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Preview: Jim Cerny's Rink Rap

Jim Cerny's Rink Rap

Since 1989, Jim Cerny has covered the National Hockey League as a member of the media, and has worked five Stanley Cup Finals, four NHL All Star Games, and the Canada Cup and World Cup of Hockey tournaments. After spending four years hosting the talk show

Last Build Date: Tue, 06 Mar 2018 07:53:05 +0000


Who's In, Who's Out?

Thu, 20 Jan 2011 19:40:00 +0000

There's an old saying in sports for teams suffering from many injuries that goes something like "you can't tell them without a scorecard".

Well if that saying really holds true, scorecard and program sales must be skyrocketing this year in the National Hockey League because the amount of injuries---and injuries to key players---has just seemed off the charts this season.

Just taking the past 24 hours as an example, the number of big names returning from injury stints is balanced out by a number of equally important performers in a dizzying display of in one door, out the other.

Let's take a look...

Returning: Tonight will see the return to action of four pretty important players to their teams. Chris Pronger (pictured), out since December 17 with a foot injury, returns to further bolster a Flyers team which is already sitting atop the Eastern Conference. Shawn Horcoff, captain of the Oilers, makes an earlier-than-expected return to the lineup from an MCL sprain that has sidelined him since December 8. Skilled winger Kyle Okposo, out since the pre-season, will see his first game action for the Islanders tonight at a time when the Isles are playing some of their best hockey of the season. And Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard gets the start in St. Louis this evening after being set back briefly by a sore knee.

Those are four very important players to their team, and fans benefit with their collective return this evening.

But with the positive comes negative news, as well.

Sidelined: Montreal Canadiens winger Mike Cammalleri was diagnosed with a separated shoulder and was placed on Injured Reserve today. Even though his production has been down this season he is a vital cog in everything Montreal does. Penguins superstar Evgeni Malkin was scratched from the lineup last night due to an undisclosed injury. St. Louis today placed defenseman Carlo Colaiacavo on Injured Reserve with an eye injury. And the Rangers---who are already without Ryan Callahan, Vinny Prospal, Alex Frolov, Erik Christensen, and Derek Boogaard in their lineup because of injuries---were hit with the double whammy yesterday, losing the team's top scorer Brandon Dubinsky for 3-4 weeks because of a stress fracture in his left leg and dependable 3rd-liner Ruslan Fedotenko for 2-4 weeks with a sprained left shoulder.

And this is just the injury-related news---both good and bad---from the past 24 hours. Keep in mind that earlier in the week Bryan McCabe broke his jaw and Ryan Whitney was placed on season ending long-term IR.

It's been a crazy cycle of injuries in the NHL this year, it seems more so than in the past, but I'd have to research that out.

For some reason it stands out more to me this year than ever before.

Follow Me On Twitter: @jimcerny

The Halfway Home Awards

Thu, 13 Jan 2011 18:08:00 +0000

Now that each and every team in the National Hockey League has reached the official mid-point of the season---having played at least 41 games of their 82 game schedule---it is time to hand out the Rink Rap Halfway Home Awards. I will submit my three finalists, in 1-2-3 order, for the major awards halfway through the season as follows: Hart Trophy 1-Sidney Crosby (Penguins) As I have said, and written, often this is a two-man race for the league's MVP so far this season---Crosby and Steven Stamkos. I give the slight edge to Crosby because---even though he's missed several games due to a concussion---he still leads the league in goals (32) by one over Stamkos and points (66) by nine over Stamkos. He also had the amazing point-scoring streak at a time when Pittsburgh's other superstar---Evgeni Malkin---was either hurt or not playing to superstar form. Through 41 games, Crosby is the best the league has seen so far this year. 2-Steven Stamkos (Lightning) He has been dynamic offensively, and is a major reason why Tampa Bay finds itself in first place at the midpoint in the Sortheast Division. He has gotten a lot more help from star teammate Martin St. Louis than Crosby has from Malkin, but Stamkos is breathing down Sid the Kid's neck for this award. 3-Brad Richards (Stars) Third place in this race is really third place, since it's a two-horse race, but there are many qualified candidates to consider including the Sedin twins, whose combined great play has helped Vancouver to the top of the league standings. But I like Richards here because he is having a terrific season (50 points) while not being bothered at all by constant trade rumors and speculation about his impending unrestricted free agency. Richards has also helped turn Dallas into one of the biggest suprises in the NHL, sitting in first place in the Pacific Division at the midway point of the season. Norris Trophy 1-Nicklas Lidstrom (Red Wings) Funny how just a year ago all the talk was about the new guard of NHL defensemen and that Lidstrom's time as the pre-eminent D-Man in the league was coming to an end. Well an injury to Drew Doughty, fall off in play by Duncan Keith and Mike Green, and the re-emegence of one of the greatest defensemen ever to play the position has put Lidstrom right back at the top of Norris talk again. He is logging 24 minutes of ice time a night, been terrific defensively, and is tied for the league-lead in point production by defensemen with 41 points---just eight fewer than he had all last season. At age 40, Lidstrom could be on his way to a 7th Norris Trophy. 2-Kris Letang (Penguins) Letange has taken a major step forward in his development this year, recording a career-high 40 points already, while also posting a whopping plus 20 plus/minus mark. At age 23 Letang is making the dramatic move up among the league's elite defensemen just as Keith did with Chicago a year ago, though at age 26. Love his physical play, too. 3-Dustin Byfuglien (Thrashers) Byfuglien emerged last year as a key contributor on the Blackhawks Cup-winning team---but did so as a forward. Traded to Atlanta, and switched to defense, Byfuglien has responded with his best year as a pro---not only producing a career-best 41 points, but playing a rugged, physical style in his own end. His is one of the NHL's best stories in the season's first half. Vezina Trophy 1-Tim Thomas (Bruins) A Vezina winner two years ago---and replaced as the team's No. 1 goalie by Tuukka Rask last season---Thomas has been nothing short of sensational for the Bruins this season. Thomas leads the league with a phenomenal .946 save percentage,  1.77 goals against average, and six shutouts. He has stopped 922 of the 975 shots he has faced in 30 games. Surreal. His perseverence is commendable to return to top form this year at the age of 36. 2-Jonathan Quick (Kings) Many people, myself included, thought before the season that rookie Jonathan Bernier would be the Kings No. 1 goalie by now. But Quick has squashed those thoughts with a fairly remar[...]

A Tale of Ones

Wed, 12 Jan 2011 22:11:00 +0000

Last night's game between the Rangers and Canadiens at Madison Square Garden---particularly events surrounding the first two periods of play---provided quite the numerical oddity, one that really can't be replicated again for another 11 years and one month.

I shared this strange---and somewhat fascinating---information via Twitter (@jimcerny) during the game, but feel it's worth repeating here.

Yesterday's date was January 11, 2011, or in its numerical form 1/11/11.

After two periods of play last night the Rangers and Canadiens were tied 1-1.

OK, 1-1 score on 1/11/11. Cute. But who cares?

Well, both teams accumulated 11 shots on goal in the second period.

Yes, that's a bit more interesting. 1-1 game, and each team with 11 shots on goal, on 1/11/11. Not so bad.

But there's a bit more. In fact, the best part.

Montreal tied the game on a goal scored by Jaroslav Spacek late in the second period to forge that 1-1 deadlock. And how much time was showing on the scoreboard clock at MSG when the disc eluded Henrik Lundqvist?

Why, 1:11, of course.

So that's a game tied 1-1 on a goal scored with 1:11 to play in a second period which saw each team record 11 shots on goal in a game played on 1/11/11.

Not sure what that all means. But it was pretty cool.

Note to the NHL powers that be: Make sure to schedule the Rangers and Canadiens again on February 22, 2022. Let's see what kind of magic these two Original Six franchises can muster on 2/22/22.

Follow Me On Twitter: @jimcerny

Stars in Dallas Talk Langenbrunner Trade

Fri, 07 Jan 2011 20:38:00 +0000

After playing parts of nine seasons in New Jersey, Jamie Langenbrunner is heading back to the team that drafted him in the second round of the 1993 draft, and with whom he won the first of his two Stanley Cups, the Dallas Stars.

With the Devils at the bottom of the NHL standings, and with Lou Lamoriello looking to cut payroll, Langenbrunner---New Jersey's captain since December 5, 2007---became the first of what likely will be several exiled Devils.

For the Devils side of this trade, including comments from Langenbrunner today, check in with Tom Gulitti's excellent Fire and Ice blog.

As luck would have it I am here in Dallas with the Rangers for tonight's game, so I was able to catch up with  several key people in the world of the Dallas Stars this morning over at the American Airlines Center.

Here's what the star player, team captain, and head coach of the Dallas Stars all had to say....

Brad Richards

"Jamie has won Stanley Cups in this league, so he'll be another voice in this room...another example of how hard it is to win"

"I am very excited. Anytime you can add a guy whose done what he has done, and has already been in this organization---plus is good friends with Joe (Nieuwendyk, the Stars GM and former teammate of Langenbrunner's in Dallas and New Jersey)---you know we'll get everything he's got, and he'll come in here with a great attitude. He's always been a hard player to play against, which I like. I think that's the direction we are headed---being a good, hard, resiliant team---and he adds to that. I'm very excited to see him in this lineup."

Brendan Morrow

"Personally, I know what he brings to the team: good leader, good work ethic, plays in all situations. I'm looking forward to him getting here."

"He adds a little bit of everything: a good shot on the power play, hard on pucks on the forecheck, been in some pretty good systems in Dallas and New Jersey. It's just overall good for us."

"I know how close those guys are (Langenbrunner and Nieuwendyk), so we've heard about Jamie coming back here for a few years now...he had some success here, so we'd like to help him have more of that here."

Marc Crawford

"It's a great addition to our club which makes us a better team. You've got a guy that's familiar with Dallas and familiar with a great many of our fan base, and on the other side he's a quality leader, a captain--not only on his own team but on the US Olympic team last year, and a guy with playoff experience. If you are talking about a shot in the arm, we've gotten a tremendous one here today. We couldn't be more pleased to have Jamie Langenbrunner on board."

"Any time you have guys that have been the distance and have had those playoff experiences, they're guys that can help younger guys that haven't been there. This team hasn't been in the playoffs in a couple of years and we're not taking anything for granted. We're in a dogfight like everybody else in both conferences. The addition of Jamie Langenbrunner gives us more depth on our team, another right shot which we haven't had very many, and that helps us. I think it shows Brad Richards and others on this team that Hey, the organization really believes in us."

Monday Musings: Rangers Identity Risk, Tampa's Goalie Upgrade, and Canada's Shot at Revenge

Mon, 03 Jan 2011 18:54:00 +0000

Here are some Monday morning quick hits from a reporter fresh off a New Years road trip to the Sunshine State: Rangers Need a Helping Hand I almost couldn't believe my eyes yesterday afternoon when I saw Rangers forward Ruslan Fedotenko grimacing in obvious extreme pain and holding his right arm/hand close to his body after blocking Bryan McCabe's slap shot. Another injury for the Rangers. And even more head-shaking: another hand injury for the Rangers. A team of hard-working and diligent foot-soldiers has been plagued by injuries all year---the team has lost 123 man-games to injury through 40 games this season---and, more specifically, hand injuries suffered while blocking shots have KO'd team captain Chris Drury for 31 games and currently have sidelined alternate captain Ryan Callahan for seven (and he is still 3-5 weeks away from returning to action). And now Fedotenko, who has been a perfect fit alongside Brian Boyle and Brandon Prust on the Rangers most consistent, balanced, and persistant line all season long, takes a blast off the hand---though x-rays did not show a break. The Blueshirts have proven to be a legit playoff contender, but their gritty identity has been skewed since losing Callahan in mid-December---and would further be taxed if Fedotenko misses some time. Despite the fact that their record has remained good since Callahan went down, they Rangers have not shown that pit-bull tendency to attack the opposition like when Cally was in the lineup showing the way with his over-the-top boundless energy and passion. "Ryan Callahan embodies what a Ranger should be," said the club's coach John Tortorella. And he is right. But now the healthy Rangers---and there are fewer of them by the day as there were four players sidelined by injury for yesterday's game, and that was BEFORE Fedotenko was hurt---need to step up and play as they did when Callahan was in the lineup. Dispassionate performances, like those of the last two games in which they produced one goal in more than 120 minutes of hockey down in the Sunshine State, will send this team on a freefall out of the Top 8 in the East. The Rangers need to reclaim their identity and not let the evil hand of injury wash away the good they have created, so far, this season.  Tampa Bay Acquires Dwayne Roloson Ironic that on a night Tampa Bay watched rookie Cedrick Desjardins play brilliantly in earning a 2-1 overtime victory over the Rangers---two nights after winning his debut 4-1 against Montreal---that the Lightning go out and acquire 41 year-old goalie Dwayne Roloson from the Islanders. But no matter the timing, it was a solid move by team GM Steve Yzerman. Desjardins was heading back to the minors anyway, leaving the Lightning with the middle-of-the-road tandem of Dan Ellis and Mike Smith---who returns shortly from a knee injury---to backstop the top team in the Southeast Division. While Roloson is no superstar, nor even the best goalie who may come on to the market before the trade deadline---think Tomas Vokoun, for example---he was having another strong year for a struggling Islanders team, and will definitely be an up-grade over Ellis and Smith. Should Roloson help make the Lightning defense even a bit better---and my bet is that he will surely do that---then this is a steal for Yzerman, who for a low cost (he traded away a minor league defenseman and added the affordable contract of Roloson) gave his team-on-the-rise a better chance to win its division and, perhaps, make some noise in the post-season. USA-Canada Meet Tonight at WJC Canada won the international hockey event that mattered the most last year---the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver---but that doesn't mean the hockey-mad country isn't hell bent on revenge tonight vs. the United States. For it was also last year that Team USA secured a gold medal of its own by winning the 2010 World Junior Championshi[...]

In Reality It's Crosby vs. Stamkos

Fri, 31 Dec 2010 17:08:00 +0000

During the first half of the season the National Hockey League has offered up non-stop promotion for its reality series on HBO centered around Washington's Alex Ovechkin and Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby---one that will culminate in tomorrow's much hyped and aniticipated Winter Classic at Heinz Field. In the second half of the season no other special programming is planned, though I suggest that focus shift from the Sid the Kid vs. Ovie to Sid vs. The New Kid in Town, Tampa's Steven Stamkos. Crosby and Stamkos do not have the history that Sid and Ovechkin share, and Stamkos has yet to be raised by the league's marketing gurus to their lofty status just yet. But is there a better one-on-one battle being waged in the league right now than the one between Crosby and Stamkos for the Hart Trophy (not to mention Art Ross Trophy and Rocket Richard Trophy)? Like Sid and Ovie, these two are former first overall picks carrying great expectations on their shoulders---and succeeding in masterful fashion. Their games are a bit different---Stamkos more the sniper, Crosby more the overall package offensively---but since tying for the NHL's goal-scoring lead a year ago, the games of Stamkos and Crosby have been more intertwined really than those of Sid and Ovie. Stamkos scored another pair of goals last night, including a you-can't-believe-this spin-o-rama penalty shot goal vs. Montreal's helpless Carey Price. He now has 9 points (5-4-9) in his last 4 games. And perhaps most impressive is the fact that despite Crosby reeling off an incredible 25-game point-scoring streak, Stamkos is still right there breathing down Sid's neck in both the points race and the goal-scoring race. The kid chasing The Kid. Check out the numbers of the two: Crosby, 23, leads the league with 32 goals and 65 points in 39 games. Stamkos, 3 years younger at 20, is second in both categories with 31 goals and 56 points in 38 games. Stamkos leads the NHL with 13 power play goals, and Crosby is second with 10. Stamkos is connecting on 22% of his shots, Sid right behind at 20.8%. Crosby is second in the league with a +20 plus/minus mark, Stamkos is a solid +12 for a much looser defensive team. And most importantly, Crosby's team and Stamkos' team are both winning. Currently the Penguins sit atop the Atlantic Division---and the Eastern Conference---with 53 points. The Lightning lead the Southeast Division with 49 points while holding down the second seed in the East. Should all of this success continue---and really, barring injury to either player, why wouldn't it?---there is going to be one heckuva' run for the Hart Trophy as the league's Most Valuable Player. Right now my pick would be....oh wait, can't give away any secrets here. My "Halfway Home Awards" are coming next week here on Rink Rap, as I choose the league's award winners through the first half of the season. But let's just say this is a two-man race. And Alex Ovehckin isn't in this picture. The kid versus The Kid. ### Tonight closes out a very action-packed calendar year 2010. Thank you for the support you have shown me this past year---and thanks for the debates, suggestions, and laughs along the way. Enjoy ringing in the new year this evening, but please be smart and be safe so that we can share more great memories together in 2011! Follow Me On Twitter: @jimcerny[...]

Sutter Resigns, Devilish Problems, and Wiz Trade Shows Isles Colors

Wed, 29 Dec 2010 22:38:00 +0000

With much news in hockey land of late, here is a smorgasbord of the most important doings the past few days, and my quick take on each. Daryl Sutter Resigns as GM of the Flames This was not a shock, and probably could have/should have happened this past summer. The Flames are a midling team at present---one stuck with 11 no-trade/no-movement contracts---with a weak farm system after one poor draft after another. That falls on the general manager. And as such, with the Flames sitting in 14th place in the Western Conference, it was no suprise that team president Ken King asked for--and received---Sutter's resignation. But all that said, I don't understand the level of vitriol that has been sent Sutter's way, in general, by the hockey media, not to mention the glee with which Sutter's resignation has been reported. Sutter is no bouyant personality, never looking to be quick with a joke or to banter with media folk. I get that. But I also understand that he made a series of bold moves earlier in the decade to turn Calgary back into a relevant franchise again, one that was within a controversial call of winning the Stanley Cup. Under his stewardship---both as general manager and head coach---the Flames became a profitable organization once again, not to mention a contender on a regular basis. That needs to be recognized as part of Daryl Sutter's record as much as his recent head-scratching moves and lack of on-ice success the past couple of years. As for the bottom line, the Flames are in good hands with interim GM Jay Feaster, a solid hockey man, in charge for now. But it will take time to clean up this mess, what with untradeable veterans and less-than high-end prospects in the organization. Devil of  a Time in New Jersey John Maclean finally got the boot as coach of the Devils, with Lou Lamoriello dropping the axe right before Christmas on one of the organization's most popular and devoted all-time individuals. The move was as justified---the Devils are shockingly last overall in the 30-team National Hockey League---as it was disrespectfully timed. That Jacques Lemaire was brought back in by Lamoriello to coach this mess of a team, mere months after an exhausted Lemaire retired as bench boss in Jersey following a first-round playoff pasting at the hands of the Flyers, is either a desperate move, a convenient move, or a move of a man who could think of no other move. Nonetheless Lamoriello now has to figure out how to purge salary from his Cap-stressed roster and begin to look towards how to fix things in time for next season. He is all but begging some other team to claim Brian Rolston on re-entry waivers by noon tomorrow---a move that would save the Devils half of Rolston's $5 million salary this year and next. That is the only beginning, though. Lamoriello has a helluva' lot more work to do than that. And while purging salary, he needs to find a way to be creative and get Zach Parise---the injured, yet soon-to-be-star-free-agent---signed this summer, and then attempt to rebuild his awful defense corps while getting Parise, Ilya Kovalchuk, Travis Zajac and the like to score like they used to. I spoke with a Devils staffer today at the Prudential Center and he wore the blank look of someone shellshocked by what has happened this season. As that Devils employee and I said to one another, seasons like this always have seemed to happen to other teams---pretty much every other team in the NHL, actually---just not to the Devils. Now that it has happened to the Devils, Lamoriello and the organization do not seem to know how to slow down the snowball that has swiftly descended the negative slope. And thus they are buried in an avalanche of a mess. Islanders Trade Wisniewski to Canadiens On the surface the Islanders trade of defenseman James Wisniewski to the Montreal Canadiens for two draft picks,[...]

Hockey Recollections on a Snowy Day

Mon, 27 Dec 2010 23:29:00 +0000

Sitting here at Madison Square Garden after a 2.5 hour snow-shoveling marathon and an ensuing uneventful drive into Manhattan---well, other than having to back up the length of 26th Street between 10th and 11th Avenues through the snow due to a stalled truck near tenth---I realized that I have yet to wish you all a Happy Holiday! My bad....but, hey...Happy Holidays! If you are on the east coast, hopefully you survived the wild snowstorm with at least you sense of humor still intact. As for me, snowstorm or not, I did what I had planned all along to do last night...kick back and watch Team USA on The NHL Network play it's first game at the World Junior Championships up in Buffalo. Sitting there watching hockey as the snow pounded greater New York outside my window I thought back to a pair of snow-related hockey travel stories from my past. One was after the Islanders team plane landed at a small Long Island airport following a wicked storm and all of us in our suits and dress shoes trudging through the deep snow to find our cars just absolutely buried underneath the white stuff. Now, I'm not a complainer at all, but it's enough of a pain in the butt to clean ten inches of snow off the car when you do it in the middle of the day, but it really sucks when you do it at 2:00 in the morning following a full work day, game, and travel! All the players were helping clean each other's cars when John Vanbiesbrouck came over to me and, without asking if I needed any help, quickly and efficently helped clean off my car and dig it out of the snowdrift it was parked in. It was a reminder that I didn't need to be a teammate to still be part of the "family", and it's part of the reason why I have so enjoyed my time working for both the Rangers and Islanders during my career. We all---players, coaches, trainers, equipment men, staff (like me)---spend so much time together, traveling and living together on the road throughout the long season. And hockey players are so down to earth...though they are clearly the stars of the operation, and the most important people within the family...they see and understand and respect the other members, people like me. The Beezer snow story is just one of many examples I could give to prove this point. The other story I thought back to last night also occurred when I was with the Islanders, serving as the team's radio play-by-play broadcaster. We were bussing from Calgary to Edmonton and the heating system in the bus did not work! So here we are, just absolutely freezing in the middle of an Alberta winter, million-dollar athletes and much-lesser paid "family" members alike. And though no one enjoyed the predicament at all, the laughs we had on that bus ride were priceless memories. I will never forget how everyone huddled inside their own long winter coats and shot one-liners back and forth the entire bus ride. Welcome to the National Hockey League one and all! Indeed.... Good times and good memories were stirred during last night's storm. As for Team USA's debut at the World Juniors....well, they did find a way to earn a 3-2 win over Finland on Nick Bjugstad's overtime goal, but they are going to have to be much better moving forward. Finland was the better team much of this game and was able to dictate the style of play. But it was only the first game---butterflies and all that---so I'll give the US squad a pass and we'll see how they look moving forward in the tourny. But, again, the bottom line is that they won the game even when not at their best. And it's never a bad thing in a short tournament like this when your goalie---in this case Jack Campbell, the number one pick of the Dallas Stars this past summer---is your best player. And he was. Next up for Team USA: Slovakia tomorrow night...and they may have to play without winger Jeremy Morin who suffered a fairly serio[...]

Please Add to the Coyotes Roster, Number 35 Goaltender Tom Fenton

Fri, 17 Dec 2010 22:36:00 +0000

Word started to spread around 5:30 last night at Madison Square Garden that Ilya Bryzgalov was stricken with the flu and would not be able to start in goal for Phoenix against the Rangers. With veteran Jason LaBarbera on hand to fill in, it seemed like a fairly minor story---though, of course, Bryz, the 'Yotes workhorse, not starting a game was indeed a worthy news item. The real intruguing news story trickled out moments later when it was announced that Bryzgalov was too sick to even sit on the bench and serve as LaBarbera's back-up. With such late notice---coupled with the fact that the Coyotes' top farm team is based in Texas---Phoenix was in a bind as to whom would serve as LaBarbera's caddy for the night. Rumors started to fly that popular former NHL goalie Sean Burke---currently the 'Yotes goaltending coach---would dress as the back-up. But that notion was scratched rather quickly when it was mentioned that a pro, or former pro, would have to pass through 24 hour waivers first. 24 hours? The Coyotes had closer to 2 hours to figure all this out! Enter Tom Fenton. Who? Tom Fenton. Who? Tom Fenton, 26 year-old former Division III goalie from American International College, currently the head of community relations and hockey operations for the Manhattanville College hockey team in New York. Fenton fit the bill for the night. Played the position before. Had skated recently. Has his own goalie equipment. Lives locally, so could make it to The Garden fairly quickly. Bring him in! And so that's what the Coyotes did. Relying on Frank Effinger, the team's Director of Pro Scouting---who has local New York ties, Phoenix got the name of Tom Fenton. So Effinger called Fenton. And so did a string of other Coyotes' officials. One problem. No answer on his cell. "I was getting a haircut," Fenton explained to me after the game while standing in the visitors dressing room at MSG. "And who wants to be answering the phone when getting a haircut?" Pretty good thinking there Tom, but it almost cost you the chance of a lifetime. Fenton eventually listened to the first message from Effinger. "Get down to MSG. We need you to back up in goal. Blah, blah, blah." So I asked Tom if he felt like he was being Punk'd. "Yeah, a little," he laughed (you can watch my entire interview with him by clicking here). "I figured my buddies were up to something. But then I saw a lot of different calls coming from an area code I didn't know. Then it got serious." Go to Manhattanville and grab his equipment. Get in the car and drive from Westchester down to New York City. Call family, girlfriend ("she's a big Rangers fan"), and friends along the way. And, oh yeah, get to The Garden by 5:00 or else you are not eligible to play. Oh, and did anyone tell you what entrance to get into MSG? Not exactly by the ticket rotunda off Seventh Avenue, my friend. That's for the paying customers. You are here to work tonight. After a Spinal Tap-like search, Fenton finally did find the proper entrance, did take his physcial, did sign his paperwork, and then found himself getting needled before warmups by Shane Doan and his brethren. "I think I did fairly well during warmups, stopped most of them," remembered Fenton. "Of course I didn't face too many. But still, to have Shane Doan and Ed Jovanovski shooting at you. Man..." Man, indeed! Fortunately for the Coyotes---and probably for Fenton, too---LaBarbera was able to backstop the entire game---one that ended 4-3 in favor of the Rangers after a shootout.  At one point in the third period LaBarbera was slow to get up after a collision in his crease, and then he began flexing his left leg. "That's when I really started to sweat heavily," recalled Fenton, who did not win a whole heckuva' lot when he played for the AIC (ahem) powerhouse for four years. Fe[...]

Something Good Brewing on Broadway

Wed, 15 Dec 2010 21:02:00 +0000

This is my fourth season covering the New York Rangers as a beat reporter. I have seen many ups and downs for the team as well as for individual players. Needless to say I have seen a lot of the team's star goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, a nightly fixture year-in year-out whether the team is going well or playing poorly. I have seen Henrik during some very low moments---struggles, slumps, being eliminated by the Penguins and Caps in the playoffs, being eliminated from even making the playoffs on the final day of the 2009-10 season---yet I am not sure I have ever seen him as upset with himself as he was following Saturday's 3-1 loss in Columbus. Lundqvist surrendered the game-winning goal to Rick Nash on a shot that came from near the right corner and well behind the goal line. Rangers coach John Tortorella said of the goal, "It can't happen. Ever." But it did. And Lundqvist was devestated that he let in such a bad goal, especially since it cost his team a game in which they played well and were good enough to win. I could see it in his eyes when speaking with him after the game. I could see it in his body language---usually very upright and full of confidence no matter the circumstance. And I could hear it in his words, spoken in a near whisper. A regular season game, number 31 out of 82 that will be played. And Henrik just seemed crushed. The next night, after he bounced back with a 31-save shutout---his league-leading fifth of the season---backstopping the Rangers to a 7-0 victory over the Capitals, I asked Lundqvist when he was able to let go of that bad goal and disappointing loss. "Not until during the day today," Lundqvist responded. "It really bothered me and I was really frustrated and disappointed. I was so glad (Tortorella) put me in (Sunday) so that I could just get it out of my system. Sometimes when I am upset with myself I use it as energy. This was the answer I was looking for." Why was this particular mistake and defeat so hard to swallow for Lundqvist? I reason that it's because this is the tightest-knit group the Rangers have had in a long time. This team has worked incredibly hard for the succes it has achieved so far this season, a better-than-expected 18-13-1 record and solid sixth place standing in the Eastern Conference. And as such the players, in general---and Lundqvist, in particular---find it incredibly distasteful to let one another down. And to show the character of this group, Rangers players were passionately defending in the late stages of their game with the Caps on Sunday, even while holding a seven goal lead. Sure, pride in a 60-minute effort was part of the reason, and shutouts are always nice. But the real reason why the Rangers laid it on the line in the waning moments on Sunday is that they knew---they saw---how painful it was for Lundqvist to let them down 24 hours earlier. Now they wanted to reward the goalie they respect, admire, and trust to the max by helping him secure an important shutout to fully erase the pain he felt in Columbus. "Hank is our rock back there and we want him to have success," said Brandon Dubinsky. "I think the big thing for us was the way he responded. He was amazing. We wanted to lock it down and get (the shutout) for him because of the way he showed up (Sunday) night and the way he responded." When Tortorella talks about what "a great room" the Rangers have, this is clearly a prime example. Lundqvist is a huge part of that room, passionately caring about letting his brothers in arms down. Dubinsky---and many others---speaking about how the players recognized the importance of giving something important to Henrik, to help lift him, after the anguish that goal in Columbus had put him through. There are clearly more talented teams in the National Hockey League than the Rangers. But they have [...]

Can Filatov Break the Zherdev Mold?

Sat, 11 Dec 2010 20:13:00 +0000

Here in Columbus to cover Rangers and Blue Jackets and much of the talk at the morning skate over at Nationwide Arena was about a talented winger with questionable work ethic and desire from Eastern Europe that is frustrating Columbus coaches and management to no end. And perhaps the worst part for the Blues Jackets is that there is a major sense of deja vu taking place with this particular situation. The player in question now is 20 year-old Russian Nikita Filatov, who was just sent to Springfield in the AHL yesterday after the 2008 6th overall pick had recorded just seven assists---and no goals---in 23 games. The player in question five or so years ago was Nikolay Zherdev, the 4th overall pick in 2003 by Columbus, who drove Ken Hitchcock and company so batty that he was traded away after just four seasons wearing the red, white, and blue of the Blue Jackets. It's still too early to say that Filatov will also be dealt unceremoniously out of Columbus, but it is not too early to say that there are definite similarites between the two uber-skilled former first-rounders. At their core no one questions either's talent, but nearly all question their passion and desire. To be fair to Zherdev he still scored 34 points in 57 games as a 19 year-old rookie in 2003-04, and also had seasons of 27 and 26 goals in Columbus. It was his seeming indifference to the game, and the fact that many close observers felt he could have been a 35+ goal scorer if he worked harder with the Blue Jackets, that got him shipped out of town rather quickly. Filatov spent most of his rookie pro year in the minors back in 2008-09, but he caught everyone's eye by scoring four goals in 8 NHL games as an 18 year-old, too. Last year, though, Filatov scored just twice in 13 games, and then refused a minor league demotion---instead having agent Don Meehan broker a deal where Filatov would finish the season playing in Russia. By not showing a willingness to continue to hone his craft within the organization at the minor league level, where his every move could be studied and coached, Filatov raised red flags about his true desire and passion to succeed in North America. That Meehan felt compelled to publicly state Filatov was "willing" to accept a trip down to the minors yesterday says more bad than good about the kid, and his reputation. Scott Arniel, the Blue Jackets rookie coach, had much to say on the topic this morning. "It's about doing the extra work before practice, after practice...we've talked about it," Arniel said of Filatov's work ethic. "He needs to continue to work at his trade and make sure he gets better every day. As for not scoring goals, he needs to bear down more, fight for rebounds. He's got some work to do." Several times when speaking on the Filatov topic, Arniel spoke about how some players are "just not ready" for the NHL life at such a young age, and that you "can't force-feed" these players into feeling comfortable until they really are. Though he was speaking in general terms, it seemed as though Arniel was talking specifically about the maturity level of Filatov, which has been questioned from the outside on a fairly regular basis. "I tried to put him into as many opportunities where he could have success---on the power play, on the top lines---but there was some inconsistency with his play," explained Arniel. "We just wanted him to go out and do what he does best. But as it went along and he didn't, then you could see it really started to weigh on him. And now he was starting to press, and now he wasn't playing on the inside and his compete, at times, was not where it needed to be." Arniel and team GM Scott Howson felt they only had one good option. And fortunately this time Filatov accepted his assignment to Springfield. "Ag[...]

Here to Praise Sid the Kid

Thu, 09 Dec 2010 23:04:00 +0000

Am up here in Ottawa to cover Rangers and Senators tonight, but found myself watching TSN as the Penguins won their 11th straight last night, 5-2 over the Maple Leafs. And I found myself glued to every shift Sidney Crosby played. All 23 of them. Every second of the 20 minutes and 47 seconds he spent on the ice. Because when an elite superstar athlete is on top of his game like Crosby currently is, I am compelled to watch, and watch closely. Funny, a little more than a week ago I penned a column on why Crosby is so hated by fans and opponents throughout the NHL, and entered into the debate as to whether or not Sid the Kid is a dirty player. I certainly mentioned his greatness and his accomlishments, but the story's main focus was elsewhere. Today's entry is different. I come to praise what I have been seeing from Crosby during his current 17-game point-scoring streak---and I have seen some of these games in person and quite a few more via the television. What stands out most to me is Crosby's focus. Look at his eyes. Look closely. There is a fire there. Game in, game out. Shift in, shift out. When you take the incredible skill Crosby owns and then add the fire and passion and focus he is currently playing with, you have a near unstoppable combination. And right now, Crosby is just about unstoppable. Sid the Kid has eight goals in his last four games---with two more last night. And he has potted 20 in this 17-game streak. 20, as in 20 goals NOT just points, in 17 games. As for points, he has 35 of those during the streak. That's two per game in a six-week stretch. In the current NHL, where scoring is at a premium, those are Gretzky-like numbers. Or for you Pens fans, how about Lemieux-like numbers? But again, away from the numbers, it's Sid's focus, his will, his determination, his ability to take over pretty much every game the past month and a half. And doing that with little-to-no help from Evgeni Malkin---who is now sidelined after an already un-Malkin-like start to the season---and not one game's worth of help from the injured Jordan Staal. He is playing with an edge, battling every shift, playing with a certain fury. Legal--and, yes, illegal---hits. Trips to the penalty box---three last night, including a cross check and a roughing minor that set off mini on-ice riots. But also a passion to dominate offensively with a skill and vision few can even imagine. I thought Bob McKenzie did a great job last night on TSN in discussing Crosby's underrated skating burst and subsequent speed, not to mention his anticipation of when to take off on a potential rush or scoring play. McKenzie summed it up uniquely and quite perfectly, saying, "Crosby is like the Road Runner. Beep! Beep! And he's gone!" Loved that! McKenzie also raised a great question last night: when exactly does Crosby hit his prime? He is 23 now, with 2 Cup Finals, 1 Cup Ring, 1 MVP, 1 Art Ross Trophy, 1 Rocket Richard Trophy, an Olympic Gold Medal, 3rd youngest player ever to reach 500 NHL points, and so much more already on his resume. But is his prime still years away? Is he in his prime now already? If so, how long will that prime last? By the looks of it, Crosby is getting better and better. 51 goals last year showed that. His even better play this year proves that again. I know you may hate him, or be jealous of him, but as a true fan of the sport, you must also be somewhat in awe right now. That's how good Sidney Crosby is at the moment.[...]

Dead on the Island

Mon, 06 Dec 2010 16:24:00 +0000

When I served as the play-by-play voice of the Islanders during the predictably unpredictable dark days of multiple bad ownerships, Mike Milbury's reign of error as General Manager, the revolving door of head coaches, and one last place finish after another there was always one positive thing that could be counted on. Whenever the Islanders hosted the Rangers at Nassau Coliseum, the old barn on Hempstead Turnpike would be sold out and rocking. Though attendance at the Coliseum  was always fairly lousy in those days, and season ticket holders were few and far between, the joint would be jumping and tickets were impossible to find when the arch rival Rangers paid a visit. Sadly, not even appearances by the Rangers can fill the old building in Nassau any more. The Rangers have visited the Nassau Coliseum twice already this season, and the arena has not been close to sold out either time. Back on Columbus Day---keep in mind a Monday day game on a holiday not everyone gets off from work for---the announced crowd was a bit over 11,000, some five thousand short of capacity. And to be honest, it really looked that afternoon that perhaps there were fewer than 10,000 actual bodies in the Coliseum as huge swaths of sections were empty. Then last Thursday night the Rangers skated on Long Island again and there was good news/bad news for the Islanders. The Good News: the team had its largest single-game attendance of the season. The Bad News: less than 14,000 showed up for the New York-New York "rivalry", still 3,000 short of a sell out. And I guess I'm piling on here, but only 7,773 were announced in attendance for yesterday afternoon's Sunday matinee with another long-standing rival, the Philadelphia Flyers. Larry Brooks, the excellent hockey writer for The New York Post, wrote yesterday that the league should intervene and save the Islanders from an owner who has done everything within his power the past several years to gut this franchise of any sense that it belongs in the major leagues. Everything about the Islanders now reaks of minor league---from front office to sales & marketing to public relations to the building to the on-ice product. Owner Charles Wang is spending the minimum amount possible to keep this team alive until its lease expires at the Nassau Coliseum in four years and, presumably, he can move it somewhere else. While I agree, in part, with Brooks that the league should step in, I would argue that enough is enough and perhaps Gary Bettman et al could help broker an early termination of the lease and end the misery sooner rather than later. Let Wang take his team elsewhere, or sell it to someone who wishes to do the same. Because I do not believe there is anyone in their right mind who would buy the Islanders now and keep them on Long Island. Wang has killed the market, and four more years of this painful slow death is just so cruel to the Islanders Faithful. Wang's Lighthouse Project for a time made him the people's champion as he tried to get a new arena and bustling entertainment and shopping area built. But without any political support to speak of, the project is dead in the water, and with that, Wang has pulled back on dumping his resources into the team---certainly his business perogative---and the fans have responded to that---as well as the rich ticket prices---by simply not attending Islanders games any more. I thought I had seen and lived through the worst of it for the Isles back in the '90's and the early part of this decade. I was wrong. This is worse. Much worse. And it feels like it should finally be the end.[...]

The Sidney Debates

Tue, 30 Nov 2010 20:10:00 +0000

The debates began in the stands, locker rooms, and press box at Madison Square Garden last night and have raged ever since on the internet, in Twitter-verse, and in the hockey blogosphere. These debates are ones that have been hotly contested before, and will be for years to come. Is Sidney Crosby a dirty hockey player? Does Sid do dirty things as a way to protect himself from non-stop abuse from opponents? Does the league and its officials protect Crosby more-so than other star players? Why is it that Crosby evokes so much emotion from fans and players around the league? Quite simply, why is he hated more than fellow superstars Alex Ovehckin and Steven Stamkos, just to name two? These debates sprung up for a couple of reasons yesterday. First, at his team's morning skate Rangers head coach John Tortorella said he had spoken with league officials about how games against the Penguins were called by the referees. Torts did not single out Crosby by name, but it was clearly inferred when he spoke about Penguins transgressions which were not penalized by the league's referees when the Rangers and Penguins met two weeks ago in Pittsburgh---a game which saw the Penguins receive six power plays and the Rangers zero. Then last night the Rangers claimed that Crosby delivered a slew foot to Ryan Callahan and another to Sean Avery over the course of Pittsburgh's 3-1 victory over the Blueshirts. New York's Brandon Dubinsky, who has long been vocal regarding his disgust with Crosby, said of Sid's alleged slew foot on Callahan, "Yeah, that's a dirty play. That's the kind of player he is." Callahan added that it was "absolutely" a slew foot---a dirty play where one player kicks out the skates from underneath an opposing player, usually from behind...often believed to be one of the more gutless and dangerous plays in hockey. When Crosby fired back---"How many penalty minutes do I have this year if I am that dirty? Please. Show me all of those dirty plays. It's a battle and he falls. I think Dubi has done his fair share of things out there that are questionable. I guess he's talking again, but I am not surprised. I'm not a dirty hockey player, c'mon. I think Dubi is smarter than that, c'mon"---the debates took on even more legs. Is Crosby a dirty hockey player? No, I would not call him a dirty hockey player. I would call him a hockey player prone to doing some dirty and sneaky things out on the ice. He seems very cold and calculated about what he does, not posessing the obvious Ovechkin intensity, but rather an icy assasin's insides. It is part of what makes him a great player. If you are a Penguins fan you say he is just doing whatever it takes to win, and that's why he is a great captain and is already a proven Stanley Cup winner. Plus he is such a target from the opposition, he needs to protect himself out there on the ice. If you are not a Pens or Crosby fan, you'll say that Sid is a dirty little snot who gets away with everything because the league and its officials protect his rear end and he deserves whatever opponents can inflict on him. I say both sides are right to an extent. Does the league and its officials protect Sid more than other star players? I would say that most star players get away with more illegal things than your average mucker-and-grinder does, no question about it. And I would have to also say, without watching every game by every team every night, that Crosby does seem to get away with a bit more than other elite players. But is that because he is just more sneaky or because it is overlooked? Great question. Not sure of that answer, though I will say that Sid is one sneaky son of a gun. Two weeks ago in Pittsburgh as play headed back the oth[...]

Through Hard Work, Team-First Rangers Find Their Way

Sat, 27 Nov 2010 18:24:00 +0000

Rangers head coach John Tortorella repeated something last night that he has been subtlely saying more and more often recently: "we are a tired team". Nine games in 14 days in seven different cities will do that to a team. As will playing a hard-skating in-your-face style, which is the Rangers calling card this season. Listen, I can see how tired they are. And I can understand it better than most. I mean, shoot, I keep the same travel, practice, and game schedules as the Rangers do, but with one big difference: they play...I report on it. And I am tired, and a bit beat up from this recent grind. So I can only imagine how the players feel. But yet, even as Tortorella says this about his club, they stick together and battle. And they are a resilient team, much more so than last year. Bad loss in Tampa on Wednesday? No problem, bounce back with a 40-save Henrik Lundqvist shutout last night against the Panthers. Lousy loss in Denver two Fridays ago? Not an issue because they come back with an impressive victory in Minnesota the very next night. Lose two games in a row on a couple different occasions this season? Not going to panic because they are staying away from lengthy losing streaks this year, never losing more than two in a row, so far. If you are a Rangers fan, this is the type of team you can really throw your arms around and embrace. It is a likable team, both in on-ice and off-ice personality. "What I really like about this team is how together they are," Tortorella said the other day. "This team has come together early in the season...we really like each other and get along well and have really gelled together quickly," added forward Brandon Prust, who is not one of the team's stars, but is a vital part of the fabric in the locker room and on the ice. When Prust scored his first goal of the season last night, the bench erupted with  just a dose more excitement than usual. Yes, it was a big goal---the one to ice a 3-0 victory---but it was "Pruster" who scored it, and that meant something to his teammates. "If you see our bench when he scores, that's the important thing, the cameraderie they feel about him, and each other," explained Tortorella. "Guys pull for him. It's good for him, but for me as a coach, it's good for the team. Crap, he's done a lot of good things for us, and I am happy for him." Every good and successful team in the National Hockey League has a Brandon Prust on its roster. Trust me on that one. Yes, you need your star players---in the Rangers case Lundqvist and Marian Gaborik---playing their best, but you need other intangibles, as well, in order to achieve success. Prust provides that. Brian Boyle is providing that. Brandon Dubinsky, Ryan Callahan, Marc Staal,  and Dan Girardi are stepping up their level of play nad providing more. Derek Stepan is as good a rookie as there is in the NHL this year. You can see it's coming together for the Rangers. There are going to be some bumps along the way, but it's coming together. You get the feel the team is on the right track. And you get the feel that the Tortorella has established an excellent foundation, and that the players are playing hard for their coach---just as they do for one another. "Character" is an important word when you speak about a team. And the Rangers are proving they have it. Heck, just check out how they have weathered injuries to four key veterans---Gaborik, Chris Drury, Vinny Prospal, and Michal Rozsival---without major issue already this season. It is all part of what makes this Rangers team so appealing. True, they will be in a dogfight all year to secure a playoff spot in the tight Eastern Conference. No question [...]

Talkin' Steven Stamkos

Wed, 24 Nov 2010 20:11:00 +0000

Am down here in Tampa to cover the Rangers and Lightning tilt at the St. Pete Times Forum, one that features two good up-and-coming Eastern Conference teams and the subplot of Henrik Lundqvist's return to the starting lineup after watching back-up Marty Biron backstop two straight wins over Minnesota and Calgary. But really all anyone down here wishes to talk about is Steven Stamkos. And that makes perfect sense actually. You see, Stamkos, the first overall pick in the 2008 draft and coming off a breakout 51-goal campaign in his second NHL season a year ago, has already scored 20 goals in the first 21 games this season. And even though it's a long way off, people are already talking non-stop about the chance of Stamkos scoring 50-in-50---fifty goals in fifty games, something ever only achieved by two Hall-of-Famers, Mike Bossy and Wayne Gretzky. I have compiled a host of quotes about Stamkos and will share them with you below, but first just had to say what a pleasure it was this morning to, first, sit in on Tampa Bay head coach Guy Boucher's morning gathering with the media and then to sit and chat with Stamkos in the Lightning dressing room afterwards. Boucher is as engaging and personable a head coach as there is in the entire National Hockey League. This was my first personal encounter with him, and I came away extremely impressed---and that's not even including his obvious coaching skills. You can see why Steve Yzerman wanted Boucher to be leading this team. And the 20 year-old Stamkos is such a polite, respectful, thoughtful, intelligent, and mature person. It's almost hard to fathom that he is so young. He speaks so respectfully of his father and his upbringing, you just can tell that his parents raised him the right way. But even behind that silly mustache he has going on right now, you can see that Stamkos is still just a kid having an amazing time playing the game he loves. Everyone that is around Stamkos on a regular basis says he is a totally down-to-earth joy. I can see what they mean. Lightning Coach Guy Boucher On Stamkos' love of the game: "He loves to play the game just to play the game. He does it for the right reasons. It has nothing to do with money, it's about the enjoyment of it all. I think he'll still be a kid, loving the game like a kid, when he's 30." On the pressure of 50 in 50: "It's so early to talk about this, so much time before we reach 50 games. And do we say that he's no good if he has 49 in 50? And then we miss the joy of the other 49 goals he did score? He's very humble and unselfish and the 50/50 talk creates unnecessary pressure." Steven Stamkos On being asked about 50-in-50 already: "It's just something that I've realized at a young age that is part of the game and comes with the territory. When you're not being asked the questions it probably means you're not playing that well. Obviously this year with the start I've had and the team has had I'm getting a lot more requests, but you have to be good to the media because hopefully then they'll be good to you." On how he handles media scrutiny: "It's just basic respect. You respect what other people do and they'll respect you for what you do. Not only did I learn that from my parents, but my minor hockey coach was big about respecting your opponents, the refs, other players, the media. It's something I learned at a young age and it's pretty simple. My dad didn't have to raise his voice or yell too much. When I was a kid it was tell me once or maybe twice and that was it." On loving his job: "I am just having fun. I am doing something I've done my whole life, and now it's my job. I love playing hockey, and [...]

Gaborik Makes Long-Awaited Return to Minnesota

Sat, 20 Nov 2010 19:10:00 +0000

For eight seasons he was the face of the Minnesota Wild franchise. He was the expansion team's first-ever first-round draft pick, and went on to become its all-time leader in goals, assists, and points. Now, finally, tonight Marian Gaborik returns to Minnesota for the first time since signing a lucrative free agent deal with the Rangers on July 1, 2009, and after missing last year's clash due to a minor knee injury. It is easily the most-anticipated game on the Wild schedule this season, and the debates as to whether Gaborik will be cheered for his accomplishments with the Wild or booed for leaving the smaller market club for the big bucks and bright lights of Broadway has been a hotly debated topic out here in Minnesota. It is easy for me, with nothing emotionally invested in the Wild, to say that Gaborik clearly deserves a long standing ovation and a video tribute on the scoreboard tonight. Unlike many who will show up at Excel Energy Center, I do not feel jilted by the star sniper's exodus to New York, nor do I share the angst of Gaby's many injuries while in Minnesota. Nonetheless, should be quite the interesting night tonight in frigid St. Paul when Gaborik's Rangers face off with the Wild. For a more detailed account of Gaborik's return, read my story at For a wide-ranging take on Gaborik and his return this evening, check out these quotes from some of the major players in the story, including Gaby himself. And special thanks to my buddies Michael Russo from The Star Tribune out here in Minnesota (@RussosTrib on Twitter) and Andrew Gross from The Bergen Record in New Jersey (@AGrossRecord on Twitter) for sharing and swapping quotes with me. Marian Gaborik: On his return to Minnesota: “Well it’s definitely going to be the first time. I’ve had a lot of fun over the years there. It’s going to be definitely something special so I just need to get ready for that game. Maybe I’ll be a little nervous or it might be a little emotional but it has to happen at some point. I’m excited to play there and hopefully we’ll have a much game than (Friday's 5-1 loss in Colorado).” On Missing last year's game vs. the Wild with a knee injury: “Yeah, you’re coming back, you want to play. The circumstances obviously weren’t good but now it’s going to be my first time there and I’m looking forward to that. I don’t know, it’s tough to explain but hopefully we’ll have a good game.” On what type of reception he expects from the Wild fans: “It’s hard to say. Last year when I wasn’t playing it wasn’t that great when they announced injured guys. I can’t control how they’re going to react. Hopefully it’s going to be pleasant. I think I’ve done a lot of good things there and had good success as an expansion team so hopefully it’s going to be positive.” On what emotional ties he still has to Wild: “It was a big chapter of my hockey career and my life as well. Definitely I have great memories there but now I’m a Ranger and that’s the way it is. I really enjoy it here. I’m always going to have good memories from Minnesota.” Rangers forward (and former Wild forward) Derek Boogaard On Gaborik's return: "I'm not sure what kind of reaction he will get. He put in a lot of good years for that organization and he did a lot of good things there. If anything it should be all positive, I think anyways." On his own first return to Minnesota tonight: "It'll be a good feeling, but it'll definitely be different, especially being on the other side. I don't know if I am nervous, but it's somewhere along those lines. Th[...]

Gordon Had No Chance on the Island

Wed, 17 Nov 2010 15:01:00 +0000

Does it seem logical and make sense that a National Hockey League coach is fired after two straight last-place finishes and in the midst of a ten-game losing streak in Year No. 3? Absolutely. It makes perfect sense. And for that I believe Islanders GM Garth Snow was certainly justified in sacking head coach Scott Gordon on Monday morning. However Gordon was not the problem on Long Island. Just as interim coach Jack Capuano will not be the problem beginning with this evening's home tilt against the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Islanders' issues start much further up the food chain than the head coach. And higher up than the general manager for that matter, as well. For all of their good young talent---and make no mistake, the Isles do have a good group of talented youngsters both on their current roster and in the organizational pipeline---the Islanders are headed nowhere under the petty and penny-pinching ownership of Charles Wang. Once hailed as the savior of the franchise---and rightfully so---at the start of his ownership tenure earlier this decade, Wang has now become a mirror image of some of the disasterous ownerships that preceded him, ones that I was more than well-acquainted with when I served as the club's play-by-play broadcaster. There was the unfortunate end of the John Pickett regime. There was the embarrassing tenure of the Howard Milstein group, led by clueless hatchet man David Seldin. The "Gang of Four", whose names I can't even remember they were in and out so fast. And of course Gary Bettman's personal black eye, John Spano, a fraud with hardly a dime in his pocket who was personally endorsed by the commisioner of the NHL. It was embarrassing to be an Islander for all of those years---whether being an Islander meant as a player, a coach, an employee, or more importantly, a fan. The team was mismanaged, a last-place guarantee year after year on the ice, and played to an empty house on a regular basis at the Nassau Coliseum. Sound familiar? Sure it does because history is repeating itself these past several years under Wang's stewardship. Listen, he helped build this franchise back up, and it wasn't too long ago that under his guidance the Islanders were back in the playoffs and the old barn in Hempstead was rocking again. But those days are gone, and I can't envision them coming back. Wang either wants his Lighthouse real estate project---which includes a new arena, retail, and hotels---to be approved by the Town of Hempstead or he wants out, spending the absolute bare minimum on his team until his lease is up at the Coliseum. It's his money, so it's his decision. But in the meantime he is holding Islanders fans---what few of them actually still care---captive. And a good man, and solid coach, like Gordon is given absolutely no chance to win with the roster he is handed. Then he is fired when the team doesn't win. Same will hold true for Capuano for as long as he is here. And the next coach, probably another minor league guy because they are the least expensive to pay, will face the same the situation down the road. It's going to get worse before it get's better, too. Wang is committed to not spending much more in player salary than what the CBA mandates as the bare minimum. Heck, the Islanders only reach the salary cap floor because they still have Alexei Yashin's buyout on the books. And what of John Tavares? Remember him? First overall pick in 2009. The player the Islanders craved to build around and center all of their off-ice marketing strategies around? What of Tavares today? He has a respectable 10 points in 14 [...]

Rink Rap Roundup

Fri, 12 Nov 2010 16:39:00 +0000

In a league where fans and media members have been calling for John Maclean's head only ten games or so into his rookie season as head coach of the New Jersey Devils, it is rather amazing that earlier this week Lindy Ruff reached the 1,000 games coached plateau---ironically in a game against Maclean's Devils. Perhaps even more incredible is that Ruff has coached all 1,000---or 1,001 now after last night's contest with the Rangers---with the same team, the Buffalo Sabres. He is one of only 18 men to have coached more than 1,000 games in the National Hockey League, one of only three to have been behind the bench for that many for one team, and the only coach in league history to reach the 1,000 games coached milestone having coached for only one NHL organization. Ruff became head coach of the Sabres back in July of 1997. Since then there have been 155 coaching changes in the league, with every team except the Sabres and Nashville Predators (who entered the league in 1998-99) having made at least one. Now with the Sabres off to a 5-9-2 start---a record that mainly reveals the early struggles and subsequent injury absence of the team's most important player, goaltender Ryan Miller---some have called for an end to Ruff's time in Buffalo. This after an even-keeled approach that has seen Ruff compile a solid 488-370-142 all-time mark with seven post-season appearances in 12 years for a small-market club that has undergone multiple ownership changes in his tenure and has never been known to ice a team with a large payroll. Not to mention Ruff led the Sabres to another division title last year. Ludicrous, I say. Ruff has adapted to different personnel and different rules and style of play in the NHL from year-to-year as well, if not better, than any coach I can remember. There might be issues with the Sabres, but Ruff is not one of them. Congrats to a good man. And may these rumors soon fall by the side. St. Louis and Tampa Bay Hit With Big Losses The St. Louis Blues have been pretty much rolling along to start the season, winning 8 of their first ten games. However they hit some speed bumps this week, getting hammered by the Blue Jackets 8-1 on Wednesday and then finding out that the team's leading scorer T.J. Oshie (1-9-10) is going to miss three months of action with a fractured left ankle---joining four other key Blues, including forward David Perron and defenseman Barret Jackman---on the IR. The Blues have a tremendous team-first concept and their depth of many interchangable parts is impressive. But now they are really being put to the test, and it will  be quite interesting to see how they navigate this stretch. Since two of their five players out of the lineup have concussion-like symptoms, there is no telling how long coach Davis Payne will have to piece things together, especially now with Oshie gone until mid-February, as well. There will be an inordinate amount of pressure on Jaroslav Halak to work some magic in goal in order to keep the good ship St. Louis sailing along. And Tampa Bay is off to a pretty strong start, too, 8-5-2 good for second place in the Southeast and fourth in the Eastern Conference with 18 points. However during last night's 6-3 loss to Washington, the Lightning lost Vincent Lecavalier to a broken bone in his left hand. He will be sidelined 3-4 weeks. Because Tampa Bay does not have a host of top-flight scorers outside of the league's leading goal scorer Steven Stamkos, high-flying Martin St. Louis, and Lecavalier, this injury could really slow down what has been a stron[...]

Ex-Rangers Betts and Shelley Loving Life on Broad Street

Tue, 09 Nov 2010 15:13:00 +0000

Blair Betts wore Rangers red, white, and blue for four seasons, establishing himself as one of the top defensive forwards and penalty killers in the entire National Hockey League. Jody Shelley (photo) is a rugged nine-year NHL veteran who played an important role last season for the Blueshirts when they made a late-season---albeit failed---playoff push, after being acquired in a trade from San Jose in early February. Both heart-and-soul players made an impact on Broadway, and now both are playing key supporting roles on a Flyers team that is tied with Washington, Los Angeles, and St. Louis for the most points currently in the NHL with 20. Betts signed with the Flyers last season as a free agent when the Rangers let him walk. Shelley followed the same path this past summer when the Rangers would not commit to a third year and Philly did. I had a chance to catch up with both late last week when I was down in Philadelphia, and was able to touch on several interesting topics with Betts and Shelley. On Playing in the Stanley Cup Finals Last Spring Betts: "It was a great experience, exciting. I can remember watching the Stanley Cup Finals the last few years and just feeling the intensity just watching the games, but to actually be on the ice playing, it's a different experience, a lot different from the day-to-days of the regular season. The intensity just gradually got bigger and bigger. It was crazy. It was disappointing to not end up winning, but maybe we'll learn from it and get there again and win it next time." On Patrick Kane's Overtime Cup-Winning Goal for Chicago Betts: "Nobody realized it was a goal. I just remember Kane jumping up and down, but he was kind of by himself. I don't think their team realized it was in. We were just kind of looking at the refs and it was like time stood still for a second. I think when (Michael) Leighton came to the bench and said it was a goal it kind of hit us pretty hard, kind of a weird ending to the year." Losing in Finals is Motivation for This Year Betts: "Look at Pittsburgh, maybe that first loss to Detroit helped them win the Cup the next year. There's just so much emotion and intensity, it's just all about controlling your mind. You want to be prepared for the game, but at the same time not get so worked up that you can't play. It's a tough thing to do, but you learn from having done it now." Shelley: "Things that have gone on, situations they were in over the last year, I betcha' I haven't heard 20 words about them this year. There are some groups where that's all they would be taking about. 'Oh, we did this. Oh, we did that'. In this room there is the sense that they accomplished nothing. I don't know if you put that on the leadership or the whole group or what. But I have been very impressed. You know, I walk in and think Wow, this is a team that's really good, I don't want to walk in there and chink it up or step on anyone's toes. But the mindset is that it's a totally new year, which is great for the new guys coming in." Peter Laviolette, the Motivator Shelley: "He's very good day-to-day. He's like (John Tortorella) in that sense. He's a great motivator, understands what we are going through on a day-to-day situation. He knows on a day's situation where we're at, and he's very good where his last words (in meetings) are the most important. And that's the way Torts is, a great motivator. It really gets beyond the X's and O's. It's more words that motivate you before you go out there, and (Laviolette) really keeps us focused that way." On Roo[...]

If Not For Bad Luck...

Wed, 03 Nov 2010 13:28:00 +0000

In the cases of Penguins center Jordan Staal, individually, and the New Jersey Devils team, collectively, that old saying rings so true: If not for bad luck, they would not have any luck at all. Case No. 1: Jordan Staal Tonight, after missing the first 12 games of the season due to a miserable lingering infection in his foot that had plagued him since last spring, Staal was expected to return to the Pens lineup and center their second line. Instead, Staal will once again be a spectator, and, no, not because the infection has reared its vicious self again. This time Staal will be sidelined due to a broken hand he suffered in practice the other day. The latest estimate now pegs Staal's return as mid-December. Staal has to be thinking "You've got to be kidding me!" Remember this is a player who had never missed a game due to injury his entire four-year career until P.K. Subban's blade cut through his skate during the last spring's playoffs, causing the gash that cut a tendon in Staal's foot, leading to several operations and the ensuing nasty infection that robbed him of summer workouts and starting the season on time. His brother Marc, the Rangers' defenseman, told me back in September that Jordan was going through "just a brutal" time dealing with the infection and being so far behind in his training. To miss training camp and the first 12 games had to be hell for a player who personifies the term "gamer". Then with the reward for all of his patience and hard work right in sight, Staal is struck by a puck in practice, no less, and is set back another 6-8 weeks. If not for bad luck, indeed. Case No. 2, the New Jersey Devils As if the Devils have not been a complete cluster-you-know-what since the whole Ilya Kovalchuk contract mess this past summer right on up through all of their injuries and horrible play under rookie coach John Maclean to start the season, now they find out that star winger Zach Parise will miss three months of action after surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his knee. And in typical fashion for how their year is progressing, so far, Parise's injured knee was, at first, thought to be minor. Lou Lamoriello let it be known that something was bothering Parise and that exploratory arthroscopic surgery would find out the exact problem, correct it, and get Zach back on the ice in fairly short order. Torn meniscus and a February return date were not exactly expected by anyone. But the black cloud that has enveloped the Devils since late last summer knows no limits it seems. It covers everyone and everything in the organization, which is currently stumbling through a disasterous road trip en-route to a 3-9-1 start overall, and an Eastern Conference-worst 7 points. There was the Kovalchuk contract mess that cost the team a hefty fine and much pain when deemed it first circumvented the league's salary cap. Then there is the case of how Kovy's current contract so ties Lamoriello's hands as far as the Cap goes that New Jersey was forced to play one game this season with only 9 forwards because injured and suspended players could not be replaced by call-ups because the team would have flown over the salary cap. Then the injuries that have come in waves, picking off Bryce Salvador, Brian Rolston, Anton Volchenkov, and most recently Parise and rookie Jacob Josefson. How about the sub-par play of nearly the entire roster---headed by Travis Zajac (4 points in 13 games), Jamie Langenbrunner (1 goal in 13 games), Patrick Elias (2 goals in 13 games), and Kovalchuk [...]

Taylor Hall's First Goal and Six Degrees of Separation

Fri, 29 Oct 2010 15:10:00 +0000

For the record Taylor Hall, the first overall pick in the 2010 NHL Draft, recorded his first National Hockey League goal last night. The goal came at 9:57 of the third period and helped Hall's Edmonton Oilers pull even with the host Columbus Blue Jackets 2-2, in a game Edmonton would eventually lose 3-2 in a shootout.

For the record, Steve Mason surrendered the first of what should be many goals for Hall, who had seemingly been carrying the weight of the hockey world on his shoulders after going his first seven games without lighting the lamp.

Hall seemed extremely relieved and happy to finally have scored his first goal when interviewed on Rogers following the game. He laughed when he estimated that he easily had answered the "So Taylor, when are you finally going to score a goal?" question at least a million times already this season.

The bottom line, though, is that Hall is an 18 year-old kid playing on a mediocre team. First overall pick or not, this year is going to be an uphill battle for the extremely talented youngster. Think of Steven Stamkos' rookie campiagn two years ago, and then you have a good comparison for Hall.

Last year John Tavares, already 19 by time training camp started, was the first overall pick by the Islanders. Extremely mature so as to be put in on-ice situations that Hall will not see just yet, Tavares scored 24 goals and notched 54 points while playing all 82 games. While I think Hall will steadily improve as the year progresses I don't expect him to match Tavares' numbers as a rookie.

But he's going to be a player, make no bones about it. And along with fellow youngsters Jordan Eberle and Magnus Paajarvi, Hall is poised to help turn this organization around. The future is brighter in Edmonton, for sure.

Interesting that on the night Hall nets his first goal, Tyler Seguin---with whom Hall will always be linked, with Seguin selected second overall in the '10 draft---scored his second of the season in Boston's 2-0 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs. And who plays for Toronto? Why Phil Kessel, of course---whose trade from Boston last year included a first-round pick heading to the Bruins that ended up turning into none other than Seguin.

Gotta' love that six degrees of separation in the National Hockey League.

Central Succes and Other NHL Tidbits

Thu, 28 Oct 2010 14:43:00 +0000

So much going on in the world of hockey, so here are a few quick hits and random thoughts: Central Success Quick, name the only division in the NHL where currently all of its teams are playing above .500, so far. And I mean not only .500, but legit .500, not the NHL's bogus break-even point where a team can be, say, 4-4-3, and be considered a .500 team. Stumped? Try the Central Division, where it's no surprise that Detroit and Chicago are winning, but so, too, are St. Louis and Columbus, and where Nashville sits atop the division. The Preds are the only team in the league not to have a lost a game in regulation (5-0-3), and they are still perfect on the road (3-0-0). Also, perfect on the road are the surprising Columbus Blue Jackets, 5-3-0 overall and 3-0-0 away from the empty Nationwide Arena. The Blues, behind the terrific play of goalie Jaroslav Halak, are 4-1-2, and a clean 4-0-0 on home ice. And the Red Wings (5-1-1) and Blackhawks (6-4-1) are also legitimately above .500. Though I don't see Columbus as a playoff team when all is said and done, the Central easily could---and likely will---send four representatives into the Western Conference post-season tourny, which is pretty impressive considering this division usually is thought of as Chicago/Detroit and "the other teams". More Ranger Injuries John Tortorella or Glen Sather must have pissed off someone important upstairs because the rash of injuries decimating the Rangers continues to grow by the day. Already without their superstar sniper Marian Gaborik, their captain Chris Drury, and their second leading scorer from last season Vinny Prospal, the Rangers saw two more players felled by injuries during last night's 6-4 defeat at the hands of the Thrashers. Second-year center Artem Anisimov, off to a stellar start with 6 points in 8 games, blocked a shot with the outside of his right ankle during the second period and did not see the light of day in the third. Limping badly after the game, Anisimov said he will undergo an MRI today. Tortorella expressed much concern over Anisimov's long-term status, though he---like everyone else---must wait on the MRI results. Then with five minutes to play in the game veteran defenseman Michal Rozsival---playing perhaps his best hockey as a Ranger at both ends of the ice---hyper-extended his knee. He, too, will be further evaluated today. Already shorthanded, the Rangers could be crippled if they lose two more of their most consistent players in Anisimov and Rozsival. The talk throughout training camp was how much deeper the Rangers roster is this year, and that is true. However they are not nearly deep enough to lose five of their regulars and continue to be successful. Evander Kane is the Real Deal I know I raved about him in Rink Rap last year when he was just an 18 year-old rookie, but watching Evander Kane last night I saw a player that is going to be a star in this league. He is a great skater, with good size, and excellent hands. He creates offensively, and is willing to go to the ugly areas to score goals, too. Last night he scored his 6th goal in 9 games for Atlanta, and it's not out of the equation that he could break out in his second year in similar fashion to how Steven Stamkos did a year ago with Tampa Bay. Kane is THAT good. My hunch is a 30-goal campaign this season for Kane, but down the line 40 is a distinct possibility. And he just turned 19 years old in August. Atlanta has their player to build around[...]

Kovy and Coach Offer No Explanation for Benching

Sun, 24 Oct 2010 21:52:00 +0000

Not that they are obligated to at all, but neither Devils coach John Maclean nor New Jersey's $100 million superstar Ilya Kovalchuk offered up any explanations as to why Kovy was a healthy scratch last night, when each met with the media prior to this evening's contest with the Rangers at Madison Square Garden.

The media, of course, IS obligated to ask why, if for no other reason than to avoid rumor, innuendo, and speculation.

But no answers were forthcoming, both coach and player instead looking to shove this sideshow, well, to the side, or at best, out of sight completely.

Not likely to happen any time soon, even if Kovy goes off on an offensive tear. And certainly it will be an even bigger story if the talented Russian shows any signs of sulking, or displays any anger towards the rookie bench boss.

"It was the coach's decision to give me a little rest, that's all," was Kovalchuk's laughable explanation as to why he was benched in a game the Devils eventually lost in embarrasing 6-1 fashion to the Sabres last night.

When asked if he sat because of an off-ice issue, Kovy answered with a quick and stern, "No Comment!"

The rumor floating around the Devils is that Kovy either missed, or was late to, a team meeting. If that is the case, then it would seem Maclean is more than justified in making his best, and highest-paid, player an example for his underachieving club.

So why not say so? Again, internal team issues are internal team issues, and the Devils are an extremely conservative organization to boot, so I'm not saying their approach is the wrong one here, but it certainly won't make this story go away any time soon, which has to make Lou Lamoriello et al extremely uncomfortable.

"The issue is over, and like I said yesterday it's an internal matter," said Maclean, whose team is 2-5-1 on the season and winless in five home games (0-4-1).

Maclean said that "we talked" earlier today and that "I stand by my decision."

Perhaps most important was the news that Kovalchuk will be back in the lineup this evening. Wouldn't be shocked to see him light the lamp 3 or 4 times, or see him pull an absolute no-show. It will clearly be the most interesting subplot to this game.

"Today is a new game, a new day," said Maclean. "The most important game is always the one you play today."

"That's his decision and it's going to stay between me and him," added Kovy. "I'm just a player and I am going to show up tonight to play."

Claude Julien Unplugged

Sat, 23 Oct 2010 20:45:00 +0000

Though you wouldn't know it from this picture, Bruins head coach Claude Julien is one of the nicest, most personable, and affable coaches in the entire National Hockey League.

It's always a treat to catch up with Julien and hear his often verbose takes on various topics related to his team or the NHL.

Here in Boston where tonight the 4-1-0 Bruins host the 2-2-1 Rangers I was able to get Julien's take on several interesting topics.

Claude Julien Unplugged:

On the Poise of Rookie Tyler Seguin

"I think he had a lot of practice with that before he even got here because of the attention he had received before the draft. At the same tyime, off the ice our veterans have done a real good job of helping him through it, involving him with everything. I think that's been a great asset for him. He's a good kid to start with, and being surrounded by some great vets it makes everything a lot smoother. On ice, he's been good for us (1-2-3 in 5 games). You give him an opportunity and he's a pretty explosive player. He does the best with what you give him. What I like about him, so far, is that he wants to learn, and the fact that every game he plays he just keeps getting better and more comfortable."

On Early-Season Winning Streak, Now at Four Games

"I think you want to make it a habit, simple as that. You start winning games, you get hungry, and hopefully you get in the situation that you hate losing so much that when you lose a game here and there you want to get back to your winning ways. It's one of those things where you have to have the right mental approach. As a coach you can't go in there like they're playoff games and say that every game is the most important game. These guys have to be focused and say, you knw what, this is game day and we need to be ready to do our best and go out there and compete hard. You make that a habit."

On Lightly-Regarded Rangers

"It's always a hard-fought game and it's physcical against the Rangers. They are a team that likes to crash the net, which makes for a physical game around the net area. They are also a team that doesn't get enough credit for how well they play in their D zone. They really front pucks well, and play well in front of their crease area. Plus they have a great goaltender in (Henrik) Lundqvist. So with that great D zone coverage, they are tough to score goals on."