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Let us review the question of the day.

Am I more frustrated with A) the Rangers 3-2 overtime loss to the Devils B) that today is my (groan) 43rd birthday C) that I agree with today’s Larry Brooks column?

If you picked C, you would be correct.

While I am still trying to come to grips with getting another year older and trying to figure out last night’s questionable officiating (yet again – the Devils appear to get the best of the calls), Brooks is on target when he calls Jaromir Jagr’s decision to pull himself out of the top three in the shootout “unfathomable”.

I know that many people will be quick to rally to Jagr’s defense.  They will respond with the stance that having Jagr shoot is throwing away one of the three attempts.  That “might” make sense if it were the coach’s decision based purely on a statistical fact or even a gut instinct.

However, nothing could be further from the truth.  The decision for Jagr to be kept out of the first three shooters for the third time in four shootouts rests completely with the captain who told the coach to hold him back.

Even more puzzling is the fact that Tom Renney had Jagr penciled in the fourth slot against the Devils on February 6 and fifth last night.  If it is so necessary to keep Jagr out of the top three, then why is he being listed fourth and fifth?  At that point, it makes more sense to have him go first and give the Rangers some leeway if he misses as opposed to have him go in a potential “sudden death” spot of fourth or fifth.

John Dellapina of the “Daily News” offered up Renney’s defense of his superstar captain.

“He’s just not where he wants to be in the shootouts.  Consequently, he’s not interested in shootouts.”

That is all well and good, but I am not where I want to be sleep-wise.  Consequently, I am not interested in showing up to work today.

I don’t think my boss would accept my reasoning and there is no way the Rangers should accept Renney and Jagr’s reasoning.

The previously mentioned Brooks had this tidbit in the “NY Post”.

“‘I’m not good anymore,’ Jagr told The Post when asked why wasn’t on Renney’s list.  ‘That’s the reason.’”

Can you imagine Mark Messier begging out of the shootout because he’s “not good anymore”?

Besides, if Marek Malik can score during a shootout, how hard can it be? :-)

For better of for worse, whether he likes it or not, Jaromir Jagr has to set an example for his teammates.  That is one the responsibilities you take on when you wear the captain’s “C” on your chest.  If Jagr can’t show confidence in himself, how can he expect his teammates to have confidence in him and how is he going to inspire them to have confidence in themselves?

I am reminded of a story that is told during HBO’s documentary on the success of the 1999 Women’s World Cup that was held in the United States.  The championship game between the United States and China was decided by penalty kicks.  U.S. coach Tony DeCicco selected Mia Hamm as one of the Americans five shooters – despite Hamm’s admitted inability to produce results when taking penalties in practice.

DeCicco commented that there was no way he was going to leave on of the greatest players and scorers in the game on the bench during the penalty kicks.

The same logic applies to Renney and Jagr.  A legion of Ranger fans reacted without stunned disbelief when Joe Thornton won the Hart Trophy over Jagr last year.  If you want to be the best, you have to act like you are the best – and that means sucking it up and taking one of the first three shootout attempts.

If you think it doesn’t make a difference, then read what Martin Brodeur told Sherry Ross of the “Daily News” in reference to NOT having to face Jagr in the shootout.

“I’m happy when he’s not shooting.”

You can’t boil down this point any simpler than Brodeur did in that sentence.

Jagr and Renney’s logic is just as baffling as Marc Crawford’s logic when, as Coach of Team Canada in the 1998 Winter Olympics, he left Wayne Gretzky on the bench as Canada lost the semifinal shootout against the Domenik Hasek-led Czech Republic.

By the way, Jagr was one of the Czech Republic’s five shooters.

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The Rangers have placed 38-year-old Brendan Shanahan on the Inured reserve List and have recalled 29-year-old Brad Isbister from Hartford. Shanahan will be eligible to be activated on February 25, 2007. In the official press release, the Rangers PR machine is humping the fact that Isbister has 6 goals in his last 9 games and his plus-8 rating leads the Wolf Pack. Overall, Isbister has 14 goals and 13 assists in 42 games with Hartford and Albany.

Conversely, Jakub Petruzalek, who was sent to Carolina in the Isbister deal (along with a conditional fifth round draft pick, has scored 9 goals and 22 assists in 44 games with Albany and Hartford in 37 AHL games and added 1 goal and 9 assists in 7 games with Charlotte in the ECHL.

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As we gear up for the final two weeks or rumor mongering before the NHL”s February 27 trade deadline, you can cross off one of the names that was linked to the Rangers.  The Phoenix Coyotes have begun rebuilding by trading Forward Ladislav Nagy to the Dallas Stars in exchange for LW Mathian Tjarnqvist and a 2007 first round draft pick.

One rumor that is picking up steam – and might make sense from a Bluehisrts position – is the talk the Detroit Red Wings are hot and heavy after Peter Forsberg.  However, before Detroit can swing the deal with Philadelphia, the Wings might need to clear some cap space to get Foppa or a suitable power forward replacement for Brendan Shanahan.  The name being mentioned in relation to the Rangers is center Robert Lang.  The native of the Czech Republic was a teammate of Jaromir Jagr in both Pittsburgh and Washington.  Lang, like Sean avery and Pascal Dupuis, becomes a free agent at the end of the season.  The Red Wings might be interested in moving Lang for prospects and/or picks to be sent to the Flyers or serve as replacements for the prospects/picks dealth to Philadelphia.

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Okay, newest Ranger Pascal Dupuis isn’t as loose a cannon as Sean Avery, but the 27-year-old forward comes to New York with his own brand of baggage.

Here is how John Dellapina of the “Daily News” describes Dupuis run-in with Minnesota Wild coach Jacques Lemaire.

“He [Dupuis] had fallen out of favor in Minnesota ever since a December practice during which an angry coach Jacques Lemaire barked at his team: ‘If you don’t want to practice, leave!’ Dupuis actually left the ice and the speedy penalty-killer and one-time 20-goal scorer had been on the fourth line ever since.”

In his defense, Dupuis has offered a different take on the situation in his discussions with the Rangers’ beat reporters.  Here is Dupuis’ version as written by Steve Zipay of “Newsday” a couple of days after the trade.

“We came back from the road from a seven-day road trip and I was sick on the road, getting IVs before the games and stuff. I lost seven pounds on the trip,” said Dupuis, 27. “We flew in at night and played home the next day [Dec. 19], and 10 minutes into the morning skate, Jacques [Lemaire, the coach] said, ‘The guys that’s had enough right now, you can take off, or just stay and we’ll have a good practice and leave at the end.’ So I was sick and figured I’d keep my energy for that night, so I left. Obviously, the media didn’t take it like that. But it was no big deal in the room. Jacques didn’t mention anything about that. Three guys left: me, Wes Walz and Brian Rolston.”

While Dupuis downplayed the incident, the Unrestricted Free Agent still found his way from his coach’s chateau bow-wow to the trading block.

Despite the potential to add a few more gray hairs to coach Tom Renney, Dupuis brings a solid two-way mentality to the table as President/GM Glen Sather shuffles around his role players. In acquiring Dupuis and Avery for Jason Ward and Adam Hall, Sather has added some much needed grit and tenacity in Avery and some much needed defensive responsibility in Dupuis.

Dupuis is 6-foot-0 and weighs 199 pounds and can play both wings. He was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Wild and has played all 334 NHL games with Minnesota (67 goals and 74 assists). His best season came in 2002/2003 when he scored 20 goals and added 28 assists. In 48 games this season, Dupuis has 10 goals (2 of them shorthanded) and 3 assists. He missed 7 games earlier in the season with a sprained left knee.

While Sather has not been able to solve the Rangers two biggest needs – a solid second-line center and a quarterback for the power play – he has done a good job in improving the overall roster without disrupting his every day lineup and without trading away one of the team’s elite prospects.

Here is TSN.CA’s Scouting Report on Pascal Dupuis:

Assets

Plays the game with tremendous energy and combativeness. Is versatile enough to play any forward position or any role required. Still owns offensive upside.

Flaws

Needs to bury more of his chances around the goal area in order to take his game to another level. Is too inconsistent in the NHL.

Career potential

Third line winger.

For good measure, here is TSN.CA’s Scouting Report on Sean Avery:

Assets

Always displays all-out hustle and is a tireless forechecker. Can bang bodies with the best of them and also create offense. Is an underrated producer.

Flaws

May wear down if he plays too much against much stronger opponents. Is still a little too prone to taking bad penalties, though he’s improving in that area.

Career potential

Third line agitator.

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Yesterday when I was writing about the Rangers acquisition of Sean Avery, I began trying to run some line combinations through the steel-trap that is my mind.  It seems that Tom Renney was running some line combinations as well.  From all indications, it appears there is a shakeup on the horizon for tonight’s crucial game (then again, at this point aren’t they all) against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The new line combinations look something like this:

Sean Avery-Michael Nylander-Brendan Shanahan
Marcel Hossa-Jason Krog-Jaromir Jagr
Martin Straka-Matt Cullen-Jed Ortmeyer
Petr Prucha-Blair Betts-Ryan Hollweg

I am trying to figure out what blackmail Hossa has on Renney and what Prucha ever did to piss Renney off.  Renney has constantly said that Prucha doesn’t need to score to play, yet when he doesn’t score Renney drops him down to the fourth line – not exactly the best way to utilize a 30 goal scorer.

I have come to accept that Hossa is a nice fourth-line player who could see some time on the third line, but to play him on the second line with Jaromir Jagr?  What gives?  Then again, when you have a free agent pickup as your second line center, why not play Hossa on the second line with Jagr.

I get the idea that Renney is going for with the line changes.  He is trying to get some balanced scoring throughout the lineup while trying to jump start Shanahan.  Both of these moves are exactly what Renney should be doing.  However, I think he could do a better job.

With the Rangers lacking a true number one center (Nylander is a solid number two center); the Blueshirts need to be a bit creative.  That is why I have put together two sets of options for the Rangers.  One includes recalling Ryan Callahan and actually giving him a chance to sink or swim in the deep end.  It is amazing that teams like the New Jersey Devils can do this and win yet the Rangers can’t find a way to do it at all.  The second option is a more conservative option that includes the players currently on the roster.

First up, the Callahan option.

Shanahan-Avery-Jagr
Straka-Nylander-Callahan
Prucha-Cullen-Ortmeyer
Hossa-Betts-Hollweg

The method to my madness with the first lines is to put the two big guns together and give them a player to ride shotgun for them.  Avery’s penchant for forechecking and willingness to due the dirty work might due the trick to setting up opportunities for Shanny and Jagr.

Slotting Callahan in with Straka and Nylander slows the Rangers to give the youngster every possible chance to succeed.  Opponents will spend more time watching Straka and Nylander and, hopefully, Callahan can thrive under the radar.  The beauty of this line is if you want to put a more veteran presence on the line for defensive purposes late in a game, you can slide Hollweg or Hossa on that line.

The other possibility is to slide Callahan to the third line and move Prucha up to the second.  However, Prucha, Cullen and Ortmeyer have shown some success together.

The fourth line gives the team a solid checking line that can stir up some trouble on the forecheck.  Heck, you could switch Hossa and Ortmeyer and try and recapture some of the magic the Rangers had with Hollweg, Ortmeyer and Dominic Moore.  Renney could be creative and dress Jason Krog instead of Betts if you want better skating or more scoring in the lineup.

With Callahan being recalled, the Rangers need to create a roster spot; therefore, say goodbye to Adam Hall.

Now let’s see what the lines would look like without Callahan.

Prucha-Straka-Jagr
Avery-Nylander-Shanahan
Cullen-Krog-Ortmeyer
Hossa-Betts-Hollweg

Interestingly enough, I also have Avery, Nylander and Shanahan together.  My original intent was to have Cullen or (gasp) Hossa for better balance, but I am hoping that this combination forces Nylander to shoot more – something that would go a long way in solving some of the offensive woes.  Nylander is too unselfish for his own good at times.

The first line carries a lot of offensive firepower, perhaps too much, because it is not going to give much defensive zone work.  If need be, Avery and Prucha can switch spots to balance out those lines.

While I would prefer to keep Krog in a fourth line spot, I think his skating is a better fit with Cullen and Ortmeyer or else you could switch Krog and Betts.

If you notice, I have not addressed any solutions to the Rangers’ problems on the blue line.  The problem is my plan would include recalling Ivan Baranka, but to do that a defenseman would have to go.  There is no way I want to waive any of the defensemen on the roster and I wouldn’t risk losing Thomas Pock or Karel Rachunek by trying to assign them to Hartford.

The best solution would involve looking to move one of the defensemen.  While Aaron Ward is first on the list, trading him would leave the Rangers defensive corps rather young with rookies Baranka and Daniel Girardi and the still developing Pock and Fedor Tyutin.  Unless I could get some decent value for Ward, I would reluctantly keep the status quo.  If Ward were dealt, then Baranka would be recalled and paired with either Michal Rozsival or Marek Malik in attempt to team a veteran with a younger blueliner.

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I must admit that I am ordinarily not the wishy-washy sort when it comes to evaluating trades.  Then again, Sean Avery is not your average player.  No, he doesn’t have the talent of a Jaromir Jagr nor does he have the leadership qualities of a Brendan Shanahan.  In simple terms, Sean Avery is a loose cannon.

Everyone has read or head the litany of past actions in reference to Avery’s indiscretions.

  • Derogatory remarks in reference to French players after a 2005 pre-season hit by Denis Gauthier knocked out teammate Jeremy Roenick.
  • Later that season Georges Laraque claimed Avery called him a “monkey”.
  • Suspended by the Kings last season after supposedly refusing to practice and then getting into an argument with former assistant coach Mark Hardy.
  • Was fined by NHL Vice President Colin Campbell because he criticized the league’s Competition Committee following a fine for diving.  Ironically enough, one the players on that Committee is his former Red Wing and current Ranger teammate Brendan Shanahan – who did put in a good word for Avery with president/GM Glen Sather.
  • Of course, there is the “celebrated” youtube.com video of Avery doing pushups on the ice after banking a puck in off the skates of Nashville goaltender Tomas Vokoun.

Yes, the 26-year-old Avery has had quite the exciting last couple of years following the NHL lockout.  Not exactly up to the caliber of Ogie Oglethorpe, but enough to warrant some concern over Avery’s antics.

Some pundits are quick to point out that Avery leads the league in penalties drawn this year.  However, that is balanced off by the fact he has led the NHL in penalty minutes the last two seasons and is in the Top 10 this year – not a good sign for a team that has had its share of stupid penalties and struggles at times to kill penalties.

However, it is all of these loose cannon exploits that make Avery a missing piece to the Rangers puzzle.  With the team so dominated by a European flavor and flair, the Blueshirts do not have enough “piss and vinegar” type players.  He adds a tenacity and toughness that is often found lacking on the Rangers.  While he will never be a big-time scorer in the NHL, he has the offensive abilities that a Ryan Hollweg has yet to sure – and as a result – can find time on the second and the third line.

This trade is one of those moves where time will tell if it works out for the Rangers.  On the plus side, he is only 26 and is set to be a free agent at the end of the season.  Unlike the Sandis Ozolnish deal, the Rangers can walk away from any further financial responsibility.  Plus, his $1.1 million salary is much more pleasurable than Ozolnish’s contract.

What Sather, Rangers management and Tom Renney must remember is that Avery is not the final piece to the Rangers puzzle.  Frankly, he does not solve either of the team’s top two problems; a second-line center or a quarterback for the power play.  For the time being, Avery will serve second-line duty because there aren’t any other alternatives – at least any alternatives Messers Sather and Renney are willing to try.  Rangers’ management has to hope that Avery provides a spark until they can fill in the other missing pieces.

It is evident that the Rangers are not going to try and find those pieces in Hartford.  If that were the case, you would see a Ryan Callahan, Nigel Dawes or Brandon Dubinsky playing with the Rangers to see if they are the answers.  Interestingly enough, whether it is through circumstance or necessity, the Rangers have tried to find in-house remedies to their woes on the blue line.  Both Daniel Girardi and Thomas Pock have gotten chances to show their wares.

Only time and results (or lack thereof) will determine if the Rangers are buyers or sellers as the February 27, 2007 trade deadline approaches.  I do not have a problem with the Rangers trading prospects just as long as it is not another case of sending away prospects for aging veterans.  Losing Marc-Andre Cliché may or may not come back to haunt the Rangers, but at least they acquired a player in his prime, not over it.  The next step is for the Rangers to move some of their other failing pieces (e.g. Adam Hall and Aaron Ward) in exchange for some new pieces of the puzzle.

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The countdown to the National Hockey League’s February 27 trade deadline has begun in earnest.  As expected, rumors are flying in reference to the usual suspects: Peter Forsberg and Keith Tkachuk being the most prominent.  With the Rangers’ struggling to secure a playoff spot, it is only natural for the Blueshirts to be involved in almost every trade rumor.

So far, President/GM Glen Sather has avoided hitting the panic button and relying on past temptations to trade prospects for veterans.  Of course, the salary cap implications make this a risky maneuver for any team – never mind a team like the Rangers who have been preaching moderation.

Expect trade rumors to start between the Blackhawks and the Rangers because Chicago GM Dale Tallon has been scouting the Blueshirts.  According to John Dellapina of the “Daily News”, Tallon scouted the Rangers during their trip to Boston and Philadelphia.  Dellapina says the Rangers targets might be center Bryan Smolinski and defenseman Jassen Cullimore – two players whose names have been linked to the Rangers.

Smolinski would prove to be an improvement over Blair Betts and Jason Krog in the Rangers search for a second-line pivot for Brendan Shanahan. However, Tim Sassone of the “Chicago Daily Herald” reported that the Rangers target might be center Mikael Holmqvist.  Given Holmqvist’s inconsistent play, Smolinski would be a “now solution” while Holmqvist would be a “long-term solution”.

Therein lies the Rangers ultimate conundrum at the 2007 trade deadline.  Do they use their assets to acquire players for a run at the 2007 playoffs or do they go in a different direction and try to take a more long-term view.

Cullimore’s situation is a bit different because, unlike Smolinski, he does not become an Unrestricted Free Agent at the end of the season.  The Rangers would be on the hook for another year at about $2 million – a not-so-tidy sum when you factor in that Darius Kasparaitis still has another year left at about $3.2 million.  Unless the Rangers were able to trade Kasparaitis, the best they could do would be to lose him on waivers and be saddled with a $1.6 million cap hit.  Of course, the Rangers could just let Darius sit in Hartford and keep his full salary off the books, but the prospects of a 35-year-old NHL veteran on their AHL affiliate does nothing but take up a roster spot that would be better served going to a prospect.

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Am I the only person who thinks the main story with the Rangers 6-4 loss to the Ottawa Senators is not the blown delay-of-game call with 2:55 left in the third period?  I guess I  must not be getting it or I watched a different game.  The story is not about how the Rangers gallant comeback was derailed by four officials.  The story of this loss is about 20 players who did not earn their paychecks for two-thirds of a hockey game.

Okay, I know I am taking the glass-is-half-empty outlook but, in reality, what other outlook should we take?

Coming off their fourth straight loss to the New York Islanders, the Rangers responded to coach Tom Renney’s verbal lashing with indifference.  Losing is part of the game.  Playing like you don’t have a care in the world is a different story – and that is the story of the Rangers loss.

Jed Ortmeyer had it partially correct when he spoke to Sam Weinman of the “Journal News” following the game.

“‘You learn something from every loss, and this is something we have to keep in the back of our minds that we can come back when we’re in that situation,’ said forward Jed Ortmeyer, who had two assists in the final period. ‘But we don’t want to be in that situation to begin with, either.’”

In order to really hit home the point, Ortmeyer needed to address the part about not being in that situation FIRST and then add that the team learned something from the loss.

However, did they really learn anything from that loss?

The Rangers’ season has been one big rollercoaster ride after another.  There is the hot streak followed by the inevitable losing streak.  The only consistent thing about the Rangers this season has been their inconsistency.  While that is sometime common for middle-of-the-pack teams like the Rangers, what is not common is the number of times the Rangers have appeared to phone in games.  That is a practice that must stop.

It would be real easy to put all of the blame Renney or Glen Sather.  Granted, they do share some of the blame for continuing to give ice time to players who are ineffective, but the bottom line is that the players must step up.

Wolf Pack goaltender Steve Valiquette might have hit on the Rangers problems when describing how the Wolf Pack have rebounded from a disastrous start to the season.

Valiquette told Bruce Berlet of the “Hartford Courant”, “But it’s also a credit to the players to be willing to learn and be able to accept things. We’re fortunate to have those kinds of players because if you don’t have that, then what do you have? You just have coaches who are talking to the wall….”

Perhaps it is time for Messers Renney and Sather to dig down to their farm system for a couple of those players who are willing to learn and accept things.  It would definitely serve as a wakeup call to those Ranger players who insist on sleepwalking through parts of games.

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While the team has lost a step, it seems that Sam Rosen and Joe Micheletti haven’t lost a step when it comes to spouting the company line. They were talking about the Rangers not recalling a forward with Cullen and Nylander out of the lineup when they said the Rangers didn’t call a player up because the Wolf Pack has played Friday and Saturday and any recalled forward would have been playing his third game in as many days. That would be sound thinking except for the fact Hartford played last night as well! I know it wouldn’t make a difference with the Rangers because Tom Renney has virtually forgotten the fourth line – except for everyone’s “hero” Colton Orr and they could have used an extra defenseman with Marek Malik getting hurt. Too bad we dressed Sandis instead of a seventh defenseman . By the way, this was the fifth time that Hartford has played three games over a weekend this season so the experience would not have been a new one.

Note to Sam and Joe: don’t pee on my leg and then tell me it is raining. If you have to manufacture a story say something like the Rangers thought Cullen or Nylander would be able to go and didn’t have time to call up a player given the pack’s 4pm start time on Sunday.

I know the Rangers are going to a rough spot on their schedule with 10 games in 17 nights, battling a nasty flu bug (notice athletes never get the sniffles), and are running into a stretch of injuries of late, but I hate it when announcers, players, coaches, team officials use it as an excuse. Perhaps the Rangers would have been in better position to combat these problems if they were running four lines game in and game out.

All teams in all sports go through the exact same thing at various times during their seasons. That is why it was refreshing to read that Brendan Shanahan would have nothing to do with making excuses. The bottom line is the Rangers forgot that disciplined hockey and hard work are the building blocks to winning hockey.

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With the NHL’s Christmas Trade Freeze looming tomorrow, rds.ca reports that the New York Rangers have placed defenseman Sandis Ozolinsh on waivers.  As Lyle Richardson reports on his Spector’s Hockey web site, given his nearly $3 million salary, he will pass through waivers and must report to Hartford or face suspension.  The bottom line is that the Rangers have opened up some salary cap space.

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