April 2013


I am not sure if Branch Rickey had Brad Richards and the Rangers in mind when he uttered, “Luck is the residue of design”, but design or not, Richards’ pinball goal in the closing minutes of the third period helped ease the minds of all Rangers fans. I am sure there are a few players, coaches and front office executive who also are breathing a sigh of relief that the Rangers playoff hopes did not come down to having to beat the New Jersey Devils on Saturday afternoon.

As it turns out, the Rangers didn’t need bank shot nor did they need Ryan Callahan to channel his inner Mark Messier because the Montreal Canadiens came from behind to defeat the Winnipeg Jets last night. Still, it feels better that the Blueshirts “earned” their way into the playoffs rather than “backing” their way in.

As the NHL heads into the final weekend of its abbreviated season, the eight Eastern Conference teams have been set. What we don’t know are the playoff matchups. The Rangers can finish anywhere from sixth to eighth and face Pittsburgh (#1 vs. #8), Boston or Montreal (#2 vs. #7), or Washington (#3 vs. #6).

If we learned anything from last year’s playoffs, a team’s seed does not necessarily guarantee a team playoff success or failure. The top-seeded Rangers faced a pair of grueling seven-game series against the eighth and seventh seeds before being eliminated by the sixth-seeded Devils who, in turn, lost the Stanley Cup Finals to the eighth-seeded Los Angeles Kings.

While it might not always appear that way, the Rangers are playing some of their most productive hockey – at least in terms of producing points. They are 9-3-1 in their last 13 games and if you extended that out over the course of a 48-game season, the Blueshirts would have been in a battle for the first/four seed rather than in a battle to just make the playoffs.

The Rangers strong finish to the season allowed them to avoid repeating a repeat of history 20 years ago. In 1991-92, the Rangers won the President’s Trophy before a disappointing elimination to the Penguins. In 2011-12, the Rangers finish with the second best record in the NHL (even though they topped their 91-92 point total) before a disappointing elimination to the Devils. In 1992-93, with expectations high, the Rangers crash and burn and miss the playoffs. In 2012-13, the Blueshirts nearly replicated missing the playoffs.

Of course, there might be some who would argue that the Rangers should have missed the playoffs this year in order to really finish off the 20-year history: 1993-94 Stanley Cup Champions — 2013-14 Stanley Cup Champions.

Regardless of the Rangers playoff opponents, there are two things that all Blueshirts fans can take for granted. First, the Rangers will go into the series with a goaltending edge – no disrespect to any of the other playoff goaltenders. The New York Rangers live and die with Henrik Lundqvist and in the vast majority of times he has responded.

The second thing is that the Rangers will struggle to score goals. That is pretty much a given in any playoff series not involving the 2011-12 Flyers playing the 2011-12 Penguins. Those scoring struggle may only get worse as teams tighten up their play in the playoffs.

That is the main reason why I believe that the key to winning in the playoffs is finding a way to increase your offensive production because goals are always at a premium. The only positive for the Rangers is that there are a couple of areas where an improvement would produce improved scoring production.

I know it is a lot to ask given the way the Rangers power play has struggled since the first two years after the first lockout, but any semblance of an NHL-caliber power play will pay major dividends. In addition to finding ways to score, the Rangers must find ways to keep their power play from being momentum killers. Creating shots and chances is a good thing. Stumbling your way into the offensive zone and throwing the puck around the perimeter is a bad thing.

That leads me to the second thing the Rangers need to improve on: shoot the puck – on net. There is no more frustrating sight than to see a Ranger player have a step on a defender and watch him windup and drive a shot wide of the net (can you say Michael Del Zotto). Not only do you lose the offensive chance, but far too often that missed shot ends up as an odd-man rush against the Rangers. Therefore, in the simplest terms I can use, hit the net.

Of course, in conjunction with hitting the net is getting bodies in front of the net. Any goalie will tell the hardest shot to stop is the one he can’t see. The second hardest shot to stop is the one that gets deflected.

While we are talking about shots, the Blueshirts have a bad habit of being too unselfish in their play. I know that sounds like an oxymoron, but it does make sense. Far too many times Rangers try to make the extra pass when they have a scoring chance of their own. Sometimes it is a player deferring to a scorer and sometimes it seems as if a player just is plain afraid to take the shot. In either case, sometimes being selfish is a good thing in hockey.

Now if you combine getting more shots, on goal, with bodies in front for screens and deflections, and you to take the scoring chance you have; guess what you have? You have a team whose power play is a lot more successful than the Rangers and you have a team who is increasing their scoring chances.

The final word belongs to Steven McDonald who pretty much summed up the Rangers task on the night that Ryan Callahan became a four-time winner of the Steven McDonald Extra Effort Award.

“We need one play, one shift, one block, and a goal to make this game and this season a memorable one … so get it done.”

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If the NHL Trade Deadline was the game of Clue, not too many people would have had Marian Gaborik to Columbus for Derick Brassard, Derek Dorsett and John Moore. Even fewer people would have had Brassard, Moore and Ryane Clowe (who had not scored a goal all year) combining for four goals and four assists (including four power play points) in their first game as New York Rangers. For one night, Glen Sather’s wheeling and dealing paid off.

It remains to be seen how these two deals shape the rest of the Rangers season and if they were enough to make the difference in missing the playoffs and having the chance to replicate their 2012 playoff run.

Only time will tell if the Rangers will have enough time to gel as a team while trying to make a run at the playoffs. The Blueshirts have now reshaped their team twice within the confines of one season – and both times doing so without the benefit of training camp and a full 82-game schedule.

Whatever is in store for the rest of this season, the Gaborik trade was made with an eye towards the next two seasons.

With the NHL salary cap dropping by $6 million in 2013-2014, the Rangers needed to find a way to create some salary cap flexibility with Carl Hagelin, Ryan McDonough and Derek Stepan needing new deals as RFAs, and Clowe set to become an UFA.

Even if the Rangers did not trade Gaborik, there is no way they were going to re-sign him after next season with the likes of Martin Biron, Brian Boyle, Ryan Callahan, Dan Girardi, Henrik Lundqvist, and Anton Stralman all set to become UFAs and Michael Del Zotto becoming a RFA – as will Brassard and Moore.

CapGeek lists the Rangers having $14.8 million in cap space available for next year. That figure does not factor in all of the free agents or any of the youngsters who are assigned to the AHL (e.g. Chris Kreider and J.T. Miller). Given the numbers game alone, the Blueshirts might need to move out more salary (Aron Asham? Taylor Pyatt?) in order to build next year’s team.

Setting aside the financial considerations, the Rangers trades reshape the team along the lines of the team that went to the Eastern Conference Finals last season. The big change is that the main scoring winger this year (Nash) is a far more physical player than last year’s main scoring winger (Gaborik).

In addition, the Rangers added depth to their roster, as well as getting bigger and younger with the additions of Brassard and Moore – two former 1st round draft picks who still have room to grow in terms of reaching their potential.

Sather’s deadline dealings leaves the Rangers without a first and second round pick this June and they also dealt away one of their three third round picks, but they might be able to recoup it if they do not make the Stanley Cup Finals. If that is the case, then the Rangers receive a third round pick from Columbus as part of the Rick Nash trade.

In addition, the Rangers still have an opportunity to restock their prospect pool by signing undrafted collegiate and Junior players. The Blueshirts already fortified their defense corps with the signing of Conor Allen and Tommy Hughes.

Here is a detailed look at all of the newest New York Rangers.

RYANE CLOWE

Clowe is a 6-foot-2 and 225 pound LW who brings the “jam” that Coach John Tortorella often talks about. The 30-year-old Clowe was San Jose’s 7th round draft pick (#175) in the 2001 NHL Draft. Prior to his goal scoring drought this season with the Sharks, Clowe averaged about 21 goals and 33 assists during the last four seasons – including a career best 24 goals and 38 assists in 2010-11. He also added six goals and nine assists in 17 playoff games that year.

Here is his Hockey News Scouting Report:

Assets: Plays a solid up-and-down game, and is a throwback winger who loves to check and do the dirty work. Strong on the puck, he’s versatile enough to line up on either wing. Is a good scorer in close and an excellent scrapper, too.

Flaws: Can be a bit too streaky in the goal-scoring department. As he has become a bigger scoring threat, he has become a little less physical, too. Also, he is not an elegant skater; he’s somewhat of a plodder, in fact.

Career Potential: Solid power forward.

DERICK BRASSARD

The 25-year-old Brassard was the sixth overall selection in the 2006 NHL Draft. The 6-foot-1 and 202 pound Center was the ninth rated prospect by the International Scouting Service (ISS) who compared his playing style to that of Paul Kariya. ISS attributed his hockey sense to his hockey background as his father Pierre was drafted in 1976 the 6th round by the Montreal Canadiens in the NHL Draft and in the 10th round by the Quebec Nordiques in the WHA Draft. While Pierre did not play professional hockey, he did star for three years with Cornwall (QMJHL) – averaging 61 goals and 63 assists in his final two seasons.

Of Brassard, ISS said, “The shifty pivot is one of the most exciting forwards in the offensive zone; speed and agility allows him to find the open space. With all his offensive ability he still shows good defensive awareness and the willingness to help out in the defensive zone.”

His career has hampered by a pair of shoulder injuries that caused him to miss large chunks of playing time. In the 2006-07 season, Brassard was limited to just 14 games with Rimouski (QMJHL). In 2008-09, another shoulder injury forced Brassard to miss the final 50 games of the regular season and all four Columbus playoff games.

In 2010-11, Brassard set career highs in goals, assists and points (17-30-47).

Here is Brassard’s Hockey News Scouting Report:

Assets: Skates well and possesses plenty of scoring instincts. Can excel at both ends of the ice, and is a determined athlete. Owns leadership qualities.

Flaws: Must learn to shoot more. Needs to continue adding more strength to fully maximize his vast potential. Has to overcome his propensity to get injured.

Career Potential: Talented, but inconsistent forward with upside.

DEREK DORSETT

Rangers fans will have to wait before the debut of their new RW. The 6-foot and 192 pound Dorsett is on Injured Reserve recovering from a broken collarbone. Some reports have him out for the rest of the season while others say he could be back for the last week of the regular season or the start of the playoffs.

The one thing that is for certain is that fans of Brandon Prust are going to love Dorsett as he plays the same style of game that Prust does. Dorsett did kill penalties while a member of the Blue Jackets.

Aaron Portzline of The Columbus Dispatch tweeted the following in the aftermath of the Rangers-Blue Jackets trade, “Fully expect Derek Dorsett to be a fan favorite in Madison Square Garden. He’s not big, but his heart swells in the sweater. Tortorella will love this guy, as long as he limits ill-advised penalties. But he’s fearless and relentless player. Will fight anybody.”

His willingness to scrap, and take some ill-advised penalties, contributed to his NHL best 235 PIMs – which were fueled by his 19 fighting majors. Despite spending all that time in the penalty box, Dorsett did score 12 goals and add 8 assists as well last season. He was averaging about 16 minutes of ice time this season and tallied three goals and six assists in 24 games with Columbus.

Dorsett was part of Columbus’ 2006 NHL Draft that produced NHLers Brassard, the recently traded Steve Mason and Tom Sestito. Dorsett was the Blue Jackets 7th round pick (#189).

Here is Dorsett’s Hockey News Scouting Report:

Assets: Is an industrious winger who never backs down from challenges. Loves to initiate contact and agitate the opposition. Will drop the gloves on occasion. Can play any forward position if he has to.

Flaws: Is somewhat limited in the scoring department at the National Hockey League level. Needs to get stronger and avoid injuries in order to survive in the NHL playing with such reckless abandon.

Career Potential: Effective, fearless agitator.

JOHN MOORE

The 6-foot-3 and 202 pound defenseman was Columbus’ 1st round pick (#21) in the 2009 NHL Draft. The Rangers selected Chris Kreider two picks early and Calgary drafted Tim Erixon two picks later. As we all know, thanks to Mike Emrick and Pierre McGuire, played triple-A amateur hockey with the Chicago Mission who was coached by Ed Olczyk. What the NBC Sports guys didn’t mention is that former NHL defenseman Steve Smith was also one of Moore’s coaches.

In 2009, Moore was rated the 16th best prospect by ISS and they compared his playing style to that of Joe Corvo.

Of Moore, ISS said, He has the size and skill to go along with great playmaking abilities. Tremendous skater. Moore is blessed with very light / quick feet that enable him to get to and from the puck/plays in an expeditious manner. In addition, Moore’s checking skills have also improved as he is holding his checks better along the boards with improved balance etc.”

After spending 73 games in the AHL in his rookie seasons (two games with Columbus), Moore played 67 games with the Blue Jackets (two goals and five assists) last season (just five games in the AHL).

The 22-year-old blueliner was limited to just 18 games with Columbus as a lower body injury caused him to miss five games in February and a recent shoulder injury forced him to miss eight games as he was on the Injured Reserve List and only was activated in mid-March.

Here is Moore’s Hockey News Scouting Report:

Assets: Has a good frame to grow into, and owns exceptional skating ability. Can play an offensive role and likes to be on the attack. Can fire the puck and eventually quarterback a power play. His speed is also very useful on defense.

Flaws: Is still learning the nuances of the NHL game. Needs to add more strength in order to better handle big forwards. Needs to keep working on his defensive consistency with regards to his decision-making.

Career Potential: Extremely mobile defenseman with good upside.

CONOR ALLEN

The 6-foot-1 and 210 Allen was the first of two undrafted free agent defensemen the Rangers signed leading up to the NHL Trade Deadline. The 23-year-old played his collegiate hockey at the University of Massachusetts. Believe it or not, there is an Olczyk connection with Allen. While at UMass, Allen was a teammate of Eddie Olczyk, Ed’s son.

Signing free agent UMass defenseman is nothing new for the Blueshirts because they signed Thomas Pock at the end of the 2003-04 season. Much like Matt Gilroy, Pock was a forward who was shifted to the blue line in college.

The Rangers have three other UMass connections. Defenseman Marvin Degon, an AHL signee, played 85 games with Hartford in 2005-06 and 200607.

In 2011-12, Casey Wellman played 31 AHL games with the Connecticut Whale after being acquired from the Minnesota Wild.
Danny Hobbs, the Rangers 7th round pick (#198) in the 2007 NHL Draft played four seasons at UMass before turning pro and spending this season in the ECHL with the Greenville Road Warriors.

Allen also played in USHL with Sioux Falls Stampede (2009/10) with Dallas 2011 1st rounder Jamie Oleksiak, and was an NAHL teammate of Devils goalie prospect Keith Kinkaid in 2008/09 with the St. Louis Bandits.

Allen is looking to duplicate the jump to the NHL two other Minutemen have taken – LA’s Jonathan Quick and Toronto’s Mike Kostka.

Allen spent the previous two summers on two NHL Summer Development Camp Rosters – the Washington Capitals (2011) and the Vancouver Canucks (2012).

His college coach for his first two seasons, Don “Toot” Cahoon, gave an insight into Allen’s game during a September 2010 interview.

“Allen will be a great skating defenseman in this league,” Cahoon told Dick Baker of MassLive.com. “He really transitions the puck by foot as well as with a strong pass.”

UMass Sports Blog Fear The Triangle offered up this summary of Allen’s season.

“I thought Allen was consistently one of the best UMass players on the ice this season and even one of the better defenseman in the conference. Defensively, he was easily the best player for UMass. He more than doubled his blocked shots from last year from 24 to a team high 57. He doubled his assists from last year, from 7 to 14, and added 5 goals of his own.”

TOMMY HUGHES

The 6-foot-2 and 216 pound defenseman comes to the Rangers as an undrafted free agent out of Canadian Junior hockey and from a team they are quite familiar with – the London Knights. Both Dan Girardi and Michael Del Zotto were member of the Knights.
Hughes, a native of London, Ontario, is looking to follow in the footsteps of Girardi and become another London blueliner who went from undrafted free agent to NHL star with the Rangers.

If Hughes does make the Rangers in the not-too-distant future, he will have the chance to team with London Knights alum Rick Nash, whose #61 is retired. Former Ranger Brendan Shanahan also has his number retired (#19).

Ottawa’s Marc Methot is another undrafted Knights defenseman who has battled his way into the NHL.

Currently, Hughes is one of five members of the London Knights who have signed contracts with NHL teams while another five Knights have been drafted but have yet to sign with their draft teams.

Hughes actually serves as a perfect complement to Allen. Whereas Hughes is a right-handed shot, Allen is a left-handed shooting defenseman.

However, while Allen has signed an Amateur Tryout (ATO) agreement with the Connecticut Whale, Hughes’ pro debut is on hold as he leads his Knights into the Second Round of the OHL playoffs. London’s opponent is, ironically enough, the Kitchener Rangers – one of the teams London defeated last year on their way to an OHL championship. The Knights and Baby Rangers have a couple of wild playoff battles during the last few years and this year should be no different.

Hughes is finishing up his fourth season with London and is serving as an Alternate Captain for the Knights. The defensive d-man set career highs in games (67), assists (15), points (16), and PIMs (66).

Being an undrafted player is nothing new to the soon to be 21-year-old (on April 7). He joined London as a “walk-on” during the 2009-10 season (playing seven games) after playing his AAA midget hockey with the London Jr. Knights.

The Rangers interest in Hughes did not appear all of a sudden. The Blueshirts invited him to their Summer Development camp this year, but a broken foot put the kibosh on his availability.

You know that Hughes will be ready for the rough-and-tumble world of the NHL given that his Junior coach is Dale Hunter.

“He blocks shots, he’s fearless out there,” Hunter told John Matisz of Metronews.ca. “He just kept getting better and better every year.”

Hunter also spoke to Matisz about London’s ability to train and develop undrafted NHL blueliners.

“They were like that for me when they were here, and that’s what Hughesy does for us,” the former Washington Capitals coach explained – referencing Girardi and Methot.

In reference to Hughes Matisz wrote, “A trademark of Hughes’ game is his unorthodox skating style. Though it often appears like his long strides slow him down, Hunter insists it’s quite the opposite.”

“He’s a very good skater. He’s fast. He stays in a crouch, which he should anyways, and he’s strong,” Hunter said in defense of Hughes.

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With the NHL trade deadline just a day away, the rumor mill is heating up as teams start jockeying for positioning to make that one trade that will put them over the top or signal the start of a rebuilding process.

Pittsburgh GM Ray Shero already laid waste to the NHL trade market with his pre-deadline deals that brought in the likes of Brendan Morrow, Doug Murray and Jarome Iginla. While Shero says he is done, his salary cap situation says otherwise. According to CapGeek, the Penguins have the ability to add $18 million in annual average salary to their payroll.

The Penguins have gone all in because all three of their acquisitions are UFAs and they might be facing a closing window of opportunity come the end of next season when Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, Brooks Orpik and Chris Kunitz become UFAs and Simon Despres and Brandon Sutter become RFAs.

Conversely, the New York Rangers have the ability to add about $6.8 million in annual average salary come the deadline. Unlike the Penguins who were adding to a powerhouse team, the Rangers have one-third the cap space to try and right a team that is fighting for their playoff lives.

Faced with a dropping salary cap come next season, and a disinclination to trade away any of their prized prospects, the Blueshirts do not expect too active at the trade deadline. Rather than the splashy headlines they made in 1994 on their way to the Stanley Cup, the best the Rangers can expect to do is tinker a little bit – reshuffling the deck chairs on the Titanic if you will.

The Rangers and San Jose Sharks have spent a lot of time scouting each other. From all indications, the Blueshirts focus was on Dan Boyle and Ryane Clowe. While the Rangers could probably make Boyle’s contract work for this season, they would not be able to fit his $6.67 million contract next year unless Marian Gaborik headed west.

In addition to the salary concern, Boyle has a limited no-trade clause and the Rangers could be one of eight teams on his veto list.

Clowe fits well within Coach John Tortorella’s style and would bring some of that “jam” that Torts is always harping on. Clowe is an UFA at the end of the season so the Rangers would only have to accommodate his prorated $3.6 million contract for this season. Clowe would not be the direct answer to the Rangers offensive woes. For those answers, you need the likes of Marian Gaborik and Brad Richards to start earning their big-time salaries.

Rather, Clowe helps add a physical aspect that the Rangers lost when they dealt away Brandon Dubinsky and let Brandon Prust leave as an UFA – both moves which were the right moves. The problem is Glen Sather never adequately replaced those two players and a player like Artem Anisimov. The 6-foot-2 and 225 pound Clowe has not scored a goal this season, but the Rangers are looking for him to create some space for the Blueshirt snipers to operate.

San Jose President/GM Doug Wilson explained the Clowe situation from the Sharks perspective.

“He’s one of these guys that’s feared and respected, he’s tough as nails, he can play the game, he’s a great teammate, and he’s a pending unrestricted free agent,” Wilson told The Associated Press.

“As a player and a teammate, teammates know he has their back and he’s just a tremendous heart-and-soul competitor.”

Apparently because of his no-trade clause, Clowe’s choices came down to the Rangers and Vancouver Canucks. Kevin Allen of USA Today spoke to Vancouver GM Mike Gillis who told him, “It seemed like geography was a (determining) factor.”

Allen then added his own take – “According to Gillis, Clowe liked the Vancouver situation, but preferred to move to the Eastern Conference team.

Setting aside all talk of no-trade and no-movement clauses, the Rangers have made it clear they are loathed to move the likes of Chris Kreider or J.T. Miller in trades and it is doubtful they would give up Dylan McIlrath or Brady Skjei before either blueliner had a chance to play for the Rangers.

Salary cap concerns and an unwillingness to move their top prospects are not the only restriction the Rangers face in making a deadline deal. Teams are always on the lookout for draft picks (especially first and second round picks) – and the Rangers have a problem there as well with their own first round draft pick belonging to the Columbus Blue Jackets as a result of the Rick Nash deal.

The Clowe deal has robbed the Rangers of some of their 2013 assets – their own 2nd round pick and a 3rd round pick they acquired from Florida. They may also face losing a 2nd round pick in 2014 if Clowe re-signs with the Rangers or if the team reaches the Eastern Conference Finals.

Elliotte Friedman of CBC says the Rangers are among the teams showing a lot of interest in Curtis Glencross. The LW would be a good fit in Tortorella’s system as he would bring some speed, a physical aspect and two-way play. He can play on the power play, penalty kill, as well as skate a regular turn as a top 6-9 forward. He has scored 20+ goals the last two years, but does have bouts of inconsistency (see, he IS a perfect Ranger).

There are a couple of roadblocks. Other teams might be more willing to “go all in” as compared to the Rangers. Glencross does have a no-movement clause so he would to approve any deal to New York. Also, he has one more year on his contract at $2.55 million before he becomes an UFA. The salary isn’t that unreasonable, but with the cap dropping $6 million next season the Rangers would have to move some pieces before next season.
With the Rangers having limited resources, it might behoove them to concentrate their deadline conversations to strengthening their blue line.

The Rangers have options at forward if they decide to turn Kreider and Miller loose, with Jesper Fast (who practiced with the team on Tuesday) here and Oscar Lindberg potentially looming on the horizon.

The team cannot afford to rely on Marc Staal’s return this season. They need to proceed as if he is out for the rest of the year. If he ends up being ready to play this year then it will be an unexpected bonus.

The big problem is that defensemen are to the NHL what reliable pitching is to Major League Baseball teams – a wanted commodity that is not easy to acquire.

The Rangers could look to the waiver-wire for a cheap (and quick) fix and claim d-man Kurtis Foster who was placed on waivers after Philadelphia acquired Kent Huskins from Detroit after the Red Wings signed collegiate free agent Danny DeKeyser. Got it?

Foster’s defensive ability will not make anyone forget Rod Langway, but his big and booming shot from the point could help the Rangers floundering power play. If Tortorella is only going to give Roman Hamrlik five minutes of ice time, then Foster could get those minutes as a power play specialist.

Cam Barker (Vancouver) and Steve Montador (Chicago) were also waived by their teams. Montador has been out all season with a concussion and, according to The Hockey News, cleared waivers and was assigned to Rockford of the AHL. I was a big Barker fan during his draft year, but he has not lived up to his hype and might not survive the Tortorella “death stare” the first time he missed an assignment that led to a goal against.

One other name to watch is Ryan O’Byrne of Colorado. The 6-foot-5 and 234 pound O’Byrne is a right-handed shooting d-man with a very limited offensive game. However, he does use his size well and is not afraid to drop the gloves if necessary. He is making $1.8 million and is set to be an UFA at the end of the season.

The only problem with O’Byrne is that the Rangers already have three right shooters on the blue line and could really use a lefty shooter to replace Hamrlik in the lineup.

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