Archive for September, 2012

Gernander Earns Ultimate AHL Recognition

September 27, 2012

Ken Gernander’s too young to be a hall of famer, isn’t he?

Man, the guy’s still the 11th-youngest among the AHL’s 30 head coaches.  And you look at many of the other AHL Hall of Fame members, guys like Johnny Bower, Eddie Shore, Willie Marshall, Les Cunningham, Bun Cook…a lot of times you think hall of fame and you think dusty black-and-white photographs and guys whose playing days were over long before you were ever born.

The truth of it is, though, Gernander is every bit a hall of famer, and his career stacks up pretty well against any of those greats who are already in the Hall of Fame.  His 624 career points still rank in the top 40 all-time among AHL scorers, and he was only recently surpassed as the all-time leading scorer among American-born players, and the all-time leader in playoff games-played.

The one thing I keep coming back to about Ken is marveling at his consistency.  Really, how many individuals are there anywhere in hockey these days who can maintain a presence in the same organization, uninterrupted, for almost two decades, as Gernander has done with the Ranger organization since first coming on board in July of 1994?  Precious few at any level, and virtually none in the AHL.

There was a time, back in the days when the NHL was a six-team circuit and was harder to break into than Fort Knox, that guys built careers with AHL teams, might play 15 years or so in the same city.  Not any more.  As a development league, the AHL is built now on sharpening young players’ skills and sending them to the next level, not shaping minor-pro franchises around them.  Ken is a throwback, to the long-ago days when great players became inextricably identified with the teams they led, when you couldn’t think about the team without thinking about its signature player.  He has never been a guy who was thinking about the quickest way out, the next place where the grass was greener, or about how he had been handed a raw deal and had to move on.  He is the most recently-retired of all the AHL Hall of Fame members, and that’s no accident.  In a sense, he is a bridge from the “classic” era of the Marshalls, the Cunninghams, et al., to today’s game.  A young guy with an old soul, if you will.

As someone who has worked with Ken throughout all but the first year of his long tenure with the Ranger organization, I have always marveled at his dependability, how he would never waver from his determination to do everything, playing, captaining, coaching, all of it, wholeheartedly the right way.  It was always about the group, his teammates, the shared goal—you can’t even get him to talk about himself, that’s not what the game is about.  Just for being able to be a role model that way so consistently for so long would merit him hall of fame consideration in a league like the AHL, that is predicated on change and transition, but he was a pretty fair player too and made his teams better, as those 123 playoff games would attest.  A near .600 winning percentage as a coach isn’t chopped liver either.

Most of all, Ken Gernander has always respected the game and respected the league, maybe the greatest key to his longevity and success.  Now, appropriately, the AHL has conferred its greatest level of respect back on one of the most worthy pillars of its recent history.

Talbot Temporarily Hobbled, but Still Excited

September 26, 2012

Caught up with Cam Talbot today, as he worked with Whale athletic trainer Damien Hess in the team locker room at the XL Center.  Talbot is among a fairly large group of Whale players who are already in Hartford, preparing to head out for Sunday’s start of Whale training camp at the Rangers’ MSG Training Center practice facility in Tarrytown, NY.  That crew includes Kris Newbury and Logan Pyett, who have been around for a while, as well as the likes of Jason Missiaen, Blake Parlett, Tommy Grant, Andrew Yogan, Kelsey Tessier and possibly a few others I have not seen yet.

Unfortunately, Talbot can only toil in the trainer’s room right now, as he injured a foot in mid-August during a gym workout.  He and I chatted about that and more, and you can read my write-up on ctwhale.com here.

Really tough break for Talbot, coming off the great run he had at the end of last season and into the playoffs.  I looked it up, from March 30 through the Whale’s last playoff game, no AHL goaltender who played more than 500 minutes had better stats than Talbot’s 1.68 goals-against average, and 94.7% save percentage, over that span.

Luckily, it sounds like the mishap shouldn’t sideline the Whale’s putative number-one backstop for any significant portion of the season.  In fact, he’s talking like he might be ready by the opener, if everything goes perfectly.

In addition to the injury and last season’s excellent finish, I asked Talbot about whether he thinks the absence of NHL hockey, should the NHL lockout not be settled soon, will make this AHL season feel any different.

“I hope it (the lockout) gets settled sooner rather than later, for everyone’s sake,” he said, “but I hope it feels a little bit different in the arena, hope we get a lot more fans, it’s a little bit louder in here.

“We’ve got some great fans here.  I’m hoping to give all the fans a good show and maybe get seen a little bit more because there’s no NHL action going on.  So maybe there will be a few more people in the building and guys will get recognized a little bit more in the AHL.

“With the guys that are getting sent down, we’re getting (Chris) Kreider and Oklahoma City is going to have a good team, with (Jordan) Eberle and (Ryan) Nugent-Hopkins, you see some of the top guys in the NHL getting sent down, and I think it’s going to be some great-caliber hockey down here in the AHL, at least until the lockout finishes.”

Newbury Relieved to be Able to Play with Whale

September 22, 2012

Had a chat with Kris Newbury on Friday, in which he talked about being eager to play with the Whale, and happy to be  back with the Ranger organization on a two-year contract.  Read the write-up at ctwhale.com.

The Waiver Wire

September 13, 2012

ESPN.com had a list today of players put on waivers by NHL clubs Wednesday at noon, for the purposes of having them eligible to play in the AHL during a possible lockout.  There were eight Ranger-contracted players on the list:

Mike Vernace

Sean Collins

Tommy Grant

Micheal Haley

Chad Kolarik

Kris Newbury

Logan Pyett

Brandon Segal

Mike Vernace

Assuming these players clear waivers, they could be assigned to the Whale in the event the NHL is locked out.  The official expiration date of the current NHL collective bargaining agreement is this Saturday.This appears to be the entirety of the waiver-eligible group that would have been ticketed for the Whale, and it would seem that the likelihood of any other teams claiming any of these guys would be fairly remote.  You never know, but every one of the players, except for Kolarik and Grant, was an unrestricted free agent before signing with the Rangers this summer.  So if any other teams had designs on them, they could have signed them a couple of months ago, and Kolarik was hurt all year.

 

On another lockout-related player eligibility issue, the New York Post’s Larry Brooks tweeted today that Chris Kreider will be the only one of the Rangers on entry level contracts who might be assigned to the Whale if there is a lockout.  According to Brooks, the other Ranger entry level-contracted guys, Derek Stepan, Carl Hagelin and Ryan McDonagh, would all require waivers to be assigned to the NHL, I’m assuming because of the number of NHL games they have all played.  Truly, as nice as it would be to keep them playing, there is no way the organization would risk losing players like that on waivers for the sake of having them ride out a lockout in the AHL.

Wondering about Waivers

September 11, 2012

Interesting bit of news (or possibly just rumor) surfaced last night, when Renaud Lavoie, of French-language Canadian sports network RDS, reported that the NHL and NHLPA had agreed that veteran players on two-way contracts who are eligible for waivers would be allowed to play in the AHL, in the event of an NHL lockout.  According to Lavoie (with help from Google Translate), NHL clubs have until this Saturday, the 15th, which is the date of the official expiration of the current NHL CBA, to place on waivers any players on two-way deals who their NHL clubs want to be able to play in the AHL during a potential lockout.

This report remains unconfirmed as of this writing, and if it is true, the accord would contradict a persistent rumor that has been prevalent recently in AHL circles.  The whispers, also unconfirmed as far as I know, have been that all waiver-eligible players would be locked out and not allowed to come to the AHL, regardless of their contract status.  Such was not the case during the 2004-05 lockout, when numerous waiver-eligible veterans, like the Wolf Pack’s class-of-the-league goaltending tandem of Jason LaBarbera and Steve Valiquette, who were on two-way contracts had fine years in the AHL.

From an AHL perspective, you have to hope that Lavoie is right.  If the likes of Kris Newbury, Chad Kolarik, Brandon Segal, to name a

Chad Kolarik

few potential Whale vets, were not allowed to see AHL duty, that would leave a lot of skilled players on the sidelines across the league, and would make for some extremely young AHL rosters.  A waiver agreement would not help Wade Redden, whose one-way contract is scheduled to earn him $6.5 million again this season, but the waiver-eligible two-way deal guys in the organization would certainly be a big boost to the Whale if they are made available.  In addition to Newbury, Kolarik and Segal, that group includes, I believe, Mike Vernace, Sean Collins and Logan Pyett.

Eminger re-ups with Rangers

Interesting that player signings continue only four days before a lockout may be declared, but that is the case.  And the Rangers yesterday signed defenseman Steve Eminger to a new deal, which TSN is reporting to be a one-year contract worth $750,000.  That leaves restricted free agent Michael Del Zotto as the only unsigned Ranger from last year’s end-of-the-season NHL roster.

Eminger was the odd man out in the Ranger defensive rotation for much of last season, playing only 42 games and averaging 13:16 of ice time during the regular season and seeing only four games of playoff duty at 6:48 per game.  With the big club having a hard time getting Del Zotto signed, though, Michael Sauer’s health in serious question and Tim Erixon having been traded in the Rick Nash deal, the Rangers clearly felt that bringing Eminger back was important for depth.  Right now it looks like he and Stu Bickel are 5-6 on the defensive depth chart, minus Del Zotto, and it will be interesting to see if someone like Vernace, Collins, Pyett, or maybe even a youngster like a Dylan McIlrath, can push Eminger for one of those spots.

Remembering Lokomotiv

September 7, 2012

Believe it or not, today is the one-year anniversary of the tragic plane crash in Russia in which all of the members of the KHL club Lokomotiv Yaroslavl aboard were killed.  Hard to believe it’s been a year, but it has.

That day, September 7, 2011, was one of those “where were you when you heard?” moments.  I distinctly remember being at my desk in the Whalers Sports & Entertainment office when a fellow staffer saw the news of the accident on the internet.  The magnitude of the loss just took your breath away.

It happened a long way away from Connecticut, and there was no one among the victims I knew personally, but hockey is such a small world that I felt a fairly strong connection to some of them.

The gregarious head coach, former Hartford Whaler Brad McCrimmon, was with Detroit during the time I was calling games for the Red Wings’ Adirondack affiliate.  McCrimmon’s assistant, Alexander Karpovtsev, was a Ranger for the first four years I worked for the organization, and I knew that Ken Gernander had enjoyed playing with Karpovtsev during Gernander’s tours of duty with the Blueshirts.  I had gotten a glimpse of Karel Rachunek up close at Ranger training camp.  More recently, I had seen Alexander Vasyunov play real well against the Whale/Wolf Pack for Devil affiliates in Lowell and Albany and remembered him and his good friend, Wolf Pack forward Artem Anisimov, exchanging warm postgame greetings after a Devil-Pack battle in which both had played exceptionally well.  And, of course, there were the tons of times I had watched Pavol Demitra, Ruslan Salei and Josef Vasicek, who I always thought was an underratedly fine player, in NHL action.

I really, personally felt the void of those lives, and those of all the others who were on the plane, having been lost—I can barely imagine what it must have been like to be someone who was truly close to one or more of the unfortunate Lokomotiv team and staff members.

Now, after dropping its team into a lower league for the balance of last season and playing with mostly young players, Lokomotiv Yaroslavl is back in the KHL and has already begun its new season, continuing a healing process that has got to have been tortuous.

The franchise’s new coach, like McCrimmon was, is a familiar name to Hartford hockey fans, former long-time Whaler fixture Tom Rowe, who spent three seasons as a Carolina Hurricane assistant coach from 2008-09 through 2010-11.  Rowe explained to Tal Pinchevsky of NHL.com that his relationship with McCrimmon was a big factor in his decision to go to Yaroslavl.

Tom Rowe

“When I was in Lowell, Mike Milbury called and said Brad wanted to get into coaching,” Rowe said to Pinchevsky. “So Brad came up and we spent a couple of hours talking about coaching. We got to know each other pretty well. I look at this as an opportunity to continue Brad’s great work. All the people here absolutely loved him. I want to make him proud. Everybody here is focused to make sure we have a great season to celebrate what that team started last year.”

So far, so good for Rowe and Lokomotiv, as the club won its first game of the new regular season, 5-2 over Sibir Novosibirsk.

 

Also today, dialogue resumed in the NHL labor dispute, which in itself is a positive.  After talks were halted this past Friday, it was sounding like the negotiations were all but stalemated.  There was little comment to the media after an early session today, which veteran hockey commentator Kevin Paul Dupont of the Boston Globe opined might be a good sign, tweeting, “League and PA say little after today’s session.  Often an initial sign of progress.  Less interest in using media as strategy.”

Another session was reportedly scheduled for tonight, so let’s hope the proximity of the September 15th CBA expiration is starting to exert some positive pressure to hammer out a deal.

For an excellent rundown of where the two sides currently stand, with plenty of interesting quotes, check out this article by ESPN.com’s Pierre LeBrun.