Sunday, July 31, 2011

Photo: Is This The Rangers Winter Classic Jersey?

While the NHL is still working out the contractual issues with Citizen's Bank Park before officially announcing that the New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers will be the 2012 Winter Classic game, potential game jerseys have popped up on the internet.  Ricky Otazu (@Dagoon44) tweets the above picture of a jersey that is currently selling online.  There is no telling if these are going to be what the final product will look like as it could just be a knockoff jersey maker looking to get a jump on possible incarnations of the jersey.  The use of Messier instead of a current Ranger only makes determining how real it is that much more difficult. 

Not sure how I would feel about the use of the shield on the jersey instead of likely New York in letters diagonally across the jersey.  The idea of basically a road heritage is something I think would go over very well.

Is Derek Stepan The Ideal Candidate To Complete Line With Richards, Gaborik?

The New York Rangers had an eventful July with their unrestricted free agent work to start the month and their successful signing of all five key restricted free agents over the course of it.  Now that the key pieces of the roster are in place the questions shift to who plays with whom.  The biggest of those questions in terms of determining how the rest of the lineup will look from night to night is about which forward will pair with Brad Richards, and Marian Gaborik.  Earlier this summer I took a look at the main candidates for the job, but I left out those that would have to switch positions to do so.  Others have suggested already that Derek Stepan should be the guy and my hesitation was not about him handling the top line, but not believing that the Rangers would shift his position this soon.  Combine that with the glut of players who can play left wing and it didn’t make a lot of sense, but given the options it clearly is the best one right now.

Moving Stepan there provides another highly skilled player who can both finish and create for the Rangers two most skilled offensive weapons.  His combination of vision and finishing should mesh well with the unselfishness of Richards and the sniping ability of Gaborik.  His willingness to play in the corners and defensive awareness are also positives to add to the line.  Stepan is very effective along the left wing wall and has played there a little in the NHL, but also spent a good amount of time there at Wisconsin, mainly on the power play.  This is not about the need for Stepan to improve on his faceoffs, but his comfort along the wall makes the transition, whether temporary or not, a relatively easy one for him to make. 

Since the Rangers should make every effort to keep Dubinsky, Anisimov and Callahan together, Stepan represents the best combination of skill and consistency to play with Gaborik and Richards.  The best part of about the move is how Stepan himself would handle the opportunity of playing with those two elite talents.  Stepan would take the opportunity as a challenge and instead of feeling he could get away with doing less because of the talent around him, it would only push him to work harder and get more out of himself.

That is evident from what the New York Rangers official twitter put out after talking with Stepan about that potential move.

Stepan can obviously move back to the pivot down the line if it is the best position for him, but for the team next season, having him on the left wing with Richards and Gaborik is the best thing in terms of balancing the lineup.  It allows the Dubinsky, Anisimov, Callahan line to stay together as the second line and Fedotenko, Boyle and Prust to be the third line.  Those three lines give the Rangers their ideal mix of offense and defense in their top nine forwards.  The real question is whether the Rangers will do it, but then again with how coach John Tortorella loves to mix and match it is bound to happen at some point.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Video: Stepan, Sauer Have a Blast At Youth Hockey Camp

One of the best things about the present/future of the New York Rangers is the character of the players that are on the roster.  Derek Stepan and Michael Sauer participated on July 22nd in the youth hockey camps at the training facility and Blueshirts United put out a video of their day with the kids.  Watching Stepan have as much fun as the kids participating reminds you of how young some of the Rangers core players are, but watching both interact with the kids shows you the quality of people the Rangers are building around.

Video via Blueshirts United:

Lundqvist Ranked Third Best NHL Goaltender

Puck Daddy's look at the top 25 players by position concluded with a look at the goaltenders around the NHL and Sam McCaig ranked the Rangers Henrik Lundqvist #3 behind only Tim Thomas and Pekka Rinne.
3. Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers: Give Captain Shutout a goal, and he gives you a victory.
The order that McCraig has here is exactly how the Vezina order should have been for the 2010-11 season and there is no arguing with that being the order heading into next year.  Rinne had a year that most any other year would have easily won him the Vezina and there is no reason to expect him to come down from that level next season.  There is nothing else to be said about the year Tim Thomas had and coming off that year, you cannot place him anywhere but at the head of the list.

The goaltending position is the one in the NHL in which there is the most variation from year to year in how players seem to perform.  The New York Rangers and their fans have been spoiled because in his six seasons in the league Henrik Lundqvist has consistently been near the top of the list at his position.  Lundqvist has yet to be deemed the best goaltender in a given season, but it is hard to argue that over his six years he has not been the best overall because of his consistent performance year in and year out.

The Rangers have slowly built up the talent around Lundqvist and this is the year where between the defense in front of him, offense to help get him more wins and the rest Martin Biron can give him that Lundqvist can take home the Vezina and be fresh enough to carry the team in the playoffs.

Gorton, Not Messier Should Be Rangers Next GM

With the tremendous work the New York Rangers front office has done this summer the calls for Sather to go now have quelled, but that does not mean the need to figure out the potential successor is has diminished.  For the past few years that has been an implied assumption amongst followers of the Rangers that Mark Messier was the man being groomed to replace GM Glen Sather.  To his credit Messier has been putting in the work to learn the management side of the game whether it be as GM for Team Canada at the 2010 IIHF World Hockey Championship or in his current role as special adviser to Glen Sather the past few years.  Mark Messier could have convinced some team, New York or otherwise, to hire him as their general manager just on his name and reputation, but he has decided not to go that route and earn the job, which speaks to his desire to not only be a GM, but be a very good one.  However, that should not happen in New York.

The resistance to Messier being the next GM of the Rangers is not about the fact that he has never been one at this level before or that he has learned at the side of Glen Sather and could have picked up bad traits from him.  The resistance is not about Messier at all.  The simple fact is, at least right now, the Rangers have a better candidate in the organization with Assistant GM Jeff Gorton.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Marc Staal's No Nonsense Game Has Him Amongst Best Defenders In NHL

Sam McCraig continued his offseason rankings by position today over at Puck Daddy today by ranking the top 25 defenseman in the NHL for next season and New York Rangers stalwart Marc Staal checked in at #20.
20. Marc Staal, NY Rangers: Physical rearguard is blending in some offense to his no-nonsense game.
To see Staal where he is on the list is not shocking simply because of his lack of offense.  Staal is among the NHL’s elite shutdown defensemen and few will argue that point, but until he adds a consistent threat of offense to his game, he will not get the recognition overall as one of the elite overall defenders.  Yes, Staal was an All-Star last season and that means he was considered among the top 12 defenders in the league for the first half, but the recognition I am talking about is more in the subjective assessments like deciding who is amongst the top defenders in the league. 

Staal has shown flashes of the added offense the past two years, and anything more he could add would certainly be welcomed, but Staal’s importance to the Rangers is more in preventing goals than creating them.  His need to improve in how he clears the crease and defends Henrik Lundqvist are bigger issues for the team than his offense.

Devils Keep Parise On One-Year Deal

The New Jersey Devils have agreed to terms with Zach Parise on a one-year deal that will avoid his pending arbitration hearing.  Bob McKenzie of TSN tweets that the deal will pay Parise $6 mil next season.

The fact that Parise is signed for next season will be a comfort to Devils fans, but the failure to reach a long-term contract with their franchise player is concerning considering Parise will be eligible for unrestricted free agency next summer.  While this is certainly a setback in terms of the big picture, according to Tom Gulitti of The Record the team has not given up on trying to sign Parise to a long-term deal and prevent him hitting the unrestricted market next year.  Parise cannot sign an extension until after January 1, 2012.

Parise, 26, is coming off a season in which he only played 13 games due to a serious knee injury.  If he can prove that the knee is healthy and return to the form he showed as a 40 goal, 80-90 point player he will find himself with a very rich contract that should pay him amongst the highest salaries in the league.

Ryan Callahan Talks Rangers Commitment To Young Core, Captaincy

Newly re-signed forward Ryan Callahan talked with Blueshirts United about the three-year, $12.825 million agreement that will keep the heart and soul of the New York Rangers leading the team for the near future.  The discussion featured a variety of topics, but the most interesting quotes revolved around the expectations of the team next season and the leadership group the team has going forward.

On retaining the restricted free agents, expectations for next year:
It means a lot to us players to see management backing up what they have been saying that they are trying to build something here, starting with the core, and signing us all to multi-year deals. It shows us that we are the ones they want to go into the future with, so now we have to live up to that on our end. Next year looks really good for us, and we have to enter the year thinking we are top competitors who can go out and win this year.
Callahan is exactly right that organization did their part in committing to the young core that gave the fan base hope last season, while adding the pieces around it to allow the team to take the next step.  The key now, as Callahan said, is for all of those players they committed to with new contracts to live up to their end of the bargain.

On the captaincy:
We have a lot of leaders on this team, though there is a bit of a void there losing Chris (Drury) and what he brought to the table. But at the same time we have great group of guys in there where so many of them could be named captain and lead the way and do a great job at it. For me, the C, an A, whatever, I am going to continue to do what I do---go out there and work hard every night and set the right example. And for the other guys, whether you have a letter or not, we still need them to lead.
Callahan is going to wear the 'C' for this team, but he is right that the letters are not what makes leaders and the Rangers are going to have a series of different leaders with different styles on the club next season. Callahan, Staal and Richards are more of the quiet, lead by example types where Dubinsky and perhaps Boyle have the more outspoken style, at least with the public. 

Rumor: Alex Kovalev Heading To KHL?

After 18 seasons in the NHL as a supremely talented offensive player who was often frustrating for not playing to his talent level, TSN is reporting that Alex Kovalev will leave for the KHL.  The deal will see Kovalev play with Atlant Mytishchi where he will hope to show there is still something left in the tank after a 16 goal, 18 assist campaign. 

For his career Kovalev has scored 428 goals, tallied 596 assists for a total of 1,024 points in his 18 seasons. 

Rangers First Rounder J.T. Miller Signs With Plymouth Whalers (OHL)

According to Chris Johnston New York Rangers 2011 first round selection J.T. Miller has signed to play with the Plymouth Whalers of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL).  After Miller signed his entry level contract with the Rangers yesterday there was a lot of speculation about where he would be playing next season, but at least for now the intention is to have Miller spend the year in the OHL and let him develop without using up his entry-level contract.  While each prospect is different, spending the year in the OHL working on his game is likely the best thing for Miller long-term as opposed to being rushed to the professional ranks and competing with men in the AHL.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Rangers Sign 2011 First Round Pick J.T. Miller To Entry-Level Contract

The New York Rangers announced on their official twitter account that they have signed 2011 first round pick J.T. Miller to an entry-level contract.  Miller was chosen 15th overall in the draft and while a surprise to some being selected in that spot, he fits the mold of what Gordie Clark and company are looking for in future Rangers.  Last week I discussed whether the Rangers would sign Miller this year and have him play in the AHL this year.  

Miller, 18, being that he was not drafted out of the CHL so he is eligible to play in the AHL unlike many prospects who are either NHL or Juniors.  Seeing Miller in the AHL this season would be surprising as he would burn a year of his contract instead of playing in the OHL this year and then joining the professional ranks next season.

Three Years Is Perfect Length For Both Callahan, Rangers

For the second time in a week the New York Rangers came within 24 hours of having an arbitration hearing with one of their key young players.  Thankfully for all involved both of those situations ended with the long-term contracts that will keep Brandon Dubinsky and Ryan Callahan with the Rangers for four and three years respectively.  The piece of Callahan’s contract that sparked the most conversation in the initial reactions was about the length being only three years.  The length is somewhat surprising given his importance to the Rangers, but there are reasons on both sides why three years is perfect for both sides to get what they want from the deal.

Having the deal last three seasons gives the Rangers security in having a player who epitomizes exactly the type of team the Rangers want to be around for a significant amount of time.  The deal is more cap friendly than if they had gone with a one-year deal and had to renegotiate next summer and avoids the PR nightmare that would have ensued if they had to take the presumed captain to arbitration to get a deal.  Having Callahan locked in at a reasonable rate also allows more certainty in terms of the salary cap. The key benefit to the deal being three years for New York is about the way Callahan plays and seeing what toll the next three seasons will take on his ability to sustain his level. 

Ryan Callahan defines what coach John Tortorella wants form every player in the organization in how he sacrifices for the team.  The blocked shots, hits, energy and complete disregard for his own body is what makes Callahan the player he is, but it also has costs.  Callahan is never going to be a player that can rely mainly on natural skill to succeed at the NHL level, so he needs to continue to play the same style that has gotten him to this point.  The problem is that the physical abuse his body takes on a nightly basis has a cumulative toll down the road even beyond the injuries he may sustain in a season.  Three years allows the Rangers to somewhat hedge against any decline caused by that cumulative effect and makes Callahan continue to earn his money each season.

From Callahan’s perspective, going for three years is a move that allows him to get paid now and still be young enough, 29, to garner significant dollars in unrestricted free agency at the end of his term.  If Callahan can continue to play the style that made him an NHL regular and show the same level of offense he did last season, then there is no denying he will another big contract when this one expires.  First in line will be the Rangers as they will have plenty of cap space and a keen desire to continue have him in a Blueshirt sweater.

Callahan could have gotten more money both in sheer dollars and average salary and the Rangers could have gotten more years guaranteed with a key contributor to their championship hopes, but each side weighed the costs and benefits of both.  In the end, the two sides settle on a medium term of three years and that is perfect length  for both as the Rangers hedge against decline while Callahan gives himself even more chances to prove it and earn another lucrative contract..

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Rangers Re-Sign Ryan Callahan To Three-Year Deal

Update: Why Three Years Is Ideal Length For Callahan, Rangers

Jesse Spector of the New York Daily News tweets that Ryan Callahan and the New York Rangers have officially agreed to a new contract and avoided tomorrow's pending arbitration hearing.  Nick Kypreos of Sportsnet tweets that the deal is believed to be for three-years, $13 million.  Those numbers are more reasonable than some that have been thrown around over the last few days and makes the Rangers cap hit manageable down the road.

Update: Kevin Allen of USA Today tweets that the breakdown of Ryan Callahan's new contract goes for $4M, $4M, $4.875M over the three years.

Callahan was the last in a slew of restricted free agent deals for the Blueshirts, but he is clearly amongst the most critical, both on the ice and in the dressing room.  Now New York has the main ingredients to their roster all under contract and will let training camp decide how the roster shakes out into a lineup for the 2011-12 season.

Last season Callahan continued to play his relentless style of hitting and blocking shots while being an invaluable member of the team in terms of penalty killing, power play goals and presence in the locker room.  What was different last year was the offense that Callahan brought to the table.  Despite playing in only 60 games he was able to set career highs with 23 goals, 25 assists and 48 points for New York.  The added offense was critical for the Rangers as the combination of Dubinsky, Anisimov and Callahan was the best line for the team during much of the season.  The Rangers will need that line to continue their growth as well as the production that is expected from Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik if they are going to contend for a championship.

Gaborik Still Ranked Amongst Elite Right Wings, Challenge For Rocket Richard?

In ranking the top 25 right wings for next season over at Puck Daddy, Sam McCraig had Marian Gaborik of the New York Rangers come in at the sixth spot.  Interesting to see Gaborik ranked so highly at his position despite last year’s down season, but it shows how respected his talent is around the league and the belief that last year was clearly an aberration.  Here is what McCraig had to say about the Slovakian sniper:
6. Marian Gaborik, New York Rangers: If this Brad Richards thing works out — and if he can stay healthy — there's no reason Gaborik can't challenge for the Rocket Richard Trophy as the league's top goal-scorer.
All Rangers fans hope that both of those things McCraig is basing his projection on do work out.  There is no reason not to expect at least 40 goals from Gaborik with 50 a distinct possibility if he has both health and chemistry with Richards.  Getting up into the upper 40's or 50+ would certainly put Gaborik in the running for the Rocket Richard next season.

Ryan Callahan was listed as an honorable mention on the list, though he probably should have squeezed in ahead of a Erat and maybe Jagr at this stage of his career.

Looking at the list more generally though it is tough based off of 2010-11 to rank Gaborik, along with others, ahead of Martin St. Louis who continues to not only defy age, but get better with it.  The player that got slighted the most, other than St. Louis is Claude Giroux as he should probably be no worse than #8.  Grabner not being only an honorable mention is a mistake as well, but overall the list has the right guys in generally the right areas.

Time To Be Nervous About Callahan Yet?

The fact that Brandon Dubinsky got within hours of having his arbitration hearing did not surprise most who follow the New York Rangers.  That Ryan Callahan is now only a day from a hearing without a new contract is a different story.  Maybe that speaks to what the assumptions are with Dubinsky and Callahan as much as anything else, but many assumed Callahan would be done well in advance of tomorrow’s hearing.  The time for panic and hysteria is not here yet, but the time to be anxious and nervous certainly has arrived.
Andrew Gross of Rangers Rants reported last night that there is little progress between the Rangers and Callahan’s side on a new deal.
“They have our proposal,” Bartlett said. “If they feel, at some point between now and then (Thursday), if they feel there is something to talk about, I’m all ears.”
Bartlett added he still believes a deal can be worked out but “it takes two to tango.”
Those are certainly not encouraging words with just one day left until an arbitration hearing that would see Callahan get a one-year deal and potentially be an unrestricted free agent next summer.  If it is the Rangers that are holding things up here, as the statements from Bartlett allege, then is it safe to assume they don’t believe Callahan is worth what his agent is asking for in the long-term deal?  Is the organization really willing to take their potential captain to arbitration?
I have been critical of the dollar figures thrown around in relation to Callahan and whether he is worth those amounts, but I do want him signed long-term.  The Rangers should not let themselves be “held-up,” but Bartlett is right that both sides have to be at the table in order to find common ground and hammer out a deal.  Hopefully it all gets done today and the nervousness that is in the air right now about Callahan never reaches the panic and hysteria phase that will arrive tomorrow.  For now, the anxiety is definitely justified.