Monday, October 7, 2013

Captain Callahan Returns Tonight For Rangers vs. Kings

The Rangers continue their west coast trip to start the season against the Los Angeles Kings later tonight at 10:30 p.m. E.T.  Alain Vigneault confirmed over the weekend that Ryan Callahan will make his season debut tonight in place of J.T. Miller, who was optioned down to Hartford over the weekend (and went on to record two goals and an assist in his first game after being sent down, by the way).

Vigneault also confirmed that Arron Asham will make his season debut after being a healthy scratch in the first game of the season last Thursday. Asham will skate on the fourth line with Derek Dorsett and Dominic Moore tonight, making Jesper Fast a healthy scratch.

Here are the projected lines for tonight's game:

Brad Richards-Derek Stepan-Rick Nash
Benoit Pouliot-Derick Brassard-Mats Zuccarello
Taylor Pyatt-Brian Boyle-Ryan Callahan
Derek Dorsett-Dominic Moore-Arron Asham

Ryan McDonagh-Dan Girardi
Marc Staal-Michael Del Zotto
John Moore-Anton Stralman

Henrik Lundqvist
Marty Biron

Healthy Scratches: Justin Falk, Jesper Fast

Even though Callahan is projected to open the game on the third line, you can bet that he'll be moved into the top six group of forwards as the game progresses as long as he's feeling OK and his conditioning level isn't an issue. I also wouldn't be surprised to see Brad Richards wind up skating back at his original position at center at some point in this game, as he didn't look very comfortable playing the left wing last week.

After a lackluster performance in their season opener against the Phoenix Coyotes, getting their team captain back can only provide a spark for the Rangers tonight. It almost sounds silly to say that after only one game so far this season, but we've seen in the past that this team just seems to play better and have a better sense of its identity when they follow the lead of Ryan Callahan's play. He'll also undoubtedly provide a lift to both the penalty killing unit (which looked dreadful against Phoenix) and the power play.

Aside from that, there isn't much more to report. Henrik Lundqvist will, of course, be back in goal tonight and may even start tomorrow night in Anaheim, as well, depending on the outcome of tonight's game. 

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Rangers Announce Opening Day Roster; Kreider Sent To Hartford

The Rangers announced their final roster cuts today and now have set their roster for Opening Day on Thursday evening in Phoenix. Darroll Powe, Stu Bickel, Marek Hrivik, Conor Allen, Oscar Lindberg, Brandon Mashinter and Chris Kreider were all sent to Hartford.

Forwards: Arron Asham, Brian Boyle, Derick Brassard, Ryan Callahan, Derek Dorsett, Jesper Fast, Carl Hagelin, J.T. Miller, Dominic Moore, Rick Nash, Taylor Pyatt, Brad Richards, Derek Stepan, Mats Zuccarello

Defensemen: Michael Del Zotto, Justin Falk, Dan Girardi, Ryan McDonagh, John Moore, Marc Staal, Anton Stralman

Goalies: Marty Biron, Henrik Lundqvist

The Rangers have not placed Ryan Callahan or Carl Hagelin on long-term IR.

Brandon Mashinter, Darroll Powe and Stu Bickel all have to clear waivers before the Rangers can officially assign them to Hartford. I'd say there's a good chance that both Mashinter and Bickel will clear, but there might be some team out there willing to take a flier on Powe. He's a nice fourth line player and could be a fit on a deeper team as a penalty killing specialist.

Alain Vigneault said that rookie defenseman Conor Allen was very close to making the team as the seventh defenseman over Justin Falk, but the team ultimately decided they would be better served with Allen getting big minutes down in Hartford. Vigneault indicated that Allen would be the first guy called up if the Rangers need another defenseman at any point during the season.

The inclusions of J.T. Miller and Jesper Fast on the roster really aren't all that surprising to me. With Ryan Callahan and Carl Hagelin scheduled to miss the start of the season as they continue to recover from offseason shoulder surgery, the Rangers needed to carry players who can provide something on offense. Fast is one of the best forward prospects the Rangers have, and Miller got a taste of playing in the NHL for the first time last year. As valuable as Darroll Powe is on the penalty killing unit, the Rangers already have a gluttony of those scrappy fourth line players who won't provide much offensively in Brian Boyle, Taylor Pyatt, Arron Asham and Dominic Moore. It'll be interesting to see who the Rangers decide to send down once Callahan and Hagelin are ready to come back. I think they'd prefer giving Miller and Fast 20 minutes a night down in Hartford rather than 10 minutes a night on Broadway, but I do believe they have a real chance to stick around if they impress the coaching staff enough over the next few weeks. Taylor Pyatt and Arron Asham would be the top two candidates to be waived under that scenario. Vigneault said he wanted to keep Asham around because of his toughness and veteran instinct, which is totally understandable considering Derek Dorsett is the only other fighter the Rangers have on the roster right now.

Chris Kreider not making the team, however, is a huge surprise to me. I thought he was having a relatively good training camp and he was getting time on the top line with Brad Richards and Rick Nash early in camp. The coaching staff obviously feels like there are some things he needs to continue to work on down in Hartford. Nobody will come out and say it, but it has to be a huge disappointment within the Rangers organization that Kreider didn't show enough to make the team out of camp. He's struggled to find consistency in the NHL up to this point in his career, and it sure would've been nice to pencil his name into the lineup as a top six forward this year. Kreider has had a flair for the dramatics in the postseason, but John Tortorella talked a lot last year about how Kreider simply has to improve in the neutral and defensive zones to be a regular NHL player, and Alain Vigneault obviously feels the same way.

It looks as if Brad Richards will open the season playing the left wing since the Rangers currently have a logjam at center right now. Richards said he hasn't played the wing since back in Tampa Bay with the Lightning, but he's willing to give it a shot if it works.

So with that, I give you the projected Opening Day lines bsed on practice yesterday:

Brad Richards-Derek Stepan-Rick Nash
Benoit Pouliot-Derick Brassard-Mats Zuccarello
Taylor Pyatt-Brian Boyle-Jesper Fast
J.T. Miller-Dominic Moore-Derek Dorsett

Ryan McDonagh-Dan Girardi
Marc Staal-Michael Del Zotto
John Moore-Anton Stralman

Henrik Lundqvist
Marty Biron

Healthy Scratches: Justin Falk, Arron Asham

Alain Vigneault and Ryan Callahan both confirmed he will not play on Thursday night, with Callahan going as far as to say that he would rule himself out for the opener on Thursday "as of right now." So, basically unless there's some sort of an overnight miracle, the Rangers will open the season on Thursday without their captain in the lineup.

Finally, Henrik Lundqvist was asked by the media for an update on his contract negotiations, to which he said, “I don’t have anything for you,” Lundqvist said. “We still have a few days. You can get back to me. We’ll have discussions before we leave for Phoenix.” Apparently, Lundqvist may not want to negotiate a new contract during the season as he feels it might be a distraction. I personally have never once understood that theory, but then again I'm not a multimillion dollar athlete.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Rangers Training Camp 2013 - Clean Slate...Grab It

"Clean Slate...Grab It." That was the slogan on t-shirts that new Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault handed out to his players when they arrived for training camp yesterday. It makes sense - everybody is being given a clean slate with the team under new leadership, and it's up to them to take the opportunity and run (skate?) with it. That slogan seems like a perfect summary for Brad Richards' situation, who will be heading into the most crucial career of his Rangers career thus far. Richards spoke today about how he's looking to put last year behind him and he still believes he can return to the form he displayed two years ago. Here's to hoping that he's right.

Some notes from the first two days of training camp:

- Here is the full training camp roster thus far, courtesy of Andrew Gross:

Goalies - Marty Biron, Johan Hedberg, Henrik Lundqvist, Jeff Malcolm, Jason Missiaen, Mackenzie Skapski, Scott Stajcer, Cam Talbot

Defensemen - Conor Allen, Stu Bickel, Michael Del Zotto, Charlie Dodero, Troy Donnay, Justin Falk, Ben Fanelli, Dan Girardi, Ryan Graves, Tommy Hughes, Aaron Johnson, Ryan McDonagh, Dylan McIlrath, John Moore, Brendon Nash, Samuel Noreau, Jimmy Oligny, Marc Staal, Anton Stralman, Danny Syvret.

Forwards - Aaron Asham, J.T. Barnett, Ryan Bourque, Brian Boyle, Derick Brassard, Taylor Burke, Ryan Callahan, Derek Dorsett, Anthony Duclair, Jesper Fast, Josh Graves, Carl Hagelin, Micheal Haley, Marek Hrivik, Kyle Jean, Michael Kantor, Chris Kreider, Danny Kristo, Oscar Lindberg, Brandon Mashinter, J.T. Miller, Dominic Moore, Rick Nash, Josh Nicholls, Benoit Pouilot, Shawn O’Donnell, Darroll Powe, Taylor Pyatt, Brad Richards, Thomas Spelling, Michael St. Croix, Derek Stepan, Dyson Stevenson, Peter Trainor, Jason Wilson, Klarc Wilson, Andrew Yogan, Mats Zuccarello

- Derek Stepan has missed the first two days of camp so far. Stepan is still not under contract as he and Glen Sather continue to try and hammer out a new deal for the restricted free agent. Sather said today that there's nothing new to report on the negotiations, and Sather reportedly has no intentions of budging on whatever the current offer is that he has extended to Stepan's camp. Rumors are that Sather only wants to do a two-year deal while Stepan is looking for a long-term deal similar to the six-year extension Ryan McDonagh got earlier this offseason. Stepan and his agent really have no leverage here, but I understand why Stepan is trying to hold out for a long-term deal given that he's coming off the best season of his career. He'll be in camp soon enough, and he definitely needs to be in order to learn the ins and outs of playing in a new system under Alain Vigneault.

- Ryan Callahan and Carl Hagelin, who are both recovering from shoulder surgery, will obviously be limited in camp considering the fact that they may not be ready for the start of the regular season.

- Marty Biron has also missed the first two days of camp for personal/family reasons, which have not specifically been identified. Vigneault did say that he spoke to Biron on the phone today and the plan is for Biron to be in camp tomorrow, which is great news.

- Veteran goaltender Johan Hedberg is in camp with the Rangers under a professional tryout (PTO). Hedberg, 40 years old, was bought out by the Devils over the offseason after they acquired Cory Schneider from the Canucks. Hedberg stated that he was promised nothing from the Rangers as far as a roster spot is concerned and he's basically here just to keep working out and getting reps at the moment. For Hedberg, this is basically an audition in hopes that another team will see something they like in his game and give him a contract. Tons of teams will hand out PTOs during training camp over the next few weeks. I wouldn't mind having Hedberg playing in Hartford as an insurance policy to start the season, but I have a hard time believing that he has any interest in continuing his career playing in the minors. It seems like it's boom or bust for him right now.

- There is no update on Henrik Lundqvist's contract situation with the Rangers. The offseason has been pretty quiet concerning any talks that have been going on between the Rangers and Lundqvist, who is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent following this season. I have full confidence that they'll get a deal done, obviously, but it might take some time and not happen until the middle of the season. Lundqvist will not reach free agency.

- Alain Vigneault said he purposely didn't watch any footage of the Rangers' games last year. He had assistant coaches Scott Arniel watch footage of the Rangers' power play and Ulf Samuelsson the penalty kill, but beyond that Vigneault said he truly believes in forgetting about everything that happened last year and moving on. Whatever problems players had is in the past, and it seems like AV truly believes in this whole "clean slate" slogan. I actually really like it. There's no sense in looking over ways for the team to improve on last year when you consider the fact that they're going to be running a system that's the complete opposite of John Tortorella's.

More to come over the next few days as more news breaks from camp.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Mark Messier Leaves Rangers Organization

The Rangers and Mark Messier announced today that Messier has left the Rangers organization to instead work on the development of the Kingsbridge National Ice Center in the Bronx.

This news comes six days after the Rangers officially announced the hiring of Alain Vigneault as the team's new head coach. At Vigneault's introductory press conference last Friday, Rangers General Manager Glen Sather said he had yet to speak with Messier regarding his future with the team, but said that he expected to talk to him at some point over the next week.

Messier, who has served as special assistant to the president and general manager of the Rangers since 2009, released this statement today:

“I would like to thank the New York Rangers and particularly Glen Sather for giving me the opportunity over the last four years to work with the Rangers. I am resigning my position with the Team to pursue an opportunity to expand the game of hockey in the New York area by developing the Kingsbridge National Ice Center. Although some will perceive this as a reaction to the coaching decision, nothing could be further from the truth. I completely respect the decision that was made and for all the reasons it was made. I harbor no hard feelings toward Glen or the Rangers. This is a personal choice I am making to create a program in the New York area that will give our children more choices and opportunities in the future. I wish the Rangers nothing but the best in the future.“

Glen Sather also released his own statement, which read:

“Mark Messier will always be a part of the New York Rangers family. As a player and then as part of the management team, he brought incomparable passion and dedication to the organization. We wish him well in his future endeavors.”

The Kingsbridge National Ice Center, which is tentatively expected to be completed in September 2018, is going to be the world's largest indoor ice center and will hold nine ice rinks in the community center. Messier has been one of the center's top supporters, and the plans to build the ice center were officially announced in April by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

It's a bummer to see Mess leave the organization, but I think we all knew this was coming after the Rangers passed on naming him the team's next head coach. I thought there was a small possibility that Messier could accept an assistant head coaching job with the organization to remain with the organization, although that idea always seemed far-fetched to me. Any time the Rangers were to go through a losing streak or a rough stretch you just know fans would be clamoring to give Messier the head coaching job if he was still in the organization now that it's been revealed that he does have an interest in becoming a head coach.

I'm sure Messier will resurface in the NHL before too long, even though it won't be with the Rangers. The good news here is that he's leaving the team on good terms, so I'm sure hell still be making tons of public appearances and going to functions at the Garden through the team. Still, it's a shame that both sides couldn't figure out a way to make the relationship last given the sentimental value that all Rangers fans, myself included, have towards Mess.

Anyway, good luck to Mark in the future. Hopefully, he can get that head coaching job he's now known to be targeting in the future and will be back in the NHL in some form or fashion relatively soon.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Rangers Could Announce Alain Vigneault As New Head Coach Today

The New York Rangers agreed to terms with Alain Vigneault to become the 34th head coach in franchise history on Saturday, and according to Larry Brooks of The New York Post the team could put out a press release to announce the hiring of Vigneault as soon as today. Brooks notes, however, that the Rangers likely will not formally introduce him to the media at a press conference until Thursday. Rangers GM Glen Sather is currently at his home in California and will not be back on the east coast until Wednesday when NHL general managers meet for their yearly meetings in Boston. With Madison Square Garden currently unusable while its undergoing construction, the Rangers will need to find another location to hold Vigneault's press conference. I would guess that they'll just do it at the team's practice facility in Greenburgh, but that remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, Brooks also reports that Sather and Vigneault have already begun discussing names to add to his coaching staff. Mike Sullivan, thankfully, will not be retained and Jim Schoenfeld will only remain with the organization as assistant GM to Sather. Benoit Allaire, as we all assumed, will remain with the organization as goalie/assistant coach and Henrik Lundqvist's right-hand man. I would assume Mark Messier is a possibility, although it could be a major distraction to have Messier on the coaching staff if the team gets off to a slow start and fans overreact and start calling for Vigneault's head. Brooks mentioned over the weekend that Messier could possibly be reassigned to a coaching position with the Hartford Wolf Pack if he really wants to embark on a coaching career. Either way, he'll most likely remain with the organization next year.

One name being floated around is former Rangers defenseman and current head coach of MODO of the Swedish Elite League, Ulf Samuelsson. Samuelsson apparently reached out to the Rangers when hearing about the team's vacant head coaching position following the firing of John Tortorella, so there's definitely some level of interest there already. Whether he'd be willing to leave a head coaching job to become an assistant in the NHL remains to be seen. I think Samuelsson would be a nice addition to the coaching staff and could add an interesting element to coaching the power play.

As for the hiring of Vigneault, I have to admit that I wasn't initially thrilled when hearing a few weeks ago that he was a top candidate for the Rangers' head coaching job, but the more I read about him the more he's grown on me. I admittedly do not know a lot about Vigneault as far as a head coach beyond the handful of Vancouver Canucks games I'd see every year, mostly coming in the playoffs. The biggest knock on Vigneault has been that he wasn't able to lead the Canucks to a Stanley Cup victory despite having immense amounts of talent on the team in Roberto Luongo, the Sedin twins and Ryan Kessler, amongst other big names. He did come within one win of winning a Cup, though, which a lot of people forget about. I distinctly remember several games in which Roberto Luongo failed to show up for the Canucks, though, which led to a lot of the Canucks' failures in recent years.

The biggest positive that I've read about Alain Vigneault is that he's the opposite type of coach to John Tortorella. He coaches an up-tempo offensive system that the team desperately needs, while also relying on his role players to play to their strengths. The Rangers desperately need that type of change. This means Vigneault won't be asking Rick Nash to block shots and will instead allow him to play his game in the offensive zone where he should be. One of Torts' biggest downfalls was his stubbornness to change his system and insisting that all his players adjust to playing one specific way, and this won't be the case with Vigneault in charge.

More to come within the next few days as we get more information about Vigneault's hiring and how the rest of his coaching staff will fill out.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Audio and Highlights From Glen Sather's Conference Call With Media

Glen Sather met with the media yesterday afternoon after firing John Tortorella. Among the few highlights of his conference call, he did say that he expects to have a new head coach in place by the time the 2013 Entry Level Draft takes place, which is on June 30.

You can read the entire transcript of Glen Sather's conference call with the media, courtesy of SNYRangers, here and you can also listen to the audio itself, courtesy of Rangers Report, here.

I don't know if we'll ever get all of the details on what specifically led to the firing of John Tortorella. Glen Sather really didn't say much during his conference call, which was to be expected, but he did say that Tortorella was "a little bit shocked" when he found out he was being fired, and that it wasn't any one specific thing that made him reach the decision to pull the plug on Torts' Rangers coaching career. To me, that means this was a decision that was made within the last day or two. When John Tortorella met with the media on Monday during breakup day he didn't talk like a dead man walking who was expecting to be canned. He talked a lot about next season and areas the Rangers organization needed to address when they met for organizational meetings in late June. None of the Rangers beat reporters predicted this, either. The general assumption from everybody was that Torts was safe. Even though John Tortorella denied that Henrik Lundqvist's comments had anything to do with their decision, I'm not entirely sure I believe that. I don't think for a second that Lundqvist met with the Rangers' brass behind John Tortorella's back and told them the only way he would re-sign long-term would be if Torts was fired, but I do believe his comments caused Glen Sather and co. to rethink things as far as the strategy of the team moving forward.

Unsurprisingly, Slats said that he plans to re-sign Henrik Lundqvist to a long-term contract. He also wouldn't comment on whether or not the Rangers would bring back Brad Richards next year, and only said it was something the higher ups would discuss at the organizational meetings next month. What I did think was interesting, though, was that Sather said the decision to make Richards a healthy scratch for the final two games of the series was a group decision that John Tortorella didn't make on his own. I'm not sure how much I believe that, but if it's true I think it speaks volumes on how quickly the entire organization has soured on Richards.

One other thing from Sather's conference call that I thought it was interesting was when he said he considered this season to be a failure because the Rangers didn't win a Stanley Cup. That thinking coincides with what Lundqvist said during breakup day, but it also somewhat goes against with what Torts said. He only referred to this season as "a step sideways," which I thought at the time was interesting considering the Rangers had more than enough talent to make a deeper run in the playoffs this season.

The bottom line is this: John Tortorella was not the right man for this job. I wrote a few days ago that I wasn't sure he was the right man for this job given the personnel the Rangers have and the style he insisted on them playing, and ultimately I guess Glen Sather felt the same way. It was one thing to focus primarily on shot blocking and winning 2-1 games with last year's roster, but Torts never adjusted his system to fit the styles of his top offensive players coming into this season, namely Rick Nash, Marian Gaborik, Derek Stepan and Brad Richards. I also do believe his mishandling of Chris Kreider this season played a part in Torts' dismissal. The Rangers organization is clearly extremely high on Kreider as evidenced by Sather's willingness to burn one year on his Entry Level contract just to have him for the playoffs a year ago, and Tortorella really didn't utilize him to his best abilities.

So, now the question immediately becomes who the Rangers will target now for their head coaching opening. The top candidates that I've seen being thrown around on Twitter so far are Lindy Ruff, Alaine Vigneault, Dave Tippett and dark-horse candidate Ken Gernander. I think Ruff would be a perfect fit here and would bring a strong offensive system while he also knows how to build a strong defensive game from the net on out after his time with Ryan Miller in Buffalo. Tippett would be my second favorite choice, but he's still currently the head coach of the Phoenix Coyotes and there are no guarantees that he'll be available just yet. Vigneault, I have zero interest in. He's had a ton of success in the regular season while coaching the Vancouver Canucks, but his playoff record has been awful. Gernander is an interesting name, as he's currently the head coach of the Connecticut Whale/Hartford Wolfpack. I do think the Rangers will target someone with more experience, though, given that this is a veteran team.

One thing I can say is that Rangers fans should not expect assistant coach Mike Sullivan to be brought back next year. Sather said there were no other changes to his coaching staff that he was prepared to make at this time, but whoever he hires as head coach will want to bring in their own staff to run their own system. The only assistant who I think will definitely be brought back is Benoit Allaire, who is thought of highly and has an outstanding relationship with Marty Biron and Henrik Lundqvist.

We'll see what happens. I think Sather will try and act relatively quickly to find a new head coach and I wouldn't be surprised if the Rangers hire somebody within the next week or two.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Breaking News: John Tortorella Fired As Rangers Head Coach

The New York Rangers announced today that they have relieved John Tortorella of his duties as head coach, according to sources. The news comes four days after the Rangers saw their season end with a loss to the Boston Bruins on Saturday night.

According to Elliotte Friedman of Hockey Night In Canada, the comments Lundqvist made following the season "'changed everything,' according to [a] source."

To say that I'm shocked would be an understatement. In no way did I think the Rangers would fire John Tortorella, especially not after they actually won a playoff series and his comments made on breakup day. One thing you can bank on is that Henrik Lundqvist is essentially running this organization. This firing speaks volumes of how much Glen Sather and Co. value Lundqvist's input, and they must have felt like he was serious about holding off contract talks if the team didn't make a change. Lundqvist spoke about how frustrated he was and that he thought this team took a step backwards this year, while John Tortorella disagreed. Very, very interesting.

It also makes me wonder if Sean Avery's comments on Twitter from a few months ago that John Tortorella's players hate him actually had any merit.

Expect more in the upcoming hours/days. I'll be very interested in seeing who the Rangers will target following the firing of Torts and what type of coach they'll look at hiring.

Reports are that Glen Sather will have a conference call soon to discuss John Tortorella's dismissal as Rangers head coach.

More to come.