February 2012


It looks like the Jeff Carter to the Los Angeles Kings deal might have produced a new, and surprising, face on the trading block. The talk is that the Kings are looking to move Dustin Brown. The Kings captain has two more years left on a contract worth $3.2 million. TSN’s Bob McKenzie’s opinion is LA likes him as a player, but not as their captain. While Brown is a RW, Coach Daryl Sutter has been playing the slumping Brown on LW of late.

Brown isn’t a big-time goal scorer like Rick Nash, but he is a solid two-way player who plays on the PP and PK and would fit like a glove into Coach John Tortorella’s system. I am not sure if Brandon Dubinsky is the right price in terms of what the Rangers should give up and in terms of what the Kings are looking for in return.

TSN’s Darren Dreger tweeted that the Kings would be looking for young defenseman and a secondary scorer. While Dubinsky fits the secondary scorer tag, I don’t know if the Kings want a prospect like a Tim Erixon or Dylan McIlrath.

McKenzie tweeted that the following teams might be in on Brown: “BOS, BUF, EDM, NJD, NYR, PHI, TOR, VAN are amongst teams with high levels of interest in Brown.”

ESPN’s Pierre LeBrunn mentioned the Rangers, Boston, Philadelphia, and Toronto as strong suitors for Brown. LeBrun writes that while the Kings really like Luke Schenn, that might be a non-starter for Leafs GM Brian Burke – despite Burke a big Brown advocate.

It is hard to see the Devils involved on Brown because there is talk they can’t fit Marek Zidlicky in their payroll structure so I am not sure if Brown would fit unless an equal salary went west. Besides, it appears that the Devils are more interested in adding a defenseman.

The question we need to consider is how does the Carter deal play into Rick Nash’s situation. Columbus cleared about $4.7 million in cap space by trading away Carter and Antoine Vermette and adding in Jack Johnson’s salary.

Columbus might not be done dealing, outside of any Nash movement, with rumors swirling that they might move Sammy Pahlsson (expiring $2.7 million) and R.J. Umberger ($3.8 million for next six years). If that is the case, there may not be an urgent need to subtract Nash’s $7.8 million.

Aaron Portzline of The Columbus Dispatch tweeted this morning that Montreal and Tampa Bay have inquired about Derick Brassard ($3.2 million).

However, if you are Nash do you really want to stay in Columbus as GM Scott Howson continues rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic? The Blue Jackets captain could force Howson’s hand by demanding a trade and limit Columbus’ ability to trade by invoking his no trade clause.

The most interesting point to note is that while Columbus is dumping salaries, they are doing among their forwards while running a nice tab among their defensemen. The Blue Jackets have approximately $15.7 million committed to their top four blueliners: James Wisniewski ($5.5 million), Johnson ($4.4 million), Marc Methot ($3.0 million), and Fedor Tyutin ($2.8 million).

In one way the Carter trade plays into the Rangers hands because President/GM Glen Sather can avoid dealing Chris Kreider by offering multiple forward prospects (Dubinsky, Christian Thomas, Michael St. Croix or even J.T. Miller) to Columbus make up for the loss of Carter, Vermette and possibly Nash.

On the down side for the Rangers, the Blue Jackets still need to bring in a goaltender to replace or, at the very least, push Steve Mason to pick up his game. With the Kings and Jonathan Bernier out, does Vancouver with Cory Schneider look to step in or does San Jose step up with one of their goaltending prospects and then decide to bite the bullet and move Logan Couture in a potential trade?

One player I omitted in my Rangers trade deadline preview was Buffalo Sabres center Paul Gaustad. The 6-foot-5 and 212-pound Gaustad will be an UFA at the end of the year and carries a $2.3 million cap hit.

While he is not going to solve the Rangers scoring problems (scored 12 goals in each of three previous seasons), he is a solid defensive player who does use his size and has the ability to play wing or center. However, Gaustad’s biggest calling card is his faceoff ability. He is winning 56.2% of his faceoffs this year and is coming a career-best of 59.8% last season.

As far as defensemen go, the two names I have seen mentioned are Chris Campoli and Shane O’Brien who are on opposite ends of the defenseman spectrum. While both have expiring contracts, Campoli ($1.75 million cap hit) is a mobile d-man who is not strong physically or defensively while O’Brien ($1.1 million) is a physical defensive d-man who is not a strong skater with little offensive game.

There are three other defensemen who should be available and offer up expiring contracts and might draw some interest from the Rangers.

Jordan Leopold ($3.0 million) is not a physical player, but he is a strong skater and has an offensive upside. Brett Clark ($1.5 million) is a mobile defenseman but not as offensive as Leopold. While Clark will block shots, he is not a physical player.

The one defenseman who does intrigue me is Carolina’s Bryan Allen ($2.9 million). While the 31-year-old often has battled the injury bug, he would bring much-needed size to the table for the Rangers. The 6-foot-5 and 226-pound Allen has no offensive game at all, but he is a decent skater for his size and has the ability to be a shutdown defenseman.

We might know sooner rather than later the direction the Rangers are choosing. This morning Dreger tweeted that the Maple Leafs are pushing the Blue Jackets to make a decision as early possible – with Saturday being a potential deadline. Dreger also wrote that the Rangers are taking the same stance.

It seems that both teams want to know the deal with Plan N (Nash) before deciding if they have to switch to Plan B (Brown).

Whichever way Sather decides to go, it will not surprise me to see him make a small deal or two to help the Connecticut Whale in their playoff push. Thise type of deals might not seem like much, but it was deals like that which netted the Rangers valuable parts like Stu Bickel and John Mitchell.

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As the Rangers approach the February 27, 2012 NHL Trade Deadline (3pm EST) they must consider a couple of factors when determining their course of action.

Obviously, the conversation begins with the current salary cap situation, as well as future salary caps once the new CBA is completed. The NHL will be heading into unchartered territory that might not provide for amnesty buyouts like the previous lockout (See: Bobby Holik) and the new CBA might not be so forgiving in terms of burying salaries (and thus creating cap space) in the AHL (See: Wade Redden).

While the conversation begins with salary cap concerns, it does not end there. The Rangers are in a Catch-22 situation of deciding whether to go all-in and make a blockbuster move to acquire Rick Nash or do they stay the course and look to make a couple of smaller moves to supplement the Eastern Conference’s top team.

The biggest factor in this discussion revolves around which prospects, if any, the team would be willing to trade. After much trial and error, president/GM Glen Sather has resisted the urge to mortgage the future for short term gains.

Granted, acquiring Nash would be more than just a short term gain given that the Blue Jackets captain will not turn 28 until right around the time the Stanley Cup is awarded. However, the $7.8 million cap hit that Nash carries through the end of the 2014/2015 season does factor into the Blueshirts future.

Ryan McDonagh is a RFA at the end of the 2012/2013 season and Ryan Callahan, Marian Gaborik, Daniel Girardi and Henrik Lundqvist are UFA the following season with Marc Staal’s contract up following the 2014/2015 season.

Even if the Rangers are willing to cross the salary cap Rubicon at a later date, the question becomes what do the Rangers give up for a player the caliber of Nash.

In almost all of the stories being written, Brandon Dubinsky’s name is often mentioned. While Dubi is a nice two-way player, Nash would be a major upgrade. Is Nash enough of an upgrade for the Blueshirts to include their 2012 first round draft pick? Given the depth of the Rangers organization and that the pick could be at the bottom of the first round, trading away a first rounder short not be a problem.

The biggest problem becomes do you include Chris Kreider in the deal. That is where Sather needs to draw the line. Kreider has the potential eventually to give you close to what Nash does and at a fraction of the cost.

If Columbus GM Scott Howson is going to blow up his franchise then he needs to swing for the fences and I do not believe the Rangers should play that game. If you could make the deal for Dubinsky, a first round draft pick and let’s say a J.T. Miller, then I would have to think long and hard about it.

For Howson, the problem with trading Nash at this point in the season is that a trade partner has to have salary cap space available or can easily create cap space. These types are trades are easier to make in the off-season when teams have expiring contracts, a mindset of shuffling the deckchairs on the Titanic, and the cushion that allows teams to exceed the cap by 10%.

In addition, I value Dylan McIlrath almost as much as Kreider. While the Blueshirts defense corps is deep and talented, it lacks the physical presence and size that McIlrath brings.

Even if we push aside the salary cap quandary and the players/prospects decision, there is still one final factor to consider. Do the Rangers want to make a major move that would disturb team chemistry? Of all the trade factors to consider, this one might be the biggest and most difficult to judge.

Coach John Tortorella has built the Rangers along the idea of a true team concept with no one player more important than the other – except in the case of Henrik Lundqvist for obvious reasons.

On February 11, Daily News write Pat Leonard wrote, “GM Glen Sather is not expected to break the bank since the Rangers appear built for long-term success with a solid core, great goaltending and youth. This also is a tight locker room, so a trade that risks the team’s chemistry probably isn’t worth it to management.”

Leonard’s point is a valid one and it is one made by many Ranger fans. However, would a trade, or even two, really disrupt chemistry all that much?

In 1994, GM Neil Smith made the following five trades on deadline day.

• Phil Bourque traded from NY Rangers to Ottawa for future considerations.
• Peter Andersson traded from NY Rangers to Florida for future considerations.
• Tony Amonte and the rights to Matt Oates traded from NY Rangers to Chicago for Stephane Matteau and Brian Noonan.
• Mike Gartner traded from NY Rangers to Toronto for Glenn Anderson, the rights to Scott Malone and Toronto’s fourth-round pick in 1994 Entry Draft.
• Craig MacTavish traded from Edmonton to NY Rangers for Todd Marchant.

While the first deals were more housekeeping than anything else, the remaining three trades involved significant players coming and going and represented a big gamble and restructuring of a team that was a major Stanley Cup contender – without seeming to do any harm to that team’s chemistry.

Would the Rangers have won the Cup without making those trades? We will never know, but the one thing we are certain of is that Smith’s gamble paid off in 1994.

Of course, the current team is very different from the 1993/1994 team. The Cup team was led by Mark Messier and contained enough veteran leadership to overcome any chemistry issues. This team is a lot younger and more inexperienced when it comes to the Stanley Cup playoff wars.

The Rangers have already gone down the rent-a-Cup path in 1994 with Smith gambling and dealing away younger talent for veteran/battle-tested players. The Rangers won the battle (i.e. the Stanley Cup), but it can also be said that they lost the war because of the infusion of young talent that was dealt.

The one thing to recognize is that Smith brought in role players to supplement his star players where Sather would be bringing in a star player, to more or less, supplement his role players.

Some have suggested passing on Nash completely with the hopes of signing UFA Zach Parise during the summer. I have heard this idea many times – skip on getting Player A via a trade or free agency because Player B will be a free agent next year. Inevitably, Player B doesn’t become a free agent. While this strategy would alleviate some of the concerns of the new CBA, it is a risky strategy because what happens if Parise is not on the market.

Of course being a cynical Ranger fan (yes, I know that is redundant), what happens if you do sign Parise? The Rangers have not had the greatest track when it comes to signing former New Jersey Devils (See: Bruce Driver, Bobby Holik and Scott Gomez).

In the end, I believe the only way the Rangers should bring Rick Nash aboard is if Scott Howson makes Glen Sather an offer he can’t refuse – and any offer that includes Chris Kreider and Dylan McIlrath can be refused.

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The current and, more importantly, future salary cap implications should dictate how the Rangers proceed as they approach the February 27, 2012 NHL trade deadline.

According to CapGeek.com , as of February 21, 2012, the Rangers have about $6.0 million in cap space. However, Cap Geek points out that if the Rangers were to wait until February 27, then their cap space rises to about $6.9 million.

Here is how Cap Geek explains their calculations:
… if a team is listed with $10 million today and $25 million at the deadline, it could acquire Alexander Ovechkin’s $9.538-million cap hit today and not much more. But if it waited until the trade deadline, it could acquire Ovechkin, as well as Alexandre Semin ($6.7 million cap hit), Nicklas Backstrom ($6.7 million) and Mike Knuble ($2 million), because the sum of those annualized cap hits ($24.938 million) is less than $25 million.

Unless Columbus GM Scott Howson presents Rick Nash to the Blueshirts on a silver platter, the Rangers best course of action is to look to add players who have expiring contracts. Not only do they bypass any future salary cap implications, the cost for rental players could be less than the cost for someone like Nash.

The 2011/2012 Rangers are a different animal than the 1993/94 Blueshirts. The 1994 Rangers were, hands down, the best team in the NHL at the deadline while the 2012 team is not – no matter what the standings might say.

Even if you wanted to argue that point, there is one thing that can’t be argued. In 1994, Smith did not have to contend with a salary cap – something that Sather must be concerned with in 2012 and beyond.

The problem with trying to sort out the buyers and sellers is that 11 points separate the 15th place team (Carolina) and the 8th place team (Toronto) in the Eastern Conference.

In the Western Conference, only Edmonton (15 points out of a playoff spot) and Columbus (25 points) can be considered out of the playoff hunt with Anaheim eight points out.

With so many teams still envisioning themselves as playoff contenders, it is a sellers’ market – thus potentially driving up the price on the type of complementary players the Rangers would be looking to acquire.

Setting aside Nash, the two players who seem to draw the most interest from Ranger fans are Shane Doan and Ryan Smyth. Both are solid players who would fit well in the Rangers – both on the ice and off. Both players will be UFA at the end of the season so there is no salary cap concerns beyond this year and both players would fit under this year’s cap: Smyth’s full-season salary is $6.25 million and Doan’s is 4.5 million.

The problem with both players is they each have no-trade clauses and want to remain with their teams. Doan, the Coyotes’ captain, has spent his entire career with the Phoenix/Winnipeg organization. Smyth, who has played with four different teams since the start of the 2006/2007 season, has indicated a willingness to remain in his native Alberta.

The one ace up the Rangers sleeve is that Glen Sather was the Edmonton GM when the Oilers made the 6th overall draft pick in the 1994 NHL Draft. The Sather connection and a desire to win a Stanley Cup might be enough for Smyth to head to New York for the 2nd time in his career. Interestingly enough, the Islanders acquired Smyth from Edmonton on February 27, 2007 (in exchange for Robert Nilsson, Ryan O’Meara and 1st round draft pick) – so history could repeat itself.

If Doan or Smythe prove to be outside of the Rangers reach, here is a brief list of names to keep your eye as the deadline nears, with their full-season cap hit listed.

BRAD BOYES ($4.0 million) – After posting 43 goals in 2007/2008 and 33 goals in 2008/2009, the RW/C has been a major disappointment scoring just 32 goals in the last 2 ½ years. Boyes will be an UFA at the end of the year and should be available for a relatively cheap price. Ranger scouts would have to really look hard to see if the 29-year-old has anything left in the tank.

JAROME IGINLA ($7.0 million) – The Flames captain is in the same boat as Doan and Smyth in terms of wanting to stay with his team. The major differences is that Iginla doesn’t become an UFA until after 2012/2013 so the Rangers would have to build his salary into their cap for next year and Calgary is the thick of the playoff hunt in the Western Conference. The 34-year-old is on pace for his 11th consecutive 30-goal season.

VINNY PROSPAL ($2.6 million) – The former Ranger just signed a contract extension so it is tough to read what Columbus is thinking. With them shopping both Nash and Jeff Carter, are the Blue Jackets looking to Prospal as a bridge to a new group of prospects or do they believe they can get more for him if he is signed for one more year. The advantage is that Prospal knows Tortorella and the team and would easily slide on to the first line with Derek Stepan and Marian Gaborik – allowing the Rangers to move Artem Anisimov to the second or third lines.

TUOMO RUUTU ($3.8 million) – Ruutu is on the wish list of some Ranger fans because he has, as Torts would say, “jam” to his game. Ruutu might not solve their goal scoring problems, but he would bring a “Sean Avery intensity” to the Blueshirts with a little more scoring. However, he does have one more year left on his contract and has had issues with injuries during the last couple of years. In fact, he is expected to be out at least three weeks with the dreaded “upper body injury”.

TEEMU SELANNE ($4.0 million) – I know some of you are rolling your eyes at the thought of the 41-year-old Selanne in a Rangers uniform. Just remember this, he would be third on the team in goals (19) and first in assists (33) and points (52) were he a Ranger now. Anaheim GM Bob Murray listed Selanne and Saku Koivu as untouchable as far as trades go. Then again he had to because both have no-trade clauses. Granted, Selanne is not the same “Finnish Rocket” he was in his prime and might struggle to score in the Rangers system, he still would add much needed offense – especially on the power play. Selanne is one PPG away from hitting double figures in six of his last seven seasons. The one year he didn’t score 10+ PPG was in 2007-2008 and he did score 7 in 26 games after he re-signed with Anaheim in January 2008.

If the Rangers are willing to look at a player who has a couple of years left on his contract, they might want to head down to Tortorella’s old stomping grounds in Tampa Bay and kick the tires on Martin St. Louis.

The 36-year-old winger has three more years left on his contract at a cap hit of $5.6 million. Since he signed his current deal as 35+ player, the Rangers could not get salary relief by sending him to the AHL. Given his production during the last few years, that might not be a problem.

St. Louis is on pace for 76 points and will represent the sixth consecutive season he has scored 76+points. He is also on pace for 26 goals and that would make it 11 consecutive seasons of 25+ goals.

Prior to this season and since becoming a regular with Tampa Bay during the 2000/2001 season, St. Louis has played 80+ games every season except two. In 2001/2002 he missed 26 games with a broken leg and he had his consecutive game streak broken this year at 499 when he suffered a facial injury near his left eye during Tampa Bay’s game day skate prior to their December 8, 2011 game against the Rangers.

Not only would the Rangers benefit from St. Louis’s speed and playmaking ability, he would give the Rangers another option killing penalties. Since he is well versed in all things Tortorella, he should be able to make a smooth transition to the Rangers – helped by fellow Lightning Stanley Cup teammates Brad Richards and Ruslan Fedotenko.

His biggest contribution would be a much-needed veteran influence/playoff proven player. In 63 career playoff games, St. Louis has 68 points (33 goals and 35assists) – including 20 points (in 18 games) last year and 24 points (in 23 games) while winning the Cup in 2004.

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The Rangers Thursday night matchup with the Tampa Bay Lightning had all the makings of a classic trap game. The Blueshirts were coming off an emotional (and controversial) loss to their division and geographical rival New Jersey Devils and face the task of back-to-back afternoon games against the Philadelphia Flyers and Washington Capitals.

The overtime victory against the Lightning won’t earn the Rangers any gold medals in terms of style points, the win does strike gold in terms of the mantra of the late Al Davis who urged his Raiders teams to “Just win, baby.”

More than Brad Richards breaking a one goal in 12 games slump (on the same night that Scott Gomez ends his year-long goal scoring drought no less), more than the Rangers finally scoring a power play goal (the team’s first 5-on-4 power play goal in 14 games), the team made sure they didn’t enter a very difficult week with a two game losing streak.

Rick Carpiniello offered an interesting insight into the Rangers ability to bounce back this season and (up until now) prevent any long losing streaks from derailing their season.

“Not to be one of those Negative Nancys, but you wonder when this team will actually lose a few in a row,” Carpiniello wrote Friday morning on his Journal News Rangers Report Blog. “They haven’t deserved to have a losing streak, but, my gosh, every team since the 1976-77 Montreal Canadiens (who went 60-8-12) has had a losing streak at some point, right? These Rangers haven’t lost more than two in a row in regulation all year, and haven’t gone more than two without a win since starting the season 0-1-2. It’s got to happen.”

There are a lot of words that can be used to describe the 2011/2012 New York Rangers – some of which can’t be printed or uttered in polite circles. However, when you take into account Carpiniello’s statement, the one word that can be used is resilient.

All teams and athletes, across the entire sports spectrum, have to learn to deal with and conquer adversity. It is a fundamental part of the makeup of championship teams and athletes.

In the Rangers case, their resiliency and ability to conquer adversity is imperative because, to use an old Herb Brooks saying, they are not talented enough to win on talent alone.

The Rangers “Black-and-Blue-shirts” mentality has not only endeared themselves to their fans, it also serves as the driving force for their resiliency and adaptability. The more roadblocks that are thrown at them, the harder the Rangers work.

Have to open the regular season in Europe, no problem. Lengthy road trip to start the season, check. Injuries to a defense corps forces Coach John Tortorella to give major ice time to players like Stu Bickel, Anton Stralman and Jeff Woywitka (all players who did not fit into the team’s pre-season plans), got that covered as well.

The best explanation for the Rangers’ resiliency might have come from someone who knows a thing or two about hockey.

“They have everything going in the right direction now,” Wayne Gretzky told Dan Rosen of nhl.com on Thursday. “They play hard and they play smart. They believe in themselves and each guy does his own job. They don’t have guys that try to do what they’re not supposed to do. On top of that, John is a tremendous coach.”

The back-to-back weekend matinees start a four game/six day stretch that sees the Rangers pay a return visit to Boston to take on the Eastern Conference’s second place Bruins on Tuesday night and concludes with a Thursday night game at the Garden against the Chicago Blackhawks.

Following this four game stretch, the Rangers face another trap game against the Columbus Blue Jackets on February 19 which is followed by straight Eastern Conference matchups before the Rangers visit the United Center for a March 9 rematch with the Blackhawks.

The Rangers season will not be made during this stretch, but they need to use these games to start shoring up some of the weaknesses in their games – inconsistent scoring and a sputtering offense. Interestingly enough, solving one of those problems would probably solve the other.

An interesting side note came from CBC.ca columnist Elliotte Friedman in his weekly column on Tuesday in reference to the Rangers and Wild trade. Minnesota sent forward Casey Wellman to New York in exchange for Erik Christensen and a conditional seventh round draft pick in 2013 in a deal that opened up a roster spot for Steve Eminger and provided some new blood for the struggling Connecticut Whale (who was in the midst of a 0-9-2 stretch).

The 6-foot-0/173 pound speedy Wellman was not the Rangers original target according to Friedman. Rather, the Rangers set their sights on 6-foot-2/199 pound physical forward Cody Almond, but Wild GM Chuck Fletcher would not relent. Friedman said that Rangers pro scout Doug Risebrough, former Wild GM, was the driving force behind the push for Almond.

Wellman becomes the first University of Massachusetts player to become a member of the Rangers organization since defenseman Thomas Pock (2003/04 thru 2007/08), who played 59 NHL games with the Blueshirts.

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