February 2007


As we gear up for the final two weeks or rumor mongering before the NHL”s February 27 trade deadline, you can cross off one of the names that was linked to the Rangers.  The Phoenix Coyotes have begun rebuilding by trading Forward Ladislav Nagy to the Dallas Stars in exchange for LW Mathian Tjarnqvist and a 2007 first round draft pick.

One rumor that is picking up steam – and might make sense from a Bluehisrts position – is the talk the Detroit Red Wings are hot and heavy after Peter Forsberg.  However, before Detroit can swing the deal with Philadelphia, the Wings might need to clear some cap space to get Foppa or a suitable power forward replacement for Brendan Shanahan.  The name being mentioned in relation to the Rangers is center Robert Lang.  The native of the Czech Republic was a teammate of Jaromir Jagr in both Pittsburgh and Washington.  Lang, like Sean avery and Pascal Dupuis, becomes a free agent at the end of the season.  The Red Wings might be interested in moving Lang for prospects and/or picks to be sent to the Flyers or serve as replacements for the prospects/picks dealth to Philadelphia.

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Okay, newest Ranger Pascal Dupuis isn’t as loose a cannon as Sean Avery, but the 27-year-old forward comes to New York with his own brand of baggage.

Here is how John Dellapina of the “Daily News” describes Dupuis run-in with Minnesota Wild coach Jacques Lemaire.

“He [Dupuis] had fallen out of favor in Minnesota ever since a December practice during which an angry coach Jacques Lemaire barked at his team: ‘If you don’t want to practice, leave!’ Dupuis actually left the ice and the speedy penalty-killer and one-time 20-goal scorer had been on the fourth line ever since.”

In his defense, Dupuis has offered a different take on the situation in his discussions with the Rangers’ beat reporters.  Here is Dupuis’ version as written by Steve Zipay of “Newsday” a couple of days after the trade.

“We came back from the road from a seven-day road trip and I was sick on the road, getting IVs before the games and stuff. I lost seven pounds on the trip,” said Dupuis, 27. “We flew in at night and played home the next day [Dec. 19], and 10 minutes into the morning skate, Jacques [Lemaire, the coach] said, ‘The guys that’s had enough right now, you can take off, or just stay and we’ll have a good practice and leave at the end.’ So I was sick and figured I’d keep my energy for that night, so I left. Obviously, the media didn’t take it like that. But it was no big deal in the room. Jacques didn’t mention anything about that. Three guys left: me, Wes Walz and Brian Rolston.”

While Dupuis downplayed the incident, the Unrestricted Free Agent still found his way from his coach’s chateau bow-wow to the trading block.

Despite the potential to add a few more gray hairs to coach Tom Renney, Dupuis brings a solid two-way mentality to the table as President/GM Glen Sather shuffles around his role players. In acquiring Dupuis and Avery for Jason Ward and Adam Hall, Sather has added some much needed grit and tenacity in Avery and some much needed defensive responsibility in Dupuis.

Dupuis is 6-foot-0 and weighs 199 pounds and can play both wings. He was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Wild and has played all 334 NHL games with Minnesota (67 goals and 74 assists). His best season came in 2002/2003 when he scored 20 goals and added 28 assists. In 48 games this season, Dupuis has 10 goals (2 of them shorthanded) and 3 assists. He missed 7 games earlier in the season with a sprained left knee.

While Sather has not been able to solve the Rangers two biggest needs – a solid second-line center and a quarterback for the power play – he has done a good job in improving the overall roster without disrupting his every day lineup and without trading away one of the team’s elite prospects.

Here is TSN.CA’s Scouting Report on Pascal Dupuis:

Assets

Plays the game with tremendous energy and combativeness. Is versatile enough to play any forward position or any role required. Still owns offensive upside.

Flaws

Needs to bury more of his chances around the goal area in order to take his game to another level. Is too inconsistent in the NHL.

Career potential

Third line winger.

For good measure, here is TSN.CA’s Scouting Report on Sean Avery:

Assets

Always displays all-out hustle and is a tireless forechecker. Can bang bodies with the best of them and also create offense. Is an underrated producer.

Flaws

May wear down if he plays too much against much stronger opponents. Is still a little too prone to taking bad penalties, though he’s improving in that area.

Career potential

Third line agitator.

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Yesterday when I was writing about the Rangers acquisition of Sean Avery, I began trying to run some line combinations through the steel-trap that is my mind.  It seems that Tom Renney was running some line combinations as well.  From all indications, it appears there is a shakeup on the horizon for tonight’s crucial game (then again, at this point aren’t they all) against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The new line combinations look something like this:

Sean Avery-Michael Nylander-Brendan Shanahan
Marcel Hossa-Jason Krog-Jaromir Jagr
Martin Straka-Matt Cullen-Jed Ortmeyer
Petr Prucha-Blair Betts-Ryan Hollweg

I am trying to figure out what blackmail Hossa has on Renney and what Prucha ever did to piss Renney off.  Renney has constantly said that Prucha doesn’t need to score to play, yet when he doesn’t score Renney drops him down to the fourth line – not exactly the best way to utilize a 30 goal scorer.

I have come to accept that Hossa is a nice fourth-line player who could see some time on the third line, but to play him on the second line with Jaromir Jagr?  What gives?  Then again, when you have a free agent pickup as your second line center, why not play Hossa on the second line with Jagr.

I get the idea that Renney is going for with the line changes.  He is trying to get some balanced scoring throughout the lineup while trying to jump start Shanahan.  Both of these moves are exactly what Renney should be doing.  However, I think he could do a better job.

With the Rangers lacking a true number one center (Nylander is a solid number two center); the Blueshirts need to be a bit creative.  That is why I have put together two sets of options for the Rangers.  One includes recalling Ryan Callahan and actually giving him a chance to sink or swim in the deep end.  It is amazing that teams like the New Jersey Devils can do this and win yet the Rangers can’t find a way to do it at all.  The second option is a more conservative option that includes the players currently on the roster.

First up, the Callahan option.

Shanahan-Avery-Jagr
Straka-Nylander-Callahan
Prucha-Cullen-Ortmeyer
Hossa-Betts-Hollweg

The method to my madness with the first lines is to put the two big guns together and give them a player to ride shotgun for them.  Avery’s penchant for forechecking and willingness to due the dirty work might due the trick to setting up opportunities for Shanny and Jagr.

Slotting Callahan in with Straka and Nylander slows the Rangers to give the youngster every possible chance to succeed.  Opponents will spend more time watching Straka and Nylander and, hopefully, Callahan can thrive under the radar.  The beauty of this line is if you want to put a more veteran presence on the line for defensive purposes late in a game, you can slide Hollweg or Hossa on that line.

The other possibility is to slide Callahan to the third line and move Prucha up to the second.  However, Prucha, Cullen and Ortmeyer have shown some success together.

The fourth line gives the team a solid checking line that can stir up some trouble on the forecheck.  Heck, you could switch Hossa and Ortmeyer and try and recapture some of the magic the Rangers had with Hollweg, Ortmeyer and Dominic Moore.  Renney could be creative and dress Jason Krog instead of Betts if you want better skating or more scoring in the lineup.

With Callahan being recalled, the Rangers need to create a roster spot; therefore, say goodbye to Adam Hall.

Now let’s see what the lines would look like without Callahan.

Prucha-Straka-Jagr
Avery-Nylander-Shanahan
Cullen-Krog-Ortmeyer
Hossa-Betts-Hollweg

Interestingly enough, I also have Avery, Nylander and Shanahan together.  My original intent was to have Cullen or (gasp) Hossa for better balance, but I am hoping that this combination forces Nylander to shoot more – something that would go a long way in solving some of the offensive woes.  Nylander is too unselfish for his own good at times.

The first line carries a lot of offensive firepower, perhaps too much, because it is not going to give much defensive zone work.  If need be, Avery and Prucha can switch spots to balance out those lines.

While I would prefer to keep Krog in a fourth line spot, I think his skating is a better fit with Cullen and Ortmeyer or else you could switch Krog and Betts.

If you notice, I have not addressed any solutions to the Rangers’ problems on the blue line.  The problem is my plan would include recalling Ivan Baranka, but to do that a defenseman would have to go.  There is no way I want to waive any of the defensemen on the roster and I wouldn’t risk losing Thomas Pock or Karel Rachunek by trying to assign them to Hartford.

The best solution would involve looking to move one of the defensemen.  While Aaron Ward is first on the list, trading him would leave the Rangers defensive corps rather young with rookies Baranka and Daniel Girardi and the still developing Pock and Fedor Tyutin.  Unless I could get some decent value for Ward, I would reluctantly keep the status quo.  If Ward were dealt, then Baranka would be recalled and paired with either Michal Rozsival or Marek Malik in attempt to team a veteran with a younger blueliner.

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I must admit that I am ordinarily not the wishy-washy sort when it comes to evaluating trades.  Then again, Sean Avery is not your average player.  No, he doesn’t have the talent of a Jaromir Jagr nor does he have the leadership qualities of a Brendan Shanahan.  In simple terms, Sean Avery is a loose cannon.

Everyone has read or head the litany of past actions in reference to Avery’s indiscretions.

  • Derogatory remarks in reference to French players after a 2005 pre-season hit by Denis Gauthier knocked out teammate Jeremy Roenick.
  • Later that season Georges Laraque claimed Avery called him a “monkey”.
  • Suspended by the Kings last season after supposedly refusing to practice and then getting into an argument with former assistant coach Mark Hardy.
  • Was fined by NHL Vice President Colin Campbell because he criticized the league’s Competition Committee following a fine for diving.  Ironically enough, one the players on that Committee is his former Red Wing and current Ranger teammate Brendan Shanahan – who did put in a good word for Avery with president/GM Glen Sather.
  • Of course, there is the “celebrated” youtube.com video of Avery doing pushups on the ice after banking a puck in off the skates of Nashville goaltender Tomas Vokoun.

Yes, the 26-year-old Avery has had quite the exciting last couple of years following the NHL lockout.  Not exactly up to the caliber of Ogie Oglethorpe, but enough to warrant some concern over Avery’s antics.

Some pundits are quick to point out that Avery leads the league in penalties drawn this year.  However, that is balanced off by the fact he has led the NHL in penalty minutes the last two seasons and is in the Top 10 this year – not a good sign for a team that has had its share of stupid penalties and struggles at times to kill penalties.

However, it is all of these loose cannon exploits that make Avery a missing piece to the Rangers puzzle.  With the team so dominated by a European flavor and flair, the Blueshirts do not have enough “piss and vinegar” type players.  He adds a tenacity and toughness that is often found lacking on the Rangers.  While he will never be a big-time scorer in the NHL, he has the offensive abilities that a Ryan Hollweg has yet to sure – and as a result – can find time on the second and the third line.

This trade is one of those moves where time will tell if it works out for the Rangers.  On the plus side, he is only 26 and is set to be a free agent at the end of the season.  Unlike the Sandis Ozolnish deal, the Rangers can walk away from any further financial responsibility.  Plus, his $1.1 million salary is much more pleasurable than Ozolnish’s contract.

What Sather, Rangers management and Tom Renney must remember is that Avery is not the final piece to the Rangers puzzle.  Frankly, he does not solve either of the team’s top two problems; a second-line center or a quarterback for the power play.  For the time being, Avery will serve second-line duty because there aren’t any other alternatives – at least any alternatives Messers Sather and Renney are willing to try.  Rangers’ management has to hope that Avery provides a spark until they can fill in the other missing pieces.

It is evident that the Rangers are not going to try and find those pieces in Hartford.  If that were the case, you would see a Ryan Callahan, Nigel Dawes or Brandon Dubinsky playing with the Rangers to see if they are the answers.  Interestingly enough, whether it is through circumstance or necessity, the Rangers have tried to find in-house remedies to their woes on the blue line.  Both Daniel Girardi and Thomas Pock have gotten chances to show their wares.

Only time and results (or lack thereof) will determine if the Rangers are buyers or sellers as the February 27, 2007 trade deadline approaches.  I do not have a problem with the Rangers trading prospects just as long as it is not another case of sending away prospects for aging veterans.  Losing Marc-Andre Cliché may or may not come back to haunt the Rangers, but at least they acquired a player in his prime, not over it.  The next step is for the Rangers to move some of their other failing pieces (e.g. Adam Hall and Aaron Ward) in exchange for some new pieces of the puzzle.

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The countdown to the National Hockey League’s February 27 trade deadline has begun in earnest.  As expected, rumors are flying in reference to the usual suspects: Peter Forsberg and Keith Tkachuk being the most prominent.  With the Rangers’ struggling to secure a playoff spot, it is only natural for the Blueshirts to be involved in almost every trade rumor.

So far, President/GM Glen Sather has avoided hitting the panic button and relying on past temptations to trade prospects for veterans.  Of course, the salary cap implications make this a risky maneuver for any team – never mind a team like the Rangers who have been preaching moderation.

Expect trade rumors to start between the Blackhawks and the Rangers because Chicago GM Dale Tallon has been scouting the Blueshirts.  According to John Dellapina of the “Daily News”, Tallon scouted the Rangers during their trip to Boston and Philadelphia.  Dellapina says the Rangers targets might be center Bryan Smolinski and defenseman Jassen Cullimore – two players whose names have been linked to the Rangers.

Smolinski would prove to be an improvement over Blair Betts and Jason Krog in the Rangers search for a second-line pivot for Brendan Shanahan. However, Tim Sassone of the “Chicago Daily Herald” reported that the Rangers target might be center Mikael Holmqvist.  Given Holmqvist’s inconsistent play, Smolinski would be a “now solution” while Holmqvist would be a “long-term solution”.

Therein lies the Rangers ultimate conundrum at the 2007 trade deadline.  Do they use their assets to acquire players for a run at the 2007 playoffs or do they go in a different direction and try to take a more long-term view.

Cullimore’s situation is a bit different because, unlike Smolinski, he does not become an Unrestricted Free Agent at the end of the season.  The Rangers would be on the hook for another year at about $2 million – a not-so-tidy sum when you factor in that Darius Kasparaitis still has another year left at about $3.2 million.  Unless the Rangers were able to trade Kasparaitis, the best they could do would be to lose him on waivers and be saddled with a $1.6 million cap hit.  Of course, the Rangers could just let Darius sit in Hartford and keep his full salary off the books, but the prospects of a 35-year-old NHL veteran on their AHL affiliate does nothing but take up a roster spot that would be better served going to a prospect.

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