2012/2013 Season


New York Rangers Introduce Alain VigneaultIt’s not easy to get James Dolan to open up, but eventually he gets the urge and thankfully, the Post’s Mike Vaccaro was there for his thoughts on the Knicks, MSG and of course the Rangers.

First and foremost, Glen Sather is going nowhere until he wants to. Dolan pretty must insinuated he will give the Rangers General Manger the call on that himself.

” Ultimately it’s got to be my call but I have a tremendous amount of respect for Glen and still feel very lucky to have him,” Dolan said. :He has a wealth of knowledge and experience and I don’t know if there’s anyone else in the NHL that’s better than him, but he’s got to be close to the top. His understanding of the game, his understanding of what makes a great player, and also he’s pulled off some trades I looked at him and said, “How did you do that?” As long as he’d like to stay I’d like to have him.”

You didn’t really need to check your lines at SportsBettingOnline.ag to know that one. Sather has been at the helm for 13 years. But to further that fact of the Ranger stability, Dolan did say he misses former Ranger coach John Tortorella.

” I miss John Tortorella,” he said. “I’d visit Torts before a game and we would trade barbs for 10 minutes, he’d tell me about his [lousy] cable TV service and I’d be sitting there saying, “You can’t clear the puck out of your zone, what the hell’s wrong with you?” and he’d strike back and then play the game and I miss that. I’m developing a relationship with Alain [Vigneault] and he’s also a good guy, but Torts and I had a special relationship. It was fun for me. He banned me from the locker room for a while, all in fun. I miss that.”

Dolan proclaimed during the Ranger run of two years ago, he expected the team to compete for a Stanley Cup, even with Vigneault as the coach now and the team at .500, he still expected a June run.

” Yeah, I do,” Dolan said. “This is going to be an interesting year because we have a new coach and a new system. I’m heartened by what I’ve seen, it looks like the team is picking up on the coach’s strategy looks like they’re starting to jell, [Rick] Nash is coming back [Tuesday], we’ll see how that impacts the team. I like what I see. So much of hockey is playoffs, just like basketball, we’ve made the playoffs a bunch of times now but we haven’t … the closest we came was conference finals.”

So maybe the Rangers can make a run. It can happen and if it does, the owner would be a very happy man.

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I am not sure if Branch Rickey had Brad Richards and the Rangers in mind when he uttered, “Luck is the residue of design”, but design or not, Richards’ pinball goal in the closing minutes of the third period helped ease the minds of all Rangers fans. I am sure there are a few players, coaches and front office executive who also are breathing a sigh of relief that the Rangers playoff hopes did not come down to having to beat the New Jersey Devils on Saturday afternoon.

As it turns out, the Rangers didn’t need bank shot nor did they need Ryan Callahan to channel his inner Mark Messier because the Montreal Canadiens came from behind to defeat the Winnipeg Jets last night. Still, it feels better that the Blueshirts “earned” their way into the playoffs rather than “backing” their way in.

As the NHL heads into the final weekend of its abbreviated season, the eight Eastern Conference teams have been set. What we don’t know are the playoff matchups. The Rangers can finish anywhere from sixth to eighth and face Pittsburgh (#1 vs. #8), Boston or Montreal (#2 vs. #7), or Washington (#3 vs. #6).

If we learned anything from last year’s playoffs, a team’s seed does not necessarily guarantee a team playoff success or failure. The top-seeded Rangers faced a pair of grueling seven-game series against the eighth and seventh seeds before being eliminated by the sixth-seeded Devils who, in turn, lost the Stanley Cup Finals to the eighth-seeded Los Angeles Kings.

While it might not always appear that way, the Rangers are playing some of their most productive hockey – at least in terms of producing points. They are 9-3-1 in their last 13 games and if you extended that out over the course of a 48-game season, the Blueshirts would have been in a battle for the first/four seed rather than in a battle to just make the playoffs.

The Rangers strong finish to the season allowed them to avoid repeating a repeat of history 20 years ago. In 1991-92, the Rangers won the President’s Trophy before a disappointing elimination to the Penguins. In 2011-12, the Rangers finish with the second best record in the NHL (even though they topped their 91-92 point total) before a disappointing elimination to the Devils. In 1992-93, with expectations high, the Rangers crash and burn and miss the playoffs. In 2012-13, the Blueshirts nearly replicated missing the playoffs.

Of course, there might be some who would argue that the Rangers should have missed the playoffs this year in order to really finish off the 20-year history: 1993-94 Stanley Cup Champions — 2013-14 Stanley Cup Champions.

Regardless of the Rangers playoff opponents, there are two things that all Blueshirts fans can take for granted. First, the Rangers will go into the series with a goaltending edge – no disrespect to any of the other playoff goaltenders. The New York Rangers live and die with Henrik Lundqvist and in the vast majority of times he has responded.

The second thing is that the Rangers will struggle to score goals. That is pretty much a given in any playoff series not involving the 2011-12 Flyers playing the 2011-12 Penguins. Those scoring struggle may only get worse as teams tighten up their play in the playoffs.

That is the main reason why I believe that the key to winning in the playoffs is finding a way to increase your offensive production because goals are always at a premium. The only positive for the Rangers is that there are a couple of areas where an improvement would produce improved scoring production.

I know it is a lot to ask given the way the Rangers power play has struggled since the first two years after the first lockout, but any semblance of an NHL-caliber power play will pay major dividends. In addition to finding ways to score, the Rangers must find ways to keep their power play from being momentum killers. Creating shots and chances is a good thing. Stumbling your way into the offensive zone and throwing the puck around the perimeter is a bad thing.

That leads me to the second thing the Rangers need to improve on: shoot the puck – on net. There is no more frustrating sight than to see a Ranger player have a step on a defender and watch him windup and drive a shot wide of the net (can you say Michael Del Zotto). Not only do you lose the offensive chance, but far too often that missed shot ends up as an odd-man rush against the Rangers. Therefore, in the simplest terms I can use, hit the net.

Of course, in conjunction with hitting the net is getting bodies in front of the net. Any goalie will tell the hardest shot to stop is the one he can’t see. The second hardest shot to stop is the one that gets deflected.

While we are talking about shots, the Blueshirts have a bad habit of being too unselfish in their play. I know that sounds like an oxymoron, but it does make sense. Far too many times Rangers try to make the extra pass when they have a scoring chance of their own. Sometimes it is a player deferring to a scorer and sometimes it seems as if a player just is plain afraid to take the shot. In either case, sometimes being selfish is a good thing in hockey.

Now if you combine getting more shots, on goal, with bodies in front for screens and deflections, and you to take the scoring chance you have; guess what you have? You have a team whose power play is a lot more successful than the Rangers and you have a team who is increasing their scoring chances.

The final word belongs to Steven McDonald who pretty much summed up the Rangers task on the night that Ryan Callahan became a four-time winner of the Steven McDonald Extra Effort Award.

“We need one play, one shift, one block, and a goal to make this game and this season a memorable one … so get it done.”

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If the NHL Trade Deadline was the game of Clue, not too many people would have had Marian Gaborik to Columbus for Derick Brassard, Derek Dorsett and John Moore. Even fewer people would have had Brassard, Moore and Ryane Clowe (who had not scored a goal all year) combining for four goals and four assists (including four power play points) in their first game as New York Rangers. For one night, Glen Sather’s wheeling and dealing paid off.

It remains to be seen how these two deals shape the rest of the Rangers season and if they were enough to make the difference in missing the playoffs and having the chance to replicate their 2012 playoff run.

Only time will tell if the Rangers will have enough time to gel as a team while trying to make a run at the playoffs. The Blueshirts have now reshaped their team twice within the confines of one season – and both times doing so without the benefit of training camp and a full 82-game schedule.

Whatever is in store for the rest of this season, the Gaborik trade was made with an eye towards the next two seasons.

With the NHL salary cap dropping by $6 million in 2013-2014, the Rangers needed to find a way to create some salary cap flexibility with Carl Hagelin, Ryan McDonough and Derek Stepan needing new deals as RFAs, and Clowe set to become an UFA.

Even if the Rangers did not trade Gaborik, there is no way they were going to re-sign him after next season with the likes of Martin Biron, Brian Boyle, Ryan Callahan, Dan Girardi, Henrik Lundqvist, and Anton Stralman all set to become UFAs and Michael Del Zotto becoming a RFA – as will Brassard and Moore.

CapGeek lists the Rangers having $14.8 million in cap space available for next year. That figure does not factor in all of the free agents or any of the youngsters who are assigned to the AHL (e.g. Chris Kreider and J.T. Miller). Given the numbers game alone, the Blueshirts might need to move out more salary (Aron Asham? Taylor Pyatt?) in order to build next year’s team.

Setting aside the financial considerations, the Rangers trades reshape the team along the lines of the team that went to the Eastern Conference Finals last season. The big change is that the main scoring winger this year (Nash) is a far more physical player than last year’s main scoring winger (Gaborik).

In addition, the Rangers added depth to their roster, as well as getting bigger and younger with the additions of Brassard and Moore – two former 1st round draft picks who still have room to grow in terms of reaching their potential.

Sather’s deadline dealings leaves the Rangers without a first and second round pick this June and they also dealt away one of their three third round picks, but they might be able to recoup it if they do not make the Stanley Cup Finals. If that is the case, then the Rangers receive a third round pick from Columbus as part of the Rick Nash trade.

In addition, the Rangers still have an opportunity to restock their prospect pool by signing undrafted collegiate and Junior players. The Blueshirts already fortified their defense corps with the signing of Conor Allen and Tommy Hughes.

Here is a detailed look at all of the newest New York Rangers.

RYANE CLOWE

Clowe is a 6-foot-2 and 225 pound LW who brings the “jam” that Coach John Tortorella often talks about. The 30-year-old Clowe was San Jose’s 7th round draft pick (#175) in the 2001 NHL Draft. Prior to his goal scoring drought this season with the Sharks, Clowe averaged about 21 goals and 33 assists during the last four seasons – including a career best 24 goals and 38 assists in 2010-11. He also added six goals and nine assists in 17 playoff games that year.

Here is his Hockey News Scouting Report:

Assets: Plays a solid up-and-down game, and is a throwback winger who loves to check and do the dirty work. Strong on the puck, he’s versatile enough to line up on either wing. Is a good scorer in close and an excellent scrapper, too.

Flaws: Can be a bit too streaky in the goal-scoring department. As he has become a bigger scoring threat, he has become a little less physical, too. Also, he is not an elegant skater; he’s somewhat of a plodder, in fact.

Career Potential: Solid power forward.

DERICK BRASSARD

The 25-year-old Brassard was the sixth overall selection in the 2006 NHL Draft. The 6-foot-1 and 202 pound Center was the ninth rated prospect by the International Scouting Service (ISS) who compared his playing style to that of Paul Kariya. ISS attributed his hockey sense to his hockey background as his father Pierre was drafted in 1976 the 6th round by the Montreal Canadiens in the NHL Draft and in the 10th round by the Quebec Nordiques in the WHA Draft. While Pierre did not play professional hockey, he did star for three years with Cornwall (QMJHL) – averaging 61 goals and 63 assists in his final two seasons.

Of Brassard, ISS said, “The shifty pivot is one of the most exciting forwards in the offensive zone; speed and agility allows him to find the open space. With all his offensive ability he still shows good defensive awareness and the willingness to help out in the defensive zone.”

His career has hampered by a pair of shoulder injuries that caused him to miss large chunks of playing time. In the 2006-07 season, Brassard was limited to just 14 games with Rimouski (QMJHL). In 2008-09, another shoulder injury forced Brassard to miss the final 50 games of the regular season and all four Columbus playoff games.

In 2010-11, Brassard set career highs in goals, assists and points (17-30-47).

Here is Brassard’s Hockey News Scouting Report:

Assets: Skates well and possesses plenty of scoring instincts. Can excel at both ends of the ice, and is a determined athlete. Owns leadership qualities.

Flaws: Must learn to shoot more. Needs to continue adding more strength to fully maximize his vast potential. Has to overcome his propensity to get injured.

Career Potential: Talented, but inconsistent forward with upside.

DEREK DORSETT

Rangers fans will have to wait before the debut of their new RW. The 6-foot and 192 pound Dorsett is on Injured Reserve recovering from a broken collarbone. Some reports have him out for the rest of the season while others say he could be back for the last week of the regular season or the start of the playoffs.

The one thing that is for certain is that fans of Brandon Prust are going to love Dorsett as he plays the same style of game that Prust does. Dorsett did kill penalties while a member of the Blue Jackets.

Aaron Portzline of The Columbus Dispatch tweeted the following in the aftermath of the Rangers-Blue Jackets trade, “Fully expect Derek Dorsett to be a fan favorite in Madison Square Garden. He’s not big, but his heart swells in the sweater. Tortorella will love this guy, as long as he limits ill-advised penalties. But he’s fearless and relentless player. Will fight anybody.”

His willingness to scrap, and take some ill-advised penalties, contributed to his NHL best 235 PIMs – which were fueled by his 19 fighting majors. Despite spending all that time in the penalty box, Dorsett did score 12 goals and add 8 assists as well last season. He was averaging about 16 minutes of ice time this season and tallied three goals and six assists in 24 games with Columbus.

Dorsett was part of Columbus’ 2006 NHL Draft that produced NHLers Brassard, the recently traded Steve Mason and Tom Sestito. Dorsett was the Blue Jackets 7th round pick (#189).

Here is Dorsett’s Hockey News Scouting Report:

Assets: Is an industrious winger who never backs down from challenges. Loves to initiate contact and agitate the opposition. Will drop the gloves on occasion. Can play any forward position if he has to.

Flaws: Is somewhat limited in the scoring department at the National Hockey League level. Needs to get stronger and avoid injuries in order to survive in the NHL playing with such reckless abandon.

Career Potential: Effective, fearless agitator.

JOHN MOORE

The 6-foot-3 and 202 pound defenseman was Columbus’ 1st round pick (#21) in the 2009 NHL Draft. The Rangers selected Chris Kreider two picks early and Calgary drafted Tim Erixon two picks later. As we all know, thanks to Mike Emrick and Pierre McGuire, played triple-A amateur hockey with the Chicago Mission who was coached by Ed Olczyk. What the NBC Sports guys didn’t mention is that former NHL defenseman Steve Smith was also one of Moore’s coaches.

In 2009, Moore was rated the 16th best prospect by ISS and they compared his playing style to that of Joe Corvo.

Of Moore, ISS said, He has the size and skill to go along with great playmaking abilities. Tremendous skater. Moore is blessed with very light / quick feet that enable him to get to and from the puck/plays in an expeditious manner. In addition, Moore’s checking skills have also improved as he is holding his checks better along the boards with improved balance etc.”

After spending 73 games in the AHL in his rookie seasons (two games with Columbus), Moore played 67 games with the Blue Jackets (two goals and five assists) last season (just five games in the AHL).

The 22-year-old blueliner was limited to just 18 games with Columbus as a lower body injury caused him to miss five games in February and a recent shoulder injury forced him to miss eight games as he was on the Injured Reserve List and only was activated in mid-March.

Here is Moore’s Hockey News Scouting Report:

Assets: Has a good frame to grow into, and owns exceptional skating ability. Can play an offensive role and likes to be on the attack. Can fire the puck and eventually quarterback a power play. His speed is also very useful on defense.

Flaws: Is still learning the nuances of the NHL game. Needs to add more strength in order to better handle big forwards. Needs to keep working on his defensive consistency with regards to his decision-making.

Career Potential: Extremely mobile defenseman with good upside.

CONOR ALLEN

The 6-foot-1 and 210 Allen was the first of two undrafted free agent defensemen the Rangers signed leading up to the NHL Trade Deadline. The 23-year-old played his collegiate hockey at the University of Massachusetts. Believe it or not, there is an Olczyk connection with Allen. While at UMass, Allen was a teammate of Eddie Olczyk, Ed’s son.

Signing free agent UMass defenseman is nothing new for the Blueshirts because they signed Thomas Pock at the end of the 2003-04 season. Much like Matt Gilroy, Pock was a forward who was shifted to the blue line in college.

The Rangers have three other UMass connections. Defenseman Marvin Degon, an AHL signee, played 85 games with Hartford in 2005-06 and 200607.

In 2011-12, Casey Wellman played 31 AHL games with the Connecticut Whale after being acquired from the Minnesota Wild.
Danny Hobbs, the Rangers 7th round pick (#198) in the 2007 NHL Draft played four seasons at UMass before turning pro and spending this season in the ECHL with the Greenville Road Warriors.

Allen also played in USHL with Sioux Falls Stampede (2009/10) with Dallas 2011 1st rounder Jamie Oleksiak, and was an NAHL teammate of Devils goalie prospect Keith Kinkaid in 2008/09 with the St. Louis Bandits.

Allen is looking to duplicate the jump to the NHL two other Minutemen have taken – LA’s Jonathan Quick and Toronto’s Mike Kostka.

Allen spent the previous two summers on two NHL Summer Development Camp Rosters – the Washington Capitals (2011) and the Vancouver Canucks (2012).

His college coach for his first two seasons, Don “Toot” Cahoon, gave an insight into Allen’s game during a September 2010 interview.

“Allen will be a great skating defenseman in this league,” Cahoon told Dick Baker of MassLive.com. “He really transitions the puck by foot as well as with a strong pass.”

UMass Sports Blog Fear The Triangle offered up this summary of Allen’s season.

“I thought Allen was consistently one of the best UMass players on the ice this season and even one of the better defenseman in the conference. Defensively, he was easily the best player for UMass. He more than doubled his blocked shots from last year from 24 to a team high 57. He doubled his assists from last year, from 7 to 14, and added 5 goals of his own.”

TOMMY HUGHES

The 6-foot-2 and 216 pound defenseman comes to the Rangers as an undrafted free agent out of Canadian Junior hockey and from a team they are quite familiar with – the London Knights. Both Dan Girardi and Michael Del Zotto were member of the Knights.
Hughes, a native of London, Ontario, is looking to follow in the footsteps of Girardi and become another London blueliner who went from undrafted free agent to NHL star with the Rangers.

If Hughes does make the Rangers in the not-too-distant future, he will have the chance to team with London Knights alum Rick Nash, whose #61 is retired. Former Ranger Brendan Shanahan also has his number retired (#19).

Ottawa’s Marc Methot is another undrafted Knights defenseman who has battled his way into the NHL.

Currently, Hughes is one of five members of the London Knights who have signed contracts with NHL teams while another five Knights have been drafted but have yet to sign with their draft teams.

Hughes actually serves as a perfect complement to Allen. Whereas Hughes is a right-handed shot, Allen is a left-handed shooting defenseman.

However, while Allen has signed an Amateur Tryout (ATO) agreement with the Connecticut Whale, Hughes’ pro debut is on hold as he leads his Knights into the Second Round of the OHL playoffs. London’s opponent is, ironically enough, the Kitchener Rangers – one of the teams London defeated last year on their way to an OHL championship. The Knights and Baby Rangers have a couple of wild playoff battles during the last few years and this year should be no different.

Hughes is finishing up his fourth season with London and is serving as an Alternate Captain for the Knights. The defensive d-man set career highs in games (67), assists (15), points (16), and PIMs (66).

Being an undrafted player is nothing new to the soon to be 21-year-old (on April 7). He joined London as a “walk-on” during the 2009-10 season (playing seven games) after playing his AAA midget hockey with the London Jr. Knights.

The Rangers interest in Hughes did not appear all of a sudden. The Blueshirts invited him to their Summer Development camp this year, but a broken foot put the kibosh on his availability.

You know that Hughes will be ready for the rough-and-tumble world of the NHL given that his Junior coach is Dale Hunter.

“He blocks shots, he’s fearless out there,” Hunter told John Matisz of Metronews.ca. “He just kept getting better and better every year.”

Hunter also spoke to Matisz about London’s ability to train and develop undrafted NHL blueliners.

“They were like that for me when they were here, and that’s what Hughesy does for us,” the former Washington Capitals coach explained – referencing Girardi and Methot.

In reference to Hughes Matisz wrote, “A trademark of Hughes’ game is his unorthodox skating style. Though it often appears like his long strides slow him down, Hunter insists it’s quite the opposite.”

“He’s a very good skater. He’s fast. He stays in a crouch, which he should anyways, and he’s strong,” Hunter said in defense of Hughes.

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With the NHL trade deadline just a day away, the rumor mill is heating up as teams start jockeying for positioning to make that one trade that will put them over the top or signal the start of a rebuilding process.

Pittsburgh GM Ray Shero already laid waste to the NHL trade market with his pre-deadline deals that brought in the likes of Brendan Morrow, Doug Murray and Jarome Iginla. While Shero says he is done, his salary cap situation says otherwise. According to CapGeek, the Penguins have the ability to add $18 million in annual average salary to their payroll.

The Penguins have gone all in because all three of their acquisitions are UFAs and they might be facing a closing window of opportunity come the end of next season when Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, Brooks Orpik and Chris Kunitz become UFAs and Simon Despres and Brandon Sutter become RFAs.

Conversely, the New York Rangers have the ability to add about $6.8 million in annual average salary come the deadline. Unlike the Penguins who were adding to a powerhouse team, the Rangers have one-third the cap space to try and right a team that is fighting for their playoff lives.

Faced with a dropping salary cap come next season, and a disinclination to trade away any of their prized prospects, the Blueshirts do not expect too active at the trade deadline. Rather than the splashy headlines they made in 1994 on their way to the Stanley Cup, the best the Rangers can expect to do is tinker a little bit – reshuffling the deck chairs on the Titanic if you will.

The Rangers and San Jose Sharks have spent a lot of time scouting each other. From all indications, the Blueshirts focus was on Dan Boyle and Ryane Clowe. While the Rangers could probably make Boyle’s contract work for this season, they would not be able to fit his $6.67 million contract next year unless Marian Gaborik headed west.

In addition to the salary concern, Boyle has a limited no-trade clause and the Rangers could be one of eight teams on his veto list.

Clowe fits well within Coach John Tortorella’s style and would bring some of that “jam” that Torts is always harping on. Clowe is an UFA at the end of the season so the Rangers would only have to accommodate his prorated $3.6 million contract for this season. Clowe would not be the direct answer to the Rangers offensive woes. For those answers, you need the likes of Marian Gaborik and Brad Richards to start earning their big-time salaries.

Rather, Clowe helps add a physical aspect that the Rangers lost when they dealt away Brandon Dubinsky and let Brandon Prust leave as an UFA – both moves which were the right moves. The problem is Glen Sather never adequately replaced those two players and a player like Artem Anisimov. The 6-foot-2 and 225 pound Clowe has not scored a goal this season, but the Rangers are looking for him to create some space for the Blueshirt snipers to operate.

San Jose President/GM Doug Wilson explained the Clowe situation from the Sharks perspective.

“He’s one of these guys that’s feared and respected, he’s tough as nails, he can play the game, he’s a great teammate, and he’s a pending unrestricted free agent,” Wilson told The Associated Press.

“As a player and a teammate, teammates know he has their back and he’s just a tremendous heart-and-soul competitor.”

Apparently because of his no-trade clause, Clowe’s choices came down to the Rangers and Vancouver Canucks. Kevin Allen of USA Today spoke to Vancouver GM Mike Gillis who told him, “It seemed like geography was a (determining) factor.”

Allen then added his own take – “According to Gillis, Clowe liked the Vancouver situation, but preferred to move to the Eastern Conference team.

Setting aside all talk of no-trade and no-movement clauses, the Rangers have made it clear they are loathed to move the likes of Chris Kreider or J.T. Miller in trades and it is doubtful they would give up Dylan McIlrath or Brady Skjei before either blueliner had a chance to play for the Rangers.

Salary cap concerns and an unwillingness to move their top prospects are not the only restriction the Rangers face in making a deadline deal. Teams are always on the lookout for draft picks (especially first and second round picks) – and the Rangers have a problem there as well with their own first round draft pick belonging to the Columbus Blue Jackets as a result of the Rick Nash deal.

The Clowe deal has robbed the Rangers of some of their 2013 assets – their own 2nd round pick and a 3rd round pick they acquired from Florida. They may also face losing a 2nd round pick in 2014 if Clowe re-signs with the Rangers or if the team reaches the Eastern Conference Finals.

Elliotte Friedman of CBC says the Rangers are among the teams showing a lot of interest in Curtis Glencross. The LW would be a good fit in Tortorella’s system as he would bring some speed, a physical aspect and two-way play. He can play on the power play, penalty kill, as well as skate a regular turn as a top 6-9 forward. He has scored 20+ goals the last two years, but does have bouts of inconsistency (see, he IS a perfect Ranger).

There are a couple of roadblocks. Other teams might be more willing to “go all in” as compared to the Rangers. Glencross does have a no-movement clause so he would to approve any deal to New York. Also, he has one more year on his contract at $2.55 million before he becomes an UFA. The salary isn’t that unreasonable, but with the cap dropping $6 million next season the Rangers would have to move some pieces before next season.
With the Rangers having limited resources, it might behoove them to concentrate their deadline conversations to strengthening their blue line.

The Rangers have options at forward if they decide to turn Kreider and Miller loose, with Jesper Fast (who practiced with the team on Tuesday) here and Oscar Lindberg potentially looming on the horizon.

The team cannot afford to rely on Marc Staal’s return this season. They need to proceed as if he is out for the rest of the year. If he ends up being ready to play this year then it will be an unexpected bonus.

The big problem is that defensemen are to the NHL what reliable pitching is to Major League Baseball teams – a wanted commodity that is not easy to acquire.

The Rangers could look to the waiver-wire for a cheap (and quick) fix and claim d-man Kurtis Foster who was placed on waivers after Philadelphia acquired Kent Huskins from Detroit after the Red Wings signed collegiate free agent Danny DeKeyser. Got it?

Foster’s defensive ability will not make anyone forget Rod Langway, but his big and booming shot from the point could help the Rangers floundering power play. If Tortorella is only going to give Roman Hamrlik five minutes of ice time, then Foster could get those minutes as a power play specialist.

Cam Barker (Vancouver) and Steve Montador (Chicago) were also waived by their teams. Montador has been out all season with a concussion and, according to The Hockey News, cleared waivers and was assigned to Rockford of the AHL. I was a big Barker fan during his draft year, but he has not lived up to his hype and might not survive the Tortorella “death stare” the first time he missed an assignment that led to a goal against.

One other name to watch is Ryan O’Byrne of Colorado. The 6-foot-5 and 234 pound O’Byrne is a right-handed shooting d-man with a very limited offensive game. However, he does use his size well and is not afraid to drop the gloves if necessary. He is making $1.8 million and is set to be an UFA at the end of the season.

The only problem with O’Byrne is that the Rangers already have three right shooters on the blue line and could really use a lefty shooter to replace Hamrlik in the lineup.

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With the 2013 NHL Trade Deadline less than two weeks away, business has started to pick up around Madison Square Garden. Yes, there are trade rumors involving all the usual targets (Dan Boyle, Ryan Clowe, Brenden Morrow) and possible trade chips – including rumors of the Blueshirts entertaining offers for Marian Gaborik. However, the biggest intrigue is who will be pulling the trigger on any potential deals.

As Glen Sather undergoes and recuperates from prostate surgery, Assistant GM Jeff Gorton represented the team at the General Manager’s meetings in Toronto. While Sather will still have the final say on any deal, Gorton is probably the person who will do the heavy lifting and the dirty work in any trade the Rangers make – and that might not be such a bad thing.

Gorton, in his brief term as interim GM of the Bruins in 2006, helped lay the groundwork for Boston’s Stanley Cup victory. During his tenure, he engineered the trade that brought Tuuka Rask from Toronto (in exchange for Andrew Raycroft), signed Zdeno Chara and Marc Savard as free agents, and drafted the likes of Milan Lucic and Brad Marchand.

Whether it is Sather or Gorton leading the trade brigade, the one thing the Rangers have to be mindful of is the $6 million cut the NHL’s salary cap takes next season. While navigating the decrease in the salary cap, the team has to address the RFA status of Carl Hagelin, Ryan McDonagh and Derek Stepan after this season.

As if that weren’t daunting enough, the Blueshirts have to keep one eye open for the contracts that come up after 2014-2015.

Ryan Callaghan, Marian Gaborik, Dan Girardi, and Henrik Lundqvist are UFA and Michael Del Zotto and Chris Kreider are RFA – and that still doesn’t take into account the loss of UFA depth players like Martin Biron, Brian Boyle and Anton Stralman.

As the Rangers stare down the April 3 deadline, the main goal would be to add players who are set to be UFAs at the end of the season – thus limiting the Rangers cap concern to just the final weeks of the regular season. For the Rangers to take on any contracts beyond this season would require them to move a player still under contract beyond this season. That could be a factor in the Rangers gauging interest in Gaborik – someone who might be out of the Rangers cap range when he is a free agent.

With that said, there is still a way for teams to “work around” possible salary implications when discussing trades. Craig Custance of ESPN pointed out that the new CBA allows teams to absorb parts of contracts in trades.

SNY’s Adam Rotter wrote that Custance pointed out that only one trade this year has involved a team absorbing salary as part of a trade – the deal that ssaw Toronto send Matthew Lombardi back to Phoenix.

Rotter spoke with Gorton and the Assistant GM said that the Rangers are doing their due diligence in terms of researching the ins and outs.

“If there’s a money concern on one team and the other team has the ability to keep it, it’s significant,” Gorton told Rotter. “As we move forward it’s going to play a big role in player deals.”

The biggest problem in terms of trying to handicap who the Rangers would target is the fact that the NHL Lockout turned the NHL season from a marathon into a sprint. As a result, as of March 22, the last place team in the Eastern Conference is only eight points out of the 8th spot and only six points separates the 8th and 15th place teams in the Western Conference.

The Florida Panthers might be the only team that could consider themselves out of the playoff hunt for the very same reason that could prevent them from being very active at the trade deadline – injuries. Possible trade targets Kris Versteeg and Stephen Weiss (an UFA at the end of the year) are out for the season. Mike Weaver and Jose Theodore are out anywhere from 4-6 weeks and Ed Jovanoski was placed on Injured Reserve on St. Patrick’s Day.

However, after polishing off Carolina and the Rangers in back-to-back games, maybe the Panthers playoff chances aren’t so dead after all.

It very well could be with an eye towards the deadline that the Rangers recalled Chris Kreider. It is a good strategy for the Blueshirts to give Kreider another look before committing time, resources, and salary cap space in any trade for a scoring forward.

Coach John Tortorella, at least at the start, is teaming Kreider up with fellow rookie J.T. Miller with Brian Boyle as the center between the two former first round draft picks. While Boyle will not be able to keep up with the speedy Kreider, he does provide some defensive insurance for him (and Miller too).

In an ideal world, Kreider should be getting top six forward minutes but taking a regular shift on the third line helps to ease him back into the regular rotation – especially if Torts can find some time for him on the struggling power play.

With that said, I will have no problem with Tortorella moving Jeff Halpern or Taylor Pyatt up to the third line if the Rangers are trying to protect a one-goal lead in the final 7-10 minutes of the third period.

However, the coach has to be willing to live with some of the growing pains you go through when you play a rookie whose main asset is his offensive ability. Tortorella can’t be benching him for making a regular “mistake” because if that were the case then Marian Gaborik and Brad Richards would be getting a lot of pine time.

Should Kreider play up to, or near, his 2012 playoff performance then the Rangers will have added scoring without giving up anything. That would free the team up to shop for some depth forwards (who would be much cheaper than trying to find an offensive player). They could look to bring in a defensively responsible third line center who would give them more offense, and in turn, allow them to drop Boyle to the fourth line – thus strengthening both of those lines.

The Rangers could also channel their assets into upgrading their defense corps – especially given the uncertain return of Marc Staal. Even if Staal were to return, the Rangers could still use an upgrade and a better sixth defenseman. In this case, the team could look to bring in a defensive d-man who would add a physical presence or they could in the complete opposite direction and look for an offensive d-man to help the power play. Given Tortorella’s preference to shorten the defense rotation, the Blueshirts could get by with a power play specialist as their sixth defenseman.

Following the Florida game, the coach appeared to let it be known that an offensive d-man is high on his priority list.

“We still need someone to take over the power play and run it,” Tortorella said. “I don’t think that’s happened and I’m not sure it ever will.”

I have to respectfully disagree with Torts on this one. After the lockout, the Rangers had a Top 10 power play that was run by Michal Rozsival. The problem with the current team is not the players, it is the way the power play is being run. Constant over-passing, shots that are wide of the net and no forwards crowding the crease are not going to change even if Bobby Orr in his prime were running the power play.

With Staal’s health and availability a big question, I believe the Rangers bigger need is a defenseman who can try to help replace Staal’s play in the defensive zone.

The Rangers have had scouts following the San Jose Sharks who have a pair of defensemen who fits both of the Rangers needs. Doug Murray (UFA this year) would fill the bill of a big physical defensive blueliner.

Dan Boyle (UFA at the end of 2013-2014) would give the Rangers the offensive threat/power play QB the coach wants. The problem with Boyle is that he does have a limited no-trade clause where he can block eight teams.

The main concern with Boyle is trying to fit his $6.7 million contract under next year’s budget while trying to replace Gaborik at forward both this year and next. The Rangers could inquire about Ryan Clowe (UFA this year). According to the CapGeek Trade Calculator, a Gaborik for Boyle and Clowe deal would be “Cap compliant” for both sides. However, there would be two problems.

First off, the Rangers would definitely have to kick in a prospect and/or draft pick to even off the deal. The second problem, and possibly the biggest roadblock, is that Clowe is having a horrendous season to the tune of zero goals and nine assists in 25 games this season. While Clowe fits Tortorella’s style of play, his subpar skating would be a big hit to take while losing Gaborik.

In mid-February, I put together a list of UFA players who might be available. In the month or so since I put together that list, the topsy-turvy nature of the shortened NHL season has seen a team like Columbus (Vinny Prospal anyone) shoot into the thick of the playoff hunt.

In my first draft, this was the place where I talked about how a Rangers winning streak heading into the trade deadline would play into their favor in terms of giving them better bargaining power. Given the fiasco that was the loss to the Panthers, any leverage the Rangers might have taken advantage of was lost.

Failure to accumulate points puts the Rangers in the tenable position of having to decide whether or not they are willing to mortgage the future for a playoff run this year. The team has been able to resist the urge in the past, but expectations were much different coming into this season than they have been in a long time.

It is those lofty expectations that would prevent the Rangers from being sellers at the deadline. Cablevision can ill afford to have the Blueshirts miss the playoffs after raising ticket prices again as the Garden looks ahead to finishing its extensive remodeling.

Putting fishnagles aside, if that is even possible, the Rangers can’t run the risk of missing the playoffs because they don’t even have their first round draft pick – an even bigger loss now that the NHL finally decided to allow all 14 non-playoff teams to have a shot at the first overall pick in the NHL Draft Lottery. As slim as the Rangers chances would be, it would be their luck to finally end up at the top of the Draft only to watch Columbus use that pick.

That might not mean that much to the average fan, but I bet it means an awful lot to the image-conscience New York Rangers and owner James Dolan

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When people think of the “Ides of March”, there thoughts go to the assassination of Julius Caesar and of reading William Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar as the title character is warned “beware the Ides of March”.

For me, the “Ides of March” represents the day of the final game of the Iona College Hockey Team. On March 15, 2003, my alma mater’s hockey program came to an end in a heart-wrenching loss to Mercyhurst in the MAAC Quarterfinals.

The termination of the hockey program is the reason why the 2004-2005 NHL Lockout, and our current brush with Lockout #2, did not bother me as it did the majority of New York Rangers fans. I knew that eventually the Rangers, and the NHL, would be back. The same could not be said of the Ice Gaels.

On that night in Erie, Pennsylvania I witnessed an incredible scene – one that occurred after the game. As I made my way through the Iona locker room, it was the Iona players consoling me rather than me consoling them. I know as a journalist one is supposed to remain neutral and remove themselves from a rooting interest – something I strove very hard to do as part of my duties as the Iona College game recapper for US College Hockey Online.

However, on that fateful day my emotions as a fan won out I tried to talk to Coach Frank Bretti and his players that night. Instead of me helping them through their tough time, they were helping me. If you ever met those players you would understand why my feelings as a fan came through – while they were good hockey players, they were even better guys. That goes for pretty much every player I encountered while covering the Iona hockey team.

In tribute to the 10th anniversary of the final game of the Ice Gaels, I offer this reprinted article of that final game. It is not from the recap I did for USCHO. Instead, it is from the expanded recap I did for Ranger Ramblings – back in the days when the column was part of Allsports.com’s Ranger Fan Central.

While I do not miss the crazy bus rides with Coach USA – and there were some real doozies – I do miss the good times and great people associated with the Iona College Hockey program. As I sit and write this prologue, I can’t help but tear up and wonder what might have been had the Iona College program continued. Archrival Quinnipiac left the successor to the MAAC (Atlantic Hockey) for ECAC and this year become the #1 team in the country. I often wonder, if Quinnipiac, why not Iona?

What started as a club team in 1967 ended on March 15, 2003 as the Iona College hockey program came to an end with its 5-4 loss at Mercyhurst. With the victory, the Lakers advance to their fourth consecutive MAAC Semifinals in as many years. Mercyhurst (20-12-2) will play Bentley in the 5:00 p.m. game on March 21, 2003.

The end of an era came at 9:23 p.m. as the final seconds ticked off the clock. The hockey team embodied Iona’s motto of “fight the good fight”. It would have been easy for lesser athletes to fold at the prospect of overcoming a three-goal deficit with only 20 minutes left to play in their Iona careers. What the Iona Administration never realized, nor accounted for, was the heart and backbone of their players given the circumstances of the past week – especially given the fact the Administration told the players one of the reasons for dropping the hockey program was over a concern over how competitive the team could be.

One week ago Iona (11-22-2) visited Fairfield as the Stags played their final Division I hockey game. Little did the Gaels know seven days later they would be facing the same situation.

Iona coach Frank Bretti explained how he learned about the beginning of the end of the hockey program during the Friday afternoon press conference at the Mercyhurst Ice Center.

“I was basically called in. I was left a message that evening before [that] I had to meet with the president and our AD. I was called and told that they wanted to meet with the team at nine o’clock. When I got that message I had a feeling that they weren’t going to be wishing us good luck at Mercyhurst to be honest with you,” Bretti recounted. “It was pretty much told to me pretty quickly that there were some issues and some reallocations of money and we basically fell victim to it.”

Mind you, these events all took place just four days before the Gaels would play their MAAC playoff game.

Iona captain Mark Hallam described his teammates feelings as they headed into the Mercyhurst game.

“There are some people [in the Iona Administration] that we would like to prove wrong. We haven’t had much success here [at Mercyhurst] in the past and we were able to battle back that game and get an overtime win. I think that could be one of the big turning points in our season so far. From there we were able to develop some confidence and into the second half there I think we went on a little run here at the end, 7-4-1 or something like that,” the native of Medicine Hat, Alberta stated.

“We feel like we’re playing good hockey right now, we have a lot of confidence and outside of some bad news this week, we feel like we have a job to do this weekend and we just have to get it done.

In that press conference, Mercyhurst coach Rick Gotkin summed up the sentiments of the Iona faithful.

“It’s a sad day for Iona. It’s a sad day for the MAAC, and it’s a sad day for college hockey,” he said. “I thought we’d lose some teams. [But] if you told me it would be Iona, I wouldn’t believe it. Hearing the news about Iona is numbing to me. I think Iona is making a terrible mistake. I question the timing of the decision [and announcement].”

Despite the unusual circumstances surrounding the Iona program, Gotkin and his team realized there was still a job to get done.

“It’s clearly a distraction for us, but we’re preparing for a very good [Iona] team that beat us here. We’re going to have to be very good to be successful,” Gotkin said during the press conference.

Lakers captain Adam Rivers addressed what his team needed to do to survive and advance in the MAAC playoffs.

“It’ll come down to a game of little things,” the senior from Belleville, Ontario said. “We’ve got to stick to our game plan – control the neutral zone, no turnovers, tight defense, that sort of thing.”

Hallam agreed with his counterparts’ assessment when it came to following the game plan. “We have to bring our ‘A’ game in all three zones. We have to play strong defensively, can’t make mistakes in the neutral zone, and [we] have to finish in the offensive zone.”

While there was an obvious extra-added emotional level to the game, Bretti was quick to point out that his team could not run on emotion alone.

“I think it does on the mental side of it. The reality of it is, as I tell our guys through the course of the year, different coaches have different methods of motivating people. Whether it’s through quotes and this and that, the bottom line is that you have to be physically and mentally prepared,” Bretti explained.

“We’re definitely up against the most formidable opponent in the league and it’s going to take a lot more than emotion to win this game. There’s no doubt that there’s going to be a little bit of extra energy in everybody in the lineup for us when it’s all said and done.

When the Gaels arrived at the rink, they were met with some unexpected well wishes from former Iona players and friends of the hockey program. Assistant coach Rob Haberbusch put out a call and the Gaels’ faithful responded – letting the hockey team know many people were still rooting for them. Haberbusch put up the notes of encouragement on the wall in the hallway leading to the Iona locker room.

The Lakers opened the scoring in the opening minutes of the game as Dave Borelli scored the first of his two goals at 2:26 with David Wrigley and Adam Rivers assisting on the freshman’s goal.

“I came out of the corner and the puck just came loose and I popped it into the empty net,” the Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario native explained.

The Gaels would take the lead midway through the first period as they cashed in on a pair of play chances just over two minutes apart.

With Jamie King in the penalty box for Hooking, Hallam evened the score at 8:54 on a set up from Jamie Carroll and Ryan Swanson as he slipped home his 11th goal of the season beating Andy Franck between the pads. The point was Hallam’s 100th of his career as he became the 32nd Gael (and fourth in their Division I history) to hit the century mark.

The Gaels took the lead a little more than two minutes later with Marty Rychley serving a Tripping penalty. Tim Krueckl put Iona ahead at 11:12 as he scored his 11th of the season, and fourth in three games against Mercyhurst, on assists from Hallam and Jamie Carroll.

The Gaels CHecK Line of Carroll, Hallam and Krueckl finished up with 21 goals and 31 assists in their last 13 games, serving notice they would have been one of the most potent lines in the MAAC next season – if there had been a next season for Iona.

The Gaels good fortunes did not last long as Borelli scored again just 24 seconds later as he beat Ian Vigier from the high slot for his seventh of the season and third against Iona in as many games.

In victory, Borelli was quick to praise the Gaels. “We have to give a lot of credit to Iona. They came out and played hard. It was an emotional game from the beginning,” the freshman center related. “Everybody on our team came out and played 60 minutes and that is what it takes to win in the playoffs.”

Mercyhurst took the lead for good with less than five minutes as they converted off a set play on a faceoff in the Iona zone as Wrigley tipped home Mike Muldoon’s centering pass at 15:04. Borelli received the secondary assist on Wrigley’s 14th of the season and third against Iona.

Franck made a pair of dazzling saves in the final minute to keep Iona from tying the game. He stopped Hallam, who had a defender on his back, on a partial breakaway with 50 seconds left in the first period, and Franck later made a sprawling save on Ryan Manitowich in the slot with 21 seconds remaining. Franck’s late period heroics were just a preview of what he would do in the third period.

“Franck has been outstanding for the last two months,” Borelli said explaining the workload the freshman has carried after junior Matt Cifelli left school in January.

“He’s had his down games, but the last month he’s been playing great for us. He’s been playing awesome for us and we need that just like we need everyone else to step up.”

The Lakers extended their lead to three, as their power play stepped up and converted on a pair of consecutive power play opportunities.

With Aaron Kakepetum whistled off the ice for a Delay of Game penalty, T.J. Kemp extended the lead to 4-2 as he slid down from his left point position to deflect home Rich Hansen’s cross-ice pass at 9:58. Adam Tackaberry, returning to the lineup after missing the last 10 games, also assisted on Kemp’s 10th goal.

Mercyhurst struck again on the power play as they scored six seconds after Brent Williams’ Holding penalty man. Peter Rynshoven one-timed Hansen’s pass into the net for his 10th goal at 12:02.

Down three and watching their season and Iona careers slipping away, the Gaels dug in deep and decided they would not go gently into that good night.

During the second intermission, Bretti tried to get his team to forget about the emotional events of the past few days and concentrate on the task at hand.

“I’ve always believed in these guys. At the end of the second period, we talked about needing to settle down a little bit. We felt we were going to continue to get [scoring] opportunities,” he explained. “It was just going to come down to being able to finish a few of them. We were able to give it a fight until the end.”

Actually, Iona thought they had cut the lead to two with 58 seconds left in the second period, but referee Jeff Fulton ruled the puck did not cross the goal line and while bothering to check with the goal judge – even though it appeared, from the press box, that the puck had skittered completely over the goal line. An ensuing 10-minute misconduct penalty costs the Gaels the services of Chad Van Diemen – the team’s second highest scoring defenseman.

At one point early in the third period, the Gaels had Van Diemen, Ryan Swanson (Holding minor) and Trevor McCall (Roughing minor and a 10-minute misconduct) in the penalty box. Bretti was forced use freshman center Andrew McShea on defense with half his blueliners in the penalty box.

The Gaels finally cut the lead to two at 6:30 of the third period when Neil Clark tipped home Kakepetum’s shot from the point. Brent Williams drew the secondary assist on Clark’s third goal.

Five minutes later it was Williams firing home his 13th of the season and breathing life back into the Iona hockey program. Williams hustled off the Iona bench to keep the puck in at the right point. The sophomore skated into the high slot and beat Franck high to the glove side. Kelly Bararuk and Clark drew the assists on the goal as their forechecking paved the way for the goal.

Iona had the Lakers back on their heels as they threw everything at Mercyhurst – including the proverbial kitchen sink. The eighth-seeded Gaels had the number one seeded Lakers content just to ice the puck to relieve the pressure.

The Gaels nearly tied the game with two and a half minutes left, but Franck’s toe save of a Manitowich redirection in front proved to be the best, and most important, of Franck’s 43 saves.

“Andy Franck won us this hockey game. There is no question in my mind,” Gotkin said. “The games [is] 5-2 and we come out and have four or five chances. If one of them goes in, I think we win the game going away. They didn’t go in and I think there was some magic in Iona’s situation. The next thing we know, it’s 5-4 and we are hanging on by our thumbnails.”

Gotkin was quick to offer his support and praise of the Gaels in defeat.

“I’d like to tip my hat to Frank Bretti, his assistants, and most importantly, his players. They really played great and showed a lot of heart. I am proud to have had the chance to coach against them the last four or five years. I have no doubt all these people will land on their feet,” said Gotkin.

“We had to try and overcome everything in a three day period and had to play the most formidable opponent in the league on the road,” an emotionally drained Bretti said. “I am proud of my guys. They gave it everything they had. We took the game to the last few seconds. My guys showed a lot of class going it the third period.”

What part did the emotional level play in the game?

“It’s really so hard to pinpoint how emotion affected the shifts and certain instances in the game. The bottom line tonight is it has been a difficult four days for us,” Bretti said. “We were doing everything we could to keep our focus. What was difficult for us to deal with was coming into this playoff series. We felt very good about how we were playing and then somebody brings you in ….”

A week before, following the Gaels win in Fairfield University’s final hockey game, Haberbusch spoke about his alma mater’s decision to eliminate its hockey program. With a couple of minor adjustments, the words he used in relating the fate of the Stags fits the Gaels and bears repeating.

“I feel very bad for these [25] kids on the team and the coaches that were brought here under the guise there was a long-term commitment to them and their goals. It is very devastating to the alumni base as well,” Haberbusch said.

”There are [36] years of [hockey] tradition here. Countless people have been through here and put in a great deal of hard work, dedication and commitment into this program. To see it taken away with the snap of a finger is very hard to swallow [and] that something so many people worked so hard to build isn’t going to be there anymore.”

For two years I have tried to be as impartial and neutral as possible in covering Iona College for U.S. College Hockey Online and USA College Hockey Magazine – despite the fact that Iona College is my alma mater and full-time employer.

Given the circumstances of the past week, I feel the need to thank all of the players and coaches who I have covered the past two years and rooted for during the past five seasons. Listening to the players after the game and in taking to the parents of Jamie Carroll and Andrew McShea, it was apparent, that parents and players alike thought of Iona as much more than the next place to play hockey. It was a home to them.

Jaymie Harrington spoke of being a “nomad” when it came to playing in as many six cities before coming to Iona. He thought he finally had a chance to hang his hat in one place for four years.

Trevor Aubie spoke of working in a local mill back home in western Canada before being given a chance by Coach Bretti to play hockey and get an education.

The bottom line is there are similar stories for each of the 25 members of the hockey team. While the names, faces and hometowns might change, the moral of the story is still the same

Each of these players made Iona a better place because of their presence on campus. Their absence leaves a void that will not easily be replaced – if it can be replaced at all.

They all deserved a better fate.

In the 10 years that have gone by since that final game, the Iona College Hockey program saw, by my count, nine players go on to play professional hockey in various North American leagues (AHL, ECHL, CHL, UHL and IHL) as well as playing overseas in Europe.

In fact, as I write this in March 2013, two Gaels are still playing professional hockey – Nathan Lutz and Ian Vigier. The others who played professional hockey include Jamie Carroll, Ryan Carter, Neil Clark, Tim Krueckl, Ryan Manitowich, Chris Martini, and Dan McGuire.

In addition, Iona coaches have found their way behind benches of other teams. Former player and assistant coach Mike Warde is an assistant coach at Army. Rob Haberbusch, who suffered the cruel fate of watching both Fairfield and Iona shutter their hockey programs, is the head coach at Hamilton College. Frank Bretti is the coach of the NY Apple Core program in the EJHL as he now prepares players for collegiate aspirations. Pat Lyons would eventually go from player, to assistant coach to eventual former Athletic Director at Iona and current AD at Seton Hall.

Other former Gaels have gotten into the off-ice world of hockey. Adam Bouchard spent two seasons as an assistant coach with Framingham State College. Jayme Harrington is currently the head coach at Franklin Pierce College. Mike Fraser is a scout with the Brandon Wheat Kings of the WHL.

If I missed anyone in those honors, I apologize for the omission. This addendum was meat to celebrate the Iona College Hockey program and, as John Greenleaf Whittier wrote, wonder “For of all sad words of tongue or pen, The saddest are these: “It might have been!’”

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The newest New York Ranger, Josh Nicholls, might owe Shane McColgan a thank you and root beer as a result of signing with the Blueshirts. The 6-foot-2 and 186 pound forward is a teammate of McColgan’s with the WHL’s Saskatoon Blades and you can bet the Blueshirts dialed into Nicholls this season while tracking McColgan’s progress.

Nicholls, who can play Center and RW, was originally a 2010 seventh round draft pick (#182) of the Toronto Maple Leafs. When he did not sign with Toronto, Nicholls was eligible for the 2012 NHL Draft but went undrafted.

As per Bob McKenzie of TSN, Nicholls signed an entry level contract (with a cap hit of $925,000) and will remain with the Blades until their season is over.

Nicholls was on the radar prior to the 2010 NHL Draft. NHL’s Central Scouting ranked him as their 93rd North American skater. McKeen’s ranked him at number 129 in their rankings of the Top 150 players. International Scouting Service ranked him at #199 and had the following write-up on him:

• Good linear skater but edge work needs improvement
• Two way player
• Leadership qualities
• Puck handling skills are decent
• Good stick around net in offensive zone
• Good positioning in d-zone
• Plays PK

Nicholls, who will be 21 on April 17, is playing his fifth season with the Blades – starting his WHL career as a 16-year-old.

The Tsawwassen, BC native has shown solid development as his WHL has progressed. After posting nine goals and 16 assists in 63 games in his rookie season, Nicholls’ numbers have steadily increased – as seen here:

• 18 goals and 30 assists in 71 games in 2008-2009
• 34 goals and 53 assists in 71 games in 2010-2011
• 30 goals and 38 assists in 56 games in 2011-2012
• 41 goals and 32 assists in 65 games (and counting) in 2012-2013

Hockey’s Future offers up the following Scouting Report on him:

“An interesting combination of size and speed, Nicholls is a two-way forward who displays some offensive upside. He is able to line-up both at center and on the right-wing. Very thin at the moment being only 186lbs and 6’2 so weight will be a priority over the next two seasons. Not a physical force, but forechecks well. He has developed into a well-rounded forward over the last few seasons; dangerous in all areas of the ice.”

“A long-term project with intriguing upside, Nicholls will spend the 2012-13 season in the WHL where he will continue maturing. Nicholls will continue his prominent offensive role with Saskatoon this season.”

“Projection: Versatile two-way forward with size.”

On his SNY Blog, Adam Rotter wrote that Nicholls scored a highlight goal reminiscent of Marek Malik’s shootout game-winning goal in November 2006. The main difference is that Nicholls’ goal was during the regular course of the game.

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While John Ferguson Jr. of the San Jose Sharks might have been scouting the New York Rangers, it turns out that the Blueshirts trading partner turned out to be a Wild card – as in the Minnesota Wild. The Rangers traded veteran winger Mike Rupp to Minnesota in exchange for Froward Darroll Powe and RW Nick Palmieri.

It is a trade that sees the Rangers get younger and smaller while saving about $400,000 in cap space as Palmieri the Connecticut Whale of the AHL. Both players have one more year left on their contracts (Rupp at $1.5 million and Powe at $1.07 million). Palmieri ($577,150) is making just above the NHL’s minimum salary of $525,000.

In an unscientific and strictly cursory search of the Internet, Wild fans seemed more upset to be losing Palmieri than Powe. It appears that it is a case of size and potential winning out over a third/fourth line checking forward with limited offensive upside. However given the Rangers penchant for taking penalties, they probably need a penalty killer like Powe than a tough guy like Rupp – especially with Aron Asham and Stu Bickel in New York and some size and tough guy alternatives in Connecticut (Palmieri, Micheal Haley, Brandon Segal and Brandon Mashinter).

In Powe, the Rangers received a 27-year-old who can play Center and Wing and is a left-handed shooter. The 5-foot-11 and 212 pounder is scoreless in eight games this season. He played in all 82 games last year and scored six goals and seven assists. In 294 career NHL games, Powe has tallied 28 goals and 28 assists.

Powe played four years at Princeton University before signing with the Philadelphia Flyers as an undrafted free agent in March 2007. The Flyers dealt Powe to Minnesota for a 2013 third round draft pick in June 2011 and he signed with Minnesota in July 2011. He is a John Tortorella type of player in that he is good defensively and will get in on the forecheck. While he doesn’t have an enforcer’s size, Powe has been known to scrap.

The one thing that limits his ice time is that he does not have much of an offensive game. His best use will be as a fourth line player who can kill penalties and take a shift on the third line as defensive presence and forechecker.

The addition of Palmieri helps replace the loss of Rupp’s size. The 23-year-old Palmieri is 6-foot-5 and weighs 230 pounds.

He was originally drafted in the third round (#79) of the 2007 NHL Draft by New Jersey. The Devils dealt Palmieri. Kurtis Foster, Stephane Veilleux, a 2012 second round draft pick (that belonged to Washington) and a conditional 2013 third round draft pick to Minnesota for former Ranger draft pick Marek Zidlicky. Since the Devils made the Eastern Conference Finals and Zidlicky played in 75% of the Devils playoff games in the first round, that pick is transferred to the Wild.

Palmieri played in 40 games with Houston Aeros of the AHL and scored 10 goals and 11 assists with 35 PIMs. Last season, Palmieri split his time between the Wild and Devils organizations. In 38 NHL games, he scored four goals and three assists with 14 PIMs. In 38 AHL games, he scored eight goals and nine assists with 32 PIM. He represented the USA in 2011 World Championships scoring two goals and one assist in six games.

In their 2007 NHL Draft Guide, the International Scouting Service wrote of Palmieri, “Palmieri is a big player with a strong powerful skating stride who would be more effective if he moved his feet more and played physical on a more consistent basis. He has good puck skills and does a nice of using size to protect the puck during battles along the boards. Playing in Erie this past season, Nick had the opportunity to play in all key situations – 5 on 5, 4 on 4, PP and PK. In the offensive zone he has a heavy shot with a quick release. Needs to improve play away from the puck and show more consistent effort in overall game.”

Here is the Toronto Star’s Scouting Report on Darroll Powe:

Assets: Works hard, provides energy and is a solid defensive forward. Can play both center and wing. Is aggressive and hard to knock off the puck, due to a strong lower base. Is plenty versatile.
Flaws: Doesn’t own a lot of natural offensive ability, so he’s reduced to role-player status at the National Hockey League level. Also doesn’t always play with consistency and can wear down over time.
Career Potential: Versatile depth forward with a defensive conscience.

Here is the Toronto Star’s Scouting Report on Nick Palmieri:

Assets: Boasts impressive size at 6-3, 220 pounds. Displays the ability to use his big frame to initiate contact. Works hard to improve his game. Unleashes a hard shot.
Flaws: Needs to improve his skating, as well as his passing skills and how to better utilize his linemates. Has to display a more consistent power game in the NHL.
Career Potential: Meat-and-potatoes winger with a little upside.

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“He who hesitates is lost.” It is believed that this idiom traces its roots back to Joseph Addison’s “Cato”. Whether the phrase originated with Addison or predates the English writer, it certainly refers to my favorite hockey blogger (me) and to my favorite hockey team (the Rangers).

At the end of last week I was doing some research for my next edition of “Ranger Ramblings”. I zeroed in on Coach John Tortorella’s reliance on his top players while seemingly ignoring the rest of his roster – especially in the wake of the loss to the Philadelphia Flyers.

On Friday, as part of the research, I zeroed in on three potential UFAs that would fit the Rangers needs. Imagine my surprise on Saturday night when I saw the ticker on the NHL Network that said the Rangers had signed Jason Arnott to a one-year deal – the same Jason Arnott who was at the top of my list.

After kicking myself for not finishing the article up before the start of the weekend, I figured that I could always whip up a column on how Arnott fits into the Rangers given his faceoff proficiency last season (505) and his big-time shot that would help cure some of the ills of the Rangers power play.

Imagine my shock on Monday morning when I open up the “Daily News” and see that Arnott’s deal with the Rangers was DOA because he did not pass the team’s physical.

As expected, Blueshirts President/GM Glen Sather was tight-lipped about the specific circumstances.

“He couldn’t pass a medical so we’ll move on, that’s all I can tell you,” was Sather’s explanation when Andrew Gross of The Record spoke to Slats at practice this morning.

It remains to be seen if Arnott does sign with another team – a team who might be more willing to gamble that he is healthy enough to last the season.

However, it seems that Sather is not content to stand pat with his roster.

“We’re always looking,” Sather told Gross. “We have 10 rookies at Hartford (AHL). It’s necessary to look around. It’s going to be a long year, you never know what’s going to happen. There’s always injuries so it’s smart to look around.”

After reading what Sather said, I thought that my second choice might be in play for the Rangers. While Option B does not bring the same faceoff skills as Arnott, he does bring an offensive upgrade and has a background of being a top performer on the power play just a few years ago. On top of that, he is a pretty good shootout candidate and he has proven he can handle the pressure of playing in the New York area.

Well, low and behold, I see that I am two-for-two because Petr Sykora signed to play the rest of the season in Switzerland with SC Bern.

There was one more player that I thought could help the Rangers. While he would not add much to the offense, the fact that he won 55% of his faceoffs during the season would be a tremendous upgrade over Jeff Halpern. Sadly, I do not think former Ranger Dominic Moore will play hockey this season following the tragic loss of his wife Katie on January 7, 2013.

Jeff Z. Klein of the NY Times (1/28/13) came up with a brief list of potential Rangers targets. He mentioned Sykora’s name, but did not think he was a fit for a Tortorella coached team. I am not so sure that another one of his suggestions, the smallish Daymond Langkow (5-10) would fit his system either.

Brian Rolston’s name has been kicked about online, but I am not sure if there is much in the tank – although he would be a help on the power play and in shootouts. It also doesn’t hurt that he is a former teammate of Marian Gaborik and has experience playing in the New York area.

One better possibility is Andrew Brunette. The 39-year-old can play either wing and is exactly the type of forward the Rangers need in front of the net on the power play because he is a finisher who is at home at the top of the crease. Klein said that Brunette reported that he was thinking of retiring earlier this month.

While he was never a great skater, time has slowed him a step. However, he spent six seasons playing with the Minnesota Wild so you know he has an idea of how to play defense. The one drawback might be that Brunette is not an overly physical player despite having good size (6-1/215).

However let’s be honest, who would you rather see as the fourth line RW – Stu Bickel, Aron Asham or Brunette?

In addition, Brunette spent three seasons as a teammate of Gaborik’s with the Wild.

Given the miniscule ice time Torts is doling out to the fourth line, it makes more sense to have a power play specialist in the lineup, especially one who can move up to the second or third line depending on the tenor of the game.

You would still have Mike Rupp around to handle the rough stuff so all you would need is a faceoff specialist to replace Halpern. The veteran center is pretty much a forgotten man as he saw just over six minutes over six minutes of ice time against Philadelphia and then played 4:16 (on 10 shifts) against Toronto – and that wasn’t even the biggest indictment.

The man who was brought in to be the Rangers “faceoff specialist” did not take one draw against the Maple Leafs. With Halpern winning just 34.8% of his faceoffs, the meter might be running on Halpern.

Sather has to do some roster juggling in order to get Tortorella some support players that he has confidence in giving ice time to. There has to be a better balance of ice time between the “haves” or the “have nots”. Interestingly enough, the skewed ice time concern is not a byproduct of the abbreviated season.

The Rangers will be playing their 48-game schedule in 99 days – a tough feat to be sure. However, the Rangers played their last 48 games last season in just 100 days. While some might argue that this year’s version as it “easier” because they didn’t play 34 games previous to that stretch, the one thing last year’s squad had – and this year’s team is missing – is a full training camp where Tortorella could condition his team the way he wanted them conditioned.

The Rangers “need” to make roster moves almost reached critical mass following the win over the Flyers at the Garden. However, with Ryan Callahan’s shoulder subluxation costing him 10-14 days a major crisis was adverted. Even if Cally’s injury causes him to miss 3-4 weeks, the Blueshirts are still ahead of the game compared to the Ottawa Senators.

The Rangers 2012 first round foe will be without Jason Spezza for at least two months as the Ottawa center faces surgery to repair a herniated disc in his back.

While the Rangers appear to have dodged a bullet in the short term in respect to Callahan’s injury, Rick Carpiniello of the Journal News did throw a scare into Rangers fans.

IN a January 30, 2013 Rangers Report Blog entry, Carpiniello reminded fans that former captain Barry Beck also suffered a shoulder subluxation that haunted him throughout his career as he battled recurring shoulder problems and faced many surgeries before finally retiring. On the plus side, medical science has improved over the years so hopefully Callahan’s injury is a short term concern with no major long term repercussions.

My hesitation theme comes full circle as we address the Rangers hesitant ways in terms of their on ice play. The bane of the Blueshirts existence continues to be their woeful power play.

After sleepwalking their way to yet another home loss to the Penguins, the Rangers power play sits tied for 26th in the NHL with three goals in 28 chances (10.7 %).

With Pittsburgh employing a passive penalty kill, the last thing the Rangers needed to do was continue with their hesitant and tentative play on the power play. If an opponent is being aggressive on the penalty kill it almost forces a power play to be more aggressive – and that tends to open up more scoring chances.

When the penalty killers are not being aggressive, a team can be lulled to sleep – and that is a recipe for disaster when you are a team like the Rangers who tend to be more passive/hesitant on the power play to begin with.

“There are a couple of things that are key to a good power play. First and foremost is puck movement. Our puck movement has been too slow. And when we do get into a situation where we can move it, we’re holding on to it too long and the penalty killers can adjust,” Tortorella said.

“Then there’s also movement without the puck. Players need to jump into spots. We’re all sitting on the outside and we’re not jumping into holes to, again, make the penalty killers react. The whole key with a power play is reading the defense and taking what they give you. And you can’t even get to that step if you’re all on the outside. The penalty killers aren’t going to move. They’re going to keep to the middle and keep you on the outside.”

I don’t think anyone would disagree or be surprised with what Torts said. What is most surprising about Tortorella’s comments is that he made them to John Dellapina of the Daily News on October 15, 1999 when Tortorella was an Assistant coach with the Rangers.

By the way, kudos to Adam Rotter for SNY for digging up that original article and posting it on his SNY Rangers blog .

This quote shows that Tortorella is not lost when it comes to drawing up a successful power play. He has been able to get his players to buy into a defensive responsibility first style of play, but for some reason, there is a big disconnect when it comes to running the power play.

The Rangers lack of power play success is not from a lack of talent. Rather, it is from a lack of execution in terms of doing what the coach is preaching and has preached in the past.

The Rangers slow start is disappointing – especially in terms of the abbreviated 48-game schedule. However, it is not like last year’s team stormed out of the box. The 2011-2012 Blueshirts opened the season 0-2-1 and 3-3-3 before winning five games in a row and 10 of 12.

The last word belongs to the coach. While he was talking specifically about the power play back in October 1999, the following quote from Tortorella pretty much sums up his job as we hit February 2013.

“But coaching is not just enduring the bad streaks and enjoying the good ones. It’s shortening the former without making panicky moves and lengthening the latter by not overlooking warning signs. It’s a very important thing that, through the schedule and into the playoffs, you come back and touch on the basics,” Tortorella explained to Dellapina.

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As we stand poised for the start of the NHL’s “Annual 48-Game Season” (which is actually held about every 20 years, but annual sounded better), the New York Rangers face the sprint to the Stanley Cup as one of the hunted – as opposed to just one of the hunters. Fans can only hope the Blueshirts do better during this 48-game season than they did the last time.

The 1994-95 season was the first time the NHL season saw a 48-game season since the 1941-42 season when the league was comprised of just seven teams. The New York Americans folded at the end of that year and the NHL remained with the “Original Six” until expansion in 1967.

Taking a look back now, it is interesting to note that the Rangers started the 1994-95 season as the defending Stanley Cup champions and they ended the 1941-42 season with the best record in the NHL – with the Toronto Maple Leafs winning the Stanley Cup. Toronto eliminated the Rangers in six games in the Semi-Finals.

The 94-95 Rangers fought tooth and nail just to earn the right to defend the Stanley Cup. Their 22-23-3 record was good enough for an eight place finish as they edged out the Florida Panthers by one point. After eliminating the top-seeded Quebec Nordiques in six games, the Philadelphia Flyers steamrolled the Rangers out of the playoffs in a four-game sweep.

To avoid a repeat performance this season, the Rangers will have to get off to a better start than they did in 1995 when they opened the season 2-5-0. It will not be easy as the Rangers first seven games include home and road games against the Boston Bruins, Pittsburgh Penguins and Flyers. The only “soft touch” is a home game against Toronto.

While the NHL did the Rangers no favors with that tough start, it did cut them a break in terms of back-to-back games. The Blueshirts play the fewest sets of back-to-back games (6) while Chicago and Detroit each have 12. The Flyers and New Jersey Devils face 10 sets. The Penguins and New York Islanders face seven sets.

Dirk Hoag of On The Forecheck also put together the total number of miles each team will have to travel this season. The Devils will travel the least amount of miles this season (11,659) with the Rangers just edging the Devils for second fewest (12,048 to 12,159).

While most fans would expect the Winnipeg Jets to log the most miles since they are still stuck in the Eastern Conference, their mileage of 27,431 is surpassed by six Western Conference teams with the Dallas Stars logging the most frequent flyer miles at 31,345.

While not having to deal with an extraordinary number of back-to-back games will save some wear and tear on the Rangers, it might not have been the worst thing to happen to the Blueshirts.

In their December 3, 2012 edition, The Hockey News put together a “Points Percentage” chart that looked at results from the end of 2004-05 Lockout through last season. They studied back-to-back games (2-in-2), three games in four nights (3-in-4) and four games in six nights (4-in-6).

In looking at all of the above scenarios, the Rangers finished with the fourth best “Percentage Points” Behind the Red Wings, San Jose Sharks and Devils. The Blueshirts finished 9th best in 4-in-6 games, 2nd in 3-in-4 games, and were #1 in
2-in-2 games.

While those numbers put the Rangers chances in a good light, they do not take into consideration that the team will not have the benefit of a full training camp. Quite the contrary the Rangers, like all teams, are hitting the ground running at the start of the season. While all the teams are in the same situation at the start of the season, the Rangers are at a bit of a disadvantage.

Coach John Tortorella is known for his boot-camp like training camps where conditioning is just as important as “strategy”, an opinion he shared in an interview with WFAN’s Mike Francesa.

“X’s and O’s, you can throw them right out the window. The biggest part of my job this year is keeping the team healthy and trying to keep them on a plane where you don’t lose any of their adrenaline or just fade out,” Tortorella explained.

Torts realizes the need to be focused mentally and physically and will be emphasizing rest and recovery on off days as opposed to concentrating on practicing.

“My biggest thought is recovery. We have to be careful how much we force-feed them here. It’s about gauging your team and understanding where they are physically and mentally as they go through this,” Tortorella admitted.

To his credit, Tortorella knows he has to be more open-minded than normal and has been monitoring the players and communicating with team leaders to judge how the team is responding.

“Our [regular training] camp, there are some things that go on mentally. It’s not so much the physical conditioning; it’s developing what you have mentally. It’s a mindset that you try and develop and we are minus that right now,” Torts admitted.

On the plus side, Coach Tortorella realizes that his team is better equipped to reach that mindset now than they were a couple of years ago.

“Before you can win, you need to believe that you are going to win. So I think the mental aspect is the biggest thing that has improved the last two or three years and that starts with a tremendous leadership group.”

Last year the Rangers showed that they could compartmentalize the extra distractions last season (e.g. the Europe trip and the Winter Classic) and focus on the job at hand.

Part of that job will be finding the right line combinations as the team looks to integrate Rick Nash on the top two lines and find the right places for youngsters Carl Hagelin and Chris Kreider. With the Reader’s Digest version of training camp and a condensed schedule that leaves little time for practice, the Rangers line combinations will have to be a work in progress during the season.

We all know that Tortorella is not shy about mixing up his line combinations, but he is in a Catch-22 situation in terms of giving his combinations enough time to gel versus needing to make changes in order to produce wins.

THE USA’s victory in the U-20 Tournament in Ufa, Russia might provide the foundation for the Rangers during the sprint that is the 2012-2013 season. When the American team struggled offensively, Coach Phil Housely did not hesitate to make a couple of line changes that revitalized the Americans’ offense as the tournament progressed. That newfound offense, a solid defense, stellar special team play, and superb goaltending paved the way to Gold for the USA.

The Rangers have the offensive potential to fill out two scoring lines. Their defense and goaltending already produced a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals. The biggest question will be the special teams.

The addition of Nash is not going to make a bit of difference to the power play if the team is not willing to get shots on goal AND create traffic in FRONT of the net.

The Rangers outstanding penalty killing is sure to be a work in progress as the Blueshirts find ways to replace the losses of Artem Anisimov, Brandon Dubinsky, Ruslan Fedotenko, and Brandon Prust. The team will have to turn to newcomers Nash and Jeff Halpern as well as development from the likes of Hagelin and Kreider.

Even with the Rangers having to factor in the recently waived Wade Redden’s contract, the team has about $4 million in salary cap space to play with at the NHL trade deadline. I would expect the Rangers to look to add some depth at forward – perhaps adding a little offense to the third/fourth lines. I would not be surprised to see them look for an upgrade on defense by adding a veteran who as a third pair blueliner.

The Rangers should finish fourth in the Eastern Conference with the Penguins claiming the top spot. While the Rangers might sit fourth, it is entirely possible that they could have the second-best record in the East.

As we saw last year, playoff seeding is not always the be-all and end-all in determining playoff success. The Rangers are a team that is built to succeed in the playoffs. If the Rangers can find a way to average three goals per game come the playoffs, they will be raising Lord Stanley’s Cup. Last season, the Rangers scored just 43 goals in 20 playoff games and ended up just six wins shy of a championship.

BRANDON MASHINTER

The New York Rangers and San Jose Sharks swapped AHL forwards as the Blueshirts sent Tommy Grant and a 2014 conditional 7th round draft pick to San Jose for Brandon Mashinter. The 6-foot-4 and 230 pound LW was San Jose’s sixth rated prospect in 2012 Future Watch edition of The Hockey News. Here is what THN said about him: “Missed a chunk of season with a concussion; More than a fighter, though.”

The 24-year-old has not registered a point in 13 NHL games (17 PIM) – all of them played during the 2010-2011 season. In 206 AHL games (all with Worcester), Mashinter scored 52 goals and 51 assists with 280 PIM. This season, he has two goals and three assists in 30 games (44 PIM).

“This should be good for him, and I hope he does well,” Worcester coach Roy Sommer said to Bill Ballou of the Worcester Telegram. “We’ll miss him but he’s a big, strong kid, he can skate, he can shoot, and he can fight. You know he’s got more than two goals in him.”

The Hockey News offers the following Scouting Report on Mashinter:

ASSETS: Is a huge physical specimen that can intimidate opponents. Brings a lot of
physicality to the rink, and also boasts some offensive ability.

FLAWS: Is still a somewhat raw winger in many areas of the game, so he needs more
work on his overall play. Must specifically work on his defense.

CAREER POTENTIAL: Massive physical winger with a little upside.

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