March 2010

With the New York Rangers hitting the home stretch seven points behind eighth place Boston and eight points behind sixth placed Montreal and Philadelphia (with a game in hand on both of those teams) , fans of the Blueshirts need the team to continue its losing ways. Yes, you read that correctly. The Rangers need to continue losing games.

No, it has nothing to do with the Rangers finishing so poorly that President/GM Glen Sather is fired by James Dolan. Given Dolan’s track record, we all know that is not going to happen. It took years of a truly miserable New York Knickerbockers team AND a sexual harassment lawsuit for Dolan to fire Isiah Thomas. The bottom line is Slats will not go anywhere unless it is on his terms and when he is good and ready.

Frankly, I want to see the Rangers win just two games the rest of the way as long Henrik Lundqvist gets the victories. The King has 28 wins and needs the two victories to reach the 30 win plateau in each of his first 5 NHL seasons. I know it isn’t exactly an Earth-shattering reason, but let some good come out of the misery we call the 2009/2010 season.

By now you are wondering why I want the Rangers to continue tanking the rest of the season if I do not expect Sather to get fired. The answer is simple. If the Rangers do not finish among the five worst teams, they do not have any shot at acquiring the first overall pick in the NHL Draft Lottery – which will be held Tuesday, April 13 at 8pm. NHL rules permit teams to move up only four spots if they win the lottery. Anything lower than fifth and the Rangers are out of the top spot.

As things stand now, the Blueshirts have the eighth worst record in the NHL. If everything stayed the same, the highest they could pick is fourth. However, the Rangers could have a chance to end up with the third worst record this season.

Edmonton has pretty much locked up the worst record in the NHL as they have 55 points with nine games remaining. With a seven point lead on Toronto, it looks like the Maple Leafs will edge out the Rangers as well. However, the remaining teams that trail the Rangers are all within three points – a lead that the Rangers can easily squander.

I know it is difficult to root against your own team (especially when a front office shakeup is extremely unlikely), but what is the best course of action for the tenth place Rangers. Doing just enough to squeak into the playoffs or continue their nosedive in the standings? Do you want to face the best team in the Eastern Conference – the Washington Capitals – or put yourself in the best position to have the first overall pick in the Draft?

Let’s be honest, should a team (as of March 23, 2010) that has a losing record at home (15-17-6) deserve to make the playoffs? In fact, the Rangers are the only team in the Eastern Conference with a losing record at home.

To me the answer is simple – show me the Draft pick! I know that Sather’s draft record has been spotty at best during his years with the Rangers. That is the precise reason why the Rangers need to finish as poorly as possible so that they can draft as highly as possible.

Even someone as inept as Glen Sather couldn’t screw up the draft this year if he owned the first (or even second) overall pick in the Draft. While there is no Alex Ovechkin or Sidney Crosby on the horizon, it would be worth the losing for the Rangers to get the chance to draft either Taylor Hall or Tyler Seguin. Both players are ranked one-two by Central Scouting (Hall #1) and the International Scouting Service (Seguin #1).

Even if the Rangers didn’t land the first or second overall selection, the higher they draft the better the chance they have of snaring a sniper like Kiril Kabanov (Moncton-QMJHL), World Junior Championship sensation Nino Niederreiter (Portland-WHL), or even Brett Connolly (Prince George-WHL). Both Kabanov (wrist) and Connolly (hip) have been slowed by injuries this season.

I haven’t had a chance to take a long look at the 2010 Draft, but those are the five forwards that are on my radar at this time. There are also three blueliners who will get a lot of attention come June 25 in Los Angeles (Cam Fowler, Brandon Gormley and Erik Gudbranson), but I am not so certain I want to see the Rangers draft another d-man in the first round.

So let Cablevision “entice” us all it wants with 3-D broadcasts as they look for yet another way to take Ranger fans to the cleaners. The bottom line, whether the Rangers are broadcast in 2-D, 3-D or No-D (Which I guess would be called Redden/Rozsival Vision), the product they are broadcasting is still not worth the promotion Cablevision and MSG are putting out.

Perhaps if Cablevision spent as much time studying the job the Rangers President/GM is doing as they have in producing a 3-D broadcast, maybe the Blueshirts wouldn’t be in the same position they have been in the last four years – having to fight tooth and nail just to make the playoffs.

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I have come to the sad realization that I hate the 2009/2010 New York Rangers. No, it has nothing to do with the fact they are losing more than they are winning. I have been a Rangers fans since circa 1971, so I have seen my fair share of bad teams. Rather, it has to do with the way one loss looks exactly like every other loss – like it is some evil trick out of the movie “Groundhog Day”. The two factors that seem to play into every game are the Rangers inconsistency and their undisciplined play.

Let’s face it; the only consistent thing about the Rangers is their inconsistency. The Rangers have taken the art of inconsistency and raised it to an art form. The Blueshirts are not only inconsistent from game to game (four goals against the Penguins and then they go nearly 150 minutes without a goal), but they are inconsistent within games (see the 5-4 overtime loss to Pittsburgh) – sometimes from shift to shift.

Andrew Gross not only summed up last night’s loss to Buffalo, but he pretty much summed the Rangers season.

“To me, this [the overtime loss to the Sabres] was about inconsistency on the Rangers’ part,” Gross wrote on his Blog. ”Inconsistency’s nothing new with the Rangers and there’s little to suggest that with 16 games left to play, they’re suddenly going to become a consistent team.”

The truly sad thing is that this inconsistency is not limited to this season’s edition of the Rangers. Frankly, it has been a hallmark of the Rangers from day one of the Glen Sather Era (Error). The Rangers have been the epitome of inconsistency during the Sather Regime which has seen the franchise win just two playoff series since Slats took over on June 1, 2000. Last season’s playoff loss to the Washington Capitals pretty much serves as the poster child of the Rangers inconsistency.

During lost decade of Sather, there has been one consistent theme running throughout Blueshirts history. While five coaches have been place, the one constant is Sather as GM.

Look everyone knows that Sather deserves to be fired. Well, anyone not named Dolan that is. I think is great that 100+ people held a rally prior to the Rangers-Sabres game, but let’s look at the cold hard facts. It took a scandal for Dolan to ease Isiah Thomas out so a couple of hundred fans aren’t going to sway Jimmy Boy.

Anyway, I am digressing form the point of this rant. We all agree that if you looked up the word inconsistency in the dictionary, there would be a Rangers logo. The difficult job is to figure out why the team is so inconsistent.

As you might expect, the finger pointing and blame begins with Sather. The coaches need to take their share of blame, but they are not the ones who are charged with assembling the roster. It is their job to try and turn Sather’s chopped liver into caviar. Sather has assembled players and teams that refuse to show any discipline – and it is this undisciplined play that is at the root of the Rangers problems.

When talking about undisciplined play, most people focus their attention on the Rangers penchant for taking bad penalties at bad times. The loss at Washington on Saturday night is a perfect example as the Rangers take two bad penalties on their way to giving up a five-on-three power play goal.

However the Rangers lack of discipline, as individuals and as a team, goes much deeper than bad penalties in opportune times.

The Blueshirts inability to show discipline and focus shows up in all aspects of their game. When was the last time you saw a Rangers team spend 60 minutes of hockey attacking the opponents’ goaltenders by driving to the net, creating traffic in front and getting shots on goal?

Their loss to the Penguins shows the difference between a team that plays a disciplined style and one that does not. The Penguins scored three of their goals by just getting the puck at the net and creating traffic in front. A disciplined team not only works to change Pittsburgh’s attack, they also adopt the same tactic. However, the rangers did the exact opposite.

After driving Marc-Andre Fleury to the bench in the second period, the Rangers offense consisted of (once again) being guilty of over-passing and playing a passive game – the exact opposite of what was needed. The Rangers inability to be disciplined and keep the game simply reached its pinnacle in the third period where they only managed one shot on goal. Oh, they had chances to put pucks toward on net, but they refused to do so. Instead, they were more content to try and make perfect passes rather than be disciplined and get shots on goal and get their noses dirty.

All one has to do is watch the Rangers power play to see just how undisciplined the team is. 29 other NHL teams work their power plays by putting players in the slot or at the top of the crease in an attempt to create screens or deflections, but not the Rangers – at least not on any consistent basis. The Rangers lone goal against Ryan Miller came on the power play because Ryan Callahan created a screen in front of the US Olympian and Brandon Dubinsky was at the top of the crease to bang home the loose puck.

The irony of it all it is that the Rangers best part of their game – their penalty killing – requires a team to play disciplined hockey! The biggest shame of is the Blueshirts inability to transfer their ability to be disciplined while killing penalties to other areas of their game. The biggest question is why doesn’t that discipline translate to other parts of their game?

The easy answer would be to blame the coach. It is very possible that John Tortorella has “lost” the team in respect to getting through to his players. That is a question that needs to be addressed by the players and the coaching staff.

However, blaming the coach is also the easy way out because this is a symptom that goes beyond Torts. It goes back through the other Rangers coaches during the last decade: Ron Low, Bryan Trottier, Tom Renney and Sather himself prior to hiring Renney.

If this trend of inconsistency and undisciplined play transcends five coaches, then the blame rests on the players – sort of. What this problem shows is that the Rangers do not have the right mix of players, or more to the point, the Rangers do not have the right players period. That reason for that problem rests squarely on the shoulders of the Rangers President/GM.

Even if Jim Dolan fired Sather or “promoted” him to President Emeritus, the problem does not go away. It is generally accepted that Mark Messier is crown prince when it comes to be anointed as the new GM. Will Messier be his own man or will he just be a more-accessible Sather in a better suit?

The cold hard reality is that the Rangers problems, whatever you think they may be, were not created in one day. Unfortunately, as a result, they are not going to be solved in one day either. The best that we can hope for is a step in the right direction and that first step begins with the firing of Glen Sather.

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The 2010 NHL Trade Deadline passed with the New York Rangers involved in only two minor league deals. It marked the first time since 2001 that the Blueshirts did not add any NHL players at the deadline. In doing so, the Rangers managed to avoid the calls to buyers or sellers from their fans.

Then again, the Rangers managed to be both buyers and sellers (something I have advocated) on February 1 when they acquired Olli Jokinen and Brandon Prust from Calgary in exchange for Christopher Higgins and Ales Kotalik. In that one deal, the Rangers took a chance at improving their team for this season while helping out their future by removing the final two years of Kotalik’s contract.

While this trade deadline produced a record 31 deals involving a record 55 players, most of them were small deals that involved teams adding role players or looking to dump salaries. It stands to reason why the broadcasters on TSN were happy to see the Peter Mueller/Kevin Porter trade for Wojtek Wolski because, as they said, it was “an old fashioned trade” – even though Mueller and Wolski will be Restricted Free Agents at the end of the season.

Looking back, teams were more interested in getting something for players set to become Unrestricted Free Agents at the end of the season then making the blockbuster or impact-type trades we have seen in the past.

The Rangers were at the head of of a pack teams that were unable to swing any bigger trades because, as the TSN announcers put it, the need for trades to be in the “dollar-for-dollar” range.

Many hockey analysts were surprised that the Chicago Blackhawks and Philadelphia Flyers stood pat at the deadline and did not address their goaltending concerns. The problem is both teams did not have the necessary cap room to make a significant trade for a goaltender without moving salary in the process.

While it would have been nice to see the Rangers move cap problems Wade Redden and Michael Rozsival, the reality is any chance the Rangers might have had took a huge hit when Sheldon Souray broke his hand a couple of days before the Rangers pulled off the Jokinen deal. The smallest glimmer of hope ended yesterday when it was announced that Souray’s season is over because of a post-operation infection.

In all reality, any trade of that magnitude is more likely to happen during the summer – much like Glen Sather’s trading of Scott Gomez to Montreal. Teams can better manage their salary cap situation during the off-season.

The other factor to consider in the Rangers lack of movement, and to an extent the lack of big-time trades, is what teams were looking for in return. The market was set prior to the Winter Olympics break when San Jose acquired Niclas Wallin and Montreal acquired Dominic Moore with second round draft picks being the prized return for Carolina and Florida respectively.

Those two trades pointed out the rush to stockpile draft picks as 25 draft picks were transferred among the record 31 trades. If you go back to New Jersey’s deal with Atlanta to acquire Ilya Kovalchuk, one first round draft pick, four second round draft picks and four third round draft picks were traded within the space of a month.

The Rangers were at a disadvantage because they do not have their 2010 third round draft pick – Sather sent to Los Angeles in the Brian Boyle deal. As a result, the Rangers could not afford to part with a second round pick and were ill-prepared to trade a first round pick because of the possibility that they might miss the playoffs.

The one thing that should not have been a factor was the Olympic Break and the roster freeze. While teams were prevented from making trades during Vancouver 2010, they were not prevented from discussing trades any laying the groundwork for a post-Olympic trade frenzy.

Truth be told, of all the players traded, only two might have helped the Rangers while being within the Rangers price range as far as trades go – and one of them might have been outside of their price range cap -wise.

The Devils acquired defenseman Martin Skoula from Toronto for a five round draft pick. Skoula would have been a nice acquisition on defense and possibly cracked the top six.

The other player was Lee Stempniak who went from Toronto to Phoenix for journeyman defenseman Matt Jones and fourth and seventh round draft picks in 2010. While he isn’t the big goal scorer they could have used, he does have the ability to play the point on the power play. The only problem is that his salary is $3.5 million and even if you prorate it, the Blueshirts still might not have enough salary cap space.

In the end, Sather was probably better off sitting this trade deadline out because some of the best trades you make are the ones you don’t make at all. He made a good move in the deal with Calgary and was better off standing pat as opposed to shuffling the deck chairs. After all, the captain of the Titanic wasn’t going to save his ship by shuffling around her chairs either.

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The New York Rangers finished business on the NHL’s Trade Deadline Day by making a second minor deal. The Blueshirts traded goaltender Miika Wiikman and a 2011 seventh round draft pick to Don Maloney and the deadline day busy Phoenix Coyotes in exchange for veteran defenseman Anders Eriksson. Truth be told, the draft pick might be the biggest piece of this deal.

The Rangers are the eighth NHL team for the 35-year-old Eriksson. In addition to New York, he has had stops in Detroit, Chicago, Florida, Toronto, Columbus and Phoenix. He has appeared in 552 NHL games and scored 22 goals and 149 assists with 240 PIM. In addition, the 6-foor-3 and 224 pound blueliner has 36 playoff games under his belt – including a Stanley Cup championship with Detroit in 1998. Eriksson was the Red Wings first round draft pick (22nd overall) in 1993.

This season, Eriksson has bounced between Phoenix and the San Antonio Rampage in the AHL. In 12 games with the Coyotes, Eriksson tallied three assists and two PIM. In 10 games with the Rampage, he scored a goal and three assists with a pair of PIM. His scouting report, courtesy of The is listed below.

Eriksson was assigned to Hartford by the Rangers and adds depth to a Wolf Pack team that has been hard hit with injuries on defense. The addition of Eriksson and Kris Newbury, ironically a pair of former Red Wings, will help boost the Wolf Pack’s attempt at making the playoffs. Eriksson might figure into the Rangers playoff roster if they are lucky enough to make the playoffs.

Eriksson has the opportunity be reunited with four former teammates: Olli Jokinen (Florida – 2000/2001 and Calgary – 2008/2009), Vinny Prospal (Florida – 2000/2001, Brandon Prust (Calgary – 2008/2009), and Jody Shelley (2003/2004, 2006/2007 – Columbus).

As for Wiikman, the trade gives him a chance at a new start. The Finnish netminder had fallen behind Chad Johnson, Matt Zaba and even Stephen Valiquette on the professional depth chart as he has been assigned to the Charlotte Checkers of the ECHL. When you factor in Rangers 2009 draft pick Scott Stajcer, there was no room in the crease for Wiikman.

ASSETS: Has good mobility for his impressive size. Can quickly move the puck up ice. Owns a wealth of savvy and experience.
FLAWS: Doesn’t use his big body effectively enough. Can at times make costly errors in the defensive zone that hurt his team.
CAREER POTENTIAL: Puck-moving defenseman.

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The New York Rangers are on the board at NHL Trade Deadline 2010. Given the names involved, you might say the Rangers are on the “bored”. The Blueshirts and Detroit Red Wings swapped AHL forwards as the Rangers have acquired Kris Newbury in exchange for Jordan Owens – which puts a crimp in Hartford’s plans for Jordan Owens Bobblehead Night later this month.

Newbury is a 28-year-old center who has played 48 NHL games with Detroit and the Toronto Maple Leafs and has scored four goals and three assists with 64 PIM. He was originally San Jose’s fifth round draft pick in 2002 (139th overall).

I would imagine that the Rangers organization made this trade with the Wolf Pack in mind as they add a veteran presence to the lineup. The other possibility is that the Rangers are looking for an inexpensive spare forward in New York as the 5-foot-10 and 200 pounder makes $500,000 this season.

I suppose you could consider Newbury to a poor man’s version of Sean Avery given his size and statistics. In 52 games with Grand Rapids, Newbury tallied 11 goals and 22 assists with 144 PIM. His scouting report, courtesy of The is listed below.

As opposed to the gritty Newbury, the 23-year-old Owens (6-0/170) bases his game on his skating ability. He was signed as a non-drafted free agent by the Rangers in June 2007 after three seasons in the OHL.

ASSETS: Works as hard as anybody on the ice most shifts. Can line up at all three forward positions and will usually provide a lot of energy. Is a point producer at lower levels.
FLAWS: Is very limited in terms of his offensive ability at the NHL level. Will often take bad penalties that places his team behind the eight-ball.
CAREER POTENTIAL: Physical reserve forward.

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The New York Rangers stand at the brink of a playoff spot with 19 games left and the NHL trade deadline fast approaching at 3pm today. The big question is should the Rangers be buyers or sellers?

For most fans the answer is simple – Sell! Sell! Sell! However, that requires that Ranger fans put their trust in President/GM Glen Sather to do the right thing. Anyone willing to take that leap of faith?

As we have seen in deals leading up to and following the NHL Olympic roster freeze, the going rate for rental players (e.g. Olli Jokinen and Vinny Prospal) is a second round draft pick. Anyone have confidence in Sather cashing in those extra draft picks? For those who are on the fence, let’s take a look how Slats has done recently.

In 2004, the Rangers had four second round draft picks as a result of Sather deciding to sell at the trade deadline. Here are the players the Rangers drafted:

Darin Olver (36th overall) – played six games with Hartford in 2006/2007 after finishing up his college eligibility at Northern Michigan. He is currently playing in Europe.

Dane Byers (48th overall) – prospect with the Hartford Wolf Pack and has played six NHL games including five this season when he scored his first NHL goal.

Bruce Graham (51st overall) – spent three season splitting time between Hartford and Charlotte (ECHL) and is currently playing in the CHL.

Brandon Dubinsky (60th overall) – the only bona fide hit among the four 2004 second round draft picks.

The Rangers also earned two first round draft picks in the first round that year and both of them ended up out of the organization after being traded to Phoenix: Al Montoya (6th overall) and Lauri Korpikoski (19th overall)

With Sather’s selling results being spotty, does that mean the Rangers should be buyers?

Unfortunately, the Rangers are not in good position to be buyers at the deadline based on the going rate of rental players. If a second rate draft pick is the rate of a rental player, the Rangers are at big disadvantage because they can’t afford to lose their 2010 second round pick because Sather dealt away his third round pick for Brian Boyle in July 2009.

I know some people are wondering what the big deal is about trading draft picks if Sather is so bad at it. The problem is the Rangers, like all teams sitting on the playoff bubble, are not locks to make the playoffs. Even if they did make the playoffs, it will be by the skin of their teeth and will face a quick exit in the playoffs. I not so sure that it is worth the gamble of giving away draft picks for rent-a-players.

No, what Sather’s course of action has to be to do what he can to peel off as much dead weight from his salary cap as he can. That is the only way I would be willing to include draft picks and/or prospects in any trade at the deadline.

He started this process in the Jokinen deal as he managed to move Ales Kotalik without adding any additional salary beyond this year. Moving Wade Redden and Michal Rozsival will not be so easy. The Rangers will be required to take on a sizeable contract in return unless they find a team with a load of salary space. Even in that case, it will cost the Rangers more than a second round draft pick. You can be sure that any such team will require a first round draft pick and one of the Blueshirts top prospects – and possibly a young player off the current roster.

As I wrote last time, moving a Redden et al for Sheldon Souray of Edmonton would be a plus because the Rangers would save a $1 million or so per season and Souray’s deal expires in 2012 while Redden’s contract extends out until 2014.

Of course, such a deal would require the Rangers to pony up draft picks and/or prospects and possibly a Dubinsky. If Sather can creative, he could try to get the Oilers to send Andrew Cogliano back in the deal.

If Sather is looking to shuffle the deck a bit, he could swap Rozy for Souray in a deal that is more or less an even salary swap with both deals in the same salary range and length.

Larry Brooks of the NY Post says the Rangers have interest in acquiring Raffi Torres from Columbus as a rental player. He isn’t a bad player, but I am not sure if he is worth trading a second round draft pick. However, with Marian Gaborik’s health a question, the Rangers might be more willing to gamble.

Brooks also writes that the Rangers are looking for help on defense and have asked about two rental blueliners: Dan Hamhuis of Nashville and Milan Jurcina of Columbus. In Jurcina’s case, Brooks writes that the Blue Jackets would be interested in Matt Gilroy. If the Rangers could work out a deal for Torres and Jurcina for Gilroy and a prospect or two (not major prospects), then it might be worth the gamble. I like Gilroy as a player, but he will make $2.1 million next season and that might be too big a cap hit to take.

Bob McKenzie of TSN had an update on Raffi Torres at 10am on Twitter. McKenzie wrote that Columbus is looking for a first round draft pick – which better leave the Rangers on the outside looking in.

Interestingly enough, two players who might have been on the Rangers radar were dealt last night. Chicago acquired defenseman Nick Boynton from Atlanta for future considerations. Interestingly enough, the Blackhawks assigned him to the AHL team so he will have to clear re-entry waivers at half his salary to be recalled.

The second deal was finished off late in the night as Pittsburgh acquired Alexei Ponikravosky from Toronto in exchange for d-man Martin Skoula and forward Luca Caputi.

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