New York Rangers: Soon to be Champs

I am a Ranger.  That’s not a only a corny MSG marketing slogan, it’s also the truest thing that’s ever been spoken about Rangers fans.  From sunrise to sunset, our lives revolve around the Broadway Blueshirts.  Being a Rangers fan isn’t just a hobby, it’s a passion and a lifestyle.

We were founded in 1926 as part of the Original Six.  Despite there being a handful of teams in the league at the time, we only escaped the Original Six era with three Stanley Cups.  Besides the Chicago Blackhawks (who also have four Stanley Cups in their history), every other Original Six team has had much more success than we have had throughout the past 85 years.

As more teams were added to the league, the Rangers fell into obscurity.  There were years we were good from the late 60s through the 80s, but we never good to take home the Stanley Cup once again.  The Curse of 1940 seemed like it would never go away.

That all changed one fateful October day in 1991.  Thanks to Glen Sather and budget cuts by the Oilers, Mark Messier and Jeff Beukeboom were traded to the Rangers in exchange for Louie DeBrusk, Bernie Nicholls, and Steven Rice.

Two and a half years later in the spring of 1994, the Rangers found themselves four games away from a trip back to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since 1979.  The problem?  The Blueshirts fell into a 3-2 series hole and were facing elimination on the road.

The opponents were none other than the New Jersey Devils, led by a young Martin Brodeur.  Mark Messier claimed “We’ll Win Tonight” before Game 6, and The Captain delivered with a hat trick that night at the Meadowlands.

A wraparound goal in overtime of Game 7 sent the Rangers back to the promised land.  But Stephane Matteau would only have been a footnote in history if the Rangers didn’t take care of things on “Mount Vancouver”, in the words of Howie Rose.  The Rangers jumped out to a quick 3-1 lead, but two straight losses set up an apocalyptic Game 7.  It  was truly the last stand on Earth for the Rangers.

Leetch sniped one into an open net, Graves scored on the power play, and Messier tipped one in on another power play for good measure.  The Rangers were the champions for the first time in 54 years and it felt damn good.  Sam Rosen famously (or infamously, depending on your point-of-view) exclaimed, “…and this one will last a lifetime!”

But that one didn’t last a lifetime.  17 years later, Rangers fans are as hungry as ever for another chance to bring the Stanley Cup back to New York.  From ‘94 to the lockout, we watched this franchise crumble to the ground.  Between bad draft picks, terrible trades, and laughable free agent signings, the Rangers became the joke of the league.

Luckily, we decided to change our strategy after the lockout.  Behind our franchise goalie in Henrik Lundqvist, we’ve made the playoffs five out of the last six seasons.  Instead of trying to “win now” every year, we’ve built from within and put ourselves in an enviable position.  With a plethora of young prospects and two stars in Richards and Gaborik, there’s no reason we can’t take the next step and be parading down the Canyon of Heroes sooner than later.

The Big Apple deserves a winning hockey team, and I believe the Rangers are here to stay as the premier hockey franchise in the New York metropolitan area.  The Devils may have the veteran players to carry them the next few seasons, and the Islanders may have the young prospects to be good one day.  But there’s only a handful of teams in the league that have the perfect balance between the two.  I wholeheartedly believe that we are one of those teams.

So why not us?  Say what you want about our owner, but he’s willing to spend money to get the job done.  There are a lot of teams who would kill to have an owner like Jim Dolan.  The same goes for our general manager.  Sure, Sather may not be Conn Smythe, Lester Patrick, or even Neil Smith, but he’s really been committed to building this team the right way over the past few seasons.  And what’s not to like about our coach?  He’s fiery, his players seem to love playing under him, and he’s already won a Stanley Cup.

What about our goaltender?  Henrik Lundqvist has yet to put the team on his back and carry us through a playoff series, but anyone who watches him every game knows how vital he is to this team’s success.  From saves in crucial moments to shutting out teams in the shootout, there are only a handful of goalies who are as good and as consistent as Hank.

There’s no use in having a good goaltender if you don’t have quality defensemen to put in front of him.  Thankfully, that’s not a concern for the Rangers.  With Marc Staal and Dan Girardi, we have a potent top-two defense pair.  Michael Sauer and Ryan McDonaugh, two rookies last season, emerged as legitimate top-four defenseman.  Add Tim Erixon to that mix, who is NHL-ready according to most scouts, and you have five reliable defensemen who will be part of the long-term picture.

Then you have Michael Del Zotto, who is an extremely skilled 21-year-old puck mover.  If he can figure things out, he can be a great tool on the power play.  Another highly touted defenseman is last year’s first round pick, Dylan McIlrath.  I was a critic of the pick at the time, but it makes perfect sense now.  McIlrath can be the crease-clearing defenseman we’ve been missing for years.  If he can develop into what we think he can be, he is definitely going to be a special player in this league.

Our defense and goaltending are great, but what about our offense?  For years we couldn’t score, but the Gaborik-Richards combo is sure to change that.  We haven’t had a more potent forward combo since Messier and Graves.  No matter if it’s Wolski or someone else playing left wing with Richards and Gaborik, the Rangers are going to have no problems with their first line in the near future.  The second line isn’t bad at all either, with Dubinsky, Anisimov, and Callahan.  I’ll take those guys any day of the week.

Perhaps the heart and soul of this team lays within the lesser known players on the team.  Boyle, Prust, Rupp, Zuccarello, Fedotenko, Avery, and others are the players who make up our true identity.  We’re a hard working team that grinds out every minute of every period of every game.  Those players above clearly exemplify of what we’re about.  We haven’t had an identity for years, but now we are finally showing teams what we’re all about.

So what about our future forwards?  With guys like Chris Kreider, Carl Hagelin, and Christian Thomas all inching closer to joining the team, we’re in good hands.  Derek Stepan proved to the world last year that our farm system is as good as hyped.  Led by Gordie Clark, our scouting department has done a great job at drafting some the game’s future stars.  If we continue drafting as well as we have been, we’re going to be a competitive franchise for a long, long time.

Rangers fans have been waiting since 1994 for another Stanley Cup victory, and I believe we’re closer now than ever before.  1994 was a thrill for every Rangers fan old enough to remember it, but it’s time for some new memories.  With stable leadership on the ice, behind the bench, and in the front office, I think Stanley Cup number five could be right around the corner.  It may not be this season or the next one, but our time is coming.

When Glen Sather pulled the trigger and signed Brad Richards, this franchise’s rebuilding mode came to an end.  It’s now only a matter of time before “the waiting is over” once again.


Mauling the Media: ESPN Knows Nothing About Hockey

ESPN, who has constantly shown an anti-NHL bias in their daily coverage of the sports world, decided to ask Rangers fans if the Brad Richards signing was the biggest since Mark Messier’s signing.  The problem is Mark Messier was never signed by the Rangers.  The Captain was traded in 1991 (by none other than Glen Sather) from the Oilers to the Blueshirts for Louie DeBrusk, Bernie Nicholls, and Steven Rice.  This is not only basic Rangers knowledge, but it’s basic hockey knowledge.  I would give them a pass, but this was ESPN New York.  Not knowing how the biggest name in Rangers history was acquired is unacceptable for anyone covering New York sports.

The bigger story here is the sports media’s general hockey coverage.  ESPN and other major sports media outlets constantly have no idea what’s going on in the world of the NHL.  But it’s not only ESPN.  SNY’s hockey coverage on Daily News Live, The Wheelhouse, and Loud Mouths is borderline laughable.  I really don’t care if someone doesn’t know anything about hockey, I just get offended when people like Chris Carlin think they know what they’re talking about when they don’t.

The epitome of this point can be found within the friendly confines of Mike Francesa’s radio program.  Mike talks about golf, horse racing, and even his favorite summer songs.  Hockey?  Don’t even think about bringing it up on Mike’s show.  Although, one of the most famous moments on Francesa’s show did involve the Islanders.

Daily Briefing: July 4, 2011

– First off, I’d like to wish a happy Fourth of July to everyone.  I truly believe this is the greatest country the face of the Earth has seen and ever will see.  America was created as a great experiment of Democracy.  235 years later, that experiment has continued to thrive and branch out all across the world.  We continue to be a force for global good and an advocator for peace.  For that reason, we all should be proud of our great nation.

– This weekend’s Subway Series was decent in my opinion.  It’s not as thrilling as it once was, but the games continue to be entertaining.  The Yankees won the series two games to one, but the biggest news was Jose Reyes’ hamstring injury.

– Speaking of New York shortstops, Derek Jeter will re-join the Yankees Monday.

– For the most part, the reaction to the Brad Richards signing has been positive.  There are a lot of reasons to like this deal for the Rangers, and only a handful of reasons to be worried about the deal.  With the last three years of the deal being worth $1 million each, the Rangers could simply buy him out after six years if they are unhappy with him.  Or if Brad has had enough with hockey, he could retire late into the contract while still earning virtually all of his money.  With a $6.67 cap hit, this deal is a huge win for the Rangers.  They even got him to take a substantial pay cut to come here.

– Of course, some uninformed analysts such as Chris Carlin think the move was a mistake.  I have a feeling that if Richards signed with another team, Carlin would have still criticized Sather.  He has been anti-Rangers for as long as I remember, even saying two years ago that they should be embarrassed that the Devils were better than them.  So he doesn’t want big signings, but according to those statements, he’s against a rebuilding mode.  You can’t have it both ways.  This is why people who don’t know anything about hockey should stop pretending that they’re experts on it.  This is also why people from New Jersey shouldn’t be asked their opinion on the Rangers.

– Tom Brady was voted the #1 NFL player of 2011 by the players.  I disagree, but it really has nothing to do with me being a Jets fan.  I believe he has had a much better supporting cast and head coach than Peyton Manning has had.  If you look at how Matt Cassell performed in 2008 with the same weapons Brady had in 2007, you’ll see what I mean.  Cassell, an average quarterback, managed to win 11 games that season.  Peyton Manning never has a receiver as good as good as Randy Moss, and he hasn’t had a player with the skill set of someone like Wes Welker.  In addition, Brady has played under a Hall of Fame head coach, and has had a stellar defense almost every year he’s been in the league.  I think Peyton Manning would have been the right choice.

– I personally don’t care because I believe the list was complete garbage to begin with.  I don’t get why people took the list so seriously to begin with.  It’s impossible to compare multiple positions to each other.  The list also varies depending on how much you value certain traits in a player.  What’s more valuable, Devin Hester’s return game or Nnamdi Asomugha’s cover skills?  Asomugha’s set of skills is the obvious choice to many, but Hester is the best returner in the history of the league.  Are we ranking players in terms of skills or their value to a team?

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Since Tom Brady's last playoff win, the Jets have had four.

Richards Signed! What’s Next for the Rangers?

After a long wait and plenty of nail-biting, the New York Rangers finally signed Brad Richards to a 9 year/$60 million contract, which is front loaded (first 6 years at $57 mil) with the last three years totaling $3 mil. The Rangers also signed Matt Rupp for 3 years/$4.5 mil. So what’s next? Are the Rangers a better team now? Do the Rangers have enough to challenge for the Stanley Cup?

The answer is the first question is YES. The Rangers are a better team with the additions of Richards and Rupp, while the answer to the second question is NO. The Rangers still need to add more scoring to challenge for the Stanley Cup. So where do they get this scoring forward, who’s available? Well the first name that comes to my mind is Steven Stamkos of the Tampa Bay Lightning. Stamkos is a RFA and is free to talk to any team on a new contract. Tampa wants to re-sign Stamkos and have the cap space to do so, and will match any offer made to Stamkos.

The Rangers also have plenty of cap space (nearly $16 mil) even after signing Richards and would love to add a scoring winger like Stamkos. Back in 2009, the Rangers and the lightning had a deal nearly completed which would had brought Stamkos to the Rangers for a choice of any 2 of the following (Callahan, Dubinsky, Del Zotto, Girardi, Grachev (since traded to St. Louis). However; the deal fell through and Stamkos remained a lightning. My proposal is that Glen Sather should re-visit this and call Tampa and see if they would be willing to explore any deal. The Rangers could offer the same players mentioned above and perhaps include Hagelin as well. Tampa can choose any two from the group and perhaps cash as well.

The Rangers have depth in the system to replace these players, but they do not have a player on their roster and or system like Stamkos. I know this is a reach, but worth the phone call. On the UFA side, there is not much talent that I would invest in and on the RFA side, aside from the Rangers own RFA, only Stamkos stands out to me. As I mentioned, this is a long shot and the odds of this ever materializing is highly unlikely. The Rangers should also look to sign a veteran defenseman as well.

Steven Stamkos

2011 NHL Free Agency Talking Points

– The main attraction of this year’s free agent class was obviously Brad Richards.  All along, the speculation was that he would sign with the Rangers. After narrowing his choices down to the Rangers, Leafs, Kings, and Flames, Richards finally chose the Rangers.

– I believe today is a good day for Rangers fans.  Nine-years, $60 million is a huge contract, but it comes at an affordable cap hit of $6.67 million per year.  Depending on how much this contract is frontloaded, Richards could eventually retire after six or seven years and leave some low-salary years left on the table.

– This is a symbolic signing by the Rangers.  It shows that the front office thinks the team is ready to win now.  If the Rangers could add another scorer and a veteran defenseman, I agree.  There’s no reason this team can’t win a playoff series or two next season.  It’s no so unreasonable.  The defense and goaltending are there.  Now hopefully the offense will improve with Richards.

– The Rangers also signed LW/C Mike Rupp to a three-year, $4.5 million contract and re-signed winger Ruslan Fedotenko to a one-year, $1.4 million deal.  These are two nice pieces that will undoubtedly fit into what the Rangers want to do next year.  You know how much John Tortorella likes to play a tough, physical, grinding game.

– The Islanders did nothing besides sign center Marty Reasoner to a two-year deal worth $2.7 million.  He’s obviously not the answer to anything.  With money to spend and areas to improve, Islanders fans should once again be irate at their front office.

– As for the Devils, they re-signed backup goalie Johan Hedburg and defenseman Andy Greene.  Greene’s four-year deal should provide some concern, but both are good players that the Devils should be glad to have back.  I’m just not sure the Devils have enough to once again become contenders next season.  They had a chance to add some pieces through free agency, but they were once again restricted because of cap problems.  With only about $7 million to spend and with Zach Parise unsigned, they had no resources to make a move.

– Overall, the past two days have been crazy.  Ridiculous contracts have been handed out, players went to teams you’d never expect them to go to, and some teams like the Panthers went absolutely crazy.  I refuse to pick winners and losers because no one knows how these signings will work out.  Almost every team overspent on players, so no one really won.  By far, the winners were the players.  That’s why it was such a shock that Brad Richards’ cap hit was under $7 million.

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Rangers Sign Brad Richards!

Let the celebration begin!

According to multiple sources, Brad Richards has signed with the New York Rangers.  It’s a nine-year deal worth $60 million.

Nine years for a 31-year-old is ridiculous, but I’m assuming the contract is frontloaded.  For that reason, it may be unlikely Richards finishes the contract.  The overall cap hit is $6.67 million.  That’s not bad at all, considering I was expecting it to be $7 million at the minimum.  I thought it definitely could have approached $8 million.

I’m upset they overpaid in years rather than dollars, but the Rangers got their man.  It looks like he took less to come here too.  Calgary’s offer was rumored to be nearly $7 million higher.  Like I thought he would, Richards realized New York was the best place for him to finish out his career.  This is a huge victory for the Rangers, but just as big a one for the city of New York.

We can fight about the contract and whether or not it’s good or bad, but now is the time to get excited about the Rangers.  They just landed one hell of  a player.  Welcome to New York, Brad.

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Rangers coach John Tortorella will reunite with Richards.

Brad Richards Watch

We’ll find out about Brad Richards tomorrow.  Multiple sources have said that there will be no decision by Brad tonight.  Still, the two favorites appear to be the Flames and the Rangers.  It really sucks to have to wait another whole day to find out where he is going, but all this waiting may be worth it in the end.  I still expect Richards to smarten up and sign with the Rangers.  There’s nowhere else he would be treated like royalty and have the opportunity to win every year.

Let’s hope for the best.  Be sure to check out our live coverage of yesterday’s signings for a recap on all the day’s news.

– TSN’s Bob McKenzie reports that the deal may be for 9-years, $63-65 million total.  In that case, I wouldn’t want the Rangers to sign Richards.  Someone else can make that mistake.

– Multiple sources say the Rangers, Flames, Kings, and Maple Leafs are the “Final Four” for Richards.  Expect a decision early tomorrow.


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It's your call now, Brad.