Thursday, July 31, 2008

Does it really all add up, Rangers Fans. . .?

It’s been a week. Okay, it’s been more than a week. So why not throw a few random thoughts out there? Get me, umm you, through a lazy Thursday morning where I, err I mean you, can’t seem to get motivated. Great. Here we go. . .

In the last “more than a week” there’s been a lot of talk on XM204 about moves teams made, moves teams didn’t make, good, bad, or indifferent. Now, I remember listening to The Power Play on last Tuesday I believe, and they were having a conversation about the New York Rangers. *sigh* As a Rangers fan, it didn’t sound good. But, as a Rangers fan, I can’t say that I disagree with much they said. The hosts said that they didn’t know what to think of the Rangers. They didn’t see much sense with the Wade Redden deal (see below). And overall they were not sure WHY this team seriously overspent for so many players last year and again this year, which inevitably only serves to tie up A LOT of cap money. Because honestly it’s not an issue of will this team mesh, will the plan (or lack thereof) work? And goodness knows that I am hoping with all my heart that Marcus Naslund wakes up and thinks it is 2002, that whoever the heck is on the point on the power play actually shoots the puck (at the net!), that the young guys get a chance to play, that Hank Lundqvist gets his consistency going early and often, and that either (and hopefully both) Chris Drury and Scott Gomez make Rangers fans say, yes, damn, now that’s why we got that guy. But rather, it’s merely an issue of basic mathematics.

And before I continue, I must say that even though I’m better than average at math, I am not the type of fan who sits there calculating the room their team is under the cap (or over the cap) and how many (and which) players would have to be moved to make adequate cap space for [fill in the blank]. I can’t. Seriously, it seems like too much work for me that might not yield much satisfaction in the end. Sometimes I’ll try to read someone else’s take on the matter if they’ve showed interest in doing the math and write it out for all to see, but when my head starts to hurt I’ll just stop reading.

But what I can tell you, as a basic, basic math lesson, is that the numbers don’t add up in NY. When the cap is set at around 57 million ($56.7 to be exact), and you have three guys each making around $7 million (Hank about 6.8, and Gomez and Drury both over 7), that is around $21 million – which is around 37% of your total cap room. Add Wade Redden’s 6.5 million (which, mathematicians, yes, yes, is close to 7, very good!) to the mix, and you now have those four players making close to $28 million of your salary – which is (wait for it, wait for it) – 49% of your total to spend. And once again, mathematicians, come on now, don’t let me down – yes! yes, 49 is just a hair under 50. Which is half! The New York Rangers have four players (4 players!) on their roster being paid almost, just about, essentially, when it comes right down to it pretty much half of their total allotted money. And no, no, Wayne Gretzky is not one of them. Neither are Mark Messier, Bobby Orr, Maurice Richard, Gordie Howe, or Mario Lemieux in their best days. They are Scott Gomez, Chris Drury, Wade Redden, and Henrik Lundqvist. Now, I’m not taking a swipe at Hank. (haha, who during Tuesday’s show either Jim Tatti, Gary Green, or Mike Ross called Henrik Lundstrom on air. It was pretty hilarious. Who’s Lundstrom? Seriously. Maybe the Rangers can sign him too!) Lundqvist has been nominated for a Vezina in his first three years, had 10 shutouts last season, and won a gold medal for his country two years ago. For all honesty, he is not the argument here. NY has a great goalie in him, one that will hopefully only get better, and you have to pay your goalie to keep him in town. All teams need that one big franchise goalie to carry the team in order to be successful. But Chris Drury, whos Mr. Clutch routine Rangers fans have seen more of from the wrong side (cue game 5 of the 2007 Eastern Semi finals), Scott Gomez, who can be good, but is not, not, not, not supposed to be any teams top $ maker, and Wade Redden, the guy who EVERYONE even HIMSELF agreed would be and should be taking a pay cut this year after a abysmal year last year – they are all making close to, if not exceeding $7 million dollars. They are NOT worth it. End of story.

Now one can argue – what does it matter? What if the team plays perfectly this year, is competitive, and performs up to and beyond all expectations. But honestly, the odds of that are? The odds are better that the team will not play perfectly, let’s not kid ourselves. But that’s not even the issue. The issue is how much money they have tied up for how many years! Hank’s was a six year deal. Drury’s was for five. Redden’s is 6. And Gomez’s was for 7! That is a lot of money over a long period of time. So, the point is, the Rangers have handicapped themselves not only for this year, but for at least the next four or five years to come. And that is what concerns me more. I’m concerned in general (for Rangers fans that’s part of the deal), but I’m REALLY concerned about that. $7 x 4 = $28 million. $28 = $56.7/2. Which all equals the fact that the Rangers are screwed!!! Mathematics lesson over, kids.

Some boring (even to me) but quick hits. . .

-I swear, you take a week off writing a blog, turn on morning radio, and all of a sudden the Kings are relocating to Kansas City? But yet I can’t find anything about this. Was this a joke? Seriously, someone clue me in. I don’t think Kansas City appreciated what they had (and goodness knows they could have cared less about the train wreck that is the Royals – although they have pretty blue uniforms!) so why they should get a team is already something I don’t quite understand. But LA. LA is going to be good. Really good I hope. LA is the foundation that Gretzky built in the States. The Kings can’t move. Can they? Did someone just start speculating because the Kings and Blues are playing a pre-season game there in a couple months? Did I hear it all wrong? In the early morning or late afternoon, that is very possible.

-Mark Parrish was bought out in Minnesota. Apparently the team was trying to make it seem as if it was not personal. But, how can they say that when they knew their cap situation in advance, and they just recently brought in Owen Nolan for approximately the same amount of money as Parrish was making (all according to XM204). So if they knew their cap situation at all, which one would hope as a professional ice hockey team that they did, they apparently did have a choice on which player they wanted. So how is that not personal?

-The Sundin debate that has raged on and on, and on and on, finally ends tomorrow. Or does it?

More on that tomorrow, I’m sure. Even though rumors are swirling that even five or six teams (still including the NYRs) are in the mix, I’ll stick to Vancouver and Montreal being the front runners. And if he wants to stay East more than he wants the money (which of course is a BIG IF), my money is on Montreal. Stay tuned.

Class dismissed.

Monday, July 21, 2008

The Great "Are Mondays Really That Dull?" Debate. . .

Some more quick hits to get me through this very dull Monday. (BTW, are any Monday’s really anything other than dull? I’ll leave you to ponder that later.)

-So 21 days into July and the Mats Sundin debate rages on. Will he stay? Will he go? Will he even play? I personally felt and documented last week that Mats will not stay in Toronto, and that if I had to pick, I would assume he would most likely go to Montreal. But, events of the last week have made others question whether or not Vancouver still has a good chance, despite Mats apparent preference for the Eastern Conference. I mean I guess Vancouver always had a chance, because look at the money out there. 2 years at $20 million. That’s a chance if I ever saw one. But apparently, as I heard on XM 204 last week, Vancouver is trying to sweeten the city in Mats eyes by saying the 2010 Olympics will be held in Vancouver. Yes, I see that. And apparently Mats is a prideful Swede, as I always knew he was. So playing for his home country would be a great honor for him. His home country. Have you ever listened or taken part in the utter glorious insanity that involves Canada and Canadians competing in the Olympics? They love it. They need it. They are devastated if they lose any world competition where hockey is the game being played. I’m not saying it’s wrong. I still believe hockey is Canada’s game and I proudly support Canada for giving me the game I love. But. . .you really are going to tell me that Canuck fans in Vancouver will cheer their potential captain as he leads Sweden to a gold medal in the 2010 Olympics? That he won’t be knocked down (although understandably) in the wake of such a glorious personal achievement if the city that has persuaded him to come and has loved him for his greatness in black, gold, and orange – whoops sorry, I meant blue, maroon, and navy. uh, er, what was I thinking, I really meant - his greatness in blue, white, and green (whew!) because they are so devastated the red and white didn’t win gold? Right. Sure. I believe that. And for all those doubters saying, oh but Sweden will not win. They can’t win. Umm, then what happened in 2006? Canada is and was and will probably always be the favorite, but they do not always win. And Sweden (with guys like Nick Lidstrom, Henrik Lundqvist, and Sundin) has just a good a chance as any. Just something to think about before planning any Olympic celebrations with captain Mats in Vancouver.

-Am I letting the IIHF stuff bother me? No. Honestly, it hurts my head. And even though it’s summer and the off-season and the closest thing to a “break” I can ever hope to get, it still hurts my head. So I think I’m going to go the way of waiting. Waiting to see how this really affects the NHL and its players. If this is just another temporarily blip or if it’s something to get really worried about. If it is, then I’ll worry. But for now, palm trees, sandy beaches, raspberry margaritas. Whoops, sorry, that’s someone else’s life! I can only dream. Where was I? Oh yes, but for now, messy cubicle, poor air quality, I’m-not-sure-if-its-uv-protected-or-uv-enhanced-water from the kitchen filtration unit. *Sigh*

-Jonathan Toews being named captain of the Chicago Blackhawks, third youngest captain in NHL history behind Sidney Crosby and Vincent LeCavalier. Toews says he’s not he most vocal in the room, but it’s about what he can do on the ice. I guess it’s better him saying that than…well, than someone who wasn’t good. J Greatly looking forward to watching the Hawks this season and seeing NY open their home season (literal home season, not including the games in Prah-ha) against them at the Garden. That should be a fun one. I’ll start taking over and under numbers on goals for Toews and Patrick Kane combined - 3? 4? 5? Too early to predict, I guess.

-So the results are in. Chicago and Detroit are the two teams I’ll be watching on New Year’s Day 2009, while tired, dehydrated, and quite possibly hung-over. ;) I’m kidding. Seriously. Really. Well, maybe not. But if it wasn’t going to be in New York and/or have the Rangers, I guess it’s really cool it’s in Chicago on a famous field like Wrigley. That’s a trip I have to make. No, no, not for the hockey game. For a beer, a hotdog, 9 innings of dreadful boredom. (again, kidding!) That kind of a trip. Seriously though, I’ve never had the pleasure of going to Chicago. I hope to go and see a ball game, a hockey game, and all the city has to offer. But if I’m in as good a state next year as I was watching this year’s Buffalo/Pittsburgh tilt on New Year’s Day, I’m just as happy to be watching the game from the comfort of my own home.

-In case anyone missed it (and I admittedly did) the Calgary Flames and Phoenix Coyotes are playing a pre-season game in September from Winnipeg. Nice. Anyone predicting a whiteout for old time’s sake? Seriously though, anyone NOT predicting a whiteout for old time’s sake?

-Which brings me to “Bring back hockey to Canada!” As much as I’m saying I feel for the Islanders and Atlanta and even New Jersey which certainly struggles to fill seats anyway - - (and don’t tell me NJ didn’t have to pay that special tax that only a few teams had to pay for not generating enough money or not having high enough attendance numbers. Guess who’s crying in Jersey? Lou and Co. Because the Rangers, Flyers and Penguins are all coming one less time to the Prudential Center next year. That’s three more high intensity, big ticket nights in Newark lost due to rescheduling. But one question. How did the all-mighty Lou let that one happen. . .?) - - I am not against having more teams in Canada. I’m for it! We all know that even if you stuck two more teams within a half an hour of the GTA (Greater Toronto Area) that they’d still sell out. Come on! People in Canada wait years – decades? – for a chance to have season tickets? Tell me these people wouldn’t gladly take season tickets for an NHL team, even if it wasn’t their beloved, although not at all moments lovable, Maple Leafs? So, yes, I feel for those teams that are in the . . .well, those that are not doing so great right now, but not enough for me to not know where teams do and should belong.

-On a Rangers note, Larry Brooks and I saw eye to eye again this Sunday (In Slap Shots in the New York Post, which might just be the only thing I enjoy about waking up on a Sunday morning). I think we’re going on . . .just about every week this year and running. Good job, Larry. Kudos. Honestly. Again, you say what no one else has the guts to say. And most of the time, it’s not that far from the truthful, though sometimes painful to swallow, reality. Now if by chance the Rangers have a stellar season and everything falls perfectly into place and all these questions and these worries were for naught (for example, guys like Jagr, Straka, Avery, Shannahan are never thought about as regrets again, just pieces of the past, and guys like Patrick Rissmiller and Aaron Voros are the best pickups in NYR history, and lead the Rangers to the promised land – you know – beyond the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs), well we’ll all smile, nod, and forget you or I ever wrote these things – agreed?

How you doing with the “are there any Mondays that aren’t dull” question? Seriously, you didn’t forget now, did you?

Thank you. Goodnight. Try the veal.

Monday, July 14, 2008

The Best of the Rest. . .

Hmmm....where to begin. . .

- Jason Strudwick is heading off to Edmonton. He's another guy I wish well. Filled his role here perfectly. Was a role model for the younger guys. (Even if he couldn't teach Brandon Dublinsky how to fight). A ham, for sure, I'll miss his interviews. Although not his singing!! But he did everything that was asked of him and more. When the Rangers had the chance to bring him back at the end of the 2006-2007 campaign from where he played for the Swiss, they jumped at it. Even if all he did was write a playoff blog and keep the players loose, he did it well. The Rangers had their best playoff run under that guidance. All signs pointed to him being a very good guy. I think Edmonton can use him similarly. He will offer good guidance and leadership for the plethora of young guys they have in Oil country. Good luck Struds. . .

-Ryan Hollweg. It was announced today that the Rangers traded him for a pick to Toronto. Sounds about right to me. I liked the guy, but never more than that. I'm sure he was a nice guy. Never game me the feeling he wasn't. too many times his "boarding" calls cost the team. The entire crowd of 18,200 knew that the second he took that penalty in game 3 versus Pittsburgh in this year's second round that that would spell the end of his time in Blue. But that wasn't the first time. Whether he's getting some calls on reputation (many people think he his very, very dirty) I cannot say, but I must believe that as a player he has to be extra careful that what he does get caught for doesn't happen repeatedly. And unfortunately I never felt truly safe when he was out on the ice that he wouldn't do that. And I think that's unfortunate. Because I do think he had heart. And he did have guts. But after that last game, he just did not have a place on the team. I'd wish him well in Toronto (and I will) but if he boards and injures any NYRs next season, I am not going to be very forgiving. You've been warned, Ryan!

-Meanwhile in Toronto, we've caught up with Cliff Fletcher again: "Huh? What? You said we got him for a puck?" "A pick, sir, a pick." "A puck? What is that thing?" "A puck, sir. A puck is round, rubber, and you use it to play hockey. But I'm talking about a pick. . ." "Hockey? Hockey? What is this nonsense you speak of." So it goes in Toronto. Think Luke Schenn is still smiling? :)

-The great winner of the Marian Hossa sweepstakes went to. . .The Detroit Red Wings. I was shocked. I was stunned. Many in the Canadian community were ready to award the 2009 Stanley Cup to the Red Wings immediately. I . . . well I really can't come up with an argument why not.

-Vincent Lecavalier. . .a Lightning Bolt for life. I've already sang Vinny's praises before. I think he's GREAT for Tampa Bay. I think it's fantastic he's staying. Not every team in the NHL has a player like Vinny and not every community with an NHL team has a person like Vinny. They are lucky and he is lucky. Good for him. Now. . . if only they shore up the defense to go with those fancy, pretty goalies, huh Vin?

-Ted Nolan gets fired on Long Island today. You know, Ranger fan or not, I always liked him. Or rather I didn't dislike him. Not everyone battles demons and comes back to prove people wrong. I think he did as good a job as can be expected of him. The Islanders are a work in progress, to say it nicely. And I'm not sure if anyone has any idea where to begin. I don't think it was Nolan's fault. I really don't. And Rangers fan or not, I hope the Islanders find the road back. I have too much fun enjoying the banter with their fans. But it works best when it goes both ways. There's not too much better than a truly competitive Rangers/Islanders matchup, whatever the venue. I hope they still have some of that in them.

-I didn't get to comment on the Devils bringing back familiar faces Bobby Holik and Brian Rolston. In almost all situations, I love the player-returning-home scenario. I just feels good. I like Rolston a lot and have really come to like watching him play in Minnesota these last few years. And while I really, really did not like Bobby Holik, the experiment on ice, while he was in New York, I must admit he is a nice and genuine human being. One of the nicest. And a proud person, like so many Czechs. And like Jagr who loved and respected good old Ronnie Reagan, Robert Holik appreciated America. In fact he made it his goal to become a U.S. citizen. Devil, Ranger, or Thrasher, I salute him for that. And I wish both of them the best of luck in NJ, minus the eight times a year they play the Rangers, of course. (authors note: 7/31/08 - okay, and apparently I did already comment on this. My shoddy memory deceives me. See Reflections on Day One. . . from 7/2/08)

-Mats Sundin. A man without a team. Still. I love Mats. Now that we've got fellow Swede, Marcus Naslund, I know the slightly small but very real dream of having Mats come play for NY is all but faded. I have always loved Mats. I'm really one of few Rangers fans that have always liked Toronto (despite my ribbing. . . that's all it is!) and liked their captain. I'm not going to lie about it. But Mats just kinda encapsulates great player with great struggle for great success - personal that is. I just feel that Mats was so willing to stay in Toronto and took so much heat for not being Canadian (to start) and that he proved that he was finally worthy. And I wish for him to have had success. I do think his time in Toronto has ended, and part of me finds that very sad, but sometimes teams and players get hurt by one another. (Ask Brian Leetch). Mats deserved respect. He eventually got a lot of it. But not when it counted the most. He wanted to stay the rest of his career in an Original Six uniform. He gained and held many team records. He was loved by the fans. He didn't want to be traded. He wanted to go down with the sinking ship. Mats should have been applauded. Instead he was publically ridiculed for it. It's something he might never get over. (Again, ask Brian Leetch!) Leetch, of course, was ungraciously sent out of town (ironically to Toronto) when he wanted to stay with the fast sinking ship that was the 2003-2004 New York Rangers. A lifetime Blueshirt, he was proud of his place on the team and wanted to stay there, despite knowing he might never play on another playoff team again. But he got shipped out with no warning (on his birthday!). He's now mended ties and came back for what was a glorious banner retirement ceremony. He's gotten over it. But he hasn't forgiven and he hasn't forgotten. What will become of Mats Sundin in his once loved home of Toronto? Again, I love Mats. I respect whatever he chooses. But I'd love to see him play again, no matter what the team.

-But goodness help Vancouver if he decides to stay East, and where I'd have to assume Montreal is the front runner. When did Vancouver become Atlanta and Edmonton? Of course the great and personal favorite of mine, Trevor Linden, saw it time to retire, but Marcus Naslund to New York. What next? Roberto Luongo suddenly missing the sunny skies of Florida? The Sedin twins going home to be pro golfers? So much is falling apart in once proud Canuck-ville. :( I'm not happy with what I'm seeing.

-Speaking of Atlanta. . . if one more big name leaves. . .does anyone really think Ilya Kovalchuk is loyal enough to stay? In Georgia? Alone? I feel bad for Toronto and for Vancouver, but I cannot feel worse for Atlanta if that becomes the case.

-Lastly, in sad stories of NHL careers cut short, Eric Lindros's (another good guy who doesn't get enough credit for being a good guy) story is right up there. But who else can compete with Peter Forsberg. Does a player that great deserve to continue going in and out like this?

-At least with all the other drama going around the league, I don't have time to think about how the Rangers and their new players will mold with their old players to create what is turning out to be a very. . .interesting. . .team in blue next year. If Nik Zherdev can play like he can, look out! I've seen those moves on Columbus. But I've also seen the year he was unhappy and indifferent. So I'd expect those razzle-me-dazzle moves every game, but I'm more expecting a repeat of the fate of another young Russian's role on Broadway - Alex Kovalev. The great magician of them all. The greatest talent in the world. Take a few years off. There he goes - wow, look at him go! Oh, no, the career is over. Oh, but he's back again! I tell you what, for Nik's tenure on Broadway, I'll take Alex's 1993-1994 campaign in NY and his 2007-2008 campaign in Montreal. Hopefully with less of the muck in between. (Love you though Kovs!)

A Long-Overdue Kudos to Martin Straka. . .

Somewhat non-surprisingly, Marty Straka is heading back home to Czech Republic. Another former Penguin who I never really got the time to know and follow previous to his time in NY, Straka made his mark (his final mark in the NHL) on the New York Rangers. And they were lucky to have him.

I'm sure I'll miss someone as I say this, but in the last few years, not a player stands out in my mind for their on-ice courageousness like Marty Straka does. There are players and there are moments. But, for example, I cannot think of foreward players besides Chris Drury and Jed Ortmeyer that went down to try to block more shots - repeatedly - than Straka. (Maybe Blair Betts? Anyone know where to look up blocked shots, I'd be much obliged!) Regardless, the point should remain that Straka is significantly older and smaller than these guys. And yet he did it. He never asked any questions, just did the job. He gave his all night in and night out. On nights he was disappointed with the result, no one felt it more than himself. One look at the guys face would tell you he was unhappy with himself. He wanted to be better. He wanted the team to win. He had hockey smarts. He had guts. He had a will to win. And he didn't take losing lying down. What else could you ever ask for from a teammate?

Repeatedly during this last season, Scott Gomez kept crediting Marty Straka for keeping his line together. Gomez played with great players, but the kudos kept raining for Straks. For this strength and for his ability to think on his feet. Straka, it was said, had the mind for hockey - he was very quick thinking. And all his teammates respected him. He was the little guy with the fight and the strength to do things the others would not or could not do. I think NY is going to miss him.

I, too, will miss him. Jagr was flashier and had the bigger name. But Straks did the job marvelously. He was humble, too. Always shying away from the attention. But he deserves a lot of credit for not only keeping #68 happy and playing with him, but being a great player in his own right. He was good on the power play. He was an self-less penalty killer. If he didn't injure his wrist, and forget how to shoot ;), we wouldn't be having this farewell conversation. He would have been that guy for a year or two more.

But I'm glad he was the guy for as long as he was. A career to be proud of. Such a good, genuine guy. His goal against Pittsburgh, end to end, weaving, passing off, and gathering it back at the end to shoot it home - brilliant. And one of my favorites. If I didn't respect him for his humility, his skill, and his strength beyond his pounds, I'd respect him for loving his teammates. When Jarkko Ruuto charged and crashed Jagr into the boards in the 2006 Olympics, it was Straka who flew - yes flew - through the air to tackle him to the ground. All 5'9" of him. A big heart goes a long way. He, and Jagr and co., made it hard for a girl to not cheer for the Czechs in Italy that year.

He's got a young daughter, and he's happily going back home to play for his country. I'm sure they know how lucky they are to have him. For we, the fans of the New York Rangers, we might not realize the strength of a Martin Straka until he is gone, but we were very lucky he ended his career in New York. We got to see some really special things.

Thanks Straks. . .#82, this one is for you. . .

Belated Farewell to Captain Jaromir Jagr. . .

Now, just to clarify - my taking a 12 day hiatus from the blogging world was in no way due to not wanting to talk about what the Rangers (or any other team) did in the wake of Free Agent Frenziness. I did. But I was busy and my mind wasn't thinking clearly. So I felt it better to wait and write when I could, then write a messy mish-mosh of thoughts when I wasn't really in the mood. So, no, I did not lock myself in my room for the last 12 days crying over Jagr going back to Siberia. No. . .really, I didn't!

But, honestly, if we're being very and completely honest, I did shed some tears when I read that Marcus Naslund was in, and Jaromir Jagr was out. It sounded so final and it marked the end of what was really a great 3.5 year run on Broadway for one of the greatest European players of all time.

Whether you liked him or disliked him, wanted him to stay or desperately needed him gone, Jaromir Jagr left his mark on New York. Maybe not in that first half season (pre-lockout), but most certainly in the three years that followed. When no one, not fans or coaches or teammates alike, knew what to think about the Rangers post-lockout, Jagr knew. He knew that the team would be better than it had been. In fact, he guaranteed it. A playoff berth for the team seven (eight with the lockout) removed from the playoffs and from respectability.

And it happened. Oh yes it did happen. And no doubt, that 2005-2006 Rangers team was carried by one Jaromir Jagr. Did other players play parts? Absolutely. Michael Nylander and Martin Straka joined Jagr on a top line that amassed points and surprised many. The Rangers defense, for so many years a horrible liability, seemed to finally get it. If you take penalties you better learn to kill them off. And a goalie, who if all indications are correct, was starting to build quite a career for himself, in Henrik Lundqvist. They all deserve credit, coaching staff and all, but it was Jagr who believed and it was Jagr who delivered in ten-fold.

Thousands of players wore the jersey for the Blueshirts. Many were amazing. Some were legendary. There were better than Jagr in the past and there very well might be better to come. But only one man has his name next to the all-time single season record for goals scored for the New York Rangers. Jaromir Jagr - 54 goals. And only one man has his name next to the all-time single season scoring record for points for the the New York Rangers. Jaromir Jagr - 123 points. All this was accomplished on his first full season in blue. His first season as a real and true Ranger.

His guarantee and delivery to the playoffs - that's what leaders do. Captains too. Ironically after Jagr took the captaincy the following season, he never came close to those numbers again. He had a good season after rehabbing from shoulder injury. Some may argue he never should have been the captain. I argue that I think he deserved it. I'm just not sure he wanted it. Maybe when all is said and done, I'll look back and wonder two things about Jagr - would he have played better had he not assumed the role of captain, and just what made him reach out to smack Scott Gomez that fateful playoff day in April 2006. After both, Jagr was not exactly the same, but you know what. I am happy he was the captain for the New York Rangers. I'm proud of what he did for the team.

I can go on and on and on about Jagr. He's a man and a player I've grown to respect in the last three years. When the Rangers first got him for Anson Carter from the Capitals, I was unsure. When I thought of Jagr, I always thought of that pudgy faced Penguin with the horrible hair. (My grandmother disliked him for years because of that hair!) Thankfully he grew up, fixed the hair!, and came to play for the Rangers. He gained a lot of respect from me and I'm thankful I got the chance. I am a fan of Czech players. I'm one of the few that defend Petr Nedved (and Janny Hlavac and Radek Dvorak during their tenures here), and the rest of the Czechs. But Jaromir has a very interesting story and it's one that I didn't fully appreciate until he came to play for New York:

I have no doubt in my mind that Jagr isn't perfect. I'm sure he isn't. But from what I do know and from what I've seen in New York, is that he is a proud man. He shows what he feels. If he's unhappy in his play, it shows. If the team (the team) is winning, he is happy. And it shows. I truly believe he is more about the team than about the player. (And argue with me all you want; I'm willing to listen). But for a guy whose reputation was whining and being a prima donna, I have not seen that player in New York. I cannot and will not speak to his time in Pittsburgh and Washington. Remember, I had those hair issues. But I can say that I have watched this man carry players on his back and not get the call. I've seen that countless times. And in three years, I've only seen him complain about five times. If that. He is a proud man and a hell of a hockey player. And to come from what he came from and do what he does, it is really remarkable. Jagr's is not the only story (aforementioned Petr Nedved has a touching one too), but I cannot for the life of me watch Jagr play hockey and think of all he's been through without thinking of how easy (in comparison) so many other players had it. I am not pretending to know what being a professional athlete is like. I can't. I can only imagine the personal and physical sacrifices it takes. But you can't tell me that a hockey player growing up in Canada or in America, regardless of whatever physical obstacles they had to endure, can understand the emotional and psychological battles that players like Jagr and others that had to live through in Europe and overcome just to play a game they loved. I can't. They can't. It's remarkeable. And if nothing else, if he never scored a goal for the Blueshirts, I'd respect him for that. As it was, he scored, 124 goals and 319 points in 3.5 seasons in New York. And I respect him for each and every one of those.

In closing, do I wish Jaromir Jagr got the 84 points he needed to play another year on Broadway? Yes, I do. I think I will feel it extra strongly next year that he is not there. Again, a lot of legendary and great players played for the red, white, and blue, over the years. I was lucky enough to see a great number of them during my time as a fan. Jaromir Jagr was one of them. It's a great pleasure to see one of the greatest players of all time, which he most certainly is, play night in and night out. When hockey history is written, Jagr will be looked at as one of the greatest of all time, probably top ten, and almost undoubtably the best European offensive player of all time. And I will miss him. We will all miss him, whether they'll admit it or not. But I'm going to choose to believe that as Jagr himself said - everything happens for a reason. Maybe it's his destiny to go back to Omsk. I wish him luck and I wish him well. He has a great sense of humor, a good sense of character, and a good heart. Those things will lead him well.

I'll close with a quote from Larry Brook's in The New York Post from July 4th:

"Jaromir Jagr will never have his number retired in a ceremony at the Garden. But make no mistake. No. 68 was one of the most significant players to ever wear the Blueshirt."


Thanks #68. . .for the memories. All of them.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Farewell, Sean, Farewell. . .

See my post from late June if you want to get my thoughts on Sean, the now former New York Ranger. See below if you want just a few quick hits:

-Good for Sean. I like him and I wish him well in Dallas. The arbitration process last year insulted him. But hockey is a business and that is part of the business. He left for money that he was not going to get in New York for whatever reason. I can’t blame him one bit. He must have seen the Rangers offer for Wade Redden and laughed. Or the one for Michael Rozsival. If you’ve watched the team the last year and a half, who do you think is more valuable – Sean or Rozsi? Sean saw they were not going to give him what, for the most part, can be seen as a pretty reasonable salary – given what they were giving others. And he went for more money. And he probably left, too, because he was still a little miffed at what they did. The lack of appreciation they wanted to show him. And that’s fine. I don’t blame for that. I really, really don’t. I’m still with Larry Brooks. I think they’ll regret it. I hope they don’t. But I think they will.

-For the record, I like Dallas. During the seven playoff-less years in New York, as a hockey fan, I had to find other teams to follow come playoff time. Dallas, who had former Rangers Doug Lidster, Pat Verbeek, and Sergei Zubov on their 1999 Cup team, became one of those teams. How can anyone not love Zubov, arguably the most underappreciated guy in the whole league. Fantastic player. And I always loved Mike Modano, the person and the player. He’s held himself with a lot of poise with all that has gone on in Dallas, especially with him and his on-again, off-again captaincy, and he has the respect of his teammates and those around the league. In the name of American-born players, he’s done incredible things. I’ve seen him stick handle through three guys without faltering and bury some beautiful goals. And lastly, to boot, the Stars have a young, feisty winger in Joel Lundqvist, who is fun to watch, but even more fun because he’s Hank Lundqvist’s twin. (Who doesn’t love twins that play hockey!) See, I’ve been watching Dallas already, but I’ll certainly be watching more intently now. And thanking all that is sacred that Dallas is in the Western Conference. I love you Sean, but if you went to the Islanders, I was going to be sick.

-I’m going to take a brief moment to thank Sean Avery. Thank you Sean for repeatedly standing up for your boys, verbally and physically. Thank you Sean for being one of those special players that play better against Ranger rival teams like NJ and the Islanders – this puts you in our good graces. Thank you for what you did to Martin Brodeur in game 3 of this past year’s opening round. I will never forget seeing it. That cemented you in our memories. Thank you for not being typical – there are way too many cookie cutter players as it is. Thank you for speaking your mind, when you weren’t on a self imposed media restriction, that is. Thank you for your humor – how may injured players do you know that get a hotdog and sit with the Garden fans? Thank you for being a character and an individual. There are too few and they need more like you. Not exactly like you, but like you in spirit. Your spirit has been overlooked, I think, and it will be missed. Thanks for February 2007- April 2008. The Garden stood silent for so long and you helped bring it to life. I remember the day they signed you, Sean, and I said, “what are they thinking?” Thank you for making me regret that statement.

-Oh and I just realized. Dallas and Colorado have had some history in the past, and they play each other four times a year. And you know who signed on with the Avs, don’t you? One Darcy Tucker. I cannot wait for the first of those meetings next year. Popcorn, baby, popcorn!

Reflections on Day One of Free Agent Frenzy. . .

So after spending all possible hours yesterday listening to sports radio online (courtesy of our Northern neighbors – Happy Belated Canada Day) – and including bringing my blackberry with updates into a giant company meeting to get up to the minute updates on Free Agent Frenzy Day - I took a break. I went to a play, turned off my phone, stowed my blackberry. And it wasn’t until intermission that I heard the news:

Wade Redden signs with the New York Rangers for 6 years at $6.5 million a year.

I honestly almost vomited over the balcony. I guess the excitement that built up yesterday (who doesn’t love the …breaking news…trade and signing updates cutting into your broadcast) eventually gave way to that nausea again. It was just a matter of time.

Before yesterday, I’d been silent in saying who I wanted (and who I didn’t want) the Rangers to sign. But, since what happened yesterday happened, I’ll tell you. I would have liked Brian Campbell. I would have liked Mark Streit even more, because he’d come cheaper and I saw how he complemented Montreal’s scoring. I did not want Wade Redden. I watched enough hockey this past season to know that while everyone in Ottawa struggled, Redden looked to be among the worst, and the unhappiest. The “great” Wade Redden – if he could be called great – looked like a shadow of himself. His plus/minus average might have still been good, but his numbers dwindled. He was, while not entirely responsible for, nonetheless party to, one of the biggest collapses I’ve seen in my time watching hockey. Ottawa soared to start the season, and then crashed in a fiery heap back down to Earth by the end. And not that I really think that has anything directly to do with Redden. He might very well be a steady defenseman for the Rangers – at some point in the next six years. Maybe he’ll be the savior on D that they’ve been looking for.

But what I have a serious problem with is the term and the salary. Am I crazy or did I think that it made more sense in the post-lockout world to pay either big money short term or lesser money long term? That players should expect one but not both unless they were super special players that were all but guaranteed to deliver the goods and the goals (or the stops if they happened to be a goalie!) I am most likely completely wrong in this human and short-sided thought process. If the signing went through at 4 years at $4 million per, I’d be elated. A decent amount of time, but not too long. And a salary more indicative of the player Redden has become and not the player he once was. Even if it were $4.5 or $5 if you want to argue with me that he’s more than a $4 million dollar a year player. Fine. But 6.5! Exactly .6 less than Brian Campbell got in Chicago. All for a guy that might not work out at all. Ever. I know some people change teams to get a fresh perspective and it ends up making the world of difference. But what do you think the ratio is of players that come to NY and succeed versus those that come here and fail? I’ll tell you what – NY is tough. Some great players succeed here. The rare and special ones become legends. But so many get spit right back out. Is this where you’d want to go to get your career back on track?

In the other big Rangers signing…Michael Rozsival for 4 years at $5 million. I like Rozie just fine, but I think that’s overpaid. But apparently that was what he was asking and that’s what they were paying. And that’s how the game is played. At least if you aren’t Sean Avery.

Best news of the day and the only news that got me to sleep last night: Rangers resigning Steve Valiquette as the backup. Guy was steady. Played very well against the Flyers and the Leafs. And, honestly, if this season goes downhill quickly (ever a more growing possibility), I want this guy around to do post game interviews. Funny, and eloquent, to no end. He’s a keeper. And thankfully not a bad goalie, you know, in case Hank Lundqvist’s headaches come back or those knees act up, which I obviously pray they do not.

I reserve the right to see what Wade Redden brings to the table and how he fits in. I hope - I HOPE – that my original inclinations are wrong and that he has a long and successful career in New York. Honestly, for my sanity I do. But, we won’t know. And for a guy who was supposedly going to be taking less money (because of the bad year he admitted he had) to be given $6.5 million a year – he better step up. He better come to play. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt when he puts on the jersey this fall, but even though he isn’t replacing anyone specifically (Rangers defense has been lacking a big name or a big talent for as long as Brian Leetch has been gone) – he still has big shoes to fill.

And it’s not even like we have any clearer idea of who is going to be scoring goals for this team either! The big free agents (Marian Hossa and Mats Sundin) as well as all of the rest of the Rangers UFAs remain dangling for another day.

In other news around the league, around 3pm I’ll admit it, I kind of lost track of the goalies entirely. Seriously, how many goalies found new homes? I was kind of taken aback. Now granted, a few are backup type guys like Ty Conklin in Detroit. But honestly, I spent years still thinking Dominik Hasek was still a Sabre, even when he had already moved onto Ottawa and Detroit. Give me at least until December to realize that Andrew Raycroft is in Colorado and that Alex Auld is in Buffalo. As if that matters. At least I’ll never forget Curtis Joseph is a Leaf. Ain’t nothin’ gonna break their stride, Woah-oh, Cu-Jo, Maple Leafs gonna keep on moving. (Confused? Yeah, well changing Matthew Wilder’s lyrics one bored day made more sense back in the 2001 playoffs).

Anyway, Chicago looks like they are poised to have an exciting season. Their young rookies. A steady D-man locked up to big money for a long 8-year period. And Cristobal Huet? I swear, wasn’t it just Monday I was mentioning good old Nikolai Kha-ha-ha-ha-ha-bibulin? He never really made the big difference in Chicago that everyone thought he would. Does this mean he heading out of town? And an even bigger and more important question. It was Hu-ay in Montreal. HueT in Washington. So, Cristobal, what do you want us to call you in Chi-town?

I never, never thought Bobby Holik was going back to New Jersey. I really didn’t. The guy, upset by arbitration negotiations, crossed the river to New York. His way of playing didn’t mesh with the Rangers consistent lack of a game plan and plethora of overpriced talent. $9 million dollars of wasted time. I never appreciated Bobby Holik when he was a Devil and his sometimes calling out his teammates used to bug me when he was a Ranger. But he was and still remains a good guy. A polite guy. And a good American citizen. (I love my Czechs. So many of them appreciate what they came from and where they are now.) For this, I admire him and I wish him well in NJ. Except for the 8 times a year they play the Rangers. As for Brian Rolston – I know many teams would have loved to have him. I would have liked him on my team. But…he returns to where it all began. Good for him. Hey Jon Bon Jovi, who says you can’t go home?

And so the first day of Free Agent Frenzy came to an end. I experienced excitement, nail biting, nausea, and yet somehow, I got a contented night of sleep. Heck, I have 3 months and change before the season truly starts, and years and years and years and years and years and years (that was six years in case you missed it!) to get over the potential damage that this day may have caused.