Archive for June, 2013

Rangers Pick up Justin Falk for Ferriero

June 30, 2013

The parent New York Rangers made the first deal of NHL draft day Sunday, when they acquired 6-5, 220-pound defenseman Justin Falk from Minnesota in exchange for forward Benn Ferriero, who played 23 games with the Whale this season after being traded to the Rangers by Pittsburgh.  A sixth-round 2014 draft pick also went to Minnesota in the deal.

Justin Falk (Getty Images)

Justin Falk (Getty Images)

Falk must still be re-signed, as he is a restricted free agent, as is Ferriero.

The Rangers currently have five defensemen under contract for this coming season, not counting Ryan McDonagh, who is a restricted free agent and almost assuredly will be re-upped.  Getting a deal done for McDonagh would then give the parent club six blueliners, which would seem to put Falk in a position of battling John Moore for the sixth spot, with the odd man out heading to the Wolf Pack.  Way too early in the off-season to be counting on anything like that, though.

At the recent Wolf Pack season ticket holders town meeting, Pack assistant coach Jeff Beukeboom told the season seat-holders in attendance to expect significant new blood on the Hartford blueline, and this would seem to be the beginning of that trend, whether Falk ends up wearing a Wolf Pack jersey or via a domino effect of the trade.

Falk has played five seasons in the Wild organization, including 108 games with the NHL club, after being drafted in the fourth round in 2007.  He has spent all of the last two seasons with Minnesota, after playing most of his first three years with AHL Houston, and had three assists and 40 penalty minutes in 36 games with the Wild this year.

The Snowflake, Manitoba native was part of two deep Houston playoff runs, playing 20 postseason games his rookie year, 2008-09, as the Aeros went to Game Seven of the Conference Finals before losing to Manitoba, and going all the way to the Finals in 2010-11, when Houston lost in six games to Binghamton.  Falk also won a Memorial Cup in his last year of Junior hockey, with the 2007-08 Spokane Chiefs of the Western Hockey League.

Ferriero, a 26-year-old veteran of four pro seasons, had four goals and 12 points in his 23 games with Connecticut, and had his moments with the Whale, but was not among the players summoned from Hartford to New York for the Rangers’ playoff run.  That seemed to indicate that Ferriero was not in the organization’s long-term plans.

Will Vigneault Hiring Have any Effect on Wolf Pack?

June 21, 2013

The parent New York Rangers made it official Friday, Alain Vigneault is the new Ranger head coach.

Ironically, while Vigneault was being introduced at a Radio City Music Hall press conference, reports were circulating on-line that the Vancouver Canucks, whom Vigneault coached for the past seven seasons, had offered their head job to John Tortorella, who, of course, had been the Rangers’ head man for five years before being relieved of his duties May 29.

June 21, 2013: ALAIN VIGNEAULT IS NAMED NY RANGERS HEAD COACH.

Alain Vigneault, at the Radio City Music Hall press conference announcing his hiring as Ranger head coach (BlueshirtsUnited.com)

Will this Ranger change affect the Wolf Pack at all?  It’s looking like it probably won’t.

Pack head man Ken Gernander has headed, I believe, off to his offseason home in Coleraine, Minnesota, but when I saw him back here in the Nutmeg State after the Tortorella announcement, he did not let slip any indication that there might be anything afoot as far as a move to New York.  And assistants Pat Boller and Jeff Beukeboom both were at the Wolf Pack’s season ticket holder “town meeting” event Wednesday at the Connecticut Convention Center, and I did not hear anything out of them that made me think they were expecting the Wolf Pack staff to be any different for this coming season.

The Vigneault introduction did not include anything about assistants, but in the course of talking about what his staff might look like, he told the media, “I prefer – and they will be – guys that have NHL experience.”  That would seem to indicate that Vigneault, and, presumably, the rest of the organization, think that Gernander, Boller and Beukeboom are more valuable to the operation as developers of talent here in Hartford than as assistants in New York.  You never know, though.

The other thing that might have an effect on the Wolf Pack that I took out of the messaging from Friday’s gathering was the idea that the overall style of play and focus of the organization might be pushed somewhat more towards generating scoring chances than eliminating them in the defensive end.  Not than anyone can expect the Ranger philosophy suddenly to embrace firewagon hockey, and I didn’t think that the Blueshirts under Tortorella were particularly defensive-minded, but it did sound like the hope was that Vigneault’s philosophies would lead to the Rangers’ impressive group of skilled forwards feeling like they had the green light to be at least a little bit more creative.

“I believe your top skill players have to be given a little latitude,” Vigneault said in his press conference. “They have to understand the time when you have to play a little higher percentage, but they also have to be given the latitude to make something out of nothing.”

It will be interesting to see how that philosophy translates to the on-ice product, both in Manhattan and in Hartford, come the first week of October.

Grand Rapids Takes AHL Title

June 19, 2013

Congratulations to the Grand Rapids Griffins, who scored the first pro hockey championship in that market’s history with a 5-2 victory over the Syracuse Crunch in Game Six of the Calder Cup Finals.

That snuffed out a pretty good comeback in the series by the Crunch, who had lost the first three games before saving their season with wins in Games Three and Four in Grand Rapids.  Syracuse was bidding to bring the parent Tampa Bay Lightning a second straight Calder Cup, after the Norfolk Admirals had won it as a Lightning affiliate the year before.

Game Six wasn’t easy for the victors, either, as the Crunch scored first and the game was a 2-2 tie until almost the midpoint of the third period.  Defenseman Brennan Evans, who was goalless all regular season and hadn’t scored a pro playoff goal in his ten-year pro career before this postseason, bagged what turned out to be the winner with 10:06 left in the third, and the Griffins created the final margin with a pair of empty-net goals in the final 49 seconds.

It was a long march for Grand Rapids, whose 24 total playoff games-played fell one short of the all-time league record set by the 2002 Chicago Wolves.  They faced a Crunch team that was red-hot through the first three rounds, having gone 11-1, and went 3-0 on the road in the series, making head coach Jeff Blashill the first AHL mentor to win a Calder Cup in his first year as a pro head man since George Burnett steered the Cape Breton Oilers to the 1993 championship (incidentally, Burnett went on to coach the Binghamton Rangers for the last two seasons, 1995-96 and ‘96’97, before they moved to Hartford and became the Wolf Pack).

The year before that Cape Breton victory, the Adirondack Red Wings won the whole thing, under the coaching hand of Barry Melrose and chronicled by a green young play-by-play man named Bob Crawford.  Prior to the Griffins winning, that had been the last AHL title for a Detroit Red Wings affiliate, a 20-year gap after Adirondack had captured three Calder Cups in seven years between1986 and that 1992 win.

I got a chuckle, too, when I read that the parent Red Wings were giving the Griffins the use of the Wings’ team plane, “Redbird III”, for their trip back to Syracuse after Grand Rapids failed to close out the series at home.  Back in 1992, Adirondack played the finals against the St. John’s Maple Leafs, then a first-year AHL franchise, and, due to the 2-2-1-1-1 series format that was used back then, had to make three separate trips up to Newfoundland, in a seven-game series in which neither team was able to win even one home game.  Each of those trips that series was also made aboard the Wings’ team jet, which was then called “Redbird One”.   The Adirondack captain from that season, ChrisRedbird One Luongo, later made a photo album for each member of the traveling party, and the Griffins-Redbird III story sent me scurrying to dig mine out.  The photo at right is of some the intrepid voyagers boarding Redbird One at Glens Falls (NY) airport for one of the journeys to Newfoundland.  Ah, the memories!

The Red Wings have enjoyed a stellar player-development record throughout their recent history, and it will be interesting to see how the loss of long-time assistant general manager Jim Nill, a great man and a great hockey mind, will affect that.  After a tenure with the Wings organization that dates all the way back to helping put together some of those great Adirondack teams of the early ‘90’s, Nill left this spring to become General Manager of the Dallas Stars.  Dallas made a great hire, I think, and it will be a big void for Detroit to fill.

So, the 2012-13 AHL season is now officially put to bed, and it’s time to start thinking in earnest about the start of a new training camp, which will be on us before we know it.

Who’s Signed for Next Year

June 18, 2013

With the postseason winding down and the NHL free agent season soon to hit full swing, here is a look at where this past year’s Whale players (listed alphabetically) stand for next season as far as their contracts are concerned.  NHL contract info. is taken from capgeek.com.

Conor Allen – signed

Stu Bickel – signed (one-way contract)

Ryan Bourque – signed

Andrew Carroll – unrestricted free agent

Kris Newbury - signed for 2013-14

Kris Newbury – signed for 2013-14

Sean Collins – unrestricted free agent

Jesper Fast – signed

Benn Ferriero – restricted free agent

Matt Gilroy – unrestricted free agent

Micheal Haley – signed (his deal becomes a one-way for 2013-14)

Marek Hrivik – signed

Kyle Jean – signed

Chris Kreider – signed

Brandon Mashinter – restricted free agent

Dylan McIlrath – signed

J.T. Miller – signed

Jason Missiaen – signed

Kris Newbury – signed

Jyri Niemi – restricted free agent (reportedly has signed with HPK of Finland’s SM-liiga)

Brandon Segal - free agent

Brandon Segal – free agent

Nick Palmieri – restricted free agent

Logan Pyett – unrestricted free agent

Brandon Segal – unrestricted free agent

Scott Stajcer – signed

Cam Talbot – signed

Kelsey Tessier – signed (AHL contract)

Christian Thomas – signed

Mike Vernace – unrestricted free agent

Shayne Wiebe – unrestricted free agent

Jason Wilson – signed

Andrew Yogan – signed

 

Also, the following Major Junior or European players are under Ranger contract for the 2013-14 season and would theoretically be eligible to play for the Wolf Pack:

Tommy Hughes (defenseman, played with London of OHL)

Michael Kantor (forward, played with Sudbury of OHL)

Oscar Lindberg (forward, played in Sweden with Skelleftea HC)

Josh Nicholls (forward, played with Saskatoon of WHL)

Samuel Noreau (defenseman, played with Baie-Comeau of QMJHL)

Michael St. Croix (forward, played with Edmonton of WHL)

 

Calder Cup Finals Begin Saturday

June 7, 2013

The Calder Cup playoffs are down to the final two, and the Final series between the Syracuse Crunch and the Grand Rapids Griffins gets underway Saturday night in Syracuse.

These are two first-time finalists, but, in an interesting twist, the Tampa Bay Lightning affiliation is actually going for a successful defense of the Calder Cup title.  And, scarily enough, the Crunch, who took over the Tampa affiliation from the Cup-champion Norfolk Admirals after last season, are actually having an even stronger playoff run so far than the Norfolk juggernaut did last spring.

Although they did sweep their last two series, last year’s Admirals lost three games in the postseason, two of them to the Whale in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.  To this point, Syracuse has only lost one of 12 outings.  That was Game One of their Eastern Conference Final series against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, which Wilkes-Barre/Scranton won by a score of 4-2.  After that loss the Crunch went on to win four straight, including a 7-0 trouncing of a Penguin team that was the best defensive club in the AHL during the regular season in the decisive Game Five.

Ondrej Palat (5-15-20) and Tyler Johnson (9-8-17) are leading a Syracuse offense that is averaging four goals per game in the playoffs, a full half

Cedrick Desjardins (blog.syracuse.com)

Cedrick Desjardins (blog.syracuse.com)

a goal per contest more than the next highest-scoring club, Oklahoma City, which bowed out to Grand Rapids in a wild, seven-game Western Conference Final.  The Crunch also have the lowest team goals-against average, 1.92, of any playoff club that has played more than four games, and veteran netminder Cedrick Desjardins appears to be at the top of his game, playing behind a defense that features the likes of Mark Barberio, Radko Gudas, Matt Taormina, J.P. Cote and Brendan Mikkelson.

The Griffins, meanwhile, have had a much tougher road to the Finals, as only one of their three series’ so far, a six-game triumph over Toronto in the Conference Semifinals, has failed to go the distance.  Grand Rapids is battle-tested, however, and has hung around long enough to get a couple of very high-end forwards, Gustav Nyquist and Joakim Andersson, back down from the parent Detroit Red Wings.

Tomas Tatar (Grand Rapids Griffins)

Tomas Tatar (Grand Rapids Griffins)

The addition of those two Swedes adds to the Griffins’ distinctly Red Wing-like cadre of explosive Europeans.  Slovakian import Tomas Tatar is the leading goal-scorer still alive in the playoffs, with 11-5-16 in 18 games, fellow Slovak Tomas Jurco has 7-6-13 and Slovenian-born winger Jan Mursak is second on the Grand Rapids team in goals, with eight, and has the club’s best plus/minus in the postseason, a +9.  The Griffins’ goaltender is from the other side of the pond also, and Czech Republic native Petr Mrazek’s save percentage, 92.1, is actually higher than Desjardins’ (92.0).

Another interesting story line is behind the benches.  On the Syracuse side, Rob Zettler took over from Jon Cooper when he was promoted to the Tampa Bay head job March 25, after leading Norfolk to the title last season.  And in Grand Rapids Jeff Blashill is in his very first year as a pro head man.

Free live streaming of the Finals is available at www.ahllive.com.  Just enter the promo code CALDER2013.