February 2013

While John Ferguson Jr. of the San Jose Sharks might have been scouting the New York Rangers, it turns out that the Blueshirts trading partner turned out to be a Wild card – as in the Minnesota Wild. The Rangers traded veteran winger Mike Rupp to Minnesota in exchange for Froward Darroll Powe and RW Nick Palmieri.

It is a trade that sees the Rangers get younger and smaller while saving about $400,000 in cap space as Palmieri the Connecticut Whale of the AHL. Both players have one more year left on their contracts (Rupp at $1.5 million and Powe at $1.07 million). Palmieri ($577,150) is making just above the NHL’s minimum salary of $525,000.

In an unscientific and strictly cursory search of the Internet, Wild fans seemed more upset to be losing Palmieri than Powe. It appears that it is a case of size and potential winning out over a third/fourth line checking forward with limited offensive upside. However given the Rangers penchant for taking penalties, they probably need a penalty killer like Powe than a tough guy like Rupp – especially with Aron Asham and Stu Bickel in New York and some size and tough guy alternatives in Connecticut (Palmieri, Micheal Haley, Brandon Segal and Brandon Mashinter).

In Powe, the Rangers received a 27-year-old who can play Center and Wing and is a left-handed shooter. The 5-foot-11 and 212 pounder is scoreless in eight games this season. He played in all 82 games last year and scored six goals and seven assists. In 294 career NHL games, Powe has tallied 28 goals and 28 assists.

Powe played four years at Princeton University before signing with the Philadelphia Flyers as an undrafted free agent in March 2007. The Flyers dealt Powe to Minnesota for a 2013 third round draft pick in June 2011 and he signed with Minnesota in July 2011. He is a John Tortorella type of player in that he is good defensively and will get in on the forecheck. While he doesn’t have an enforcer’s size, Powe has been known to scrap.

The one thing that limits his ice time is that he does not have much of an offensive game. His best use will be as a fourth line player who can kill penalties and take a shift on the third line as defensive presence and forechecker.

The addition of Palmieri helps replace the loss of Rupp’s size. The 23-year-old Palmieri is 6-foot-5 and weighs 230 pounds.

He was originally drafted in the third round (#79) of the 2007 NHL Draft by New Jersey. The Devils dealt Palmieri. Kurtis Foster, Stephane Veilleux, a 2012 second round draft pick (that belonged to Washington) and a conditional 2013 third round draft pick to Minnesota for former Ranger draft pick Marek Zidlicky. Since the Devils made the Eastern Conference Finals and Zidlicky played in 75% of the Devils playoff games in the first round, that pick is transferred to the Wild.

Palmieri played in 40 games with Houston Aeros of the AHL and scored 10 goals and 11 assists with 35 PIMs. Last season, Palmieri split his time between the Wild and Devils organizations. In 38 NHL games, he scored four goals and three assists with 14 PIMs. In 38 AHL games, he scored eight goals and nine assists with 32 PIM. He represented the USA in 2011 World Championships scoring two goals and one assist in six games.

In their 2007 NHL Draft Guide, the International Scouting Service wrote of Palmieri, “Palmieri is a big player with a strong powerful skating stride who would be more effective if he moved his feet more and played physical on a more consistent basis. He has good puck skills and does a nice of using size to protect the puck during battles along the boards. Playing in Erie this past season, Nick had the opportunity to play in all key situations – 5 on 5, 4 on 4, PP and PK. In the offensive zone he has a heavy shot with a quick release. Needs to improve play away from the puck and show more consistent effort in overall game.”

Here is the Toronto Star’s Scouting Report on Darroll Powe:

Assets: Works hard, provides energy and is a solid defensive forward. Can play both center and wing. Is aggressive and hard to knock off the puck, due to a strong lower base. Is plenty versatile.
Flaws: Doesn’t own a lot of natural offensive ability, so he’s reduced to role-player status at the National Hockey League level. Also doesn’t always play with consistency and can wear down over time.
Career Potential: Versatile depth forward with a defensive conscience.

Here is the Toronto Star’s Scouting Report on Nick Palmieri:

Assets: Boasts impressive size at 6-3, 220 pounds. Displays the ability to use his big frame to initiate contact. Works hard to improve his game. Unleashes a hard shot.
Flaws: Needs to improve his skating, as well as his passing skills and how to better utilize his linemates. Has to display a more consistent power game in the NHL.
Career Potential: Meat-and-potatoes winger with a little upside.

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“He who hesitates is lost.” It is believed that this idiom traces its roots back to Joseph Addison’s “Cato”. Whether the phrase originated with Addison or predates the English writer, it certainly refers to my favorite hockey blogger (me) and to my favorite hockey team (the Rangers).

At the end of last week I was doing some research for my next edition of “Ranger Ramblings”. I zeroed in on Coach John Tortorella’s reliance on his top players while seemingly ignoring the rest of his roster – especially in the wake of the loss to the Philadelphia Flyers.

On Friday, as part of the research, I zeroed in on three potential UFAs that would fit the Rangers needs. Imagine my surprise on Saturday night when I saw the ticker on the NHL Network that said the Rangers had signed Jason Arnott to a one-year deal – the same Jason Arnott who was at the top of my list.

After kicking myself for not finishing the article up before the start of the weekend, I figured that I could always whip up a column on how Arnott fits into the Rangers given his faceoff proficiency last season (505) and his big-time shot that would help cure some of the ills of the Rangers power play.

Imagine my shock on Monday morning when I open up the “Daily News” and see that Arnott’s deal with the Rangers was DOA because he did not pass the team’s physical.

As expected, Blueshirts President/GM Glen Sather was tight-lipped about the specific circumstances.

“He couldn’t pass a medical so we’ll move on, that’s all I can tell you,” was Sather’s explanation when Andrew Gross of The Record spoke to Slats at practice this morning.

It remains to be seen if Arnott does sign with another team – a team who might be more willing to gamble that he is healthy enough to last the season.

However, it seems that Sather is not content to stand pat with his roster.

“We’re always looking,” Sather told Gross. “We have 10 rookies at Hartford (AHL). It’s necessary to look around. It’s going to be a long year, you never know what’s going to happen. There’s always injuries so it’s smart to look around.”

After reading what Sather said, I thought that my second choice might be in play for the Rangers. While Option B does not bring the same faceoff skills as Arnott, he does bring an offensive upgrade and has a background of being a top performer on the power play just a few years ago. On top of that, he is a pretty good shootout candidate and he has proven he can handle the pressure of playing in the New York area.

Well, low and behold, I see that I am two-for-two because Petr Sykora signed to play the rest of the season in Switzerland with SC Bern.

There was one more player that I thought could help the Rangers. While he would not add much to the offense, the fact that he won 55% of his faceoffs during the season would be a tremendous upgrade over Jeff Halpern. Sadly, I do not think former Ranger Dominic Moore will play hockey this season following the tragic loss of his wife Katie on January 7, 2013.

Jeff Z. Klein of the NY Times (1/28/13) came up with a brief list of potential Rangers targets. He mentioned Sykora’s name, but did not think he was a fit for a Tortorella coached team. I am not so sure that another one of his suggestions, the smallish Daymond Langkow (5-10) would fit his system either.

Brian Rolston’s name has been kicked about online, but I am not sure if there is much in the tank – although he would be a help on the power play and in shootouts. It also doesn’t hurt that he is a former teammate of Marian Gaborik and has experience playing in the New York area.

One better possibility is Andrew Brunette. The 39-year-old can play either wing and is exactly the type of forward the Rangers need in front of the net on the power play because he is a finisher who is at home at the top of the crease. Klein said that Brunette reported that he was thinking of retiring earlier this month.

While he was never a great skater, time has slowed him a step. However, he spent six seasons playing with the Minnesota Wild so you know he has an idea of how to play defense. The one drawback might be that Brunette is not an overly physical player despite having good size (6-1/215).

However let’s be honest, who would you rather see as the fourth line RW – Stu Bickel, Aron Asham or Brunette?

In addition, Brunette spent three seasons as a teammate of Gaborik’s with the Wild.

Given the miniscule ice time Torts is doling out to the fourth line, it makes more sense to have a power play specialist in the lineup, especially one who can move up to the second or third line depending on the tenor of the game.

You would still have Mike Rupp around to handle the rough stuff so all you would need is a faceoff specialist to replace Halpern. The veteran center is pretty much a forgotten man as he saw just over six minutes over six minutes of ice time against Philadelphia and then played 4:16 (on 10 shifts) against Toronto – and that wasn’t even the biggest indictment.

The man who was brought in to be the Rangers “faceoff specialist” did not take one draw against the Maple Leafs. With Halpern winning just 34.8% of his faceoffs, the meter might be running on Halpern.

Sather has to do some roster juggling in order to get Tortorella some support players that he has confidence in giving ice time to. There has to be a better balance of ice time between the “haves” or the “have nots”. Interestingly enough, the skewed ice time concern is not a byproduct of the abbreviated season.

The Rangers will be playing their 48-game schedule in 99 days – a tough feat to be sure. However, the Rangers played their last 48 games last season in just 100 days. While some might argue that this year’s version as it “easier” because they didn’t play 34 games previous to that stretch, the one thing last year’s squad had – and this year’s team is missing – is a full training camp where Tortorella could condition his team the way he wanted them conditioned.

The Rangers “need” to make roster moves almost reached critical mass following the win over the Flyers at the Garden. However, with Ryan Callahan’s shoulder subluxation costing him 10-14 days a major crisis was adverted. Even if Cally’s injury causes him to miss 3-4 weeks, the Blueshirts are still ahead of the game compared to the Ottawa Senators.

The Rangers 2012 first round foe will be without Jason Spezza for at least two months as the Ottawa center faces surgery to repair a herniated disc in his back.

While the Rangers appear to have dodged a bullet in the short term in respect to Callahan’s injury, Rick Carpiniello of the Journal News did throw a scare into Rangers fans.

IN a January 30, 2013 Rangers Report Blog entry, Carpiniello reminded fans that former captain Barry Beck also suffered a shoulder subluxation that haunted him throughout his career as he battled recurring shoulder problems and faced many surgeries before finally retiring. On the plus side, medical science has improved over the years so hopefully Callahan’s injury is a short term concern with no major long term repercussions.

My hesitation theme comes full circle as we address the Rangers hesitant ways in terms of their on ice play. The bane of the Blueshirts existence continues to be their woeful power play.

After sleepwalking their way to yet another home loss to the Penguins, the Rangers power play sits tied for 26th in the NHL with three goals in 28 chances (10.7 %).

With Pittsburgh employing a passive penalty kill, the last thing the Rangers needed to do was continue with their hesitant and tentative play on the power play. If an opponent is being aggressive on the penalty kill it almost forces a power play to be more aggressive – and that tends to open up more scoring chances.

When the penalty killers are not being aggressive, a team can be lulled to sleep – and that is a recipe for disaster when you are a team like the Rangers who tend to be more passive/hesitant on the power play to begin with.

“There are a couple of things that are key to a good power play. First and foremost is puck movement. Our puck movement has been too slow. And when we do get into a situation where we can move it, we’re holding on to it too long and the penalty killers can adjust,” Tortorella said.

“Then there’s also movement without the puck. Players need to jump into spots. We’re all sitting on the outside and we’re not jumping into holes to, again, make the penalty killers react. The whole key with a power play is reading the defense and taking what they give you. And you can’t even get to that step if you’re all on the outside. The penalty killers aren’t going to move. They’re going to keep to the middle and keep you on the outside.”

I don’t think anyone would disagree or be surprised with what Torts said. What is most surprising about Tortorella’s comments is that he made them to John Dellapina of the Daily News on October 15, 1999 when Tortorella was an Assistant coach with the Rangers.

By the way, kudos to Adam Rotter for SNY for digging up that original article and posting it on his SNY Rangers blog .

This quote shows that Tortorella is not lost when it comes to drawing up a successful power play. He has been able to get his players to buy into a defensive responsibility first style of play, but for some reason, there is a big disconnect when it comes to running the power play.

The Rangers lack of power play success is not from a lack of talent. Rather, it is from a lack of execution in terms of doing what the coach is preaching and has preached in the past.

The Rangers slow start is disappointing – especially in terms of the abbreviated 48-game schedule. However, it is not like last year’s team stormed out of the box. The 2011-2012 Blueshirts opened the season 0-2-1 and 3-3-3 before winning five games in a row and 10 of 12.

The last word belongs to the coach. While he was talking specifically about the power play back in October 1999, the following quote from Tortorella pretty much sums up his job as we hit February 2013.

“But coaching is not just enduring the bad streaks and enjoying the good ones. It’s shortening the former without making panicky moves and lengthening the latter by not overlooking warning signs. It’s a very important thing that, through the schedule and into the playoffs, you come back and touch on the basics,” Tortorella explained to Dellapina.

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