Saturday, February 19, 2011

Rumor: Rangers Interested In Chris Neil?

Over the past few weeks New York Rangers have been connected to seemingly every defender that might be on the market, but now there is finally a rumor connecting them to a forward.  Per Jesse Spector of the Daily News, the Rangers have interest in making Chris Neil the next Senator to get out of Ottawa.  Neil, 31, has three goals and nine assists in 58 games this season.  The strengths in Neil’s game is not his offense, but his ability to be a fighter, and he has racked up 157 penalty minutes thus far this year.

If you recall the Rangers attempted to sign Neil when he was a free agent in July of 2009 offering him a four year contract, but he chose to go back to Ottawa.  Neil is under contract for two more seasons at $2 million per season.

I understand the desire to lessen Prust’s fighting responsibilities, which is a reason that Spector says the Rangers have interest, but John Tortorella is on record saying that he does not want players who only fight and right now fighting is the main skill Neil brings to the table.  It is tough to see which player he would replace in the lineup once Ruslan Fedotenko comes back and the salary hit is a huge problem, especially with the team already being on the hook for three more seasons of Derek Boogaard.  There are bigger needs for the club than another fighter, especially at this kind of salary commitment, so hopefully Sather will pass on this idea.

Is Erik Christensen's Shootout Specialty Worth Keeping Him In The Lineup?

Frederick Breedon/Getty Images
The curious case of Erik Christensen continues to turn for the New York Rangers and the frustration with him only mounts with each passing game.  Christensen has been given numerous opportunities at all levels of the lineup and continually fails to make a consistent impact on the game, at least in the first 65 minutes of action.  The only thing that he does do consistently is perform in the shootout.  Over the past few days I have been thinking about how much value a shootout specialist has in the NHL right now with the combination of the tight playoff races and how crucial the extra point can be at this time of year.  Obviously, come the playoffs there is no value to a player who cannot consistently produce during real action as opposed to the skills competition, but does Christensen’s shootout prowess save his spot in the lineup down the stretch until the playoffs begin?
My gut reaction is no because I want the best 12 forwards to be playing the first 65 minutes so I am not relying on the skill competition for an extra point.  Clearly he is not one of those 12 as since coming back seven games ago the point total is zero, only five shots have even hit the net and he has earned more than 11:06 in ice time just once. I would rather have less skilled guys like Kris Newbury who are going to give total effort in their roles during the game, then hope that a specialist like Christensen will be necessary at the end.
Last night for me was a clear example for me as Christensen had a downed goaltender and no defenders near him, but instead of being confident with the puck and taking his time to actually finish the goal he rushed and shanked it wide.  That miss was not the sole reason that the Rangers lost to the Devils, but it reminds me why the 12 guys to play the first 65 minutes of the game are what matters not a guy who is a specialist for an event the Rangers have only seen eight times this year, which likely equals the number of games Christensen has made an impact.  How many points would keeping him in the lineup for his specialty cost the Rangers in regulation as opposed to gain them in the shootout?  If the number is close to even, then he is not worthy having out there.
There is also the potential to market his shootout skill in a trade to a Western Conference team where they have some roster voids he might be able to be hidden and his prowess could be the real difference in making the playoffs or not.  I do not think the Rangers get that much for him, but a fourth round pick would feel pretty good for a guy who if we are lucky does something good every eight games or so.

Will Colorado End Up Singing the Blues After Erik Johnson, Chris Stewart Blockbuster?

The St. Louis Blues and Colorado Avalanche combined on a middle of the night blockbuster that would see Erik Johnson, Jay McClement, Chris Stewart and Kevin Shattenkirk change locations along with a couple of conditional picks.  This is one of those rare deals come deadline season that was not about one team being a seller to a team making a playoff run, but just about both teams trying to reshape their teams for the future.  Both of these teams had high hopes coming into the season, but for various reasons on each side have failed to meet those expectations and find themselves well out of the current logjam that is the Western Conference playoff race.  Frustrations with their standing might have caused both teams to be more willing to give up on pieces that were considered as potential cornerstones of their franchises just a few months back.  Let’s take a look at why each team wanted to do the deal and who wins.
Colorado:  The Avalanche get Erik Johnson, Jay McClement and a conditional second round pick.  Johnson, 23, was the 2006 first overall pick, who just last season seemed poised to take the next step to the elite level of NHL defenders.  That rise he appeared to be on at the close of last season has not translated over to this year with Johnson only having scored five goals and added 14 assists while playing at a minus eight.  Johnson is still only 23 years old so what the Avalanche are banking on here is that he can take that next step to the elite level, which paired with Matt Duchene would give the Avalanche a couple of prime talents to build around. 
"We are excited to be adding a top young defenceman in this league, a player who will have an impact on our blue-line for several years to come," Avalanche general manager and executive vice president Greg Sherman said in a release.
The other player part of the trade for Colorado is Jay McClement who is a solid checking center, which should help the Avalanche on their struggling penalty kill.
St. Louis: The Blues receive Chris Stewart, Kevin Shattenkirk and a conditional first round pick.  The key for the Blues has to be getting a developing power forward like Chris Stewart.  The Blues have had significant trouble scoring with the concussion issues to David Perron and the injury to T.J. Oshie.  Oshie is back, but Perron is not and now with Stewart they add a player who tallied 28 goals last season and started this year in All-Star form before breaking his hand in a fight. 
His production has not been the same since returning from the injury, but the 23-year-old Stewart still has 13 goals and 17 assists in 36 games so far this season.  The idea of combining All-Star David Backes and his power mentality with Stewart has to be one that makes the Blues front office drool involuntarily.
If Stewart was not enough for the Blues fans to get excited about they also get promising rookie offensive defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk.  Shattenkirk burst onto the scene this season and while the 21-year-old has certainly slowed down 26 points in 46 games for a defender is still an impressive total.
"We're very excited to acquire a young emerging power forward in Chris Stewart and a top young NHL defenceman in Kevin Shattenkirk," said Blues GM and executive VP Doug Armstrong. "These are two solid young players who will help us now as we continue to grow and improve our team."
Verdict:  Unless Erik Johnson reaches his potential becomes the Norris trophy caliber defender that people have pegged him as being down the road this one appears to a nice win for the Blues as they get a guy who is a premiere power forward and a developing offensive defender to add to their young core.  Johnson might be the biggest name in the deal, but I believe Chris Stewart will end up the best player in it.  Either way you have to love that two teams that are underachieving would take the risk involved in a move like this rather than just sit still and do nothing.  It will be a move that defines the fate of two franchises for years to come and the team that wins it, their GM will be a hero and the losing GM is likely fired.

Souray On Re-Entry Waivers, Can Sather Avoid The Temptation To Fix Rangers PP?

Nick Kypreos is reporting that the Edmonton Oilers have placed Sheldon Souray on re-entry waivers today, which is making me very nervous.  In the recent past the Rangers scouted Souray and eventually decided to take a pass on him, but as Jim Matheson reported a few weeks ago the Oilers were not going to put Souray on re-entry waivers until and unless they were sure that another team would claim him.  With all the moves that were made for defensemen yesterday and the anemic play of the Rangers last night it is not out of the realm of possibility that Sather could in some sense panic and grab Souray.

Souray might be the only way for Sather to acquire a possible help to the power play without having to sacrifice anything significant from young core or draft picks.  I still believe this is the wrong move and I am hoping that Sather resists the temptation, but there is certainly reason to believe that someone will claim Souray and that team might be New York.

Update: In the good news department, TSN's Bob McKenzie reports the following:

"EDM realizes dmen are hot commodity right now and hoping someone will see Souray as good value. A claim has not been pre-arranged, I am told"
The fact that no deal has been prearranged certainly helps out the cause and means that it is not guaranteed Sather or anyone else told Edmonton they would claim him, but does not change the danger of a panic decision.  It is the panic decision that Edmonton is playing on right now, which is why they were smart to put Souray up today after so many available defenders were moved yesterday.

Sather Only Willing To Pay His Price; Redden As Possible Callup?

Friday was one of the craziest trading days I have seen to the point where you had to wonder who wrote a memo that told the GM’s the deadline was on the 18th and not the 28th.  The New York Rangers were quiet as Tomas Kaberle and Eric Brewer, defensemen they were connected to, were moved off the board to respective Eastern Conference foes.  Some Rangers fans started getting anxious as the names they had been hearing about to sure up the defense were disappearing from the board with no response from Glen Sather.  I understand the trepidation, but I take the approach that with what was being paid for Kaberle, Brewer, and Ian White, that Glen Sather is making the right move in being patient and waiting out the market.  That opinion could certainly change based on what he finally does, but for now Sather is sticking to his guns in building around this core and not sacrificing the future.
This morning, Andrew Gross at Ranger Rants reports on his conversation with Glen Sather following the flurry of action.  Sather discusses that there is still time and players available and that the price he wants is what matters, not what they want.
“Lots of them,” said Sather, adding he’s been making phone calls to gauge the trade market for four months. “I’m listening, watching. It doesn’t matter what the asking price is. It’s what we want to pay.”
This is a critical distinction that leads to why on a busy day like Friday the Rangers made no moves.  Sather is standing firm to what he thinks a player is worth and protecting what he values in the Rangers system and I applaud him for that.  If in the end he either caves or ends up with a player that has a bad contract just because he was cheap, then I will likely slam him for that at that point. 
As usual, Sather said teams are inquiring about the Rangers’ younger talent. Typically, that includes players such as Brandon Dubinsky, Ryan Callahan, Marc Staal, Dan Girardi Derek Stepan and Ryan McDonagh. The Rangers may also not be eager to lose any high draft picks.
Nothing that is said to be on the market right now is worth the Rangers dealing any of those players away from their core and will not improve this team.
Also coming out of the conversation between Gross and Sather was the idea that Tomas Kundratek, Pavel Valentenko or even Wade Redden could be recalled to the Rangers if no move is made to give them a look.  I do not believe that either Kundratek or Valentenko are ready yet to be at the NHL level, but in some sense they cannot play worse than what the current third pair is doing between the three players that have been there.  Kundratek is the one that is better equipped to make the transition, while fans are enamored with Valentenko’s shot and desire to hit, but I am concerned with his speed at this level.
The idea that Redden could be recalled is one that will drive fans over the moon, but I do not see that as a legit idea.  The day that things get that bad around here is the same day that everyone in the building should be fired.  As great as Redden has been in his mentoring role there is no way he should ever set foot in Madison Square Garden again without a ticket.  It would almost certainly clear re-entry waivers, but could you imagine if someone else claimed him and the Rangers were left holding the bag for three more years at 3.25 on the cap they cannot get rid of?  Now that would be a worst case scenario.
For now Glen Sather is making the right move in waiting the market out, but until February 28th comes and goes we will not know how it finally played out.  Later I will take a look at some of the names still on the board now that a number of them are off of it.