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Checking in on the Washington Capitals

The five-year, $27.5 million deal that Washington completed with Brooks Orpik is a real head-scratcher

Last year: 38-30-14, fifth in the Metro Division. Missed the postseason by three points.

Key additions: Matt Niskanen, Brooks Orpik, Justin Peters

Key subtractions: Mikhail Grabovski, Jaroslav Halak, Michal Neuvirth, Dustin Penner (likely)

Franchise direction: Like the rival Penguins, Washington chose to make major changes in the front office over overhauling its roster. In for George McPhee is Brian MacLellan as General Manager while long-time Predators coach Barry Trotz replaces Adam Oates behind the bench. Trotz is one of the most respected men in the business, but he’s made his living as a defensive-minded coach and faces an entirely new challenge in the nation’s capital. Trotz was surely part of the inspiration for the team’s two big signings, Niskanen and Orpik. The Capitals needed a major upgrade on defense after finishing 21st in goals against, but lobbing $67.75 million at Niskanen and Orpik was a bit excessive, especially in Orpik’s case. The acquisitions certainly don’t say much for the team’s faith in its long-time top-three of John Carlson, Karl Alzner and Mike Green. Focusing on bringing in defensemen from outside the organization does make some sense given that Washington has several talented forward coming up through the organization.

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Checking in on the Pittsburgh Penguins

Former Portland Winterhawks coach Mike Johnston will replace Dan Bylsma behind the Penguins’ bench

Last year: 51-24-7, first in the Metro Division. Eliminated by the Rangers in the second round.

Key additions: Patric Hornqvist, Christian Ehrhoff, Nick Spaling, Steve Downie, Blake Comeau, Thomas Greiss

Key subtractions: James Neal, Matt Niskanen, Jussi Jokinen, Brooks Orpik, Lee Stempniak, Brian Gibbons, Deryk Engelland, Joe Vitale, Tanner Glass (just kidding) Taylor Pyatt (just kidding)

Franchise direction: The Penguins roster has been retooled, but the major news of their offseason was the firing of coach Dan Bylsma and GM Ray Shero. In their place are Mike Johnston and Jim Rutherford, respectively, but while Pittsburgh has had higher expectations than Bylsma and Shero have been able to meet in recent years, it’s hard to view the changes behind the bench and in the front office as an upgrade. Pittsburgh did improve its depth up front and cleared dead weight that should allow some youngsters to make an impact. But why was playoff goat Marc-Andre Fleury retained while sweeping changes were made in every other facet of the organization?

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Checking in on the Columbus Blue Jackets

Scott Hartnell should set the tone for the Blue Jackets

Last year: 43-32-7, fourth in the Metro Division. Eliminated by the Penguins in the first round.

Key additions: Scott Hartnell, Brian Gibbons

Key subtractions: R.J. Umberger, Jack Skille, Derek MacKenzie, Blake Comeau, Nikita Nikitin

Franchise direction: The Jackets are happy as clams with the way things are going after they made a surprise postseason appearance and gave Pittsburgh all it could handle in the first round of the playoffs. Columbus had to let go of a few spare parts to provide flexibility and allow the team to lock up key long-term pillars like Ryan Johansen and Brandon Dubinsky, but the team has quality reinforcements. Read more »

Checking in on the New Jersey Devils

The Devils’ major offseason acquisition: 32-year-old Mike Cammalleri

Last year: 35-29-18, sixth in the Metro Division

Key additions: Mike Cammalleri, Martin Havlat, Scott Clemmensen

Key subtractions: Martin Brodeur, Mark Fayne, Anton Volchenkov, Ryan Carter (likely)

Franchise direction: The Devils have finally turned the page on the Brodeur era, but that doesn’t mean the team is any younger. New Jersey added the 32-year-old Cammalleri and 33-year-old Havlat to a group that already includes 34-year-old Michael Ryder, 36-year-old Dainius Zubrus, 37-year-old Marek Zidlicky, 38-year-old Bryce Salvador, 38-year-old Patrik Elias and 42-year-old Jaromir Jagr.  The Devils are certainly not rebuilding, but their plan is a little puzzling. Read more »

Checking in on the Philadelphia Flyers

R.J. Umberger was the lone major addition for the unusually inactive Flyers this offseason

Last year: 42-30-10, third in the division. Lost to the Rangers in the first round

Key additions:  R.J. Umberger, Nick Schultz

Key subtractions: Scott Hartnell, Adam Hall (likely)

Franchise direction: I didn’t quite know what to think when Ron Hextall replaced Paul Holmgren, but so far the new general manager has demonstrated restraint uncharacteristic of this organization. Yes, the Hartnell/Umberger trade was a little bit of a head-scratcher and the rampant rumors that Philadelphia tried to move up to grab the No. 1 draft pick were interesting, but all in all this has been an unusually quiet offseason for the Flyers. Read more »

Sifting through the wreckage of July 1

Don’t look at Tanner Glass’s metrics. Seriously, don’t.

In just a few short hours, the 2013-2014 New York Rangers were blown apart.

Usually it’s GM Glen Sather that flashes the power of the dollar as he plucks key contributors away from other top teams on July 1, but yesterday it was the Blueshirts that were victimized by the league’s annual spending spree. The unfortunate part of the carnage was that much of it could have been avoided.

That Sather wasn’t prepared to come near the five years, $20 million that Benoit Pouliot received from Edmonton is completely understandable. But that he wasn’t willing to match the five years, $22.5 million that Anton Stralman got from Tampa Bay is a little less so.

The real kicker came towards the end of the day, when the same Lightning that had already re-signed Ryan Callahan and poached Stralman then inked Brian Boyle to the perfectly reasonable contract of three years, $6 million. Read more »

Potential UFA target: Mikhail Grabovski

Mikhail Grabovski is not a #1 center, but he could still help the Rangers

New York’s top two offseason needs are a No. 1 center and an offensive defenseman. There’s not much denying that, but sometimes there just aren’t players available to fulfill those needs, and sometimes the cost of doing so makes for unwise decisions.

With Andrei Markov now off the market, the lone offensive-minded blueliner of note that’s set to hit free agency next week is Matt Niskanen, who’s sure to be overpaid based on one standout season. There doesn’t seem to be a solution on the trade market either, so the Rangers seem be out of luck.

On the other hand, there is a bevy of top-line centers available, including Paul Stastny, Jason Spezza and Joe Thornton. Unfortunately, only Stastny can be had for money alone, and the contract he’s about to receive will be massive for yet another center that’s best served as a No. 2 (sound familiar Rangers fans?). Stastny is poised to cash in on a monster playoff year, but he’s had injury problems and is coming off his first 60-point season since 2009-2010. He is best served as a secondary option, so the funds and term required to land him would create a Brad Richards problem all over again.

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Report card: Defense

You were expecting a photo of Ryan McDonagh, weren’t you?

Dan Girardi – What a roller coaster year Girardi just completed. He looked totally lost at the beginning of the season (like several Blueshirts), but quickly turned around his game and played like his old self during the second-half. Management was convinced that Girardi’s early-season hiccups were an anomaly and rewarded him with a six-year, $33 million contract, essentially choosing Girardi over captain Ryan Callahan. But Girardi again looked like a liability once the playoffs started, culminating in his train wreck performance (mixed with a healthy share of bad luck) during the Stanley Cup Final that left many fans calling for a trade. Girardi had no more than a dislocated finger during the playoffs, so his pylon-like play should raise eyebrows given the substantial financial commitment New York made to him just a few months prior. Nevertheless, Girardi has been a tremendous player for the Rangers during his eight-year career, and, just as Brad Richards did at the start of this year, Girardi seems likely to bounce-back from this most recent embarrassment in a big way. Grade: B-

Anton Stralman – For almost his entire tenure in blue, Stralman was the most underappreciated player on the team. But thanks to his particularly stellar play during the postseason and some gushing comments from talking heads and bloggers alike, Stralman is now viewed as a must-keep player by many fans. Advanced metrics make Stralman look like a true stud, but he’s been a very good second-pairing defender, not necessarily a $5 million a year blueliner. Stralman contributes next to nothing offensively – though some argue that his possession metrics suggest he was a victim of bad luck and believe Stralman actually does far more to help the attack than his point total indicates. Stralman has certainly emerged as a very good defender, but he seems like a guy that was underrated for so long, he’s now overrated. Grade: A-

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Little positive energy around the Rangers is understandable

Call it sour grapes, but the officiating fiasco in Game 2 changed the series

There will come a time when Rangers fans look back on this season with mostly fond memories, but it is not this day.

Not when the team was so close – four measly wins from attaining the sport’s ultimate prize – but now faces the very realistic prospect of an embarrassing sweep. And not when that prize was seemingly lost as much because of atrocious officiating and because of pucks’ recent tendency to find every which way to bounce off Blueshirts into their own net, while simultaneously finding every which way to bounce away from the opponents’.

Years ago, Wayne Gretzky famously said, “there are three seasons in the NHL: The regular season, the post-season and then the Stanley Cup final.”

Never could a statement ring more true with this fan base.

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Stanley Cup Preview: Rangers vs. Kings

Marian Gaborik is shooting at a ridiculous 18.5% in the playoffs

Fans are so deliriously happy with the New York Rangers that the two biggest sources of outrage leading up to Game One were over

A) the NHL Shop’s handling of mistakenly priced $63 jerseys that eager fans tried to buy by the truckload, only to have their orders canceled,

and

B) the secondary market ticket prices north of $1,500 for games at Madison Square Garden that prompted some fans to ponder whether it was a more sensible option to fly cross-country to see the team on the road in Los Angeles at a “discount” price-tag exceeding $1,200.

That’s the kind of frenzy New Yorkers are in right now over the team’s hockey team, 20 years removed from its last appearance in the Stanley Cup Finals.

The undeniable truth of the matter is that the Rangers are facing a superior team. The Los Angeles Kings won a Stanley Cup two seasons ago and have been to the Western Conference Finals in each of the last three seasons.

To get here, they had to defeat the gauntlet of San Jose, Anaheim and Chicago, who combined for a regular season record of 151-63-32 (in comparison to the combined record of the Flyers, Penguins and Canadiens of 139-82-25). The eye test confirms that the Kings are indeed a powerhouse, and advanced metrics near universally point to Los Angeles as the best possession team in the league.

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