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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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It looks like Alain Vigneault did a pretty good job managing Henrik Lundqvist this year

Lundqvist has been in the top-six for games played by a goalie in all but one of the last eight seasons

Though much has changed with the New York Rangers over the last 12 months, one thing remains the same: the team goes as Henrik Lundqvist goes. 

During the early part of the season when the Blueshirts were regularly getting crushed by Western Conference foes, The King was not himself. And not coincidentally, during the second half of the year when the club came together, Lundqvist returned to his usual Vezina form. Now Lundqvist has raised his game again, to an otherworldly level that no other netminder alive can approach, and suddenly the team is on the cusp of the Stanley Cup Finals.

Lundqvist’s talent, focus and desire are obviously keys to his success and have never been in question. But how much of his recent run is due to coach Alain Vigneault’s insistence on giving his backups – first Martin Biron, then Cam Talbot – a larger workload this season?

Lundqvist has shouldered an absurdly high workload in recent years, especially now that he’s no longer a young pup. Including playoffs, he’s started 597 games and logged 32,945 minutes over the last eight seasons and has finished in the top-six in games played for a goalie in all but one of those years. (Lundqvist played a staggering 3,331 minutes in the condensed lockout-shortened season, and played 5,005, 4,353, 4,204, 4,533, 4,913, 4,746 minutes in his previous six seasons, respectively).

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Thoughts following a wild Game 7

The best there is

Since there’s absolutely no chance of me putting together a coherent post in the wake of that Game 7, I’m going to share some thoughts in bullet point form instead:

Henrik Lundqvist really struggled at the start of the season, but he was Vezina-caliber in the second half and raised his game again in the postseason. The bozos that have argued that Lundqvist isn’t elite because he hasn’t won a Cup can say whatever they want – Lundqvist’s performance last night speaks for itself. That was as outstanding a game as you’ll see from a netminder.

– It’s really hard to tell just how good this team is. Obviously we know they won’t ever make anything easy on themselves, but it’s also miraculous that they’ve reached the Eastern Conference Finals despite getting next to nothing offensively from two of their top offensive players – Rick Nash and Derek Stepan. New York’s depth players have been underappreciated for a long while, but they’ve really stepped up through the first two rounds. If the team had gotten even a little bit of production from Nash and Stepan, they probably wouldn’t have had to go to seven games in one or both of their first two matchups.

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Chris Kreider appears to be nearing a return, and boy do the Rangers need him

In case you forgot, Chris Kreider has had success in the Stanley Cup Playoffs before

Though coach Alain Vigneault wouldn’t say it outright, it sure sounds like winger Chris Kreider is getting very close to returning to the Rangers’ lineup.

Kreider has missed the team’s last 19 games with an undisclosed left hand injury and would be a major addition to New York’s suddenly offensively-starved lineup.

Vigneault has been married to his unofficial top line – Benoit Pouliot/Derick Brassard/Mats Zuccarello – and his outstanding fourth line – Brian Boyle/Dominic Moore/Derek Dorsett – for most of the second half, but he’s had a devil of a time finding the right combination with Carl Hagelin, Brad Richards, Martin St. Louis, Rick Nash and Derek Stepan. Even when Kreider was healthy, chemistry wasn’t automatic, but at least Vigneault had a complete set of top-six forwards (in theory) to choose from. It’s a lot easier to mix and match that way then when a fourth liner like Danny Carcillo is being asked to skate with key offensive players.

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Special teams will be the key to Game 7

Brad Richards led the Rangers with 19 power play points during the regular season

So here we are yet again. Game 7.

With the exception of last night’s game, the Rangers have dominated most of the series. They’ve outshot the Flyers in four of six games and have held Philadelphia to just nine goals at even strength, including an empty-netter.

Nearly every #fancystat indicates that the Blueshirts have outplayed Philadelphia at even strength by a wide margin. The series should probably be over by now. But it’s not, and now the season comes down to one final game tonight.

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