Monday, February 14, 2011

Rangers Prospect Chris Kreider Named Beanpot Tournament MVP

As a player at Boston College there are few things bigger than the Beanpot Championship.  Luckily for BC they have New York Rangers prospect Chris Kreider who once again displayed his ability to rise to the challenge in big games with two goals and an assist en route to winning Beanpot Tournament MVP.  The top ranked Eagles would certainly get a challenge from the Northestern Huskies as it would take overtime for them to pull out the 7-6 victory.  The victory gave the Eagles back to back Beanpots for the first time since they won three straight from 1963-65. 

If being MVP was not enough, Rangers fans will be happy to know that both goals came on the power play, from the front of the net.  The goals were Kreider’s eighth and ninth of the season. He also assisted on Jimmy Hayes game winner.

Kreider and BC just seem to have a knack for winning things, so hopefully this game is the springboard Kreider needs for a huge finish to the season and possibly a back-to-back NCAA championship.  With any luck he will face off against fellow Rangers prospect Carl Hagelin in that championship game.

Flyers Acquire Versteeg For Two Draft Picks, Solidfy Spot As Eastern Conference Favorites

Up until today all of the major moves over the last week ahead of the NHL trade deadline have come from teams in the Western Conference.  The Philadelphia Flyers, already the top team in the Eastern Conference, became the first team in the East to make a splash in the trade market when, per TSN's Bob McKenzie, they sent this year's first and third round picks to the Toronto Maple Leafs in exchange for Kris Versteeg. The Flyers were likely the favorite in the Eastern Conference even before the move and this should only solidify that position. 
This season Versteeg, 24, tallied 14 goals, 21 assists and 35 points in 53 games for the Leafs.  A key attraction to Versteeg has to be him championship experience with the Blackhawks last season when he scored 14 points in 22 playoff games, including five points in the six-game Stanley Cup finals against Philadelphia.  The Flyers will also have control of him for next season with a salary cap hit of 3.083 million.
Versteeg is obviously a capable scorer and only adds to what is frankly an embarrassment of riches in the depth and quality of the Flyers forward core.  Given how deep and talented the group is, Versteeg could go back to playing a more third line role, similar to what he did in Chicago instead of being forced into a top line assignment in Toronto.
The price-tag on Versteeg seems high in the big picture, but when you are throwing your chips in the middle and making a run for the title, sometimes you overpay to get the guy you want.  The only perceived hole in the Flyers championship armor at the moment appears to be goaltending, but they have the assets to make a trade for a netminder if they feel it necessary over the next two weeks.  In the meantime everyone else in the East is now left to scramble to counter against a team that was already better than them before today and just got better themselves. 

Trade Deadline: Will Recent Struggles Force Stars to Consider Dealing on Brad Richards?

Over the past week all of the movement to be buyers has come out of the Western Conference due to how close the standings are right now.  Another Western Conference team, the Dallas Stars, might just hold the key to how the rest of the trade market shapes up before the deadline in whether or not they make Brad Richards available within the next two weeks.  Compared to the other players said to be in the market right now, Richards would clearly be the best available commodity out there.  Many of the other players that are rumored to be possibly available have concerns (injury, salary) that make them less attractive to perspective teams or just lack that ability to fully change the race like Richards does to be worth the asking price. 
This season he was an All-Star selection and has produced 24 goals, 39 assists and 63 points in 56 games this season.  He would clearly be the best available commodity on the market and his Conn Smythe history would only make him more valuable to acquiring teams.  The question now is whether he will be made available before the deadline comes?
When the 2010-11 season began it was all but assumed that come the deadline Brad Richards would be on the trading block and teams would be lining up to sign him.  The rumors started early in the year, but what the rumors did not account for was the surprising start the Dallas Stars would get off to, led by Richards, and their ability to sustain it. 
Last month, with the Stars competing for the top spot in the West and with a comfortable lead in their division, they went out and made a buyers type move when they acquired Jamie Langenbrunner from the Devils.  When that move was made I said that the trade rumors surrounding Richards would come to an end because Dallas was making a statement that they were all in for this year.  The team responded beautifully following the trade, with a five game winning streak, but since struggles have hit their performance and with the Western Conference as tight as it is, maybe it is time to rethink whether Richards will be available after all.
With the tight race in the West and the uncertainty regarding ownership, along with uncertainty if Richards would stay, can the Stars really risk losing Richards for nothing this summer and not making the playoffs?  Would the better move for the long term health of the organization be to deal Richards to the highest bidder and set up the team with players, prospects and picks for the clear prime target that would be on the trade market?  That is the delicate decision that now awaits Stars GM Joe Nieuwendyk.
Currently Dallas still sits in first place in the Pacific Division, but they have lost seven of nine games which has left them tied in points with Anaheim, but ahead due to having played one less game.  The team is also a mere three points over last place Los Angeles.  Their standing in the West Conference is similar as they are currently third with 68 points, but only three points from being out of the playoffs altogether.
ESPN’s Pierre Lebrun took on whether the recent slide might make them move him instead of risking getting nothing this past Friday in his Crosschecks Blog:
But if the Stars are only one or two points clear of the danger zone come Feb. 28, do they not at least seek out what kind of package is out there for Richards, something that potentially could set up the Stars for five years?
Richards has a no-movement clause, but I'm guessing if the right team calls, he might be willing to waive it. Take Boston, for example. The B's now are armed with the Marc Savard cap savings and could offer him a chance at a Cup run.
Boston, as used in Lebrun’s hypothetical, certainly has the potential to offer a huge package for Richards as they might have the best trading chip out there right now; Toronto’s first round pick, acquired in the Phil Kessel trade.  A package that included a likely top 5 if not certainly top 10 selection in the draft would go a long way to meeting the price tag that LeBrun said Dallas would require to move him. 
Obviously Boston would not be the only team interested in the services of Brad Richards as New York, Toronto, Los Angeles and possibly even Pittsburgh would inquire among others in the asking price for the former Conn Smythe Award Winner.  His inclusion would also have a domino effect on the entire rest of the market both in terms of price and interest.  If you are a team that is looking to buy to make a run this season, Richards is the only elite player whose acquisition can take a team to that next level of contention.
The next week will likely define how available the Stars and general manager Joe Nieuwendyk make Richards because he is unlikely to get caught flat footed by waiting until the last day to see what is out there to be had.   When players like Mike Fisher, who is a good player, but more of a second line type player, receives a return of a 1st round pick in 2011 and conditional 2nd or 3rd in 2012, the amount that the Stars could get to build their future might be too tempting not to move him before the deadline on February 28. 
The decision will not be entirely Nieuwendyk’s to make because as Lebrun points out Richards has full control of whether he wants to go and where he would accept the move to.  This is one of those decisions that shapes a franchise for years to come because you either roll the dice and hope you come up lucky or in essence you fold the cards on this year to better control the cards you will have to play in the future.  While they decide in Dallas the trade market really lacks that game changing target for everyone to go after.

Sather Shares Rangers Approach To Looming Trade Deadline

The NHL trade deadline is now just two weeks away and with that, and the New York Rangers recent struggles, the rumors will only intensify in terms of which players the team is linked to potentially acquiring.  After last night’s win Rangers general manager spoke with the media about his mindset approaching this year’s deadline.  The reports on his approach do not seem to be altered from earlier in the season, which is good news for those seeking to keep an eye on the long term growth of the organization as opposed to making a move purely for this season.
According to both Larry Brooks of the NY Post and Arthur Staple of Newsday Sather will stay active in looking for deals, but is not willing to give up anything of substantial value, and he is not willing to take on salary that last beyond this year.
From Sather’s conversation with Brooks:
"I think we have enough depth in the organization where if a move would make sense we would probably do that now.
"But I'm not going to give up a valuable piece. I don't think that makes any sense."
Staple passes along the following:
"I think we can compete [in the playoffs]. It doesn't mean we're going to do anything [at the deadline] or not do anything. The whole goal this season has been to keep these young guys going as well as they can, to create a team that takes some ownership in itself. It took us a while to get to that stage, but we're getting there."
Some might be frustrated by this mentality because they always want to see their team go for the title, but I would preach patience with them because they are building a long term contender.  Sather's approach here is absolutely the right approach for the Rangers to take this season because it is a year that is focused on developing the young core of this team and getting other young players experience.  If there is a cheap move out there that can help the team get to another level this year without costing anything of significant value then it should be considered, but no player out there right now makes enough of a difference to mortgage anything from the future.  Have to love that at least publicly the organization is showing their commitment to allowing the youth movement to solidify itself without any pressure to make a move for this season.  We will certainly see over the next two weeks if the actions match the words, but they have to this point, so there is no reason to doubt that will continue.  Stay the course and keep keep the development moving in the right direction.
This approach, as Brooks points out, likely means no Kaberle and only McCabe if cheap, while certainly ruling out both Stephen Weiss and Jason Spezza due to their long term commitments.  I am not sure why Brooks goes on to suggest that the Rangers might send their extra second round pick to the Devils for Jason Arnott because that is exactly the kind of move that the Rangers should be avoiding as while a second round pick might not seem like a lot, just look at the current roster and you will realize the work the organization has done with their second round selections over the years.  Brandon Dubinsky, Michael Sauer, Artem Anisimov and Derek Stepan were all second rounders with Ethan Werek and Christian Thomas both looking promising for the future.