Sunday, August 26, 2007

Forward March

With the European trip and cruise coming up soon, September 14th, I will start previewing the season and start with the forwards. We will return on October 1st and that would not leave much time for any early season preview, not that it matters much. But everyone likes to make a fool of themselves early so why not yours truly.

First of all I will defy the conventional wisdom that puts Scotty Gomez as the number one line center. To me putting Gomez on with Jagr and Straka would ensure the continuance of the tic-tac-toe style of hockey the line played most of last year. I would like the first line to be Jagr-Drury-Hossa. Hossa? Oh my, how the Pundit has changed. Drury, who scored 37 goals last year, loves to shoot and is also an excellent playmaker, go to guy and clutch performer. More of a shooter and scorer than Nylander he will benefit from Jagr's passing and quite possibly be a 50 goal scorer. Yes, I know that Nylander outscored Drury by 14 points last year but playing with Jagr helps a lot. Hossa on the first line? Why not. If the Rangers really believe he has the potential to blossom, start him out early on the top line and lets see what he can do playing with two all-stars. So there you have the first line, Drury-Jagr-Hossa.

Most of last year the lament was that the Rangers did not have a second line center and we even had TV color commentator Brett Hull lamenting about Shanahan playing without a center. Well now we have two great centers and the discussion is where to slot them. Well Shanny now has a center and I propose that it be Scotty Gomez. Gomez had 60 points last year of which 47 were assists. It is a perfect fit, a true sniper, Shanahan, and an excellent passer, Gomez. The third member is Sean Avery. Avery brings grit and agitation. He can also work as the enforcer for this line though there is no doubt that Shanahan can take care of himself. So the second line is, Gomez-Shanahan-Avery.

The third line the Rangers offer is one that could be the surprise line of the three. The opposition will need to check two tough lines and how many checking lines do teams have? Martin Straka is a perfect fit for the two young wingers, Prucha and Callahan. At 35 years old, Straka can still skate and put up 70 points in 77 games last year including 41 assists. This will probably be the Rangers fastest line and it doesn't lack for grit either as all three are fiesty players. Prucha could have a breakout year with the veteran center, Straka. Straka will also help in the developement of Callahan. This line excites me. So there is the third line, Straka-Prucha-Callahan.

Finally the fourth line that most fans and Tom Renney ignore with regularity. The only sure spot is Blair Betts. Betts is only 27 years old and this will be his third year with the Rangers and if you take away the 35 games he played for Calgary in three different seasons, it is his third full year in the league. He is top face off guy, big shot blocker and very good penalty killer. He has scored only 17 goals with the Rangers in limited ice time. With this years crew it is hard to see his ice time improving. Holdovers from last years fourth line include Ryan Hollweg and Colton Orr, the hit man and wallop man. However, there is no guarantee that their positions are safe and I see them getting spot playing time depending on the opponents. They will be challenged by guys like Nigel Dawes, Brandon Dubinsky, Jason Strudwick and Artem Anisimov who will also try to move up to the higher lines. Opening night fourth line looks like Betts-Orr-Dawes.

So there it is, an awesome display of talent that if used correctly, and that is a big if, could bring us that big parade down Broadway. More later.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Summer Doldrums

arghFrank Sinatra had a great hit called "The Summer Winds". Too bad he didn't write one about the "Summer Doldrums". For hockey fans this time of the year is the pits. Even my computer is acting up and I am having trouble getting into my own blog. My kids keep telling me that my computer is too old. Hell, I'm old, so my man, JB, keeps me limping along. That is the computer, not me.

So Glen Sather has signed another goalie, a 24 year old named Matt Zaba, from Colorado College. Wow! However no word on the signing, or not, of Michael Peca. This one is taking forever. They choose Popes quicker than this. What's the story? It should be easy. Do we or don't we want this guy? I think he would be a plus riding shotgun between Prucha and Callahan. Sather is bouncing around out in Western Canada and California. Isn't it great having a commuter GM?

Sam PollackBelated condolences to the family of Sam Pollack who passed away last week. Pollack was voted into the NHL Hall Of Fame as a GM in 1978. What a record. He was the GM of the Montreal Canadiens from 1964-1977 when the Canadiens won nine Stanley Cups. He was responsible for bringing players to Montreal like Ken Dryden, Guy Lafleur, Frank Mahovlich, Steve Shutt and many others. He was without a doubt the greatest GM ever in the NHL. If they ever decide to award GM's, they should name it the Sam Pollack Trophy. Sam Pollack, God bless and R.I.P.

What is it, three or so weeks to training camp and not a moment too soon? Don't know about you but I am getting awfly tired about hearing whether the Yankees should give A-Rod $30 million to re-sign. Thirty million! Thirty million and in his 13 year career he hasn't won a thing. In 13 years Phil Rizzuto won 7 World Series and in the same time frames Joe DiMaggio won 9 World Series. Joe D never made more than $100 k and Phil more than $30 k, but the great A-Rod wants $30 million. How about those apples folks? I told you the summer doldrums are killing me.

But we are getting ready for our vacation trip to Europe. We will be spending time in Italy, France, Malta, Greece, Croatia and Montenegro. We will be spending our 50th wedding anniversary in beautiful Sorrento and hope to meet up with some cousins to celebrate the trip. No, I will not break out to sing that great Italian love song, "Come Back To Sorrento" as it surely will lead to deportation back to the states. We will leave the middle of September. More on this later.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The Scooter

Phil 'Scooter' Rizzuto
The first time I saw Phil Rizzuto play I was nine years old and it was 1940 (remember that year?) and it was at a ballpark in Queens and the name of it was Dexter Park. A semi-pro team named the Bushwicks played there and they played other semi pro teams, teams from the Negro Leagues, as they were then called, and a mixture of minor and major league players. I saw the great Josh Gibson hit the longest home run I have ever seen and asked my Dad why isn't this guy playing for the Yankees. He said blacks are not allowed in the majors. What a shame.

Rizzuto was a prospect with the Yankees minor league affiliate in Kansas City. Years later when Kansas City joined the majors, skeptics still claimed that Kansas City was a Yankee farm team. Rizzuto and a slick fielding second baseman by the name of Jerry Priddy raised eyebrows and expectations in the Yankee camp. So there they were on the field at Dexter Park with the Minor League Allstars and fans kept rooting for a Bushwick to get on base so that the Rizzuto-Priddy combo could pull off a double play. I believe they pulled off three much to the delight of the capacity crowd. All Sunday games were doubleheaders, the old fashioned way. You payed one ticket price and you saw two games.

Dexter Park was a beautiful ballpark with decent dimensions. By today's standards they were huge. Right field down the line was 327, left field was 335 and center field was 425 to the spot that had the name of the park in beautiful white stones. Josh Gibson's shot was on a line directly over the name. I forget the name of the subway line but the stop was Elderts Lane and it was elevated when you reached the park. For a kid it was a beautiful site and I had to wait a few years later to see Yankee Stadium. Between games you were allowed to leave the park and go across the street where there was an assortment of bars serving all kinds of refreshments.

1941 was Rizzuto' first year and he hit .307 and dazzled the fans with his quickness and sure handed fielding. No shortshop could go out to the outfield the way the Scooter did for pop ups. There was no Jerry Priddy for Rizzuto at second base. However, he had Joe Gordon, a power hitting slick fielder who combined with Rizzuto became the number one DP combination in the majors. Rizzuto had such team mates as Charlie Keller, Tommy Henrich, Red Rolfe, Red Ruffing and the great Joe DiMaggio who established the record of hitting in 56 straight games, a record that still stands. They beat the Dodgers in six games in the World Series which also was the start of the Rizzuto-Reese who is better arguments.

It took a while for Rizzuto to get into the Hall Of Fame. He never got enough votes to qualify for the Hall and then was turned over to the Old Timers Committee, which is all politics. When Pee Wee Reese got in and Rizzuto was left out there was despair with Yankee fans and Phil. In case you don't know it the Old Times Committee is like a Senate Committee, all politics. When Reese got in the committee was headed by NL Hall Of Famer Stan Musial and Roy Campenalla. They made sure they took care of many iffy NLers. Reese wasn't iffy, he deserved the Hall but so did Rizzuto. Years later when Ted Williams took over the committee Rizzuto with an assist from Joe DiMaggio, who was friendly with Williams, was elected and now he sits in the Hall.

As we all know Rizzuto became even more famous as a Yankee announcer working with such legends as Mel Allen, Red Barber, Bill White, Fran Healy, Jerry Coleman and just about every other announcer who was in New York. We will miss the Scooter but think about the life this beautiful man had. Almost 90 years on earth and most of it connected with baseball. Almost ninety years and I'll sign up for that right now. Don't get me wrong, no matter how old they are you never want to see them leave. My mother died at 96 but none of us wanted to see her go.

The Scooter had a great celebrated life and will leave many cherished memories which we all will relive as time goes on. They say that time heals all wounds but there are no wounds here only joy and happy reminders, which we all remember mostly with smiles. Deepest sympathy and condolences to Cora and the Rizzuto family. We will miss The Scooter but we should all celebrate his life, his wonderful life. God bless the Scooter. Holy Cow!

Thursday, August 02, 2007

The Prodigal Son Comes Home

The good shepherd tends his flockYou remember that biblical story of the son who took off, bummed around and when he was broke he decided to come home to his wealthy dad. Dad forgave all and treated his son like a Prince. I never cared for the story. Why should a guy who was bumming around share the same rewards as one who stayed the course and was taken for granted?

There was a reverse take on that story in regard to Sean Avery. He did his duty, did more than his share of the dirty work and then was disparaged by his bosses. Actually the word is out and the apologists all jumped on board, it was the Asst GM Hockey Operations, Cam Hope, who did it. It was he, not Stealth Sather, who uttered the famous "detriment" speech. Upon the signing of Avery, Sather came through with, "He (Avery) is a terrific competitor, who we expect to play a significant role in a successful season". No surprise there, politicians do it all the time. Throw the subordinate under the bus and stay above the fray. That is what the great reformer Eliot Spitzer is doing right now.

So Sean Avery gets an extra $800,000 and the Rangers get their spine back. All in all a good deal for both sides though it was botched badly by the Stealth and his empty suits in the MSG Tower. The Rangers and Avery have to move forward now. There is more work to be done by the empty suits. The Rangers still need a big "D" guy and right now it looks like they need a third line center. They had a third line center last year, Matt Cullen, unfortunately he was trying to be the second line center. You saw how that worked. Kasparaitis could be that big "D" guy but there is a campaign brewing out there that he just ain't going to make it. The Rangers seem to be more interested in dumping Kaspy and his salary than they are interested to see if he could make the team.

One other item. Is Tom Renney the coach to get the big ring for the Rangers? Renney reminds me more and more of Roger Nielson who had to be dumped before the Rangers got Mike Keenan and The Cup. Mark Messier orchestrated Nielson's departure. I don't see any Mark Messiers on this Ranger team.

NHL Tweets