Rangers Continue to Round out Roster

July 23, 2014

With the recent free-agent additions of Matthew Lombardi and Lee Stempniak, and the pre-arbitration re-signings of Mats Zuccarello and Chris Kreider, the parent New York Rangers now have ten forwards signed who spent the bulk of last season in the NHL, and six defensemen.

The big club has two remaining restricted free agents, forward Derick Brassard and defenseman John Moore, and all indications are that both will be re-signed.  Brassard is arbitration-eligible–his hearing is scheduled for Monday–while Moore is not.  Assuming that both are re-upped, that would increase the totals to 11 forwards and seven defensemen.  The defense number includes Mike Kostka, whose first full NHL season was last year.

I would imagine that the Rangers would probably carry seven D, with the assumed top six being Dan Girardi, Ryan McDonagh, Dan BoyleMarc Staal, Kevin Klein and Moore.  That would set up the likes of Dylan McIlrath, Conor Allen, Matt Hunwick, Steven Kampfer, and whatever other dark horses might assert themselves, to battle for the seventh spot, or to try and unseat someone outside the top four for an NHL gig.

Conor Allen

Conor Allen

Up front, I have to think that J.T. Miller will be given every chance to land a spot in the Ranger lineup, especially given the fact that Brian Boyle is gone and there is a need for a big centerman.  With Miller’s skill and size, if he puts his mind to it, I think he could do for the Rangers what Mike Richards did for Los Angeles in the playoffs.  That is, be a third or fourth-line center who is skilled enough to warrant more than passing attention from opponents, while being enough of a force on the forecheck that he contributes significantly to the wearing-down of enemy defenses, simultaneously helping to keep the top two or three middlemen fresh.

I suspect that the parent club would love for another youngster or two, in addition to Miller, prove worthy of a full-time NHL job, given that the Rangers are likely to be significantly short on cap space once contracts are done for Brassard and Moore.  Jesper Fast seems to be on the cusp of being able to make the jump, and other prime candidates I would point to would be Oscar Lindberg and Ryan Haggerty.

J.T. Miller

J.T. Miller

The center position is a definite story line around the entire organizational roster, with Brad Richards also gone in addition to Boyle.  Lombardi is a centerman, so his arrival adds some depth there, but if I’m Lindberg, or Chris Mueller or Marek Hrivik for that matter, I’m looking at the Blueshirt roster and thinking that there is every reason to come to training camp with the mindset that there is a job there for the taking.  On the Wolf Pack side, the team’s second-half surge can in large part be credited to the addition of T.J. Hensick and the more consistent presence of Miller, two developments that strongly bolstered the club up the middle.  Now Hensick has signed with Hamilton and Miller is likely to spend even more time in the NHL, so I wonder if the organization might have an eye out for another depth centerman.  Mueller is certainly one, and he is coming off of a Calder Cup with Texas, and if all of the veteran “bubble” guys that the Rangers have signed end up with the Wolf Pack, the team will be out of veteran slots, but it still would not surprise me if we see a Hensick-type guy added before the end of the summer, if one turns out still to be out there.

New OT Protocol Tops AHL Changes

July 12, 2014

The AHL has been a big help to the NHL in recent years by acting as a sort of “testing laboratory” for rule changes that the Big Show is contemplating.

Concepts auditioned in the AHL in the past have included the four-on-four overtime and the shootout, and there is a very interesting tweak to the post-regulation setup on the way for this coming season.

At its annual meeting this past week, the AHL’s Board of Governors enacted a new procedure that will extend regular-season overtime to seven minutes, and provide for a “dry scrape” of the whole ice surface by the ice resurfacers prior to the beginning of OT.  Even more significantly, while the first three minutes of the extra session will be played four-on-four, if more play is necessary beyond the three-minute mark, the teams will go to three-on-three at the next stoppage.Action Shot for Blog - 07-12-14

If the tie holds up through the entire seven minutes of extra play, then the game goes to a three-player, best-of-three shootout.

Obviously, this is in the interest of trying to decide more games without having to use the shootout, which has always been distasteful to most hockey purists, and to many of those in charge of running the game.

The idea of a three-on-three overtime is not new–Detroit Red Wings GM Ken Holland was pushing it two years ago–but this will be the first time it will have been tried in a pro league.

While I enjoy the shootout, I am excited to see how this new idea works.  I think it definitely will reduce the incidence of shootouts, as it will be much harder for teams to have the mindset of just surviving OT and taking their chances in the shootout.  While coaches seem to have figured out how to take away time and space fairly successfully in the four-on-four setup, there is so much open ice in three-on-three, you would think that would be nearly impossible.  Also, knowing that there is that much more clock time to get through in overtime, I think, will help keep teams from going into that “survival” mode in the four-on-four, and motivate them to attack more.

Another intriguing element to this experiment is the question of how the process of dry-scraping the ice before overtime will affect the momentum of the game.  Those that know tell me that a dry scrape of the full surface will take six to seven minutes, as opposed to the two or three minutes that was required for the dry scrape of the middle of the ice before the shootout.  Those 6-7 minutes represent a fairly extended break, especially compared to what we are used to leading into overtime, certainly long enough for any real momentum generated by either team towards the end of regulation to dissipate.  On the other hand, though, it would also seem to be a long enough time for the teams to get a rejuvenating breather, such that they may come out with renewed and entertaining energy for the extra session.  Either way, I think the benefit of having a smoother sheet of ice to start the OT, which should enhance the pace, is well worth waiting through the dry scrape.

Action Shot for Blog - 07-12-14 - McIlrathIn addition to this major change, the league also decided on two smaller ones.  One is the dictum that a player will receive a game misconduct for incurring two fighting majors, or a total of three majors of any type, in the same game.  It used to be that it was three across the board, but this is another step towards further limiting of the fisticuffs.  Also, there will be no more bareheaded players skating around, under any circumstances.  A new rule states that a player who loses his helmet on the ice must either pick it up immediately and put it back on his head, with the chin strap secured, or skate directly to the bench, with those who fail to do either of those receiving a minor penalty.

Those were the on-ice changes, and the franchise movement coming out of this past season also brought on a divisional realignment.

The Wolf Pack’s divisional address will stay the same, as they remain in the Northeast Division, but that division became less geographically compact.  The Adirondack Phantoms, whom the Pack battled ten times in 2013-14, have moved from Glens Falls to Allentown, PA, and that franchise, now called the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, has been moved to the East Division.  Replacing the Phantoms in the Northeast are the Syracuse Crunch, who played the last five years in the East Division.  It will be interesting to see how many times the Wolf Pack play the Crunch, as Syracuse, at 254 miles from Hartford, is 83 miles further than Glens Falls.  Glens Falls is less than a three-hour ride from the XL Center, and the Wolf Pack did that as a day trip several times, but Syracuse, at about four hours, is too long to do the day of a game.

Happily for the good fans of Glens Falls, who are near and dear to my heart, the Abbotsford Heat moved in to replace the departed Phantoms.  That relocated Heat franchise, re-christened the Adirondack Flames, will have to remain in the Western Conference, lest there be an imbalance in the number of teams in the two conferences.  In the Western Conference, the Lake Erie Monsters will be moving into the Midwest Division from the North and the Iowa Wild, in their second year of play in Des Moines, will be in the Midwest Division instead of the West.

Another perennial summer story line is coaching changes, and there have already been several in the AHL.

Brent Thompson

Brent Thompson

In the Wolf Pack’s division, defending divisional champ Springfield will have Jared Bednar calling the shots next year, after Brad Larsen was promoted to an assistant’s position with parent-club Columbus.  Bednar was one of Larsen’s assistants the last two seasons.  And in Bridgeport, former Wolf Pack defenseman Brent Thompson is returning for his second stint as the Sound Tigers’ head man.  Thompson, who had served as an assistant for the parent New York Islanders for the past two years, after one year in the Bridgeport head job in 2011-12, replaces the fired Scott Pellerin.

The Calder Cup-winning head coach, the Texas Stars’ Willie Desjardins, has parlayed the Stars’ championship into an NHL head job with the Vancouver Canucks.  He will be replaced in Cedar Park by Derek Laxdal, who was hired away from the Western Hockey League’s Edmonton Oil Kings.  And Manchester Monarchs bench boss Mark Morris, the second longest-serving head man in the league behind Worcester’s Roy Sommer, was not brought back, despite leading the Monarchs to an Eastern Conference regular-season championship.  His replacement behind the Monarch bench will be former Grand Rapids Griffins head coach Mike Stothers, who spent the last three years battling Laxdal in the WHL, as coach of the Moose Jaw Warriors.

Two new coaches have been hired in the East Division, with Troy Mann replacing Mike Haviland in Hershey and Jarrod Skalde taking over for Trent Yawney down in Norfolk.  Haviland left the Bears after one season to become head coach of Colorado College, while Mann, an ex-Hershey assistant, returns to Chocolatetown after one year piloting the Bakersfield Condors of the ECHL.  Yawney was elevated from Norfolk to become an assistant with the parent club in Anaheim, and Skalde, who has head-coaching experience in the IHL and ECHL, gets his first AHL head gig after one season as Yawney’s assistant.

Along with a new location for their AHL affiliate, the Flames also have a new AHL coach, as they elected not to keep Troy Ward, their head man in Abbotsford the last three years.  He has been supplanted by Ryan Huska, another WHL product.  Huska has been the top man of the Kelowna Rockets for the past seven seasons.

And the latest AHL team to be in the market for a new leader is the Toronto Marlies, as the parent Maple Leafs announced just yesterday that Steve Spott, who led the Marlies to a North Division championship and to within one win of the Calder Cup Finals this year, will be rewarded with an assistant’s spot on the Leafs’ staff for 2014-15.

 

Ranger Signings Bolster Depth

July 7, 2014

The parent New York Rangers rarely fail to cook an extremely hot stove when the flag goes up on free agency, and this year’s kickoff of the signing season was no exception.

And in addition to adding a major veteran NHL cog in defenseman Dan Boyle, the Blueshirts made a huge commitment to organizational depth.  The exclamation mark on that was the announcement Wednesday that Chris Bourque has signed on with the Rangers.

Chris Bourque, of course, is the older brother of Ryan Bourque, a Wolf Pack fixture for the past three seasons, and the elder Bourque has fashioned himself quite an AHL resume.  He was a major cog in the Hershey Bears’ mini-dynasty late in the last decade, which saw the boys from Chocolatetown win three Calder Cups, in 2006, 2009 and 2010, in a span of five years and get to the Finals in a fourth of those five years, 2007.  Bourque was AHL Playoff MVP in 2010 and won the league scoring title in 2011-12, racking up 27-66-93 in 73 games.

Bourque has been nearly a point-a-game player over 437 AHL games in his career, posting 433 points (142 goals and 291 assists), and I know he has always been a favorite of the Wolf Pack coaching staff, who has admired Bourque’s tenacity and effort, which often even overshadow his considerable skills.  That is a trait that his younger brother shares, and I have to believe that the potential for playing with Ryan, whether that be in New York or in Hartford, was a major factor in Chris Bourque’s decision to sign with the Rangers.  Ryan’s entry-level deal with the Rangers is up, making him a restricted free agent, but I would assume that he will re-sign, especially now with his big brother in the fold.

Chris Bourque’s last AHL tour was two seasons ago, when he split the season between Boston and Providence, tallying 10-28-38 in 39 games with the P-Bruins.  He began this past season in Russia’s KHL, with Ak Bars Kazan, but then left November 29 to join Biel of the Swiss National League A.  He had two goals in 11 games with Ak Bars Kazan and 6-7-13 in 21 contests with Biel, where he skated alongside former Wolf Pack defenseman Brendan Bell.

With the addition of Nick Tarnasky, signed away from the Canadiens organization, Thursday, the Rangers have added nine new bodies via free agency, and six of those nine spent much, if not all, of their most recent North American pro seasons in the AHL, and thus could reasonably be considered “depth” signings, guys that very well could end up with the Wolf Pack.  Those would be Bourque, Tarnasky, goaltender Cedrick Desjardins, defensemen Matt Hunwick and Steven Kampfer and forward Chris Mueller.  Another, defenseman Mike Kostka, logged only two AHL games last year, but prior to that had been mostly an AHL guy throughout the balance of his career.

The signing of Desjardins is significant, in that it gives the organization a veteran goaltender/number three NHL guy/”insurance policy”, the likes of which it has not started the season with since Steve Valiquette partnered with Al Montoya in Montoya’s rookie year of 2005-06.  The Rangers found themselves in a pickle last year when Cam Talbot grabbed the backup job in New York less than a month into the season, and none of Jason Missiaen, Jeff Malcolm or Scott Stajcer was able to step up and grab the reins in Hartford.  Jim Schoenfeld & Co. were able to do some smart shopping, thankfully, and come up with both Dov Grumet-Morris and David LeNeveu as veterans to fill the void, but it seems now that they want to ensure themselves of not being put in that position again.

Cedrick Desjardins (blog.syracuse.com)

Cedrick Desjardins (blog.syracuse.com)

Desjardins, an eight-year veteran, has tasted of six NHL games in his career and helped lead the Syracuse Crunch to the Calder Cup Finals in 2013.  He also won an ECHL championship in 2008, his second pro year, with the Cincinnati Cyclones and was a Memorial Cup champ with the QMJHL’s Quebec Remparts (coached by another pretty fair goaltender in Patrick Roy) in 2006.  Desjardins will likely be partnered in Hartford with a youngster, presumably 2013 sixth-round pick MacKenzie Skapski, allowing him to be brought along at his own pace while Desjardins provides injury insurance for the big club.  Solid move all around.

Mueller, a 28-year-old veteran of six pro seasons, is fresh off a Calder Cup championship with the Texas Stars, for whom he scored 25 goals in 60 games.  His championship pedigree also includes an NCAA title in 2007 with Michigan State, a team captained by current XL Center general manager Chris Lawrence.

Hunwick and Kampfer are both well known to Wolf Pack head coach Ken Gernander and his staff, as both blueliners broke in with the Providence Bruins before moving on different locales.  Hunwick and Kampfer are definitely legit NHL depth players—Hunwick has logged nearly 300 NHL games in his six pro years—and top-pair candidates in the AHL.  And there is already a void on the Wolf Pack defense, as 2013-14 captain Aaron Johnson has signed with Ottawa.

Chris Mueller (texasstarshockey.com)

Chris Mueller (texasstarshockey.com)

While Bourque and Mueller bring some heavy-duty offensive numbers to the table, Tarnasky is more of a grit guy, but I remember him from his first two pro seasons in Springfield as having an impressive set of wheels.  And, to his credit, his last two AHL years, two seasons ago with Rochester (16 goals, 26 points) and this past year with Hamilton (13 goals, 22 points), have been just about his two best offensively.  He also has 245 career games-played under his belt.

Bourque, Mueller, Hunwick, Tarnasky and Kostka are all veterans with more than 320 NHL/NHL/European Elite career games-played, so if all five of those guys end up with the Wolf Pack, that would fill all of the team’s 320-plus veteran slots.  It would still, though, leave open the team’s one spot for a veteran of less than 320 games-played.

Favorite Free Agents

July 1, 2014

So the draft is complete and the free-agency period has officially begun, and with help from capgeek.com, here is a list of free agents who have caught my eye over the years, playing either for the Wolf Pack or other AHL teams.  A caveat…this is just one man’s uneducated, knee-jerk opinion, nothing the least bit more significant than that.

I have included a number players who were on AHL contracts this year, assuming that their deals have expired.  That may not necessarily be the case for all, or any, of them, but I do not know of any capgeek-style resource that has that type of information for AHL-contracted players.

Forwards:

Alex Aleardi (AHL contract, Springfield)

Sean Backman (AHL contract, Manchester)

Mike Blunden (Montreal)

Pierre-Marc Bouchard (Chicago)

Jon DiSalvatore (AHL contract, Syracuse)

Andrew Gordon (#10, blue), in action against the Wolf Pack for the St. John's IceCaps.

Andrew Gordon (#10, blue), in action against the Wolf Pack for the St. John’s IceCaps (courtesy of st.johnsicecaps.com).

Nick Drazenovic (Pittsburgh)

Andrew Gordon (Winnipeg)

Ben Holmstrom (Philadelphia)

Jason Jaffray (AHL contract, St. John’s)

Pierre-Cedric Labrie (Tampa Bay)

Mark Mancari (Florida)

Andy Miele (Phoenix)

Kael Mouillierat (AHL contract, St. John’s)

Cal O’Reilly (AHL contract, Utica)

Ryan Potulny (AHL contract, Hershey)

Jerome Samson (Winnipeg)

Brandon Segal (Washington)

Jamie Tardif (Buffalo)

Derek Whitmore (AHL contract, Adirondack)

Kelly Zajac (AHL contract, Albany)

 

Defensemen:

T.J. Brennan (Toronto)

Andrew Campbell (Los Angeles)

Garnet Exelby (AHL contract, Norfolk)

Dan Kelly (AHL contract, Albany)

Mike Kostka (Scott Audette/NHLI via Getty Images)

Mike Kostka (Scott Audette/NHLI via Getty Images)

Mike Kostka (Tampa Bay)

Derek Meech (AHL contract, Texas)

Brendan Mikkelson (Pittsburgh)

Mike Moore (Boston)

Jared Nightingale (AHL contract, Rockford)

Joe Piskula (Nashville)

Corey Potter (Boston)

 

Goaltenders:

Cedrick Desjardins (Tampa Bay)

Jason LaBarbera (Chicago)

David Leggio (Washington)

Drew MacIntyre (Toronto)

Rangers Select two 20-year-olds in NHL Draft

June 30, 2014

Two of the seven players the parent New York Rangers selected in this past weekend’s 2014 NHL Entry Draft, winger Richard Nejezchleb and defenseman Daniel Walcott, are 20-year-0ld Major Junior players and are thus age-eligible to play for the Wolf Pack next season.

The Rangers’ first pick in the draft, goaltender Brandon Halverson, selected in the second round with the 59th overall pick, and third-rounder Keegan Iverson, a right-wing, are both 1996-born Major Junior products, meaning that they are beholden to their Junior teams for two more years, unless they make the Ranger roster.  Russian goaltender Igor Shesterkin, a fourth-round Ranger selection, is under contract to play in his homeland for SKA-St. Petersburg next season, and the Blueshirts’ last pick, Minnesota high-school defenseman Tyler Nanne, the grandson of former Minnesota North Stars great Lou Nanne, is committed to Ohio State for 2014-15.

Richard Nejezchleb (ebrandon.ca)

Richard Nejezchleb (ebrandon.ca)

Nejezchleb, a native of the Czech Republic who played the last two seasons in the Western Hockey League for the Brandon Wheat Kings, scored 32 goals in 66 games this past season, to lead the Wheat Kings in that department, after being limited to only 35 games the year before.  The New York Daily News quoted Ranger director of player personnel Gordie Clark as saying that the 6-2, 210-pound Nejezchleb “is closer to turning pro” than the other Ranger picks.

Walcott, on the other hand, is “looking at an overage year in Junior,” according to Clark, via the Daily News.  Listed at 5-11 and 168 pounds, Walcott would presumably have to bulk up prior to turning pro, and despite having already turned 20, the Ile Perrot, Quebec native has only one year of Major Junior under his belt.  He has taken somewhat of an unusual route, playing one season of college hockey at Lindenwood University, which I confess I had never heard of before, in St. Charles, MO, prior to hooking up with the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada of the Quebec Major Junior League.  He led Armada defensemen in points, goals and assists this year and was +15, on a team that made it as far as Game Seven of the QMJHL semi-finals.

The Rangers’ other draftee on Saturday’s second day of the draft was defenseman Ryan Mantha, who was their first of two fourth-round selections, taken 104th overall.  Mantha is a 6-4, 225-pound native of Clarkson, MI, whose uncle, Moe Mantha, was a long-time NHL defenseman and also coached in the AHL.  Ryan Mantha was drafted out of the USHL, and thus is not subject to the restriction that requires players to be 20 years old to play in the AHL.  He has committed to the University of North Dakota, though, and is OHL property of the Niagara IceDogs, so it seems unlikely that he would show up in the pro ranks as early as this coming season.

Daniel Walcott (Agence QMI)

Daniel Walcott (Agence QMI)

In addition to the Rangers’ highest pick being a late second-rounder, due to using other draft picks as trade chits, and the selection of a pair of 20-year-olds, the most interesting aspect of New York’s draft was the fact that the club used two of its seven choices on goaltenders.  The big club had tabbed only one netminder, 2013 sixth-round pick Mackenzie Skapski, in the previous four drafts and hadn’t drafted two goalies in the same year since 2000.  Who were those two, you ask?  Well the first of the duo was fifth-round pick Brandon Snee, out of Union College, and 62 picks later, in the seventh round, with the 205th pick in the draft, the Rangers took a flier on some guy named Henrik Lundqvist.

Hopefully that’s great karma for either Halverson, Shesterkin or both.

Who’s Signed, Who’s Free

June 24, 2014

Now that the NHL and AHL postseasons have come to a close, and full off-season mode has taken over, here is a peek at the contract statuses of this past year’s Wolf Pack roster, with NHL contract info courtesy of capgeek.com.

Conor Allen – signed

Arron Asham – unrestricted free agent

Justin Baker – unrestricted free agent

2013-14 Second-leading point-scorer Oscar Lindberg is under contract for next season.

2013-14 Second-leading point-scorer Oscar Lindberg is under contract for next season.

Kyle Beach – restricted free agent

Stu Bickel – unrestricted free agent

Ryan Bourque – restricted free agent

Jesper Fast – signed

Dov Grumet-Morris – unrestricted free agent

Micheal Haley – unrestricted free agent

T.J. Hensick – unrestricted free agent

Marek Hrivik – signed

Tommy Hughes – signed

Kyle Jean – restricted free agent

Aaron Johnson – unrestricted free agent

Michael Kantor – signed

Danny Kristo – restricted free agent

Nick Latta – unrestricted free agent

David LeNeveu – unrestricted free agent

Oscar Lindberg – signed

Jeff Malcolm – unrestricted free agent

Mike Marcou – unrestricted free agent

Chris McCarthy – signed

Dylan McIlrath – signed

J.T. Miller – signed

Jason Missiaen – restricted free agent

Veteran goaltending stalwarts Dov Grumet-Morris (above) and David LeNeveu are both unrestricted free agents.

Veteran goaltending stalwarts Dov Grumet-Morris (above) and David LeNeveu are both unrestricted free agents.

Brendon Nash – unrestricted free agent

Josh Nicholls – signed

Sam Noreau – signed

Shawn O’Donnell – unrestricted free agent

Darroll Powe – unrestricted free agent

Andrew Rowe – unrestricted free agent

Michael St. Croix – signed

Scott Stajcer – restricted free agent

Bretton Stamler – unrestricted free agent

Danny Syvret- unrestricted free agent

Justin Vaive – unrestricted free agent

Andrew Yogan – signed

 

Also, the following college and Junior players are under Ranger contract, and potentially could be with the Wolf Pack next season:

Calle Andersson (Swedish defenseman, fourth-round Ranger draftee in 2012)

Mat Bodie (defenseman, won an NCAA championship with Union College, top-scoring blueliner in the nation with 8-31-39 in 40 games)

Troy Donnay (defenseman, 6-7, played four seasons with Erie of the OHL)

Ryan Haggerty (Stamford, CT-born forward from RPI, led ECAC in goals with 28)

Mackenzie Skapski (goaltender, workhorse for former Wolf Pack head coach Ryan McGill’s Kootenay Ice of the WHL)

Petr Zamorsky (defenseman, was this past year’s Czech Extraliga defenseman of the year)

 

Vigneault: “You’ve got to Bring Some Youth”

June 17, 2014
Alain Vigneault, at Monday's Ranger "breakup day" (blueshirtsunited.com)

Alain Vigneault, at Monday’s Ranger “breakup day” (blueshirtsunited.com)

One of the points that New York Ranger head coach Alain Vigneault emphasized at the team’s “breakup day” Monday was that he is looking for some young prospects to spark the team’s roster next year.  Even though the Rangers have a strong core of key players who are still in the prime of their careers, Vigneault feels as though an infusion of young legs is critical for his club to push itself over the top.

“You have to,” Vigneault said to the assembled media of bringing prospects along. “Just look at L.A. Probably one of, if not their most, effective line was the one with the two kids (Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson) and (Jeff) Carter. You’ve got bring some youth. Veterans help them out. They bring you enthusiasm. You have to do that every year and, hopefully, we’re going to have a couple guys pushing at the door, knocking to get into our dressing room.”

This has to be music to the ears of the young players who have been apprenticing with the Wolf Pack, and should motivate them to put the absolute utmost effort into their offseason preparations for training camp.  In the past, the default mode for a team that got as close to a championship as the Rangers did this year was pretty much to stand pat, but in this salary cap era, that seems no longer to be the mindset.

“Next year’s team is going to be different,” Vigneault said.  “It’s going to be a challenge to make the playoffs again. If you take players individually, most of them had . . . close to their best season. There’s a working relationship that should get better. We’ve got a good young foundation, we’ve got a good core group that I’d like to see if we can keep together, but there’s financial restrictions that come into the process.”

Foundational players Henrik Lundqvist, Ryan McDonagh, Dan Girardi, Derek Stepan, Marc Staal, Rick Nash and Martin St. Louis are all under contract (according to capgeek.com), for 2014-15, but other key contributors like Brian Boyle, Anton Stralman, Dominic Moore and Benoit Pouliot are unrestricted free agents, and it appears more than possible that the parent club may use its remaining compliance buyout on Brad Richards.  Also, Chris Kreider, Mats Zuccarello, Derick Brassard and John Moore are all restricted free agents.

It’s pretty much impossible to sign all of those guys, and it certainly sounds like the organization may decide not to re-sign some, purely to open up a slot or two for a youngster to try and grab.

So who are the leading candidates to be the Rangers’ versions of Toffoli and Pearson next season?

Danny Kristo

Danny Kristo

Being that six of the above-named eight free agents are forwards, and that a buyout of Richards would open up another forward spot, my guess would be that J.T. Miller and Danny Kristo should be the most excited for next season.  If Boyle isn’t re-signed, that would leave a hole in the middle that Oscar Lindberg, although he is not nearly as big as Boyle, might be able to fill.  Ryan Bourque, despite being even smaller than Lindberg, has really sunk his teeth into a penalty-killing role in the AHL, and that is an area in which Boyle excels as well.

On the blueline, it sounds like Stralman is going to cash in on a big payday, and if his number goes high enough that it doesn’t make sense for the Rangers’ cap situation, I would look for Dylan McIlrath and Conor Allen to be given every chance to grab an NHL spot.  It will be interesting, too, to see how big a bump John Moore will be looking for from the  $810,000 he made this year in the last year of his entry-level deal.

 

Razor-thin Margin

June 16, 2014

The parent New York Rangers’ Stanley Cup Final loss to the Los Angeles Kings ended in five games, making it the shortest Final series in terms of games since Anaheim beat Ottawa in five in the 2007 Final.

It was hardly a rollover, however.

In fact, with a pair of double-overtime games, including Friday night’s clincher at Staples Center, and another extra session in Game One, the Rangers and Kings played a total of 69:45 of hockey outside of regulation.  That’s the time equivalent of at least one more full regulation game and part of another.  What’s more, while the Kings were brilliant (throughout the playoffs, really, not just in this series) at coming up with the last word, so to speak, the Rangers actually controlled the lead for much more of the matchup than the eventual winners did.  The Kings never led in the one game they lost, Game Four, and never were in front in the first two games before winning those in OT.  All told, if my calculations are correct, the Rangers were in the lead for a total of 110:54 in the series, while L.A. held the lead for 69:34.

The Los Angeles Kings celebrate after the Stanley Cup-winning, double-OT goal scored by #27 Alec Martinez (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

The Los Angeles Kings celebrate after the Stanley Cup-winning, double-OT goal scored by #27 Alec Martinez (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

So, while the Kings had a significant edge in shots on goal throughout the five games, with a total margin of 194-146 for an average of 38.8-29.2 per game, I would dispute any notion that the Rangers were in any way dominated in the series.  Nothing seemed to slow the Kings down, though, and it seemed as though their confidence that they would come up with the decisive big play never wavered.  The exclamation point of that notion was the way Game Five, and the series, ended, with both teams hitting multiple goalposts in the overtime before Alec Martinez scored on a rebound with only 5:17 left in the second OT.  That was the second series-winning overtime goal for Martinez, who also had the OT winner in Game Seven of the Western Conference Finals against Chicago.

The ringing of posts in the Game Five extra session represents one of several “what if’s” that are sure to wear on the Rangers this summer.

“When we won at home the other day, I was thinking what if we had won one game here (Los Angeles),” New York’s Derick Brassard said to the media after Friday night’s season-ending loss. “It’s not like we didn’t play well. It could’ve gone either way. We lost the series there [in the first two games].”

I would add to that: What if Jonathan Quick hadn’t made his outlandish, paddle-of-the-stick save on Mats Zuccarello in the first period of Game Three, when that contest was still scoreless?  What if the seemingly questionable tripping penalty against Zuccarello, which led to the third-period tying goal in Game Three, had not been called?  So many potential turning points…but isn’t that always the way?  When you get down to the last two teams standing, there usually isn’t much to separate them, and there certainly wasn’t in this series.

So there will be plenty of disappointment for the Blueshirts to shrug off in the next few weeks, but to me the Final loss does not in any way diminish what has been a terrific recent era for the big club.  Two years ago the Rangers came within two wins of a trip to the Final, and losing only once in a five-game Final this year puts them, I think, right behind the Kings, Chicago and Boston in terms of playoff forces to be reckoned with over the past few seasons.

Therrien Signs Contract Extension in Montreal

Good news for old friend, and former Wolf Pack assistant coach, J.J. Daigneault, currently an assistant to Montreal Canadiens head man Michel Therrien, as the Habs announced a four-year contract extension for Therrien Saturday.

J.J. Daigneault

J.J. Daigneault

One would assume that the faith thus shown in Therrien would extend to his lieutenants, who this year helped the fiery bench boss to guide his troops to a 100-point regular season, the team’s best showing since 2007-08, and a pair of playoff series wins, including the emotional upset of the regular season-champion Boston Bruins in the second round.  Montreal eventually bowed to the Rangers in six games in the Eastern finals.

“Michel and his coaching staff work in a unique and demanding hockey market, and the team’s success over the last two seasons is a reflection of their excellent work,” Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin said in announcing Therrien’s extension. “This decision reflects our desire for stability and consistency within our hockey operations department.”

Daigneault just finished his second season as Therrien’s assistant, after six years on the Wolf Pack staff.

Talbot Hurting

June 3, 2014

Some tough luck all of a sudden for the parent New York Rangers’ Wolf Pack-produced depth guys, as backup goaltender Cam Talbot was held out of the big club’s practice Sunday due to an undisclosed injury.

Cam Talbot (Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)

Cam Talbot (Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)

This seemed to come right out of the blue, after J.T. Miller was felled by an upper-body issue that caused him to miss the last two games of New York’s six-game ouster of Montreal in the Eastern Conference Finals.  According to media reports, Miller has resumed skating but is not yet ready to play.

With Talbot questionable, David LeNeveu made the trip with the Rangers to Los Angeles for Wednesday night’s Stanley Cup Finals opener.  LeNeveu, who had a tremendous finish to the season with the Wolf Pack, whom he joined January 14, told the New York media, “It’s been a crazy year.  To come in here and enjoy the run with them (the Rangers) has been unbelievable, a great experience.

“I just didn’t want to quit playing. Thankfully, I was able to come up, still practice every day and stay in condition. It’s been a ride. This team’s not done yet, either.”

LeNeveu had been among the “black aces” practicing as a separate group from the main team, in case the Rangers needed injury reinforcements.

Talbot has made a pair of relief appearances, totaling 46 minutes, for the Rangers this postseason, stopping 11 of the 13 shots he has faced.  That’s after putting up outstanding regular-season stats of a 12-6-1 record, 1.64 GAA, 94.1% save percentage and three shutouts.

Rangers Sign Two Draft Picks

June 2, 2014

The news paled a bit in comparison to the impending start of the Stanley Cup Finals, which the parent New York Rangers and the L.A. Kings will kick off Wednesday in Tinseltown, but the Rangers Monday announced the signings of two drafted prospects, goaltender Mackenzie Skapski and defenseman Calle Andersson, both of whom could very well begin their North American pro careers in Wolf Pack uniforms this fall.

Skapski, a sixth-round Ranger pick in last June’s NHL draft, turns 20 on June 15, so he is eligible to play for the Wolf Pack this season, or could also go back to his Junior team, the Kootenay Ice of the Western Hockey League, for an overage year if that is what the Ranger organization deems best for him.  The 6-3, 191-pound native of Abbotsford, British Columbia, played three full seasons for the Ice, the last two under former Wolf Pack head coach Ryan McGill.  Coincidentally or not, those were two excellent seasons for Skapski, who won 34 games in the Kootenay net in 2012-13 and 28 this season.

Mackenzie Skapski (courtesy of whl.ca)

Mackenzie Skapski (courtesy of whl.ca)

Skapski had the sixth-best save percentage, 91.6, in the WHL this year for an Ice team that finished the regular season nine games over .500, and then pulled a first-round upset of the division-champion Calgary Hitmen before falling in seven games to Medicine Hat in the second round.  The previous season, Skapski saw action in 65 of Kootenay’s 72 games, ranking him second in the league in appearances, and seven of his 34 wins were by shutout, tying him for the WHL lead in that category.

Andersson, meanwhile, is a second-generation member of the Ranger organization, as his father Peter was a 1983 Ranger draftee and spent the 1992-93 season back and forth between the Blueshirts and their Binghamton Ranger AHL affiliate, a club that rolled to a 124-point regular season, the best in the history of the league.  Peter Andersson played 31 NHL games for the Rangers that year, and eight the next season, before being dealt to Florida.  He suited up for eight more games with the Panthers in 1993-94 and then headed back across the pond, eventually logging 11 more European seasons before joining the coaching ranks.  Andersson is currently an assistant coach with the Swiss club Lugano, after having been a head coach for four years in Sweden’s second-tier league, the Allsvenskan, in which son Calle spent most of this past season.

Calle Andersson (courtesy of eliteprospects.com)

Calle Andersson (courtesy of eliteprospects.com)

Calle Andersson, a fourth-round pick by the Rangers in 2012, had to be signed by Sunday, or the Rangers would have lost his rights.  A 20-year-old 6-2, 211-pounder, Andersson had 12 points, two goals and 10 assists, in 43 Allsvenskan games with Malmo this season and logged 34 games in Sweden’s top league last year, with Farjestad.  He won a silver medal with the Swedish entry at the 2013 World Junior Championship, contributing two goals and an assist and a +4 in six games.

According to the team website of the Swiss club Zug, Andersson has signed a contract with that team for the 2014-15 season.  The team announcement says that the deal includes an “NHL out clause” which lasts through June 15.  It remains to be seen whether that agreement prevents Andersson from playing in the AHL if he does not crack the Ranger lineup.


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