2009/2010 Season

For the first time since the NHL returned from the lockout the New York Rangers sit at home watching the NHL playoffs. Much like the years previous to the lockout, when the Rangers were missing the playoffs, they were bad – but not bad enough to position themselves at a shot at the first overall selection in the 2010 NHL Draft.

As anyone who follows the Blueshirts knows, being a Rangers fan is like spending the entire season on a rollercoaster. While the 2009-2010 season was no different, the rollercoaster ride this season was particularly bizarre. The Rangers started and ended the season on big-time streaks with the mother of all miserable play. After losing their first game in Pittsburgh, the Rangers ran off a seven game winning streak to start the season at 7-1-0. With their playoff hopes fading, the Blueshirts mustered up a 7-1-2 streak to finish the season one regulation goal away from the playoffs.

However, the team that could be considered a doughnut (a hole in the middle – that is – no center) played horrendous hockey in the middle portion of the season as they bumbled their way to a 24-31-9 record – hardly playoff-caliber hockey.

So where do we go from here?

The first thing that needs to be done will not get done. Jimmy Dolan is not going put right what has gone wrong. In other words, he is not going to fire Glen Sather. In turn, Sather is not going to fire John Tortorella (yet) because Slats is not quick to admit he makes mistakes – whether or not Torts is to blame.

However, Sather is going to have to claim mea culpa in order to make any improvements to the Rangers because his salary cap wiggle room barely allows for keeping the status quo – never mind attempting to bring in a big-time free agent or trying to trade for help.

His first step is to clear out as much salary cap space as possible. He did a good job last year by trading Scott Gomez, thus making room for Marian Gaborik. In addition, he also managed to bring in defense prospect Ryan McDonagh.

Sather begrudgingly admitting his mistake in signing Ales Kotalik by turning the winger and Christopher Higgins into Olli Jokinen and Brandon Prust. Not only did this trade clear some cap space by dealing away two years worth of Kotalik’s salary, the Rangers uncovered a diamond in the rough with Prust – a less troublesome version of Sean Avery.

The President/GM has to continue this hot streak by finding ways to remove both Wade Redden and Michal Rozsival. Of course, that is probably easier said than done. Unlike the Gomez deal where Sather added a prospect, moving Redden and/or Rozsival is probably going to cost the Rangers some of their prospects and/or draft picks. This is not the ideal solution, but it might be the only one.

Yes, I know the Rangers can merely place both players on waivers and exile them to Hartford but at what cost? The last thing the Rangers need are high-priced players clogging up roster spots in the AHL – never mind the potential harm that could happen as a result of the negative feedback of disgruntled veterans. Besides, it is bad enough that Sather will have to dump Donald Brashear’s contract in Hartford.

Buying out Wade or Michal is not feasible because it merely stretches out their cap hit because the salary is spread out to twice what is left on the contract. In addition, the Rangers can’t afford to lose salary cap space on players who are no longer with the team. Larry Brooks of the New York Post explained the gory details of a possible Redden buyout in his April 14, 2010 article.

“The Rangers would be charged $1,916,667 the next two and last four years of the hit, while taking a $3,416,667 cap charge for 2012-13 and 2013-14, assuming, of course that retroactive amnesty is not part of the next CBA.”

No, what Sather has to do is start burning up the telephone and try to call in all of the favors he has built up through the many years he has been in the NHL. I am sure that he has built up enough cache that he can make another GM “an offer he can’t refuse”, if you know what I mean. It might even be necessary to swap one problem for another and hope that the change of scenery is enough.

For example, there were rumors prior to the Olympic break that the Blueshirts were talking to Edmonton about Sheldon Souray. Any talks that might have been initiated were doomed when Souray got hurt. The Oilers are as interested in moving Souray as the Rangers are in moving Redden and Rozsival.

The numbers between Rozsival and Souray are similar. Souray has two more years left on a contract that is a $5.4 million cap hit. Rozy also has two years left and his cap hit is $5.0 million. If Kevin Lowe were still GM, then Sather might have been able to get away with a one-for-one deal. With Steve Tambellini in charge, Slats will have to sweeten the pot a bit.

Depending on how sweet that sweetener is, Sather might want to move Redden instead because he has three years left on a contract with a cap hit of $6.5 million.

Whichever way Sather goes, he needs to move out both defensemen in order to free up salary cap space. Before the Rangers decide which free agents or trades to pursue, they have to decide what they are going to do with their own free agents – especially Marc Staal and Daniel Girardi. if the Rangers are able to move Redden and Rozsival it is going to be essential that Staal and Girardi are retained before the Rangers can move forward.

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Now that the New York Rangers season comes down to the final two games against the Philadelphia Flyers, it is time for take a mulligan on my last column when I said the Rangers must go into the tank for the rest of the season to improve their draft position. My newfound advice comes from Adrian to her husband in Rocky II, “Win. Win!”

I know some of you might be wondering why the change in heart. There is a simple answer. Once the Rangers went on their 6-1-1 roll, they lost any chance at securing the first overall selection in the NHL Draft. As things stand now, the Rangers would most likely select 10th overall and could only move up four places if they were lucky enough to win the lottery. In the 10th slot, the Rangers have something like a 2% chance of winning the Draft lottery. Once again the Rangers were bad, but not bad enough to hit hit it big in the NHL Draft.

If the Rangers did make the playoffs, they would select 15th overall. Five spots means a lot when you can go from picking 10th to first. It doesn’t mean all that much when you can go from 15th to 10th.

Given those odds, the Rangers might as well polish off the Flyers and take the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference and try their luck with a rematch against the Washington Capitals. You can pretty much presume that this year’s result would not be the same as last year’s result because the Blueshirts would be pressed mightily to extend the series to seven games this year, but as that wise sage the New York Lottery says, “You got be in It to win it” and “Hey, you never know.”

Hockey is the one sport where an underdog can jump up and take a bit of a favorite because of the play of a hit goaltender. The Rangers saw that first hand last year when they had the Caps down three games to one before rookie Semeon Varlamov took control of the series.

While Henrik Lundqvist has been up-and-down this season, he still has the ability to carry the team to a victory in a playoff series. While it isn’t likely to happen if the Rangers make playoffs, it is a certainty that he can’t steal a playoff series if the Rangers don’t make the playoffs.

Thus ends my logical explanation as to why the Rangers should make the playoffs. The mere fact that I am a Ranger (fan) means that logic goes out the window come April. I have been a Rangers fan since 1971 and each Spring there is always a part of me that can rationalize how the Rangers can make a series run at the Stanley Cup – even though 1994 was the only year when logic and fact aligned.

In all likelihood, I am just being pulled back into fantasy based on the Rangers recent run – despite the fact that five of those wins came against teams that are out of the playoffs. Perhaps I have just been conditioned to accept the Rangers frantic made dash to the playoffs as an inevitable rite of passage late in the season.

Only a diehard Ranger fan would think back to April 4, 2006 when the Rangers beat the Flyers 3-2 in a shootout to clinch the Blueshirts first playoff appearance in nearly decade. Surely, it is fate shining on the Rangers again by clinching the playoffs against the Flyers, isn’t it?

While the Rangers might have pulled me back in, I am not one of those fans who is wringing his hands over Lindy Ruff’s decision to rest Ryan Miller last night and play Patrick Lalime against the Boston Bruins. The Buffalo Sabres earned their right to rest their players by winning their division and clinching a playoff spot. Ruff’s only concern should be for the Sabres, not for how the rest of the playoffs might shape up.

If there is animosity from the Rangers or their fans, it is a waste of time. The Blueshirts had their chances to make their final week of the season more relaxed. However, they blew that opportunity by phoning in a pair of games against Boston and the Montreal Canadiens. They had their chance to earn two points instead of one in Toronto but frittered away the lead and lost in overtime. They kissed two points goodbye when they could not take advantage of a shaky Ty Conklin in a 4-3 loss to the St. Louis Blues.

Honestly, you can probably find a dozen or so games where the Rangers lost golden chances to earn an extra point here or two points there. Their 17-17-6 home record pretty much explains why the Rangers are on the verge of missing the playoffs for the first time since the NHL returned to action following the Lockout.

When all is said and done, and all of the consequences are weighed and measured, there is one reason why Rangers Nation must unite behind the idea of the Rangers winning the final two games and making the playoffs.

If the Rangers do win the final two games and make the playoffs, then that means the Philadelphia Flyers will not make the playoffs. In the long run, that is a good reason for me.

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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 NorthJersey.com 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 Star.com 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 Star.com 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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The origins of this article go back to 2000 when I wrote for Ranger Fan Central. This piece served as a tribute to the 20th anniversary of the “Miracle on Ice”. Five years later, I updated it for the 25th piece. Now, as we celebrate the 30th anniversary, I have updated it again as we travel back to that fateful Friday night in February 1980 and the impact it has on my life.

It is fitting that just one night prior to the 30th anniversary of the biggest night in American hockey history, the United States hockey team pulled off one of its greatest Olympic victories in defeating Canada in Vancouver. It is further fitting because the USA’s victory was the first over Canada in the Winter Olympics since 1960 when America pulled off its first “Miracle on Ice”.

It is unfortunate that we often celebrate the exploits of the 1980 team while forgetting that America’s first gold was won in 1960 at Squaw Valley, CA. The seeds of the victory at Lake Placid were sown in Squaw Valley as the man behind the 1980 miracle, Herb Brooks, was the final cut from the 1960 squad. The Christian Brothers, now synonymous for their hockey sticks as well as their victory in 1960, served as link to the 1980 team through Dave Christian (son of Bill and nephew to Roger).

We also give short shrift to the USA’s 1972 silver medal hockey team, but those are subjects for a later date.

Still, is it at all possible that 30 years have passed since the greatest upset in the history of sports? Is it possible that 30 years have passed since a group of American college students defeated the Soviet Union hockey team – perhaps the greatest of all time?

“Do you believe in miracles?”

It is a question whose answer was burned into the minds of every sports fan and every American who was glued to their television sets on that fateful Friday night, February 22, 1980.

Roger Kahn immortalized the Brooklyn Dodgers of his generation as “The Boys of Summer”. The heroics of the 1980 Olympic hockey team transformed the youngest American Olympic hockey team ever (average age 22) into “The Boys of Winter”, ironically enough, the name of Wayne Coffey’s book about the events of February 1980.

Now some 30 years later, my eyes still swell with tears whenever I hear those words echoing in my mind.

“Do you believe in miracles?”

There were times when we were younger when we believed miracles happened all the time. I know there was a time when I believed in miracles. Unfortunately, that belief came crashing down some six months prior to the start of the 1980 Winter Olympics.

After a long and tiring battle with cancer, my mother passed away in August 1979. The time after her death seem like a blur to me now. I did know that it was a time filled with my attempts to put together a life that was ripped apart at the age of 15.

Prior to February 22, 1980, I had no reason to believe in the hockey miracle that would take place on that Friday night. After watching the vaunted Soviet Union hockey machine dismantle the Americans by a 10-3 score two weeks earlier at Madison Square Garden, an American victory would rank up their with David’s victory over Goliath.

The powerful Soviets did not start playing Olympic hockey until 1956, but boy did they ever catch on fast. Except for America’s first “miracle on ice” in Squaw Valley in the 1960 Olympics, the Soviets had won every gold medal to be won in Olympic hockey as the Lake Placid games rolled around.

This was a Soviet monster that had not lost an Olympic hockey game since 1968 as they ran up an impressive 21-game winning streak. Heck, a year earlier the Soviets defeated an NHL All-Star team in a best of-three series that featured a 6-0 manhandling of the NHL’s best in the final game at Madison Square Garden in 1979.

“Do you believe in miracles?”

How could you when the Soviet lineup resembled a veritable who’s who of international hockey? Vladislav Tretiak was regarded as the best goaltender in the world. Valery Kharlamov, Alexander Maltsev, Boris Mikhailov, and Vladimir Petrov were to Russian youngsters what Gordie Howe, Bobby Hull, Bobby Orr, and Maurice Richard were to Canadian youngsters.

The Soviets also featured future NHL players when they were in their prime. Vladimir Krutov, Igor Larionov and Sergei Makarov were at the start of their international superstardom and would later unite as the KLM Line, a line that would strike fear in their opponents much in the same way the Production Line, the GAG Line and the French Connection Line struck fear in NHL opponents. Viacheslav Fetisov, Alexei Kasatonov and Sergei Starikov patrolled the Soviet blue line in a way NHL fans never saw.

On the other hand, the Americans did feature players who would go on to star in the NHL. Names like Neal Broten, Dave Christian, Mark Johnson, Ken Morrow and Mike Ramsey proved that the games in Lake Placid were a prelude to bigger and better things in hockey.

Outside of Mike Eruzione and Buzz Schneider, the American team was made up of a bunch of college kids who were probably too young to realize how much their lives were going to change. During the prelude to glory, we all received a geography lesson and added the words Iron Range to our vocabulary. We even managed to meld “Saturday Night Live” into the hockey world, as the line of John Harrington, Mark Pavelich and Buzz Schneider were known as the “Coneheads”.

After pulling out a tie against Sweden in closing seconds of their opening contest (thank you Bill Baker), the Americans went on to route Czechoslovakia 7-3. What followed were three less-than-inspiring victories over such “hockey powers” like Norway, Romania and Germany – with the Romania game being the only one where the Americans scored first.

Wayne Coffey offers a glimpse at into the coach’s pre-game speech in his book “The Boys on Winter”. Brooks told his team, “You were born to be a player. You were meant to be here. This moment is yours.”

“Do you believe in miracles?”

Not bloody likely, especially when it appeared that the Soviets would take a 2-1 lead into the first period. However, appearances can be deceiving because someone forgot to tell Mark Johnson.

It started innocently enough as Christian fired a long-range mortar on goal as the final seconds ticked off the clock. As everyone on the ice relaxed, Johnson blew past two Soviet defenders and banged home Tretiak’s careless rebound to tie the score 2-2.

Or did he? The Soviets claimed that the goal had happened after time had expired. Replays showed the world that the man his teammates nicknamed “Magic” had beaten the clock — with one second to spare. For the first time I felt like the USA had a chance. It was at this point that I was swept with mixed emotions. I was glad that I had tombed myself up and not watched TV or listened to the radio. Yet part of me wished I did know the final result because I knew it would be agony watching the tape delay broadcast.

The Americans were alive as the great Tretiak found himself on the bench to start the second period. Vladimir Myshkin had gone between the pipes as the referees hurriedly dropped the puck to end the first period. With Tretiak benched, my emotions were running high. Yes, I was well aware that Myshkin was the goalie during that fateful 6-0 whitewashing on the NHL a year ago — but he wasn’t Tretiak. To this day we don’t know if Russian coach Viktor Tikhonov panicked, if Tretiak was hurt or if Tretiak was not mentally or physically ready to play. All that mattered was that the great Tretiak was out of the game. I was looking for an edge, grasping at any straws and whistling through any graveyard I could find.

I have to admit the old faith wavered as the Soviets poured it on in the second period and took a 3-2 lead early in the second period. Little did anyone know that Jim Craig was going shut the net tighter that a duck’s ass. The goalie on the white mask with the tiny green shamrocks on it would keep the Soviets off the scoreboard for the final 37 plus minutes — thus setting the stage for the most emotional 20 minutes of hockey.

For those of you who are too young too remember, the United States was in one of its lowest periods since the Great Depression. The Cold War with the Soviet Union was at its height. American citizens were still being held hostage in Iran. The Soviet army has invaded Afghanistan, thus prompting President Jimmy Carter to put into motion the series of events that saw the U.S. boycott the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow. Both inflation and unemployment languished in the double digits.

By the time the third period rolled around it seemed like the American way of life was in danger. Once again those evil Communists were going to find a way to one-up mom and her apple pie.

Except someone forgot to tell the 20 hockey players wearing the red, white and blue proudly. They were not ready to go gently into that good night. Instead, they were ready to skate into immortality.

Once again it was Johnson stepping up and living up to his “Magic” moniker. The son of “Badger Bob” Johnson was in the right place at the right time — again. The opportunistic Johnson converted a Dave Silk shot that bounced off of Starikov’s skate. Myshkin never had a chance. Destiny was in the building and she was waving the stars and stripes.

A little more than a minute later Mike Eruzione converted on a Pavelich pass — and miracle of miracles — the U.S. was ahead 4-3. Eruzione’s celebratory dance may not have evoked memories of John Travolta in “Saturday Night Fever”, but it was enough to help usher in the beginning of the end of the Soviet machine.

I can remember thinking that the next 10 minutes of hockey were going to be the longest minutes of my life. Those 10 minutes felt like 10 hours because of the inevitable Russian onslaught that was about to come. I would not experience this dread of time standing still until the third period on June 14, 1994 as the Rangers held on to win the Stanley Cup.

The Soviets did come and they went at the Americans in droves. It was a scene that international hockey fans had lived over and over again. The Soviets would be on the verge of losing and then unleash an offensive barrage that snatched victory from the jaws of defeat.

Twice during the 1980 Olympics the Soviets stared defeat in the face before the slumbering Russian bear woke up from its hibernation with a vengeance. Finland had a 2-1 lead with five minutes to go (half the time the American had to kill). In less than 90 seconds, the Finns found themselves on the wrong end of a 4-2 score. Canada held a two-goal lead in the closing seconds of the second period when they missed converting on a breakaway. The Canadians rued that lost opportunity as the Soviets won that game 6-4.

That would not be the case on February 22, 1980. For the first time since 1968, the Soviet machine could not find a way to win. They tried, oh, how they tried. This time an opponent, the Americans, found a will and a way to win. Whether it was a big time save by Craig here, or a blocked shot there, the Americans were not going to be denied.

As the clock slipped under a minute, the crowd in Lake Placid was on its feet. That 15-year-old in Mount Vernon, New York was on his knees praying for the clock to read 0:00. As the final second ticked off the clock, ABC play-by-play announcer Al Michaels uttered the most famous six words in sports history — “Do you believe in miracles?” and his equally famous one word reply, “Yes!”

It had truly happened. Hell froze over. A month of Sundays hit the calendar. Donkeys did indeed fly. And that 15-year-old in Mount Vernon cried, and for the first time in six months, they were tears of joy. In fact, my eyes are misting as I sat and wrote that last paragraph.

The impact of the game was so great that the March 3, 1980 “Sports Illustrated” cover (a picture of the post-game celebration) ran without any caption – a first for the magazine. Heinz Kluetmeier, the man who captured the scene explained why in a December 2009 interview with SI. “It didn’t need it. Everyone in America knew what happened,” Kluetmeier explained to Richard Deitsch.

Many people forget that the Americans victory over the Soviet Union didn’t clinch anything. It was still possible for the USA to miss out on a medal if they did not defeat Finland – a message that Coach Brooks managed to impart to his team prior to their final game.

In HBO’s 2001 documentary on the “Miracle on Ice”, Eruzione repeated that Brooks told them if they lost to Finland, “If you lose this game, you’ll take it to your fucking graves – your fucking graves.”

On that Sunday afternoon, the Americans made “this impossible dream come true” (yet another great line from Al Michaels). While it was anticlimactic after the stunning victory over the Soviets, it was not an easy victory. Once again the Americans would have to summon their resolve for another third period rally.

The Americans trailed Finland 2-1 and were 20 minutes away from rendering their miraculous victory over the Soviets meaningless. They had fought too hard and for too long. They did not put their college and professional hockey careers on hold to come this close and not win the gold medal.

Six minutes into their final period of hockey together as a team, the Americans erased that one goal deficit on goals by Phil Verchota and Rob McClanahan. With four minutes left in a one-goal game, “Magic” Johnson struck again as the U.S. clinched the gold with a 4-2 victory and earned their place in sports history.

“Do you believe in miracles?”

There was a period of time when I did not believe. Then along came a group of 20 hockey players who would not take no for an answer. They were the personification of teamwork and dedication.

At the start of the Olympic Games, many people viewed them as modern day Don Quixotes. Instead of jabbing at the windmills with lances, they were using hockey sticks. Little did we know that they really would slay dragons with those lances and help a country find a way to start healing itself. Little did they know they would help a 15-year-old slay his own dragons and find a way to help heal himself.

“Do you believe in miracles?”


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Now that Donnie Walsh has one-upped Glen Sather in the “How Many Bad Contracts Can You Dump” Game, what can Slats do to one-up his Knicks counterpart? Unfortunately, the Rangers President/GM might not be able to do much until the summer at the earliest.

Walsh has taken the Knicks from a team hopelessly over the salary cap and transformed them into a team that will be major players in the LeBron, D-Wade, Chris Bosh et al sweepstakes set to commence this summer. Sather’s task is a bit different because the Rangers need to sweep out contracts just to be able to have some flexibility – because the NHL’s hard salary cap does not afford free-spending teams any salary cap flexibility.

We have to give Sather credit (even though he was the one who put the Rangers in the salary cap hell they are in now) because he was able to clear out Scott Gomez’s contract without taking on a major salary commitment, and at the same time, also adding a prospect like Ryan McDonagh. He was even able to correct his Ales Kotalik mistake and get a mulligan on Christopher Higgins without adding a long-term salary hit because Olli Jokinen’s contract expires at the end of the season. However, Sather has to resist the urge to re-sign Jokinen to a long-term deal.

Despite those corrections, Sather will have to channel his inner Donnie Walsh and Anne Sullivan (aka “The Miracle Worker”) if he is going to move the onerous contracts of Wade Redden and Michal Rozsival. In fact, if Lyle Richardson of The Hockey News is correct, Sather’s best (and perhaps only) hope is to wait until the offseason – like he did with the Gomez trade.

“The difference, however, was that Gomez — despite his hefty contract — still had value in the trade market,” Richardson (the hockey writer also known as Spector) explains. “Plus, it’s easier to move expensive contracts in the offseason when teams have more cap space than it is late in the season when they have less to work with.”

Even if Sather were to find a willing trade partner, it is going to cost him dearly to move those contracts without adding any major salaries in return. Much like Walsh had to give away first round draft picks and 2009 first round pick Jordan Hill, Sather will have to sacrifice prospects as well as his younger/cheaper NHL players. Richardson brought up the name of Brandon Dubinsky as an example.

The other alternative is to try and trade Redden and/or Rozsival for another team’s salary problem in the hope that a change of scenery would be beneficial to both teams.

A good example is the Rangers reported interest in Edmonton defenseman Sheldon Souray prior to him breaking his hand in a fight with Jarome Iginla. Souray and Rozsival have similar salary cap hits that expire after the 2011/12 season. If the Rangers want to swap blueliners, the Oilers are going to want prospects and/or draft picks included since they are not getting any salary cap relief.

In the end, the Rangers are not solving their problem. Rather they are just trading for a different problem. If Souray’s deal were for less years, then it would end up being a plus trade for the Blueshirts in the long-term.

Another way it could turn out to be a plus deal for the Rangers is if the Oilers agreed to take Redden in the deal. In that case, the Rangers would save about a $1 million per year as far as the salary cap hit goes and they would be getting two years of relief because Redden’s deal expires at the end of the 2013/2014 season.

The question then becomes is it worth giving up a first round draft pick or two, a player like Dubinsky, a prospect like Derek Stepan or any combination of the three in order to trade Redden for Souray? It is a tough question and one I am glad that I do not have to answer. Then again, if I were the Rangers GM I would not have gotten myself into this mess.

If the Rangers are going to have to bribe another team by giving up any combination of the above assets, then any deal must bring back an expiring contract because the goal is not salary relief – the goal becomes salary salvation.

In that case, the Rangers could target a team like the Phoenix Coyotes who have approximately $16 million in cap space this season and get them to Rozsival or Redden plus “the bribe” in exchange for players like an Adrian Aucoin and Robert Lang (both who have contracts that expire this year) and/or Jim Vandermeer (who has one more year at $2.3 million).

Of course, many fans would say that the easiest thing to do is simply demote Redden and Rozsival and completely remove them from the Rangers payroll. That is a nice idea, but how many owners would be willing to park about $12 million worth of contracts in the AHL? Besides, there are other ramifications to consider.

How will their presence affect the other players in Hartford? You would have to imagine that both players would not be all that happy with the demotion so you risk screwing up any chemistry you might have. With Redden and Rozsival in the AHL, that means two prospects get to sit in the stands or play in the ECHL, which in turn, brings us back to the affect the Redden and Rozsival demotion would have on the team.

To be honest with you, I am not an NHL salary cap specialist so I do not know what implications there would be in reference to NHL rules. I am not certain what happens during the offseason with their contracts. Do their salaries ever revert back to the Rangers? In Major League Baseball, players on the 60-Day Disabled List do not count against the 40-Man Roster, but during the offseason those players must be removed from the DL and placed back on the 40-Man Roster. Is there a similar provision in the NHL CBA? If there isn’t, I bet the NHL Player’s Association would be quick to file a grievance. This is why teams employ capologists like Cameron Hope (the Rangers Assistant General Manager/Hockey Administration).

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