Wednesday, October 19, 2011

This is only tangentially related to hockey

but it is definitely the coolest thing you will learn all month. (I'll get back to posting about actual hockey when things get less crazy at my real job).

So, the Ericsson Globe, right? In Stockholm, where the Rangers started their season off. You remember the place. You may even remember Sam or Al or Joe or someone telling you on the broadcast that it's the world's largest hemispherical building.

Here's what you didn't learn on the broadcast: that hemisphere represents the Sun, in the world's largest to-scale model of the solar system. The model is to scale in both size of body and distance. So, for example, there's some little metal sphere around 1.8 miles from the Ericsson Globe representing Mercury, and there's some 8-foot light-up acrylic ball on the other fucking side of the country representing Neptune. The model is 1:20,000,000 scale, and it spans almost all of Sweden. It includes the sun and all the planets, as well as other bodies in orbit such as dwarf planets, comets, and moons.

How fucking sweet is that?!?

Friday, October 7, 2011

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Making some sense of all these roster moves

So, yes, we all know: Sean Avery cleared waivers and was reassigned to the Connecticut Whale, where he will presumably play for a while. This is tragic, and no, I'm not over it. It occurred to me yesterday, when I put on my Avery shirt to wear in a silent protest no one gave a shit about, that I own 2 numbered player-specific Rangers T-shirts: 25 and 16. Oof.

There's very little I can say about this that hasn't already been said. If I weren't so busy at work this week, I'd put together the Rangers' overall record since 2007 with and without Avery in the lineup, and if I were really free I'd try to correlate that with his ice time. Unfortunately, no one pays me to look up statistics just to prove a point to nobody, and my job does pay me to do something that isn't that. So, if you're not busy, look that up for me. Otherwise, hopefully I'll do it later?

Outside of that, we all know what happened here. Avery's a much better player than a lot of people give him credit for, John Tortorella included. On October 1, Torts said the final cut was down to Avery or Christensen. Since then, in our final 2 preseason games, he played Christensen in both and Avery in neither, claiming he already knew what Avery had to offer and needed to see what Christensen could do. Then Christensen had 2 shitty games and he cut Avery, actually going so far as to say Christensen's a guy who can help us in the shootout.

It was never about preseason, it was about finding a lame excuse to cut Sean Avery, which Tortorella finally did. The 2 final preseason games weren't for evaluation, they were giving Christensen an opportunity to do something decent, so Torts could point at it and say "See? This is why." That didn't pan out, because, as mentioned, Christensen is a piece of shit (and no, as commenter Chris pointed out Monday, it doesn't help any that Christensen ran his mouth off about Avery to the media, in exactly the way a teammate never should). So Torts was left floundering when he had to tell the media yesterday why he cut Avery: Christensen couldn't even play well enough to give Torts the excuse he was so desparately looking for.

It's bullshit. Avery's got a great pass and great puck protection, and he was marginalized by a media-hating coach who took the media's stance on one of his own. For more on this, here's Scotty Hockey's brief but correct farewell post. And tangentially related, last week when Avery was still a Ranger, Kerri at Some Like it Blue posted a Fire-Joe-Morganning of some bullshit at the Fourth Period that's worth a read.

Anyway, the point was supposed to be that I'm not here to talk about Avery, I'm here to talk about the rest of the roster. Here are some other things that have happened in the last couple of days. First of all, Dale Weise was among the Rangers cut from camp last week, as noted here. So, the plan was to reassign him to Connecticut, but first he had to clear waivers. For some reason, he was not exempt from waivers - I've been reading the CBA, and I cannot figure out why. Really, if anyone can explain this to me, please do. My interpretation is he should have been exempt.

Anyway, he was waived, and he didn't clear. He almost cleared, but then the Canucks (who had the second-to-last chance at him, in front of only the Cup-winning Bruins) claimed him. So, Dale Weise is a Canuck now. Sad times.

Then, we waived Brendan Bell and Stu Bickel. "But, wouldn't that leave us with only five defensemen?" you might ask, if you were poised to set me up perfectly for this explanation. Not really. See, when a team waives a player, assuming he clears, the player has no obligation to be reassigned to any particular team. The Rangers can, and in fact did, waive Bell and Bickel and then, once they clear, leave them on the roster. "So why would they bother?" Perceptive question! Well, once a player clears waivers, he is exempt from clearing them for another 30 days. So by waiving Bell and Bickel now, the Rangers avoid having to waive them if the wanna send them down sometime in the next 30 days (after which some teams, having seen injuries or NHL-level play from mediocre players, might be more interested in claiming them).

Then, there was the announcement from Slats himself that Staal is being placed on IR and could miss a good month of the season. Of course, this is no surprise, as a concussion is a totally unpredictable and terrible thing that you should never receive from your brother.

Seriously, you guys, if you are in a jam and you need to give your brother or sister something for a birthday or a Christmas, do not give him or her a concussion. It is the gift that keeps on giving you headaches and dizziness and you cannot get rid of it. Go buy a fucking candle or something. Bake them some banana bread! Who doesn't love banana bread? Come on, you guys. This holiday season: say no to giving your siblings concussions.

On injured reserve, Staal still counts against the cap, but he does not count against the maximum roster size of 23. He must remain on IR for at least 7 days (which means he could theoretically be brought back by the first Ranger game in North America, though he likely won't be). So, that leaves 7 defensemen on the roster, of whom 2 have just cleared waivers. Which means we needed to supplement. Step one was to fly back Tim Erixon, who had only been cut on Saturday morning. That's a lot of time on airplanes for the kid.

Then, today, the Rangers claimed Jeff Woywitka off the waiver wire. He's a 28-year-old left-handed defenseman waived by the Canadiens (who themselves just picked up former Ranger Blair Betts off the wire) yesterday. Woywitka is 6'3", 215-lb, and has been in and out of NHL lineups (more out than in) since being Philly's first-round pick in 2011 (a full 68 picks before Philly was up again, selecting someone named "Patrick Sharp"). I know absolutely nothing else about him. The only friend I have who has ever heard of him before explained, "So you know what VORP is? He's the RP."

This left the Rangers with 9 defensemen on the roster. With their 13 remaining forwards and 3 goalies (remember, the European start to the season allows us an additional goalie over the roster maximum for now), that's one defenseman too many. So, the Rangers today reassigned Bickel to Connecticut. One more plane ride - the NHL really needs to figure out how to handle this whole "European season opener" thing a little better.

So, finally, with all of that said and done, with all of these goddamn plane rides even though the season starts tomorrow, here is the New York Rangers' season-opening roster (assuming no further moves are made in the next 21 hours):

Forwards: Artem Anisimov, Brian Boyle, Ryan Callahan, Erik Christensen, Brandon Dubinsky, Ruslan Fedotenko, Marian Gaborik, Brandon Prust, Brad Richards, Mike Rupp, Derek Stepan, Wojtek Wolski, Mats Zuccarello

Defensemen: Brendan Bell, Michael Del Zotto, Steve Eminger, Tim Erixon, Dan Girardi, Ryan McDonagh, Mike Sauer, Marc Staal (Injured Reserve), Jeff Woywitka

Goalies: Martin Biron, Henrik Lundqvist, Scott Stajcer (Extra Goalie for European Trip)

As for the lineup for tomorrow, it seems obvious that Christensen will be the odd man out until some other forward earns his way off the ice. With the other 12, it is a no-brainer how I would arrange these lines:

Wolski - Richards - Gaborik
Dubinsky - Anisimov - Callahan
Fedotenko - Stepan - Zuccarello
Rupp - Boyle - Prust

However, John Tortorella doesn't believe in lines working together as units. As we've seen time and time again, he believes in 12 individual forwards, and he puts the people he considers the "best" in each position on the top line, and on down the lineup. So, despite Wolski skating with Richards and Gaborik for the majority of the preseason, and despite Dubinsky-Anisimov-Callahan being the Rangers' most solid, consistent line throughout last season, Torts has decided to jumble things around for opening day tomorrow. According to many Rangers reporters' tweets, the game will begin with Dubinsky on the top line, with Feds filling in on Anisimov's left. Based on practice lines today, the lineup to start the game will look like this (assuming Christensen is the scratch):

Dubinsky - Richards - Gaborik
Fedotenko - Anisimov - Callahan
Wolski - Stepan - Zuccarello
Rupp - Boyle - Prust

I'd be more worried about that if I believed Torts would keep any of these lines together for more than a hot minute, but it'd be nice to see him going with actual line combinations, instead of just mix-and-match forwards.

On defense, obviously, Sauer, McDonagh, and Girardi will be playing. Reports seem to be that Del Zotto will be the other man put in the top 2 pairs, and Erixon/Eminger seems to be the most likely third pairing (which, among other things, makes me wonder why we bothered putting Woywitka on a plane out to Sweden and Bickel on a plane back to Hartford). Woywitka and Bell would then be the healthy scratches (along with Mr. Softie).

It's been a long week. But there they are: your 2011-2012 New York Rangers.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011


We kept believing in making the right decision

and this whole time, Torts was stringing us along until he made the wrong one: the Rangers are waiving Sean Avery. This is something Tortorella has wanted from the beginning, he never gave Avery a fair chance on this team, and it's a huge mistake, because he's an incredible asset. The Rangers will regret this decision. And Erik Christensen is still a piece of shit.

Monday, October 3, 2011

The Perils of Europe

We've all heard the complaints about the Rangers starting their season in Europe again (which it seems they will continue to do for a few seasons to come, what with the Garden renovation project): how it disrupts the schedule, makes it harder for the team to get into a rhythm, and so on. We've heard about how against the whole thing Torts is, and how clear he's made that to Slats. And it's true: the interviews with the team are already talking about what a busy schedule they've had the last few days, and how excited they are to get to Stockholm and take a deep breath. Not what you want to hear out of your club in the fucking preseason.

But I'm not here to talk about those issues. I'm here to talk about the other danger of a European preseason: Mats Zuccarello.

Now, let me be clear before you start labeling me a heightist: I like Zuccarello. He can be very creative with the puck when he's got the room, he's a good setup guy, and he has even shown himself to be a little tough for his size. As with all successful short sportsmen, it's easy to call him "scrappy," but there's also some talent there that can't be ignored.

With that said, let's take a quick look at his main on-ice strengths and weaknesses. What he does well: makes clever passes, sets up plays, works well with lots of room. What he doesn't so well (did I say that correctly?): clears bodies out of his way to make that room. Possibly through no fault of his own (yes, the guy is my height, and yes, that does matter), he struggles at the NHL level, as we saw last season, because he doesn't have the room and time to make those clever plays against bigger, tougher opponents. And when he loses those clever passes, he tends to disappear altogether.

Now, let's take a look at some basic characteristics of European hockey. Do you see where I'm going with this? A European hockey rink, like the ones the Rangers have been playing their preseason on, is 13 feet wider than a North American rink. European teams, as compared to NHL teams, also tend to be smaller, less physical teams. All this adds up to a bunch more room and time on the ice to make those good-looking plays.

Have you put two and two together here yet? It makes four, people. Zuccarello has looked really good (at least from what I've seen). So good, in fact, that he has at this point earned himself the twelfth roster spot (more on that later). Which stands to reason - he's very talented at this. But what happens when we get back home, and we have to play NHL-sized teams on NHL-sized ice? If last season is any indication, he disappears again.

The preseason isn't just used to warm up your veterans for the season: it's also used to figure out who will and won't make your team. You hear all about the travel and schedule issues with a European season-start, but you hear a lot less about the fact that you play totally different hockey there. 26 NHL teams have spent the last 2 weeks playing practice NHL games, on real NHL ice, against each other. Meanwhile, the Rangers, along with Buffalo, LA, and Anaheim, have been practicing European hockey, not NHL hockey. They've been playing it on European ice, and they've been playing it against European teams, not even against each other. That makes them less ready to face the NHL when they come home, and it causes them to put their teams together based on this less helpful data.

Which is why Mats Zuccarello will be the 12th Ranger forward when the season opens at the end of the week. The Rangers made a bunch of roster cuts on Saturday morning (which I was too lazy to blog about at the time, because I was playing Assassin's Creed 2 instead). From their most recent roster of 33 (roster of 35 was listed here, then Deveaux and Thuresson were cut as mentioned here), the Rangers made an additional 8 cuts on Saturday: 5 forwards and 3 defensemen. Those cuts:

Forwards: Kris Newbury, Dale Weise, John Mitchell, Ryan Bourque, Carl Hagelin
Defensemen: Tim Erixon, Dylan McIlrath, Blake Parlett

McIlrath was sent back to his junior team, the rest were reassigned to the Whale. 33 - 8 = 25 players left on the roster. Here's who they are:

Forwards (14)
Artem Anisimov, Sean Avery, Brian Boyle, Ryan Callahan, Erik Christensen, Brandon Dubinsky, Ruslan Fedotenko, Marian Gaborik, Brandon Prust, Brad Richards, Mike Rupp, Derek Stepan, Wojtek Wolski, Mats Zuccarello

Defensemen (8)
Brendan Bell, Stu Bickel, Michael Del Zotto, Steve Eminger, Dan Girardi, Ryan McDonagh, Mike Sauer, Marc Staal

Goalies (3)
Martin Biron, Henrik Lundqvist, Scott Stajcer

Now, you may recall that the maximum NHL roster is 23. You see 25 here. However, a special allowance is made for teams who start the season in Europe, that they may carry 1 extra goalie for the start of the season (which is why Stajcer remains on the roster at this point). So, one more cut remains to be made between today's preseason closer, a 2:00 against EV Zug, and Friday's season opener, at 1:00 against the Kings. Torts has made it clear that he intends to start the season with 13 forwards and 8 defensemen (a smart move given the uncertainty surrounding Staal, who remains in the States as of now). It's also recently become clear that Zuccarello's position is cemented, and that the final cut will come down to Avery or Christensen.

Christensen played in yesterday's 4-1 victory over HC Slovan, while Avery was a healthy scratch. According to Kevin DeLury, Christensen himself had a bad game, though (what else is new?). Presumably, Avery will be in this afternoon's lineup and Christensen won't, and then the final decision will be made. Ideally, Avery will play another solid game (as he has all preseason), and then Tortorella will make the right decision and keep Avery on the roster.

This would leave Avery poised to be inserted into the regular lineup in a few weeks, should Mats Zuccarello succumb to the perils of North America.