December 2009

When Matt Gilroy was assigned to Hartford, the talk on the blogs was whether the move was a cap space transaction or was the rookie defenseman being singled out as a scapegoat for the Rangers overtime loss to Chicago over a week ago. The answer is simple – yes he was being used as a scapegoat. Not for any specific player, but as a scapegoat for the Rangers President/GM.

No GM has been more ill-equipped to handle the NHL in a salary cap age than Glen Sather. Yes, Lou Lamoriello faced problems coming out of the lockout, but he managed to wiggle his way out of being over the cap by dealing away Vladimir Malakhov and a conditional first round draft pick to San Jose. The Devils, who do not have the deepest pockets in the NHL, banished Alexander Mogilny to the minors to clear up cap space as well.

Ken Holland and the Detroit Red Wings have been pushed to the edge of the cap, but at least they have a Stanley Cup to show for the efforts.

The Chicago Blackhawks will find themselves in salary cap hell next season thanks to some bad contracts (e.g. Brian Campbell and Cristobal Huet). However, they also have a plethora of young talent (e.g. Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith and Jonathan Toews to name a few) that had to be paid at the risk of losing them.

The Philadelphia Flyers also find themselves unable to add decent goaltending because of their cap woes. However, the Flyers feature young stars like Jeff Carter and Mike Richards and signed a center (Daniel Briere) for less money and more production – when healthy. Paul Holmgren was even able to address his need for a bruising defenseman when he traded for Chris Pronger at the 2009 NHL Draft.

The mess the Rangers are in is the direct result of Sather being woefully out of touch with the way NHL teams need to be run in the 21st century. Let’s be honest, Sather is living off the Edmonton Oilers Dynasty that was carried on the backs of Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier and built by Sather’s chief scout Barry Fraser’s work in the draft.

Sather’s draft record has been spotty at best during his tenure with the Rangers. He has drafted solid players like Marc Staal and Michael Del Zotto and had some bad breaks with the career-ending injury to Dan Blackburn and the tragic death of Alexei Cherepanov. However, most of his higher draft picks either don’t make the NHL (Hugh Jessiman) or don’t even sign with the organization (second round draft picks Darin Olver and Antoine Lafleur).

To his credit, Sather’s draft picks have been as spotty as Holland’s and Lamoriello’s. However, the Devils and Red wings have not picked as high as the Rangers and those two teams have GMs who are able to scout out talent to make up for the draft shortcomings.

Sather’s solution has been to throw money at all of his problems. I am not going to condemn Slats for throwing money at the problem. Let’s face it, that is was things are done in New York. The problem is the idea of spending. The problem is who the money is being spent on and how Sather is building the Rangers.

Following the 2007 season, Sather keyed his efforts on adding a number one center. He moved swiftly to sign Chris Drury and Scott Gomez. Both are good players, but neither is a true number one center. The problem is that Sather gave each player number one center type money (Drury – $7 million cap hit and Gomez – $7.3 million cap hit). The end result was that the Rangers had a pair of number two centers making first line money.

Following the 2008 season, Sather keyed his efforts on adding a couple of top defensemen and re-signed Michal Rozsival and signed Wade Redden. At best, both Rozsival and Redden are second pair defensemen who are being paid as top pair blueliners (Redden – $6.5 million cap hit and Rozsival – $5.0 million cap hit).

Most Ranger fans probably wouldn’t have a problem with Redden and Rozsival if they were making about half (or even two-thirds) of what their current contracts are. It was highly unlikely anyone was going to pay Redden in the neighborhood of $4 million per year over six years and Rozy wasn’t going to get a four year deal at around $3 million for four years. Heck, given the fact the Rangers gave Rozsival a shot at the NHL after missing all but one AHL game during the 2003-2004 season due to injury, the Rangers were due a little hometown discount.

This idea of a hometown discount should have been applied to the Drury and Gomez contracts. Drury grew up in Connecticut as a Ranger fan so he should have been most willing to provide his beloved Blueshirts with some type of hometown discount.

While Gomez had no direct connection to the Rangers, he did spend his seven NHL seasons playing across the Hudson with the Devils. That should have been worth a million or two.

Even when Sather re-signed Henrik Lundqvist at a cap hit of $6.875 million per season the GM was being more generous then he probably had to be. We can agree to argue whether or The King should have been a little more cap friendly, the one thing we can’t argue about is that Sather should have looked to his counterpart in New Jersey for guidance on how to build his roster.

Lamoriello has let it be known that no Devil will be paid more than Martin Brodeur – and that is probably the way it should be given Marty’s status with the Devils. With Brodeur making $5.2 million per season, Sather should have been able to ink Lundqvist to a similar deal with some adjustments to show how “generous” Cablevision can be.

The Rangers could have and should have adopted a similar stance when it came to the Drury and Gomez contracts (i.e. that the goaltender is the face of the franchise and the salary “cap” for non-superstar players). At the minimum, the Rangers would have saved a couple of million dollars in cap space and it might even have helped to drive down Redden’s and Rozsival’s asking prices.

In today’s NHL, there is a need for teams try and save every dollar that is possible. Every dollar not spent/wasted is a dollar that can be used to acquire other players. Even if we accept the idea that Gilroy was sent to Hartford, wasn’t there a better way to save cap space? Do the Rangers really need both Donald Brashear and Aaron Voros, especially when Coach John Tortorella is only going to play one them – and they are only going to get fourth line minutes?

Frankly, the Rangers could have (and should have) dumped both players and saved the pro-rated portion of both salaries ($2.4 million) – which is more than Gilroy’s salary.

For those who believe that Gilroy’s assignment to Hartford was not a scapegoat move or a salary cap move, how do you explain Bobby Sanguinetti being recalled when the Rangers decided to to go with seven defensemen?

Well, there is one explanation and the answer to that explanation can be summed up in this link .

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As the Rangers season slowly burns away, Glen Sather and John Tortorella continue to fiddle with the roster. The Blueshirts have sent Matt Gilroy and Chad Johnson to Hartford and recalled Matt Zaba to backup Henrik Lundqvist.

The Johnson/Zaba swap makes sense because the Wolf Pack have three straight home games this weekend and Johnson might get a chance to play in one or two of them while Zaba sits in the bench when the Rangers host Buffalo on Saturday.

The Gilroy move is a horse of a different color.

The 25-year-old Hobey Baker Award winner has not shown the offensive game he displayed during training camp (four goals and two assists in 30 games), but his defensive play has gotten better as the season has progressed. In fact, the MSG analysts were praising Gilroy for his play prior to the Chicago game last night. They commented that it was Gilroy who was paired with Ilkka Heikkinen during the Finland native’s two game stint as a replacement for Wade Redden.

The bottom line is that the timing on Gilroy’s demotion is all wrong. It appears as if he is being made a scapegoat for the overtime loss to Chicago because he was beaten (and badly I might add) by Dustin Byfuglien. However, if the rest of the defensemen were held to the same standard, then Rangers management would have to install a turnstile in order to accommodate all of the changes needed on the Rangers blue line.

The Gilroy demotion wreaks of a coach who is trying to make an example of a rookie because he does not want to do so with his veterans – the same thing that past coaches like Colin Campbell and Tom Renney were vilified for doing. Wakeup calls are meaningless when they are done to rookies. If Sather and Tortorella want to start issuing wakeup calls, they is some veteran dead wood that needs to go before a Gilroy is sent down.

I have seen it argued in various blogs that sending Gilroy down and playing Heikkinen will give the Rangers a pro-rated $1 million salary cushion – thus pointing to a possible trade. Frankly, I think this idea is simply a red herring.

The idea of freeing cap space for a trade might be the case as long as the Rangers have no plans to recall Gilroy this season. If they recall him and send Heikkinen down, then the salary cushion is gone. If (and it is a big if) the Rangers made this move to free cap space, then I have a better way for them to free up more salary cap space.

If the Rangers waive, demote, trade, or even shoot into space both Donald Brashear and Aaron Voros, they would be able to save a pro-rated $2.4 million towards the cap – or double the space they are getting through the Gilroy demotion. With Torts giving his fourth line nothing more than token shifts throughout the game, neither player serves as a deterrent against opponents – just ask Henrik Lundqvist about that.

If the Rangers wanted to truly loosen up cap space, they would simply demote Michal Rozsival and/or Wade Redden. To be honest with you, I have been pleasantly surprised at the way Redden has stepped up his play. Then again, after last year, he had nowhere to go but up. with that said, he is till overpaid, but that is not his fault – it is the President/GM’s fault.

Of course, a Rozsival or Redden demotion is not going to happen because management will not allow it – despite the fact that management is the one who put the Rangers in this mess in the first place. The Rangers are doomed to spin their wheels until the same type of accountability that Tortorella preaches is demanded from management.

As a result, the Rangers will continue to be a team that is not good enough to seriously challenge for the Stanley Cup and not bad enough to go into the tank and receive a top three draft pick.

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With the New York Rangers mired in a 6-12-1 slump, President/GM Glen Sather has emerged from his pre-Winter hibernation and “swooped in” with two waiver moves that are sure to inspire general apathy among Ranger fans. The Blueshirts claimed C/LW Erik Christensen from Anaheim off waivers and have placed G Stephen Valiquette on waivers with the intent on assigning him to Hartford. Chad Johnson has been recalled from the Wolf Pack to serve as Henrik Lundqvist’s backup.

Let us start off with the Valiquette move. The Rangers are hoping that Valley’s stint in Hartford serves as a means to get him back on track. Here is John Tortorella’s explanation of the goaltending move as posted by Andrew Gross on his blog.

“We’d like to send (Valiquette) down on conditioning but I don’t think we can because of our cap problems,” Tortorella said. “We want to get him down there playing and get his game back. Johnson gets to practice with us. I’m not sure where it all sits with him playing. It’s a tough situation for Valley. He hasn’t played a whole bunch. Sometimes your skills may diminish. It’s just been a little bit of a struggle for him. He works his butt off on the ice but he hasn’t played much and I think that’s hurt him. If he goes through, he gets an opportunity to play some minutes and get his game back.”

While Tortorella talks of Valiquette getting his game back it might very well be for a team other than the Rangers. Valiquette is subject to recall waivers much like Sean Avery was last year. Given the state of goaltending in the NHL, it is a pretty good guess that someone will take a chance and claim Valiquette at half his $725,000 salary.

The interesting point is the Rangers might very well have had the cap space to send Valiquette to Hartford on a conditioning stint if Sather had shown the foresight (and initiative) to place Brandon Dubinsky on the Long Term Injured Reserve (LTIR) list. Saturday’s game at Buffalo is the 10th game Dubinsky will miss – which means he could have been on LTIR from the moment he was hurt. Given that Tortorella said that Dubinsky isn’t due back until the end of the month, it was a clueless move not to place him on LTIR. Then again, no one ever accused Slats of being a Mensa member.

I am not sure if the Rangers can place Dubi on LTIR retroactively, but they are going to have do something because while Christensen’s and Valiquette’s salaries are pretty much a wash, the team will have to eat into their meager cap space in order to carry Johnson.

Christensen, who turns 26 on December 17, will be playing for his fourth NHL team after being Pittsburgh’s third round draft pick (69th overall) in the 2002 NHL Draft. In nine games this season, the six-foot-one and 205 pound forward has not registered a point for Anaheim. He did score two goals in games with the Manitoba Moose during a conditioning stint. His best season was 2006/2007 when he scored 18 goals (7 on the power play) and 15 assists in 61 games with the Penguins.

Here is Christensen’s scouting report from the Toronto Star web site:

ASSETS: Owns a big shot and excellent offensive instincts. Has good size. Can play all three forward positions and is a good face-off man. Excels in shootouts.

FLAWS: Loses a lot of puck battles in the corners. Doesn’t do the little things that help win hockey games. Takes too many shifts off to maximize his scoring potential.

CAREER POTENTIAL: Inconsistent forward with great hands.

Christensen’s biggest impact should be on faceoffs. While he has been below par this season (winning 41.2), he has been strong on faceoffs during his NHL career. Here are his numbers since he joined the NHL in 2006/2006 as compared to the Rangers best centers during those seasons:

2009/2010 – 41.2 (Vinny Prospal 51.5)
2008/2009 – 55.7 (Brandon Dubinsky 53.6)
2007/2008 – 58.4 (All four centers averaged between 50.3 and 54.9)
2006/2007 – 56.2 (Matt Cullen 54.6)
2005/2006 – 53.0 (Blair Betts 53.4)

According to Gross, Tortorella sees Christenson as someone who can give Brian Boyle a push and someone who has a chance to turn his career around.

“I haven’t seen him play in a while …. It’s a guy I know our scouts have watched and have had interest in him … and it’s an opportunity for him,” Zipay wrote on his Newsday Blog. “Dubi’s still out, it’s a situation we’ll see what it’s about and when Dubi comes back some decisions will have to be made. This is basically a chance for him.”

Christensen was placed on waivers to make room for Kyle Chipchura who was acquired by the Ducks from the Montreal Canadiens.

In addition to Dubinsky, Donald Brashear again joins the walking wounded with an undisclosed injury so the Rangers newest forward might get a chance on one of the top three lines depending on how long Ales Kotalik’s and Enver Lisin’s trip to Torts’s chateau bow-wow lasts.

Today is a day for ex-Penguin draft picks because Chad Johnson was Pittsburgh’s fifth round pick (125th overall) in the 2006 NHL Draft. The Rangers acquired him during this year’s draft in exchange for a fifth round pick which the Pens used to draft Andy Bathgate – the grandson of the Rangers great Andy Bathgate.

The 23-year-old Johnson (6-3/200) is one year removed from being a Hobey Baker Award nominee while tending goal for the University of Alaska-Fairbanks. Johnson posted a 10-6-1 record (3 shutouts) with Hartford along with a 2.10 goals against average and a .926 save percentage.

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