Monday, January 31, 2011

A Momentary Diversion

Hockey Night in Canada and the NHLPA conducted a survey of active players in the NHL, kind of a "fun All-Star Break" thing. You can check out the whole poll here, but having read it, I thought I'd specifically list the times our Rangers are named for you.

First of all, awesome:
Which team would you most like to play for?
4. New York Rangers (9%)
(Behind Detroit, Vancouver, and Chicago)

These two make an excellent juxtaposition:
Which rink has the worst ice?
2. Madison Square Garden (14%)
Which is your favorite rink to play in?
2. Madison Square Garden (9%)

Torts made it a couple of times:
Which coach demands the most of his players?
1. John Tortorella (28%)
Which coach would you least like to play for?
2. John Tortorella (15%)
Niiiiice.

Then, the players:
Which goalie is the most difficult to score on?
4. Henrik Lundqvist (14.8%)
Who is the toughest player?
1. Derek Boogaard (23%)
No, seriously. Leaps and bounds above second place, Colton Orr, at 9%.

And a pair of confidence boosters for Gabby:
Who is the best skater?
1. Marian Gaborik (26%)
Who is the league's fastest skater?
1. Marian Gaborik (37%)

Finally, it's not Ranger-related specifically, but I thought I'd share the results of the Who is the best referee? poll:
5. Tim Peel (7%)
4. Wes McCauley (9%)
3. Bill McCreary (10%)
2. Kelly Sutherland (13%)
1. None (15%)

That is all.

Play the roster game!

No official word yet, but it sounds like Callahan will almost definitely be back for tomorrow night, and even Prospal has been pronounced "ready to go" for the first time all season, and could be back by tomorrow or Thursday. Meanwhile, after sending down everyone ever during the All-Star Break, we have today recalled Del Zotto, Grachev, and Newbury. So, the question is: assuming Callahan and Prospal return (and no others do for now), what roster do we currently use?

I mean, clearly, if Girardi is out, there's no defenseman to cut. If he's back, DZ is probably cut. Fine. Let's look at our roster of healthy forwards, given the return of Cally and Prospal: Anisimov, Avery, Boyle, Callahan, Drury, Gaborik, Grachev, Newbury, Prospal, Prust, Stepan, Wolski, Zuccarello. That's 13. It's easy to assume a couple of things: Grachev gets the one cut, Drury and Newbury stay on the 4th line. But then what?

Here's what I think ends up happening: Avery gets the shaft.

Let's start by making what we think are the logical assumptions. Keep Wolski-Stepan-Zuccarello together as a second line. Leave Gaborik up on the first line with Avery. Keep Boyle with Prust as a part of a third line. Keep Drury and Newbury on the fourth line. All reasonable, right? Well, here's what that leaves:

Avery - ? - Gaborik
Wolski - Stepan - Zuccarello
Prust - Boyle - ?
Newbury - Drury - ?

With Anisimov, Prospal, and Callahan left to fill in the ?s. Maybe you put Callahan on the Boyle line, maybe you put Callahan with Stepan and Wolski and move Zuccarello to the Boyle line. Whatever; that's not important. What it leaves is an open spot on the first line and an open spot on the fourth line, with Prospal and Anisimov out. Bringing Prospal back to put him on the fourth line is silly. Sure, he could center the first line, but then where does Anisimov go? Surely not on the fourth line with Drury and Newbury. So who does go down there?

It wouldn't be Boyle or Stepan any more than it would be Anisimov. Again, that would be silly. Assuming it's not Gaborik, that leaves us Avery, Wolski, Zuccarello, Prust, and Callahan. One of those five men gets put on the fourth line with Drury and Newbury. Torts could shift down Brandon Prust, who has not been particularly productive lately? But it seems like it would be easiest to relegate Avery (who has been a force lately) back down, leaving room on the first line for Anisimov, Prospal, and Gaborik.

What would you do?

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

C on D?

So, before I get into it, let's take a moment to reflect on how fucking fantastic it is to watch this team right now. I hate to use the clich├ęs that are all over the media about us right now, like "never-say-die" and crap, but they're pretty accurate: we just refuse to lose hockey games, regardless of the circumstance. It is impossible not to love this team.

And so, instead of stumbling to the All-Star Break wondering where our playoff position went, we come flying through January 7-6-1, in 6th in the Conference - 2 points behind the 5th-place Caps, tied with the 3rd-place Bruins, and 7 points to the better of losing a playoff spot. And that includes last night, a game I'm considering a moral victory despite not getting any points out of it. That game-winning goal for Florida was going 3 feet wide, Anisimov was coming over to get in the way, and it took a bizarre bounce high up into the air and landed right behind Lundqvist. It's a ridiculous way to lose a hockey game, and whatever. That goal was Florida's only registered shot of the period, after we held them to only 4 shots in the first. We came back to tie it early in the 3rd after being down 3-1, and we did everything we were supposed to. Fuck the two points, it's been a great month.

So here's the question: what next? I wrote last time about 8 injured starting forwards. Well, Brandon Prust proved me wrong by just cold playing anyway, leaving 7. We know Frolov is never coming back. Let's make some bold assumptions, for the purposes of discussion: 1) we don't give a damn if Boogaard ever gets healthy; 2) I know people are talking about Prospal finally returning very soon, but let's remain dubious and keep him out of the conversation.

Even without Prospal or Boogaard, we're looking at 4 forwards that do return to the lineup: Christensen, Callahan, Dubinsky, and Fedotenko. With the team playing like this, what do we do with them when they come back? Which lines deserve to be broken up? Who deserves to be sent down?

Well, I think we start by sending down Kolarik and putting Fedotenko back on that line. That's easy. Then, honestly, I'd take Anisimov out from the middle of Avery and Gaborik and insert Christensen there instead. I'd leave Wolski-Stepan-Zuccarello alone, and I'd use Anisimov to re-construct a new old line, centering Dubinsky and Callahan once again.

See the problem? We've got Avery-Christensen-Gaborik, Dubinsky-Anisimov-Callahan, Wolski-Stepan-Zuccarello, and Fedotenko-Boyle-Prust. We've also got Grachev or Dupont, Drury, and Newbury - and I really only see three of those four guys going back down to Connecticut. What do we do with Chris Drury?

Surely I'm not suggesting cutting him from the lineup - regular readers will know that I stand behind him as a player, and even though he's not producing, he's solid on the PK, and it's nice to have a veteran presence in the locker room. I don't think he's the travesty of a captain that a lot of Ranger fans seem to (and as I've said, I think our youth movement is well and truly in place, and I don't really think we need to cut everyone over 30). At the same time, look at those 4 potential lines, and tell me which forward you cut to make room for Drury. Is there anyone on any of those lines that you'd rather send down in deference to the captain?

Here's my wacky recommendation: suit up Drury on the blue line. Here's the thing: in 21 games since he returned, Drury has 4 assists and no goals in skating an average of 12:30 per game. I am passionately not one of those people who says "he makes a lot of money, so he needs to score a lot of goals" - I know there are lots of ways to contribute to a hockey team that aren't scoring goals. But the fact is that he's not producing. That's not why he's valuable to us this season.

He's valuable because, despite what we may think of his non-committal, soft post-game interviews, everyone on the team seems to say he's a great locker room presence. He's valuable because he's one of our best penalty killers. He's valuable because despite not scoring, he goes hard after the puck, he blocks zillions of shots, and it's very hard to score while he's on the ice (with only 4 assists and 0 goals on the season, as a forward, he's still a +2). Now, which position on a hockey team does that skill set describe?

Meanwhile, let's take an honest look at our defense. Yes, Staal, Girardi, and Sauer have all stepped up and played just inspiring defense this season. They're three great, young reasons to be excited about the future of this team. Eminger (the defense's resident old man, at 27) has been very good most of the time, with some awful games here and there, and needs to work on a little consistency. Then there are Matt Gilroy, Michael Del Zotto, and Ryan McDonagh, all of whome I'm happy with at times, all of whom I'm excited to see as part of this club's future, and all of which could stand some more time in Connecticut improving their games.

See what I'm getting at here? Throw the captain in the mix! Even on a third pair, he'll get a little more ice time than he does now, so it's not a demotion. People can stop expecting him to score, which he's not doing anyway. He can keep being the defensive strength he is for us now. Meanwhile, our blue line gets a little bit of veteran presence. We gain a little more depth for when there are injuries on defense, and we get Gilroy, DZ, and McDonagh to spend more time in Connecticut, actually competing with each other for spots. It's one thing to have DZ there working on his game by himself, it's another entirely to have a healthy rotation of kids, where every day they spend with the Whale, they're competing to get back onto the Rangers. Maybe even throw Eminger into the mix.

The one down side I see to this plan is faceoffs. Drury is the one Ranger who has taken over 50 faceoffs and is over 50% on them. We are awful on the faceoff, and moving Drury back to defense would only make us worse. But I'm thinking that might be worth it. Disagree with my crazy plan? Leave a comment: what would you do if Christensen, Callahan, Dubinsky, and Fedotenko all returned this week?

Monday, January 24, 2011

Not supposed to do this

You're not supposed to whine about injuries. So says basically everyone. And the Rangers, largely, aren't - and they're somehow 6-5-1 to date in the new year. Not an "elite contender" record, but still technically a winning record, and very much impressive all things considered.

So here. We're moving offices at work, so things are busy, so I don't have a ton of time. I'll resort to doing what you're not supposed to do.

Let's ignore Dan Girardi, because he is a defenseman, and our corps of defensemen, outside of him, is healthy (yes, I know he's 1/6 of it, but still). I will now list starting forwards that are out of the lineup due to injury right now. This does not count Drury's and Gaborik's early-in-the-year injuries, mind you - it is simply the starting forwards who are missing hockey games right now.

Let's all bear in mind that there are twelve (12) forwards in a lineup.

Derek Boogaard, Ryan Callahan, Erik Christensen, Brandon Dubinsky, Ruslan Fedotenko, Alexander Frolov, Vinny Prospal, Brandon Prust

All 8 should have been starters for us. 7 were on opening night, and Prospal's been injured this whole time. 5 forwards in the lineup on opening night are still healthy and skating with us right now: Gaborik, Avery, Anisimov, Stepan, and Boyle. Throw in Chris Drury and the acquired-not-a-moment-too-soon Wojtek Wolski, and you've got half a team.

So, let's hear it for Mats Zuccarello, Dale Weise, Brodie Dupont, Chad Kolarik, Evgeny Grachev, and Kris Newbury. Hopefully, they can keep on helping is limp through: 2 more games, tonight and tomorrow night, and then we get the All-Star Break to heal up for a bit. That is all.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Where'd the goals go?

It was a very good December. It was a December in which we went 8-3-1, including three victories over our hated rival Islanders and a decisive third-period comeback over HBO's Penguins following a 7-0 blowout of HBO's Capitals. Among People Who Talk About Hockey For a Living, the Buzzword around the Rangers stopped being "grinders" and started being "contenders." Every other article was about how the Rangers can now maybe be taken seriously among the top teams of the Eastern Conference.

I'm not prepared to say the wheels are coming off (nor was I prepared to agree that the wheels were ever quite so on as these people were saying), but we have been playing somewhat less inspiring hockey this month. We're back down to a .500 team in January, going 4-4-1 in 9 games so far. As Larry Brooks put it bluntly today, we are "no more than another bad week from going into the All-Star Break on the outside of the playoff picture looking in."

It's worth noting that we're also an excellent week or two from the top of the conference - that's how it works in today's "even losers deserve points in the standings, shootouts are exciting so try to make them happen" NHL - but this is not the point. The point is that there is an undeniable indicator that the Rangers have underperformed in 2011: we've stopped scoring goals.

In that glorious 12-game December, the Rangers put up 43 goals. So far in January? Only 14, on pace for under 19 goals when we hit that 12-game mark. 43.4% of the goals we scored in as many games in December. Rough stuff.

Anyway, I'm trying to keep some of these posts shorter, so anyone at all will read then, and I'm not sure what I really have to say here. I don't entirely blame the loss of Callahan and friends to injuries, and I don't really buy the "it's Gaborik's fault" thing, either. I think everyone needs consistent linemates, and we've always been a score-by-committee team. So, as always, my solutions are: give Avery more ice time, and keep the lines consistent. But I'm not here with evidence that that will help; I'm just here to point out what should be the obvious: we need more goals from everyone if we want to win hockey games.

Friday, January 14, 2011

30 is a Good Number

Hell, yes.

Some of you may have heard about the Vancouver Canucks, the team with the best record in hockey right now, and how they came into the Garden last night having not lost a single game in regulation in their previous 17 games, (their last regulation loss being 3-2 to the Blues on December 5). You may have heard of a pair of identical talents named Henrik and Daniel Sedin. You probably heard a lot about how this game was going to be a big test for the Rangers.

Well, Coach Tortorella (who gets big points from me when he says shit like this) rejected that idea, saying "Obviously, they're one of the better teams in the league. But I think we're a good team, too. I don't like the idea of measuring sticks... We're going to play them head-on and see where we land, just like we do with other teams." However, he did give some deference to Vancouver's second-most-goals-in-the-league offense, saying "We're going to need some goals tonight. We're not going to win a hockey game 1-0. We won't."

Not that I begrudge Torts the sentiment. We could really use some more goals lately. Going into last night's game, the Rangers had scored 8 goals in 6 games in 2011, the Canucks 20 in as many. "Scoring by committee" is supposed to mean many different scorers, not that the committee nominates one guy to score on any given night, but their selection varies.

Anyway, by now you know how this story ends. 1-0 in regulation is exactly how we won last night, dealing the Canucks not only their first regulation loss since December 5 but their first shutout since Carey Price blanked them back on November 9. The shutout was Lundqvist's 6th of the season, tying him with Tim Thomas for the league lead, and the 30th of his regular season career, tying him with John Ross Roach for third on the all-time Rangers list, 10 behind Dave Kerr and 19 behind Eddie Giacomin. And oh man did he ever earn it, and the NHL's #1 star of the day, with some of the unbelievable saves he made last night. Of the shutout, Hank said "30 is a good number. Hopefully I can keep it going a little bit longer." Yeah.

Tortorella opened his post-game press conference saying to the reporters, "You guys are going to make me eat my words, aren't you? I was praying they'd tie it up and we'd win it 2-1 in OT." Once again, shit like this makes me love the guy.

But if I can get all whiny for a minute, you know what makes me not love the guy? Him not understanding that Sean Avery is good at hockey. Avery once again came out of the gate playing really well and was once again relegated to insignificant ice time: this time, he got only 6:48, including only one 40-second shift in the entire third period. This put him 1:46 ahead of Dale Weise and 5:43 behind any other forward. I understand that Torts decided that the Fedotenko-Boyle-Prust line (which was fantastic) needed to be on the ice for the entire third period, but how does Sean Avery not break 7 minutes playing like he does in a game like this? What is going on?

And when I mention Avery, bad officiating is never far behind. I'd like to talk about the really bad non-interference call on Avery, when he broke into the zone in the first period, passed the puck away, and then got sandwiched between two Canucks in what could have been used as a video to explain the interference penalty. But unfortunately, it pales in comparison to the bullshit that Alex Burrows pulled in front of Lundqvist near the end of the second. Burrows put his stick right between Staal's legs, pulled, up, and gave him a 24th birthday present of a spear to the nuts. From the ice, Staal slashed at Burrows's ankles, and, as you might expect, Staal got the only penalty - a minor for slashing.

The only good think that came out of this was Tortorella's post-game quote about it: "It's ridiculous. It's dangerous. The thing that bothers me is: how don't you see it? And that's what was told to me. That's what agitated me - they didn't see it. Then Sean Avery chips a puck in, and it's interference. That's a dangerous play on Marc Staal, and it's beyond me how two guys - one in the corner and one out in the neutral zone - can't see it. And we end up down, which usually happens if you retaliate, but if I'm Marc Staal, I'd retaliate, too. I'd try to break his ankle, on something like that. It's ridiculous." It's nice to see the coach stand up for taking a penalty like that, and to stand up for Avery in the same breath.

Anyway, the ensuing penalty was compounded by a delay of game call for putting the puck over the boards, giving the Canucks a 47-second 5-on-3. By the end of the kill, as Sam Rosen says, "they [were] on their feet at the Garden." This was one of two things the Garden Faithful did that worthy of my remark. The other was when some Canucks fans brought out a Canadian flag, and the entire crowd started chanting, "USA! USA!" I liked it a lot. However, unlike usual, I do kinda have to concede to Scotty Hockey's no-fun point this time, that the Canucks' best all-around player is American and our best is a Swede.

Anyway, this was a great, complete hockey game. Special tips of the "good job" hat go to Matt Gilroy and Brian Boyle. In a game where everyone played very well, especially the 20-minute Fedotenko-Prust-Boyle line, you still noticed these two standing out. Boyle especially gave the game of his life. This team is now 18-0-0 in games in which we lead going into the third, which I think is a much more important statistic than that ridiculous "record in 1-goal games" crap. That's a ridiculous crap-statistic. A crap-tistic. The end of this post is now.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Today I Learned...

...that Jonas Hiller's mask is So Fucking Bad-Ass.



That is all.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Our old friend, the salary cap

So, with the trade deadline only 48 days away, I think it's worth a quick glance at just how the Rangers are looking in terms of salary cap, after the Wolski trade and all these injuries. Recall that the salary cap for this season is set at $59.4 million. And so, away we go.

We will start with goalies, as they are always the easy one. Lundqvist makes $6.875m against the cap, Biron $875,000, for a total of $7.75 million against the cap. Done.

Now let's talk about defensemen. Right now, there are 6 on the roster: Staal ($3.975m), Girardi ($3.325m), Gilroy ($1.75m), McDonagh ($1.3m, of which $425,000 is bonuses), Eminger ($1.125m), and Sauer ($500,000). It's clear that at some point, Del Zotto ($1,087,500, of which $212,500 is bonuses) will be thrown back into that mix, probably replacing McDonagh. But for the sake of calculations, let's keep all 7 on our roster. That brings us to $13,062,500, of which $637,500 is bonuses. Recall that you can theoretically go over the cap by a performance-based bonus, but you probably don't want to - more on this later.

2 goalies and 7 defensemen leaves open 14 roster spots for forwards, not counting any that may be on Injured Reserve (more on this later, as well). Let's start with the simple ones: there are 10 forwards that are currently healthy and that we expect to be in the lineup nightly even when everyone is healthy. Those are: Gaborik ($7.5m), Drury ($7.05m), Wolksi ($3.8m), Avery ($1,937,500), Dubinsky ($1.85m), Fedotenko ($1m), Stepan ($875,000, of which $162,500 is bonuses), Anisimov ($821,667), Prust ($0.8m), and Boyle ($525,000). These 10 total another $26,159,167, of which $162,500 is bonuses.

Now, we've actually got 8 other forwards to talk about: 3 that are on IR but will return, 2 that are on IR but won't (I assume), and 3 that are called up in the interim here, whose futures are uncertain. Let's start by talking about those call-ups: Zuccarello ($1.75m, of which $0.85m is bonuses), Weise ($0.7m, of which $155,000 is bonuses), and Newbury ($512,500). Those all count against the cap as long as they're on the roster. Then there are Callahan ($2.3m), Boogaard ($1,625,000), and Christensen ($925,000), who are all on IR but will likely return at some point. Finally, we have Frolov ($3m), who is definitely out for the season, and Prospal ($2.48m, of which $1.4m is bonuses), who, like "Spiderman: Turn off the Dark," has a release date that keeps getting pushed back so much I have trouble believing he will ever actually play.

Obviously, no one is trying to count all 18 of those forwards against our cap. And I'll explain exactly how that works. But first let's add them all up and just see what happens. For these 27 players, the total cap hit is $60,264,167. $864,167 over the cap, 4 players over the maximum roster. So, we don't have any cap troubles. But, realistically speaking, how much room do we have to spare?

Let's start by assuming that Callahan, Boogaard, and Christensen all end up healthy again one day. That means that the 4 healthy roster spots left are distributed among the 3 of them, Zuccarello, Weise, and Newbury. Which really means that spots go to 3 of Boogaard, Christensen, Zuccarello, and Weise. Let's assume Weise gets the final cut, since he's the cheapest. There's $1,212,500 back, and we have the maximum roster size (since Frolov and Prospal are on LTIR, and we have 23 others). We have $348,333 to spend under the cap.

Now let's talk about cap credits. Even if Callahan, Boogaard, and Christensen are back, we've got two guys on LTIR, which means we are allowed to compensate for their loss by bringing in players whose salaries (not cap hits) do not exceed the injured players' salaries (not cap hits). These "replacement players" would then not count against the cap. Frolov's salary is $3m, and Prospal's is $1.08m, so that gives us $4.08m in salary that we can spend in players that would not count against the cap. That's awesome.

But wait; there's more! You'll note that I made a note of performance-based bonuses throughout. We end up, in our total salary, including $3.05m in bonuses. When a contract includes a performance-based bonus, the team may exceed the cap by that bonus (up to 7.5% of the cap, or $4.455m). If the team does so, and the bonus ends up getting paid out, that amount is deducted from the following year's cap, so it's not best to do this. However, it's worth mentioning, in no small part because $1.4m of those bonuses come from Prospal! It's pretty clear that we're in no danger of those being paid out (we're assuming he's on LTIR all season), so those become dollars we can spend.

Finally, those other performance-based bonuses, though we should stay away from them, are money we could theoretically spend if we had to. All this adds up to $1,748,333 we can spend under the cap, $4.08m in salary we could go over the cap, and $1.65 in bonuses we could technically still go over that. That's $7,478,333 we can theoretically spend, even though we'd have a full 23-man roster (2 forwards and 1 defenseman not in the actual lineup). Assuming we were bringing in a player with that money (what else would we do with it?), we'd have to clear him a roster slot, which at the very minimum nets us another $875,000 for sending down McDonagh. If we needed the cap space, we could then send down our 2 spare forwards. Those would likely be Christensen and Boogaard, whose salaries total $2.55m.

This leaves us with a full roster plus $10,903,333 with which we could theoretically make a move. That is more than the salary or the cap hit of any player in the league. Even if you take out the $1.65m in bonuses that we really shouldn't spend, it's still over the salary of anyone except Ovechkin, and over the cap hit of anyone except Lecavalier or Luongo. And that's more or less what we've got to work with on top of our best 20-man roster, if we need it. In conclusion, we have all the room in the world. There is absolutely no one we can/should not pursue for cap reasons. And that is awesome.

Rozsival for Wolski

...and I feel like we've come full circle. By which I mean we've come around to management trading a $5 million, 32-year-old defenseman whose play is streaky for a $3.8 million, 24-year-old forward with exciting offensive potential, and I'm not loving the deal. How did we get here?

If you hadn't heard, and you're also exceptionally bad at picking up context clues, and you also didn't read the title of this post, then know now that the Rangers traded Michal Rozsival to New York West Phoenix last night, for 6'3", 210-lb. left wing Wojtek Wolski. Wolski came into the league (an Av? an Avalancher? a Snowball?) with Colorado at age 19, and was traded to the Coyotes in the middle of last season. I remember liking Wolski when I watched the Coyotes' playoff round last season (Awoooooooooooooooooooo!), and I'm excited to have him around.

That said, he seems like he comes with the usual Sather description of "a guy with a lot of offensive upside who needs a change of scenery to really get going." That's a toss-up: sometimes it describes Brandon Prust or Marian Gaborik, but sometimes it describes Nikolai Zherdev or Alexander Frolov. Speaking of whom, it's hard not to see Wolski as a direct replacement for Frolov, and if you put it in this light, no one would argue that it's a solid move. You hate to see Frolov go down with a season-ending injury like that, and I'd rather it had been just a direct trade of him (not that anyone would have taken it), but at the end of the day, the Rangers lose a $3m cap hit in Frolov and gain a $3.8m hit in Wolski - undeniably an upgrade, even if Wolski's contract lasts an extra season.

Oh Em Gee. If I'm reasonably happy with bringing in Wolski, that means I must actually be unhappy about losing Michal Rozsival. How did we get here??

Here's the thing. It's been very easy for Ranger fans to blame Michal Rozsival for everything ever. Last season, he was part of the dynamic duo of awful contracts, combining with Wade Redden to cost $11.5 million against the cap and be easily the two worst defensemen on the team. Some of us may have thrown around the word "albatross" to describe their contracts. It happens. Sorry.

But at the end of last season, it became much easier to distinguish one from the other, as Rozsival really began to pick up his game. Enter this season: finally rid of Redden, and with no one else over 30 at camp, Rozsival became the one veteran on our defensive team. And he really stepped up into it. Despite remaining the target of now largely undeserved ire from the Garden Faithful, Rozsival came back to form this season and really earned his big minutes as a solid, consistent part of the middle pair. I've said it here before: I really liked Rozsival this season.

Also, as was recounted a couple of sentences ago, Rozsie was the only veteran defenseman on the team. Without him, Eminger comes in as the oldest, at 27, followed by Girardi and Gilroy at 26. The average age of our defense (figuring in 7 men, including both DZ and McD) is fucking 23.7. Under 24 years old. And that's the fucking defense.

And then you look at the forwards. Sure, Drury is 34. After him (and some injuries), we only have two forwards over the age of 28: Avery at 30 and Fedotenko at 31. After that, we only have two more over 26! (Christensen, 27; and Gaborik, 28.) The average age of our forwards is 25.9. Across the entire team (including 7 defensemen and 14 forwards), we only have 4 men over 28 (Drury, Biron, Fedotenko, Avery), and an average age of 25.6. So, for those of you still crying out about the youth movement: we're there. In goddamn abundance. Possibly to a fault. Chill.

So, while the loss of the third-oldest member of the team is certainly a move for the younger, it's not exactly overdue, here. When we all yelled and screamed "build from within, bring up the kids," I'm not entirely certain we were advocating a clean-house policy that undercuts even Bob Dylan's trust protocol by a couple of years.

Anyway, the actual point is that, completely independently of age, Rozsival probably our fourth best defenseman, after Staal, Girardi, and Eminger. Sauer's been very good lately, but he's very new to the NHL, and we don't know if he'll be consistent. Meanwhile, I definitely feel better with Rozsie out there than with Del Zotto, McDonagh, or Gilroy. I like Gilroy in the lineup every night, but the move of Rozsie means we can expect more McD and DZ, and I don't feel as comfortable with them out there.

But, you've got to give something to get something, and with Boogaard, Callahan, Christensen, Frolov, and Prospal all out of the lineup (with Callahan and Christensen the only ones we can expect to see back and making any kind of difference at any point this season), we needed to make a move. Wolski was available, and you've got to give something to get something.

Good luck in Phoenix, Rozsival. You'll be one more Coyote for me to root for. Meanwhile, our team of kids goes up against the Canadiens at the Garden tonight. We should see Wolski, and we may also see call-up Kris Newbury. Meanwhile, if I get the chance later today or tomorrow, I'll look at our cap situation and see why, among our already good situation, this trade, and Long-Term Injured Reserve, we have all the damn cap room in the world.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Midterms?

I know, I know: weeks between posts. There was a Christmas/New Years break, during which I was not home a lot, and I'm still at this new job. I hope I can continue writing this, but it's possible I won't be able to. I'm sorry, 4 people.

Anyway, let's talk about the New York Hockey Rangers. The good news is that, in three consecutive awful games - almost certainly the worst 3-game string we've put together this season - we came away with three points. We beat the Devils playing shitty hockey, because the Devils are just awful. Then, we stole a point in Tampa playing shitty hockey by relying on the two big-talent names on the team: Lundqvist made a bunch of great saves, and Gaborik scored with 30 seconds left to push it into OT (in which we lost on the first shot). Finally, we got the 0 points we deserved by playing shitty hockey in Florida, where a bunch of old, retired Ranger fans apparently live.

My father said something to me the other day. I will tell you what it was, because it will act as a nice lead-in to my point. That is a Writers' Trick, using a personal touch as an introduction to a grander idea. Here is what he said: "Come on, do we really believe that this is all due to missing Callahan?" And, I mean, of course not. Callahan's great, but he can't be the skill difference between the team that beat the Caps and Pens by an aggregate 11-1 and the team that lost to the Lightning and Panthers by an aggregate 5-1. So I start to wonder: what's the actual problem here?

Yes, the Rangers were playing a little over their heads. But more than that, they were winning games through sheer force of will. Just shooting pucks all the time, crunching bodies constantly, and winning the possession game on every shift - there was even a game or two in there wherein we won more faceoffs than we lost (!) - helped us beat hockey teams that are really more skilled than we are. So where does that stuff come from, and where, more importantly, did it go?

At the risk of being kicked out of the VORPies, I'm ready to call it "chemistry." More in hockey than in discrete-event-driven baseball or in set-play-at-a-time football, knowing what your teammate is thinking is important. You don't have time to call plays, so you have to either look around and make decisions based on what you see or put the puck where you know it's going to belong. I've yelled and screamed about it a lot, but Tortorella refuses to use consistent line combinations, ever. Other than a few guidelines (double-shift Gaborik somewhere, make sure Avery doesn't break 10 minutes of ice time for some reason), there's really no consistency from one period to the next. He just puts out some guys and tells them to skate together.

With two exceptions, of course. For most of the season, he has consistently kept Boyle and Prust together (with some additional wing, most often Fedotenko), and he has consistently kept Dubinsky and Callahan together (with some center, most often Anisimov). Those two pairs have been consistent pretty much all season. Quickly now, close your eyes, and name who you think are the 5 most effective Ranger forwards of the season - from opening night through today.

Did Dubi, Cally, Prust, and Boyle all make your list? At least 3 of them did, I bet. Quite possibly all 4. They may even be the top 4 of your 5. Now, I'm not claiming that this is all because they have been paired together all season. And I know some of this is circular logic - in part, Torts has been keeping them together because it's worked. No one's saying Frolov would have 35 points right now if only he'd been on a consistent line with Christensen and Weise all season. But I also feel like Marian Gaborik might be a little more productive right now if he'd been given the chance to gel with anyone at all.

Which brings us back to Callahan. If you think of Dubi-Cally and Prust-Boyle as the only two "line pairs" we've got, then the loss of Callahan means the loss of one of our only two units (and the better one, at that). So, then, yeah. Maybe this is all on Callahan.

In other news, defense. After half a season (yes, folks, tonight is the 41st game of the Rangers' 85th anniversary season - after tonight, we will officially be halfway through the regular season) of playing mediocre-to-bad defense and not really scoring points at a pace to make up for it, Michael Del Zotto (2-7-9, -1) has been reassigned to Connecticut. Good. He's a kid, and time on the Whale will help him. I have no use for a defenseman who forgets how to back-check so he can put up 20 points a season. Sorry, Mike Green. Let DZ go back and learn to play defense, then come back up when he's ready.

Meanwhile, what an opportunity for Gilroy, who has played out of his head since he's back as a lineup regular, and I couldn't be happier about it. I like the guy a great deal, and I'd love to see him succeed here. He looked very good in the few games for which he replaced DZ, before DZ returned to one more before being officially sent down. Also, we've called up Ryan McDonagh in case we need a 7th. Interesting move. I like the personnel choice, but if we're not gonna play him, why not just leave him in Connecticut getting ice time until we need him? Meh, maybe I don't understand how hockey works.

And speaking of defensemen, will I be the world's least popular Ranger fan if I point out that over this 3-game skid, the one Ranger that really stood out making smart plays and generally being an asset on the ice was Michal Rozsival? Cause he really has been good.

Anyway, things aren't all bad for the Rangers - it was just 3 bad games, so far. And in a division with the Flyers and Pens (due to the way the playoffs now work, if we can't pass either of them, we can't end up above 5th in the conference), we're not doing so badly for ourselves. Maybe the Rangers will play a game that isn't painful to watch, tonight when the Hurricanes visit. We can hope so. That's all I've got for the Rangers, but before we go, does anyone know what time it is? 'Cause it looks to me like it's Kovalwatch!!!! time!

At the risk of this becoming a Kovalchuk-themed blog, I had to do another edition today, because of last night's gem. The Devils and the Wild are tied 1-1 a minute or two into the third. And then this thing somehow happens:



It's hard to see, but as Puck Daddy explains, Wild player Clayton Stoner (tee-hee) is trying to dump the puck into the Devils' zone. Ilya the Rich moves in to check Stoner, and the dump-in takes a weird bounce off of his (Kovalchuk's) stick back toward the boards. It then takes a weird bounce back off the boards towards the Devils net, which Johan Hedberg (in for an overrated Brodeur) has vacated so that he can go retrieve the puck along the boards. Hedberg can't get back in time, and the Wild go up 2-1, the score by which they would end up winning the game.

I know, Kovalchuk did nothing wrong on this play. But that does not make it any less hilarious! Nor does it make it any less of a minus one on his increasingly astounding stat sheet. It brings him to a -29, undisputed worst in the league, and on pace for a -60.9 on the season. That would be the 9th worst in the recorded history of the statistic, from what I can tell. Hopefully that projection crosses -61 soon, at which point he will jump in the rankings. I'll let you know.

Meanwhile, the Devils have found themselves a full 8 points behind even the Islanders, who have 2 games in hand on them. Their 22 points in 39 games puts them on pace to finish the season with 46.25 points. For perspective, since the Rangers won the Cup, 3 teams have finished with fewer points than that: the '95-'96 Senators, with 41; the '97-'98 Lightning, with 44; and the inaugural '99-'00 Thrashers, with 39 (the last being the only one since they started giving points for losing in OT). This is a Very Bad Team, is the point.

Man, this is a fun feature to write.