a free agent during this summer.  Assigned to Carolina’s AHL affiliate in Albany, the 6-foot-4 and 231 pound LW/RW tallied 3 goals and 5 assists with 54 PIM in 9 games.  Isbister spent the 2005-2006 season with Boston and scored 6 goals and 17 assists in 58 games.  He missed 24 games with the Bruins due to a groin injury. 

Petruzalek has split time with Hartford and Charlotte of the ECHL.  In 13 games this season, he scored 1 goal and added 11 assists.

Isbister is a veteran of 467 NHL games spread out between the Phoenix Coyotes (he was drafted by them when the team was in Winnipeg), New York Islanders, Edmonton Oilers and Boston Bruins.  He netted a career-high 22 goals with the Islanders during the 1999-2000 season.

While Isbister was assigned to Hartford, published reports are split as to what his future is with the Rangers organization.  John Dellapina, of the “Daily News” says “…there are no immediate plans to call him up.”  On the other hand, Sam Weinman, of the “Journal News” says Isbister does fit into the team’s plans.

While Isbister has the power forward size that teams crave, he does not always use that size as often as he should.  In terms of production, Isbister is your classic underachiever.  He is one of those type of players who has all the tools, but doesn’t have a toolbox to put them in.

It is interesting to see what course of action the Rangers take with Isbister.  The Wolf Pack have been struggling to score goals and find a level of consistency so far this season.  The organization has made attempts to inject some veteran leadership at the AHL level.  In addition to sign tough guys Dale Purinton and Francis Lessard, the Wolf Pack recent signed former Neil Smith draft pick Chris Ferraro to fill the scoring and leadership void.

If Isbister was acquired as a means of building up the Wolf Pack, Sather could have put Petruzalek and the conditional draft pick to much better use than simply propping up the Hartford Wolf Pack.  Adding a veteran for the sake of adding a veteran in the AHL does nothing but take valuable ice time away from prospects – unless it comes at the expense of a Ferraro, Purinton or Lessard.

If, on the other hand, Sather acquired Isbister with an eye towards creating a little competition at the NHL level, then fans must take a wait-and-see attitude.  While Isbister isn’t a cure-all, in these times of salary cap hockey, sometimes you have to pick your spots and take your chances.

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Tonight’s game against the Carolina Hurricanes should be a good barometer for the New York Rangers on a couple of different levels.  First off, will the Rangers be able to continue their trend of playing up to their competition and down to their competition?  Given the fact that tonight’s opponent are the defending Stanley Cup champions Hurricanes, the Blueshirts are due for another round of playing up to their competition (unlike their poor effort at Washington).

Another point of contention is the Rangers playing on the road in the back end of back-to-back games while Carolina was off last night as they finish up a four game homestand.

Finally, it will be interesting to see if Tom Renney’s blistering second intermission “pep talk” will carry over to tonight’s game.  Renney is pointing to last night’s victory over the New Jersey Devils as a season maker.  The question is do the players believe that as well and can they capitalize on the momentum of their third period comeback.

Of note, Jaromir Jagr stands two goals away from the 600 goal mark in his NHL career.  Once the captain lights the lamp two more times, he and Brendan Shanahn will become the first teammates to reach the 600 goal mark in the same season.

Tonight’s game is on MSG2.  For information on where to find MSG2, follow this link : http://www.nyoverflow.com/a.html

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Much has been made about the NHL’s unbalanced schedule.  The GMs meetings in Toronto were dominated by discussion and debate over what to do with the the schedule.  Many talk about the divisional rivalries while others pine over missing the opportunities to see stars from the opposite conference.  I believe I have a solution – or the very least – a compromise.

Currently, each team plays 32 games within its own division (8 games against the other 4 teams in the division), 40 games with each team within its own conference (4 games against the other 10 teams in the conference) and 10 games with teams in the opposing conference.

My plan calls for keeping the 32 division games – thus satisfying those who crave divisional rivalries.  My plan reduces the number of intra-conference games to 30 (3 games per conference rival).  Teams would then play a home-and-home series with one division from the opposite conference (5 teams equals 10 games).  Then you would play 1 game against the 10 remaining teams in the other conference.

For example, under my plan, the Rangers would play a home-and-home series with a Western Conference team every three years instead of merely playing every Western Conference team every three years.

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As far as hockey is concerned today, the mention of T.O. has nothing to do with a certain Dallas Cowboys wide received.  Instead, it references Toronto – the city where NHL GMs are meeting to discuss a variety of topics.  While they will discuss on-ice topics, the most intertesting topics will be off-ice – as in behind closed doors – as GMs attempt to set into motion the wheels on some deals.

You can bet Glen Sather will be looking to slim down his payroll while unclogging the logjam on his blue line.  Darius Kasparaitis probably can be had for a song and a dance and Marek Malik might not be far behind him.

There is just one problem.  Most teams are looking to add offense, not defense.  Teams that would be concentrating on defense are looking to upgrade in goal – not among their blueliners.  Even if a team were looking for defensive help, Darius and Marek are high-end items in terms of salary.  The Rangers would have to take salary back or look to make a deal like the Devils who had to trade away a conditional first round draft pick in order to pawn Vladimir Malakhov off on the San Jose Sharks.

The Rangers could look to move Kevin Weekes and his nearly $2 million salary, but that is a lot of money to pay for a goalie who might not be an upgrade for an NHL team.

Odds are the Rangers will stay the course and wait until the trade deadline before making any major moves – barring any major injuries.

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The Rangers interupt their trip across the scenic United States to return home to face the red hot Buffalo Sabres before heading down south to play Florida, Atlanta and Washington.  The Sabres, who are 9-0-1 in their last 10 games, will test the Rangers new-found winning ways.  The Rangers need only to look at Buffalo to see how to build a team in the “new” NHL.

Darcy Regier and Lindy Ruff have built a Buffalo squad that is built for speed within a system that does not ignore the defensive zone – something the Rangers have done far too ften this season.  Even if the Sabres defense has a lapse or two, Ryan Miller and Martin Biron have been standing tall in goal.  It makes you wonder how Miller did not merit consideration for the U.S. Olympic Team last year.

Does Tome Renney start Kevin Weekes off two consecutive victories or does he go back to Henrik Lundqvist?  While there is no question that Henrik is the Rangers present and future, Renney has to turn to Weekes.  The Rangers need to start rewarding players for stepping up their play – as well as benching players for poor play.  With three road games in four nights on the horizon, there will be plenty of time to get Lundqvist back on track.  Besides, a hot Weekes helps push Lundqvist that much more.  Now if Renney would only take the same stance with Marcel Hossa!

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Darius Kasparaitis’ 10-day conditioning stint with the Hartford Wolf Pack, in and of itself, is not earth-shattering news.  Coach Tom Renney has been most displeased with Kasparaitis’ conditioning and game-readiness after the veteran defenseman’s two surgeries during the summer.  However, nothing is ever as simple as it seems at MSG.  There are other circumstances that must be considered.

Is Glen Sather looking to clear some salary cap room?  While the conditioning stint doesn’t alleviate any payroll problems, it could be the first step in that process.  If the Rangers place Darius on waivers, and he clears, his $2.9 million salary comes off the books – much like the Devils did with Alexander Mogilny last year.  If the Rangers then attempt to bring him back, another team could claim him and the Rangers would be responsible for half his remaining salary.

To add additional intrigue and further complicate matters, the Rangers and Blackhawks have been scouting each other.  Former NHL blueliner Marc Bergevin has been scouting the Blueshirts during their West Coast swing while Don Maloney was at Chicago’s game against the New York Islanders.  While it could be coincidence, it could be the precursor to a trade.

Internet reports have stated that Chicago is looking to trade veteran defenseman Jassen Cullimore.  Larry Brooks of the “NY Post” says the Rangers have some interest.  While the 6’5” and 244-ound Cullimore has the size the team craves, he is not as physical as he should be.  Also, Cullimore’s $1.9 million salary means the Blackhawks will have to take some salary back – not an easy situation to negotiate because Chicago is only a couple of million dollars under the salary cap.

Brooks added more fuel to the fire in his November 1,2006 column when he wrote that the Blackhawks are interested in Petr Prucha.  While Sather is no Lou Lamoriello, he sure is no Isiah Thomas because a Prucha for Cullimore trade would be an unmitigated disaster.  Even Brooks couldn’t write that trade proposal with a straight face.

However, our Mr. Brooks floated the name of 21-year-old rearguard Brent Seabrook.  The 6’3” and 215-pound Seabrook is an interesting prospect because he has the potential to be the power play quarterback the Rangers need.  However, with the likes of Marc Staal and Bobby Sanguinetti knocking on the NHL door, it doesn’t make sense to move Prucha for Seabrook.

On the other hand, if Chicago were willing to include defenseman Cam Barker’s name to the trade talks business would (and should) pick up.  The 20-year-old Barker is the same size as Seabrook with the caveat that Barker uses his size and is a physical two-defenseman who also has the potential to lead the power play.

With Michal Handzus out for the year and Martin Havlat out of the lineup with a sprained ankle, Chicago GM Dale Tallon is feeling pressure to swing a deal to bolster his offense.  If the Blackhawks are seriously interested in Prucha, then any trade discussion has to start with Barker.

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