Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Rangers Focused On Game 4 As Boudreau Backs Down On MSG Comments

The criticism of the facilities at Madison Square Garden and the noise level by Washington Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau yesterday caused a stir amongst Rangers fans and many different commentators (full story here).

Today Boudreau attempted to back down from the comments during his meeting with media.

"You know, you guys mustn't have a lot of work to do, because they're making improvements to the arena. Are they not? Are they not making $800 million worth of improvements to the arena? It's a fabulous place to play, the atmosphere is great – it's the world's most famous arena. All I said was that the conditions in the dressing room were not up to par."
The best news of all of this discussion about MSG and what Boudreau had to say is that the Rangers are staying out of it and letting Boudreau continue to dig while they focus on Game 4. Jesse Spector over at the Blueshirts Blog runs through some of the reactions from the Rangers to the brouhaha

John Tortorella: “Our mindset is just focusing on what we need to do, how we play – play the right way and get ready for Game 4,” Tortorella said after the Rangers practiced today in Greenburgh. “That’s our main focus. We have confidence in the league, we have confidence in the officials that they won’t be influenced by all the whining going on here right now. We’re staying away from it, and we’re focused on what we need to do. And like I said, we have confidence in the league that this doesn’t affect the series. It’s a pretty good series. Two pretty good teams, going at it pretty hard.”

Henrik Lundqvist: “I haven’t heard that,” Lundqvist said. “As long as we’re happy and we enjoy ourselves playing, we’re happy at home. I think last game was a great feeling, going out there – in warmups, it was fun, a lot of excitement. We’ll see. They’re loud enough for us, and they’ve been great. I love playing at home, and especially in the playoffs, when it’s more intense. I look forward to it.”

Brandon Dubinsky: “Us, as players, we love playing here at home, and we feel like our fans are the best and most passionate. I guess everybody’s entitled to their own opinion.”

The approach from Tortorella on down is the right one in that they praise their own fans, but keep the focus on the game itself and evening the series.  The comments by Boudreau were clearly intended to distract from past issues his team has had in the playoffs and the Rangers can bring all of those back with a win tomorrow to send the series back to Washington 2-2 for Game 5 Saturday.

NHL Agrees To Stay With NBC/Versus for Next 10 Years

Over the past few months there has been speculation as to where the NHL would be spending its next TV deal.  This afternoon the speculation ended with NBC and Versus announcing they signed a new 10 year, $2B deal to keep the NHL on their respective networks.  The other suitors over the course of the negotiations included: Fox, Turner and ESPN.  In the end the NHL is staying where it has been with an increased price and with some new wrinkles to the product.

According to Sports Business Daily some of the new wrinkles include:
The deal will see NBC and Versus carry all Stanley Cup playoff games nationally, with the conference semis appearing exclusively on the two nets. 
One of the biggest gripes I have with the NHL playoffs is that the league had not figured out a way to air all of the games to allow fans to watch as much hockey as they want and choose their games.  Using the full assortment of NBC affiliated channels to do so is a great move to further advance the NHL audience.
It also will see NBC and Versus televise 100 regular-season games, including a new Thanksgiving Friday telecast on NBC. 
The idea have adding a Thanksgiving Friday game is an interesting one with the number of families that are together and there is little on after all the football of Thanksgiving day.  This move also moves the hockey season up into the national space earlier in the year than just starting it around the Winter Classic.

NBC has committed to a national "Game of the Week" and Winter Classic, and Versus will televise a national "Game of the Week," plus the All-Star Game, NHL Premiere Games, NHL Faceoff and any future NHL Heritage Classic games in Canada. NBC and Versus will continue to share the rights to the Stanley Cup Final.
As part of the deal, NBC Sports Group agreed to build a new studio for NHL Network in Stamford, Conn. The deal also includes targeted promotions across the Comcast/NBCUniversal TV and digital assets.
Promotion is always a key in gaining market share for a product so any increase in the promotion of the sport is a good thing.

The $200 million annual fee for the NHL rights is a dramatic increase from the current $77.5 million that Versus currently pays for the rights.  The previous record was $120 millionduring the '99-'04 seasons while the NHL was on ESPN.

Reactions about the deal are mixed amongst fans as many wanted the game to go to ESPN and get more of a marketing push.  ESPN is the largest sports media outlet in the US and between showing, promoting and featuring highlights of the game they would have a great opportunity to push the game to a more mainstream audience. 

Versus does not appear to offer that sort of mainstream access that many thought ESPN might.  Versus has improved the quality of its coverage since the merger NBC/Comcast so there is hope that will continue through the life of this contract.  Ultimately it will come down to whether NBC/Versus can create an atmosphere enjoyable for the fans to watch the game or what will end up is the NHL and NBC end up with a good deal and the fans end up with something they dont enjoy for the next decade.

Rumor: Rangers To Offer Multi-Year Deal To Gilroy?

In today's column, Larry Brooks of the New York Post, reported that Rangers’ GM Glen Sather is expected to offer 26-year-old defenseman Matt Gilroy a new multi-year deal after this season. Gilroy’s two year deal expires at the end of the season and it has long been understood that the Rangers were unlikely to tender the pending restricted free agent at the required 2.1 million to retain his rights.

The fact that the Rangers would consider giving Gilroy a contract well below his current salary is not a surprise. The fact that they are looking to lock him up to a multi-year deal is unexpected however.  Between inconsistent play on the ice and inability to consistently crack the lineup, sitting ten of the final fourteen games this season as a healthy scratch it is odd that the Rangers would be looking to construct a deal for multiple years.  Gilroy has shown some of the things he can bring to the table during the current playoff series against Washington, but the flashes have never really been played out over any consistent time before.  Hopefully he is finding his niche in the NHL and will move from there if the Rangers keep him this summer.

The most logical conclusion I can come to as to why the Rangers would bring Gilroy back and for multiple years is they view him an ideal seventh defender and if they can lock him up at a reasonable rate it is worth the look. They know that he can sit in the press box and be ready to contribute in a limited role when necessary without bring a problem for the team, which is critical to any seventh defender.  I cannot see a scenario where the Rangers think a pairing of Michael Del Zotto and Matt Gilroy is a good idea heading into next season.

Gilroy obviously has the ability to decline the offer and would become an unrestricted free agent.  The desire to lock up Gilroy also likely means that Steve Eminger is not in the Rangers plans beyond this season.

Video: Brandon Dubinsky History Will Be Made Commercial

Dan Girardi: Underrated Around The League But Not Underappreciated By Rangers

Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
The fact that the attention and spotlight goes to the most talented players is nothing new in sports.  When talking about the New York Rangers defense the natural topic is Marc Staal or even the play of rookies Michael Sauer and Ryan McDonagh.  Dan Girardi often gets lost in the shuffle as a key component not only to why the Rangers defense is so strong but to the success of the team as a unit.
"He's one of the more underrated players in this league, I'll tell you that right now," Tortorella said. "I think Marc gets a lot of the notoriety. Danny wasn't drafted and all that stuff. But he's a good player. He continues to get better."
The 26-year-old Girardi was an undrafted defenseman who little was expected of when he came up five years ago.  In the five years since he has become a top pair defender in the NHL because of how he plays.  The Rangers have built their identity around the idea of being larger than their individual talents, being tough to play against and willing to sacrifice for one another.  Girardi does that every night with the way he blocks shots and uses the talents he has as a stay at home defender to do his job.
For anyone around the league who does not know who Dan Girardi is or how well he plays at this level they should ask every opposing top line player that plays against New York and has him pair with Marc Staal to shut them down.  
Girardi’s offensive contributions also get easily overlooked in comparison with his more famous partner.  In 80 games this season he had four goals and 27 assists to establish a new career high 31 points.  The biggest difference for Girardi on the offensive side of the ice is that he is doing a much better job of getting shots through from the point this year for deflections than he was in the past.  His trademark will always be his positionally sound defense with shot blocking, but he is a contributor on the other end.
It is easy to overlook the job that Girardi does and what it allows Marc Staal to do, but the New York Rangers are well aware of how valuable he is to this team.
"I think the experience helps," Staal said. "He sits back a little more, allows me to get into the rush when I feel the opportunity to jump in. Communication is a big thing for us, too. We talk a lot on the ice and on the bench just to work things out if they're not going our way."

Whether he gets the credit he deserves in the media the team and fans cannot overlook the critical role that Girardi plays to the success of the Rangers.  In the meantime you will find Girardi diving on the ice to throw himself in front of another shot to do whatever he can to help this team win.

Video: Downie Charge, Kunitz Elbows To Head Leaves NHL More Discipline Questions

Through the first week of the NHL playoffs it seems as if there is as much discussion of questionable hits and suspensions as the games themselves.  That was the case again tonight during Game 3 of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Tampa Bay Lightning.

Steve Downie opened up the questionable hits when he left his feet to charge Ben Lovejoy at 5:39 of the first period.  The fact that he left his feet, let alone made contact with the head of Lovejoy should guarantee a suspension.  Downie’s charge is not the first time he has made a move like this in his career.

Later in the first period, Chris Kunitz did his best Matt Cooke impression with a blatant elbow to the back of the head of Simon Gagne.  The Kunitz hit might be worse than the one that got Cooke suspended for the rest regular season and first round of the playoffs.  What makes Kunitz elbow so bad is the intentionally swinging of the elbow at the back of Gange’s head. 

Video via The Score:

Both players should be out for at least the rest of the series, if not longer.  Neither play was at all hockey related and while both players stayed in the game after the intent and/or potential for serious injury still remains.  The level of injury or lack of one to the opponent should have no bearing on whether supplemental action is taken, or the severity of that action. The spotlight once again turns to the league office to see how they dole out the supplemental discipline to see exactly what is out of bounds right now and how severely it will be punished