2010/2011 Season


Whoever came up with the term “fans are fickle” really hit the nail on the head. To experience the most recent example one only needs to read some of the Rangers beat writers’ blogs.

A year ago, Michael Del Zotto was the next best thing since sliced bread as the rookie made an impact on the Blueshirts. His sophomore season, not so much. Del Zotto might just be the poster boy for the dreaded “sophomore jinx”. You can probably split the reason for his struggles three ways: the NHL has done their homework on him, Del Zotto did not do his homework and step up his game, and Coach John Tortorella’s mixed signals have all contributed to the defensive’s woes this season.

On the opposite side, during the summer some Rangers fans were ready to tar and feather Steve Eminger before he ever laced on skates as a Ranger. Now, the 27-year-old stands as the “old man” of the blueliners and fans were ripping Tortorella for benching him for five consecutive games and are now questioning the coach’s reason for reinserting Del Zotto against the Los Angeles Kings.

Thankfully, owners do not let fans run teams because management would have to install a revolving door in the locker room to accommodate all of the changes – present company included.

As such, acquiring a defenseman seems to have replaced snaring Brad Richards as the fans number one deadline target. The luster has come off Richards for a variety of reasons. Fans might be realizing the Dallas Stars were not going to give him away. The Stars are in the midst of a tight playoff race in the Western Conference. His recent injury, an “upper body injury” (code for concussion), will see him miss at least a week of action. The final reason is fans are slowly realizing that he will be available in the off-season as an UFA. If the rangers do target him, it will hasten the end to Chris Drury’s career as a Ranger – which will make the majority of fans very happy.

With the focus centering on a defenseman (pun intended), the Rangers find themselves in a precarious position. President/GM Glen Sather has gone on record, for whatever that is worth, as saying he will not move any of his top prospects at the trade deadline. Unless someone makes him an offer he can’t refuse, this might be the smartest thing Sather has ever said in his tenure in New York.

The hardest thing to read is the current market for defensemen. As things stand now, each Conference has about a dozen teams fighting for eight playoff spots – and that does not include the hard charging New Jersey Devils in the East or the St. Louis Blues in the West. While the Blues are nine points behind eighth place Calgary, they do have a whopping five games in hand.

With so few teams ready to waive the white flag on the season, it should be a seller’s market. At the top of the buyer’s list has to be Vancouver. While the Canucks lead the NHL in points, they also lead the NHL in walking wounded when it comes to defensemen where they have five of their top d-men either on the injured list or out indefinitely.

Ideally, any trade the Rangers make should not include any top prospects, but it should be for a player who will be a RFA at the end of the year or does not carry a big price tag for next season.

The biggest prize that fits that bill is Tomas Kaberle. However, Lyle Richardson, aka Spector, writes that Darren Dreger of TSN is reporting the Toronto Maple Leafs are close to making yet another deal with the Boston Bruins.

Steve Zipay of Newsday came up with a list of UFA or reasonably priced d-men, but are Jan Hejda, Kurtis Foster, Brett Lebda or Jim Vandermeer really an improvement over what the Rangers have now? Two other names he mentioned, Brent Sopel (Atlanta) and Ruslan Salei (Detroit) are players whose teams are in the playoff mix.

Foster appears to intrigue the most people because he does have a big-time shot from the point and has only one year remaining at $1.8 million. Zipay points out that Foster could take Matt Gilroy’s salary slot next season. Quite frankly, I’d rather have Gilroy than Foster whose big shot does not make up for deficiencies in the defensive zone.

The one player Zipay did mention would garner much interest from the Rangers and the rest of the NHL. However, Bryan McCabe’s health status is in question. The Florida rearguard underwent facial surgery in mid-January and was expected to be out four-to-six weeks. It is difficult to judge just how effective, or healthy, McCabe will be during the final weeks of the season.

The situation is further complicated because the Panthers are seven points out of the eighth spot and have two games in hand on Carolina. As a result, Florida might not be willing to move McCabe on the cheap.

One other name that appeared this morning was offered by Larry Brooks of the NY Post. Brooks offered up Ottawa’s Filip Kuba as a solution to the Rangers. While it has been five years since Kuba’s career season (81-15-22-37), he is no stranger to Tortorella who coached him in his two seasons in Tampa Bay.

The Rangers need to stay away from Kuba for two reasons. First off, he played just 53 games last year due to injuries and missed 16 games with a broken leg this season.

The injuries could be overlooked, but the fact that he has one more year left on his contract at $3.7 million makes acquiring him a non-issue, even if Ottawa dealt him at a reduced rate.

Sather’s best strategy at the trade deadline would be to look to make an “under-the-radar” type move. Last season, no one would have expected Brandon Prust would be the best part of the deal with the Calgary Flames.

Even trading Michal Rozsival for Wojtech Wolski qualifies because it reduced the Rangers salary cap hit and set the Rangers up to eliminate more salary, at a reasonable rate, if they decide to buy out Wolski at the end of the season.

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Give the New York Rangers credit. Unlike their loquacious NFL cousins and their ubiquitous head football coach, the Blueshirts strove to downplay their Thursday night matchup with the current kings of the NHL, the Vancouver Canucks.

To a man, the Rangers were quick to point out that Vancouver (14-0-3 in their last 17 games) was not a barometer or measuring stick game. It was a point that Coach John Tortorella hammered home while to talking to the media prior to the game.

“You know what? I’ve had 10 people ask me that. Is this a barometer game, a test game? I don’t look at it that way. We know they’re a really good team. We feel we’re a good team. We want to get back to winning a hockey game after losing the other night,” Rick Carpiniello reported in his Journal News Blog.

“We’re trying to be a better team tonight. We’re going to have to be. You have to respect them. They’re a very good club, but we’re going to play, and we’ll see what happens after 60 minutes.”

Interestingly enough, it was the second time that Tortorella would be wrong during the night.

Tortorella expressed his belief that the Rangers could not win a 1-0 game and that his team needed to find ways to score more goals against the Canucks.

The coach and his team were at the top of their game by practicing “PC sports talk” in trying to downplay whether or not the Canucks game was a barometer game.

When you are as inconsistent a franchise as the Rangers have been during the past decade or so, every game becomes a barometer game.

When you take on teams at the bottom of the standings you have to seize the opportunity afforded you and ice away the two points.

When you are facing teams that are at your own level in the standings, you have to take advantage of the chance to either put some distance on teams that are behind you or look to close the gaps on the teams that are just ahead of you.

When you step up in class and face the elite teams, you have to prove that you are prepared to do whatever it takes to show that not only can you play with the big boys – you can beat them as well.

It is that last idea that has been the calling card for the Rangers this season. Larry Brooks probably came up with the best description of the 2010/2011 Rangers in his NY Post game story on the Canucks game. Brooks referred to the Rangers as the “Black-and-Blueshirts”.

It is an obvious reference to black and blues and aches and pains and even broken bones the Rangers have sacrificed this season as they sacrifice their bodies in the name of blocking shots.

It is also a reference to the lunch pail attitude the Rangers have employed this season. You hear fans talk about the same thing – whether it is in online blogs or in conversations at the Garden. This edition of the Rangers is a fun team to watch.

A lot of the fans reaction has to do with the infusion of youth on the team and the addition of muckers like Brandon Prust who squeeze every last ounce of every shift.

While it is a risky proposition to continue to play one-goal games, these are some of the reasons why the Rangers do have the ability to win 1-0 games, especially when Henrik Lundqvist is at the top of his game.

Granted, there have been a couple of times when the “Black-and-Blueshirts” effort level was not there. Over an 82 game schedule it does happen. After all, how many of us can admit that they give 100% one-hundred percent of the time at work?

Unlike past seasons, thankfully, that has been the exception rather than the rule. Even when healthy, the Rangers do not have enough talent to win on talent alone. They realize that playing hard and doing the little things is just as important – and sometimes even more important – than having the most talent.

Tortorella summed up this attitude following the game.

“The thing I like about it is that everybody contributes in all the little things. I think that’s what’s helping us in those types of games, just the little things, the little battles. Like I said before, I think we’re a good team and more importantly, the players need to think we’re a good team and not worry about who we’re playing, or whether you think it’s stacked against you, and go play your game,” Carpiniello reported.

“We played harder tonight than the Montreal game. I don’t think we played bad (against) Montreal, but tonight was just a grittier effort. Especially after the first period, when I thought we turned it up. So it’s growing. It’s just growing as a team.”

As Ranger fans, it is always our habit to dwell on the doom and gloom when things are going bad and then put the cart before the horse when things are going good. In this case, there is light at the end of the tunnel and it might be leading to a nice run in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

If the hockey gods align the stars properly, the return of Ryan Callahan and the first appearance of Vinny Prospal will be what the doctor ordered in terms of reviving the Rangers sluggish offense.

In addition, the Rangers are positioned well to be buyers are the trade deadline. Incredibly, Glen Sather has seemed to find a way to move the Rangers away from salary cap hell – a task that Devils President/GM Lou Lamoriello has failed miserably at.

While it would be nice to add the playmaking and offensive abilities of a Brad Richards, the Rangers have to weigh the costs in terms of prospects and/or draft picks given up against the salary cap space the team would lose in having to re-sign Richards. With the likes of Callahan, Artem Anisimov, Brian Boyle, Brandon Dubinsky, Dale Weise, Matt Gilroy and Michael Sauer all set to become RFAs during the summer, Sather needs to keep his financial options.

The Rangers might be better off looking to fine tune certain parts of their team and look to make smaller deals more in step with the Wolski-Rozsival trade as opposed to swinging for the fences and looking to make a blockbuster deal.

With 27-year-old Steve Eminger (set to be UFA this summer) as the old man on the blue line, the Rangers could use a physical veteran presence on defense – especially one with an expiring contract.

While the Rangers have depth at center, the one thing they do lack is a faceoff specialist. While the Seven Million Dollar Man (aka Chris Drury) is supposed to be such a player, the remaining centers have left a lot to be desired when it comes to faceoffs.

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Last night’s Rangers-Sabres game served as a backdrop for a potential bit of history. No, it had nothing to do with the Rangers having a goal disallowed in three straight games. Rather, it has everything to do with the Blueshirts facing the possibility of entering a game without any healthy goaltenders.

When Henrik Lundqvist arrived at the Garden late Thursday afternoon, the flu bug that has been running through the Rangers hit The King hard so backup Martin Biron got the start on short notice. Disaster almost struck during warmups when eventual-hero Artem Anisimov hit Biron in the sternum – a shot that took Biron a few minutes to recover from.

With Chad Johnson not likely to make it to MSG prior to the start of the game, Lundqvist served as the “backup goaltender” but spent the night in the Rangers lockerroom.

Ranger fans know all about the exploits of Lester Patrick’s stint as an emergency backup during the team’s first Stanley Cup run. The 44-year-old “Silver Fox” had no other choice but to replace injured netminder Lorne Chabot during the second period of the Game 2 of the 1928 Stanley Cup Finals against the Montreal Maroons.

Back in the day, teams only dressed one goaltender but were permitted to use an available goaltender in the case of such an emergency. However, Maroons coach Eddie Gerard refused to let Patrick use Ottawa’s starting goalie Alex Connell. Gerard also nixed the use of minor leaguer Hugh McCormick.

That Patrick went between the pipes was not as crazy as it might seem. During Patrick’s playing days as a defenseman, it was common for goaltenders to serve their own penalties. While playing in the Pacific Coast Hockey Association, Patrick often filled in as the “goalie” whenever the starting goalie was in the penalty box.

As history reminds us, Patrick allows just one goal and the Blueshirts win in overtime. The NHL allowed the Rangers to use New York Americans goalie Joe Miller for the rest of the series. After losing Game 3, Miller won the next two games while allowing one goal as the Rangers won the Stanley Cup in only their second season in existence.

It was not until the 1950-51 season that the NHL changed their rules in respect to goaltenders. The league mandated that all home teams provide an emergency backup goaltender, with full equipment, to be used in case of illness or injury to the starting goalie.

The NHL did not make dressing two goaltenders mandatory until the 1965-66 season.

Despite this change, the Rangers nearly saw another GM/Coach don the pads for an NHL game almost 41 years after Patrick did.

On February 9, 1969, the metropolitan area was struck with a blizzard and the Rangers were set to play the Philadelphia Flyers that Sunday night. With no cancellation in sight – and uncertain that either Eddie Giacomin or Don Simmons would make it to the Garden – Emile Francis leaped into action.

The Cat, 43, went into his magic bag of tricks and pulled out an NHL contract with his name on it. Francis signed his $1 contract as he was ready to face his first NHL action since 1952 when he replaced an injured Chuck Rayner in goal. Francis had played since the 1959-60 season in the Western Hockey League.

Francis was denied the chance to be the hero when Simmons made it to the Garden and backstopped the Rangers to a 3-3 tie with the Flyers.

Prior to the 1981-82 season, the NHL adjusted their rules to allow a team to dress and play an eligible goalie that is available if both goaltenders are incapacitated.

During the last couple of years, NHL teams have had to rely on this rule change in order to dress a second goaltender.

In December 2008, the Washington Capitals had to sign their web site producer to be their emergency backup goaltender – as they received special permission from the NHL to dress three goaltenders.

Brett Leonhardt, who played four years of Division III hockey, signed an amateur contract with the Caps. The NHL version of Joe Hardy took the warmups with Washington and spent the first 10 minutes sitting on the bench as Brent Johnson’s backup. Leonhardt’s dream ended when Simeon Varlamov arrived in Washington after flying in from Texas – where his AHL Hershey team had played the night before.

The situation came up again this past March when the Edmonton Oilers went hunting for an emergency backup goaltender. The Oilers were set to start Jeff Deslauriers against Vancouver; however, Devan Dubnyk’s nasty bout with the flu kept him out of the lineup.

According to the Edmonton Journal, the Oilers had gone emergency goaltender hunting earlier in the year when Nikolai Khabibulin was hurt and Edmonton did not have enough time to bring anyone in from their AHL affiliate in Springfield.

The Oilers solved their problem by bringing in Torrie Jung – a goalie with the WHL Edmonton Oil Kings. However, the Oil Kings were not at home and a goalie from the University of Alberta was not an option because they were away as well.

In the end, the Oilers ended up signing third string University of Calgary goalie Nathan Deobald to an amateur tryout contract. Deobald was no stranger to filling in as an emergency goalie. The lone game he played with the University of Calgary came against the University of Alberta in a playoff game.

According to the University of Calgary’s web site, regular starter Dustin Butler was injured in Game 1 and backup Jeff Weber was ejected and suspended after Game 1.

Deobold started Game 2 and made 27 saves in a 3-1 loss.

Interestingly enough, Deobald’s stint with the Oilers was not his first taste of the NHL. He spent time with the Calgary Flames as a practice player during the Olympic break as Miikka Kiprusoff was off representing Finland.

Given Lundqvist’s dilemma last night, it does give one pause to wonder what the Rangers would do in an emergency basis. I suppose they could use Derek Boogaard in goal, but why waste his slapshot in goal .

I know that Rangers had used Chad Killam, a goalie with Division III Manhattanville, in the past as a practice goalie. I am not sure if he still fills in or not, but given how much money the Rangers are paying to bury Wade Redden in the AHL, if it would be worth “signing” a former collegiate goalie to serve as practice netminder/goaltender insurance. They could keep him around the team by finding him a job with Jerry Dineen and the video crew.

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From Rick Carpiniello’s Journal News Blog and confirmed via a FoxSportsOH Twitter report: the New York Rangers traded Dane Byers to Columbus for Chad Kolarik.

It appears that the Rangers have dealt away Byers’ toughness and grit in order to add the strong skating and speed that Kolarik features. It is too bad that Byers never really got a true shot at showing the Rangers what he could do at the NHL level.

Kolarik was originally a seventh round draft pick (#199) of the Phoenix Coyotes in the 2004 NHL Draft. Columbus acquired him in March 2010 in exchange for Alexandre Picard.

The 5-10/175 RW made his NHL debut last season plating two scoreless games for the Blue Jackets. In 76 AHL games last season (split between Syracuse and San Antonio), Kolarik scored 26 goals and 24 assists with 55 PIM. Conversely, Byers, who was Hartford’s captain, scored 25 goals and 26 assists in 74 games with the Wolf Pack.

Kolarik spent four years at the University of Michigan and was a member of the United States U-17, U-18 and World Junior teams prior to playing for the Wolverines. In 2007-2008, Kolarik was selected to the CCHA First All-Star Team and was named to the NCAA West Second All-American Team.

Here is Kolarik’s Scouting Report from TheStar.com:

ASSETS: Has loads of inner drive, a nose for the net and scoring acumen. Can play both wing and center.

FLAWS: Doesn’t have ideal size for the NHL game. Still needs more work on his defensive-zone coverage.

CAREER POTENTIAL: Depth scoring forward.

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Herb Brooks reminded his 1980 Olympians that “This team isn’t talented enough to win on talent alone.” It is a mantra the Rangers need to repeat to themselves over and over.

Even if Chris Drury, Marian Gaborik and Vinny Prospal were all healthy, the Rangers are still a flawed team that cannot win on talent alone – a statement that pretty much sums all but a handful of teams in the NHL.

The Blueshirts 6-4 loss served to tarnish their three-game winning streak because the Rangers failed to put in a complete effort. Never mind 60 minutes, they barely put in a period’s worth of play at the beginning and the end of the game.

While one loss does not a season end, the Rangers can ill afford to fall into the trap they fell into last night. After striking for an early goal – and unable to extend the lead – the team let their collective foot off the gas pedal and Atlanta blew past the Blueshirts much like Bryan Little did one the first Atlanta goal.

There is a reason why the New York Islanders always give the Rangers fits – much like they did in their Columbus Day matinee. Even with Kyle Okposo, Mark Streit, and John Tavares out of the lineup, the Isles managed to outwork the Rangers and come away with the win.

The Rangers inability to sustain the three-game winning streak momentum as a result of subpar play was not lost on Coach John Tortorella.
“We’re not good enough to let down,” Torts told Rick Carpiniello of the Journal News. “We’re not a good enough team, whether we’re healthy or not.”

“I think we know how we have to play, I really do. I think the past week or so, early in the year, it’s been a really good thing because it defined how we have to play,” the coach explained to Carpiniello. “We did not play consistently enough (tonight). That’s on us, and we have to find a way to do it better.”

Harsh words from the coach, but the most important thing is that the Rangers learn their lesson – especially during home games as the Rangers continue to struggle to win at home (1-2-1 to open the season).

As bad as the loss to the Thrashers was, it could have been a whole lot worse. Andrew Gross of NorthJersey.com reported that Artem Anisimov’s MRI “came up clean” and that the center should be ready to go against Carolina, according to Tortorella. The coach also said that Michael Rozsival’s hyperextended left knee should not keep out of the Hurricanes game.

However, one Ranger who might be out of the lineup is tough guy Derek Boogaard. Gross says that Boogaard has an infection in his hand as a result of a cut received during his scarp with Boston’s Shawn Thornton. According to Gross, the Rangers will recall Evgeny Grachev from Hartford as a precaution if the big guy is unable to play. Given that the Hurricanes do not dress an enforcer, it still might be worth the Rangers while to sit the Boogey Man.

Another favorite quote from Coach Brooks was “Great moments are born out of great opportunity.”

Perhaps, this is the opportunity for Grachev to jump start a season that has produced just a goal and an assist in nine games. What came easy for Grachev in the OHL is not coming easy at the professional level as he continues his struggles to find a consistency to his game.

While he might not have the best numbers among the Wolf Pack forwards, he does have the highest upside and this recall might just help Grachev, who is but 20-years-old, accelerate his development. The key will be to getting more than just a fourth-liner’s ice time.

With Boogaard possibly out of the lineup this weekend, it should give Tortorella his first real chance/excuse/opportunity to role four solid skating lines and provide that opportunity for Grachev to achieve his “great moment”.

Interestingly enough, it looks like Grachev could be reunited with Derek Stepan depending on how Torts arranges/rearranges his lines for the Carolina game.

Steve Zipay, in his Newsday blog, points out that Stepan and Grachev were effective as linemates during the prospects camp following the NHL Draft and hen again during the Traverse City Tournament. In five games in the September tournament, Stepan scored two goals and five assists while Grachev tallied four goals and an assist.

Unfortunately for Grachev, his progress slowed once Training Camp opened as Stepan’s stock continued to rise.

With Brian Boyle possibly staying as the third line center, the loser of the battle for second line center between Erik Christensen and Todd White could end up as the LW for Stepan and Grachev.

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Halloween is supposed to be a time when grown men look back fondly at the fun (and mischief) they had at a time when their only worry was making sure they reeled in an A-1 stash of candy and goodies. However, as a diehard Ranger fan (as if there is any other kind), my Halloween thoughts drift back to October 31, 1975, when as an 11-year-old I endured the horror of having my favorite player released and my second favorite player traded just days later.

The following article (updated to the present time) first appeared in “Blueshirt Bulletin” back in 2005 in (lack of a batter term) “celebration” of the beginning of the end of the Emile Francis Rangers.

It is definitely a scary Halloween tale for me!

________________________________________________________________________

Can it really be 35 years?

During an eight day stretch in 1975, General Manager Emile Francis ripped the heart out of his team and then ripped the heart out of every Ranger fan. Within those eight days, Eddie Giacomin was placed on waivers (and eventually claimed by the Detroit Red Wings) and then the hockey world was stunned as the Rangers dealt Jean Ratelle, Brad Park and Joe Zanussi to the hated Boston Bruins for Phil Esposito and Carol Vadnais.

The best way to describe it to younger Ranger fans is to ask them to remember back to March 4, 2004 and remember how it felt when Brian Leetch was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs. Now multiply that by three, and you come close to realizing the shock and despair Ranger fans felt when their worlds were rocked starting on that halloween night.

In reality, the Rangers’ house cleaning began three days prior when Francis traded veteran goaltender Gilles Villemure to Chicago for defenseman Doug Jarrett.

Two days later, Francis dealt Derek Sanderson to St. Louis in exchange for a 1977 first round draft pick. Little did Ranger fans know that there would be no treat from that trade as Francis’s replacement, John Ferguson, would use that draft pick to select Lucien DeBlois – as Fergy would pass on Mike Bossy for the first time. He did again later in the first rpound when he drafted Ron Duguay.

The beginning of the end for the legendary Rangers’ trio really began at the conclusion of the 1974-75 season. More specifically, it began with the Rangers first round playoff ouster at the hands of the New York Islanders. J.P. Parise’s goal just 11 seconds into overtime in the third and deciding game signaled the rise of the Islander Dynasty and spelled the end of a Rangers’ run that began during the 1964-65 season when “The Cat” assumed control of the Blueshirts.

Francis took over an organization that was in the midst of missing the playoffs for four consecutive seasons. Under Francis, the Rangers made the playoffs from 1967-68 through 1974-75 (a then record-tying nine straight seasons) – including a run to the Stanley Cup Finals in 1971-72 where they were stopped by Esposito’s Bruins.

Giacomin’s age (36) and subpar 1974-75 season (13-12-8-3.48 GAA) was a contributing factor to Francis’ acquisition of John Davidson during the summer. A combination of events – Eddie’s slow start (0-3-1-4.75), the Rangers slow start (3-5-1) and three straight embarrassing losses (9-1, 7-1 and 7-2) – gave Francis an unexpected opportunity to not only read his team the riot act, but at act upon it.

The bloodletting began when Francis played the cruelest of Halloween tricks by placing Giacomin on waivers. Detroit claimed him on Halloween Night. It was one thing to dismantle a team past its prime, but it was another to coldly waive the heart of the Rangers revival.

“Am I Shocked? That’s a calm word. I did everything I could to help this club for eleven years,” a bitter Giacomin related to Hugh Delano in the book Eddie: A Goalie’s Life. “I had one more year on my contract. I would have retired if they didn’t want me. Why wouldn’t they let me go out gracefully as a New York Ranger?”

Delano relays a prophetic quote from Ratelle via Walt MacPeek of the Newark Star-Ledger. MacPeek contacted Ratelle in Montreal to get his view on the “trade”. Ratelle thought MacPeek was referring to the Sanderson deal and was stunned to find out the news about Giacomin.

“Don’t fool me like that,” Ratelle replied to MacPeek. “It can’t be true. We knew Eddie was not on the team bus or the plane but we thought he was coming up the next day. I’m shocked they got rid of Eddie. It wasn’t his fault. Maybe I’m next to go.” Less than a week later, he was the next to go.

Giacomin and legions of Ranger fans got the last laugh when he played his first game as a Red Wing on November 2, 1975 – at Madison Square Garden against the Rangers. Even though he was wearing Red Wings jersey #31, Giacomin was still number 1 in the hearts of Ranger fans as the Garden once again rocked to chants of “Eddie!” Eddie!” The national anthem was drowned out and the start of the game delayed. In a fitting end, Giacomin and the Red Wings prevailed 6-4.

It was no surprise that the Garden crowd cheered the Red Wings and booed the Rangers. What did come as a surprise was the almost reverent treatment Giacomin received from his teammates. Wayne Dillon even apologized for scoring on his former teammate.

“I was glad to see Eddie get the tribute from the fans that he deserved,” Davidson said.

“He didn’t just beat us with his goaltending; he beat us with his very presence in the building,” Park related.

Five days later, Francis dropped the other shoe when he consummated the deal with the Bruins. While the Islanders had stunned their older brothers a few months previous, Ranger fans still pointed to the Big Bad Bruins as their most hated foes – with Esposito playing the part of Denis Potvin.

Ranger fans hated the thought of Esposito coming to the Rangers and the former Bruins’ superstar shared the repulsion. In an excerpt from The Hockey News’ “The Lighter Side of Hockey”, Glen Goodland relates the following story.

“One day early in 1975-76, after years of glory with Boston, Phil Esposito was called in to meet with infamous coach Don Cherry. Cherry reluctantly told Esposito he was being traded. ‘OK,” Esposito replied, “but if you say it’s to New York (Rangers), I’m going to jump out that window.’ Cherry’s reply? ‘Bobby,” he said, turning to an assistant, ‘open the window.’”

The outrage over the deal was not limited to those coming to New York. For very personal reasons, Park contemplated retirement.

“My first instinct was to refuse to go; to say, ‘To hell with it.’ That didn’t last long. I knew I had responsibilities as a professional and as a family man,” the former Ranger captain told Kevin Shea of LegendsofHockey.net. “For a player who had never been traded before, it was definitely an experience. The thing that bothered me most was uprooting my four-year-old son, who has cerebral palsy. He had just started going to a fine facility in New York and I worried about finding similar facilities in Boston. But I didn’t have to worry for long. Boston had a fine school. Once I got there, everything fell into place.”

Despite all of the deals, the end was near for Francis as well. He remained in control of the Rangers until January 6, 1976 when former Rangers tormentor and Montreal tough guy John Ferguson assumed control of the team.

Giacomin ended his Hall of Fame career after playing 70 more games with the Red Wings posting five shutouts among his 23 Detroit victories.

Park and Ratelle would help lead the Bruins to a pair of Stanley Cup Finals appearances in 1977 and 1978 – only to be the middle victims in the Montreal Canadiens four consecutive championship run.

After missing the playoffs for two years, Ferguson led the Blueshirts back to the playoffs in 1977-78 where they were defeated by the Buffalo Sabres two games to one. Following the defeat, Ferguson was shown the door and replaced by Fred Shero who promptly led the Rangers to the Stanley Cup Finals in his first season as GM/Coach – with Esposito and Vadnais playing prominent roles.

As for J.P. Parise, the man whose goal was the beginning of the end of an era, the Parise Curse is alive and well and continues to this day. President/GM Glen Sather passed on the chance to draft J.P.’s son Zach in the 2003 NHL Draft in order to select Hugh Jessiman – still the only player from that Draft to never play in an NHL game.

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Yes, Glen Sather and John Tortorella may be on the same page regarding the construction of the New York Rangers roster; however, It is too bad that they are not reading from the same book.

We heard rumblings about their differences of opinion regarding the Rangers roster back when Sather signed Derek Boogaard as a free agent. Tortorella expressed concerns over the Boogeyman’s conditioning back then – something that still is a concern given Boogaard’s lack of ice time despite the team’s willingness for retribution for the Maple Leafs roughing up Marion Gaborik last week.

The battle over the Rangers’ roster continued when it was decided the team would carry five right-handed shooting defensemen and send Ryan McDonagh and Pavel Valentenko to Hartford. As I wrote last week, I don’t think that is necessarily the worst thing to do if the righties have experience and are comfortable playing the left side.

No players are going to openly express any dissatisfaction with the situation, but the same cannot be said for the coach.

When asked about the situation of having to play Steve Eminger, Matt Gilroy or Michael Sauer on their off-side, John Tortorella told Andrew Gross of NorthJersey.com that, “I am not crazy about all of that.”

Of course, part of the reason for that decision came down to the fear the Rangers would lose a defenseman on waivers if he were sent to Hartford and the concern over possible salary cap hits if Gilroy and Eminger were subject to re-entry waivers.

The same situation existed over the next big roster decision – whether Tim Kennedy or Todd White would be sent to the Wolf Pack when Chris Drury was activated from the Injured List. As is the Rangers luck, the Blueshirts captain didn’t last a full game before getting hurt again.

Most fans were perplexed that the Rangers made the decision to send Kennedy ($550,000 cap hit) over White (about $2.4 million cap hit) – and almost as many were surprised to see Kennedy clear waivers.

At an eventual cap hit of just $275,000, it is highly unlikely that Kennedy would go unclaimed in re-entry waivers. While White’s re-entry cap hit would make him more likely to clear, the Rangers could not afford to run the risk the $1.2 million dead space on their salary cap.

With all of these factors considered, it appears that the Coach and GM were on different pages of two entirely different books in reference to this decision – a point that Torts was quick to distinguish.

“It’s really not my decision,” Tortorella told Gross. “I gave him (GM Glen Sather) my thoughts and this was the way we decided to go.”

Even if we sidestep the Kennedy-White debate for the time being, Slats and Torts are still not seeing eye-to-eye in reference to the Rangers roster.

Rick Carpiniello of the Journal News discussed the Rangers roster with Tortorella and the writer concluded that the coach is “not thrilled with his current roster”.

When asked about not having any spare forwards at his disposal, Tortorella told Carpiniello, “That’s not my call. I haven’t even talked to Glen about that. We’re going to have to re-assess it. We’ll re-assess it tomorrow and see where we go.”

Last season the Rangers carried only 21 players (one over the minimum) for the majority of the season in order to preserve cap space. This season is a different story as the Rangers had cap space at the start of the season and can gain even more by placing Drury, Gaborik and Vinny Prospal on Long-Term Injured Reserve.

The question that needs to be asked is why aren’t the Rangers giving Tortorella some help – especially with so much of the offensive production sidelined with injuries?

The answer might be found in who would be recalled from Hartford. As things stand now, the Rangers need to add some depth on the wing – especially depth of the offensive variety.

Putting Kennedy aside because of the re-entry dilemma, the most logical player to be recalled would have been Dale Weise – the forward who drew Tortorella’s intrigue at the end of last season. Unfortunately, the injury bug found him as well. According to Mitch Beck of the “Howlings” blog, Weise broke his left hand and surgery will keep him out until at least early December.

The Wolf Pack’s leading scorer is veteran AHL center Kris Newbury (eight points in six games, but the Rangers have enough third/fourth line centers on the roster.

Hartford captain Dane Byers would merit consideration (6-2-4-6), but it appears that the powers-that-be at MSG are not comfortable with him being more than a fourth line forward.

Veteran RW Jeremy Williams (6-3-2-5) scored 32 goals last season with Grand Rapids, but outside of 31 games with Toronto (9-2-11), he has spent the vast majority of his five professional seasons in the AHL.

Evgeny Grachev (6-1-1-2) is off to a slow start and the Rangers might not want to recall him until he shows that he can find consistency and dominate at the AHL level. However, it could be a case that Grachev needs the challenge of playing against NHL players in order for his game to progress.

That leaves everyone’s favorite Mats Zuccarello (6-2-0-2) as the most likely target for a recall. While he struggled at the start of the season, his play picked up once he was placed on a line with Kennedy. MZA gives the Rangers the top six forward type of offense they need and he adds some much-needed speed to the lineup.

The Rangers might be forced to make a move to add another forward because, according to Gross and Steve Zipay, Erik Christensen is not practicing with the team this morning in Toronto as his sore groin acts up. Of course, the Rangers could just dress seven defensemen and call it a day.

Of course, there is always the trade route. According to TSN, Ottawa GM Bryan Murray has been on the phones trying to swing a deal to shake up his struggling team – especially for some help on the blue line.

Murray told TSN, “I think that we have a couple of young guys on the blueline who have really struggled to play their game and I think that it has become contagious. I can’t say that one of our ‘D’ have played to where I thought they would be.”

Could they have an interest in an Eminger or Gilroy? Sauer might also be a target, but his cap hit is too low to even be close to a match with Ottawa’s forwards – five of whom are a $4.2 million cap hit or more and four of them have contracts that extend two (Daniel Alfredsson and Mike Fisher) or three (Milan Michalek and Jason Spezza) years. Of the remaining Senator forwards, only one comes close to providing a solution to the Rangers question.

The only forward who has an expiring contract is Alexei Kovalev and I am not so sure the third time is the charm in Alexei’s case.

ON THE FLY

Martin Biron was expected to debut his new mask in his first Rangers start last night in Toronto. However, he wore his “regular mask”. The new mask is an homage to Gilles Gratton’s tiger mask with the Rangers 85th anniversary logo on the size. Here is a sneak page at Biron’s new mask .

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As the New York Rangers prepare for the home opener against Colton Orr and his Toronto Maple Leafs, today’s Ranger Ramblings subject comes from a question posed by a reader of Andrew Gross’s NorthJersey.com Ranger Rants blog.

A fan named “Rogan” basically asked if a left-handed shot (i.e. a lefty) has to play left defense and if a right-handed shot (i.e. a righty) has to play right defense and are they mutually exclusive?

It is an interesting question given that the Rangers are in an unusual position of having five of seven defensemen who are right-handed shots. While I do not have any figures on hand, I would say it is safe to guess that there are more left-handed shooting defenseman than right-handed shooting defensemen.

It is common to see a lefty playing the right side – a lot more common than the situation the Rangers find themselves in. As far as I see it, I don’t think it is all that much of a big deal. Gun to my head, the only time I can see it being a major problem is keeping the puck in at the point. A righty playing the left point would have to go to his backhand in order to keep the puck in along the boards and vice-versa for a lefty on the right side.

In the long run, it comes down to experience and comfort level. While I never played defense in ice hockey, I played a lot of it during street hockey and, more often than not, played on the right side a lot. I always felt that I was better able to defend cross ice passes when I was on the right side as opposed to the left. Whether that was true or not really didn’t matter. What did matter was that I was comfortable enough playing the right side as a lefty – and I had a lot of experience doing it.

There is the rub in the Rangers scenario. Steve Eminger, Matt Gilroy and Michael Sauer are all right-handed shots who have played the large (if not vast) majority of their careers on the right side. Shifting over to the left side is problematic for them because they have not done it much, I would guess, outside of shifts on the power play.

The question to ask is why didn’t the Rangers just keep another left-handed shooting defenseman? Ryan McDonagh and Pavel Valentenko both had solid training camps, but were sent to Hartford in the end. Unfortunately, NHL teams (and MLB teams) both have an added level of decision-making when it comes to building a roster.

All teams have to factor in salary cap constraints and contract issues, but hockey teams and baseball teams also have the additional burden of managing player moves within a system that includes optioning players to the minors.

While McDonagh and Valentenko would solve the problem of the lack of left-handed blueliners, they did solve another problem – one that might be more glaring than carrying too many righty d-men.

Eminger, Gilroy and Sauer all would have to clear waivers in order to be assigned to Hartford. Given Sauer’s low cap hit ($500,000), it is doubtful he would clear waivers. Eminger’s ($1.125 million) and Gilroy’s ($1.75 million) cap hits make them possibilities to clear waivers, both of them are subject to clearing re-entry waivers to return to the Rangers and odds are one or both would be claimed with the Rangers having to take half the cap hit.

Odds are this situation will not be rectified until Glen Sather makes a deal. It may come down to the Rangers claiming Sheldon Souray on re-entry waivers from Edmonton (a prospect that we all know Slats is probably salivating at) or trading off one of the right-handed shooters for a left-handed shooting d-man.

As things stand now, the Rangers have about $1.6 million in cap space. That does give them enough cap room to bring up McDonagh ($1.3 million) or Valentenko ($875,000) while moving Sauer. However, they would be cutting tings close cap-wise if they are not willing to “Redden” Todd White to Hartford.

If I were a betting man, we will see a lot of Eminger and Gilroy in the next couple of games as Sather tries to showcase one of his right-handed shooting defenders in an attempt to add a left-handed shooting defenseman who has some experience.

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The late great UCLA basketball coach John Wooden always preached avoiding the peaks and valleys to his teams. The Wizard of Westwood was cautioning his teams about getting too high after wins and too low after losses. It is a belief that the New York Rangers must heed if they are to avoid missing the playoffs for the second consecutive season.

Streaking was not just a fad in the 1970s, it was the story of the Rangers 2009/2010 season.

The Blueshirts bookended their 7-1-0 start and a frantic 7-2-1 finish with an extremely disappointing 24-31-9 record.

Let’s face it, the only consistent thing about the Rangers is their inconsistency. That would be fine if last season were just an aberration, but that is not the case. Inconsistency has been the Rangers calling card during the Glen Sather Era.

Fortunately, the Rangers biggest star recognizes the need the change that calling card.

“It’s about consistency,” Henrik Lundqvist told Larry Brooks of the NY Post. “Beginning with myself, we have to be consistent right from the start of the season and be a very tough team to play against every night.

“That’s the hardest part of playing in this league, being good every night. That’s as a team and personally. Anyone can have good games once in a while, but to be at the top of your game every night, that’s what separates teams and that’s what separates individuals.

The Jekyll and Hyde nature of the Rangers reared its ugly head when looking at their home and away records. Madison Square Garden, once a feared place for an opponent, was not that fierce for opponents as the Rangers posted an 18-17-6 record at home – only Edmonton (40 points), Florida (41) and St. Louis (41) had less home points. Boston and Toronto had the same home record as the Rangers.

The road was a different story as the Rangers 20-16-5 road record was better than six playoff teams (Buffalo, Colorado, Montreal, Philadelphia, Ottawa, and Vancouver) and tied with a seventh (New Jersey).

The need to be better at home and more consistent throughout the season isnot lost on the Blueshirts captain.

“We’ve got to be better at home, especially our starts. Must’ve been 7, 8, 9, 10 games we’re down a goal in the first three or four minutes. We’ve got to figure that out,” Chris Drury explained to Steve Zipay of Newsday.

“You can’t do that in this league, the way teams play….We had the good start last year and the last 15 games, but we need to play that way consistently…. I don’t want to speak for everybody, but the summer was too long, especially the way we missed the playoffs.”

So Lundqvist and Drury both addressed the need for the team to be more consistent. So how do they do it?

Once again, the Rangers need to turn to Coach Wooden for an insight on accomplishing that goal. Wooden believed that it was doing the little things that made the big things happen.

On the surface, Wooden’s belief sounds like a rather simple solution. Sometimes, as American author Richard Bach wrote, “The simple things are often the truest.”

The Rangers did not have the salary cap space to bring in the number one center they needed, nor did they have the cap space to bring in a big-time number two scorer to take some of the pressure off of Marian Gaborik. Instead, the team had to make smaller moves designed to fit the big picture.

Perhaps the most important move was the signing of Martin Biron who gives the Rangers a true number one type of goaltender to backup Lundqvist. Not only will The King not have to appear in 70+ games (as he has in the last four seasons), but they have a solid backup who can steal points for them.

The ironic thing is Biron will have to wait a bit before he sees his first Rangers start because the Blueshirts play only five games in the season’s first two weeks.

While Alexander Frolov is not a sniper on the level of Gaborik, he is someone who has scored 30 or more goals twice and hit the 20+ mark in five of his seven NHL seasons.

The one thing the Rangers have going for them is that for the first time in a long time they have quality depth at forward. While Todd White is expected to off the roster once Drury is healthy, Tim Kennedy provides two-way depth and will be joined by the forward who eventually loses his spot in the lineup when Drury is healthy.

The news is even better in Hartford as the Rangers have NHL-ready depth in AHL prospects like Mats Zuccarello, Dale Weise, and Dane Byers.

The NHL-ready depth also extends to the blue line with Ryan McDonagh and Pavel Valentenko being joined by Tomas Kundratek and Jyri Niemi.

Some fans have been urging the Rangers to further push the prospect envelope by incorporating more youngsters into the lineup. That might not be the best pal in all cases, as Rory Boylen of NHL.com pointed out in a recent online column.

“If you look back at teams that anyone with a hockey brain would consider successful – and I’m thinking a team like Detroit – you’d know you have to develop guys,” an NHL scout told Boylen. “That’s how good organizations are built.”

Perhaps the biggest addition is the subtraction of Wade Redden and his $6.5 million salary anchor. By assigning Redden to the AHL, the Rangers were able to re-sign Marc Staal, and to a lesser extent, keep Daniel Girardi.

In all honesty, I believe that Redden and Michal Rozsival were victims of their contracts. There was no way either one of them were going to live up to high-rent district they were living in. They are being paid as top pair defensemen when they are really second and third pair blueliners. I believe the animosity directed at them would have been lessened if their contracts were cut in half.

Redden’s demotion, believe it or not, does leave a hole on defense. As things stand now, the Rangers will be playing on of their right-handed shooting defensemen out of position. Of course, this might be a moot point if Edmonton tries to recall Sheldon Souray because we all know that Sather will not be able to resist himself.
Sadly, the rangers will have room for him if they move out White and Steve Eminger. Frankly, Sather needs to be treated like a youngster in this case. If he wants a shiny new toy (i.e. Souray) then he needs to get rid of one of his old toys (i.e. Rozsival).

Any way you look it, the Rangers biggest need at the start of the season is to find a veteran defenseman (preferably a left-handed shot) to anchor the third defensive pairing. If the Ranger can clear salary space, keep an eye on Bryan Allen from Florida. He is a 30-year-old physical defensive defenseman who is a $2.9 million cap hit over the next two years (which is a big drawback).

Looking ahead and trying to predict where the Rangers will finish the season is like looking for the proverbial needle among a stack of needles. However, there are some positive signs that point to a Rangers return to the playoffs.

So where do I say the Rangers will finish? After much thinking, and weighing all of the factors, I can say without a doubt that the Rangers finish the season at Madison Square Garden with an afternoon game against the New Jersey Devils on April 9 :-)

Seriously, unlike other media like Sports Illustrated (12th in the Eastern Conference) and The Hockey News (13th), I do see the Rangers making the playoffs and they might be able to do so without another frantic fight until the final game of the season. Put me down for sixth in the Eastern Conference and a first round showdown with the Northeast Division champion Boston Bruins.

While I am in prediction mode, I see Derek Stepan’s season going in one of two directions. He is either going to end up the first line center for Frolov and Gaborik or he will end up being sent to Hartford to further his development. While he has played well between Sean Avery and Ruslan Fedotenko, his development might be helped by playing top-six minutes in Hartford as opposed to third line duty with the Rangers.

The one thing to remember is that Matt Gilroy hit the wall as he attempted to make the step from collegiate hockey to the NHL.

The other prediction might be the boldest one a Rangers fan can make – even bolder than saying the Rangers will win the Stanley Cup – Derek Boogaard will end his goal-less streak at some point this season! His pre-season goal against Ottawa on October 1 will provide the impetus he needs to get off the goal scoring schneid.
Boogaard has not scored a regular season or playoff goal since January 7, 2006 when he scored the first goal in the Wild’s 4-1 victory over Anaheim and goalie Ilya Bryzgalov.

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The battle for the final roster spots on the 2010/2011 version of the New York Rangers appears to be going down to the wire. After saying that he would make cuts after Wednesday night’s game against Detroit, Coach John Tortorella has pushed off the final decision until at least after the pre-season concludes with the Blueshirts home-and-home series with the Ottawa Senators.

This delay in making the final cuts is a good thing because it means that the Rangers have a lot of depth to sift through. Unfortunately for them, a lot of that depth is of the third and fourth line variety.

On the plus side, the play of a couple of prospects has made training camp an interesting place to be. Derek Stepan’s outstanding performance at the Traverse City Tournament has continued in Rangers training camp and might make him the favorite to win the Lars-Erik Sjoberg Award as best rookie in camp.

Stepan’s play has been matched by a pair of defensemen – Wisconsin teammate Ryan McDonagh and Pavel Valentenko.

In sorting out the final cuts, Todd White’s chances are tenuous at best given his $2.375 million cap hit. White already served his purpose as his acquisition allowed the Rangers to clear Donald Brashear and Pat Rissmiller from the cap.

If what has been written in the newspapers is true, then Tortorella is giving serious consideration to carrying the maximum 23 players on the roster. if that were the case, and White is traded/waived/reassigned, then the Rangers would have to cut only one more forward assuming Chris Drury is not placed on IR to start the season.

On defense, the Rangers are still carrying nine defensemen and are expected to to drop two blueliners. Things are a bit tougher when it comes to making these cuts. Michael Sauer has to clear waivers in order to be assigned to Hartford – and given his steady play in training camp and $500,000 salary – he is not too likely to clear waivers.

Steve Eminger (he of the five NHL teams in the last four years) and his $1.125 salary do not make him a solid candidate to be the seventh defenseman and his limited playing time due to a groin injury is jeopardizing his chances at making the team.

It seems to me that two of the Rangers cuts are going to come down to a pair of players who can be assigned to the minors without clearing waivers – Derek Stepan and Ryan McDonagh. Both players deserve to stick with the Rangers, but one has to wonder if the team has concerns about them hitting the wall the same way Matt Gilroy did last year when he tried to jump from college directly to the NHL.

Worst things could happen than sending Stepan and McDonagh to the minors. The two former Badgers along with Mats Zuccarello would give the Rangers bonafide NHL depth in Hartford that is just a phone call away.

If we accept that Eminger and White are off the Rangers roster and Stepan and McDonagh are sent to Hartford then the Rangers 23-man roster is set. The next chore is deciding what the forward lines and defensive pairings are.

An interesting development is one reported by Andrew Gross on his NorthJersey.com blog. He wrote that Vinny Prospal will make his training camp debut Friday night as the center for Alexander Frolov and Marian Gaborik.

If the Rangers are going use Prospal as the number one center (and it is a big if given the problems he has with his knee), then the Rangers lines start to take shape and might look something like this – with the fourth line tailored to match the opponent:

Frolov-Prospal-Gaborik
Dubinsky-Anisimov-Callahan
Avery-Drury-Fedotenko
Pick 3: Boogaard/Kennedy/Boyle/Christensen/Prust

I wrote these lines out on Thursday and as I checked the Internet on Friday, the first three lines for the Ottawa game are spot on except that Stepan is playing in place of Drury. As an FYI, the fourth line on Friday night is Boogaard, Boyle and Prust.

The defensive pairings come into focus a little more easily if you subtract Eminger and reassign McDonagh:

Staal-Girardi
Del Zotto-Rozsival
Valentenko-Gilroy
Sauer

Ordinarily, I do not like have a prospect sit as an extra forward or defenseman. However, in Sauer’s case I am willing to make an exception for two reasons. First off, I do not want to expose Sauer to waivers in order to send him to Hartford and the second reason is that I don’t think Eminger is worth the cap hit as the seventh defenseman. Truth be told, I would be much happier with a Jason Strudwick type as the seventh blueliner – someone who can sit for games at a time and them slip into the lineup and produce.

The one place where there is no question is in goal with The King set to make 60-65 starts and Martin Biron ready to step in when Henrik Lundqvist needs a rest. There should be no reason for Lundqvist to have to play on back-to-back nights. The result should be a more rested and sharper King at the end of the season and into the playoffs.

I had another thought as to how to help ease the Rangers cap problems as early as next season.

Does a Rozy for Ed Jovanovski trade make sense? The cap hit for Jovanovski is more than Rozsival’s this season, but Jovo Cop comes off the books this year – even though it adds an additional $1.1 million to the Rangers cap hit. I read that Phoenix might be a spot for Mike Sauer (which would unite him with his brother Kurt).
The question is why would Phoenix make the deal? There is some madness to a potential deal between the Rangers and Coyotes. There are still some players in the Rangers organization that Don Maloney has a connection to. Depending on their standing within the Rangers, a couple of those prospects could sweeten the deal.

Remember, the Coyotes ownership situation in still up in the air, so if they get a chance to save some money all deals could still be on the table.

While Rozy’s cap hit is $5 million, nhlnumbers.com lists his salary as $4 mil this year and $3 mil next year – pretty reasonable numbers – especially if the Rangers send some Cablevision cash to Phoenix.

Is the deal truly possible – probably not. However, stranger things have happened. Who would have thought Glen Sather would not only be able to move Scott Gomez, but get two valuable assets on defense (McDonagh and Valentenko).

The only positive aspect to having Sather around as the GM is that he has built up a lot of cache in the NHL and he has the ability to cash in some of the IOUs he has accumulated through the years.

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