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Bettman’s Salary More Than Doubles, Kids in Somalia Still Starving

As reported by ESPN (since this is about the only thing they can report about hockey), Gary Bettman has seen his worth double during the post-lockout NHL.  SportsBusiness Journal initially reported that the commissioner’s current salary comes in at $7.5 million, which ranks him last among the big-4 commissioners: Selig of MLB, Goddell of the NFL, and Stern of the NBA (whose salary is undisclosed, but is rumored to be in the neighborhood of $10 million).

This fact regarding our beloved commissioner’s money-making prowess can certainly be interpreted in different ways.  Bettman works for the owners, and if the owners are making money, he’s going to make money, which the article clearly points out, stating that the NHL’s total revenue has soared by almost $1 billion during the post-lockout era.  So when considering this, it would appear that the state of the NHL isn’t as bad as it seems.  And therein lies the problem.

The top priority for league commissioners (next to making his owners happy) is to improve the image and the brand of the league he represents.  I think most, if not all, would agree that Bettman has done nothing to live up to those standards.  Take into account 2 lockouts that destroyed 1.5 seasons, numerous franchises having to relocated due to lost revenue (which is somewhat ironic considering the above), and www.firebettman.com and you have all the evidence you need.

Even consider this most recent Stanley Cup Final, when Alex Burrows’ chompers and the Vancouver Kissing Couple grabbed more headlines than the champion Boston Bruins.  Whether or not the constant negative attention the NHL receives falls on the shoulders of the commish can certainly be debated, but its undeniable that the image of the NHL has gotten consistently worse under Bettman’s regime.  With all that said, its pretty shocking to me that his salary has increased so much after the lockout, even with all the seemingly negative press that surrounds the league.  Bottom line: Bettman isn’t going anywhere if he keeps making the owners money…and they’ll just keep feeding him more along the way.

A Lot to Like, But a Few Things in Particular

The 2010 portion of the Rangers season is now completed, with the Blueshirts sitting right in the thick of the Eastern Conference standings.  Pretty comforting stuff considering that this has traditionally been the portion of the season the Rangers find themselves struggling for an identity.  We’ve seen it all too frequently: a strong start, a mid-season collapse, and then a strong finish while trying to secure a playoff spot.  While there are many positives and negatives to take from the first 38 games, there are a few things in particular that make you feel good about this year’s edition.  The common thread in these elements? Conditioning and depth!

1) The Rangers have 13 road wins, most in the NHL – Navigating an 82 game season is a tumultuous task, especially when you consider cross-country flights and late-night bus and train rides.  To keep focus and have enough gas to win these games regularly says a lot about this team.  More importantly, 5 of these games have been 1-goal games and another 3 have been 2-goal games.  A lot of that points to Lundqvist, who gives them plenty of goaltending early and late to silence the crowd and keep them ahead to finish the game off.

2) The Rangers have 8 shorthanded goals, tops in the NHL – Typically an elite unit, the Rangers penalty-kill ranks only 12th at this point in the season (still respectable, however).  But while they have maybe slipped a little by their standards, they have excelled in finding ways to score while a man down.  Four different Rangers have scored SH goals this year, which points to the team’s depth in this area.  Brandon Prust is tied for the league lead with 3.  If you would’ve told me that Brandon Prust was going to lead the league in anything except for PIM and fights, I would’ve asked for some of what you were smoking.  Shorthanded goals are always momentum changers in either direction (see Carter, Jeff), and having them at your disposal can go a long way

3) The Rangers are 16-0-0 while leading after 2 periods, and 9-0-0 on the back-end of back-to-back games – These two things more than anything point to the Rangers fitness and depth.  Being able to roll 4 lines and get scoring from everywhere allows the Rangers to stay ahead and come back fresh day-in and day-out.  It also points to Lundqvist (as always) and the fact that they have a capable backup in Martin Biron.  This also doesn’t reflect the number of times the team has come back in the third period when down, another testament to their depth and conditioning.

So you have a team that is good on the road, can score when down, can hold on to a lead, and can play day after day.  In my opinion, the fact that the Rangers get production and contributions from all 18 skaters each night is what keeps them fresh.  The key injuries that they’ve had this year (Gaborik, Prospal, Callahan, Drury) would typically bury other teams (see Parise, Zach).  Tortorella has also been quoted saying that no team in the league has more days off than the Rangers, allowing them to keep their legs while other teams may be winded in the third period.  I find this statement pretty ironic though, considering that it always seems the NHL jams the Rangers schedule up (9 games in 13 days anyone?).  Regardless, its nice to see the coaching staff managing the rigors of the season nicely.

Trade Winds: Rangers Acquire RW Chad Kolarik from Columbus

As being reported from various media outlets, the Rangers have acquired Columbus Blue Jacket RW Chad Kolarik in exchange for LW Dane Byers.  Originally drafted #48 overall by the Rangers in 2004, Byers played in only 6 games for the Rangers, tallying a single point, that being a goal against the Minnesota Wild.  Kolarik was drafted 199th overall by the Phoenix Coyotes in the same 2004 draft and subsequently went to fulfill 4 years of eligibility at the University of Michigan.  Kolarik has appeared twice for the Jackets this season, and never got his name on the scoresheet.

As an avid fan of the University of Michigan, its always nice to see one of their former players finding their way into the Blueshirts organization (still trying to get over Al Montoya).  Kolarik captained the Wolverines his senior year and was a leading candidate for the Hobey Baker (along with teammate and eventual winner Kevin Porter) until an injury sidelined him for a key part of the stretch run.  He averaged nearly 20 goals per season in college, which is solid considering most teams only play 40 games.  Kolarik has had some success in the AHL, averaging roughly 50 points in 2 seasons.  He is a very skilled skater with speed and quickness who can play with some grit and create chances for his own, which is just the type of player Tortorella enjoys.  I don’t see him being anything more than minor league player this season, with the potential to be called up to fill a roster spot in the event that someone gets injure.

As for Byers, it seems that the Rangers are content with the oversized players they currently have on the roster.  The 6’3” winger wasn’t able to make a consistent impact at the big league level.  The Rangers probably see more potential for Kolarik in Tortella’s system, and Byers will have to try and find his niche in the Columbus organization.

In-Game Blog: Rangers vs. Islanders

Pregame: It’s already started.  Brandon Dubinsky and Zenon Konopka (???) were getting into it during warm-ups.  Nothing too crazy, just a lot of jawing back and forth.  Avery felt the need to get into it at some point also.  You gotta love that no matter either team’s successes/failures in recent years, this is still a heated rivalry played with tons of emotion.  Be interesting to see which team can harness that emotion and use it their advantage as the game progresses.

Couple of noteworthy things: AHL sensation PA Parenteau is in the lineup for the Islanders.  Once a dependable member of the Hartford Wolf Pack, Parenteau made in onto the Isles and now has a shot at his former organization.  Also, the matchup between Lundqvist and DiPietro will finally be renewed.  These two had some great duels against one another when DiPietro was healthy, so it should be exciting to see how this one plays out.

Update 1:18pm: Nice tempo to the game.  Both teams have established the forecheck and have had some decent scoring chances up to this point.  Derek Boogaard had a nice rebound opportunity in front of the net but couldn’t put it home.  Nice to see the 4th line putting on some pressure.  Couple of big hits being thrown around as well, most notably Derek Stepan (<3) along the boards on Andrew McDonald. This kid can really do it all.

Few empty seats in the lower tier of the Coliseum.  Its true there isn’t a bad seat in the house there, but you have to wonder how many companies actually observe Columbus Day.

Update 1:22pm: Well that was quick.  Brandon Prust and Konopka drop the gloves.  Very evenly matched combatants.  Real long fight that was easily a draw.

One of the biggest improvements I have noticed so far in the young season is the Rangers play in the neutral zone.  They are sound both defensively and when moving the puck in between the blue lines. Read more »

Dylan McIlrath = YouTube Sensation

Hello all.  After a long hiatus, I’m finally back doing posts here.  Forgive my almost year-long absence.  The recent NHL entry draft seemed like a good enough transition point for me to re-enter the blogosphere, and something about a recent top-10 pick has me pretty riled up…
A lot is being said about the Rangers newest first-round pick, Dylan McIlrath, the brutish teenage defenseman from Moose Jaw (Canadian city names, eh?).  While the move perplexed the majority of us Blueshirt fanatics, I quite honestly didn’t know how to feel about it.  That was until I did some research of my own over the weekend.  After undertaking the usual Google search of our newest defenseman, I decided I wanted to see some full-motion video and went on over to YouTube.  I was at first quite shocked to realize that a seemingly obscure 18 year old Canadian junior hockey player had more than one link to his credit on the world’s most popular video site.  Then, I was flat out impressed by what I saw.  The common theme in these videos: nobody gets the best of this kid.  Was particularly moved by the fight with John Stampohar (same build, and 2 years his elder).  What’s more impressive is that you see him come to the aid of his teammates in a few of these videos.  Maybe Dan Carcillo would have thought twice about mixing it up with Marian Gaborik if a player like this was an established presence on the ice at the time. That to me is equally important than any plus/minus or point total.  You can only hope that with NHL level coaching, this kid can one day blossom into what Chris Pronger has been throughout his career

That Messier Guy is Back

ESPN reports that Mark Messier has taken a position in the Rangers front office as a special assistant to general manager Glen Sather.  The report mentions that this may be the first stage in Messier assuming the post of general manager when Slats finally hangs it up.

Nice to see Messier taking a more active role in the front office as the years have gone on.  He’s has always hung around the Rangers organization after his retirement, and this move shows me that they acknowledge and recognize him in such a way they want him to stay around longer (because honestly, who wouldn’t?).  Speaks volumes as to how the Rangers treat their esteemed alumni, with Rod Gilbert seemingly everywhere you look and Adam Graves also having a role in the front office.

Go see the Captain

Chris Drury was at a team event yesterday signing autographs and received several questions about his new teammates.  One question that stood out to me was when he was asked about new Rangers enforcer, Donald Brashear, and how the team would respond to him after he nearly decapitated Blair Betts during the playoffs last season.

I don’t think any guys will have a problem.  If anybody does, they can come see me

Its a little hard to capture what he really meant behind that statement when its written in a newspaper article.  In my opinion, I think Drury is finally (and hopefully) comfortable being this team’s leader.  There’s no more Shanny, no more Gomez.  There’s no question now as to who is the leader of the Blueshirts, and perhaps Drury now feels more sure of himself.

Will The Real Nik Zherdev Please Stand Up?

Well, its finally official.  The Rangers have officially said no to Z’s $3.9 million award, making him an unrestricted free agent.  Zherdev’s value  and upside have been discussed ad nauseum on this and other Rangers websites, and hopefully this will be one of the last posts in an otherwise tragic story of seemingly untapped potential.  Even though it removes a scoring threat from an already anemic offense, the departure of Nik Zherdev and the way it all transpired speaks volumes of who this guy really is and how people really see him.  And when you consider the chain of events, it was really a no-brainer.

Consider this…at just 24 years old, and having only played in two full 82-game seasons, Zherdev has amassed 99 goals and 239 points.  All these totals were achieved on relatively stale, offensively-inept teams.  But when you also consider that the Columbus front office and head coach Ken Hitchcock, whom is very well-respected in hockey circles, repeatedly clashed with the young winger, it makes you wonder where this kid’s head is at.  Zherdev actually went as far as threatening the Jackets to remain in Russia if his contract demands weren’t met after his 27-goal season in 05-06.  The Jackets broke down and decided to pay him $7.5 million over 3 years.  How did Zherdev respond?  By putting up 10 goals and 32 points in 71 games.  Columbus or not, if you demand that kinda cash and claim to be a rising star in this league, you need to perform, regardless of where you’re playing.  Zherdev rebounded the following year with 26 goals, but the coaching staff still failed to get the youngster to reach his maximum potential, and his work ethic was called into question.  The Columbus front-office decided they had enough, and traded him to the Blueshirts for essentially nothing.  Don’t get me wrong, Fedor Tyutin is a great defenseman and I loved him when he played in New York.  But a sniper’s value is a whole lot more than a defenseman’s.

His time in New York was short spotted.  He got off to a promising start, and after some spectacular dangling and stick work, everyone thought they got through to him.  But somewhere along the way, he just fell off.  There was no injury, no sickness, no talk of any dispute with coaches or the front office.  He just stopped playing.  We can’t even blame it on Tom Renney, because it continued after he was cut loose.  When Tortorella arrived, he made it very clear to everyone that there was going to be accountability.  Zherdev was benched for periods on end on more than one occasion, and he never responded mentally or physically.  Even after 23 goals in the regular season, fans and coaches were still wanting more.  And when push came to shove in the playoffs, Nik Zherdev was just abysmal.  His playoff stats don’t even tell the story, because its hard to tell a story with a bunch of zeroes and negative numbers.  He was skating in mud and quicksand with a lead vest on him, and many of us were caught screaming at the TV for hours begging him to finally make a play….and it never came.

The truth is that Nik Zherdev is a poison for any franchise  Not a poison the way Terrell Owens, Brett Favre, or Jessica Simpson are, but a much more dangerous one.  You don’t see or don’t hear how infectious he really is until you’re cured of him.  He doesn’t speak bad about his teammates, his city, or the front office.  He literally does nothing but play hockey, and its difficult to motivate him to do that to the best of his ability.  You almost wish he was more outspoken to show you that he actually cared.  But it seems he only cares about taking the ice 82 times a year, playing hard when he wants to, and demanding absurd money when the season is over.  Can you imagine what his work ethic would have been if he was given the $4+ million he was asking for?  Credit Glen Sather for not giving in.  That now makes 2 NHL executives in less than a year that have been more than happy to see Nik Zherdev walk out of their locker room for very little in return, and in the Rangers case, nothing.  Now, Zherdev is without a home in the NHL, and will likely head back to Russia.  He has burned some serious bridges along the way, so its probably best for him to go back to his roots and figure it all out.  Hopefully for his sake, he fires whatever person is giving him advice and learns to find a love for the game he once had.  Maybe I was a bit harsh on him here, but it bothers me to see a player of his talent simply go through the motions and think he is entitled to whatever he wants.  The fact of the matter is that this is still a young player with a ton of potential.  But until he gets his head right, no one will ever regret the day they let Nik Zherdev pack his bags and walk out the front door.

Our Very Own Paul Bunyon Has Left Us

Paul Mara has signed a one year deal to go north of the border and play for the Canadiens.  I thought this deserved its own post, so we could at least stare at that perfectly groomed rug one last time.  In my opinion, Mara was a great acquisition several years ago and brought stability and leadership to the Rangers blue-line.  Not only did he bear a striking resemblance to the mythological lumbarjack of Michigan, but he also looks a lot like another figure who has found himself in the media pretty consistently as of late. We all knew the Rangers weren’t going to re-sign #27, as his age and the pool of prospects at the position continue to grow.  Either way, I’m sure we all feel a little saddened at his departure.  I know I do.

Aside from that, what an offseason the Canadiens are having.  Scott Gomez, Hal Gill, Brian Gionta, Paul Mara, Mike Cammalleri, Jaroslav Spacek, and Travis Moen.  Each brings a little something and more to the table.  Think Bob Gainey is feeling the pressure?

Prospect Profile: Matt Gilroy

With all the commotion of free agency and Glen Sather’s dedication to add scoring, its easy to forget about the defensemen the Rangers have in their system.  Among them is Matt Gilroy, who signed a 2-year $3.5 million deal on April 17th, 2009.

BIO: A native of Long Island, Gilroy, 24, played high school hockey for St. Mary’s, where he was captain and won two New York State Championships in the process.  He then began his junior hockey career playing for Apple Core in Long Beach and later played in the British Columbia Hockey League.  Gilroy was an accomplished forward during his junior years. After a stint with the Walpole Junior Stars in the ECHL, Gilroy walked-on to the Boston University Terriers in 2005-2006.  With no forward positions available, Gilroy made the transition to defenseman, where he contributed immediately.

In his freshman year, he played in all but one game, tallying 8 points with a +21 rating.  In his sophomore season, Gilroy blossomed, garnering his first of three All-American honors.  He was named assistant captain and played in every single game, netting 26 points with a +18 rating.  Gilroy’s junior year was more of the same, again playing in every game while scoring 21 points with a +17 rating.  It was at this point, however, that Gilroy began turning heads and started to become a legitimate NHL prospect.  He was garnering so much attention that he even told BU Head Coach Jack Parker he was going to test the NHL free-agent waters after his junior year, and likely leave the team after he was signed.  As a result, Parker gave Gilroy’s scholarship to another player, but Gilroy ultimately decided to hang around and finish up his degree.  Since the scholarship was no longer his, however, Gilroy’s played his senior year without a scholarship.  Not much changed though in terms of Gilroy’s on-ice contributions.

Gilroy dominated college hockey as a senior, reaching career-highs in almost every category.  The team captain helped lead BU to their third Beanpot title in 4 years and again led the team in plus-minus.  Gilroy’s accolades included his third All-American selection, a feat accomplished only by fellow New York Ranger Chris Drury and Rick Meagher, as well as the 2009 Hobey Baker Award as the nation’s top college hockey player.  Gilroy’s last college game was the National Championship against the Miami-Ohio Redhawks.  With his team trailing 3-2 and less than a minute to play, Gilroy pulled off one of the most unselfish of plays in a clutch moment, assisting the game-tying goal (fast-forward to 5 minutes to see the goal).  BU would eventually go on to win, and Gilroy would round out his college hockey career as one of the most decorated players ever.

SCOUTING REPORT: 6 foot, 2 inches.  202 pounds.  Excellent hockey sense, responsible defenseman.  Rarely found out of position.  Great ice vision.  Excellent puck control and passing ability.  Good two-way player.  Exceptionally strong skater.  Character player, who can project as a future captain.  Leads by example.  Does not have a great shot.  Will not use his body as often as he should, but will use it when necessary.  Projects as a second-pairing defenseman

BSB Analysis: It’s hard for me personally to say anything bad about this guy, having the same roots here on LI (his hockey career turned out a little better than mine though).  What I love about Gilroy is that those roots are humble.  Being a walk-on at a major university could not have been easy.  He knows he has to earn everything he plays for, and should have little trouble mentally adjusting to the NHL.  Having Chris Drury nearby also helps, as he was instrumental in bringing the BU blue-liner to the Rangers.  His play in the title game and being named assistant captain in just his second year at BU really shows you the type of leader he is and what the other players in the locker room think about him. His plus/minus ratings while at BU are simply staggering.  That and the fact that he only missed one game during his 4-year career really stand out to me.  Durability, versatility, responsibility, and leadership are probably his best attributes, and those alone can take you a long way. When they originally signed him, I believed they were going to move him back to forward, given the Rangers ineptitude for offense and the deep depth chart on the blue-line.  With the changes in free agency and the new regime beginning to take shape, I don’t see that happening anymore. As a prospect, Gilroy has a lot going for him.  He is 24, which is several years older than his fellow prospects, and he already has a big contract.  Ultimately,  I think Gilroy makes the team as a defenseman out of training camp for those 2 reasons alone, but mostly because of his poise and moxy.  He just doesn’t seem like the type of player who will get rattled when things go south, and us all being Rangers fans, we have seen plenty of newcomers do so.

***For more on Matt Gilroy’s play at the NHL level, please click here.