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Gilroy nominated for 2009 ESPY Award

Former BU All-American Captain and current Rangers prospect Matt Gilroy has been nominated for the 2009 ESPY Award for Best Male College Athlete.  The Long Island native lifted BU to the 2009 National Championship, winning the Hobey Baker Award as the nation’s top college ice-hockey player along the way.  On April 17th, just 6 days after winning the title, Gilroy signed a 2-year $3.5 million contract with the Rangers.  His fellow nominees include Sam Bradford of Oklahoma (football), Blake Griffin of Oklahoma (basketball), Stephen Strasburg of San Diego State (baseball), and Tim Tebow of Florida (football).

That’s some incredibly elite company for a college hockey player, a student-athlete who doesn’t get any attention whatsoever.  When you consider that Bradford won the Heisman, Griffin will be the #1 pick in the NBA draft tonight, Strasburg was the #1 pick in the MLB draft and is “one of the greatest pitching prospects ever”, and Tebow has been baptized Superman and all that is holy by half the press, its a pretty impressive feat.  Say what you want about the ESPYs (i.e. total popularity contest), but its one of the few events that bridges sports, whether its high school, college, pro, olympic, extremewhatever.  So to be included in one of the categories is a pretty nice honor.  Chances of him winning are basically zero, due to the reasons previously stated, but a special honor nonetheless.

The Best Class Ever?

Hey all,

Been a while since I last wrote here.  Things like Hall of Fame Inductions always interest me, and I usually feel the need to ask the question posed in the title when it includes names like Yzerman, Hull, Robitaille, Leetch, Richter, Dino, etc etc etc.  While it seems that the general consensus is that the first four mentioned are virtual shoe-ins, it surprises me that it is so unanimous, given the company that is nominated alongside them.  For everyone else, its pretty much just a bad year to have your name on the ballot.  Everyone on this list at some point in their career was either an impactful or influential player, one way or another.  But when you consider that Steve Yzerman, Brett Hull, Luc Robitaille, and Brian Leetch will likely be the 4 players inducted, can we coronate the Hall of Fame Class of 2009 the greatest HOF class ever?  The two classes of recent memory that are among the top include the 2007 class of Mark Messier, Al MacInnis, Scott Stevens, and Ron Francis and the 1983 class of Ken Dryden, Bobby Hull, and Stan Mikita. I’m sure the likes of Stan Fischler might say otherwise, but those are some pretty stacked groups.  Let’s see how they measure up:

Stevie Y: Three-Time Stanley Cup Champion, Captain of the Red Wings beginning at age 21, 6th on the all-time scoring list, and one of the gutsiest players of his time (played the majority of his final years with essentially no cartilage in both knees).  And to this day, has scored one of my favorite goals of all time.

Luc Robitaille: Stanley Cup Champion, 8-Time All-Star, highest scoring left wing in NHL history with 668 goals.  Holds most scoring records for the Los Angeles Kings, where he played the majority of his career.

Brett Hull: Two-Time Stanley Cup Champion, his 741 career goals rank him 3rd all-time overall and the highest American goal-scorer in NHL history (even though he has dual citizenship with Canada, all his international play has been for the USA).  Nicknamed the Golden Brett.  Scored one of the most controversial goals in the NHL history during the 1999 Stanley Cup Final.

Brian Leetch: Stanley Cup Champion (as if you didn’t know), only Amercian-born player to win Conn Smythe Trophy, two-time Norris Trophy recipient.  Scored a still rookie-defenseman record 23 goals in his debut season with the Blueshirts.  And the importance of this goal can never be overstated. PS: if any of you guys can find an isolated video of the spin-o-rama goal against Brodeur in the ’94 East Finals please post it…because that was pretty)

So that’s a pretty impressive resume if you ask me.  What do you guys think?  If this does turn out to be the Class of 2009, will it be considered the best-ever?

What Could Have Been….

“It has been said something as small as the flutter of a butterfly’s wing can ultimately cause a typhoon halfway around the world.” – Chaos Theory

The Time: Spring, 2004

The Place: MSG Front Offices

The Crossroad: After missing the playoffs for the 7th consecutive season and a long string of unsuccessful big name acquistions, Glen Sather decides to clean house, beginning with household names such as Brian Leetch and Alexei Kovalev.  Meanwhile, somewhere in the Midwest, Joel Quenneville had just been fired as head coach of the St. Louis Blues, despite having 7 consecutive winning seasons and consistently being ranked among the league’s top teams.  In the midst of these moves Sather decides to hire Tom Renney, the Director of Player Personnel, to groom and develop the youth movement.  With the lockout imminent, the Rangers are taking a new approach towards building a team.

The Impact: Tom Renney enjoys relatively good success developing a predominantly young Rangers unit, but never gets passed the 2nd Round of the East Playoffs.  As the team begins to falter in his 4th season, Renney is subsequently fired and replaced with the firy John Tortorella, and everyone is happy (for now).  As this is going on, Quenneville has caught on with the Colorado Avalanche and leads them to three-consecutive 95 point seasons in the ultra-competitive Western Conference, missing the playoffs in just one of those seasons.  At the end of his 3rd season, Quenneville decides to leave the Colorado organization, catching on as a pro Scout with the Chicago Blackhawks.  Just one month into the job, Quenneville is promoted to head coach, and leads a young, talented group with the likes of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, and Brent Seabrook to the Western Conference finals (possibly further).

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We Need More Swedes….

Caught myself watching Game 7 of the Wings-Ducks.  The Wings are just so amazingly stacked.  Its unreal how they develop talent, and when you break down their roster, 1/3 of them hail from the same country as his Highness.  Its no wonder the country won Gold at the Olympics and Detroit the Cup just a year ago.  What’s amazing about these Wings is that for the most part, its all home-grown talent, none of which were extremely highly touted.  Franzen, Zetterberg, Datsyuk, Samuelsson, Holmstrom, Filppula were all drafted in the 3rd round or later.  Oh, and lets just throw in Niklas Lidstrom, who has been one of the top 3 defensemen every year for what seems like the last 3,000 years.

I applaud the Wings and their front-office.  Simply amazing

What’s the Swedish Word for Adios?

Larry Brooks writes today in the New York Post that Rangers winger Markus Naslund has told his teammates that he will retire, a move that definitely helps the Rangers salary cap situation.  The 35-year-old forward from Sweden was set to make $3 million next season, with just one year left on his contract.  Once considered the best two-way player in the game, Naslund has steadily declined over the last 5 years, registering a mere 46 points this season.  The move saves the Rangers from a buyout that would have likely occurred, seeing that Naslund didn’t fit into John Tortorella’s plan.

Even though he only played one season for the Rangers, I came to respect Naslund for the effort and class he put forth this season.  His 24 goals were exactly what you expected from him at this point in his career.  It was foolish to believe that he would step in for the departed Jaromir Jagr and as the season dragged on, so did Naslund.  Rather than draw out his career at a relatively ineffective level of play, the winger saw best to skate off at this point.

Conspiracy Theories?

On the day one of the most anticipated NHL playoff series is about to begin, you can’t help but wonder if it was all staged.  I don’t know what’s more disturbing: that Rangers fans generally feel that the NHL brass is out to get them, or that we have all come to hate said NHL brass (just Gary Bettman really) so much that we actually think they would fix the sport we all love.

It got me thinking back to the Rangers opening series last year against the Devils.  The general consensus amongst Rangers fans was that the refs were out to get us because all the higher-ups are so infatuated with Martin Brodeur, and would have liked nothing better than see the Devils advance.  But when you consider the fact that the Devils can’t even sellout their own home arena for playoff games and that half the people in the stands were rooting for the opposing team anyway, why would the NHL rather have the Devils advance instead of an Original Six franchise.  The Rangers wouldn’t be heading out to the Rock if the Devils were playing someone else.  So no conspiracy there. Read more »

Interesting Discussion

Was sitting here drinking my morning cup of coffee, reading the paper, and still thinking about the Rangers season and what the future holds and it got me thinking: if you take into account all the activity that should occur in the offseason, what do you think the Rangers lines will look like next season?  This includes additions and subtractions.  While its nearly IMPOSSIBLE at this point to predict any of the offseason moves, it would be interesting to see the direction that this team will go.  It also got me thinking as to what the Rangers team COULD/WOULD look like if the Rangers weren’t so handicapped with the salary cap situation and if they wanted to really revamp the whole team.

So here are what my lines (and Rangers roster) would look like for next season.

FORWARDS (in no specific order)

Avery-Dubinsky-Antropov

C. Armstrong-Gomez-Callahan

Drury-Anisimov-Korpikoski

Sjostrom-Betts-Orr

DEFENSE

Staal-Girardi

Gilroy-Mara

Roszival-Sanguinetti

I know…the team looks eerily similar.  I just don’t think the Rangers are going to be big players this offseason because of their cap issues and considering they have to take care of Dubinsky and Callahan before they take of anything else.  As the season will progress, I think these will certainly change.  I could see Grachev working his way into the lineup, Anisimov and Gilroy working their way out.  Maybe Gilroy getting moved to forward, Drury getting traded, Roszival getting hurt and Del Zotto getting called up.  Possibly that 4th line getting completely blown up and substituted with god-knows-who.  Its somewhat contradictory to what I said should happen in a prior post, but I think this is what might ultimately happen.

Now if I was Glen Sather and had no restrictions, here is what my modified fantasy team would look like, after the jump:

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Finals Thoughts and a Recap on a Season on the Brink

I allowed myself to decompress for 24-48 hours after the Rangers season officially ended to talk about what happened.  Much like a legendary player being asked to retire when he’s ousted from the playoffs, you have to sift through your emotions before you give an honest assessment of things.  100% agree with Dave that the better team won this series, but ironically, I thought the Rangers were the better team for the most part in Game 7.  The game itself was a microcosm of the the Blueshirts season and series:  strong to start, treading water in the middle, and plagued by an inability to score and create chances in the end.  This team truly gave their all in the final game though, and that makes the sting a bit more bearable.  Now that the smoke has cleared, it has become obvious to me (and hopefully all of you) that John Tortorella got the most out of a team that has seemingly zero offensive firepower, and the fact that he got them to claw all the way into the playoffs says a lot about the type of coach he can be for this franchise.

So now that the sting is starting to subside, lets take a look back on the highs and lows of this season, and what’s to come from the 89 games:

HIGHS

-The Blueshirts got off to a fantastic start, going 10-2-1 in the month of October and staking themselves to a huge early lead in the Eastern Conference

-Three players had their numbers retired: Harry Howell (3), Andy Bathgate (9), and Adam Graves (9)

-Tom Renney and his stale style of hockey were finally replaced by John Tortorella’s aggressive attack, making for a much more efficient and relatively exciting Rangers team to watch.

-The Rangers re-acquired Sean Avery off waivers from the Dallas Stars, adding the edge that the team needed down the stretch.

-Henrik Lundqvist gave no doubt to the fact that he is easily one of the top 3 goalies in the world today

-After falling out of the playoff picture in late February/early March, the Rangers made a remarkable turn around, headlined by John Tortorella’s coaching, to finish 7th in the Eastern Conference standings.  The team had several key wins down the stretch to jump into the playoffs.

-Nik Antropov and Derek Morris were acquired via trade at the deadline, and provided some size and stability to their respective positions.

-The combination of Blair Betts and Frederik Sjostrom (throw Hank in there if you’d like) emerged as the best penalty killing unit in the NHL.

-While maybe not necessarily a high, Markus Naslund provided exactly what was expected of him: a 20-25 goal season and consistency up front.

LOWS

-The start of 2009 brough no joy to the Rangers, as they started to collapse under the Tom Renney regime.  The low-point was highlighted by a 10-2 drubbing at the hands of the Dallas Stars, and ultimately would signify the end of the Renney era.

-The tragic death of top-tier prospect Alexei Cherapanov cast a shadow over the Rangers future.

-Nikolai Zherdev’s did not provide the 30+ goal output that many believed it would, and the youngster crumbled in his first post-season

-The offseason acquistion of Wade Redden was nothing but a complete disaster.

- Michael Roszival’s absurd contract extension (mainly its length) is beginning to rear its ugly head, and the combination of Redden and Roszival’s salaries and contract length will plague this franchise for years to come.

-The power-play never amounted to anything, under both coaches, and has been the most pressing issue since the lockout ended.

-An inability to provide consistent offense or any offensive threat whatsoever doomed this team as the season progressed

-Leading 3-1 in their opening round playoff series, the Blueshirts fell apart when it mattered most, a series headlined by the suspension of John Tortorella for Game 6

-Versus continues to cover the NHL

WHATS TO COME

-Brandon Dubinsky, Ryan Callahan, Lauri Korpikoski, Sean Avery, Marc Staal, Dan Girardi will be the core of this team under the John Tortorella regime.  The new coach must also find the right players for his style of play, as it became obvious that the current group cannot provide the type of play Tortorella would like to play.

-Blair Betts, Frederik Sjostrom, Colton Orr, and Nik Antropov MUST be re-signed.  Betts and Sjostrom combine to be the best PK tandem and 4th line in the league.  Orr is the best fighter in the NHL, and you still need at least one of them on your team.  Antropov provides much needed size and scoring touch going forward.

-Markus Naslund, with only one-year remaining, should be dealt somewhere.  The aging forward, once considered the best two-way player in the NHL, did not thrive in Tortorella’s system.

-Time for Scott Gomez and Chris Drury to finally step up and take the reigns as the elder statesmen on this team.  The honeymoon is over boys.

-Say goodbye to Paul Mara (regretably), Nik Zherdev, and Derek Morris.  In addition, Sather must find a way to part ways with either Redden or Roszival, either through a buy-out or trade.

-Its time for the Rangers projects and farm system to step-up and become elite players in the league.  This includes players currently on the team (who have now played in enough tight playoff series) and players in their farm system (who up until this point have done nothing but be talked about).  History shows that free-agent/trade acquisitions don’t do it for this team, and the home-grown talent must finally rise to the top.

-If they are going to keep him for the next 3 seasons, the organization must get on the league’s case about the officiating bias towards Sean Avery.  While he is no saint, the abuse this guy takes on a nightly basis is absolutely absurd.  Game 7 was just an example.  Generally speaking, the officiating around the league in general must change, as these ticky-tack calls are making even the most die-hard hockey fan’s head spin.

-While no fault falls on him, Henrik Lundqvist must find a way to be better than spectacular come playoff time.  I’m talking god-like, all the time.  If you want to know what I’m looking for, see Giguere for the Ducks and Khabibulin for the Lightning.

-The power-play can no longer be the Achilles heel of this team.  Either through someone currently on the team stepping up or by acquiring someone via free agency or trade that can FINALLY do it themselves, the Rangers must learn to capitalize on the opportunities provided.

-Whatever the makeup of this team comes to be, they have to find a way to be consistently good all season long.  The continuous ebb and flow of the Rangers the past few seasons has come back to haunt them in the playoffs, as the lack of home-ice advantage has made things very difficult.

Whew.  I’m sure there are plenty of things here that plenty of you agree/disagree with.  I’m pretty sure there are plenty of things that I missed and will think about later.  It was a crazy season for so many reasons, and to try to cover it all would take weeks and months.  I’d like to hear about what you all have to say about the Rangers season, and what you think should/shouldn’t happen as the organization moves forward.  Either way, this has been a very enjoyable experience, and I’m looking forward to adding thoughts and insight to a team I love so much.

I saw this going bad when….

I saw Colton Orr was not in the lineup and Donald Brashear was.  Don’t laugh.  Think back to a time when Tom Renney failed to have the big enforcer in the lineup for a game against the Flyers, and they proceeded to run rampant all over the Blueshirts.  After that game, Renney vowed to never sit Orr again and #28 has been a staple ever since.  Especially after watching Brashear challenge Orr during pre-game warmups, you had to believe he was going to be in there right?  Right???

Well apparently not, and the injury sustained by Blair Betts is a direct result of not dressing Orr.  Brashear knew he could perform that act without fear of having to face the reprecutions of Colton Orr.  I applaud Paul Mara for standing up to him, and we can argue until we’re blue in the face about how many minutes Brashear should have gotten for it.  As a player, when you see that happen to a teammate of yours, it does something that’s hard to explain.  Whatever it is, it takes a lot out of you and its hard to recover from.  Brashear didn’t get much ice time after that, and you can speculate as to whether or not this was premeditated, but the Rangers staff allowed it to happen by not having Colton Orr ready to go at a moment’s notice.

I’m in no way pinning the Rangers loss solely on this decision and subsequent event, but it definitely was a factor.  Now the Rangers are likely down their best faceoff man and penalty killer.  I’ll bet Colton Orr will be dressed for Game 7.

Either way, its time to find out what these Rangers are really made of on Tuesday night….

Practice What You Preach…

By now, you have all heard that Rangers Head Coach John Tortorella will be suspended for Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals due to his conduct behind the bench during Game 5.  Prior to the game, Tortorella made the decision to bench Sean Avery in favor of Aaron Voros due to Avery’s lack of discipline at the end of Game 4.  While I agreed with taking action with Avery, I disagreed benching him for an entire game and putting a player with an entirely different skill-set in his place.  This marked the first time I really questioned Tortorella since he became coach (if that means anything).  I do love the fact that Tortorella is a no BS guy: sort of reminds me of another coach that led this team to the Cup 15 years ago (geez has it been that long?)

But while his tactics are refreshing, I look at it this way:  on a team that can’t skate, score, or forecheck, and who is trying to close out a playoff series no less, you bench a player that does all three of those things very good with a player who is marginal at all those things.  The bottom line in any professional sport is winning, especially in the playoffs (duh).  Your best team has to be on the ice every night.   And to boot, they STILL took dumb penalties, and the guy you put in to replace the undisciplined Avery may get suspended and/or fined.   And on top of THAT, you, as a head coach, lose your cool and get into it with some ridiculously drunk fan.  And when all the smoke clears, it turns out that YOU instigated everything with said fan.  What message are you sending to your players when stuff like that happens?  You would never guess the Caps are on the brink of elimination, given these teams attitudes entering Game 6.

When its all said and done though, the Rangers are still up 3-2, coming back home.  And luckily for them, their assistant coach has enough experience and respect to probably will this team to a clinching victory.