Thursday, September 28, 2006

The Road To The Cup-Special Teams

With the new rules and the referees calling tighter, no nonsense type games the special teams become even more crucial. last year the Rangers did a credible job on both the power play and the penalty kill. The Rangers finished eight overall in the NHL on the power play and tenth on the penalty kill.

The power play had a rating of 18.9%. The number one team on the PP was the Detroit Red Wings with a 22.1%. The Rangers scored 83 goals on 440 opportunities. There were only three teams in the NHL with less opportunities than the Rangers. Florida, which finished 24th in PP %, Boston, 25th, and Chicago 30th. Fewer opportunities lead to fewer goals. The Rangers didn't get that many opportunities because their offense is basically a perimeter offense. The net crashers are the ones who usually draw the penalties. Outside of Prucha and the HMO line their were few crashers on the Rangers. The HMO line is gone so where does that leave the Blueshirts?

The two new additions to the top lines, Shanahan and Cullen would seem to be a positive for drawing penalties and for improving the numbers on the PP. Of the 83 goals scored by the Rangers on the PP, Jagr had 24 and Prucha had 16. That is almost half of the total the entire Ranger team scored on the PP. The Rangers got only 10 goals from their defensemen on the PP. Tyutin led with 4, followed by Rozsival with three, Poti with two and Kondratiev with one. The later two are gone from the team.

The three new additions that should help improve the power play are Shanahan, Cullen and Adam Hall. Hall acquired from Nashville had 10 goals and 6 assists on the PP. Overall he was 14-15-29 so it seems that the PP was his speciality. Shanahan was 14-14-28 on the PP and Matt Cullen was 8-10-18 and brings a lot of speed. So it seems that we could see a big improvement on the PP this year. With Jagr and Shanahan as book ends the PP could be a big asset for the Rangers. Notice I said could and that is because the Rangers are lacking a point man. Actually they have a very good point man but it is questionable whether he will make the team. That man is Thomas Pock who right now is fighting for the seventh spot on the defense. Go figure.

The penalty kill ranked tenth overall in the NHL with a 83.7% rating. Minnesota ranked first with a 87.4% rating. The Rangers gave up 79 goals which means that they had a +4 rating of PP/PK. That's just about a wash and not the kind of numbers that champions are made of. As an example Carolina was a +14 and Buffalo was a whopping +42. This a suspect area for the Rangers this year and could be a big killer. They have lost Dominic Moore in a trade and Ortmeyer will be out for an indefinite period so it will be interesting who will fill the gaps. The HMO line is gone. Thank God for the Prince, Henrik Lundqvist I who is the best penalty killer on the team. Another sad statistics that the Rangers only scored four short handed goals last year. Only the New jersey Devils were worse with only three goals.

ICINGS: The Rangers won their fourth victory in five games as Lundqvist pitched his second consecutive shutout. He was absolutely brilliant in the closing minute as the Rangers faced a four on six. Adam Hall scored the only goal and Immonen and Pock were impressive again.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

The Road To The Cup-The Goalies

What a difference a year makes. Last year the Rangers goaltending situation was a big question mark. Veteran Kevin Weekes was signed and while he had a good resume he hadn't played at all in 2004-05 due to the lockout. The Ranger coaching staff and management felt he could do the job and be the number one man, the skeptics thought otherwise. Obviously the skeptics were right as Weekes had a so so year and never seemed comfortable in his backup roll. He compiled a 14-14-3 record with a save percentage of .895 and a GAA of 2.95. Think of this for a moment. Ricky Di Pietro who just signed a lifer 15 year deal with the Islanders had a GAA of 3.02 and a save percentage of .902. You still think Weekes had that bad a year? This year Kevin knows his role and if anything he will be pushed for the backup spot by Al Montoya who had a fine year in Hartford.

Al Montoya, 21 years old, had a banner year in Hartford last year. He was 23-9-1 with a GAA of 2.61 and a save percentage of .907. Montoya is getting a shot this year but seems destined to end up in Hartford with an open ticket to the Garden on a moments notice. With Weekes injured right now this is a wonderful opportunity for Montoya to show off his A game. I know most of you think that he is too young and inexperienced but if Weekes comes back and falters look for Montoya to step into the backup roll. I personally think that Weekes will come back better than last year now that he knows his role as a backup. With last year under his belt look for Weekes to come back strong and push Lundqvist even harder.

If Weekes returns to his old form and Montoya continues to improve in Hartford there will be another benefit to the Rangers. They will have a strong trade card in Weekes later in the season when the Rangers will be looking for that tough guy who will be putting them over the top. There are a few teams, like Florida for example, who could use a good goalie and hopefully by then Weekes may fit the bill. A strong Weekes is a winner for the Rangers whether he stays or goes.

Ranger fans and management are all holding their collective breaths hoping that The Prince, Henrik Lundqvist I, returns to the form that made him a Vezina Trophy candidate and that the migraines are gone. As I am starting my 69th year as a Ranger fan I know a thing or two about migraines. The Prince, now all of 24 years old, ended last year with a save percentage of .922 and a GAA of 2.24. He was 30-12-9 setting a Ranger rookie goalie record. There will be much pressure on Henrik this year but he has the temperament to rise to the occasion. Lundqvist, along with Jagr, is the key to the Rangers season. I believe The Prince will rise to the occasion and give the Rangers a genuine shot at the big prize.

The Rangers do have one other goalie in camp. Stephen Valiquette is 29 years old and has been a minor leaguer most of his career. He has played only nine NHL games with the Rangers, Oilers and Islanders compiling a 3-1-0 record with a 2.57 GAA. Stephen is big, standing 6'6" and weighing 217 pounds. Unless there is an extreme emergency Valiquette doesn't seem to be a factor.

The Rangers barring any major injuries seem to be set in goal.

Olympic gold medalist - goal keeper Henrik Lundqvist snorkelling in EgyptICINGS: This goes under the heading of back to business and the love affair with the fans is over. A friend of mine who owns a liquor store sets up a trip once a year with a bunch of kids in the neighborhood where they all sit in one section and get their group announced. Not this year. No program. No seats. They are all sold out so the program is out of existence. So much for fan friendly hockey. The scrooges known as Bettman and Dolan have ended another fan friendly family program. But we will hear all year long how they love us, the fans, as long as we pay for the increased prices for the seats, the beer and the aggravation. Oh well when all else fails I still have my grandson, Nicholas, and his pee wee hockey. No theatrics, no tantrums just a lot of fun. Go get 'em Nicholas.

Henrik Lundquist snorkelling - "Nordic quality combined with the best Egypt and the Red Sea has, namely diving and snorkelling. You just can’t ask more from a perfect holiday" -

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

The Road To The Cup-The Defense

The Ranger's depth chart for defensemen list ten players. In order of their rating they are Malik, Rozsival, Kasparaitis, Tyutin, Aaron Ward, Karel Rachunek, Marc Staal, Thomas Pock, Martin Richter and Michael Sauer. To me Thomas Pock and Tyutin are underrated and Malik and Rozsival are over rated. And, even though I know it bothers some people, this is basically a soft defense, lacking in group toughness.

The big issues on this defense are: Can Kaspy stay healthy all year? Will Fedor Tyutin take the next step and become an all star type defenseman? Can one of the young guys, Pock, Richter or Staal crack the top six? What can we expect from Rachunek in his first full NHL season?

Kasparaitis missed fifteen games last year due to shoulder and knee problems. He had two surgeries and pronounces himself fit for the season. Teamed with Tyutin they form the most rugged twosome on defense. Tyutin is only 23 years old and came up with some decent offensive numbers (6-19-25) in his first full season. He also showed promise playing the point on the power play. With a full season under his belt and with a healthy Kasparaitis as his partner look for Tyutin to shine this year.

Pock, Richter and Staal will be battling for the number seven spot on the defense. The Pundit believes that Pock should be somewhere in the top six on this defense. He led all AHL defensemen in scoring with 61 points and is an excellent point man on the power play. The few games he played last year were all quality games and he never seemed lost. It is hard to imagine that he will not make this squad. Worst case he will push Rachunek to make him a better player. Rachunek, 27 years old, was acquired from Ottawa for Greg Devries during Glen Sathers great 2004 purge. He has played the last two years in Russia.

Martin Richter is 29 years old and spent the last three years playing in a Czech league. He has been touted for years as a can't miss prospect but one has to wonder about a 29 year can't miss prospect who hasn't played in the NHL. He doesn't bring much offense but he is a Czech and we all know that counts for a lot on this team. Marc Staal is the big D jewel for the Rangers. He has pedigree in his favor and brings offense with his game scoring 49 points in 57 games with Sudbury. It could prove interesting with these three youngsters. However, I doubt Renney will make any drastic changes to his defense, despite the fact that it is a soft defense.

Rozsival, Malik and Ward are all steady players with great plus/minuses. Rozsival had a great breakout year. Hopefully it wasn't a fluke and we will see more of the same. His biggest moment was in the 'Mark Messier game' when he took control in OT with a couple of great dekes to feed Jagr with the game winner. Malik is Malik. What more can you say. Slow, deliberate and smart and he will forever be remembered for scoring the greatest goal in the history of the circus, I mean hockey. Aaron Ward brings three Stanley Cups rings to the Rangers, two with the Red Wings and one with the Hurricanes. He is steady, consistent and reliable. Plus he is a winner and that always counts in sports.

So here is the defense. Almost a duplicate of last years with a couple of new additions that have improved this years defense over last years. The good news about this defense is that there are young players waiting in the wings to move up and improve the defense. The bad news is that there isn't much toughness. Although not listed, another excellent top prospect is Ivan Baranka. Baranka is a 21 year old bruiser and would be about a year away from the Rangers so he will spend another year in Hartford. But he is one to watch. Remember the name, Ivan Baranka.

Brian Leetch remains unsigned. Amazing. Is he angling to get back to the Rangers? Isn't it odd that no team has expressed an interest in Brian? Reminds me of the Colgate football team back in 1938. They went undefeated, untied and unscored upon in 9 games and were not invited to a bowl game. So the line went, Colgate. Undefeated, untied, unscored and uninvited. Maybe its time Sather invited Leetch for a talk. What do you think?

Friday, September 15, 2006

The Road To The Cup-The Offense

The Rangers opened training camp today coming off their first playoff season in eight years. While on paper the Rangers seemed to have improved themselves, they have serious physical questions, to their top players, that will have to be addressed as the season progresses.

Improvement? Matt Cullen and Aaron Ward are improvements over Steve Rucchin and Tom Poti. Heck, just getting rid of Rucchin and Poti is an improvement. Two no hitters gone, goodbye and don't write. Both Cullen and Ward are coming off their best offensive seasons in Carolina's Stanley Cup Championship run. Cullen was 25-24-49 and Ward was 6-19-25. The supposedly offensive defenseman Tom Poti was 3-20-23 and he is going to be the Islander quarterback on the power play. Good luck!

Of course the big upgrade is the 37 year old Brendan Shanahan. He was 40-41-81 for Detroit last year and is the perfect compliment to Jaromir Jagr. Shanahan is the bruiser and Jagr is the cruiser. They will make wonderful bookends on the power play. Shanahan will probably be on the second line with Cullen and Prucha and give the Rangers two top elite lines. Basically, line 1 and line 1A. How close are these two great stars? Shanahan has 598 career goals and Jagr has 592 goals. Lets keep our fingers crossed that Jagr's shoulder holds up during the season.

While there is just one youngster, Petr Prucha, on the first two lines the third and fourth lines seem to give opportunities to some young players to crack the lineup. Blair Betts and Jarkko Immonen seem to have the center spots for the third and fourth line locked up. Betts, 26 years old, is coming off of his first full season and Immonen, 24 years old, made some cameo appearances last year. Young, 20 years old, Brandon Dubinsky who has racked up a point a game in the WHL, 82-148-230 in 234 games, would seem to be a real longshotto make the team but looked what happened with Prucha last year.

The team is loaded with young skater for the wings on the third and fourth lines. Holdovers Jason Ward, 27 years old, Ryan Hollweg, 23 years old and Marcel Hossa, 25 years old, seem to be a lock for the team. Hossa played only 59 games prior to last year with the Rangers. Hossa was 10-6-16 in 64 games and seems to have the tools to have a big year. Sitting on the outside looking in for a break are Adam Hall, Colton Orr and young sniper Nigel Dawes, 35-32-67 for Hartford last year. Dawes is all of 21 years old. Jed Ortmeyer is working his way back from the pulmonary embolism that hit him and we pray for a quick recovery for this young dynamo.

So where is the problem? Toughness! The lack of it. We need a few more grinders to go into the corners. The first line don't have any and the second line has two and they are both fragile, young Prucha and old Shanahan. Erik Rasmussen, a free agent would be a good addition to this team. What do you think?

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Worst Coaches & Managers in New York Sports History

Some were clueless, some just didn't understand New York, some went on to success elsewhere. Here is list of some of the worst head coaches and managers in New York sports history:

1) Rich Kotite
Head Coach, Jets, for 1995-96
2 years: 32 games, 4-28, .125 winning %

2) Bill Arnsparger
Head Coach, NY Giants, 1974-1976
7-28-0 in 35 games, .200 (lost all 7 games he coached in 1976)

3) Lou Holtz
Head Coach, Jets, 1976
3-10 in 13 games, .230 (left with one game left in the season to resume his college coaching career at the University of Arkansas)

4) Larry Brown
Head Coach NY Knicks 2005-06 (July 28, 2005 - June 22, 2005)
23-59 in 82 games, .280

5) Bob Hill (Knicks, Fordham)
Head Coach, Knicks, 1986-87
20-46 in 66 games, .303
Head Coach 1999-2003 Fordham University
36-78 in 114 games, .316 (2-26 in last season, finishing with 15 str. losses)

6) Clyde "Bulldog" Turner
Head Coach, Jets, 1962
5-9 in 14 games, .357

7) Pete Carroll
Head Coach, Jets, 1994
6-10 in 16 games(lost final 6 games) .375

8) John McVay
Head Coach, NY Giants, 1976-1978
14-23-0 in 37 games, .378

9) George Bamberger
Manager, Mets, 1982-1983
81-127 in 208 games, .389

10) Charley Winner
Head Coach, Jets, 1974-1975
9-14 in 23 games, .391

11) Don Chaney
Head Coach, Knicks, 2001-02 through 2003-04
72-112 in 184 games, .391

12) Bucky Dent
Manager, Yankees, 1989-90
36-53 in 89 games, .405

13) Joe Torre
Manager, Mets, 1977-81
286-420 in 706 games, .405

14) Bruce Coslet
Head Coach, Jets, 1990-1993
26-38 in 64 games, .406

15) Ray Perkins
Head Coach, NY Giants, 1979-1982
24-35-0 in 59 games, .407

16) Alex Webster
Head Coach, NY Giants, 1969-1973
29-40-1 in 70 games, .414

17) Glen Sather
Head Coach, NY Rangers, Jan. 29, 2003 - Feb. 25, 2004
33-46-11 in 90 games
General Manager 2000-present (1 playoff appearance 2006)
172-183-26-29 in 410 games

18) Art Howe
Manager, Mets, 2003-04
137-186 in 323 games, .424

19) Stump Merrill
Manager, Yankees, 1990-91
120-155 in 275 games, .436%

20) Bryan Trottier
Head Coach, Rangers, 2002-03 (June 12, 2002 - Jan. 29, 2003)
21-26-6-1 in 54 games

21) Frank Howard
Manager, Mets, 1982-83
52-64 in 116 games, .448

22) Bill Belichick
Head Coach in 2000 for one day Jets

Did we forget someone? Who do you think is the worst coach in NY sports history? College coaches are welcome too. Leave your comments.

Aside: What is the correct way to calculate the winning percentage for hockey coaches given the fact that points are awarded for ties? Is it wins divided by losses, or is it wins divided by total games?

Saturday, September 02, 2006

100 Unsigned Free Agents

The salary cap has caused an unintended casualty, the unsigning of over 100 free agents including some quality players such as Brian Leetch, Anson Carter, Peter Bondra, Erik Rasmussen, Trevor Lindin, Kenny Jonsson, Radek Dvorak and Victor Koszlov. One example is The New Jersey Devils who are already at the cap of $44 million and don't have restricted free agent Brian Gionta under contract. The Devils are being strangled by the contracts to two players Lamoriello would love to dump, Vladimir Malakhov and Alexander Mogilny. I think the world of Lamoriello and believe that he is the best GM in the business, but this is fun watching him trying to squirm out of this one. If Lou pulls it off he should win the "Houdini of the Year" award. The Devils must sign Gionta.

One of the players that Lou could lose is Erik Rasmussen. Rasmussen is a rugged checker, only 29 years old, and scored 5 goals and 5 assists in 67 games. The Rangers are reportedly looking at Radek Dvorak as a checking penalty killer. Dvo had 8 goals and 20 assists last year and is also 29 years old. From here it would seem like Rasmussen would be a more effective fit. However Dvo is another Czech and would fit in the locker room perfectly. I like Rasmussen but put your bets on Dvorak.

Anson Carter is a puzzle still being unsigned. Here is a guy, 33 years old, who racked up 33 goals, 22 assists last year with Vancouver. He had a brief stint with the Rangers playing 54 games in two seasons, 2002-03, 2003-04. He might not look bad on a third line of Betts, Hollweg and Carter. But we are going for youth right? Who would you rather have? A high octane veteran who plays it tough both ways and who can score and check or an errratic speedster who often than not will miss the net and doesn't check? But he is a Czech.

It is hard to imagine Brian Leetch still being unsigned with about two weeks to training camp. Rumors are strong that he and the Rangers are in contact. A one year deal would be perfect and it probably could be done for less than $2 million per. Right now the Rangers are about $5 million under the cap. I know quite a few of you want to see the young guys and I agree, but four of the Rangers seven are over 30 so its not that Leetch will be stealing a spot from a youngster.

So sign Rasmussen as the checker, penalty killer and Leetch as the seventh defenseman and send Ozolinsh to Hartford and the squad should be set. What do you think?

ICINGS: Mike Keenan leaving Florida is somewhat of a mystery. The owner, Alan Cohen tried to talk him out of it. Rumors of a difference of opinion between him and coach Martin should be downplayed. Since when does a coach win a battle over a GM, especially one as head strong as Keenan. It could be that Iron Mike felt there wasn't much more that he could do with this team. But it is natural for him to leave after two years with the Panthers. The guy gets bored. It was too quiet in Florida. His best bet will be to come back as a coach for some team that gets off to a bad start. That should be an incentive for all teams to get off to strong starts.

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