2009/2010 Season

It appears that Rangers President/GM Glen Sather is ready to admit to his “$2.8 million Mistake”. TSN’s Bob McKenzie twittered that the Blueshirts had placed Donald Brashear on waivers. Interestingly enough, Brashear’s waiving comes on the same day that Andrew Gross of NorthJersey.com wrote that Brashear believes his lack of playing times is a direct result of asking for a trade.

“It just shows me they don’t believe in me,” Gross wrote in article for The Record. “I ask for a trade, that’s more likely why I’m not playing any games. Usually, when you ask for a trade, they don’t play you.”

While the vast majority of fans panned the move from the beginning, even the most diehard Brashear hater would have to agree with the 38-year-old enforcer as he tries to rationalize the Rangers actions.

“I came here in shape ready to play. I thought I had a good camp,” Brashear admits to Gross. “You think, why sign me for two years if you’re not game to use me?”

Of course, that “why sign me” part is one every Rangers fans asked given Brashear’s despicable hit on Blair Betts during the 2009 NHL Playoffs. That same vast majority would have been very happy to see Colton Orr remain a Ranger – and those same fans will be shaking their heads as Brashear comments on Orr and the Rangers.

“At the same time, I don’t really understand what they expect,” Brashear asks. “Do they want a showman like they had in Orr or do they want a guy that can play and fight?”

Whether you are pro-Orr (like me), anti-Orr, or just plain who-cares about the matter, the last word anyone would use to describe Orr is “showman”. If he were describing Sean Avery or even Tie Domi, I would agree – but Colton Orr?

After looking over Brashear’s statement, I am not so sure what is worse: that he refers to Orr as a showman or that Brashear really believes that he can play and fight?

Whether it is age or injuries, the 2009-2010 Brashear is just a shadow of the enforcer he once was. Let’s face it, Brashear has probably lost as many fights as Aaron Voros has this season. However, Voros did not come to the Rangers with the “reputation” that Brashear did.

The odds are long that anyone will claim Brashear because he still has another year on his deal. The best the Rangers can hope for is to possibly trade him for another player who has a similar contract. Even then it will probably cost the Rangers some type of prospect to bribe another team to consider taking on Brashear. A team like Atlanta, a team who is rebuilding and has salary cap space, might be “convinced” to take Brashear if the Rangers make it worth their while.

While the Rangers could send him to Hartford if he goes unclaimed, all that will do is merely waste a spot better utilized by a prospect. According to Gross, Brashear’s salary will come off the cap this year, but does not next year because he is an over-35 player.

One has to wonder if Orr, who signed a four-year deal worth $1 million per season, would have signed the same deal that the Rangers offered Brashear. Given that the Rangers were the team that gave Orr is first shot at any regular kind of playing time, it is safe to guess that Orr would have remained in New York.

However, Sather and Coach John Tortorella over-analyzed the situation – which is perplexing given we are talking about a fourth line player on a team whose coach likes to run three lines more often than not. What they did not take into account was the diminishing returns for a player like Brashear (age and perception as a “villain” after the Betts hit) as opposed to “rewarding” a player like Orr who did the dirty work (and was pretty darn good at it) without complaining about ice time and shooting his mouth off about other players.

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There has been much debate on the Internet dealing with whether the New York Rangers should be buyers or sellers at the NHL’s March 3, 2010 deadline. It has been my contention that these two ideas are not mutually exclusive. Rather, it has been my stance that the Rangers should be both at the deadline by dumping as much dead weight as possible (hence the seller part) and looking to acquire as many assets as possible for next season (the buyer part). It looks like Glen Sather has finally listened to me.

Sather’s acquisition of Olli Jokinen and Brandon Prust from Calgary in exchange for Christopher Higgins and Ales Kotalik represents the Rangers being both a buyer and a seller. From the buyer standpoint, Jokinen represents the Rangers best chance to dress a number one center this season. While his 11 goals and 24 assists do not support his $5.5 million contract (as per nhlnumbers.com), that figure comes off the books at the end of the season because Jokinen is an Unrestricted Free Agent – while Prust will be a Restricted Free Agent.

The trade is a win-win proposition both for this year and beyond. The Rangers are not taking much of a risk in the enigmatic Jokinen given that Higgins and Kotalik never panned out as the Rangers had hoped. If the 6-foot-3 and 215 pound Finnish center is a bust, the Rangers have still recouped the $3 million they would have had to pay Kotalik next season (and the year after). The Rangers will need every available penny if they want to sign RFAs Marc Staal and Daniel Girardi.

I have to admit that I though Higgins would be good for about 20-25 goals with the Rangers as he entered the final year of his contract. While his defense and work along the boards translated well, his offense got lost somewhere at the American-Canadian border. As for Kotalik, his play on the point during the power play was a plus early in the season, but he never found his game at even strength and he became a liability on the point when the goals stopped coming. It was extremely unlikely Higgins would return to the Rangers next season unless he was going to take a major pay cut.

If the Rangers can get lucky for a change, then they reap the rewards of a Jokinen salary drive as they find the perfect center for Marian Gaborik. If the Rangers get REALLY lucky, Jokinen plays well enough that they can trade prior to July 1, 2010 when he becomes a free agent. If the hockey gods decide to truly bless the Rangers, Jokinen decides to stay in New York at a reasonable contract while moving Wade Redden and/or Michael Rozsival. Hey, if you are going to dream, you might as well dream big.

Jokinen gives the Rangers a center who has scored 29 or more goals in his last six NHL seasons – including a career season in 2006-07 with Florida (39 goals and 52 assists) as he tallied 34 or more goals in his final three years with Florida prior to being traded to the Coyotes in June 2008.

Can the Rangers reasonably expect Jokinen to pick up his play? Sometimes an unexpected trade is motivation enough, if the following Jokinen quote from TSN.CA is to be believed.

“‘It comes with the salary, you make $5 million, 11 goals is not going to cut it,’ said a visibly shaken Jokinen. ‘It’s definitely a slap in the face to get traded.’

Jokinen did see an upside in heading back to the Eastern Conference.

“‘I get a chance to play with one of the better players in the league in (Marian) Gaborik.'”

Prust earns yet another chance to rack up frequent flyer mileage. The 5-foot-11 and 195 pound forward spent his first three plus season with the Flames organization before being traded to Phoenix as part of the deal that sent Jokinen to Calgary. Prust ended up back with the Flames after the Coyotes swapped him for defenseman Jim Vandermeer.

“I’m looking forward to going to the big city and playing in Madison Square Garden so I’m looking forward to it, but I’m sad to leave again,” Prust told TSN.CA.

While physically Prust fits the light heavyweight category, he will fight all comers as he is second only to Tampa Bay’s Zenon Konopka in fights this season.

You have to believe that Coach John Tortorella will give Jokinen every chance to mesh with Gaborik and Vinny Prospal on the first line. The 31-year-old center struggled to adapt to centering Jarome Iginla because Jokinen is not really a playmaker. However, as Rangers fans have seen, Gaborik’s playmaking abilities are almost as good as his scoring prowess and. in reality, it will Prospal’s job to serve as the playmaker.

If Jokinen doesn’t mesh with Gaborik and Prospal, Tortorella could put him on the second line and move Brandon Dubinsky back to the first line – with Chris Drury becoming the playmaker for Jokinen and Ryan Callahan.

What is less clear is how Prust fits into the lineup. You have to figure that Brian Boyle remains as the fourth line center with Torts shuffling Prust, Erik Christenson and Aaron Voros between the winger spots.

Hopefully, the Prust acquisition is the beginning of the end of the Donald Brashear Era (or is that Error). While the Rangers still have a little salary cap leeway (about $700,000 or so), they could free up even more space by placing Brashear on waivers and then sending him to Hartford if some team isn’t dumb enough to claim him. Shipping Brashear out would clear up about $500,000-$600,000 in additional cap space when you prorate his salary.

With about $1.2 million in cap space, the Rangers could be in the hunt for a veteran seventh defensemen (if they do not recall Ilkka Heikkinen) or a veteran backup goaltender if they want more experienced netminder backing up Henrik Lundqvist post-Olympics. They could even use that cap space to upgrade at forward if they decide to move a RFA like Christenson or Enver Lisin.

After spending a lot of years bashing Sather for his shortsighted moves, this is one time I actually have to praise him. Now if he as good as Jim Dolan really thinks he is, Slats will channel his inner Donnie Walsh and dump off the other two bad contracts still remaining (Redden and Rozsival). The Rangers have not shot to move Drury’s contract because he has a no-movement clause that prevents the Rangers from doing anything (trade or demotion) without Drury’s consent.

Scouting Reports (From thestar.com):


ASSETS: Is a big presence up the middle and a good face-off man. Has above-average hands and the instincts of a natural goal-scorer. When motivated, he plays a complete game.
FLAWS: Is a better scorer than playmaker, so he tends to get off his game when paired with other goal-scorers. His leadership skills, along with the rest of his game, lacks consistency.
CAREER POTENTIAL: Moody scoring center.


ASSETS: Works hard and loves to get in the face of his opponents. Has solid defensive instincts and is an aggressive forechecker.
FLAWS: Needs to play with more discipline. May not score a lot of points at the NHL level, since he lacks natural ability.
CAREER POTENTIAL: Physical agitating winger.

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They say that timing in life is everything. There is no cliché that rings truer in the case of the New York Rangers. The Blueshirts second trip out west this season could not have come at a better time given their recent four game losing streak.

Losing four consecutive games in one thing, but the Rangers have found a way to compound on their misery. Not content with losing, the Rangers have barely put in an effort during the losing streak. While they managed to compete for some of their 4-2 loss at home against Pittsburgh, they did not bother to show up in back-to-back shutout losses to Philadelphia and Montreal and then went into the tank during their loss to Carolina.

The Rangers did not fare all that well in their last trip out west at the beginning of November. They sandwiched a win against Edmonton with losses at Vancouver and Calgary – scoring just six goals (four of them in their victory) while allowing 11 goals against. The Rangers followed their western trip by losing three of their next four.

The current trip to Phoenix, Colorado and Los Angeles leaves the Rangers facing teams four through six in the Western Conference. The Rangers return from their trip to host Washington as the Rangers play four of the next five games at the Garden prior to the Winter Olympics break. The lone road trip is to Pittsburgh to face a Penguins team that has beaten the Blueshirts all four times this season.

The fact that the Rangers are home for four of five games is not comfort for the red, white and blue. MSG has turned into a Garden or horrors for the home team. The Rangers are just 2-3-1 in their last six at home. Even worse is their home record since that western Canada trip in November as they Rangers have staggered to a 5-12-4 record.

Apparently the fans are not the only ones who realize that the Rangers current losing streak is more than just an opponent doing a little bit more than the Blueshirts. Here is what Sean Avery said following the Rangers 6-0 debacle at Montreal.

“No compete,” Avery said to Steve Zipay of Newsday. “It’s not about Xs and Os. You’ve gotta play 60 minutes. We’re not working hard enough, not being competitive, not representing your teammates.”

Andrew Gross of NorthJersey.com speculated on the subject of President/GM Glen Sather’s post-game closed door meeting with his team following the 5-1 drubbing at the hands of the Hurricanes.

“But several players said Sather told the team he believed in them and that they should stick together. Tortorella, in his post-game presser, said the thing he was most concerned about was the team’s ‘mental state'”, wrote Gross. “He also alluded to things ‘swirling’ around the team and warned teammates not to point fingers at each other. Very cryptic stuff. Here’s a guess: Tortorella didn’t like Sean Avery’s ‘no compete’ comment following Saturday’s 6-0 loss at Montreal.”

If Coach Tortorella is upset about Avery’s comment, how does he think the fans feel having to watch the Rangers go belly up night-in and night-out?

Maybe the Rangers need to take a page out of Andrei Markov’s playbook. The Montreal blueliner undressed goaltender Carey Price following the Habs 4-3 overtime loss to St. Louis. According to a TSN report, Markov told Price “If you are not going to play with heart, stay home. We don’t need you here.”

CTV reported that the two players exchanged a hug after practice on Thursday – thus reconciling the two players and the split dressing room. Whether it was heartfelt or staged for the media is not the point. What is most important is that the message was sent.

Sadly, any message being sent by management, the coaching staff or the players is not resonating within the Rangers dressing room. The Rangers inability (or unwillingness) to stand up for their teammates reached an all-time high (or low depending on your point of view) when no Ranger came to Marian Gaborik’s defense during his mugging by the Flyers Daniel Carcillo. The only fire the Rangers showed in response to the incident was Tortorella’s diatribe against Larry Brooks when the NY Post reporter asked the Coach about the Rangers lack of a response.

As and Ranger fans knows there is a history of animosity between Brooks and Tortorella. As any Ranger fans also knows, Brooks has a history of looking to stir up trouble while Tortorella has a propensity for a lack of patience with the beat writers, In this case, Brooks was merely doing his job by seeking an answer to the question everyone wanted to ask. One might argue that the Coach was merely doing his job by defending his player, but it seemed that Tortorella was taking out his frustration with his team on Brooks.

The stretch run to the Olympic break will go a long way in determining how Sather and the Rangers should approach the March 3, 2010 NHL Trade Deadline. With the NHL imposing a roster freeze as of midnight on February 12, there will not be much time following the NHL’s return on March 1 to reshape rosters. As a result, the Rangers final eight games prior to the break will serve as the proving ground for how the organization will move forward this season.

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When Matt Gilroy was assigned to Hartford, the talk on the blogs was whether the move was a cap space transaction or was the rookie defenseman being singled out as a scapegoat for the Rangers overtime loss to Chicago over a week ago. The answer is simple – yes he was being used as a scapegoat. Not for any specific player, but as a scapegoat for the Rangers President/GM.

No GM has been more ill-equipped to handle the NHL in a salary cap age than Glen Sather. Yes, Lou Lamoriello faced problems coming out of the lockout, but he managed to wiggle his way out of being over the cap by dealing away Vladimir Malakhov and a conditional first round draft pick to San Jose. The Devils, who do not have the deepest pockets in the NHL, banished Alexander Mogilny to the minors to clear up cap space as well.

Ken Holland and the Detroit Red Wings have been pushed to the edge of the cap, but at least they have a Stanley Cup to show for the efforts.

The Chicago Blackhawks will find themselves in salary cap hell next season thanks to some bad contracts (e.g. Brian Campbell and Cristobal Huet). However, they also have a plethora of young talent (e.g. Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith and Jonathan Toews to name a few) that had to be paid at the risk of losing them.

The Philadelphia Flyers also find themselves unable to add decent goaltending because of their cap woes. However, the Flyers feature young stars like Jeff Carter and Mike Richards and signed a center (Daniel Briere) for less money and more production – when healthy. Paul Holmgren was even able to address his need for a bruising defenseman when he traded for Chris Pronger at the 2009 NHL Draft.

The mess the Rangers are in is the direct result of Sather being woefully out of touch with the way NHL teams need to be run in the 21st century. Let’s be honest, Sather is living off the Edmonton Oilers Dynasty that was carried on the backs of Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier and built by Sather’s chief scout Barry Fraser’s work in the draft.

Sather’s draft record has been spotty at best during his tenure with the Rangers. He has drafted solid players like Marc Staal and Michael Del Zotto and had some bad breaks with the career-ending injury to Dan Blackburn and the tragic death of Alexei Cherepanov. However, most of his higher draft picks either don’t make the NHL (Hugh Jessiman) or don’t even sign with the organization (second round draft picks Darin Olver and Antoine Lafleur).

To his credit, Sather’s draft picks have been as spotty as Holland’s and Lamoriello’s. However, the Devils and Red wings have not picked as high as the Rangers and those two teams have GMs who are able to scout out talent to make up for the draft shortcomings.

Sather’s solution has been to throw money at all of his problems. I am not going to condemn Slats for throwing money at the problem. Let’s face it, that is was things are done in New York. The problem is the idea of spending. The problem is who the money is being spent on and how Sather is building the Rangers.

Following the 2007 season, Sather keyed his efforts on adding a number one center. He moved swiftly to sign Chris Drury and Scott Gomez. Both are good players, but neither is a true number one center. The problem is that Sather gave each player number one center type money (Drury – $7 million cap hit and Gomez – $7.3 million cap hit). The end result was that the Rangers had a pair of number two centers making first line money.

Following the 2008 season, Sather keyed his efforts on adding a couple of top defensemen and re-signed Michal Rozsival and signed Wade Redden. At best, both Rozsival and Redden are second pair defensemen who are being paid as top pair blueliners (Redden – $6.5 million cap hit and Rozsival – $5.0 million cap hit).

Most Ranger fans probably wouldn’t have a problem with Redden and Rozsival if they were making about half (or even two-thirds) of what their current contracts are. It was highly unlikely anyone was going to pay Redden in the neighborhood of $4 million per year over six years and Rozy wasn’t going to get a four year deal at around $3 million for four years. Heck, given the fact the Rangers gave Rozsival a shot at the NHL after missing all but one AHL game during the 2003-2004 season due to injury, the Rangers were due a little hometown discount.

This idea of a hometown discount should have been applied to the Drury and Gomez contracts. Drury grew up in Connecticut as a Ranger fan so he should have been most willing to provide his beloved Blueshirts with some type of hometown discount.

While Gomez had no direct connection to the Rangers, he did spend his seven NHL seasons playing across the Hudson with the Devils. That should have been worth a million or two.

Even when Sather re-signed Henrik Lundqvist at a cap hit of $6.875 million per season the GM was being more generous then he probably had to be. We can agree to argue whether or The King should have been a little more cap friendly, the one thing we can’t argue about is that Sather should have looked to his counterpart in New Jersey for guidance on how to build his roster.

Lamoriello has let it be known that no Devil will be paid more than Martin Brodeur – and that is probably the way it should be given Marty’s status with the Devils. With Brodeur making $5.2 million per season, Sather should have been able to ink Lundqvist to a similar deal with some adjustments to show how “generous” Cablevision can be.

The Rangers could have and should have adopted a similar stance when it came to the Drury and Gomez contracts (i.e. that the goaltender is the face of the franchise and the salary “cap” for non-superstar players). At the minimum, the Rangers would have saved a couple of million dollars in cap space and it might even have helped to drive down Redden’s and Rozsival’s asking prices.

In today’s NHL, there is a need for teams try and save every dollar that is possible. Every dollar not spent/wasted is a dollar that can be used to acquire other players. Even if we accept the idea that Gilroy was sent to Hartford, wasn’t there a better way to save cap space? Do the Rangers really need both Donald Brashear and Aaron Voros, especially when Coach John Tortorella is only going to play one them – and they are only going to get fourth line minutes?

Frankly, the Rangers could have (and should have) dumped both players and saved the pro-rated portion of both salaries ($2.4 million) – which is more than Gilroy’s salary.

For those who believe that Gilroy’s assignment to Hartford was not a scapegoat move or a salary cap move, how do you explain Bobby Sanguinetti being recalled when the Rangers decided to to go with seven defensemen?

Well, there is one explanation and the answer to that explanation can be summed up in this link .

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As the Rangers season slowly burns away, Glen Sather and John Tortorella continue to fiddle with the roster. The Blueshirts have sent Matt Gilroy and Chad Johnson to Hartford and recalled Matt Zaba to backup Henrik Lundqvist.

The Johnson/Zaba swap makes sense because the Wolf Pack have three straight home games this weekend and Johnson might get a chance to play in one or two of them while Zaba sits in the bench when the Rangers host Buffalo on Saturday.

The Gilroy move is a horse of a different color.

The 25-year-old Hobey Baker Award winner has not shown the offensive game he displayed during training camp (four goals and two assists in 30 games), but his defensive play has gotten better as the season has progressed. In fact, the MSG analysts were praising Gilroy for his play prior to the Chicago game last night. They commented that it was Gilroy who was paired with Ilkka Heikkinen during the Finland native’s two game stint as a replacement for Wade Redden.

The bottom line is that the timing on Gilroy’s demotion is all wrong. It appears as if he is being made a scapegoat for the overtime loss to Chicago because he was beaten (and badly I might add) by Dustin Byfuglien. However, if the rest of the defensemen were held to the same standard, then Rangers management would have to install a turnstile in order to accommodate all of the changes needed on the Rangers blue line.

The Gilroy demotion wreaks of a coach who is trying to make an example of a rookie because he does not want to do so with his veterans – the same thing that past coaches like Colin Campbell and Tom Renney were vilified for doing. Wakeup calls are meaningless when they are done to rookies. If Sather and Tortorella want to start issuing wakeup calls, they is some veteran dead wood that needs to go before a Gilroy is sent down.

I have seen it argued in various blogs that sending Gilroy down and playing Heikkinen will give the Rangers a pro-rated $1 million salary cushion – thus pointing to a possible trade. Frankly, I think this idea is simply a red herring.

The idea of freeing cap space for a trade might be the case as long as the Rangers have no plans to recall Gilroy this season. If they recall him and send Heikkinen down, then the salary cushion is gone. If (and it is a big if) the Rangers made this move to free cap space, then I have a better way for them to free up more salary cap space.

If the Rangers waive, demote, trade, or even shoot into space both Donald Brashear and Aaron Voros, they would be able to save a pro-rated $2.4 million towards the cap – or double the space they are getting through the Gilroy demotion. With Torts giving his fourth line nothing more than token shifts throughout the game, neither player serves as a deterrent against opponents – just ask Henrik Lundqvist about that.

If the Rangers wanted to truly loosen up cap space, they would simply demote Michal Rozsival and/or Wade Redden. To be honest with you, I have been pleasantly surprised at the way Redden has stepped up his play. Then again, after last year, he had nowhere to go but up. with that said, he is till overpaid, but that is not his fault – it is the President/GM’s fault.

Of course, a Rozsival or Redden demotion is not going to happen because management will not allow it – despite the fact that management is the one who put the Rangers in this mess in the first place. The Rangers are doomed to spin their wheels until the same type of accountability that Tortorella preaches is demanded from management.

As a result, the Rangers will continue to be a team that is not good enough to seriously challenge for the Stanley Cup and not bad enough to go into the tank and receive a top three draft pick.

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With the New York Rangers mired in a 6-12-1 slump, President/GM Glen Sather has emerged from his pre-Winter hibernation and “swooped in” with two waiver moves that are sure to inspire general apathy among Ranger fans. The Blueshirts claimed C/LW Erik Christensen from Anaheim off waivers and have placed G Stephen Valiquette on waivers with the intent on assigning him to Hartford. Chad Johnson has been recalled from the Wolf Pack to serve as Henrik Lundqvist’s backup.

Let us start off with the Valiquette move. The Rangers are hoping that Valley’s stint in Hartford serves as a means to get him back on track. Here is John Tortorella’s explanation of the goaltending move as posted by Andrew Gross on his NorthJersey.com blog.

“We’d like to send (Valiquette) down on conditioning but I don’t think we can because of our cap problems,” Tortorella said. “We want to get him down there playing and get his game back. Johnson gets to practice with us. I’m not sure where it all sits with him playing. It’s a tough situation for Valley. He hasn’t played a whole bunch. Sometimes your skills may diminish. It’s just been a little bit of a struggle for him. He works his butt off on the ice but he hasn’t played much and I think that’s hurt him. If he goes through, he gets an opportunity to play some minutes and get his game back.”

While Tortorella talks of Valiquette getting his game back it might very well be for a team other than the Rangers. Valiquette is subject to recall waivers much like Sean Avery was last year. Given the state of goaltending in the NHL, it is a pretty good guess that someone will take a chance and claim Valiquette at half his $725,000 salary.

The interesting point is the Rangers might very well have had the cap space to send Valiquette to Hartford on a conditioning stint if Sather had shown the foresight (and initiative) to place Brandon Dubinsky on the Long Term Injured Reserve (LTIR) list. Saturday’s game at Buffalo is the 10th game Dubinsky will miss – which means he could have been on LTIR from the moment he was hurt. Given that Tortorella said that Dubinsky isn’t due back until the end of the month, it was a clueless move not to place him on LTIR. Then again, no one ever accused Slats of being a Mensa member.

I am not sure if the Rangers can place Dubi on LTIR retroactively, but they are going to have do something because while Christensen’s and Valiquette’s salaries are pretty much a wash, the team will have to eat into their meager cap space in order to carry Johnson.

Christensen, who turns 26 on December 17, will be playing for his fourth NHL team after being Pittsburgh’s third round draft pick (69th overall) in the 2002 NHL Draft. In nine games this season, the six-foot-one and 205 pound forward has not registered a point for Anaheim. He did score two goals in games with the Manitoba Moose during a conditioning stint. His best season was 2006/2007 when he scored 18 goals (7 on the power play) and 15 assists in 61 games with the Penguins.

Here is Christensen’s scouting report from the Toronto Star web site:

ASSETS: Owns a big shot and excellent offensive instincts. Has good size. Can play all three forward positions and is a good face-off man. Excels in shootouts.

FLAWS: Loses a lot of puck battles in the corners. Doesn’t do the little things that help win hockey games. Takes too many shifts off to maximize his scoring potential.

CAREER POTENTIAL: Inconsistent forward with great hands.

Christensen’s biggest impact should be on faceoffs. While he has been below par this season (winning 41.2), he has been strong on faceoffs during his NHL career. Here are his numbers since he joined the NHL in 2006/2006 as compared to the Rangers best centers during those seasons:

2009/2010 – 41.2 (Vinny Prospal 51.5)
2008/2009 – 55.7 (Brandon Dubinsky 53.6)
2007/2008 – 58.4 (All four centers averaged between 50.3 and 54.9)
2006/2007 – 56.2 (Matt Cullen 54.6)
2005/2006 – 53.0 (Blair Betts 53.4)

According to Gross, Tortorella sees Christenson as someone who can give Brian Boyle a push and someone who has a chance to turn his career around.

“I haven’t seen him play in a while …. It’s a guy I know our scouts have watched and have had interest in him … and it’s an opportunity for him,” Zipay wrote on his Newsday Blog. “Dubi’s still out, it’s a situation we’ll see what it’s about and when Dubi comes back some decisions will have to be made. This is basically a chance for him.”

Christensen was placed on waivers to make room for Kyle Chipchura who was acquired by the Ducks from the Montreal Canadiens.

In addition to Dubinsky, Donald Brashear again joins the walking wounded with an undisclosed injury so the Rangers newest forward might get a chance on one of the top three lines depending on how long Ales Kotalik’s and Enver Lisin’s trip to Torts’s chateau bow-wow lasts.

Today is a day for ex-Penguin draft picks because Chad Johnson was Pittsburgh’s fifth round pick (125th overall) in the 2006 NHL Draft. The Rangers acquired him during this year’s draft in exchange for a fifth round pick which the Pens used to draft Andy Bathgate – the grandson of the Rangers great Andy Bathgate.

The 23-year-old Johnson (6-3/200) is one year removed from being a Hobey Baker Award nominee while tending goal for the University of Alaska-Fairbanks. Johnson posted a 10-6-1 record (3 shutouts) with Hartford along with a 2.10 goals against average and a .926 save percentage.

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As the New York Rangers hit the quarter-pole, they are hardly the strapping stallions that started the season 7-1. Rather, they look like the same old Rangers that have to struggle at the finish just to qualify for the playoffs. If you look even closer, they appear to be the same team under John Tortorella that they were under Tom Renney.

Despite the coaching and player changes, the one thing that is constant and consistent about the Blueshirts is their inconsistency. The Rangers are one big roller coaster ride from the beginning of the season to the end. They start the season by winning seven of their first eight games and then go into the tank the tune of a 2-8-1 stretch.

Then again Ranger fans have gotten use to living on the roller coaster. Last year, the Blueshirts opened the season five consecutive wins on their way to a 14-5-2 record during their first 21 games. What followed was yet another season-long struggle to make the playoffs before another heartbreaking elimination – this time in the first round.

Just how bad are things?

Don’t look now, but the Rangers (11-9-1) are tied with the New York Islanders (8-6-7) with 23 points. Yes, those are the same Islanders team that started their season 0-3-3 and won only one game in their first 10 games (1-4-5).

What does this mean for the Rangers this season?

It means the Rangers are going to have to fight tooth and nail all season to secure a playoff berth. It means their margin of error is slim to none and it means that they will have to over-rely on Henrik Lundqvist during the second half of the season – Olympics or not.

Some people might point to the injuries that hit Chris Drury and Brandon Dubinsky in the Calgary game. That really isn’t the case because the Rangers were just 3-5-1 in their nine games prior to the Flames game. When the offense was producing, the defense was letting them down. When the defense kept the goals against down, the offense was nowhere to be found.

Besides, injuries are a convenient excuse to use when management, coaches and players are looking deflect blame. The Pittsburgh Penguins are playing a defense corps that resembles an AHL blue line as opposed to an NHL blue line because of injuries. Yet, the Penguins are battling the New Jersey Devils at the top of the Atlantic Division while the Rangers are battling the Islanders to stay out of the basement.

The Rangers inability to sustain prosperity lies within the organization’s inability to show consistency.

Coach Tortorella espoused a system where the Rangers would feature sustained puck pressure that would put their opponents on their heels. Of late, it has been the Rangers who have been pinned in their own end. He tells Sean Avery to mind his “p’s and q’s” and then says that Avery needs to be more involved. He warns against the ills of taking penalties and then bemoans the fact Matt Gilroy didn’t take a penalty on Matt Bradley’s eventual game-winning goal.

The Blueshirts have gotten everything they expected (and more) out of the likes of Marian Gaborik and Vinny Prospal. The two rookie defensemen, Gilroy and Michael Del Zotto, are showing themselves to be bona fide NHL blueliners despite their inexperience. Artem Anisimov has struggled at times because he could use more bulk, but he has shown that he will be a solid NHL player.

The problem is that the rest of the lineup has been, you got it, inconsistent at best.

Young guns like Dubinsky, Ryan Callahan, Daniel Girardi and Marc Staal have not stepped up their play the way they should have – and the way the Rangers needed. While Callahan’s defense and shot blocking has been superb, he received his new contract on the hopes that he would become a 30-goal scorer.

On the other hand, veterans like Avery, Drury, Wade Redden and Michal Rozsival are not bringing the leadership and style of play the team needs. Drury has done a nice job becoming the Rangers defensive go-to center, but at his salary the Rangers need more than that from their captain. Redden and Roszival are second pair defensemen who are getting paid first pair salaries – although Redden has picked up his play under Tortorella.

Even The King has been a mere mortal. Henrik Lundqvist has set a high standard from himself, but he has not been able to steal as many games as he had in the past. Could that be a byproduct of Tortorella’s more open system as opposed to Renney’s closer to the vest system?

Of course, this bring us to Glen Sather. The Rangers President/GM’s inability to manage the salary cap has been the biggest constant since the end of the lockout. With the Rangers close to the salary cap, Slats has no room to maneuver to bring in replacements. Even if he utilized the Long Term Injured Reserve option, the relief he receives lasts as long as Dubinsky and/or Drury are out. Once they are ready to return, the Rangers would have to cut salary/players.

Sather did not leave himself with too many options in Hartford when it came to replacements at the center position. Tyler Arnason bailed out on the Wolf Pack when he saw the writing on the wall. Corey Locke is one of those Quadruple-A players whose skills are just a notch below the NHL. The organization does not seem willing to rush Evgeny Grachev so the only other alternative for the Rangers is to use wingers at center.

So what can we expect out of the Rangers out of the second quarter of the season?

The Rangers are going to be like the girl with the curl – when they are going good they will get fans dreaming about a Stanley Cup run. When they are are going bad, it is going to be more ulcers and agita. My advice is to ask Santa Claus for a lot of Maalox because it is probably going to get worse before it gets better.

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Today is a rather special day for three reasons. First off, anyone suffering from paraskevidekatriaphobia knows that today is Friday the 13th, so beware of guys named Jason wearing goalie masks. Secondly, on November 13, Felix Unger was asked to remove himself from his place of residence; that request came from his wife. Thirdly, and most importantly, November 13 marks the 13th anniversary of Ranger Ramblings!

Back in 1996, I was a member of a Rangers e-mail discussion group. Dubi Silverstein of Blueshirt Bulletin fame used to provide recaps for the games. I had the opportunity to fill on November 13. At the end of the recap, I included my own observations under the headline of “Ranger Ramblings”. Kara Vitale, who runs Ranger Fan Central, asked me to write a column and the rest is history.

Since I have experience filling in, I thought I would take this time to help Glen Sather and “fill in” as GM for a few minutes – and given the Rangers recent woes – there is no time to waste.

First off, I realize that the Rangers need to get out from under the horrible contracts of Chris Drury, Wade Redden and Michal Rozsival. Most fans would simply banish all three to Hartford and be done with the contracts. Unfortunately, that is not going to happen for two reasons.

To begin, Drury has a no-movement clause in contract that forbids the Rangers demoting, trading, or even waiving him without his permission. Secondly, the Rangers are not going to park $14 million worth of contract in the AHL this season. While the Rangers could buy one or all of the players out, there are still cap implications for the future that would leave some of their salary on the books long after they are gone. As an example, the Islanders will carry parts of Alexei Yashin’s contract on their cap through the 2013-2014 season.

On the plus side, there are some things that can be done. First off, the Rangers need to admit their mistake in signing Donald Brashear and look to give him away in a deal or send him to Hartford. Brash’s $1.4 million salary is a drop in the bucket to Cablevision so parking his contract in the AHL is no problem. The Rangers could do the same to Aaron Voros, but at $1 million, the Rangers could live with that – especially factoring in his friendship with Marian Gaborik.

The next way to free up some salary space is to place Brandon Dubinsky on the Long term Injured Reserve list. Players on LTIR must miss at least 10 games and 24 days in order to qualify. However, their salaries do not count against the cap while on LTIR. Given that Dubinsky is out anywhere from 3-6 weeks, the Rangers could possibly save a minimum of $250,000.

These savings, along with the Rangers estimated cap space of $700,000, gives the Rangers about $2.4 million to spend in an attempt to replace Dubinsky. Of course, the Blueshirts can’t use all of that money because it would give them no flexibility for the rest of the season. Believe it or not, that isn’t even the biggest problem.

The problem facing the Rangers is finding a player who can help the team now in Dubinsky’s absence and also help the team when he returns. Taking a quick look at players who might available does not give on much hope. There are fourth line center types like Adam Mair and Marty Reasoner, but they are hardly replacements for Dubinsky. heck, I am not all that sure they are replacements for Brian Boyle when you factor in the salary increase.

Mike Comrie (Edmonton) and Robert Lang (Phoenix) would nice replacements both on the ice and salary cap wise as each player is on a one-year deal (Comrie at $1.25 million and Lang at $1 million). The problem is that the odds are against the Oilers and Coyotes looking to dump salary at this point in the season and it probably isn’t worth overpaying for either player.

The Rangers could improve their trade position if the decided to move Christopher Higgins and his $2.25 million contract, but not that many teams are going to be lining up for a player they might be able to sign on the cheap as a free agent coming off a disappointing season.

Given the cap constraints and factoring in the kind of players available, the Rangers best alternative is to do nothing. They should still enact my cap saving plan (demote Brashear and LTIR Dubinsky) so that the Rangers have cap space in reserve to make a trade or two at the deadline.

As for replacing Dubinsky, the Blueshirts should roll the dice and call up Evgeny Grachev and throw him to the wolves. On MSG’s season preview show, Coach John Tortorella said he was not afraid to play the kids – and he has shown that by playing Matt Gilroy and Michael Del Zotto. Torts should go the full monty and give Grachev a chance to sink or swim. In 15 games at Hartford, Grachev is averaging nearly a point a game (five goals and eight assists).

No offense to P-A Parenteau (who was recalled with Dane Byers getting sent back to the Wolf Pack), but I believe Grachev should have gotten the call and placed on the first line with Vinny Prospal and Marian Gaborik. This would give the Rangers their best opportunity to see if Grachev is the answer this year. If he is, then the pressure is off as far as the Rangers having to make a trade now or at the deadline.

If Grachev is not ready, the Rangers are in no worse of a position. In fact, they still might be in a good position because, by that time, Chris Drury will be healthy and Dubinsky will be that much closer to being ready to rejoin the team.

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In normal circumstances, I would be writing about the Rangers 1-2 trip out to Western Canada. But as any Ranger fans will tell you, there is no such thing as normal when it comes to the New York Rangers. There are three topics which are more pressing then the Rangers record on the road trip: 1) How are the Rangers going to replace Chris Drury and Brandon Dubinsky 2) Why didn’t the Rangers retaliate when Curtis Glencross knocked Drury out of the game 3) When is the NHL finally going to do something about hits to the head.

The answer to the first question has gotten a little clearer during the last couple of days. While Coach John Tortorella has not ruled Drury out of Thursday night’s game against Atlanta, even if the Captain does miss the game the news is definitely more encouraging.

Unlike a certain baseball team (the Mets), the Rangers have had experience (unfortunately, too much of it) when it comes to dealing with concussions and post-concussion syndrome. The Rangers training staff would not have allowed Drury to fly home with the team if there any complications.

There is some concern because Drury has had two previous concussions. He missed two games during the 2003-2004 season and four games (and 13 days) during the 2006-2007 season. While he did not take the ice on Monday, Drury did ride the stationary bike so he is able to partake of some physical activity. It appears that Drury’s return is a case of sooner rather than later.

On the other hand, the same is not true for Brandon Dubinsky who suffered a broken bone in his right wrist. Reports say that he could be out anywhere from four to six weeks – marking the first time he will miss NHL games since becoming a regular.

Tortorella does not anticipate the Rangers recalling anyone from Hartford because he has enough available players who can shift from wing to center (e.g. Sean Avery, Ryan Callahan and Chris Higgins) or he can just run three lines and spot the fourth line. This idea is not a crazy strategy given the Rangers relaxed schedule during the next two weeks (three games in the next 10 days and four games in the next 15).

While it might be perceived as a confidence boost for Ranger forwards, it is mainly an indictment of the state of the organizational depth in Hartford at center. Evgeny Grachev has five goals and seven assists in 14 games, but you get the feeling the Rangers don’t want to yo-yo him up and down between the AHL and the NHL. In other words, when he gets recalled it will be to stay.

Corey Locke is a possibility, but as Mitch Beck Howlings pointed out to me, he is in the same boat as P.A. Parenteau. Both players have deficiencies when it comes to defensive play and skating – although Locke does thrive on the power play.

There really isn’t much the Rangers can do on the trade market because of the lack of salary cap space. Even though the Rangers could get some relief by placing Dubinsky on Long Term Injured Reserve, that is not athe best case scenario. While he will be out long enough to qualify for LTIR (10 games and 24 days out of the lineup), the Blueshirts lose that cap space once Dubinsky is ready to return to the lineup. All LTIR does is give the Rangers room to call up players from Hartford – where they run into the problem about a lack of depth at center in Hartford.

It seems that as long as Drury is not out of the lineup for the long term, the Rangers will mix and match with what they have. If they need to add some offensive punch, odds are they will recall Parenteau and just live with what they have. Claiming Adam Mair off waivers from Buffalo just adds another fourth-liner and looking at Peter Forsberg is not an option because of cap issues and health issues. You can also scratch Tyler Arnason off the list beacuse he has been suspended by the Wolf Pack for signing a contract with a European team.

As for our second question, let’s turn to Torts himself for his take on the Rangers lack of retaliation. Here is what Steve Zipay wrote on his Newsday Blog on Sunday.

“I think a lot of guys didn’t even see it. But we’re here to win the hockey game, that’s so early in the game.”

The coach is spot on with his assessment. The Glencross hit occurred 49 seconds into the game. Any retaliation at that point could have jeopardized the game. Yes, I know the Rangers lost, but no one knew that was going to happen a minute into the game. Besides, Daniel Girardi did take a “run” at Glencross who proceeded to skate away.

Some fans would respond that the Rangers should have done something at the end of the game. Perhaps, but don’t forget what happened when Dane Byers drew an instigator penalty with less than five minutes at Vancouver.

Of course, this begs the question – Who would been the player to seek out the retaliation?

Sean Avery? The last thing Avery needed was to cause some kind of ruckus after returning to the scene of his “sloppy seconds” comment that got earned a six-game suspension and an eventual ticket out of Dallas. If Avery had even looked cross-eyed at anyone, you could bet the NHL would hand down a suspension faster than a New York minute.

Byers? The rookie was just returning from his automatic one-game suspension and the last thing he needed was to cause any trouble. It is that type of action that gets players their own rules (see Avery).

The interesting thing about all this retaliation talk is it is coming from a fan base that couldn’t fathom why Colton Orr was in the lineup while he was here and don’t see why Donald Brashear and Aaron Voros on the team as we speak. If you want the Rangers to retaliate, Brashear and Voros are the types of players you need in the lineup – flaws and all.

I know that Voros is the 2009 version of Joe Paterson – a fighter who is willing to drop the gloves but can’t beat anyone. I know that Brashear’s best days are behind him and that age and injuries have caught up with him – and he is a suspension waiting to happen based on past history. However, I don’t mind if an over-the-hill player gets suspended. I do mind when a rookie trying to make his mark in the NHL does.

For better or worse, the Rangers are going to have find a way to keep Byers and Brashear/Voros in the lineup if there is a concern about opponents taking liberties with the Rangers star players. The other possibility is to recall Justin Soryal from Hartford. The 6-2/210 left winger is a tough guy fans are waiting to see. Mitch Beck of Howlings says he has earned his nickname (“Scary”) and as Mitch said “and by the time he’s ready to come to NY watch out…”

Before I end, allow me to step on my soapbox and rail against the job the NHL is doing when it comes to hits to the head. I know that in today’s world we have more access to sports news than ever before. With that said, it seems that the number of injuries as a result of hits to the head is increasing at an alarming rate. Sadly, the NHL is not going to fully address and correct this issue until it is too late and someone dies.

While the league (and more specifically Colin Campbell) deserves all of the negative press it gets as a result of uneven – and in some cases – light suspensions, for once the blame lies beyond Gary Bettman and the league.

The NHL Players Association must share the blame with the NHL. Since the players have the most to lose, it stands to reason that the NHLPA should be at the forefront of any discussion on hits to the head. However, it is difficult to take up this problem when the NHLPA can’t even get their own house in order.

If both sides were smart (and it is a big IF), they would meet to address this problem and use it as a stepping stone for getting a new Collective Bargaining Agreement.

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Bob McKenzie tweeted on Twitter that the NHL has suspended Calgary Flames forward Curtis Glencross three games for his hit at the start of Saturday night’s game. I will have more to say on this and the state of the Rangers tomorrow on the Blog.

McKenzie also wrote that two centers on are on the Waiver wire. Buffalo has waived Adam Mair and Washington’s Michael Nylander has cleared waivers. Mair would bring a veteran fourth line type presence that the Rangers have in Brian Boyle (well, not so much the on the veteran side). Nylander would be of interest with Brandon Dubinsky out anywhere from 3-6 weeks and Chris Drury a question mark. However, even with Nylander at half his salary via waivers, it is too much of a cap hit for the Rangers to afford.

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