2010/2011 Season

With the 2001 NHL Draft just three weeks away, New York Rangers president/GM Glen Sather changed the landscape of his team’s draft strategy by trading two 2011 second round draft picks (#45 and #57) and center Roman Horak to the Calgary Flames in exchange for defenseman Tim Erixon and Calgary’s 2011 fifth round draft pick (#134). The Rangers acquired the second of the two second round draft picks from Carolina (via Washington) in the Bobby Sanguinetti trade.

Considering that the Rangers were without third and seventh round draft picks, it is not too much of a surprise to see Sather make a move with his second draft picks. It will be really interesting to see how/if the Rangers GM continues his wheeling and dealing to fill in the holes in the Blueshirts draft board.

Those who think Erixon’s acquisition means the end of Michael Del Zotto’s tenure with the Rangers might be thinking prematurely. That is not to say that he is untouchable, rather it is to say that his trade value took a hit after last season’s struggles.

I would think the only way Del Zotto is dealt is if Sather can move up in the draft in order to select one of the top scoring forwards. The only problem with that plan is the New York Islanders and New Jersey Devils occupy the fourth and fifth spots in the draft. If the Rangers could swing a deal with Florida at number three then perhaps Gabriel Landeskog could turn in his Kitchener Rangers jersey for a New York Rangers jersey.

In making the announcement of the trade Sather said, “Tim is an outstanding young defenseman with good size and mobility,” stated Sather. “He plays a complete, all-around game, and we feel he is an excellent addition to our developing, young defense corps.”

The 23-year-old Erixon is the son of former Ranger LW Jan Erixon who played his entire 10-year career with the Blueshirts. The younger Erixon, a left-handed shot, was Calgary’s first round draft pick (#23) in 2009.

The Flames faced a 5pm deadline on Wednesday to either sign Erixon or watch as he re-entered the draft. Given their cap situation, Calgary GM Jay Feaster had little choice but to trade the team’s former first round draft pick.

“You never want to lose a first-round pick you feel is going to play,” GM Jay Feaster told The Canadian Press. “What would have hurt more would have been losing him for only the compensatory pick. If I were standing here in front of you today saying we lost this player and ‘don’t worry because we got the 54th overall pick in the draft this year,’ that’s a much tougher thing than to have two second-round picks and a player we believe is going to play.”

“We tried. We made multiple offers. We made offers of salary-cap levels,” Feaster said. “All of which were met with ‘we appreciate it very much, but we still have concerns about whether Tim will be given a legitimate opportunity.”‘

In acquiring Horak, Feaster reunited him with his Chilliwack linemate Ryan Howse – Calgary’s 2009 second round draft pick.

Given that Calgary was under the gun to trade him, one has to wonder if Sather would have been able to lowball Feaster. However, given the online talk that Erixon could have gone as high as the top ten, Slats might have had no chance to salvage one of the second round draft picks.

In 2009, the International Scouting Service (ISS) offered up the following scouting report on Erixon:

“This solid two-way defenseman has proven to scouts that he is the real deal and will be a highly sought after commodity come draft day. A well-rounded defender, Erixon is a good skating, smart player who has a good set of hands and can read the play well. Although not overly quick, he positions himself well and plays an aggressive defensive style around his own net. He can get caught following the puck or over committing to the puck side at times, but generally has the skill to get to passes and attacking players before they become dangerous. Erixon attempts to move the puck quickly, which can work for him or against him, depending on the pressure given.”

ISS compared his style of player to fellow Swedish defenseman Kenny Jonsson. They also called Erixon a “reliable d-man that will play in the league and go unnoticed for 10 years” which sounds a lot like his father. Erixon was the 55th rated player by ISS.

Erixon entered the 2009 NHL Draft as the fifth best European skater according to the NHL Central Scouting ratings.

NHL Director of Central Scouting E.J. McGuire said,” “Tim Erixon brings to his Swedish Elite League club team, the same kind of elite hockey skills that perhaps his dad, Jan Erixon, did for over 500 games in the NHL. A smart defenseman who can either lead a rush or support the rush from behind, he was on display at the World Junior Championship in helping bring his team to the final game.”

The Hockey News (THN) ranked Erixon as the 32nd overall best prospect in the draft and viewed his NHL translation as a “two-way defenseman”.

In their 2009 NHL Draft Preview THN wrote, “Erixon has an offensive bent to his game, but hasn’t put it on display often for scouts when he plays in the Swedish League”. In Erixon’s defense, he was playing in Sweden’s top league as an 18-year-old.

The 6-foot-3 and 205 pound Erixon should be ready to battle for a spot on the Rangers Opening Night Roster. While he is only 20-years-old, he has played the last three seasons with Skelleftea (the same team his father played for) in the Swedish Elite League (SEL) tallying 14 goals and 30 assists with 96PIMs in 140 games. Erixon made his SEL debut with two games as a 17-year-old during the 2007-2008 season.

In addition to his SEL experience, Erixon has also represented Sweden in international competition. He was a member of Sweden’s silver medal winning team at the 2011 IIHF World Championships in Slovakia. Erixon also played for Tre Kronor in the 2009 World Junior Championships (silver medal) and 2010 World Junior Championships (bronze medal).

While Erixon’s playing experience has been for Sweden, the young blueliner was born in Port Chester, NY on February 24, 1991 while Jan was a member of the Rangers.

Here is another Scouting Report on Erixon, courtesy of The Toronto Star:

ASSETS: Has a projectable frame, very good instincts for the game and solid bloodlines. Displays all-around upside and the ability to log a ton of minutes. Is relatively low-maintenance.

FLAWS: Needs to fill out his frame and gain strength to better handle NHL forwards. Also must play with more of an edge to his game in order to maximize his potential.

CAREER POTENTIAL: Potential big-minute defenseman.

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Whether or not the New York Rangers make the playoffs this season, their 5-2 victory over the New Jersey Devils leaves a much better taste in the mouth than last season’s bitter taste following the shootout loss to the Philadelphia Flyers.

With their playoff destiny out of their hands, the Blueshirts now can only sit and wait the outcome of tonight’s Tampa Bay Lightning and Carolina Hurricanes game.

If the Rangers do fall just short of the playoffs, there will be plenty of time to bring down the breakdowns that cost them a shot at playing for the Stanley Cup. The 0-5-1 streak, the crucial losses to the Sabres, Islanders, and Thrashers, and the shootout loss to the Senators will be discussed over and over.

Now is a time to sit back and celebrate a team that caused Ranger fans to fall in love with their team all over again. Fans witnessed a team that spent far more nights giving it their all as opposed to phoning efforts. So much so, that is caused Larry Brooks of the “NY Post” to coin them the “Black-and-Blueshirts”.

It was that “give blood, play hockey” attitude that allowed them to still have a chance at the playoffs come game 82. It is also the same reason that their playoff fate rests in the hands of the Hurricanes.

The Rangers style of play that fans fell in love with is the same one that forced the likes of Ryan Callahan to miss 21 games this season – plus whatever playoffs games he might or might not miss.

While the Rangers struggled to score goals this season, and they did, they were automatic when they did score and manage to take a lead into the third period. Their victory over the Devils made it 29 for 29 – numbers that are very Mariano Rivera like. It is a figure that the Rangers should be proud of and look to build upon come the 2011/2012 season.

There will be plenty of time to review each of the players’ plusses and minuses this season once the Rangers fate is determined. However, there are some general pluses that deserve to be celebrated – whether the Blueshirts’ season continues or not.

Ranger fans have long been clamoring to let the kids play. Whether by choice or salary cap circumstance, the Rangers did let the kids play and they showed that the future is bright for the Rangers.

That bright future begins and ends with the man between the pipes – Henrik Lundqvist. While The King did have his struggles, he played solid hockey down the stretch starting 26 consecutive games and keeping the offensively-challenged Rangers alive come the last days of the season.

The Callahan, Artem Anisimov and Brandon Dubinsky showed that they earned top line minutes and will make a great second line if the Rangers can get a strong first line going. Derek Stepan showed that he has the potential to be an impact forward and could be the anchor of that first line.

They integrated two rookie defensemen into their top four blueline rotation. While there were some growing pains, Ryan McDonagh and Michael Sauer joined Marc Staal and Daniel Girardi to help form the core of a solid defensive corps.

I know that there are still some tough decisions to make as the Rangers and the NHL approach the NHL Draft in June and the impending free agent frenzy that starts July 1. Again, there will be time to review and preview the Rangers as they look forward to their off-season business.

Right now all eyes turn to the RBC Center in Raleigh, North Carolina. The hard charging Hurricanes are 8-1- in their last 10 games while the Lightning are 6-3-1 and are cemented into the fifth slot in the Eastern Conference with a playoff matchup against the Pittsburgh Penguins on the horizon.

Tampa Bay also approaches tonight with a heavy heart as assistant coach Wayne Fleming battles a serious health issue. The Lightning issued the following statement today:

Tampa Bay Lightning assistant coach Wayne Fleming is home resting comfortably after undergoing a procedure on Thursday, April 7 at the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute in Tampa. Fleming was recently diagnosed as having a primary brain tumor.

On the plus side, it appears that Tampa Bay will be playing to win. At about 4pm, the Lightning’s official Twitter site offered the following tweet:

Lightning will dress most regulars tonight against Carolina. Hedman will return from his lower body injury. Mike Smith in net. Malone out.

So for one night, Ranger fans will put away the red, white and blue and don the lightning bolt and join Tampa Bay fans in a chorus of “Let’s Go Lightning!”

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It is ingrained from birth that nothing ever comes easy as a Ranger fan. That is one of those givens that is a universal truth. But why does every season have to seem like it is a scene out of a bad “Groundhog Day” sequel?

Last season’s Game 82 debacle against Philadelphia was bad enough, but this year is could be even worse aS the Rangers lost the ability to control their own playoff destiny. The Rangers have to hope that the Thrashers saved a little something for their home game against Carolina. If that does happen, then they once again can control their own destiny.

The playoff permutations still present a host of options based on the Rangers and Hurricanes winning games in regulation/overtime (i.e. ROW) as opposed to shootout wins and what the Buffalo Sabres do in their remaining two games.

Whatever the permutation or the result of the Thrashers-Hurricanes game, the Rangers face a must-win game in Game 82 (again) and the opponent is their division and Hudson River rival New Jersey Devils.

While the Devils have had an incredible run (26-14-3) since Jacques Lemaire took over from John Maclean, they have slacked off and are only 4-5-1 in their last 10 games.

Despite some of the most brutal late game losses from the Rangers during the past week plus, the Blueshirts are 6-3-1 in their last 10 games.

Come Saturday afternoon, you can pretty much throw both teams records out the window. The Rangers-Devils matchup represents New Jersey’s “Stanley Cup”. You know the Devils organization would relish the opportunity to put the final nail in the Rangers coffin.

If you think the New York Islanders get pumped up for their games against the Rangers, just wait until Lemaire’s boy hit the Garden ice. It wouldn’t surprise me to see Ken Daneyko and Scott Stevens lace them just one more time to keep the Metropolitan area without playoff hockey for the first time since 1966. Yes, you read that correctly. That is the last time the Metro srea did not have at least one team in the NHL playoffs.

In all seriousness, the Devils are expected to be without Dainius Zubrus , Colin White and Anton Volchenkov.

Conversely, the Rangers recalled Mats Zuccarello from Connecticut and Coach John Tortorella admitted that the specter of (again) failing in the shootout in Game 82 does play a part.

“Yeah, it has to come into our thinking. It’s crazy, but it has to come into our thinking. But he’ll come up and see what happens,” Tortorella admitted when quizzed by Rick Carpiniello of the Journal News.

To their credit, the Devils are keeping a low public profile in reference to playing spoilers.

“We do have a rivalry against them, so it definitely would be a little bit of a—not satisfaction because, seriously, we’re not going to win anything,” Martin Brodeur told Tom Gulitti of NorthJersey.com.

“We’re not getting back in the playoffs if we beat them, so it’s not to that point. But people care. It’s been tough on our fans to a certain extent to see, especially (after) the last time we played them in the playoffs (a five-game Rangers’ triumph in 2008). Even in the regular season they’ve been playing well against us on the upper hand. Between fans there’s a lot of things going on more than us, players. I don’t think I know one guy on the other team to talk to. I just play against them and that’s it.”

As I said, that is the Devils public stance. Gulitti offered a different side to the story when offering anonymity.

Gulitti wrote, “A couple of players did admit privately that they would like to knock the Rangers out, but no one would say that on the record.”

Quite frankly, I would expect the Devils to feel any other way. I am sure the Rangers would hold the same opinion of the skate were on the other foot.

In looking ahead to Saturday afternoon’s game, the Rangers have to be prepared to take the game to the Devils from the opening faceoff. Think back to Game 2 of the 1994 Eastern Conference Finals when Mark Messier set the tone on the very first shift of the game. Granted, there is no Mark Messier on this year’s team, but there is no reason that, as a team, they can’t come out and seize the tempo of the game.

They did it during the first five minutes against Atlanta and then seemed to settle back into whatever game Atlanta wanted to play. A repeat of that will spell disaster on Saturday.

While the Rangers have shown tremendous ability to bounce back off the ice all season long, they still have proven to be a fragile team. The Blueshirts might have been able to right the ship against the Thrashers if Atlanta hadn’t scored their second goal just 15 seconds later. Frankly, the Rangers were downright lucky not to be down three goals on that next shift.

You have to figure that the game is going to be a hard hitting and possibly nasty game that is going to require the special teams to step up. With inconsistent scoring at the heart of the Rangers problem, now is a good a time as any for the power play to step up at a crucial time.

For that to happen, and for the Rangers to produce offense at even strength, they MUST get traffic in front of the net – not at the side of the net. The Rangers can launch as many shots on goal as they want, but if they are not getting traffic in front for screens and deflections, they will be looking at an even earlier tee time.

The simple fact is one that has been hammered home by pretty much every writer, blogger and Blueshirt fan. The New York Rangers are not a talented enough team to get by on anything else that a 100% effort on 100% of their shifts. The time about worrying about other teams is over.

The only thing they can do right now is concentrate on their effort against the New Jersey Devils. They can’t be worried about the Carolina Hurricanes, or even the Buffalo Sabres who are just one point ahead of the Rangers. If Buffalo loses at home tonight to Philadelphia, then a Rangers win makes Buffalo’s final game of the year at Columbus a must-win for the Sabres.

The final word goes to Coach Tortorella.

“Yeah, we’ve been trying to … again, we’re a good hockey team. We’ve had a really good year. We have 43 wins. In the past five or six weeks, we’ve gone into San Jose and beaten them. We’ve gone into Pittsburgh, they opened the door with some undiscipline, we beat them. We’ve beaten Boston twice. We’ve beaten Philly twice. We’ve played some clunkers, but we’re a good hockey club. It’s not about correcting out in practice right now,” Tortorella told Carpiniello.

“It’s not about (video) tape work. It’s about how you feel about yourself as a player and as a group. And again, I am confident that these guys will recapture themselves, will feel good about themselves and play a really good game tomorrow.”

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No one ever said being a Ranger fan was easy, but the “fickle finger of fate” couldn’t let everyone bask in the glow of the Blueshirts improbable come from behind victory for even 12 hours – never mind 24 hours. The New York Rangers confirmed the morning’s rumor that Ryan Callahan is out indefinitely after hurting himself while blocking Zdeno Chara’s shot late in the third period.

While the exact extent of the injury is up in the air – reporters say Callahan broke his right ankle while the Rangers official press release says fractured right leg – the prognosis is still the same according to Coach John Tortorella who termed called the injury “long term”.

There is no doubt in the matter that whoever replaces Callahan in the lineup will have mighty big skates to fill. In addition to having a career season offensively (23 goals, 25 assists, 48 points and 10 PPGs in just 60 games), the Rangers alternate captain is the heart and soul of the team.

The Rangers did respond well when Callahan was out of the lineup for 19 games after suffering a broken hand while blocking a Kris Letang shot. The Blueshirts went 10-7-2 during that period from mid-December to late-January.

At first blush, it appears that Tortorella is going to insert Matt Gilroy into the lineup because the Rangers sent Kris Newbury back to the Connecticut (AHL). It is unsure if the Rangers will go with 11 forwards and seven defensemen or if Gilroy will skate a regular shift at wing.

The Rangers would be doing Gilroy a disservice, and taking a bit of gamble giving regular (or even semi-regular) ice time to someone whose NHL experience at wing can be added up on one hand.

One has to wonder if the Rangers are looking at Gilroy as a temporary replacement as they sort out their options. They might not want to commit to a “permanent” replacement until they see who their playoff matchup is. Of course, they do run the risk of putting the cart before the horse if they are unable to chip away the three points that separate them from a playoff spot.

Looming in the background is the potential return of the captain, Chris Drury who has been nursing a knee injury since February 3. According to Andrew Gross, Drury will return to full practice with the team. It is possible that the Rangers might be using Gilroy as a place holder until Drury can get a few practices under his belt.

I know some fans are rolling their eyes at the thought of Drury returning to the lineup, but he fill in on the penalty killing unit and would provide some help on faceoffs. Unfortunately, Drury does not provide the offense or physical play that Callahan does.

If the Rangers wanted to look towards a more physical player, they could turn to Newbury or rookie Dale Weise. Newbury might be the better choice because he has more experience than Weise and does provide the Rangers with another option on faceoffs.

Unfortunately, the Rangers do not have anyone in the system who can match Callahan’s offense. While Mats Zuccarello has the potential to be a 20+ goal scorer in the NHL, he seems to have hit a wall in his rookie season in the NHL. The one thing that might have gotten him some ice time would have been his ability to play the point on the power play, but MZA has proven to be too inconsistent. In that case, the Blueshirts would be better off with Gilroy in the lineup as a seventh defenseman/power play specialist.

Given that there is no “perfect” replacement for Callahan, if Drury is able to play then he should get the chance. For better or worse, he might be the best option as he lends experience to a young team, can kill penalties, and win faceoffs. Perhaps he will harken back to his Buffalo Sabres days and score a crucial goal with seven seconds left in the game.

The best thing for the Rangers would be for the Detroit Red Wings to give their Original Six brother a hand by beating the Hurricanes in Carolina in regulation time – thus shaving the magic number to one. While the Red Wings have clinched their division, they currently sit third in the Western Conference one point behind the San Jose Sharks. Hopefully, playoff positioning is important in Motown.

In the mean time, Tortorella is going to have to rework his lines no matter who is going to replace Callahan in the lineup. You have to figure that he will keep Vinny Prospal, Derek Stepan and Wojtech Wolski together and insert Marian Gaborik on the RW with Brandon Dubinsky and Artem Anisimov. As long as Ruslan Fedotenko is able to stay healthy (his questionable health was the reason Newbury was recalled in the first place), the Bulldog Line 3.0 (Fedotenko, Brian Boyle and Brandon Prust) is a given. That leaves Sean Avery and Erik Christensen to team up with (insert the player of your choice).

Following the Boston victory, Tortorella summed up his team this way in a response to a question from Rick Carpiniello.

”We’re not a terribly gifted hockey club. But they find a way. They find a way. I’m … you know … I’m not a big lovefest guy here, but I like, I just like how we stuck to it, and we showed balls. It was really good stuff.”

With their heart and soul out of the lineup indefinitely, the Rangers are going to get a chance to show just how big those balls are.

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With this being April 1, it would have been easy to come up with an April’s Fool’s joke involving the Rangers. However, after last night’s absolute horror show on Long Island, that would have been redundant. Besides, Rick Carpiniello of the Journal News pulled off a good one on his Rangers Report Blog .

Come to think of it, pulling an April’s Fool’s joke would not only be redundant it would be cruel given the reaction of some Ranger fans. Granted, the Blueshirts hold on the playoffs has taken hit this week.

In the space of two games, their seven point lead on Carolina is down to three points with the Hurricanes holding a game in hand – and the Rangers are tied with Buffalo who also has a game in hand.

If that were not bad enough, the Rangers face their final back-to-back set of games when they play In Philadelphia on Sunday afternoon and then host Boston the next night – with no rest in sight for Henrik Lundqvist.

Before taking that final step off the cliff, fans need to take a deep breath and take a step back. As bad as it looks – and it doesn’t look too good at first glance – the Rangers still control their own playoff destiny. The one thing they do not control is their ability to set their playoff seeding.

The question that must be addressed was last night’s 6-2 loss to the Islanders an aberration or a harbinger of bad things to come?

The Blueshirts two-game losing streak comes on the heels of an 8-1-1 streak that enabled the Rangers to regain control of their playoff destiny. Teams go through ebbs and flows during the season – it just seems that the Rangers some time pick the wrong time to ebb.

The problem is not the two-game losing streak. The problem is the team’s last five games have only produced five goals – which is a big contrast to the Rangers scoring 32 goals in their previous seven games. Incredibly, the Rangers are 2-2-1 in those five games – a testament to the work they have been receiving from The King.

While the Rangers have struggled to score goals all season long, this discrepancy is stark and troubling. It is giving the Rangers no margin for error in games.

During their 0-5-1 stretch in late-January to mid-February, the Rangers fortunes would have been far different had they scored one more goal per game. Their shootout loss to Pittsburgh becomes a win and adds a much-needed extra point. The four one-goal losses become overtime/shootout games which would add at least four additional points. Even one goal in the 2-0 loss to Montreal would have produced a point because the Habs scored an empty-net goal.

Perhaps the most telling point that came out of the losses to the Sabres is how the Rangers could muster lackluster efforts at best at a critical point in their season.

After turning in a performance that Coach John Tortorella referred to as “[it was] like it was Game 25 instead of Game 77}”, the Rangers all but phoned in their effort against Islanders. The lone bright spot was that Lundqvist didn’t get hurt and was able to get the third period off as Chad Johnson mopped up for the Rangers.

Andrew Gross in his NorthJeresy.com Blog offered up a possible answer as to the Rangers “tentative” play.
“Coach John Tortorella, because of the person he is, is a little tense right now. Just a theory, but the rest of the team may be picking up on that,” Gross wrote.
“Tortorella’s post-game press conference was pretty short. He said whatever thoughts he had were between him and his team and he would not be discussing anything. Actually, probably a good move for him. He’s got to be seething right now and better to say nothing than to say the wrong thing.”
Even if that were true, it is still a “chicken-and-the-egg” question. Are the Rangers tense because that is the way the coach is acting or is the coach acting that was because the team is playing tense and not getting the job done?
In my opinion, I think the coach is reflecting the mood of the team. You can use Marian Gaborik as an example. Think back to the times when he has been able to be a force on offense. It has come at times when he is an “autopilot” so to speak. When he has been in the follow it has been because he is getting the puck in a good position and just shooting. When he has struggled, and it has been almost a full season of struggles, it seems it happens when he over thinks and passes up good shots look for the perfect shot.
Quite frankly, that pretty much sums up the entire Rangers offensive philosophy – especially on the power play. They look to be too fine and strive to find that perfect shot, rather than get into good shooting position/lanes and put pucks on goal with traffic in front of the net – which is a problem in and of itself.
Watch any Ranger game and notice how poorly positioned the Rangers are – especially their forwards. I am a big proponent of “ice balance” which means you don’t have three forwards fighting for the puck below the goal line and opening yourself up top yet another odd-man rush. It means the defense stays on their side and doesn’t cut over to play the puck – thus leaving an open lane to the Rangers net.
Probably my biggest gripe in regards to ice balance comes when the Rangers forwards absolutely refuse to go the front of the net/top of the crease. Far too often forwards are at the side of net and are out of position for rebounds or to even screen a goalie.
I know it sounds like a small thing, but in the grand scheme of things it is these small things that fuel the bigger picture. In the big picture of an NHL game, one goal doesn’t seem like all that much, but when you are struggling top score goals it becomes the difference in getting points and getting left out of the playoffs.
Just think how big it would have been just to score one more goal per game in that 0-5-1 streak. An extra goal a game is the difference between fighting for their playoff lives and having 93 points and being a combination of two points away from clinching a playoff spot.

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Is the NHL’s most recent 10-games plus the first round of the playoff suspension to Matt Cooke a sign that the league finally has a clue in reference to a zero-tolerance stance on head shots, or is Cooke’s suspension merely a case of a blind squirrel finding a nut?

Call me a pessimist, but I am taking the blind squirrel side. For a long time the NHL’s idea of zero-tolerance is drawing a line in the sand and them erasing it on an ad-hoc basis.

Let’s face it, the Cooke suspension was an empty net goal in the world of suspensions. Unfortunately, just like many NHL players who miss on their empty net attempts, the NHL has a long history of shooting wide.

First off, the NHL should have dealt with Cooke problem a lot sooner than they have. A little over a year ago they had the chance to throw the book at Cooke for his vicious hit on Marc Savard and the NHL chose not to level a suspension saying they had no other recourse.

Of course they had a recourse. It was one offered by Don Cherry on a Coach’s Corner segment on CBC following the hit on Savard. Not only does Cherry review the Savard hit, but he goes on to detail the laundry list of “borderline” hits featuring Cooke flaunting the rules.

In discussing the hit on Savard, Grapes pointed to Rule 21 which deals with Match Penalties. More specifically, he pointed to Rule 21.1 which states

“Match Penalty – A match penalty involves the suspension of a player for the balance of the game and the offender shall be ordered to the dressing room immediately.
A match penalty shall be imposed on any player who deliberately attempts to injure or who deliberately injures an opponent in any manner.”

No matter what anyone says, any hit to the head is a match penalty because it is an attempt to deliberately injure a player.

The league should have been addressing this problem years ago when Scott Stevens was waylaying players with hits to the head. Stevens’s defenders were always quick to point out that the Devils captain was merely using his shoulder as opposed to an elbow or arm to the head.

The bottom line is the NHL should have used Rule 21.1 to put an end to any and all shots to the head. I would even be willing to give some leniency if it is a players’ first offense or even if the head shot happened by accident as part of an honest attempt to throw a check. However, none of these applied to Cooke back in March 2010 just like it didn’t in March 2011.

Of course, the NHL’s counter argument stems from the referees not using this rule to assess penalties – thus allowing the NHL a way to weasel out of doing its job – despite the fact the NHL can and does suspend players when no penalties are called.

Joe Yerdon of MSNBC Sports offered up the following evidence supporting a suspension for Cooke’s hit on Ryan McDonagh.

Cooke’s hit touches on a lot of things the league wants to eliminate from the game and makes him the perfect target for a message-sending landmark punishment:

• He delivered a blindside hit
• He delivered a blow to the head
• He targeted McDonagh’s head
• He’s a repeat offender

Turning the clock back a year or so, you could very easily replace McDonagh with Savard and have just as compelling an argument for lowering the book on Cooke last March.

Not even Pittsburgh’s GM Ray Shero could avoid the obvious – that Cooke has to be dealt with once and for all.

“The suspension is warranted because that’s exactly the kind of hit we’re trying to get out of the game. Headshots have no place in hockey,” Shero stated. “We’ve told Matt in no uncertain terms that this kind of action on the ice is unacceptable and cannot happen. Headshots must be dealt with severely, and the Pittsburgh Penguins support the NHL in sending this very strong message.”

When your own GM throws you under the bus, you know that you have crossed the final line and are beginning to run on borrowed time.

Disappointingly, but not surprisingly, quiet on the matter is Penguins owner Mario Lemieux. While quick to hammer the NHL for its lack of action during last month’s Penguins-Islanders free-for-all, his silence in regards to Cooke’s latest antics speak volumes. While Nick Kypreos did write on twitter that Lemieux met with Cooke and offered an ultimatum of change or go, Lemieux owed it to the NHL to be just as outspoken in reference to Cooke or run the risk of being re-branded a hypocrite.

While it is stylish to drop the hammer on the NHL, the players have to take responsibility for their actions. Calls to repeal the instigator rule as a potential way to force the players to police themselves falls short because I don’t think it is enough of a deterrent by itself. The NHL and the NHLPA must work together to better educate players and officials (both on-ice and those in the league’s office).

In a February 2011 column for the Sporting News Today, Craig Custance offered that perhaps the offending player should have a bigger say in the suspension levied. I am not so sure I agree with at idea, but Custance did bring up one point that I had not considered before.

Custance wrote the NHLPA finds itself in a Catch-22 situation – they represent both the player accused and the player injured. It is a situation that has not gone unnoticed by players.

Detroit defenseman Brad Stuart was on the wrong end of a blindside hit that cost him a broken jaw (and 15 games missed) and cost Calgary’s Tom Kostopoulos a six-game suspension.

“It’s a bit of a conflicting interest. As the PA, I guess they feel it’s their responsibility to try and get the guy as lenient a penalty as possible. On the other side of it, you’ve got a guy who is not playing and is injured who is a part of the PA as well,” Stuart explained to Custance.

“I think the PA’s best interest should be protecting players, not protecting a guy from getting a couple-game suspension.”

I have reprinted an article I wrote back in April 2002 when “Ranger Ramblings” was housed at a different web site. I have posted it again because, while the names and incidents have changed, sadly the problem the NHL and its players face have not changed in reference. It also contains a reference to I made about the NHL needing to do something about head shots as I railed against the headhunting Stevens did to the Carolina Hurricanes during the 2001 NHL playoffs.

As a Ranger fan, the inevitable question over Sean Avery comes up in reference to Matt Cooke. Yes, Avery does try one’s patience with some of his antics and some of the most stupid penalties taken. However, Avery has never been suspended b y the NHL for an ON-ICE infraction.

His only suspension, and subsequent anger management classes, came as result of his “sloppy seconds” comment. Given the laundry list of Cooke’s suspensions and non-suspension “encounters”, shouldn’t Cooke be undergoing some sort of anger management training as well?

Perhaps this latest suspension might prove to be the trick in policing Matt Cooke and his actions – if the following quote from Dave Molinari of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette is to be believed.

Cooke said, “I realize and understand, more so now than ever, that I need to change. That’s what I wanted my message to be.”

While actions do speak louder than words, and time will tell, at least he admitted he has a problem and that is a first step for Cooke – and his 10-game/first playoff round suspension is a first step for the NHL as well.

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The following article ran under the “Ranger Ramblings” banner at a different web site almost nine years ago. I am reprinting it now to show that as the more things change, the more they stay the same.

RESPECT – The NHL’s Four Letter Word

On-Ice Incidents a Black Eye
April 29, 2002

Aretha Franklin sang about it. People struggle all their lives trying to build and earn it. National Hockey league players are showing an increasing lack of it towards each other. NHL official are losing it among players, fans and media alike. Of course, I am talking about RESPECT.

The NHL should be basking in the glow of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Instead, the league is facing mounting controversy as it closes its eyes toward the violence infiltrating the first round of the playoffs.

Richard Zednik, Kenny Jonsson and Michael Peca have all had their playoff runs ended. In Peca’s case, it is possible he is done for the rest of 2002. Despite all of these horrible injuries, the NHL’s best answer is to suspend Boston Bruins defenseman Kyle McLaren for the remainder of the Bruins series with the Montreal Canadiens.
As the NHL’s Vice-President for Hockey Operations, it is Colin Campbell’s job the mete out punishment for NHL rule breakers. As the league’s disciplinarian, Campbell is proving to be just as clueless as he was as coach of the New York Rangers.

The best Campbell could do to teach McLaren, Gary Roberts and Darcy Tucker a lesson is to suspend McLaren for three games.

And what is Campbell’s “logic” in this case? “Mr. McLaren delivered a dangerous blow to the head of his opponent and caused significant injuries to the opposing player. Mr. McLaren clearly must be held accountable for his action in this regard,” Campbell explained to Howard Ulman, an AP sports reporter (4/29/02).

So let me get this straight, McLaren delivers a “dangerous blow” that “caused significant injuries” and he only gets a three-game suspension? The only thing that does is protect McLaren from the rest of the Canadiens.

Is it possible Campbell deals out additional games at the start of the 2002-2003 season? I suppose anything is possible, but an additional suspension loses its impact if it is not meted out at the time of the infraction. It also puts the NHL in the worst possible light. The league looks soft on justice except when the media and fans exert pressure.

If the Canadiens have a right to be upset with Campbell, then the New York Islanders should be apoplectic in regards to Campbell and his refusal to punish Roberts and Tucker for their Game 5 actions.

The Roberts hit on Jonsson is even more frightening given the growing list of players who have had to retire due to concussions and post-concussion syndrome. One would think the NHL would do everything and anything to eliminate plays that put a player’s health in question.

Merely assessing a five-minute major to a player who charged nearly halfway across the rink to run a player facing the boards is not the way to protect its players.
The most frightening part of the Roberts-Jonsson incident was the actions (or should I say lack of action) of referees Paul Devorski and Kevin Pollock, “Daily News” sports writer John Dellapina (4/29/02) reported that Devorski and Pollock did not call a penalty because “they couldn’t determine whether Jonsson had suffered a head injury.”

The Tucker hit on Peca illuminates just how players have lost respect for each other. In today’s game, hip checks are rarely that. For every player who actually hits hip-to-hip, there is a player whose idea of a hip check is to drop down low and cut out a player’s legs.
In some cases the person getting hit also bares responsibility for this problem. Rather than go with the flow of the hip check, players are trying to force their way through the hits.

Back in April 1997, Stan Fischler defended the art of the hip check in an article written for “The Hockey News”. Fischler urged players to follow the example of then New Jersey Devils coach Jacques Lemaire. The current boss of the Minnesota Wild said, “Nowadays players don’t avoid the hit; they want to go through the other guy and that’s when they get injured.”

At first sight, I thought that was what happened on Tucker’s hit on Peca. It looked like Peca was trying to “jump” the hip check. After watching it on replays, you can see that Tucker has dropped down and made contact with Peca’s knees.

What we have now is a double-edged sword. Players are looking to bull their way through a hip check at the same time the contact on the hip check is dropping.
Campbell’s defense?

“The hit’s allowed in the rule book. Did the referee call a penalty? No. Do we like those hits when they’re administered? You always ask questions when there’s an injury,” Campbell explained. {Dellapina 4/29/02}.

If that is truly the case, then someone needs to explain how Tucker’s hit is legal when it is supposedly illegal for a player to throw out a leg on a knee-to-knee hit.
The interesting part of Campbell’s contention is that is wasn’t too long ago that he was as the other end of this spectrum. In March 1997, Mark Messier was on the receiving end of a “hip check” thrown by Detroit Red Wings defenseman Slava Fetisov. No penalty was called. The next night, New York Islanders defenseman Rich Pilon submarined Philadelphia Flyers center Eric Lindros. Pilon received a five-minute major and a game misconduct and Lindros received a bruised tendon in his knee.

During an ensuing pre-game report Campbell said, “What was acceptable 10-20 years ago isn’t [acceptable] now.” Apparently, it is still acceptable after all.

Another problem the league refuses to address is the idea of players who are going headhunting. Bruins President Harry Sinden can swear up and down that McLaren’s hit was “within the rules” (Ulman – 4/29/02), but the bottom line is that hits to the head are against the rules. That includes the types of hits Scott Stevens was using to lay out Carolina Hurricane after Carolina Hurricane in the 2001 NHL playoffs. It does not matter if the contact is an elbow, fist, or in Stevens’ case a shoulder. Any hit to the head needs to be dealt with swiftly and severely – just like the hits from behind and the checks aimed at players’ knees.

With today’s athlete being bigger and stronger, the idea of hockey being a collision sport, not a contact sport, is coming through loud and clear. These bigger and stronger athletes are wearing bigger and more improved equipment. It can’t help but lend an air of invincibility.

As a result, we are seeing more players hitting without thinking. How else can you explain a defender who sticks out his leg as a last gasp move on a hit? This knee-on-knee hit wrecks havoc with hockey player’s knees. The ironic part is that the player delivering the knee-to-knee contact is just as likely to get hurt as his intended target.

What does this all have to do with the cases of McLaren, Roberts and Tucker? The NHL has reached a point where its players can no longer police themselves. It is up to the league to see the headhunting, charges from behind and the hip checks aimed at knees are eliminated from the game.

Unfortunately, a three-game suspension is not going to get done. Then again, should we really expect anything out of Colin Campbell? Last year he had a chance to send a message to the entire NHL after Tie Domi assaulted Scott Niedermayer in the second round of the playoffs last season.

The NHL’s cop sent a mixed message at best by suspending Domi for the three playoff games and the first eight games of the regular season this year.

Would a 20-game suspension, in addition to missing the remainder of the playoffs, been enough of a deterrent to prevent what happened to Zednik, Jonsson and Peca?

Obviously we can’t be certain either way. The one thing we can be certain is that we will never know because Campbell frittered away the chance.
The NHL likes to think of itself as being the be-all and end-all when it comes to hockey in the world. It is ironic that they are far behind some North American minor leagues when it comes to disciplinary actions.

In the wake of the tragic death of Brittanie Cecil at a Columbus Blue Jackets game in March 2002, the United Hockey League, East Coast Hockey League and American Hockey League moved swiftly and decisively to confront the problem of players who threw sticks into the crowd.

BC Iceman goaltender Bryan Schoen received a lifetime ban from the UHL after as a result of his actions in a playoff game against the Elmira Jackals. Jackals’ enforcer John Murphy speared Schoen late in the third period. Schoen grabbed Murphy’s stick and threw into the crowd at the Broome County Veterans Memorial Arena.

UHL President Richard Brosal acted swiftly and banned Schoen from playing in the league. It was not the first such incident for the league as Brosal set down lifetime bans for Muskegon forward Gary Coupal (1997) and Saginaw goaltender Stu Munn (1999) for the throwing sticks into the stands {Scott Lauber – “Press & Sun-Bulletin” (4/24/02)}.

While Brosal’s initial lifetime suspensions didn’t completely cure the problem of stick throwing in the UHL, Brosal’s action was consistent with past punishment. In fact, Schoen’s actions were less onerous than Coupal’s or Munn’s. Coupal had already received two 40-game suspensions for throwing his stick and Munn threw a broken stick into the crowd after a brawl in Utica.

The ECHL faced a similar situation with New York Rangers goaltending prospect Jason LaBarbera. While playing for the Charlotte Checkers, LaBarbera was pulled after being shelled for five second period goals in a playoff game against the Atlantic City Boardwalk Bullies. As he reached the Checkers’ bench, LaBarbera threw his stick – which bounced and hit an eight-year-old fan who was standing in an area that was supposed to be off limits to fans. {Bruce Berlet – “The Hartford Courant” (4/24/02)}.
ECHL Senior VP of Hockey Operations Troy Ward had no alternative but suspend LaBarbera. The Checkers netminder received an 18-game suspension. AHL VP of Hockey Operations Jim Mill announced that the league would uphold the ECHL’s suspension and prevent LaBarbera from playing in the AHL until his ECHL suspension was completed.

It is not my intention to compare the NHL’s on-ice problems with those faced by the UHL, ECHL and AHL. What I am comparing is how the three minor leagues acted when faced with a problem as compared to the NHL’s lack of actions.

The NHL faces a major image problem with their lack of decisive action in three above-mentioned cases. The league fought (pun intended) long and hard to rid itself of the brawling image it received during the era of the “Big Bad Bruins” and the “Broad Street Bullies”. By rolling over and not handing down prohibitive suspensions, Campbell and the NHL reawaken the “Slapshot” images the league has long looked to put into its past.

Campbell continues to defend his lack of action. “To just bring the temperature down is not the reason we assess suspensions. We’ve got to assess suspensions when they deserve it, when they cross the line. And I know sometimes people can’t figure out the consistency. It’s difficult. But that’s our job.” {Dellapina 4/29/02}.

And it is a job that Campbell and the NHL are not doing. It seems that “people” (i.e. media and the fans) aren’t the only ones who can’t figure out consistency. The NHL has been most fortunate that only one player has ever been killed due to on-ice play. I just hope that is not what the NHL is waiting before finding its consistency.

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While Henrik Lundqvist is the New York Rangers most important player, Brandon Prust might very well be the Blueshirts most valuable player.

I know that kind of logic might be hard to fathom, but there is a method to my madness. Quite obviously, the Rangers playoff chances rest squarely on the shoulders of The King – especially with Martin Biron injured.

In a talent comparison, well, there really is no comparison. Lundqvist is an All-Star and a world-class goaltender while Prust is a third line forward. However, Prust’s intangibles point to him being the heart and soul of the Rangers.

On a team that Larry Brooks of the NY Post has referred to as the “Black-and-Blueshirts”, no one personifies that term more than Prust.

No player gives more of themselves on the ice than Prust. While the coaching staff gives Lundqvist “maintenance” days off from practice because of his heavy workload, they have been giving Prust the same kind of maintenance days off just to make sure he is in the lineup.

There is no arguing the fact that Prust gives it his all each and every shift, and pretty much leaves everything he has on the ice. To paraphrase those wise hockey sages the Hanson Brothers, Prust is “a warrior, he is an animal, but he has to be a mess because of all of the injuries. “

One can envision Prust having to be lowered into a tube of ice in order to minister to his various aches and pains he has accumulated during the season. I know you can pretty much say that about any player at this point in the season, but it just seems that Prust has been a walking MASH unit.

A quick search of Prust via Rotoworld lists the following injuries he has battled through this season: he took a high stick to the face in October and has proceeded to suffer a charley horse, ankle injury, shoulder and thumb injuries – and those are just the ones that reporters have been able to confirm.

If Prust were an NFL player, he would be listed as “Questionable due to general body soreness.”

The injuries are a byproduct of way Prust plays the game. While the Rangers list him as 6-foot-2, he is closer to the 5-foot-11 that The Hockey News lists him. Despite giving away height and weight, Prust has not backed down from any challenge from any NHL heavyweight – an important asset that was made even more necessary with Derek Boogaard out of the lineup.

Despite the assortment of injuries and bumps and bruises, Prust is one of four Rangers to have played all 71 games up to this point (Artem Anisimov, Brian Boyle and Derek Stepan are the others). The London, Ontario native has set career highs in goals (11), assists (14) and points (25). Five of his 11 goals have been shorthanded – which ties him for the NHL lead with Frans Nielsen of the Islanders – and his seven shorthanded points are also an NHL best.

Prust, along with Boyle and Ruslan Fedotenko form the closest thing the Rangers have to an old-time checking line and have come together as the Bulldog Line 3.0 as their play matched the tenacious play of Dave Balon (and Later Steve Vickers), Walt Tkaczuk and Bill Fairbairn.

There was a time when fans considered Sean Avery to be the “heart and soul” of the Rangers – especially during his first stint on Broadway. However, some of those fans are left to shake their heads at some of Avery’s antics – with last night’s boneheaded penalty in the third period serving as Exhibit Number One. Most fans could empathize with Coach John Tortorella’s reaction on the bench.

The ironic thing is that Avery and Prust are the same type of “high-energy” player teams need. While Avery is a better skater and has more offensive ability, Prust is a better defensive player and might be closer to being an enforcer than Avery is.

The main difference is the actually the thing that makes Sean Avery the player that he is. For Avery to be successful as a nudge/antagonist is that he has to skate a very fine line without crossing it. The problem comes when Avery does cross the line. Rather than stepping a skate or two over that line, Avery takes a running broad jump over it and that leads to all of his problems.

For 55 minutes against the Islanders Avery managed to straddle that line. Unfortunately, NHL games are 60 minutes and Avery broad jumped over the line with his penalty late in the third period that lead to the Isles final goal.

With the Rangers beginning their voting push for selecting the recipient of the Steven McDonald Extra Effort Award, it might be safe to say that Ryan Callahan’s biggest hurdle in “three-peating” will be Brandon Prust.

In bringing up Callahan, Ranger fans have speculated that Callahan is the Rangers “captain-in-waiting” and could receive the “C” as early as next season if Chris Drury retires or is bought out. I would have absolutely no problem is seeing Prust rewarded by joining Marc Staal as the Rangers alternate captain.

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In light of the New York Rangers losing all three games on their current homestand, and factoring in their 4-10-1 record in their last 15 games, do you think President/GM Glen Sather would like to take a mulligan on the 2011 NHL trade deadline?

Prior to the end of 2010, the Rangers were playing just well enough to win games, or at least earn points in their losses. The same cannot be said for the past couple of months.

Larry Brooks of the NY Post listed the ugly numbers for the Rangers of late:

• 14-16-3 at MSG
• 3-8-1 at home in their last 12 games
• 4 straight losses at the Garden
• 11-15-2 record in 2011

Despite the horror show that are those numbers, and despite the facts the Rangers have slipped to eighth in the Eastern Conference and no longer control their own playoff destiny, Sather was absolutely correct in standing pat at the trade deadline. While he did make a minor deal in acquiring forward John Mitchell from Toronto for a 2012 seventh round draft pick, Sather wisely resisted giving away the future.

While Ranger fans dreamed of acquiring Brad Richards, the bounty needed to acquire the UFA-to-be would have proved to be a nightmare and run counter to what the Blueshirts have been trying to do – build a young core from within.

Various reports stated that Dallas GM Joe Nieuwendyk was not going to move Richards unless the price was right – and if these reports are true – the price would not have been right for the Rangers.

According to Darren Dreger of TSN, the Stars GM was looking for a can’t-miss deal. Dreger wrote, “By can’t miss, sources say the Nieuwendyk asked the Rangers for multiple components. One scenario included 24-year-old forward Brandon Dubinsky – whose 19 goals is one shy of equalling a career high. Almost every member of New York’s young core was believed to have been requested in some way, shape, or form – along with a collection of other assets required to land Richards.”

This report followed along the lines an article Brooks wrote for the Post that said the Stars were asking for Derek Stepan, Dubinsky and Marc Staal in a deal.

If the Rangers were a true Stanley Cup contender then going all in would make some sense – much like it did in 1994 when Neil Smith gambled and won. However, given that the Rangers are in a dogfight just to make the playoffs, there is no justification for making such a deal – especially when Richards will be available as an UFA come July 1.

While the Rangers have been freefalling in the standings, the one positive point that can be made is that the team has been competitive. Since January 1, five of the Rangers 15 regulation losses can by more than one goal and two of those games featured an empty net goal. So in 11 of those losses, one or two goals would have made the difference in the Rangers getting one or two points instead of no points.

Instead of playing well enough to win (or earn points), the Rangers are now playing well enough to lose in regulation – and thus not earn any points.

Quite obviously, if the Rangers are going to reverse this trend they are going to have to address their biggest problem – scoring goals.

The “easiest” way to improve their scoring output is to revive their moribund power play. While acquiring Bryan McCabe was a good first step in this revival, nothing is going to happen until there is a change in Coach John Tortorella’s philosophy or unless the players change their ways.

The most striking problem with the Rangers power play is its inability/lack of willingness to station a player in front of the net. Far too often all five players are far too willing to play on the perimeter – thus making it easier for their opponent to kill the penalty. Even when they do venture near the crease, too many times players are stationed to the side of the goalie – as opposed to standing in front of him.

It is no coincidence that Ranger fans lament all of the goals against that have been deflected by Henrik Lundqvist or have bounced in off Blueshirt defenders – especially when you consider the Rangers inability to score these types of goals. As Branch Rickey once said, “Luck is the residue of design.” In other words, you ain’t going to score those types of goals if you ain’t willing to pay the price in front of the net.

In concert with getting traffic in front of the net is the team’s need to shoot the puck. Part of the Rangers play on the perimeter is their need to set up the perfect shot. While the crowd does get too restless too quickly, they do have a point – the Rangers need to shoot the puck (on goal, of course) more on the power play. Heck, it doesn’t even need to be on net sometimes. They could make good use of bounces off the end boards – like Derek Stepan did at Washington for his power play goal.

While, this strategy also carries over very well to even strength play as well, the most important thing is for the Rangers to just relax and get back to basics. Granted, this is easier said than done. You can see and feel the Rangers gripping their sticks tightly and over-thinking in offensive situations. Two prime examples came in the 3-1 loss to the Wild.

Ryan Callahan had Jose Theodore down and out as the Rangers were primed to take a two-goal lead. However, rather than elevate the puck and bury the biscuit in the basket, Callahan simply slid the puck along the ice allowing the Minnesota netminder to make the save.

The second situation came right before Kyle Brodziak tied the game with his power play goal. The Rangers broke out on a two-on-one with Brandon Dubinsky, on his off wing, driving into the Wild zone. Rather than go to the net and take the shot, Dubinsky was looking to pass to Callahan. As a result, Dubinsky ended up shanking his late shot wide of the net.

In either case, the Rangers would have had a two-goal lead and the shape of the game would have changed.

While the season is not lost (yet), they have lost any room for error. With Buffalo just two points behind and having three games in hand, the Rangers have lost control of their own playoff destiny.

Following the game Tortorella said, “We are going to keep our heads up, we are going to stay together and we are going to find our way.”

The only problem is that the better starts finding their way tonight in Ottawa or it might just be too late as far as the 2010-2011 season is concerned.

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With the NBA trade deadline over and Carmelo Anthony ensconced in his new home at Madison Square Garden, Ranger fans now eagerly await their chance to land a big fish in a trade at the NHL deadline on Monday. Sadly, that wait will last a lifetime – or at least it will seem that way.

With over a dozen teams in each Conference still within striking distance of the eight playoff spots, it is not a buyer’s market in the NHL’s trade bazaar – especially when GMs like Joe Nieuwendyk make bizarre demands.

Larry Brooks of the NY Post wrote that the Dallas Stars GM would trade RFA Brad Richards to the Blueshirts in exchange for Brandon Dubinsky, Marc Staal and Derek Stepan.

I am not sure what is crazier – that Nieuwendyk could make that offer with a straight face or that Brooks could possibly dream up such a ridiculous rumor.

I do not subscribe to the notion that certain players are “untouchable”. I would have no problem trading any of three players listed above in the right deal. However, that offer is NOT the right deal.

The one thing to keep in mind in reference to the rangers and trade rumors is that President/GM Glen Sather is as closed-mouth about trade rumors as he is in talking to the New York media. Last year’s deal with Calgary leaked out because of Ales Kotalik’s delay in waiving his limited no-trade clause that included the Flames.

For what it is worth, Sather has gone on the record to say that he is not interested in mortgaging any of the Ranger future in terms of trading young NHL talent, the organization ‘s best prospects or any high draft picks.

Steve Zipay of Newsday wrote that his colleague Arthur Staple spoke with Sather and that the Rangers second and third round draft picks and lower-level prospects could be in play considering this year’s Draft is not as deep as past drafts. Remember, the Rangers have two second round picks in 2011 – having acquired Washington’s second rounder from Carolina as part of the Bobby Sanguinetti trade.

In the post-lockout NHL, trades are based on more than just talent considerations. In fact, the salary cap implications probably drive most trades these days. Even if Sather were willing to go all in with his top prospects and/or draft picks in order to secure a big-time player, he would be risking folding with an even better hand next year.

The Rangers’ trade options are limited because they cannot afford to take on much salary beyond this year. The Blueshirts can bury all of the horrible contracts they want in the AHL, but they still have to fit all the salaries back into their summer cap (which only allows for a 10% overage). In other words, Wade Redden’s contract comes back on to the books during the summer.

Of course, there is still the problem of what to do with Chris Drury. If the captain retires, then his $7+ million cap hit goes away. If he doesn’t, the Rangers can buy him out at a cap hit of $3.7 million next season and about $1.7 million the year after that.

Even if the Rangers decided to buyout Wojtech Wolski’s final year ($3.8 million) at a cap hit of about $500,000 for next season, the Rangers still run into problems when you factor in their own RFAs they need to re-sign.

Odds are the Rangers part ways with UFAs Vinny Prospal, Alex Frolov and Steve Eminger with Ruslan Fedotenko a possibility to return at a Ranger-friendly price.

The problem arises when you take a look at the RFAs the Rangers need to return to the fold: Artem Anisimov, Brian Boyle, Brandon Dubinsky, Matt Gilroy, Matt Gilroy, and Michael Sauer. While the Rangers very well may let Gilroy walk, the remaining players all figure prominently in the Rangers plan.

As you can see, there is little wiggle room to bring in a high-salary player at the trade deadline if you want to keep the core RFAs and even entertain the idea of signing Brad Richards as a RFA and looking to add a veteran to the young blueliners.

The salary cap constraints for 2011/2012 even play limit the Rangers ability to bring in mid-level players/salaries.

For example, two names who have popped up on the rumor radar are Colorado defenseman John-Michael Liles and Ottawa RW Chris Neil. While both players do fit Blueshirt needs, both carry salary implications beyond this year.

Liles has one more year left on a contract that will saddle the Rangers with a $4.2 million cap hit next season. While they could use Liles offensive abilities, especially on the power play, that is a big salary hit to take on.

Neil, who would give the Rangers another physical presence and ease some of the enforcer duties on the banged up Brandon Prust, also carries salary implications for next year and beyond. His $2.0 million cap hit for the next two years is not completely outrageous; you do have to factor in that the Rangers have Derek Boogaard under contract for the next three years at a cap hit of $1.6 million.

Yes, you could buy him out but the Rangers would have $600,000 worth of dead cap space on the books for the next six years. Again, that does not seem like much but it starts to add up, especially next season if you are buying out Drury and Wolski.

The end result is that the Rangers pretty much need to follow the example set by the New York Mets during the winter. In other words, the Rangers need to shop in the bargain basement. Florida’s Bryan McCabe might not be a better player than Atlanta’s Ron Hainsey; however, the UFA-to-be McCabe is much more attractive than Hainsey who has two years left at a cap hit of $4.5 million per season.

If the Rangers are really interested in Neil, then they would need Ottawa to take Erik Christensen back in the deal because it would limit Neil’s 2011/2012 cap hit to about a million fishnagels.

In the best interest of the Rangers, they need to concentrate on bringing role players who will not have too negative an impact on their salary cap. It may not seem all that sexy in comparison to ‘Melo’s Garden coronation, it makes sense on both the short and long term.

When you look back at past trades, you need to look no further than the Rangers-Flames deal last year. Who would have thought that a Calgary spare part like Prust would turn into such a valuable member of the Rangers?

Last March, how people in Philadelphia wondered why GM Paul Holmgren traded for a guy like Ville Leino who had just nine goals and seven assists in 66 games with Detroit. He didn’t exactly light the NHL on fire in his 13 regular season games with Flyers – registering two goals and two assists.

Leino proceeded to start the playoffs as a healthy scratch, but once injuries to Jeff Carter and Simon Gagne opened the door, the Finnish native teamed with Daniel Briere and Scott Hartnell to help lead the Flyers to the Stanley Cup Finals. His 20 points (11 goals and nine assists) in 19 games tied the rookie playoff scoring record originally set by Dino Ciccarelli in 1981.

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