No, not with the Calgary Flames. The Calgary Sun is reporting that the Flames have hired Mike Keenan as their new head coach and that an announcement could some as early as today or tomorrow. The stories out of Calgary say that current Calgary coach Jim Playfair will remain with the oragnozation in some capacity – possibly as an assistant coach under Keenan.

If the announcement is made today, then it would come 13 years to the day that Keenan led the New York Rangers to their first Stanley Cup in 54 years.

Keenan’s return should light a fire under a Flames team that underachieved this season and lost in the first round of the playoffs to the Detroit Red Wings. Keenan goes to Calgary with the reputation and wanderlust for being both Coach and General Manager. Things could be different this time around because Flames GM Darryl Sutter received his first coaching job when Keenan was the GM of the Blackhawks.

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Life around the Rangers has gotten clearer and murkier at the same time.  While the Blueshirts reached an agreement with developed Larry Gottesdiener to keep the Wolf Pack in Hartford for at least the next four seasons, the Rangers and Wolf Pack front office are in a state of minor upheaval.

With Don Maloney heeding Horace Greeley’s advice to go west, the Rangers have a whole in their front office.  A plethora of names have been mentioned as the new Assistant General Manager.  It has been assumed that Mark Messier is the leading candidate based on his throwing his helmet into the arena to replace Glen Sather as GM – comments that might have started greasing the skids for Maloney’s departure given Sather’s rather tepid backing of Maloney.

Another ex-Ranger also had his named kicked around the water cooler.  Messier’s former linemate Adam Graves has been working as the team’s Special Assistant, Prospect Development and Community Relations for almost two years.

Jim Schoenfeld’s name has also surfaced as a replacement for Maloney.  Schoeney has coached the Wolf Pack for the past two seasons after being named GM in July 2003.  There was some talk that Schoenfeld would give up the coaching reigns to Ken Gernander and concentrate on his GM duties in Hartford.

However, in his May 30 article about the Pack’s return, “Hartford Courant” writer Bruce Berlet asked Schoenfeld about rumors that he was under consideration for an assistant coaching position with Tampa Bay.  Ironically, that position opened up when the Lightning fired Schoenfeld’s former Buffalo Sabres teammate Craig Ramsay.  Schoenfeld told Berlet he had not spoken to the Lightning, nor had he spoken to Sather about Maloney’s position.

Another name who has been mentioned is Gordie Clark, the Rangers head Amateur Scout.  Clark has NHL front office experience after spending six years as the Assistant General Manager and Director of Player Personnel for the New York Islanders.  As part of his duties, he was the de facto GM of the Isles AHL affiliate in Bridgeport.

One additional possibility is that Tom Renney could return to the front office.  The Rangers’ coach spent two years as Director of Player Personnel before being promoted to Vice President, Player Development in June 2002.

If it were my call, I would like to bring in someone outside the organization in order to get a different perspective.  Kevin Cheveldayoff was one of the finalists for the Phoenix Coyotes job and would bring in a young perspective to the organization.  Cheveldayoff has spent the last nine season’s running the Chicago Wolves.  In 2002, he led the Wolves to the AHL championship and helped lead them to the IHL championship in 1998 and 2000.  In addition to those championships as General Manager, Cheveldayoff also won IHL championships as the Assistant Vice President and Assistant Coach for the Denver/Utah Grizzlies in 1995 and 1996.

Cheveldayoff, a first round draft pick of the Islanders in 1988, played five minor league seasons before an injury cut the defenseman’s career short.

Hmm, a former Islander minor league defenseman turned front office executive.  When was the last time I heard that type of description for a Rangers front office member?  Oh yeah, those were the qualifications that Neil Smith brought to the Rangers – and that didn’t turn out all that badly.

However, it is highly doubtful Sather would go outside the organization for an Assistant GM – especially when he has a couple of in-house selections.  While Messier still debates whether or not he wants to commit to the grind of a front office position, I still contend that his best position in the NHL is as coach.  Can you imagine Messier’s steel-eyed glare to the first player who did not give 100%?!?

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The Rangers could very well be facing the pressure of whether or not to draft a player with ties to the New York Islanders. In 2003, the Rangers passed over Zach Parise and drafted Hugh Jessiman instead. Ever since then, the son of J.P. Parise has been making the Rangers rue that selection.

In 2007, they have two more chances to draft an Islander legacy. Colton Gillies is the nephew of former Islander Clark Gillies and Brandon Sutter is the son of former Islander Brent Sutter and the nephew of the rest of the Sutter clan.

However, the NHL’s version of “Family Affair” does not stop with these two players. Two more players with famous NHL relatives are sure to be drafted in the first round on June 22. Sam Gagner is the son of Rangers 1983 1st round pick Dave Gagner. Defenseman Keaton Ellerby is the cousin of Phoenix Coyotes captain Shane Doan.

In addition to these names, I have come across a few other “generation next” draft prospects who were ranked by the NHL’s Central Scouting Service.

Jeremie Dupont – son of former NHL defenseman Jerome Dupont

Blake Kessel – Brother of Boston Bruins Phil Kessel

Dwight King – Brother of St. Louis Blue D.J. King

Logan MacMillan – Son of former NHLer Bobby MacMillan

Brad Malone – Son of former Rangers 1980 Rangers 1st draft bust Jim Malone. Cousin of Pittsburgh Penguins Ryan Malone. Nephew of former NHLer Greg Malone.

Mickey Renaud – Son of former NHLer Mark Renaud

Vladimir Ruzicka – Son of former Toronto Maple Leafs Vladimir Ruzicka

Maxime Tanguay – Brother of Calgary Flame Alex Tanguay

Justin Vaive – Son of former NHLer Rick Vaive.

While not ranked by CSS, one has to wonder if Mark Messier becomes Assistant GM of the Rangers, will he push to draft puck-moving defenseman Lyon Messier of the NAHL’s Texas Tornado? Lyon Messier was eligible in 2006, but was not selected.

Conversely, goaltender Charles-Antoine Messier is no relation to the former Rangers captain. Also, not related are Phil and Tony Esposito to top 10 prospect Angelo Esposito.

One interesting side note is that potential second round draft Ben Ryan’s grandfather was a five-star general in World War II.

After my original post, I came across an excellent fan site that provided some additional “family affair” fodder. Tom Mascioli’s IslesInfo {http://www.islesinfo.com/DraftCentral.html} is an excellent site for insight on the draft. While he is an Islander fan, he more than makes up for it with great insight and with the fact that he is a fellow Iona College graduate :-)

Tom made note of the following additions to the list I originally provided.

Roman and Ruslan Bashkirov – Both Russian brotehrs are eligible for this year’s draft. Roman is viewed as a mid-draft prospect while Ruslan is seen as potential second round selection

Michael Biega – Brother of Buffalo prospect Alex Biega

Brandon Brickley – Cousin of former NHLer and current broadcaster Andy Brickley

Marcus Carroll – Son of former NHLer Billy Carroll

Justin Courtnal – Son of Geoff Courtnall and unclde of Russ Courtnall

Keaton Ellerby – In addition to being Shane Doan’s cousin, he is also the cousin of Montreal prospect Carey Price

Jordan Nolan – Son of former Sabre and current Islander coach Ted Nolan

Cale Ridderwall – Brother of Islander prospect Stefan Ridderwall

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As some of you might know, I am one of those draftniks that enjoys pouring over scouting reports. Hey, it beats working.  Anyway, I just got my hands on the 2007 NHL Draft Media Guide and I can’t wait to delve into it. A quick perusal of the Guide reminded me that 2007 is the 30th anniversary of the New York Rangers passing over Mike Bossy, not once but twice. The Rangers selected Lucien DeBlois with the 8th overall pick and Ron Duguay with the 13th overall pick. Bossy went two selections later to the New York Islanders and the rest is history.

At that time, the “knocks” on Bossy were that he didn’t play any defense and he was not a physical player. Considering some of the Rangers past draft mistakes (e.g. Jim Malone who never played a single NHL game), Bossy would have fit right in with the Blueshirts if that scouting report were his lasting legacy. What they forgot to add was that Bossy was a natural born sniper – something the Rangers have never seemed to draft.

While DeBlois and Duguay both had pretty good careers, one has to wonder how the fortunes of the Rangers and Islanders would have turned had the Rangers selected Bossy with one of those two draft picks. Would 1940 been erased a decade or so earlier? Would Ranger fans be chanting “Nineteen Never” if Bossy wore red, white and blue? These are just a couple of the many questions that arise whenever I look back at past Ranger drafts and wonder what might have been.

In the weeks leading up to my Rangers Draft Preview and NHL Mock Draft, I hope to take a look at some of the past Ranger drafts and pass along other Draft tidbits that I uncover.

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It wasn’t a surprise that the Buffalo Sabres eliminated the New York Rangers with their Game 6 victory.  It wasn’t a surprise that Game 6 was a one-goal game – the fifth straight in this series in a playoff season that has seen about 60% of games be decided by one goal.  What is surprising was the 5-4 final score – especially when you consider 2-1 scores decided the previous three games.

The Rangers did themselves and their fans proud with their effort in this series.  Outside of Game 1, the rest of the games could very easily have gone the other way.  In fact three critical points stand out in the Rangers defeat. 

The first was the Sabres three goal outburst in the space of four minutes of the second period of Game 1.

The second was the Blueshirts inability to hold on to their 1-0 lead during the closing seconds of regulation in Game 5.

The third was the second Rangers second period meltdown as they allowed four Buffalo goals in 10 minutes during Game 6.

If the Rangers approached their previous game power plays like they did in Game 6, the result would have been different.  For the first time in the series the Rangers made a concerted effort to get traffic in front of Ryan Miller and it paid off.  In fact, they managed to get in Miller’s way at even strength as well.

The problem for the Rangers is their newfound offense came at the expense of their defense.  While the Blueshirts were victims of a couple of deflections and bad bounces, far too often they were caught running around in their zone and leaving Sabres open in the slot.  When they weren’t doing that, they were getting caught for odd-man rushes that the Sabres finished off.  Despite all of that, they still came within a Matt Cullen attempt of forcing yet another overtime game.

The only complaint I have on the game is that the referees were far too willing to play a part in this game.  They were making some borderline calls against both teams.  When you get to this point in a series, the referees need to let the players decide the game.

How ironic was it that Tom Renney turned to Nigel Dawes in the Rangers biggest game of the season yet he could not find a spot for him earlier in the season? 

Despite that bit of irony, the Rangers did learn that it is okay to trust young players with important ice time.  The development of Ryan Callahan and Daniel Girardi should help pave the way for Rangers’ management to have more faith in their younger players.

Congratulations go out to the Madison Square Garden crowd for their “Let’s Go Rangers” chant following the final buzzer.  It was as classy a move as is the Rangers salute at the end of games. 

At least Ranger fans can take solace in the fact they lasted longer in the playoffs than the New Jersey Devils and New York Islanders.

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Tom Renney finally addressed his decision to send out Jaromir Jagr, Michael Nylander and Brad Isbister in the waning moments of Game 5. The Ranger coach’s defense comes courtesy of John Dellapina’s Blog for the Daily News.

So, Renney was asked, you wanted Jagr and Brad Isbister on the ice for that final sequence?

“And even Michael,” the coach replied. “What I wanted was somebody with the hands who could make the little chip behind the net and help support it and help move the puck out.”

“And you take a chance with that kind of rationale. And I’m completely prepared to accept what might come my way for thinking that way.”

“But I believe I did the right thing.”

One has to wonder if Renney truly believed what he was saying or is covering up for the fact that Jagr wanted out on the ice and Renney won’t or can’t stand up to him? After all, flash back to one year ago when Jagr was on the ice for a meaningless shift at the end of Game 1 against the New Jersey Devils.

Even if we take Renney at his word, as I wrote previously, the Jagr line is the Rangers worst defensive line and two-thirds of the line was either sick (Nylander) or hobbled with a banged up knee (Jagr). While the icings late in regulation did not allow Renney to make the line changes he needed to make, there is still no reason why he did not put his best defensive players on the ice. Besides, who would you rather have working the boards while holding a one-goal lead late in third period – Brad Isbister and Jaromir Jagr or Sean Avery and Brendan Shanahan?

The beat writers all reported interesting lineup changes at practice today. Nigel Dawes was placed on the first line with Nylander and Jagr while Marcel Hossa was demoted to the fourth line while Brad Isbister the potential player on the bubble. In addition, they reported that Renney spent some time talking with Thomas Pock. Is it possible that Renney might dress seven defensemen given the banged up state of the Ranger blueliners?

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It would be an understatement to say the Rangers’star players have to step to the forefront in Game 6.  That is to be expected when a team faces an elimination game.  With the Rangers gaining the last change at home, Tom Renney will have the opportunity to keep Jaromir Jagr away from Toni Lydman and Henrik Tallinder, as well whatever forward combination Lindy Ruff will use. 

If Jagr is up to the ice time, Renney needs to double and maybe even triple shift Jagr.  This is no time to be saving any bullets in the chamber.  Given the fourth line’s inability to capitalize on their scoring chances, more specifically Blair Betts, Renney will have to juggle his lines in order to find some offense.  The only way he doesn’t do that is if he instructs his forwards to forecheck the daylights out of the Sabres.  In that case, the Blueshirts will need to run four lines.
While the Rangers need Brendan Shanahan and Martin Straka to shake down their past scoring exploits, the team needs Matt Cullen to step and play as well as he did last year with the Carolina Hurricanes.  In fact the whole Cullen line needs to start producing.  While Cullen, Petr Prucha and Ryan Callahan have drawn praise for their play, they have not been able to translate that play into goals. 
It is essential that the Rangers open a two-line front against the Sabres.  If a second line can draw some defensive attention away from the Jagr line, the Rangers will have a good chance to put more than one or two dents into the old onion bag.

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Well, the four-minute second period letdown in Game 1 has been replaced by the horrible final 1:47 of regulation in Game 5.  On a night when the Rangers almost did everything they could not to win – they managed to step up and find a way to one-up themselves.

I can try and whine away the loss to the weak hooking call on Blair Betts in overtime that was a makeup call for an earlier weak call against the Sabres.  I can wring my hands over the phantom goalie interference penalty on Brad Isbister when it appeared, to me anyway, that Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller initiated any of the contact – especially when the referees overlooked a Daniel Briere cross check on Henrik Lundqvist during a goal mouth scramble late in the second period.  The bottom line is the Rangers, after playing a lackluster game, had this game won going into the final two minutes when the wheels fell off the wagon.

The beginning of the end started when Michael Rozsival iced the puck with 1:47 left.  The almost-hero for the Rangers, Martin Straka, then committed a turnover with 1:05 to play when he made a cross ice pass at the Sabres’ blue line rather than take the safer, and smarter, play of dumping the puck deep and going in on the forecheck.  Oh yeah, that would have required the Rangers to actually forecheck (more on that later).  Then Fedor Tyutin commits the final icing with 16 second remaining in regulation.

The funny thing is you can pile all of those mistakes, one on top of another, and they still don’t compare to the one coach Tom Renney made in the final two minutes.  Why in the world was the Jaromir Jagr line on the ice in the final two minutes?  Arguably, they are the Blueshirts worst defensive line.  Then toss in the fact that Michael Nylander has been battling a flu bug and Jagr was not 100% after bumping knees with Dainius Zubrus and you left wondering which team Renney was coaching last night.

On top of all that, the Rangers still had a chance to win, and might have, if they played as a five-man unit instead of running around – especially as Chris Drury tied the game.  The Rangers skaters looked more like goalies as three players went to the net rather than go for the puck.  If only the forwards went to the net like that on offense.

I am still wondering why the Rangers just didn’t start pulling people down and holding and hooking.  With so little time left in the game, a penalty wasn’t going to play a big difference.  In fact, it would have allowed Renney to make up for his brain fart of using the Jagr line to protect a one-goal lead with less that two minutes left in the game.

Even worse than Renney’s decision, it seems that none of the beat writers even questioned him about it.  If they did, none of them wrote about it.

Ah, offense.  I wrote previously that offense is overlooked when it comes to the playoffs and the Rangers sure overlooked it last night.  They let the Sabres dictate the tempo of the game as the Blueshirts seemed more interested in not losing the game than winning the game.  Instead of forechecking and stopping the Sabres before they got started, the Rangers lapsed into a more passive game, as they seemed more intent on clogging the neutral zone than doing anything else.

Unfortunately, I was right about one other thing prior to Game 5.  I wrote that Maxim Afinogenov would be a player to be watched – and he was.  It seems that Lindy Ruff’s benching of the enigmatic winger might have saved the series for the Sabres.

History does not look kindly on the Rangers uphill climb.  The Rangers are 1-11 when they have lost Game 5 during any best-of-seven series – as opposed to their 8-1 record when they win Game 5.  In fact, teams winning Game 5 go on to win 80% of those series.  Of course, that one Ranger win was in 1994 when they came back to defeat the New Jersey Devils – after blowing a one-goal lead in Game 7 with, yup, 7.7 seconds remaining in regulation.  However, there is no Mark Messier, Brian Leetch or Stephane Matteau to rescue them in 2007.

Conversely, the Sabres are 2-1 win they win Game 5 and are 1-9 when they lose.

The bottom line for Game 6 is the Rangers have to throw everything at the Sabres.  They need to regain their focus and intensity and must be willing to forecheck the Sabres from the start.  They are going to continue to need to get traffic in front of Miller and the Sabres net.  And much to the chagrin of Jagr, the Rangers power play must shoot more, get traffic in front and play dump and chase when the Sabres line four across at the blue line.

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When the Rangers left shuffled out of Buffalo, things were not looking too good for the Blueshirts even though they responded with a solid Game 2 after a clunky Game 1 which got away from the rangers in the space of four minutes.  What a difference a week makes!

The Rangers return to Buffalo with series knotted at 2-2 on the scoreboard and tied at 1-1 in video replays.  Seriously, outside of some hairy moments during the last half of the third period on Tuesday, the Rangers have been able to control the tempo of the game – a must if they are to counter the Sabres’ speed.

The Rangers were so effective in countering the Sabres, Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff changed his game plan and asked his team to try and grind it out more and rely less on finesse.  If the Sabres are going to continue that strategy, then the rangers will be making plans for Ottawa or New Jersey.

So how will the rest of the series go?  Many hockey experts (and actually experts in all sports) will agree that defense wins championships – and they would be right to an extent.

It has always been my contention that in order to win in the playoffs you have to score goals.  Almost every team knuckles down on defense when playoff time comes around.  As a result, goal scoring is at a premium.  The Rangers-Sabres series is the perfect example.  Both teams are struggling to find offense in a series that has seen three of four games be decided by one goal.

However, this one-goal phenomenon is not unique to the Rangers and the Sabres.  According to the Elias Sports Bureau, 37 of 60 games have been decided by one goal – a rate of 61.6 percent.  That is the highest percent of one-goal decisions since the 1941 playoffs when 12 out of 19 games (63.2 percent) were decided by one goal.

As a result, the Rangers’ special teams must continue to excel in this series.  The Rangers’ power play is 5 for 19 (38 percent) against the Sabres while the penalty killers are 22 for 25 (88 percent) against Buffalo and 38 fir 42 (90.5 percent) in the playoffs.

The heat will be on the Blueshirts’ offense and Coach Tom Renney because Buffalo has the last line change and you can expect Ruff to match lines and defensive pairings to eliminate Jaromir Jagr’s effectiveness.  As a result, the Rangers are going to have to work harder at getting more traffic in front of Buffalo goaltender Ryan Miller and they must do a better job of converting on their odd-man rushes.

The bottom line is the Rangers need to win at least one game in Buffalo if they want to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals.  Their best shot might be in Game 5 because they have a little momentum going their way.  If the Rangers can find a way to win their first game in Buffalo since November 2005, you can expect the Garden to be rocking on national television on Sunday afternoon.

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First things first, the video replay officials blew it again.  It was a goal.  You can talk all you want about not seeing white between the puck and the goal line but the bottom line is if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, and it isn’t in Anaheim, it is a goal.  With that said the Eastern Conference Semifinals stands at Rangers 2, Buffalo 2 and NHL Video Replay Officials 2.

The NHL really needs to sit down and review their video review procedures during the summer.  How they could reverse the Karel Rachunek goal and then find the Daniel Briere shot inconclusive is beyond me.  If anything, it should have been the other way around.  Goal or not, the best-of-seven series shuffles back to Buffalo and is now the best-of-three series.

Give Versus studio analyst Brian Engblom some credit.  Prior to the game he referred to Sean Avery and Brendan Shanahan as the Rangers’ “transmission” and Jaromir Jagr as the “engine”.  Engblom was on target with Shanny and the captain, but Avery nearly wore goat horns for his ill-advised attempt at the empty net that was the precursor to the heart-stopping final minute of play.  At least Brad Isbister was trying to feather the puck out but ended up with a little too much oomph in the dump out.

For the sake of brevity, here are some quick observations.

  • Could the NHL please beg ESPN to take them back?  Could Versus be any more annoying with all of their intrusive graphics and promos?
  • Speaking of annoying: note to Ranger fans and Garden personnel – enough with the balloons already.  Between the balloons, the annoying graphics and the score/clock at the top of the screen there is hardly any room for the game.
  • The Rangers have to pay more attention to those give-back goals.  It cost them in Game 2 and nearly cost them last night.  All of the energy and momentum the Rangers had following Shanahan’s goal left the building when the Sabres scored.  The final 10 minutes of the game went the way most thought the series would go with the Rangers hanging on for dear life.  For the first time since the ill-fated four minute span of Game 1, the Rangers did not play defense as a five-man unit.  They were left running around reacting to Buffalo.
  • The cure to the above problem is for the Rangers to remember about the need to forecheck.  For the first time in the series the Rangers sat back and let the Sabres dictate the tempo.
  • Memo to the offense: see what happens when you put the puck on net and get shots from inside the triangle.  Both goals were the result of getting the puck on or near the net and having bodies in front.
  • I have kept quiet far too long on the whole Marek Malik booing story.  Could we at least wait until Malik screws up before we start booing him?  Here is the best way to sum up Malik – he is not as bad as the fans are making him out and he is not as good as most of the writers say he is.  His positive plus/minus rating shows why plus/minus is a poor stat to use when measuring a player’s effectiveness.  Four players can play stellar defense but if one player turns the puck over or leaves his check uncovered everyone gets a minus.  Malik is an average to a little above average blueliner in the Rangers system.  The problem is that whenever he makes a mistake it is usually a costly one.
  • The Rangers must convert on their transition chances – especially when they get odd-man rushes.  I have been noticing that the Rangers are too quick to fade to the boards with the puck or curl just inside the blue line, looking to make a pass.  The Rangers need to drive to the net and try to draw more penalties against the Sabres – much like Brad Isbister in drawing the penalty that set up Shanahan’s power play tally.  The biggest culprit is Jagr who often pulls up at the top of the circle or at the half-boards rather than using his size and strength.
  • The Rangers better beware Maxim Afinogenov if Lindy Ruff inserts the speedy forward back into the lineup.  He has the speed and offensive ability to cause problems and he has to be motivated after being benched in favor of Daniel Paille.
  • One final note.  Someone please chain Henrik Lundqvist to the cross bar so he can’t get caught out of position again.  His mishandling of the puck nearly cost the Rangers a win and I know it shaved a few years off my life!
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