2011/2012 Season


After perusing the Internet to measure the pulse of Ranger fans following the Rangers losses to the Devils and Senators, I find myself in the same position that Kevin Bacon’s character did at the end of Animal House when the town of Faber is in riot-mode following the zany antics of those Delta Tau Chi rapscallions.

The funny thing is that anyone who knows me knows that I am probably the last person you would expect to be extolling a stance of “Remain calm, all is well!”

Even with the Blueshirts in the midst of a two-game losing streak (and three of their last four) there is still time to take a step back, pause, and realize it is not time to go into panic mode – even the losing streak continues with a loss in Chicago to the Blackhawks.

On the plus side, the Rangers have been nothing but reliable when it comes to the back-to-back games – as pointed out by Brett Cyrgalis in today’s NY Post.

“With Friday night’s game in Chicago, the Rangers will complete their 12th of 14 back-to-backs this season. Thursday night’s loss took their season record in the first game to 8-1-3 (3-0-0 at home, 5-1-3 on the road),” Cyrgalis points out. “In the second game, they are 8-1-2 (6-0-0 at home, 2-1-2 on the road). Since 2009-10, the team is 29-9-4 in the second game of back-to-backs, with a 15-3-1 mark at the Garden and 14-6-3 on the road over that span.”

Just as important to the Rangers and their fans is that the Chicago game kicks off the final stretch of the season that will see the Blueshirts play 10 of their final 15 games at home, including a seven-game homestand that begins Sunday night against the Islanders.

While the Rangers will be playing every other day, they don’t have to worry about travel and can probably get in a couple of really good practices – something the team needs in order to counter the ills that Coach John Tortorella has noticed of late.

“I think we are beating ourselves sometimes in the game and finding ways to lose,” Coach Tortorella said following the Ottawa loss. “We are just going to keep working at our game and trying to chip out the mistakes.”

There is an obvious physical fatigue that is affecting the Rangers play when you factor in the injured players (like Brandon Dubinsky and Michael Sauer) and the hurt players (too numerous to mention). In that respect, the Blueshirts are no different than any other team in the NHL at this point in the season.

In addition to the physical fatigue, it seems that the Rangers are going through a mental fatigue as well. The Rangers European Vacation and North American Tour to start the season made a long season even longer. Then when you consider that almost every win has been a life-and-death struggle, it becomes clear that the Rangers are a fatigued team.

It all points back to Tortorella’s idea that the Rangers are beating themselves and finding ways to lose. The plays that they were making earlier in the season have morphed into turnovers. The bullets that they were dodging because Henrik Lundqvist and Martin Biron were erasing mistakes are now turning into deflection and screened goals.

Of course, all of these bumps in the road are magnified by the Rangers inconsistent offense which is keyed by their moribund power play that is 29th in the NHL (just ahead of the Coyotes).

How bad has the power play gotten? Instead of concentrating on scoring goals it is if the Rangers are practicing “Primum non nocere” – “First, do no harm”. In other words, as long as the Rangers don’t give up a shorthanded goal it can be considered a good power play opportunity. A successful power play would be one where the momentum doesn’t shift to the opponent.

I have said it before and will continue to say it, the Rangers power play needs more movement of the puck and, more importantly, of the players. When the Rangers move themselves and the puck you get games like the one they had ion Philadelphia on February 11 when three power play goals powered the Blueshirts to a 5-2 victory.

In the end, the only way the Rangers are going to “right the ship” is by playing the way they have up until this point of the season. They have to outwork their opponents shift-by-shift. The Rangers are not a talented enough team to win on talent alone.

Marian Gaborik might have summed it best while speaking to Andrew Gross of The Record, “We just have to play better and support each other more in the neutral zone and play straight ahead. We have to play together as five.”

As nice as it would to have the best record in hockey – and thus have home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs – it is more important that the Rangers get back to playing Rangers hockey. They are already used to playing tight checking playoff hockey. Now they have to get back to being that team again.

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It looks like the Jeff Carter to the Los Angeles Kings deal might have produced a new, and surprising, face on the trading block. The talk is that the Kings are looking to move Dustin Brown. The Kings captain has two more years left on a contract worth $3.2 million. TSN’s Bob McKenzie’s opinion is LA likes him as a player, but not as their captain. While Brown is a RW, Coach Daryl Sutter has been playing the slumping Brown on LW of late.

Brown isn’t a big-time goal scorer like Rick Nash, but he is a solid two-way player who plays on the PP and PK and would fit like a glove into Coach John Tortorella’s system. I am not sure if Brandon Dubinsky is the right price in terms of what the Rangers should give up and in terms of what the Kings are looking for in return.

TSN’s Darren Dreger tweeted that the Kings would be looking for young defenseman and a secondary scorer. While Dubinsky fits the secondary scorer tag, I don’t know if the Kings want a prospect like a Tim Erixon or Dylan McIlrath.

McKenzie tweeted that the following teams might be in on Brown: “BOS, BUF, EDM, NJD, NYR, PHI, TOR, VAN are amongst teams with high levels of interest in Brown.”

ESPN’s Pierre LeBrunn mentioned the Rangers, Boston, Philadelphia, and Toronto as strong suitors for Brown. LeBrun writes that while the Kings really like Luke Schenn, that might be a non-starter for Leafs GM Brian Burke – despite Burke a big Brown advocate.

It is hard to see the Devils involved on Brown because there is talk they can’t fit Marek Zidlicky in their payroll structure so I am not sure if Brown would fit unless an equal salary went west. Besides, it appears that the Devils are more interested in adding a defenseman.

The question we need to consider is how does the Carter deal play into Rick Nash’s situation. Columbus cleared about $4.7 million in cap space by trading away Carter and Antoine Vermette and adding in Jack Johnson’s salary.

Columbus might not be done dealing, outside of any Nash movement, with rumors swirling that they might move Sammy Pahlsson (expiring $2.7 million) and R.J. Umberger ($3.8 million for next six years). If that is the case, there may not be an urgent need to subtract Nash’s $7.8 million.

Aaron Portzline of The Columbus Dispatch tweeted this morning that Montreal and Tampa Bay have inquired about Derick Brassard ($3.2 million).

However, if you are Nash do you really want to stay in Columbus as GM Scott Howson continues rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic? The Blue Jackets captain could force Howson’s hand by demanding a trade and limit Columbus’ ability to trade by invoking his no trade clause.

The most interesting point to note is that while Columbus is dumping salaries, they are doing among their forwards while running a nice tab among their defensemen. The Blue Jackets have approximately $15.7 million committed to their top four blueliners: James Wisniewski ($5.5 million), Johnson ($4.4 million), Marc Methot ($3.0 million), and Fedor Tyutin ($2.8 million).

In one way the Carter trade plays into the Rangers hands because President/GM Glen Sather can avoid dealing Chris Kreider by offering multiple forward prospects (Dubinsky, Christian Thomas, Michael St. Croix or even J.T. Miller) to Columbus make up for the loss of Carter, Vermette and possibly Nash.

On the down side for the Rangers, the Blue Jackets still need to bring in a goaltender to replace or, at the very least, push Steve Mason to pick up his game. With the Kings and Jonathan Bernier out, does Vancouver with Cory Schneider look to step in or does San Jose step up with one of their goaltending prospects and then decide to bite the bullet and move Logan Couture in a potential trade?

One player I omitted in my Rangers trade deadline preview was Buffalo Sabres center Paul Gaustad. The 6-foot-5 and 212-pound Gaustad will be an UFA at the end of the year and carries a $2.3 million cap hit.

While he is not going to solve the Rangers scoring problems (scored 12 goals in each of three previous seasons), he is a solid defensive player who does use his size and has the ability to play wing or center. However, Gaustad’s biggest calling card is his faceoff ability. He is winning 56.2% of his faceoffs this year and is coming a career-best of 59.8% last season.

As far as defensemen go, the two names I have seen mentioned are Chris Campoli and Shane O’Brien who are on opposite ends of the defenseman spectrum. While both have expiring contracts, Campoli ($1.75 million cap hit) is a mobile d-man who is not strong physically or defensively while O’Brien ($1.1 million) is a physical defensive d-man who is not a strong skater with little offensive game.

There are three other defensemen who should be available and offer up expiring contracts and might draw some interest from the Rangers.

Jordan Leopold ($3.0 million) is not a physical player, but he is a strong skater and has an offensive upside. Brett Clark ($1.5 million) is a mobile defenseman but not as offensive as Leopold. While Clark will block shots, he is not a physical player.

The one defenseman who does intrigue me is Carolina’s Bryan Allen ($2.9 million). While the 31-year-old often has battled the injury bug, he would bring much-needed size to the table for the Rangers. The 6-foot-5 and 226-pound Allen has no offensive game at all, but he is a decent skater for his size and has the ability to be a shutdown defenseman.

We might know sooner rather than later the direction the Rangers are choosing. This morning Dreger tweeted that the Maple Leafs are pushing the Blue Jackets to make a decision as early possible – with Saturday being a potential deadline. Dreger also wrote that the Rangers are taking the same stance.

It seems that both teams want to know the deal with Plan N (Nash) before deciding if they have to switch to Plan B (Brown).

Whichever way Sather decides to go, it will not surprise me to see him make a small deal or two to help the Connecticut Whale in their playoff push. Thise type of deals might not seem like much, but it was deals like that which netted the Rangers valuable parts like Stu Bickel and John Mitchell.

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As the Rangers approach the February 27, 2012 NHL Trade Deadline (3pm EST) they must consider a couple of factors when determining their course of action.

Obviously, the conversation begins with the current salary cap situation, as well as future salary caps once the new CBA is completed. The NHL will be heading into unchartered territory that might not provide for amnesty buyouts like the previous lockout (See: Bobby Holik) and the new CBA might not be so forgiving in terms of burying salaries (and thus creating cap space) in the AHL (See: Wade Redden).

While the conversation begins with salary cap concerns, it does not end there. The Rangers are in a Catch-22 situation of deciding whether to go all-in and make a blockbuster move to acquire Rick Nash or do they stay the course and look to make a couple of smaller moves to supplement the Eastern Conference’s top team.

The biggest factor in this discussion revolves around which prospects, if any, the team would be willing to trade. After much trial and error, president/GM Glen Sather has resisted the urge to mortgage the future for short term gains.

Granted, acquiring Nash would be more than just a short term gain given that the Blue Jackets captain will not turn 28 until right around the time the Stanley Cup is awarded. However, the $7.8 million cap hit that Nash carries through the end of the 2014/2015 season does factor into the Blueshirts future.

Ryan McDonagh is a RFA at the end of the 2012/2013 season and Ryan Callahan, Marian Gaborik, Daniel Girardi and Henrik Lundqvist are UFA the following season with Marc Staal’s contract up following the 2014/2015 season.

Even if the Rangers are willing to cross the salary cap Rubicon at a later date, the question becomes what do the Rangers give up for a player the caliber of Nash.

In almost all of the stories being written, Brandon Dubinsky’s name is often mentioned. While Dubi is a nice two-way player, Nash would be a major upgrade. Is Nash enough of an upgrade for the Blueshirts to include their 2012 first round draft pick? Given the depth of the Rangers organization and that the pick could be at the bottom of the first round, trading away a first rounder short not be a problem.

The biggest problem becomes do you include Chris Kreider in the deal. That is where Sather needs to draw the line. Kreider has the potential eventually to give you close to what Nash does and at a fraction of the cost.

If Columbus GM Scott Howson is going to blow up his franchise then he needs to swing for the fences and I do not believe the Rangers should play that game. If you could make the deal for Dubinsky, a first round draft pick and let’s say a J.T. Miller, then I would have to think long and hard about it.

For Howson, the problem with trading Nash at this point in the season is that a trade partner has to have salary cap space available or can easily create cap space. These types are trades are easier to make in the off-season when teams have expiring contracts, a mindset of shuffling the deckchairs on the Titanic, and the cushion that allows teams to exceed the cap by 10%.

In addition, I value Dylan McIlrath almost as much as Kreider. While the Blueshirts defense corps is deep and talented, it lacks the physical presence and size that McIlrath brings.

Even if we push aside the salary cap quandary and the players/prospects decision, there is still one final factor to consider. Do the Rangers want to make a major move that would disturb team chemistry? Of all the trade factors to consider, this one might be the biggest and most difficult to judge.

Coach John Tortorella has built the Rangers along the idea of a true team concept with no one player more important than the other – except in the case of Henrik Lundqvist for obvious reasons.

On February 11, Daily News write Pat Leonard wrote, “GM Glen Sather is not expected to break the bank since the Rangers appear built for long-term success with a solid core, great goaltending and youth. This also is a tight locker room, so a trade that risks the team’s chemistry probably isn’t worth it to management.”

Leonard’s point is a valid one and it is one made by many Ranger fans. However, would a trade, or even two, really disrupt chemistry all that much?

In 1994, GM Neil Smith made the following five trades on deadline day.

• Phil Bourque traded from NY Rangers to Ottawa for future considerations.
• Peter Andersson traded from NY Rangers to Florida for future considerations.
• Tony Amonte and the rights to Matt Oates traded from NY Rangers to Chicago for Stephane Matteau and Brian Noonan.
• Mike Gartner traded from NY Rangers to Toronto for Glenn Anderson, the rights to Scott Malone and Toronto’s fourth-round pick in 1994 Entry Draft.
• Craig MacTavish traded from Edmonton to NY Rangers for Todd Marchant.

While the first deals were more housekeeping than anything else, the remaining three trades involved significant players coming and going and represented a big gamble and restructuring of a team that was a major Stanley Cup contender – without seeming to do any harm to that team’s chemistry.

Would the Rangers have won the Cup without making those trades? We will never know, but the one thing we are certain of is that Smith’s gamble paid off in 1994.

Of course, the current team is very different from the 1993/1994 team. The Cup team was led by Mark Messier and contained enough veteran leadership to overcome any chemistry issues. This team is a lot younger and more inexperienced when it comes to the Stanley Cup playoff wars.

The Rangers have already gone down the rent-a-Cup path in 1994 with Smith gambling and dealing away younger talent for veteran/battle-tested players. The Rangers won the battle (i.e. the Stanley Cup), but it can also be said that they lost the war because of the infusion of young talent that was dealt.

The one thing to recognize is that Smith brought in role players to supplement his star players where Sather would be bringing in a star player, to more or less, supplement his role players.

Some have suggested passing on Nash completely with the hopes of signing UFA Zach Parise during the summer. I have heard this idea many times – skip on getting Player A via a trade or free agency because Player B will be a free agent next year. Inevitably, Player B doesn’t become a free agent. While this strategy would alleviate some of the concerns of the new CBA, it is a risky strategy because what happens if Parise is not on the market.

Of course being a cynical Ranger fan (yes, I know that is redundant), what happens if you do sign Parise? The Rangers have not had the greatest track when it comes to signing former New Jersey Devils (See: Bruce Driver, Bobby Holik and Scott Gomez).

In the end, I believe the only way the Rangers should bring Rick Nash aboard is if Scott Howson makes Glen Sather an offer he can’t refuse – and any offer that includes Chris Kreider and Dylan McIlrath can be refused.

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The current and, more importantly, future salary cap implications should dictate how the Rangers proceed as they approach the February 27, 2012 NHL trade deadline.

According to CapGeek.com , as of February 21, 2012, the Rangers have about $6.0 million in cap space. However, Cap Geek points out that if the Rangers were to wait until February 27, then their cap space rises to about $6.9 million.

Here is how Cap Geek explains their calculations:
… if a team is listed with $10 million today and $25 million at the deadline, it could acquire Alexander Ovechkin’s $9.538-million cap hit today and not much more. But if it waited until the trade deadline, it could acquire Ovechkin, as well as Alexandre Semin ($6.7 million cap hit), Nicklas Backstrom ($6.7 million) and Mike Knuble ($2 million), because the sum of those annualized cap hits ($24.938 million) is less than $25 million.

Unless Columbus GM Scott Howson presents Rick Nash to the Blueshirts on a silver platter, the Rangers best course of action is to look to add players who have expiring contracts. Not only do they bypass any future salary cap implications, the cost for rental players could be less than the cost for someone like Nash.

The 2011/2012 Rangers are a different animal than the 1993/94 Blueshirts. The 1994 Rangers were, hands down, the best team in the NHL at the deadline while the 2012 team is not – no matter what the standings might say.

Even if you wanted to argue that point, there is one thing that can’t be argued. In 1994, Smith did not have to contend with a salary cap – something that Sather must be concerned with in 2012 and beyond.

The problem with trying to sort out the buyers and sellers is that 11 points separate the 15th place team (Carolina) and the 8th place team (Toronto) in the Eastern Conference.

In the Western Conference, only Edmonton (15 points out of a playoff spot) and Columbus (25 points) can be considered out of the playoff hunt with Anaheim eight points out.

With so many teams still envisioning themselves as playoff contenders, it is a sellers’ market – thus potentially driving up the price on the type of complementary players the Rangers would be looking to acquire.

Setting aside Nash, the two players who seem to draw the most interest from Ranger fans are Shane Doan and Ryan Smyth. Both are solid players who would fit well in the Rangers – both on the ice and off. Both players will be UFA at the end of the season so there is no salary cap concerns beyond this year and both players would fit under this year’s cap: Smyth’s full-season salary is $6.25 million and Doan’s is 4.5 million.

The problem with both players is they each have no-trade clauses and want to remain with their teams. Doan, the Coyotes’ captain, has spent his entire career with the Phoenix/Winnipeg organization. Smyth, who has played with four different teams since the start of the 2006/2007 season, has indicated a willingness to remain in his native Alberta.

The one ace up the Rangers sleeve is that Glen Sather was the Edmonton GM when the Oilers made the 6th overall draft pick in the 1994 NHL Draft. The Sather connection and a desire to win a Stanley Cup might be enough for Smyth to head to New York for the 2nd time in his career. Interestingly enough, the Islanders acquired Smyth from Edmonton on February 27, 2007 (in exchange for Robert Nilsson, Ryan O’Meara and 1st round draft pick) – so history could repeat itself.

If Doan or Smythe prove to be outside of the Rangers reach, here is a brief list of names to keep your eye as the deadline nears, with their full-season cap hit listed.

BRAD BOYES ($4.0 million) – After posting 43 goals in 2007/2008 and 33 goals in 2008/2009, the RW/C has been a major disappointment scoring just 32 goals in the last 2 ½ years. Boyes will be an UFA at the end of the year and should be available for a relatively cheap price. Ranger scouts would have to really look hard to see if the 29-year-old has anything left in the tank.

JAROME IGINLA ($7.0 million) – The Flames captain is in the same boat as Doan and Smyth in terms of wanting to stay with his team. The major differences is that Iginla doesn’t become an UFA until after 2012/2013 so the Rangers would have to build his salary into their cap for next year and Calgary is the thick of the playoff hunt in the Western Conference. The 34-year-old is on pace for his 11th consecutive 30-goal season.

VINNY PROSPAL ($2.6 million) – The former Ranger just signed a contract extension so it is tough to read what Columbus is thinking. With them shopping both Nash and Jeff Carter, are the Blue Jackets looking to Prospal as a bridge to a new group of prospects or do they believe they can get more for him if he is signed for one more year. The advantage is that Prospal knows Tortorella and the team and would easily slide on to the first line with Derek Stepan and Marian Gaborik – allowing the Rangers to move Artem Anisimov to the second or third lines.

TUOMO RUUTU ($3.8 million) – Ruutu is on the wish list of some Ranger fans because he has, as Torts would say, “jam” to his game. Ruutu might not solve their goal scoring problems, but he would bring a “Sean Avery intensity” to the Blueshirts with a little more scoring. However, he does have one more year left on his contract and has had issues with injuries during the last couple of years. In fact, he is expected to be out at least three weeks with the dreaded “upper body injury”.

TEEMU SELANNE ($4.0 million) – I know some of you are rolling your eyes at the thought of the 41-year-old Selanne in a Rangers uniform. Just remember this, he would be third on the team in goals (19) and first in assists (33) and points (52) were he a Ranger now. Anaheim GM Bob Murray listed Selanne and Saku Koivu as untouchable as far as trades go. Then again he had to because both have no-trade clauses. Granted, Selanne is not the same “Finnish Rocket” he was in his prime and might struggle to score in the Rangers system, he still would add much needed offense – especially on the power play. Selanne is one PPG away from hitting double figures in six of his last seven seasons. The one year he didn’t score 10+ PPG was in 2007-2008 and he did score 7 in 26 games after he re-signed with Anaheim in January 2008.

If the Rangers are willing to look at a player who has a couple of years left on his contract, they might want to head down to Tortorella’s old stomping grounds in Tampa Bay and kick the tires on Martin St. Louis.

The 36-year-old winger has three more years left on his contract at a cap hit of $5.6 million. Since he signed his current deal as 35+ player, the Rangers could not get salary relief by sending him to the AHL. Given his production during the last few years, that might not be a problem.

St. Louis is on pace for 76 points and will represent the sixth consecutive season he has scored 76+points. He is also on pace for 26 goals and that would make it 11 consecutive seasons of 25+ goals.

Prior to this season and since becoming a regular with Tampa Bay during the 2000/2001 season, St. Louis has played 80+ games every season except two. In 2001/2002 he missed 26 games with a broken leg and he had his consecutive game streak broken this year at 499 when he suffered a facial injury near his left eye during Tampa Bay’s game day skate prior to their December 8, 2011 game against the Rangers.

Not only would the Rangers benefit from St. Louis’s speed and playmaking ability, he would give the Rangers another option killing penalties. Since he is well versed in all things Tortorella, he should be able to make a smooth transition to the Rangers – helped by fellow Lightning Stanley Cup teammates Brad Richards and Ruslan Fedotenko.

His biggest contribution would be a much-needed veteran influence/playoff proven player. In 63 career playoff games, St. Louis has 68 points (33 goals and 35assists) – including 20 points (in 18 games) last year and 24 points (in 23 games) while winning the Cup in 2004.

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The Rangers Thursday night matchup with the Tampa Bay Lightning had all the makings of a classic trap game. The Blueshirts were coming off an emotional (and controversial) loss to their division and geographical rival New Jersey Devils and face the task of back-to-back afternoon games against the Philadelphia Flyers and Washington Capitals.

The overtime victory against the Lightning won’t earn the Rangers any gold medals in terms of style points, the win does strike gold in terms of the mantra of the late Al Davis who urged his Raiders teams to “Just win, baby.”

More than Brad Richards breaking a one goal in 12 games slump (on the same night that Scott Gomez ends his year-long goal scoring drought no less), more than the Rangers finally scoring a power play goal (the team’s first 5-on-4 power play goal in 14 games), the team made sure they didn’t enter a very difficult week with a two game losing streak.

Rick Carpiniello offered an interesting insight into the Rangers ability to bounce back this season and (up until now) prevent any long losing streaks from derailing their season.

“Not to be one of those Negative Nancys, but you wonder when this team will actually lose a few in a row,” Carpiniello wrote Friday morning on his Journal News Rangers Report Blog. “They haven’t deserved to have a losing streak, but, my gosh, every team since the 1976-77 Montreal Canadiens (who went 60-8-12) has had a losing streak at some point, right? These Rangers haven’t lost more than two in a row in regulation all year, and haven’t gone more than two without a win since starting the season 0-1-2. It’s got to happen.”

There are a lot of words that can be used to describe the 2011/2012 New York Rangers – some of which can’t be printed or uttered in polite circles. However, when you take into account Carpiniello’s statement, the one word that can be used is resilient.

All teams and athletes, across the entire sports spectrum, have to learn to deal with and conquer adversity. It is a fundamental part of the makeup of championship teams and athletes.

In the Rangers case, their resiliency and ability to conquer adversity is imperative because, to use an old Herb Brooks saying, they are not talented enough to win on talent alone.

The Rangers “Black-and-Blue-shirts” mentality has not only endeared themselves to their fans, it also serves as the driving force for their resiliency and adaptability. The more roadblocks that are thrown at them, the harder the Rangers work.

Have to open the regular season in Europe, no problem. Lengthy road trip to start the season, check. Injuries to a defense corps forces Coach John Tortorella to give major ice time to players like Stu Bickel, Anton Stralman and Jeff Woywitka (all players who did not fit into the team’s pre-season plans), got that covered as well.

The best explanation for the Rangers’ resiliency might have come from someone who knows a thing or two about hockey.

“They have everything going in the right direction now,” Wayne Gretzky told Dan Rosen of nhl.com on Thursday. “They play hard and they play smart. They believe in themselves and each guy does his own job. They don’t have guys that try to do what they’re not supposed to do. On top of that, John is a tremendous coach.”

The back-to-back weekend matinees start a four game/six day stretch that sees the Rangers pay a return visit to Boston to take on the Eastern Conference’s second place Bruins on Tuesday night and concludes with a Thursday night game at the Garden against the Chicago Blackhawks.

Following this four game stretch, the Rangers face another trap game against the Columbus Blue Jackets on February 19 which is followed by straight Eastern Conference matchups before the Rangers visit the United Center for a March 9 rematch with the Blackhawks.

The Rangers season will not be made during this stretch, but they need to use these games to start shoring up some of the weaknesses in their games – inconsistent scoring and a sputtering offense. Interestingly enough, solving one of those problems would probably solve the other.

An interesting side note came from CBC.ca columnist Elliotte Friedman in his weekly column on Tuesday in reference to the Rangers and Wild trade. Minnesota sent forward Casey Wellman to New York in exchange for Erik Christensen and a conditional seventh round draft pick in 2013 in a deal that opened up a roster spot for Steve Eminger and provided some new blood for the struggling Connecticut Whale (who was in the midst of a 0-9-2 stretch).

The 6-foot-0/173 pound speedy Wellman was not the Rangers original target according to Friedman. Rather, the Rangers set their sights on 6-foot-2/199 pound physical forward Cody Almond, but Wild GM Chuck Fletcher would not relent. Friedman said that Rangers pro scout Doug Risebrough, former Wild GM, was the driving force behind the push for Almond.

Wellman becomes the first University of Massachusetts player to become a member of the Rangers organization since defenseman Thomas Pock (2003/04 thru 2007/08), who played 59 NHL games with the Blueshirts.

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Depending on your point of view, and with all apologies to Charles Dickens, the NHL’s annual All-Star break comes at the best of times or the worst of times for the New York Rangers. For the first time since 1993-94, the Rangers reach the All-Star break in first place in the Eastern Conference and with the best points-per-game ratio in the NHL. Conversely, the Blueshirts plethora of skating wounded and injured players can use the time off to heal up for the grueling stretch run.

That grueling run to the playoffs sees the Rangers playing 35 games in the final 68 days of the regular season – including seven sets of back-to-back games (New Jersey to Buffalo, Philadelphia to NYR, NYI to NYR, Carolina to Tampa Bay, Ottawa to Chicago, NYR to Toronto, and Minnesota to Winnipeg).

In any other season, the All-Star break would end up being the Rangers Kryptonite as all of their momentum would be lost during the week off. However, this season should be different from most.

NBC Sports hockey analyst Pierre McGuire provided some insight into why this season might be different while speaking to Justin Terranova of the NY Post.

“[The Rangers] learned a lot last year by losing to Washington in the playoffs when they had a chance to maybe have more of an advantage in that series, but they dropped the ball late in games,” McGuire said while analyzing how the Rangers went from a life-and-death struggle for the playoffs last year to a first place showdown this year.

“I saw it happen to Chicago when they lost to Detroit in the Western Conference Finals and the next year they steamrolled their way to the Stanley Cup. Teams need to lose in the playoffs as a group and try to understand what went wrong and make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

The seven-day break is just another obstacle that has found its way in the Rangers path. From the team opening the season in Europe as part of a seven-game road trip to start the season through HBO’s coverage leading up to the Winter Classic, and then finally the Winter Classic itself, the Blueshirts have had quite an eventful first half of the season.

They have handled without major fanfare or excuse making – which is the way Coach John Tortorella approached the season from the very beginning.
“It is imperative that we handle everything properly, including the travel, the schedule, HBO and anything else that comes our way,” Tortorella explained to Larry Brooks of the NY Post in September. “We cannot complain about anything . . . and I’m including myself in that, as much as anybody, and maybe more so.
“With all the stuff that’s going to be swirling around us, our mental approach and ability to keep our focus on the right things is going to a huge, huge part of our season; even more than systems and the X’s and O’s.”

“There’s no doubt that excuses will be out there for anybody who wants to lean on them,” Torts added. “But there will be no excuses with our team.”
The theme of maintaining the focus inward on the team while keeping an “eye on the prize” is one that Tortorella emphasized following the Rangers 3-0 victory over Winnipeg preceding the All-Star break.

“The league is going to get better. The tempo is going to get better. I think it becomes a quicker game, but there’s also a grind to it, too. We cannot stop working on all parts of our game. We spent a lot of time on the details of it. We cannot stop trying to get better at that stuff because teams will pass you,” Tortorella explained.

“You look at the standings and a lot of teams win. If you don’t stay on top of yourselves and worry about the details of how we play and remain true to our identity, there will be some struggles. You never know where it goes from there.”

Rangers captain Ryan Callahan echoed his coach’s mantra following the Jets game.

“We’ve had a good first half now. It’s good going into the break knowing you’re sitting in first place. But at the same time, the hockey only gets harder from here,” Callahan told Josh Thomson of the Journal News. “Everybody picks it up a notch. We have to continue to do the same to have more success.”

The All-Star break gives GMs the opportunity to start laying the groundwork for the eventual trades that will take place in February leading up to the NHL’s trade deadline at 3pm EST on February 27. There is plenty of time for Ranger fans to contemplate possible trade targets. Heck, it is very possible that the Blueshirts might wait until the last minute before swinging a deal – and with good reason.

According to CapGeek.com , as of January 27, 2012, the Rangers have a little more than $3.0 million in cap space. However, CapGeek points out that if the Rangers were to wait until February 27), then their cap space rises to more than $5.4 million.

Outside of getting healthy and staying healthy, the Rangers biggest concern has to be reviving their moribund power play which is ranked 26th in the NHL. Imagine what kind of season the Rangers could be having if they had a Top 10 power play.

Many people have lamented that the Rangers biggest need is a player to QB the power play. The only problem with that thought is that the Rangers have had success without the prototypical power play QB.

During the first two seasons after the lockout (2005-06 and 2006-07), the Blueshirts had the 8th ranked power play with the “immortal” Michal Rozsival as the key man on the point. Yes, they had Jaromir Jagr but they also had a system that saw the team use a system that set up Jagr on his off-wing.

The Edmonton Oilers have the 3rd rated power play (21.3% to the Rangers 14.1%) and they do not feature a Brian Leetch-like player on their roster.

Rather than worrying about what the Rangers don’t have, the team needs to focus on using the players they do have within a simple system.

Without being asked a direct question about the team’s power play, Tortorella indirectly answered one of the power play’s biggest problems.

In the Winnipeg post-game press conference Torts spoke what the Rangers need to focus on in the second half.

“A big part of what I think we have to get better at are rebound goals. And before you get rebound goals, you have to shoot the puck on the net,” Tortorella explained. “We tend to look for the next play where probably the best play is being ready to shoot before it comes to you and to shoot it instead of trying to pass it.”

Factoring in Tortorella’s comments with some of my pet peeves, I have come up with a three-point plan that should improve the Rangers power play.

Point 1 – Movement. Far too often the Rangers power play stagnates as they play the puck around the perimeter looking for that perfect shot – which does not happen too much because puck movement has to be accompanied by player movement. Watch the Rangers power play and you notice that there are a lot of Blueshirts standing around.

Point 2 – Get in front of the net. Unless the Rangers find a way to manufacture the second coming of Al MacInnis and Bobby Hull, the team needs to create more traffic in front of the net. By the way, this point goes beyond the man advantage. The Rangers need to take more advantage of this strategy during five-on-five play as well. More often than not, pucks/rebounds will be sliding through the top of the crease and no Ranger is in front of the net. More often than not, you will see a Ranger at the side of the net along the goal line rather than in front of the net. Watch for this over the space of a couple of games and you will see why I am rapidly getting even balder .

Point 3 – Shoot the puck (On Net). Points two and three go along with Tortorella’s opinion; however, I take it one step further by emphasizing the “On Net” part. Some Rangers (Michael Del Zotto is at the top of the list) need to realize that sometimes less is more when they are shooting. The idea is to put the puck on goal, not through it. Sometimes the best pass is a shot on goal. And much like Point 2, this is a strategy the Rangers can employ during even-strength situations as well.

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With visions of sugar-plums dancing in my head, and looking forward to a week of wrapping Christmas gifts and my annual 12-hour Biscotti Bake-athon, I take refuge in the New York Rangers. Rather than focusing on one or two topics, today I am taking a different approach by commenting on random ramblings.

Tim Erixon

The New York Rangers have recalled defenseman Tim Erixon as they heed Horace Greeley’s advice and head west for two games (St. Louis on Thursday and Phoenix on Saturday). It does set off some debate as to why Erixon was recalled. Andrew Gross of The Record offers the following scenarios:

1. It could mean the Rangers just want some in-case insurance since they’re traveling across the Mississippi.
2. (More likely) Steve Eminger’s left arm is a question mark after he blocked a second-period shot and went to the bench in pain during last night’s 1-0 loss to the Stars. Eminger came back for the third period and was on the ice for eight shifts over the final 20 minutes.
3. (Possible) Coach John Tortorella is not totally satisfied with play he’s receiving from third pair of Jeff Woywitka and Anton Stralman.
4. (Possible) Mike Sauer (concussion) is headed to injured reserve.

Since Marc Staal is listed on the Long-Term Injured Reserve list, the Rangers will not have to make any salary cap moves. The Rangers have placed Sauer on Injured Reserve due to the concussion he received on Dion Phaneuf’s hit. Is it possible that the Rangers placed Sauer on the injured list with an eye towards placing him LTIR and trying to open a little more salary cap space for a trade deadline deal.

On a side note, today has been a bad day for the NHL in terms of concussions as Milan Michalek, Joni Pitkanen and Jeffrey Skinner all join Sauer on the sidelines due to concussions.

Brandon Dubinsky

Speaking of the lineup, it might be time to give Brandon Dubinsky a break from the action. You can make as good a case for t sitting him down as you can for not giving him a game off. While Coach John Tortorella guards his lineup decisions with the same fervor as the United States guards Fort Knox, it might be time for Torts to open up a bit.

During his banter with the media today, let everyone know that Dubi will be sitting out the St. Louis game ONLY and strongly state that Dubinsky will be back in the lineup against Phoenix no matter what happens Thursday night. The explanation is that you want to give Dubi a chance to just sit back and clear his head. Heck, put headphones on him in the press box and let him stay in contact with Mike Sullivan on the bench – not a bad way for a struggling player to take a long – and different – look at the game.

If Sean Avery happens to have a whale of game (pun intended), then Torts has a pleasant lineup decision to make. If Avery doesn’t play well, then it is a case of no-harm, no-foul.

When Dubinsky is the lineup, I would tweak the lines a little bit. I would consider putting Dubi back with Brad Richards and Ryan Callahan, or at the very least flip him and Brian Boyle so that Dubinsky can skate with Carl Hagelin and John Mitchell – which might be the best idea because it will force Dubinsky to concentrate on his skating to keep up with the speedy wingers.

Brave New NHL

All of the beat writers have been hammering home the lament that NHL fans will be “treated” to more ho-hum games like last night’s Ranger-Stars game thanks to the new balanced schedule. With less four-point games on the schedule, you are going to have more nights where both teams appear to be going through the motions as opposed to snatching two points from a division rival. Oops, I forgot in the new NHL there are no divisions – just conferences.

What is my take on the new NHL realignment? Let’s just say if there was a way for the NHL to screw up a good thing – they will. In 1994 the NHL was coming off the high of the Rangers winning the Stanley Cup for the first time in 54 years. So what happens next – the NHL locks out the players and the 1994-195season doesn’t start until January 20, 1995.

After “learning” their lesson, a decade later the NHL becomes the first major pro sports league to cancel an entire season as the owners again lockout the players.

The only saving grace over the NHL realignment plan is that the CBA is up at the end of the year and the NHL will again lockout the players and during the subsequent down time cooler heads will prevail as the NHL goes back to its six divisions and two conferences.

Shoot the Puck … On Net

I am always amused when Ranger fans scream “Shoot” when the Blueshirts go into their “Sweet Georgia Brown” power play. What fans forget to add to the “Shoot” yell is “on net”. I understand that there are times when a player has to shoot wide in order to prevent a blocked shot and a breakaway the other way. Heck, in those buildings with lively dasher boards, it is often a good strategy.

No, I am talking about when a Ranger has a relatively clear shot and just shoots wide as he is trying to put the puck through the goalie or as if he is trying to pick corners.

While fans are quick to put the hammer down on Michael Del Zotto for doing that (especially when his shots go wide of the net and start flying out to the neutral zone on sharp angle shots), it is a team-wide affliction that creeps far too often.

Perhaps the Rangers need to adapt a Brylcreem attitude toward their shots – “a little dab’ll do ya”. Sometimes it better to sacrifice some MPHs for accuracy.

Torts and His Line Changes

Funny, I don’t remember fans complaining too much about line juggling back during the 1993-1994 when Mike Keenan employed the “RW du jour” approach when it came to finding a match for Adam Graves and Mark Messier. I think I remember John Davidson taking a shift or two amid the likes of Tony Amonte, Glenn Anderson, Mike Gartner, Alexei Kovalev, Steve Larmer and a cast of thousands.

I also don’t hear too many Penguin fans complaining that Dan Bylsma juggles his lines to optimize the likes of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. By the way, is it me or shouldn’t Bylsma endorse Brylcreem?

The Rangers do not struggle to score because Tortorella juggles his lines. Rather, he juggles his lines when the Rangers are not scoring.

Just In case …

I don’t get the opportunity to post another Ranger Ramblings before the holidays hit, please let me take this opportunity to wish everyone the very best during this Christmas and Hanukkah season. May everyone’s holiday be merry, happy and safe and here is to a great 2012 – one that is capped off with Gary Bettman saying, “Captain Ryan Callahan, come get the Stanley Cup!”

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The New York Rangers have traded defenseman Tomas Kundratek to the Washington Capitals in exchange for RW Francois Bouchard. The 23-year-old was the Capitals second round draft pick (35th overall) in 2006. The 6-0/180 Bouchard spent four years in the QMJHL with the Baie-Comeau Drakkar. In 259 Junior games, he scored 125 goals and 218 assists. In his last three years, he averaged 38 goals and 68 assists.

Bouchard has spent the last three seasons with Washington’s AHL affiliate in Hershey where he scored 49 goals and 63 assists in 219 games – including career highs in games, goals, assists and points (77-21-31-52) during the 2009/2010. Bouchard helped lead Hershey to Calder Cup championships in 2008/2009 and 2009/2010. He is scoreless in nine games this season with the Bears while Kundratek had two assists in 7 games with the Whale.

His biggest claim to fame is that Francois is the brother of Minnesota Wild center Pierre-Marc Bouchard.

According to Howlings.net, Kundratek had been scratched during the last few games and the Whale need some depth and offense at forward.

Prior to the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, the International Scouting Service rated him as their 68th best prospect and offered the following Scouting Report:

“Francois Bouchard; younger brother of Pierre-Marc Bouchard of the Minnesota Wild. He was consistently one of Baie-Comeau’s most dangerous players thru the regular season, finishing 13th overall in QMJHL scoring, but was less than spectacular in the playoffs. Shows excellent hockey sense, has a very good feel for the game in the offensive zone. He has all the skills to succeed at the NHL level; a good skater, very good puck and passing skills, and sees the ice very well. Plays too much on the perimeter and is easily intimidated. He will need to improve both his physical and defensive game if he wishes.”

Here some other Scouting reports on Bouchard that were listed on the Capitals official web site:

Red Line Report:
Younger brother of Pierre-Marc Bouchard had a mostly overlooked 100+ point season. Quick release on accurate shot. Moves puck to the right spot at the right time. Has a world of skill and really soft hands in tight – capable of highlight reel goals with patience around the net. Not as imaginative a passer as his brother, but might be a better finisher around the net. Has uncanny instincts and hockey sense at the offensive end. Plays in spurts – can be dominant for 3-4 shifts, then goes quiet for long stretches. Hurt himself with invisible performance at World U-18s. Wasn’t strong on the puck and didn’t drive through checks. Work ethic was lacking and got him demoted. Not strong in upper body – can be moved off the puck. Needs to bring his full talent to bear on more consistent basis.
Projection: 2nd line scoring winger
Style compares to: J.P. Dumont

The Hockey News:
While one of Francois Bouchard’s strengths is his playmaking skills, he is not quite as gifted as his older brother, Pierre-Marc of the Minnesota Wild, in that department. But the younger Bouchard is still very talented and his hockey sense is sound, too. And he holds at least one advantage over Pierre-Marc. “He has more size than his brother,” said one scout.

No kidding. Pierre-Marc is just one NHLer proving good things can come in small packages. “He [Francois] is a guy who can have success at the NHL level if you put him in the right role, say on the second line and on the second power play unit,” said the scout.

Another scout, who still considers Bouchard to be small even though he is bigger than Pierre-Marc, is certain the younger brother will play in the NHL as well. “Size and skating are issues, but he is intriguing because of his playmaking ability,” said the scout. “He is not as good a skater [as his brother], but he has great hands.”

But whoever drafts the younger Bouchard would do well to not hurry him into the NHL before his is ready, like the Wild did P-M. “He needs to be groomed a little and some time in the minors won’t hurt,” the first scout added.

Central Scouting Report (Rated #41 among North American skaters):
Is a good skater with good speed, balance and leg strength who is solid on his feet … he possesses very good hands and playmaking abilities handling the puck well in tight quarters and protecting it well … he is especially effective on the power play, reads the play well, feeding teammates with accurate passing and has very good scoring instincts … his wrist shot is quick and accurate … is quick to jump on any loose pucks around the net and can score in many ways … has very good hockey sense and is used to kill penalties … competes offensively, his positioning in defensive zone is solid and he will not hesitate to go on offense quickly … Baie-Comeau’s 1st pick, 20th overall, in the 2004 QMJHL Draft … was selected to play in the 2006 Top Prospects Game in Ottawa … also selected to the 2005-06 QMJHL All-Star Game for the Canada-Russia challenge.

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Yes, the New York Rangers are back in town after a seven game road trip that spanned two continents, games in six different countries, and according to Andrew Gross of The Record, about 16,000 frequent flyer miles earned. And after one home game, it appears that the Rangers inability to make Madison Square Garden a home-ice advantage has returned to town as well.

Including last night’s game, the Blueshirts are 38-35-10 at home. Conversely, during the last two years plus their first five home games this season (3-2-0), the New York Islanders are 43-34-10 at home.

Referring to his .500 squad the coach said, “I think we’re a work in progress and we’re going to get better. There are certain parts of our game that I like, other parts that we need to focus on and improve. Every team goes through that and we’re no different than anybody else.”

You have to admit that statement pretty much sums up the state of the Rangers as they stand 3-3-2 after their first eight games. The interesting point is that statement was not uttered by John Tortorella, nor is the team in question the New York Rangers.

That quote is from Vancouver Canucks coach Alain Vigneault and was made to Brad Ziemer of the Vancouver Sun on October 16 after the Western Conference champions had played their first five games.

My reason for using that quote is simple – the Rangers are going through the same rough patch that every team goes through. My concern is not with the results, but rather with the how the Rangers are getting there.

Larry Brooks of the NY Post summed up the problem with the Rangers in the lead of his Maple Leafs-Rangers game story, “The Rangers have done nothing yet to identify themselves as heirs to the 2010-11 Black-and-Blueshirts.”

If John Davidson were still broadcasting games for the MSG Network, he would remind fans of how teams struggle in the first game back from a long road trip – and they don’t get much longer than 16,000+ miles.

Personally I always felt that ”adage” was just an excuse for a team not getting the job done, but this year might be a different case because the seven-game road trip was not your standard long road trip. Even the “first-game-back-from-a-long-road-trip” blues was not standard.

After struggling to generate shots, never mind goals, the Rangers were flying in the first period and could have been up 3-0 if not for the two disallowed goals. Given how the Blueshirts lit up Jonas Gustavsson the last time he played at the Garden, the game could have had a far different outcome.

When you combine the disallowed goals with an inconsistent second and third period from Henrik Lundqvist, you have the recipe for an Opening Night loss.

What concerns me the most about last night’s loss was how the team lost focus – a fact that Tortorella and Lundqvist both readily admitted.

“I was a little surprised on a couple goals,” Lundqvist told Steve Zipay of Newsday. “I wasn’t as sharp as I needed to be mentally.”

In his post-game press conference the Coach confessed, “I think physically we were lethargic and mentally we were lethargic.”

Tortorella has gone out of his way to treat the Rangers European vacation as he would any other road trip in an attempt to prevent the team from using it as an excuse for a slow start.

You have to wonder did the Rangers globetrotting did take a lot out of them, is it just one game, or are the problems deeper than some expected?

While the Rangers did win three of their four games on the trip to western Canada, they didn’t exactly play awe-inspiring hockey for most of those games.

Elliotte Friedman of CBC.ca made an interesting point in an October 17 column about giving a team 10 games into a season to sort things out.

A few years ago, Friedman said an anonymous GM told him, “I believe in the 10-game rule. You don’t get a true sense of a team in the first 10 games. I don’t put too much into a hot or cold start.”

Recently, that GM amended his belief given the advent of points being awarded for overtime and shootout losses.

The GM told Friedman, “With the three-point games, teams can’t win the Stanley Cup in the first 10 games of the season,” he said. “But they sure can lose it that quickly.”

Given the Rangers penchant for life-and-death struggles at the end of the season just to make the playoffs, it would be nice to bank some points early in the season to lessen the pressure late in the season

SEAN AVERY

I have tried to steer clear of the Sean Avery Situation because it is quite the polarizing subject – which is amazing given that he is a third/fourth liner player at best.
I find it amusing how some Ranger fans have elevated Avery’s demotion to the point of it being on par with, or an even greater affront to Ranger fandom, than the waiving of Eddie Giacomin 36 years ago this Halloween and the trading of Brad Park and Jean Ratelle to the Boston Bruins about a week later.

It is kind of interesting that the pain that the pro-Avery fans are suffering is only matched by the hatred they have towards Tortorella for banishing Avery to the AHL. This is the same Sean Avery that 29 teams passed on before he was sent to the AHL. This is the same Sean Avery that 29 teams passed on when the Rangers claimed him re-entry waivers.

Does Avery deserve a spot on the Rangers ahead of the likes of Erik Christensen and Kris Newbury? Absolutely, but there are a million reasons why Christensen is here ahead of Avery and about 1.4 million reasons why Newbury is here ahead of Avery. If you substitute dollars for reasons, you have one answer as to why Avery is skating in the AHL.

Of course, the fact that Avery and Tortorella are like motor oil and water plays a big part as well. It is not the first time a coach has banished a player to the AHL for personal reasons and it sure won’t be the last.

Ranger fans should be more upset with Torts over his opinion on Paul Mara than on Avery. Given the uncertain future of Marc Staal, Mara fills the Rangers need better than Avery does and Mara is a much better solution than Jeff Woywitka, Brendan Bell or even Anton Stralman – who may or may not be a Rangers target.

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I know it may seem a bit unusual to write a New York Rangers season preview two games into the 2011/2012 season, but the Rangers are a very unusual team – as any diehard Blueshirts fan will tell you.

The start of the season ends a whirlwind summer that saw Glen Sather’s under-the-radar pursuit of Brad Richards pay off. It also ends an off-season filled with tragedy as the Rangers family lost Derek Boogaard, Alexander Karpovtsev, Karel Rachunek, and Jan Marek.

The Richards’ signing goes beyond finding a center for Marian Gaborik and solving the Rangers power play woes. Richards brings a veteran presence who knows how Coach John Tortorella operates.

“To see how Torts operates, I know it works,” Richards relayed to Chuck Gormley in 2011/2012 Sporting News Hockey Yearbook. “It reminds me of what we did in Tampa. At the end of the day, it’s the right fit for me.”

While Richards knows what to expect from the coach, Tortorella knows what the Conn Smythe Trophy winner brings to the team.

“We’ve got guys on the cusp of learning what they need to do as a pro,” the coach explained to Gormley. “Forget about what the stats are. Mentoring and teaching kids to be a pro – I think that’s going to be very important. He fits the bill there.”

Just when everything seemed to be getting back to normal as the Rangers hit the ice, the Marc Staal Saga came to the forefront. Questions still swirl as to whether or not Staal is suffering from post-concussion syndrome or if there is some other physical ailment that is causing his symptoms.

As we have seen with the problems Sidney Crosby has had recovering from his post-concussion problems, Staal’s return is an open-ended proposition.

Staal’s situation caused a butterfly effect that saw Tim Erixon’s seasoning in the AHL put on hold, the Rangers claiming of defenseman Jeff Woywitka off waivers and, perhaps in the most talked about move in years, the waiving and demotion of Sean Avery to the Connecticut Whale.

The Internet was afire with the talk of Avery’s demotion with half the fans content to be done with Avery’s antics and half being upset that Avery was kicked to the curb in favor of Erik Christensen.

The pro-Avery faction railed against Tortorella’s dislike for all things Avery – which began back during Avery’s “sloppy seconds” days when Torts was a broadcaster. Contrary to the belief of Avery’s fans, Tortorella is not the first coach, nor will he be the last, to “run off” a player because of personality conflicts.

Taking a step back and looking at the move with an objective eye, the decision really wasn’t so much Avery over Christensen. It was Michael Rupp and Wojtek Wolski over Avery. Rupp replaces the physical presence that Avery (and Boogaard) brought while Wolski’s $3.8 million salary means the Rangers could not afford to keep Avery’s nearly $2 million contract as a bench player – while Christensen’s $925,000 salary is much more manageable from the press box.

The Rangers will remain a team in flux until Staal returns to the lineup on a permanent basis and until Tortorella finds a LW for Richards and Gaborik. During their two game trip to Europe, Torts tried everyone but Martin Biron on their wing. He even broke up his two star forwards in an attempt to find some offense.

This search for offense is one that is going to continue throughout the season unless they improve two parts of their game. Obviously, the Rangers moribund power play continued to rear its ugly head in Europe as they went zero for eight.

All the talk of need a QB for the power play or anointing Richards as the savior of the man advantage means nothing until the Rangers start stationing a man in front of the net and raining shots ON goal (not at goal or near the goal).

Without that man parked at the top of the crease (thus tying up one of the penalty killers), the Rangers power play is content to work the perimeter – which would be fine of you had Al MacInnis and Bobby Hull firing howitzers from the point.

Last year the Rangers finished with 233 goals, good for 16th in the NHL. Their power play was ranked 18th in the NHL (16.9%). If the Rangers could have manage even seven more PP goals last year, they would have finished with a Top Ten PP and, in the right situations, could have added a few more points – thus allowing the Rangers some breathing room in terms of making the playoffs.

Another way the Rangers can generate some offense is to pick up their forechecking – a part of their game that was almost as inconsistent as their PP. The Rangers have the type of forwards who excel at a putting pressure on the forecheck when they are focused at pinning their opponents.

The Blueshirts goal (pun intended) should be to add 13 goals to their total of last season. That would boost the team to 246 goals for an average of three goals per game. That might not seem like a lot, but only seven teams score that many goals and Buffalo finished with 245.

We are now entering the Foxwoods Final Five paragraphs ?

The 2010/2011 Rangers were road warriors last season which was very important given that they had the fewest amount of home points for any playoff team, as both Carolina and New Jersey had more than New York’s 44 and Toronto tied them.

With Madison Square Garden’s renovations keeping the Rangers on the road until the 8th game of the season on October 27 – including a four-game/eight-day Western Conference trip – the Blueshirts will have to convert last year’s success to this year. However, a quirk in the schedule will require the Rangers to turn the refurbished Garden into a Garden of Nightmares for opponents.

Both of the Rangers games in Europe were counted as road games while the Anaheim and Buffalo were “charged” with one home games and Los Angeles lost two home games because, as Andrew Gross of The Record reported, the Kings owner AEG owns the arenas in Stockholm and Berlin. Yet another plus that Gross points out is that the Rangers will not have to make a California trip this season.

With expectations high for the Rangers, Sather and Tortorella are not going to be as forgiving to players who are not producing. The one thing the Rangers learned from the Traverse City Prospects Tournament is that the organization has young talent in the AHL that can come up to New York and make an impact.

The team has shown that they are not afraid to bury contracts in the AHL (Avery and Wade Redden) or buy out ineffective players (Chris Drury). With the team searching for a LW for Richards and Gaborik, and the possibility of needing an impact blueliner to take Staal’s place, it is not out of the realm of possibility that Wolski hits the Connecticut shuttle – thus freeing up his salary cap space – while someone like Ryan Bourque or Carl Hagelin gets a chance to be this season’s Derek Stepan.

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