March 2009


“I thought we sucked tonight, right through the game. We were fortunate to get a point.”

“You know what? I don’t give a (bleep) what the guys talked about, I really don’t care what the guys talked about. We sucked.”

Those were the responses Rangers coach John Tortorella gave to the media before he stormed out of the post-game press conference last night after the Rangers threw away the dreaded three-goal lead in 20 minutes and change.

While one can understand Tortorella’s frustration at his team’s annoying inability to put teams away, he needed to man up and face the music just like his players did.

As a result of Torts’ abrupt exit, no one was able to ascertain the coach’s use of we. Was he referring to the “royal we” as in his team or was he referring to the collective we as in everyone on the bench – coach included?

In retrospect, he needed to be using we in reference to the team and himself – especially himself.

I normally do not blame coach’s for losses, but the Rangers 5-4 shootout loss in Atlanta is on his shoulders – and not for the reason you might be thinking.

I have no problem was his decision to start Steve Valiquette. Henrik Lundqvist had started 20 of the last 21 games and this was the last best chance to give The King a night off before the end of the season. Besides, despite much of the teeth gnashing from fans online, Valiquette has, for the most part, done a good job as Lundqvist’s backup.

So why is this loss on Tortorella?

For the second time in three games the Rangers failed to put away a non-playoff team. As Valiquette told Michael Obernauer of the Daily News, “Where is our killer instinct when we’re playing someone lower in the standings?”

Do it once, blame the players. Do it a second time in three games, blame the coach.

Of course, a lot of the blame (or credit depending on your rooting interest) goes to Ilya Kovalchuk. If Marian Gaborik was auditioning for the Rangers on Tuesday night, then the Thrashers captain did the same thing last night.

As Marc Staal and Daniel Girardi struggled with containing Kovalchuk, Tortorella did nothing. He did not try to switch another defense pairing against Kovalchuk’s line. Given the ice time and success Ilya was having, perhaps Tortorella should have gone old school.

Instead of matching defensive pairings against him, Tortorella should have just assigned a shadow to him – especially in the third period. Between Sean Avery, Lauri Korpikoski and Fredrik Sjostrom, Tortorella had enough left wingers to mark Kovalchuk for 20 minutes.

Even with that said, Tortorella continued to mystify me as to why Sean Avery played less than 15 minutes when he could have been effective in helping to turn the tide in the third period.

Things got even worse when the shootout rolled around. How Nikolai Zherdev is not be among your top six shooters is beyond me.

Perhaps the most damning thing of all reflects back to how Tortorella and the Rangers played with such discipline against Minnesota and then fell apart so quickly in the final 20:21 against Atlanta. Tortorella and the Blueshirts realized they needed to adjust their style of play against the Wild and take fewer chances in game they were going to have to grind out a victory.

Tortorella and the Rangers made no such adjustments against the Thrashers. Discipline, hard work and any semblance of a fore-check went out the window as the Rangers reverted to panic mode. If panic set in last night against the Thrashers, where does that leave the Rangers with their final seven games?

It is one thing to piss away a point against a team that is out of the playoff hunt. It is another to do it against a team you are battling with – and that is what the Rangers face as they hit the final stretch of the season. Outside of the Devils and Bruins, the Rangers play five games against teams they are battling for a spot in the playoffs. The Rangers can ill afford to leave any points behind. They need to make sure they put their two points away like they should have last night against Atlanta and if there are any games that they are “destined to lose”, they need to get those games into overtime (at the least) to make sure they gain a point out of game where they were not meant to get a point.

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Ranger fans had seen this movie before – any momentum their team built up gets washed away thanks to a parade to the penalty box, poor decisions and some untimely luck. The Rangers were set up for yet another sequel last night in Nashville after turning a 1-0 lead into a 2-1 first period deficit. In the past, it would have been time to switch channels or face 40 minutes of the same thing. However, in the past, John Tortorella was not their coach.

During the first intermission, Tortorella laced into his team like no coach has laced into a Rangers team in many years – possibly all the back to Mike Keenan in the 1993-1994 season.

“Once they took the lead, we kind of sagged our heads,” assistant captain Scott Gomez recounted to Steve Zipay of Newsday. “He came in and stopped it right there. He called us out. He let us know it. It’s been a long time since I heard a speech like that. He definitely woke a lot of guys up. If we don’t play every night like that, we’re just cheating ourselves.”

While Tom Renney tried, he was too much Dr, Jekyll while Tortorella is able to flash his My. Hyde self.

In addition to tapping into his “dark side”, Tortorella showed that he is going to hold his players accountable. While Renney did bench players at times, he didn’t garner as much attention as Tortorella did last night when he sat down Nikolai Zherdev. One gets the feeling that the new coach got his point across when he sat his enigmatic right winger at the end of the bench in the second period. It was as far as Tortorella could send him without leaving him in the locker room.

The coach’s point was made because the Rangers roared out with an intensity that has been seen few and far between this season. The Rangers went to the net with an abandon that has been missing for most nights.

“I thought we were hard on the puck the last 40 minutes of the game,” Tortorella told Zipay. “It’s something that has to be a standard for us. That shouldn’t be something special. That needs to be our game.”

One question is can the Rangers play with that intensity for 60 minutes and can they carry it over from game to game. They face a huge test this weekend with back-to-back matinee games against the Philadelphia Flyers.

Once again the Rangers find themselves in playoff move weeks prior to the start of the NHL playoffs. The Blueshirts need more and more of their second and third period production and less and less of their first period protection.

Another question is how will Zherdev respond to his benching. Tortorella did not go into details about why Zherdev was benched. Rather, he referred to it as an internal matter. Zipay believed that Tortorella “implied that Zherdev was not as engaged as the coach wanted.”

Whatever the motivation, whatever the words of motivation Tortorella uttered, for at least one night the Rangers seemed to get the message.

“There were intense words,” Paul Mara said to Zipay. “We’re playing for our lives. We can’t take a period off, we can’t take a five-minute segment off, we can’t take a shift off.”

Everyone seems to be on the same page and now the question left to answer is are the players reading the same book.

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It didn’t take Nik Antropov too long to learn that there is still something extra in any game between the Rangers and the Islanders.

“I will just say that I have never seen the Islanders play that way when we played against them with the Maple Leafs,” Antropov told Michael Obernauer of the Daily News. “It was pretty fast-paced over here.”

While the Rangers did defeat the Islanders and the season series five games to one, the Blueshirts should not get too giddy about their victory. The Islanders lineup featured four no-name players recalled from Bridgeport who are not even household names in their households. It is just another example of how the Islanders manage to squeeze every last drop of effort when facing the Rangers. It is also a lesson that the Rangers need to heed as they wind down the regular season and (hopefully) prepare for a Stanley Cup playoff run.

John Tortorella needs to pull a page from fellow American coach Herb Brooks when referring to his team. Brooks reminded his 1980 Olympians that they were not good enough to beat the Russians talent-wise. Rather, they would have to fight tooth and nail for every advantage.

Despite Glen Sather’s deadline deals, the Rangers are still not a team good enough to think they can get by on talent alone. Actually, in this day and age, there really aren’t any teams that can constantly win games without putting forth a 100% effort for 60 minutes. Unfortunately, the Rangers tend to drift through parts of games when they think they can. Even more unfortunate is when the Blueshirts think they can play that way for 60 minutes of hockey – and that has happened far too many times this season.

The Rangers let a blazing start slip away and that has forced them in yet another fight to the finish in an attempt to just make the playoffs. They have left themselves no room for a margin of error so, for all intents and purposes, the Rangers are already in the playoffs. As a result, they need to bring their “A” game to the rink every night – something they didn’t always do against the Islanders last night.

Sunday afternoon’s game against the Boston Bruins and Monday night’s game at Carolina against the Hurricanes will be the major test. These are two games vital to their playoff quest – especially the Hurricanes game. The Rangers will not be able to come away with four points if they put out an effort like they did against the Islanders.

Yes, it was the first game as Rangers for Antropov and Derek Morris and it was Sean Avery’s first NHL game in ages, but fans have witnessed similar efforts with the “regular” lineup.

To paraphrase George Santayana, “If the Rangers do not learn from history they are doomed to repeat it.” In other words, if the Rangers don’t watch and learn the need to play hard like the Islanders, the Rangers will be repeating their past history of missing the playoffs.

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While the 3pm trade deadline has passed, TSN reports that the NHL’s Central Registry still has a backorder of trades that they are reviewing and approving.

One deal that was announced ahead of the deadline just happened to break at the same time as the Rangers Nik Antropov deal. The Philadelphia Flyers traded forward and RFA Scottie Upshall and a second round draft pick to the Phoenix Coyotes for Daniel Carcillo – which will bring up some interesting Ranger-Flyers battles between Carcillo and Sean Avery.

The Flyers added some depth to their defense in a trade that was announced after the 3pm deadline. Philadelphia acquired Kyle McLaren from San Jose for a sixth round draft pick. The Sharks assigned McLaren to the AHL in order to receive salary cap relief.

Toronto GM Brian Burke continued to stockpile draft picks by sending center Dominic Moore to the Buffalo Sabres for a second round draft pick.

Anaheim continued to shuffle their roster with minor trades. They sent center Sami Pahlsson to Chicago for defenseman James Wisniewski. The Ducks sent forward Ryan O’Dell to Atlanta for forward Erik Christenson and TSN just reported that they have traded physical checking left wing Travis Moen and reserve defenseman Kent Huskins to San Jose goaltender Timo Pielmeier, forward Nick Bonino (Boston University captain) and a conditional draft pick.

The Florida Panthers, as expected, traded a defenseman. However, it was Noah Welch and a third round draft pick going to Tampa Bay for defenseman Steve Eminger.

The Columbus Blue Jackets, who began the trade deadline doings, added some organizational depth in goal by acquiring netminder Kevin Lalande from the Calgary Flames for a fourth round draft pick. Lalande was a fifth round draft pick in 2005 (128th) and has split time between the AHL and ECHL.

The Carolina Hurricanes, Edmonton Oilers and Los Angeles Kings were involved in a trade that basically sees Patrick O’Sullivan go to Edmonton, Justin Williams to Los Angeles, and Erik Cole back to Carolina. TSN reports that draft picks will be changing hands. While it isn’t a three-way in reality, for all intents and purposes it was.

In another that deal that may or may not be part of the above trade sees the Oilers send a second round draft pick to Buffalo for Ales Kotalik. With all of the draft picks involved in the “three-way” deal, it is possible that one of those picks went to the Sabres.

The Toronto Maple Leafs were involved in one of the more bizarre trades of the day. Brian Burke sent defenseman Richard Petiot (a 26-year-old “prospect” who makes $500,000) to the Tampa Lightning for goalie Olaf Kolzig, defenseman Jamie Heward, defenseman Andy Rogers (an injury-prone former first round draft pick) and a fourth round pick. The impetus of this deal is that the Lightning get a pro-rated salary cap break from the injured Kolzig and Heward (about $500,000) in exchange for a draft pick – with the swap of prospects helping the trade pass the NHL’s sniff test. Burke declined to comment on the trade when speaking to TSN because he was still waiting for league approval.

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As the 3pm deadline approached, Glen Sather waited out his old buddy Brian Burke. The Toronto GM was quoted as saying he wanted a first round draft pick for winger Nik Antropov. As the clock wound down, he ended up trading him to the Rangers for a second round draft pick and a conditional draft pick.

Antropov (6-6/230) is a 29-year-old former Maple Leafs 1990 first round draft pick (10th overall). While he fits John Tortorella’s wish to add size, Antropov is known for his finesse game as opposed to his physical game. In 63 games this season, he has 21 goals and 25 assists with 6 power play goals and 24 PIM. If you are a big believer in plus/minus stats (which I am not), one concern is his minus-13 rating. However, for his career Antropov is a plus-54 in 509 games – to go along with 125 goals and 166 assists with 27 power play goals and 477 PIM.

The newest Ranger forward set career highs in goals (26), assists (30) and power play goals (12).

Here is Antropov’s scouting report from TheStar.com:

ASSETS: Can line up at all three forward positions. Plays with poise and patience. Owns good vision and two-way smarts. Works hard and has impressive size and reach.
FLAWS: Is so big that he could still stand to play more of a power game at the NHL level for a greater impact. Is prone to mental lapses on the ice. Lacks natural goal-scoring ability.
CAREER POTENTIAL: Top six forward.

With the deadline looming, Sather then turned to his former assistant Don Maloney in an attempt to revive the Rangers moribund power play. The Blueshirts acquired defenseman Derek Morris for Dmitri Kalinin, Nigel Dawes and Petr Prucha. Sather had to pay a heavy price for Morris because his newest defenseman carries a $3.95 million contract. The only positive is that Morris is an UFA at the end of the season – the same as Kalinin and Prucha. Dawes will be a RFA.

In addition to the Maloney connection with the Coyotes, the Rangers have a Phoenix connection in their front office as well. Mike Barnett, former GM of the Coyotes, is an advisor to Sather.

In 57 games with Phoenix, Morris has 5 goals and 7 assists with 24 PIM, a minus-13. The biggest knock on Morris is that he is coming to New York to revive the Rangers power play; however, he has exactly zero power play goals this year.

The 30-year-old Morris (6-0/220) has scored 35 of his 76 NHL goals on the power play. He also has 256 assists, 778 PIM and is a minus-27 for his career. Morris’s 2002/2003 season was his career best with 11 goals (9 PPG) and 37 assists with a career best plus-16 rating.

ASSETS: Possesses a well-rounded package of top-level skills, specifically an excellent skating stride and booming shot from the point. Is very strong and aggressive along the blueline.
FLAWS: Has a tendency to lose his concentration in the defensive zone and give the puck away at the most inopportune moments. Must learn to better harness his aggressive nature.
CAREER POTENTIAL: No. 2 defenseman.

Yes at first look it seems that the Rangers gave up too much for Morris, but when you look at it, the trade was really Dawes for Morris. Kalinin is a wash because Morris replaces him in the lineup and was going to be kicked to the curb as a free agent. Prucha is a tough loss, but he is in the same situation as Kalinin in that the Rangers are not going to re-sign him. Dawes’s inclusion is the reason why Phoenix even bothered to make the trade – even though he will be a RFA at the end of the season.

With Antropov and Sean Avery added to the lineup, the Rangers had to make room among the forwards – hence dealing off Dawes and Prucha. The problem I have is that Morris is living off his 2002/2003 season. It is a stretch to think he is going to help the power play much – there is a reason why his only power play point is a lone assist. I would rather have seen Sather go after Cam Barker, but it would have cost far more (Bobby Sanguinetti and/or a draft pick added to the package) and Barker makes nearly $3 million. I would even have preferred Jordan Leopold (who still has an upside compared to Morris) or Steve Montador who would have added a physical presence and a shot-blocker.

As for the Antropov trade, as long as the conditional draft pick is in the range of what the Pittsburgh Penguins gave up for Bill Guerin, then it was worth a shot given the fact that Slats still has an extremely inconsistent draft record – recent success notwithstanding.

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As we near the 30 minute mark remaining in the 2009 Trade Deadline, teams are finding out the market is sluggish as the sellers are not willing to make a deal for the sake of making a deal – and the deals that are coming are a bit confusing.

Case in point is the New York Islanders and Bill Guerin. The Isles traded their captain to the Pittsburgh Penguins in exchange for a conditional draft pick. At the very least, the Isles will receive a fifth round draft pick. If Pittsburgh makes the playoffs, the pick becomes a fourth round pick. Should the Pens win a round in the playoffs, the draft pick becomes a third rounder.

While that seems light in terms of getting equal value for Guerin, perhaps GM Rath Snow had no alternative to get what he could for his former captain. Greg Logan of Newsday wrote that there was a growing rift between Guerin and coach Scott Gordon. With such a young team and if this was the case, Snow had no choice but to get Guerin off of Long Island.

GM Ray Shero added another forward by hitting the waiver wire to claim Craig Adams from the Chicago Blackhawks. That move sets the Blackhawks up to acquire a center and a TSN report had Chciago acquiring Dominic Moore from Toronto, but the Maple Leafs denied the report.

Teams are going to have to pick up the pace if they are going to equal last year’s total of 25 trades. With only 8 deals on the books (involving 17 players and 7 draft picks), it looks like it will either be a relatively quiet deadline or a blizzard of last-minute trades. Remember, that while the deadline is 3pm Eastern Time, trades can and will be announced after the deadline because it takes the NHL time to register and approve the trades.

RANGERS UPDATE – Steve Zipay of Newsday is blogging that the Phoenix Coyotes are trying to get the Rangers to bite on offensive defenseman Derek Morris. TSN is reporting that the Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers are the leading candidates. Also, TSN reports that Toronto is receiving offers of second round draft picks for Nik Antropov and Dominic Moore.

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With less than two hours left to the NHL Trade Deadline, Calgary GM Darryl Sutter is pulling out all stops to close the gap between the Flames and Detroit Red Wings and San Jose Sharks. After reacquiring defenseman Jordan Leopold, Sutter has acquired center Olli Jokinen and a third round draft pick from Phoenix in exchange for center Matthew Lombardi, tough guy winger Brandon Prust and a first round draft pick in either 2009 or 2010 (at Calgary’s option). Sutter may not be done dealing yet because he may have to clear out cap space for Jokinen and Leopold.

The Rangers had their first taste of deadline day doings as the Toronto Maple Leafs claimed defenseman Erik Reitz off of waivers. Brian Burke has been busy today as he also claimed goaltender Martin Gerber from the Ottawa Senators. According to TSN, Gerber will serve as a replacement for starter Vesa Toskala who will miss the remainder of the season due to groin and hip surgery.

In another waiver move, the Dallas Stars claimed center Brendon Morrison off of waivers from the Anaheim Ducks. Morrison will replace the injured Brad Richards who will miss the rest of the season. Anaheim aived Morrison because they needed to create salary cap space

In another goalie move, GM Don Maloney dealt Mikael Tellqvist to the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for a 2010 fourth round draft pick. The Sabres view Tellqvist as insurance against Ryan Miller’s high ankle sprain.

Pittsburgh and St. Louis swapped AHL defensemen with the Penguins acquiring Andy Wozniewski from the Blues for Danny Richmond. Wozniewski (6-5/225) is a 28-year-old defensive d-man who was signed as an UFA by the Blues from Toronto. Richmond (6-0/192) is a 24-year-old offensive d-man who was signed as an UFA by the Penguins from the Chicago Blackhawks.

As expected, the Ducks traded a defenseman. However, it was Steve Montador going to Boston for forward Petteri Nokelainen. The Bruins can use the rugged Montador on the blue line or at wing and the Ducks might view Nokelainen as a more-offensive Sami Pahlsson – who was also acquired from the Bruins.

Ranger fans can breathe a sigh of relief as Tampa Bay traded Mark Recchi to Boston for a pair of prospects. The Lighting receive defenseman Matt Lashoff and forward Martins Karsums.

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Following up on Sean Avery’s return to the Rangers, defenseman Jordan Leopold has returned back to Calgary. The Colorado Avalanche dealt Leopold to the Flames in exchange for defensemen Lawrence Nycholat, Ryan Wilson and a second round draft pick that belonged to Montreal but was acquired when the Canadiens brought in Alex Tanguay.

Nycholat is on the move after the Flames claimed him off waivers from the Vancouver Canucks. Wilson was signed as an undrafted free agent and has spent the season with Calgary’s AHL affiliate in Quad City.

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While it is possible that Glen Sather has already completed his 2009 Trade Deadline shopping by reclaiming Sean Avery off of waivers from the Dallas Stars, the probability is that Slats is not yet done. However, anyone expecting a block-buster type trade is in for some disappointment.

Sather’s ability to be a player on deadline day has nothing to with a lack of effort. The Rangers brain trust, as well as their scouts, were in meetings yesterday at the team’s training center in Greenburgh. So while may be willing, the salary cap isn’t.

By overpaying the likes of Scott Gomez, Wade Redden and Michal Rozsival, Sather has painted himself into a corner. I did not include Chris Drury in that list because, in addition to receiving a big-time contract, the Rangers captain also has a “no-movement clause” in his contract. In addition to having a no-trade clause, the Rangers are unable to send him down to Hartford for salary cap relief – were the organization so inclined.

The byproduct of Sather’s summer spending sprees during the last two summers leaves the Blueshirts looking to shop at the bargain basement. They are relegated to looking at players like Mark Recchi – players who have reasonable contracts that expire at the end of the season. This scenario isn’t the worst thing in the world as long as you trading mid-level prospects or mid-level draft picks in return.

The only young name that I have seen in conjunction with the Rangers is that of Chicago defenseman Cam Barker. Mike Casey of Newsday offered that Paul Mara and a second round pick would do the trick. If only it were that easy. Blackhawks GM Dale Tallon would and should get more than an UFA to be and a draft pick. Odds are the Rangers would have to offer one of their top blue line prospects. Plus, I am not so sure the Rangers would trade Mara because he has probably been the steadiest defenseman.

Chicago is looking for some help at center so you might get Barker for a package of Blair Betts, a defense prospect and a draft pick – the better the prospect, the lower the draft pick and vice versa.

Zipay listed a few names that are drawing attention from the Rangers. Unfortunately, none of them fit into the Rangers needs or salary cap. Defenseman Mattias Ohlund and Ruslan Salei both carry heft contracts ($3 million to $3.5 million range). Blueliners Rob Davidson and Shane O’Brien fit the need for size and physical play on the blue line, but Davidson is a spare part at best and O’Brien, as Zipay points out, isn’t much of an upgrade over Erik Reitz.

Chris Neil’s name has been on the radar because he is an expiring contract. Conflicting reports out of Ottawa say it is a situation of Neil re-signing with the Sens or Ottawa will move him. Zipay points out that he would be an offensive improvement over Colton Orr. However, I would point out that Neil is not the enforcer he was because he tends to fancy himself more of a scorer than a fighter these days.

TRADE UPDATE: TSN is reporting that Ottawa received a second round draft pick from Columbus as part of the Leclaire-Vermette swap.

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The Ottawa Senators and Columbus Blue Jackets decided to beat the “holiday” rush and kicked off Trade Deadline 2009 in a one-for-one swap that addresses needs for both teams.

The Blue Jackets sent goaltender Pascal Leclaire to the Senators in exchange for center/winger Antoine Vermette.

Vermette fills a need at center for Columbus replacing the injured Derick Brassard. Leclaire, who lost his job to rookie sensation Steve mason, appears to be the answer for Ottawa’s struggles in goal.

Both Leclaire and Vermette were coming off carrer seasons in 2007/2008. Leclaire, the 8th player selected in 2001 NHL Draft, posted a 24-17-6 record with nine shutouts and a GAA of 2.25 and a SV% of .919. Vermette, the 55th overall pick (2nd round) in 2000, set career highs with his 24 goals, 29 assists and 53 points (in 81 games).

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