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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Now that the NHL’s Lockout has been resolved, I hope Gary Bettman and Donald Fehr aren’t too upset if I don’t genuflect and kiss their rings for granting us the privilege of “enjoying” the 2012/2013 season. Given that hockey fans are again faced with the prospect of a 48-game schedule that begins in mid-January, perhaps we should refer to the season as the 2013 season?

Don’t misunderstand me, I am glad that we will get to watch NHL hoc key prior to the 2013/2014 season – especially with Cablevision and MSG refusing to show Connecticut Whale games live as opposed to the same dozen or so re-tread games they keep showing.

As I said, I am glad the NHL is back but I just don’t seem to have the same fervor for hockey – at least not yet. That might be change come Opening Night, in mid-February, or even towards the end of a 48-game season where the New York Rangers repeat their annual race to struggle to make the playoffs (last season not withstanding).

I suppose I should thank the NHL and the NHLPA for their individual roles in the Lockout because it gave me an opportunity to really focus on the 2013 U-20 World Junior Championship in Ufa, Russia. Was I the only who thought a city named Ufa should be in Italy as opposed to Russia? Think about it for a few seconds and you will get the joke – I hope.

I am not one of those hockey fans who are so bitter that he is going to swear off hockey in order to teach the NHL and NHLPA a lesson. I love the New York Rangers and I love hockey. Why would I deprive myself of something I love so much to teach the league and the players a lesson – especially when they don’t even know who I am.

On the other hand, I am not going to run out and buy tickets to head down to the Garden nor am I going to pony up the pro-rated fishnagels to order the NHL’s Center Ice Package. The only way I will be viewing the Center Ice Package will be during whatever free previews they offer at the start of the season.

Of course, the NHL would be very wise to heed the advice many hockey writers have been giving to them – offer the Center Ice Package free to whomever wants it this season.

Dan Oldfield of CBC sports said it best when he wrote, “Two dollars off the price of a ticket and a big ‘Thank You Fans’ decal painted on the ice won’t cut it.”

Oldfield hit the nail right on the head. The NHL, and the NHLPA for that matter, need to come up with a meaningful gesture to win back fans. A dopey decal on the ice is not a “thank you”, it is a “f@#$ you” to fans.

If the NHL won’t reward fans with a free Center Ice Package perhaps they can get the teams to bring in cheerleaders like they had in Ufa at the WJC {grin}.

The worst part about the Lockout was that it could have been settled a long time ago if both sides had been willing to make concessions at the beginning of the negotiations instead of nearly waiting until it was too late.

The NHL should have recognized that the NHLPA was not going to sit back idly as the owners sliced and diced the salary cap down to the ridiculous numbers they were originally offering.

The NHLPA should have realized that a 50-50 split was inevitable given that is what the NBA and the NFL both agreed to.

I understand that the Lockout was all about posturing. Bettman and his hardline owners (that would be you Jeremy Jacobs and Ed Snider) were out to crush the NHLPA. Ownership always attempts to that in any labor negotiation.

Fehr and the union were going to fight tooth and nail to avoid the beating they took from the press at the end of the 2004/2005 Lockout. In the end, the players still managed to walk away ahead according to Mark Recchi.

“Look at that last deal. We ended up with the [salary] cap and everyone thought it was a bad deal. But it ended up great, right? No matter what the system is, or has been, the players get their money,” Recchi explained to David Shoalts of The Globe and Mail.

The players do deserve credit for scoring a victory in terms of getting owners to implement a “defined-benefit” plan for the players. Shoalts points out that prior to the current CBA “benefits were [not] guaranteed and payments depended on the performance of the plan’s investments. The plan was infamous for its low payouts even after a group of players successfully sued the league in the 1990s and won improvements.”

In a day and age where athletes are looking out only for themselves, the NHLPA scored big in taking care of past and future NHLers.

The biggest plus is that the two sides agreed to a 10-year CBA with each side having the option to opt out after eight years – something rational people would not consider, but no one ever accused the NHL or the NHLPA of being rational.

The Canadian Press published a story that wrote how Buffalo Sabres President Ted Black “apologized” to the fans and assured them that the Sabres focus is on winning the Stanley Cup.

Later in the article, Black reflected on the drama that occurred as a result of the lockout.

“Hopefully,” Black stated, “fans don’t have to go through this for the next 10 years.”

Ted, hopefully fans will NEVER have to go through this again.

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Back to the bargaining table.

The NHL’s brand-new offer to the NHLPA could be the last hope in conserving the aeason and with this offer comes hope.

Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly confirmed the offer today.

“In light of media reports this morning, I can confirm that we delivered to the Union a new, comprehensive proposal for a successor CBA late yesterday afternoon,” he said in a statement. We are not prepared to discuss the details of our proposal at this time. We are hopeful that once the Union’s staff and negotiating committee have had an opportunity to thoroughly review and consider our new proposal, they will share it with the players. We want to be back on the ice as soon as possible.”

A new round of bargaining is set to begin this weekend.

The two sides will satisfy in person on Sunday after a teleconference on Saturday.

The owners reportedly lightened needs about making income arbitration and complimentary company harder to attain as well as changed the specific agreement variance from five percent to 10 percent.

There is also a one-time buyout in 2013-14 that will assist a team get under the $ 60 million cap and it will not count towards the salary cap.

If this doesn’t work, the period will most likely be canceled. The owners have held off over half the games already and online sports betting say any longer would make it impossible to have a season.

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First off, I do not have a horse in this race between the NHL and NHLPA. I say a pox on both of their houses for making fans have to go through another CBA fiasco. In the end, the owners and the players will both be wins with hockey fans being the ultimate losers – either in terms of a lockout or higher prices at arenas.

The NHL’s recent counterproposal to the NHLPA’s first proposal caused a sensation because the League did not include a salary rollback – like they did following the 2005 Lockout. Way back then, the NHL instituted a 24% salary rollback – something they included in their initial offer to the players as the NHL looked to knock the players’ percentage of hockey-related income from 57% to 46%.

I am not going to delve any deeper into the figures being thrown around by the NHL and the NHLPA because I am not a labor negotiator, nor do I play one on television. Besides all of these numbers and contract negotiations are giving me agita.

The one thing I will say is that both Gary Bettman and Donald Fehr are receiving a lot of heat from the media and the fans – rightly so. However, when you take a deeper look at their roles they are merely the pawns of the groups that have hired them.

Like it or not Bettman is the best Commissioner the NHL has ever had. Now before you start coming after me with the torches and pitchforks you have to realize he is also the ONLY Commissioner the NHL has ever had. Prior to Gary leaving basketball for hockey, the NHL’s figurehead was known as NHL President as the power was maintained by a select few owners.

When you think about it, nothing has changed in the NHL other than the figurehead’s title. The league is still run by a select few owners (e.g. Jeremy Jacobs and Ed Snider) and if you think Bettman isn’t taking his marching orders from the hardline owners, well, then I have a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you.

Conversely, the players knew what they were doing when they brought in Donald Fehr and his brother Steve. While salary escalation proves otherwise, the players are still smarting from the “beating” they took during the last negotiations and they wanted to make sure they are perceived as the winners this time around.

Fehr is great at deflection so he should be able to use his skills to get the players the “win” they want. If you don’t believe that Fehr is good at public relations and deflecting, then how is it Bettman and the NHL gets grief for erasing the 2004/2005 NHL season, but it was Fehr and Major League Baseball that was the first league to wipeout its playoffs back in 1994?

Sadly the NHL’s only leverage is to lock the players out – even though the NHLPA would be more than willing to start the 2012/2013 season. The problem is that the leverage then switches to the players with the owners fearing a repeat of 1992 when the players staged a nine-day strike on April 1, 1992.

Enough with the millionaires and billionaires, let’s get back to the NHL’s latest proposal.

According to Kevin Allen of USA Today, here is how the NHL’s salary cap would look under the owner’s newest proposal: “The NHL proposal calls for a fixed salary cap of $58 million next season and then caps of $60 million and $62 million. Under the plan, the league projected a fourth-year salary cap of $64.2 million, a fifth year at $67.6 million and the final season’s cap of $71.1 million.”

The one point that does need to be looked it is how NHL teams would get down to the NHL’s proposed $58 million salary cap. CapGeek.com estimates that 16 of the league’s 30 teams are already over the salary cap – including the New York Rangers who stand at $58.5 million.

While that might not seem that bad, remember, that figure does not include Michael Del Zotto. The Blueshirts could gain some wiggle room based on the Long Term Injured Reserve status of Marian Gaborik and Michael Sauer.

Amnesty buyouts would not give the Rangers much relief because the above-mentioned cap hit does not include Wade Redden’s $6.5 million cap hit. However, it does include Chris Drury’s $1.67 million buyout hit.

As a last resort, the Rangers could contemplate buying out a Brian Boyle ($1.7 million), a Taylor Pyatt ($1.55 million) or a Michael Rupp ($1.5 million). However, that does not help much when you look at the cap hits of possible replacements like J.T. Miller ($1.24 million) and Christian Thomas ($900,000).

This where my idea comes into play as a way to help alleviate the salary cap dilemma that would arise should the cap drop down to $58 million neighborhood. It is a simple idea that borrows ideas from the NBA and the NFL.

Gary Bettman’s former employer, the NBA, allows teams to go over their salary cap into to re-sign their own free agents – the so-called “Larry Bird Rule”. The NFL uses the “franchise” tag to retain unrestricted free agents if certain conditions are met.

I propose that the NHL institute a “franchise tag” that an organization could use on one of its players. That player’s salary would NOT count against the team’s salary cap. In order to prevent teams from taking advantage of this “loophole” during free agency, the franchise tag could only be applied to a player drafted or solely developed by that team.

For example, the Rangers could place the franchise tag on Henrik Lundqvist and remove his $6.875 million salary from the team’s cap hit because he was drafted and developed by the Rangers.

Along the same vein, the Rangers could decide to franchise Dan Girardi because he was developed by the Rangers as an undrafted free agent. A player like Marian Gaborik (signed as a free agent) or Rick Nash (acquired in a trade) would not be eligible for the franchise tag.

Conversely, a team could decide NOT to use the franchise tag if doing so would drop them below the NHL’s salary cap floor.

If a franchise player were to be traded or leave as a free agent, the team could designate another eligible player as their franchise player and said player would not be eligible for the franchise tag.

This idea offers teams near the salary cap ceiling a chance to “enjoy” some cap relief while allowing teams some ability to retain their own players. In a weird way it rewards teams for developing their own players rather than relying on free agency and trades.

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The New York Rangers entered the 2012 NHL Draft with a chance to add a legacy prospect to their ranks in the first round as Henrik Samuelsson (son of former defenseman Ulf Samuelsson) and Stefan Matteau (son of LW Stephane Matteau) were names rumored to be available with the 28th overall pick.

Don Maloney eliminated any chance of Henrik Samuelsson being drafted by the Blueshirts when he drafted him just one spot before the Rangers selected. With the opportunity for echoes of “Matteau, Matteau, Matteau” to ring through Madison Square Garden, the Rangers brain trust passed in favor of Brady Skjei (pronounced “shay”) as the organization continued to stockpile young mobile defenseman.

Of course, it in the biggest piece of irony that came out of the 2012 NHL Draft, the New Jersey Devils drafted Matteau with the 29th overall pick. I guess Devils President/GM was not going to let another Matteau beat him in the playoffs.

While I trust that Director of Player personnel Gordie Clark knows what he is doing, my preference would have been to trade down into the second round and pick up extra draft picks.

In the second round, the Rangers selected center Cristoval “Boo” Nieves with the 59th overall pick. Nieves, from Baldwinsville, NY, played in prep school hockey at the Kent School in Connecticut.

The Rangers elected to trade their 2012 third round draft pick to the Nashville Predators for their 2013 third round draft pick.

The Blueshirts returned to the draft board with their fourth round selection at #119. This time the Rangers did not pass up on the chance to draft a legacy prospect as they selected defenseman Calle Andersson – son of former Ranger blueliner Peter Andersson who played 39 games for the team in 1992-193 and 1993-94 before being traded to the Florida Panthers. Both Anderssons were fourth round picks, although Peter retains bragging rights because he was drafted with the 73th overall pick.

Just when you thought the Rangers were finished, they turned to their third round trade partners and made a deal with Nashville. This time the Predators were trading their 2012 fifth round pick for the Rangers 2013 fifth round pick. The Blueshirts used that pick to draft RW Thomas Spelling from Denmark.

While I can speak about Spelling’s style of play, it is apparent that the Rangers placed an emphasis on strong skating in their 2012 draft strategy, as well as focusing on prospects who are projected to be solid two-way players.

BRADY SKJEI

Central Scouting (CS): #19 North American skater
International Scouting Service (ISS): #26
McKeen’s (McK): #21
Red Line Report (RLR): #29
The Hockey News (THN): 26

The 6-foot-3 and 200 pound defenseman spent last season as part of the U.S. National Development Team program. In 56 games with the Under-18 team, Skjei scored four goals and 18 assists with 32 PIM. Brady helped lead the USA to Gold in the U-18 tournament. While he only posted a lone assist in six games, he was a Plus-10 for the tournament.

Skjei will attend the University of Minnesota, where his grandfather, Stan, starred as a football player in the early 1960s.

CS: His USNTDP Coach Danton Cole said, “His game has improved greatly, both offensively and defensively. He’s a tremendous skater and a good example of a guy who understands the little nuances of playing defense. He’s thrived in the [USNTDP] program and is a physical specimen; he’s big and strong and has made great strides in learning how to play the game. His angling is good and he has put himself in a really good position moving forward in his career.”

ISS: They compare his style of play to future Ranger teammate Ryan McDonagh. They describe him as a “big, smooth skating defender with great offensive potential and some reliable defensive instincts.” They do say that he “needs to continue working on his defensive zone coverage.”

McK: “Skjei plays a skilled two-way game, as he can do many things well and has good size to complement his all-around game. A more than capable skater, he is fluid in all directions thanks to a crisp stride, long extension and he possesses multiple levels of speed…. Not overly belligerent, his game lacks a physical component to it, yet he compensates with a stead compete level and uses his size in one-on-one situations advantageously.”

THN: They list Skjei’s NHL Translation as “smooth-skating defenseman”. One scout told THN, “It looks like poetry watching this guy skate. He’s effortless and massive, which makes him attractive. He sometimes makes some shaky decisions, but his skating ability for his size is frightening.” Another scout said. “When somebody gets him at the next level and tells him. ‘Just be simple and go with your skating stride,’ he’ll be a real effective NHLer.”

CRISTOVAL “BOO” NIEVES

CS: #27 North American skater
ISS: #63
McK: #48
RLR: #94
THN: #55

The 6-foot-3 and 184 pound Nieves played his prep school hockey with Kent in Connecticut and seven goals and 32 assists in 39 games (12 PIM). After finishing up at Kent, Nieves headed west to play for the Indiana Ice in the USHL. In 13 games with Indiana, he scored two goals and eight assists with 2 PIM. Nieves was a member of the USA team that competed at the 2011 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament where he tallied three assists in four games.

Nieves will attend the University of Michigan where he is set to wear future teammate Carl Hagelin’s #12.

ISS: Since they only do style comparisons for their Top 60 players, Nieves just missed the cutoff. Here is their Scouting Report on Boo, “Nieves rocketed up the charts after showing off his stuff with USA at the Ivan Hlinka. A very raw prospect that has much upside. Nieves is a smooth skater with explosive quickness. He has good size but is very thin and has a ton of room to build on hi frame. He has great hands and displays a high level of skill. An excellent playmaker, Nieves can create offense off the rush. He tends to be a set up man more than a shooter.”

McK: “Nieves’ game is predicated on speed because of his first-step quickness, effortless stride and ability to change directions, which are among the best in the draft…. Nieves is more of a playmaker-passer since he sees he ice well and gains considerable real estate with his speed…,His lack of scoring will relegate him more in the mold of a defensive forward at the NHL level. His elite speed and passing skills make him a sought after commodity; however, he is labeled a ‘buyer beware’ pick as his game is far from complete.”

THN: They listed Nieves’ NHL Translation as “offensive forward.” One scout told them, “He’s got tremendous tools. When you go see him, he jumps out at you. He gets up to speed really fast and he’s a quick strider. Creates turnovers and reads the play.” THN pointed out that while he creates plays, “finishing those plays was a concern and his numbers at Kent School in Connecticut were not overwhelming based on his elite skill level.”

CALLE ANDERSSON

Central Scouting (CS): #15 European skater
International Scouting Service (ISS): #47
McKeen’s (McK): #68
Red Line Report (RLR): #144
The Hockey News (THN): 87

The 6-foot-2 and 208 pound Andersson is a right-handed shooting defenseman that THN described as a “Mobile d-man [who] can play big minutes and makes a great first pass. He played for Farjestad Junior team in Sweden and scored 12 goals and 24 assists with 36 PIM in 49 games. Andersson also represented Sweden at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament and at the World Junior Championship. In 10 games with the Swedish U-18 team, he scored three goals and six assists.

ISS: They compare his style of play to that of Christian Backman. “A mobile defender with good size, Andersson stood out for all the right reasons during the U-18 WJC. He found himself logging major minutes in all critical and crucial situations …. An effective two-way blue-liner who gets his stick in the passing lanes and uses his strong skating ability to position himself in the defensive zone.” ISS says that Andersson need work on “[using] his massive frame more to his advantage. Improve shot.” They do say that his NHL potential is as a “top four all-around defenseman”.

McK: “Andersson had a productive Hlinka tournament while playing a permanent role in the top-four rotation. Andersson shows flashes of his skill, but there appears to be a dimension of his game that is missing. He struggled against better competition at the World U18 Championships because he wasn’t quick enough to make plays with the puck…. His skating is above average as he has a good stride and shows some explosiveness out of the gate…. Andersson will return to U20 juniors next season, which should give him ample ice time to iron out his game.”

THOMAS SPELLING

CS: #90 European skater
RLR: #115
ISS, McK and THN: Not Rated.

The 6-foot-1 and 176 pound Spelling really opened scouts eyes with his performance in the Danish playoffs this year while playing Herning Blue Fox. In 17 playoff games, Spelling registered 10 goals and 10 assists with 14 PIM as he led Herning to the Danish championship.

Spelling was no slouch during the regular season as he averaged better than a point per game in 33 games (21-16-37-6 PIM). He also represented Denmark at the WJC, scoring one goal and three assists in 6 games.

The 21-year-old has shown a steady increase in scoring in his three years in Denmark’s top league – progressing from 14 points in his rookie season to 29 points in his sophomore season to his career-high of 37 last season. Spelling will be playing for Rogle in the Sweden’s Elite League next season.

NHL.com rated Spelling as the top player to watch from Denmark. As it turns out he was the second of two Danish players to be drafted as Anaheim selected goalie Fredrik Andersen in the fourth round (#87).

Here is how the Rangers official web site describes Spelling: “Strong transition player who is highly skilled with a very quick release.”

PROSPECTS DEVELOPMENT CAMP

The Rangers are in the midst of their annual Prospects Development Camp that brings together 16 players whose NHL rights are owned by the Rangers along with 15 invited players. There are four intriguing names among the invitees. Two of them have connections to Madison Square Garden.

Gabe Grunwald is the son of New York Knicks GM Glen Grunwald and played last season in the NAHL. He is committed to attend the University of Wisconsin starting with the 2013-2014 season. I would presume that he is in camp as a favor to his father.

Andy Bathgate is the grandson of Hall of Famer, and Rangers legend, Andy Bathgate. In addition to his grandfather, the younger Bathgate has another connection to the Blueshirts – sort of. He was Pittsburgh’s fifth round draft pick (#151) in the 2009 NHL Draft – a pick that was acquired from the Rangers, even though it was originally Pittsburgh’s pick. Confused? Allow me to explain.

The Penguins originally traded their fifth round pick to Toronto in February 2008 as part of the deal that brought Hal Gill to Pittsburgh. The Blueshirts acquired the pick from the Maple Leafs in July 2008 in a deal that Ryan Hollweg to Toronto. Pittsburgh reacquired the pick from the Rangers in the trade that sent the rights to Chad Johnson to New York.

Pittsburgh gave up their rights to Bathgate when they did not sign him by June 1, 2011. As a result, Bathgate was eligible to be re-drafted in 2011, but was not selected.

“Andy Bathgate hasn’t played much hockey for a while,” assistant to the general manager Tom Fitzgerald told Dave Molinari of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “You look at his numbers, and say, ‘Well, geez, he should be doing this or that. He’s a first-line center.’
“But he hasn’t played much hockey. He’s a tough kid to project because of the lack of games he’s played over the last 2 1/2 years because of his shoulder injury.”

The 6-foot-1 and 175 pound center played last season with the Plymouth Whalers (OHL) and scored 19 goals and 44 assists in 68 regular season games and then added five goals and three assists in 13 playoff games.
IN 2009, ISS offered the following brief comments on Bathgate in their Draft Preview, “Strong work ethic. Anticipates well. Not overly physical. Good acceleration. PK specialist”.

You have to figure that Bathgate could be in the mix for a spot in the AHL.

The other two players of interest have no connection to the Rangers and present an interesting set of skills.

In January 2011, Myles Bell was the subject of a feature story on NHL.com. The story, by Alan Bass, focused on Bell’s attempts to work on becoming a better two-way defenseman as he approached the 2011 NHL Draft.

“He’s got tremendous offensive instincts,” Regina Coach Curtis Hunt told Bass.
“That’s probably one of his greatest attributes. He’s got real good poise with the puck, a tremendous shot from the blue line and good vision across the top and in special-teams situations — and from behind the goal line. He has a good first pass, as well. He’s probably as tough as they come, and at 17 he can probably take on anyone (physically).”

In addition to Bell’s Junior coach, Bass also spoke to Peter Sullivan who was with the NHL’s Central Scouting.

“He’s got very good hockey sense and sees the ice well,” Sullivan explained to Bass. “He can either slow down the style of the game or speed it up when he wants to. He’s definitely got all the tools. He has a good shot. He’s used in all situations, both on the power play and penalty kill. He can lay out the big hits. He’s got all the aspects that you want in a defenseman.”

Three months later Bell went from NHL prospect to lucky to be alive when he was involved in a fatal car accident in Calgary in April 2011 that claimed the life of Bell’s 18-year-old passenger. This past March Bell was sentenced to two years probation and 240 hours of community service and is prohibited from driving for five years.

The Canadian Press wrote, “Justice Gerry Meagher says the youth, who was 17 at the time, was guilty of driving at excessive speed but has shown remorse.”

Bell was driving 100 kilometers per mile over the speed limit, or about 62 MPH.

After playing his first three Junior season with Regina, Bell was traded to Kelowna last season. The 6-fott and 200 pound blueliner played battled injuries and played 54 regular season games, scoring 15 goals and 26 assists with 55 PIM. In four playoff games with the Rockets, Bell tallied a goal and an assist. One of Bell’s Kelowna teammates last season was Rangers prospect Shane McColgan.

This is not the first time that Glen Sather has extended a second chance to a player who was involved in a fatal car accident. Sather signed Craig MacTavish in 1985 after MacTavish spent a year in jail for vehicular homicide after the Boston Bruins let him out of his contract following his release from prison.

The final player of interest is center Dane Fox – who was draft eligible this year, but was passed over. I have to admit that I considered Fox as I was drafting my Second Round NHL Mock Draft, but I eventually saw him as a third round selection. What is interesting in the bypassing of Fox is that he received high marks from the four scouting services that I studied. CS rated him their 46th best North American skater. ISS had him as their 54th best prospect and compared him to Dave Bolland. McK listed ho mast the 60th best player available, while THN listed him as their 76th best prospect.

According to Mark Malone of the Chatham Daily News (in Canada), the Rangers told Fox they were really interested in him, but only had four selections. You have to wonder that if the Rangers really wanted to, they could have found a way to pick up a stray seventh round draft pick. It will be interesting to see if they regret their inaction as Fox is eligible for the 2013 NHL Draft.

“That made me feel a lot better” Fox admitted to Malone in reference to the Rangers interest. “It was a long, long, long day for me, but I’ve been through a lot worse. This is just more motivation.”

“I was obviously a bit disappointed (to go undrafted) being ranked where I was, but you try to stay positive,” he said.

The 6-foot-1 and 186 pound Fox played last season with the OHL’s London Knights and Erie Otters and scored 23 goals and 54 assists with 87 PIM in 62 games.

McKeen’s offered one possibility as to why Fox slid out of the 2012 NHL Draft.

In their 2012 Draft Guide they wrote, “Despite his improved play and lead-by-example attitude he displayed with the Otters, Fox has some off-ice character issues that could lower his stock and NHL teams would need to do their homework before making him their selection.”

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