Rangers Send Brassard To Ottawa For Zibanejad

While everyone has been complaining that the Rangers haven’t done anything, I’ve repeatedly said to be patient because a move will be coming once the initial free agency stuff calms down. Well Rangers fans, you got what you wanted:

Oh, that’s not what you wanted was it? Well surprise, that’s what the Rangers did.

Let’s take this piece by piece.

Since the end of the playoffs, there have been rumors about Derek Stepan being traded. The Rangers never leak stuff to the press on actual moves so I immediately assumed (and admittedly hoped) this was a decoy. Apparently it was as this move was completed weeks ago but couldn’t be announced until after the Rangers paid Brassard the $2 million bonus he was due last Friday. Weeks ago. And no one knew. That’s how the Rangers work. One day people will remember this.

Now onto what they did. Oh Derick Brassard. I’ve never believed you were a number one center but you made a great 1A/1B pairing with Stepan. You two were like ying and yang. One knew what the defensive zone was, the other actually knew how to find the net. While I will miss the points and your celebrations, I will not miss your utter cluelessness in your own zone. We just now need someone to make funny faces on the bench, randomly steal opposing players sticks and take care of Mats Zuccarello.

Oh, and while his four points in his Rangers debut and hat trick vs Lightning in 2015 playoffs are definitely great memories, I’ll always remember his OT goal against Pittsburgh in 2014. That comeback doesn’t happen if he doesn’t score that goal to win game one:

I love how Brassard was the only one who knew his shot was in the net. Although I guess that play describes him perfectly as he stopped playing after that. Fortunately for his teammates, so did the Penguins.

So what did the Rangers get? A younger, cheaper version of Brassard in Mika Zibanejad.

In addition, Zibanejad has had two 20 goal seasons and is only starting to reach his prime while Brassard had his first 20 goal season last year. He is also a right handed shot, something the Rangers are in desperate need of. (There is only so many places Stepan can be at once.) And he penalty kills. (Notice a pattern in the moves the team has made this year?)

But more importantly, the Rangers turned a soon to be 29-year old center into a 23-year old center who puts up similar numbers. They also went from having roughly $8.5 million in cap space to now having over $10 million in cap space, which will come in handy as they try to sign Kevin Hayes and Chris Kreider, both of which I expect to return. Oh and the Rangers get an extra second round pick in 2018 for when they inevitably trade their own.

And, to be honest, it shook up the room without completely blowing up the team. Brassard was very well-liked in the locker room so players will notice no one is untouchable if they don’t compete. This plus everything being said about the team should give us a room full of players with quite a chip on their shoulders. Well, those who are still there. While Jeff Gorton didn’t admit to anything else in the works, most of the beat writers walked away thinking he is far from done. As we said in May, it’s going to be a fun summer.

**********

One quick side note. During his conference call with the media, Gorton was also asked if the team ever thought about buying out much maligned defenseman Dan Girardi to which he said, per Andrew Gross:

“I would say no,” Gorton said. “I know Dan Girardi has taken a beating in the media. He’s 32 and he had a significant injury (knee) but he’s had some real good production. He did, by all accounts, not have the season he wanted or we wanted. But we expect Dan to be better. A buyout just didn’t make sense. It’s something we never really considered.”

I’ve said from day one that a buyout didn’t make sense. It didn’t. We just have to hope he bounces back and has a respectable season next year. Expecting him to be an all-star is unrealistic. But expecting him to do what he did this year isn’t really fair either. The only thing we know is that he’ll be there in September.

 

(Photo: Melissa Andus)

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Rangers Player Reviews: Keep Or Dump, Part I

This year really is different. The past four years I have done this, it has been mid to late June and I have been in denial that I am doing it after another lost season. This year? Early May and I’ve been sitting watching hockey every night since the Rangers were eliminated. I really can’t explain it.

Anyway, for those who aren’t familiar with how I do my year end reviews, I write a small paragraph on each player and then say if I would “keep or dump” them. Last year I got every player correct except one…and I still defend my decision to “keep” Talbot even though I knew it wasn’t realistic. This year I’m going to do things slightly differently as I have no idea who should stay or go nor who I would keep or move if I were running the team. So instead I am going to give the odds that each player is back. Yes it is completely a cop out on picking what changes should be made to the team this year. At least I admit it.

First up, as usual, goaltenders and defense!

Lundqvist-benchHenrik Lundqvist (G, 35-21-7-4, 2.48 GAA, .920 SV%) – There’s no way to sugar coat it – that goals against average is ugly. But it’s fitting considering the mess the Rangers were this year. I’m not going to sit here and discuss Lundqvists’ season. We all know it wasn’t his best. Am I giving up on him? Absolutely not. But here’s the thing, what are the Rangers plans this summer? If they are blowing up the team like some expect does Lundqvist want out? I’ve always said the only reason he will ever leave is if he asks to be moved. Is this the year that happens? I’m skeptical but it’s a lot more of a possibility than it ever has been in the past … 95% to return

Antti Raanta (G, 11-6-2-1, 2.24 GAA, .919 SV%) – I admit this one might have been different if written two weeks ago but not by much. I have been a fan of Raanta since he broke into the NHL with the Blackhawks and he was exactly what I expected to get when the Rangers traded for him last June. While he will need to play more next season, he is still the perfect veteran backup. Yes he had a little hitch in February that made many worry the Rangers would need to find a goaltender at the trade deadline, but he bounced back and will only get better the more he works with Benoit Allaire. And now that he’s signed a new contract, it’s pretty safe to say he’s staying … 99% to return (This should probably be 100% but crazier things have happened)

Last year I ended this post by saying “There will come a time the back end will be the difficult part to figure out on this team but it won’t be any time soon.” Apparently it was sooner than I expected…

Ryan McDonagh (D, 73 games played, 9-25-34, +26) – Remember when everyone thought McDonagh would be a perennial Norris trophy candidate? I’m not saying he had a bad year but his name and the word “Norris” were never in the same sentence this season. (And saying he was the Rangers best defenseman this year wasn’t exactly a compliment.) I happened to watch McDonagh closely this year since many believed his defense partners had been dragging him down in the past. What did I notice? A player who once again was trying to do too much and who in many cases was the one out of position because of it. McDonagh is a phenomenal defenseman but I’m still not convinced he can carry the weight of the C. The guy before him who he’s been compared to couldn’t. That said, he isn’t losing it anytime soon. As for his spot on the team, I don’t expect him gone until March 2019 so we’ll put him at … 95% to return

Dan Girardi (D, 74 games played, 2-15-17, +18) – Oh Dan. This one hurts. Sigh, here it goes. I look at that number of games played and think it’s a mistake. I think about all the missed coverage and hot potato passes and wonder where my favorite defenseman went. While I try to keep personal feelings out of my writing, it’s no secret I’m a fan of Girardi’s. I just don’t know who was wearing his jersey this year. I refuse to believe he went from a guy who many believed deserved the extension he got to the one who looked like he fell off a cliff this year. That change doesn’t happen overnight. But he clearly took a step back and mix that with injury issues from the start (I will fight to the death that he was behind from day one) and you have the season we witnessed. No one is more angry about it than Girardi himself. Maybe I’m delusional (or extremely hopeful) but I think he can bounce back from it. Will he be the player who earned a write in vote for the All Star game a few years ago? No way. But he isn’t this bad and I think the Rangers know that which is why I think they give him another chance. Again, maybe it’s my heart over my head speaking but I expect him in Rangers blue in October … 85% to return

Staal-Klein-Ramsey-toastMarc Staal (D, 77 games played, 2-13-15, +2) – Sigh again. I don’t know where to start with this one. The good news was Staal had a relatively healthy year in comparison to earlier in his career. The bad news? Basically everything else. After the season ended, I saw someone mention that Staal was brought down by Boyle most of the year. I never really thought about it that way but it is true that pairing never really worked. But while I would love to blame it on that, that’s not really being honest about the year Staal had. I don’t know what it was but all year something just seemed off. So what do the Rangers do? I do think his contract is slightly more movable but not because he is the better of the two longest tenured defensemen. More because if the Rangers could get Carolina or wherever Eric signs to want two Staals instead of one, I think Marc would be willing to go. But it won’t be easy which is why I still think it’s unlikely … 75% to return

Kevin Klein (D, 69 games played, 9-17-26, +16) – Last year I predicted that Klein would be traded at this past trade deadline. It’s not that I wanted him gone, I just didn’t expect him to stay. With how much the rest of the defense struggled, Klein quietly stayed behind the scenes. I really don’t know what to say about him. He isn’t the top pairing defenseman many fans want him to be but he’s a solid 4/5 on any team. Will he be here in September? His low cap hit would be a reason to keep him. It would also make him easy trade bait. This one really could go either way … 50% to return

Keith Yandle (D, 82 games played, 5-42-47, -4) – Let me start by saying plus/minus is a useless stat they should probably get rid of. That said, we can all agree Girardi and Staal were horrible this year and yet both ended up with a plus next to their name at the end of the season while Yandle was somehow a minus-4. I honestly have no idea how that is even possible. I continually say Yandle is lost in the defensive zone but that takes talent. Anyway, so Yandle. It’s no secret I’m not he’s biggest fan but he played much better this year than I expected him to. Do I expect him back? This one is complicated. Personally, I don’t and haven’t since the day he signed. (I’m on record saying I expect him to go to Arizona or Boston.) But a recent premonition is tilting me the other way. I can’t explain it but let’s just say I have started to accept the fact I may not have seen Yandle play his last game as a Ranger. How will it be done? Not sure. But I think the Rangers are trying to do it … 65% to return (it’s a lot higher than I would’ve put it at the start of the month)

Dan Boyle (D, 74 games played, 10-14-24, even) – Every signing is a gamble. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t. When they don’t, you hope the contract is only a year or two. In this case it was. I have nothing against Boyle. He tried. It just didn’t work. It’s a shame he was a healthy scratch in what was probably his last NHL game but it was fitting considering how his time with the Rangers went. I wish him well in the future and really do wish this had worked better … 0% to return

McIlrath-YandleDylan McIlrath (D, 34 games played, 2-2-4, +7) – I said it all year but will say it again – when the six other defensemen on this list played to their capabilities, McIlrath was clearly number seven. Yes, most of them didn’t this year. But Vigneault kept hoping they would. I had no problem with the year McIlrath had. Would it have been nice to get him a few more games? Absolutely. Did I expect it at the start of the season? Not at all. This year was a stepping stone for him, a chance to learn before getting thrown into the fire. Next season he will be a regular. Will that be with the Rangers? I’m hoping so and honestly would be surprised if he wasn’t but nothing is guaranteed right now. I’m still thinking he’s back … 85% to return

 

I know everyone is saying the changes need to start on defense but you need replacements for these guys and it’s not as easy as if we were playing a video game. The six definitely will look different. (For one, Brady Skjei will be included.) We’ll just have to wait and see how different. Next up, I attempt to guess which forwards will be returning.

 

(All photos: Melissa Andus)

Rangers Contracts: UFAs, RFAs + NTCs

From the moment the final buzzer sounded to end game 5 last Saturday afternoon, the assumption amongst Rangers fans and media was simple – change was coming. No one is expecting the team that left the ice that afternoon to be anywhere close to the one stepping on the ice at MSG in October.

But the question becomes what can change. I will do my usual “keep or dump” in the coming weeks (although I might take a different approach this year) but let’s look at the Rangers contract situations.

Unrestricted Free Agents

The Rangers have five unrestricted free agents. Defenseman Dan Boyle won’t be returning. The assumption is he will be retiring, as that is what he hinted at after his blowup at Brooks, but there hasn’t been any confirmation yet. Also probably not returning? Eric Staal and Dominic Moore.

Staal was never expected to return but I don’t think that was a slip up. As for Moore, his story was great but I think we can all agree it’s time to move on.

That leaves defenseman Keith Yandle and forward Viktor Stalberg. (Goaltender Antti Raanta was re-signed earlier this week.)

Personally, I think there are better options than Stalberg out there but if Vigneault likes him, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him return. I just see him as a player similar to Benoit Pouliot, who used one good year to get a long term contract he already isn’t living up to. And then there’s Yandle.

“It’s been nothing but amazing,” Yandle said of his time with the Rangers. “The way they treat their players, the way you come to the rink every day … it’s a pleasure to come to the rink and I can definitely see myself playing here and it’s one of those things — I have to weigh my options.”

My belief on Yandle has always been that he wants to go back “home” – either Boston or Arizona. His piece in the Players Tribune a few weeks ago made me think he might want to stay. But his quotes at break up day made me think he’s intrigued by free agency. Is he closing the door to returning? I doubt it. Do the Rangers want to keep him? Possibly. Is the money/term going to work? That’s the million dollar question (no pun intended).

Restricted Free Agents

RFAs have typically been where the fun is when it comes to contracts. This years’ candidates for last player to receive a deal are forwards Chris KreiderJ.T. Miller and Kevin Hayes along with defenseman Dylan McIlrath.

At the start of the year, if you asked any Rangers fan who of the three forwards would probably end up as the odd man out, they would’ve instantly said Miller. Now? He’s probably the first to be signed. Not many players should feel safe right now but odds are pretty high Miller will be remaining in blue.

Personally, I wouldn’t give up on Kreider yet either. If he spoke on breakup day, he didn’t say much as I saw no quotes from him. But if the team plans to keep Vigneault, they can’t get rid of their fastest player. As for Hayes, Vigneault was asked if he was in the organizations plans going forward and responded:

We’ll see if that remains the case in the next few weeks.

That leaves McIlrath. While Vigneault said the back end is where they need to look to change, I’m not sure moving the rookie is what he was implying. I said all season that McIlrath was a clear #7 when the others were playing to their capabilities and would be a regular next year. We’ll see if I’m right.

No Trade + No Move Clauses

Here comes the fun. If the Rangers really want to make changes, they will need to touch their long term contracts and most of those have some type of move clause attached to them.

The top three candidates are Rick Nash (limited no trade clause), Dan Girardi and Marc Staal (both no move clauses).

Nash, when asked, replied:

“It’s hard not to worry about it. I love the city, I love the organization, but the realistic side to it is that you don’t know what’s going to happen over the summer.”

Most assume he’s the most logical to move. It would be a big shake up as well as free up a bunch of space. But while he didn’t score this year, he was a 42 goal scorer last season and most assume he’s closer to that then the 15 goal scorer we saw this year.

As for the two defensemen, that’s where it gets interesting. Girardi has four years remaining while Staal has five years. Both would need to approve any move except a buyout. (Since they have a no move, they can request to skip the waiver period needed before the buyout period but if I am understanding the CBA correctly, they can still be bought out.)

Many have mentioned buying out Girardi. If the Rangers choose to, this would be the cap hit over the next eight years:

Girardi-numbers

From a business standpoint, I would rather have the option of the player than that hit for that length of time. Yes they save money next year but they really hurt themselves the following years. Staal’s numbers are even worse which is probably why very few have mentioned that for him.

Other options to move? Derick Brassard who currently has a modified no trade clause (terms are unknown), Mats Zuccarello who has a full no trade clause or maybe Derek Stepan, who unfortunately for him isn’t old enough to have a trade clause. (Players cannot have a clause added to their contract until they are in their UFA years. It is believed Stepan has one for the end of his contract.)

Is the organization actually thinking of moving any of those players? Who knows. But it’s probably safe to assume anything is possible when your coach says the following:

“I think we’re at the stage now that we need to look at some changes,” Vigneault said days after the crash-and-burn, five-game first-round defeat to the Penguins. “For any NHL team, status quo is not possible and it is not what’s needed.

“We want to bring in different players to add to the dynamic. The core guys have been together for a while. Certainly it’s time to look at what we can do to improve.”

 

(Photo: Melissa Andus)

Change Is Coming As Rangers Breakup For Summer

Yesterday, the 2015-16 Rangers met up for the final time as they packed up their things and headed to their longest summer break in five years. While recently break up day quotes have been nothing more than players saying they will be better next year, this years’ final day had a different vibe. This year, things were a lot more questionable than definite.

Let’s start with the biggest news. Unless you had absolutely no internet access yesterday, you heard about the blow up from Dan Boyle directed at New York Post writers Larry Brooks and Brett Cyrgalis. While Cyrgalis wasn’t in attendance, Brooks was and things got a little heated. Of course there was video which you can see here. For those who don’t want to watch, the transcript can be found here.

I’m not going to rehash the entire thing as everyone has seen and heard it. Was Boyle out of line? Maybe that situation wasn’t the best place to completely lose his cool. But I’ve always been taught to treat others with the same respect you would want to be treated with. There is no question Boyle has received very little respect from many in the NY media so if he felt like returning the favor on his last day speaking to them, fine by me. Especially when one of the writers in question felt the need to respond and then apologize after he was called out by fans everywhere for his original response.

Somewhere, John Tortorella read about what happened and smiled.

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Moving on, the next player to speak was Dan Girardi who confirmed what anyone who had any common sense had already figured out – he missed three games during the playoffs due to injury. What was that injury? A concussion stemming from the hit he received from Brian Boyle.

To me, it was clear as day that was the injury and I was actually shocked to see him back for game 1. After seeing how that game went, it was no surprise when Girardi admitted he didn’t feel right as the game went on and that the symptoms returned after the game. I’m still not sure how he was able to come back for game 5 but he did say he felt fine during and after the game so hopefully the concussion issues are behind him. But you never know with head injuries. (I’ll save that rant for another time.)

Girardi also confirmed what many had suspected – that the crack in his knee never fully healed.

“If I could go back, I’d probably try and take more time off, but a lot of you guys know I’m not that guy who’s just not going to play. Missing whatever I did — six games — was already a lot for me.”

I plan to hold him to that quote next year when he inevitably tries to play through another injury received early in the season. Speaking of next year, Girardi told reporters he was confident this year was a one-time thing and that he can and will be much better next season. When asked if he thought that would be with the Rangers, his response was “Well, I think so.”

And that seemed to be the trend in the quotes I saw coming out of the room. Everyone saying “I think so”. Reading between the lines, you could tell the players aren’t sure what to think but are aware changes are coming.

For instance, when Henrik Lundqvist was asked if the team could contend again next year, he replied “I think so”. Lundqvist has been the most vocal saying while he knows change is coming, the organization shouldn’t “overreact”.

Lundqvist-tweets

If there is anyone who will take the way the season ended the hardest, it is Lundqvist. And if there is as much change as everyone is assuming, he might be the only one untouchable (assuming he doesn’t ask for a trade himself).

Returning to injuries for a moment, Lundqvist said that there was no lingering issues from his eye injury, although he almost wished there was so he could blame his performance on that. All due respect, I would prefer to accept he played bad then be worried about his eyesight. Rangers fans already have to deal with that with another player.

Captain Ryan McDonagh finally admitted what his “mysterious upper body injury” was – he broke his right pointer finger. I actually thought it was a lot worse than that but I guess that explains why he was able to come back as quickly as he did. He won’t need surgery but the finger does need a few more weeks to completely heal.

Actually, for the first time in years, no one needs surgery unless there will be random injuries coming about in the following weeks.

Also for the first time in years? Rangers players are eligible to play at the World Championships and three will be going – Brady Skjei will be representing the Americans, Derick Brassard is joining Team Canada and Mats Zuccarello is expected to join Norway’s team. (As of this writing, I don’t believe that is official but it sounds like he is going.)

Everyone else is headed home. Will they back next year? Individually they want to think so. But since Vigneault said even the coaching staff isn’t guaranteed to be the same, I think the players know that this year, no one is safe.

 

(Photo: Melissa Andus)

Girardi Conundrum: When Agenda Doesn’t Agree With Logic

Mention the name Dan Girardi around Rangers fans this season and 9 out of 10 times the reaction won’t be positive. It’s no secret the usually steady defenseman has had a difficult season. There is no one, not even his biggest supporters, who can sit with a straight face and say he’s played well. (I know, I’m one of them and I can’t do it.) But just because that is fact, doesn’t mean that is always the only issue.

Yesterday, Alain Vigneault announced that after missing practice Girardi would miss game 2 with an injury. When asked if it was an upper or lower body injury, the coach replied:

That sounds about right as I honestly believe Girardi is dealing with multiple injuries at the moment. (And I won’t even begin to guess how many he attempted to play through in game 1.)

Unlike previous years, we know for sure he had a knee and a hand injury earlier in the season. Did those ever fully heal? Who knows. Then he fell awkwardly into the boards roughly 10 days ago. There was tons of speculation as to what he injured at the time but never any clarification. Whatever it was caused him to miss the final two games of the regular season and only practice once in a 7-day span. Could that have aided in his performance earlier this week? Probably.

But therein lies the problem. It “aided” in his performance. There’s no one who can confidently say he would’ve played better if he was healthy. Which led to a clear opening for everyone to push their new agenda and assume this scratch is actually a healthy scratch disguised as an injury.

Wait…Vigneault hiding a healthy scratch? First of all, there is no reason for him to do that. Secondly, I don’t for even a second think that he is. Why would he? This is the playoffs. You put out your best players. If a long time player in the organization isn’t your best player anymore, you don’t play him. No explanation needed.

But that is basically what fans and media assumed yesterday. Yes media too, as the implication was there from the Rangers beat writers to the national analysts assigned to cover this series – Vigneault was saying he was injured so the longtime Ranger could save face. Which is a disgrace to both Girardi and Vigneault.

I know Girardi is a guy who plays through everything so as soon as he is out, people start questioning things. Usually those questions are something along the lines of “is he dead?” or “what hospital is he lying unconscious in?”. For years it has always been “he has to be really injured” if he’s missing a game. Which is why I can’t wrap my brain around the fact people are now saying there’s no way he’s injured. I can’t wrap my brain around the fact that we, as a fan base, are throwing logic and reason out the window because it doesn’t fit this years’ or this moments’ agenda.

He’s hurt. Is it something in years past he would’ve tried to play through? Probably. And he would’ve done a horrible job with the reaction being a mix of “he should have sat and healed” to “I give him credit for trying but he didn’t really help in doing so”. This time they are forcing him to sit out and actually heal and instead of being happy he is doing what everyone wants, they assume there is some hidden agenda behind him sitting out. The man can’t win. And after everything he’s given us the past decade, I feel he deserves to be treated better than this.

We aren’t talking about a player who misses a handful or more of games every season. We are talking about one who has both figuratively and literally given his mind and body to this team for the past decade. It’s why he’s been called a “robot” or “not human” and nicknamed an ironman. Should someone like that be thrown under the bus and labeled a healthy scratch during the most important part of the season? Ideally, you don’t want to do that if you can help it. But should that same player not be given the benefit of the doubt that he is actually injured, especially when we have video proof showing he has to be?

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe this is a healthy scratch disguised as an injury. But there is no way he (or Vigneault) deserves to have everyone assume that. After all he’s given us, he deserves respect. And respect would be everyone (fans, media, analysts) saying “I hope he’s okay.” But nowadays there’s no logic in sports. Only agenda.

 

(Photo: Melissa Andus)

Rangers Sleepwalk To Game 82 Win

While no team wants to go into the playoffs on a losing streak, it was no secret todays game meant nothing to the Rangers. It reportedly meant something to the Red Wings, but you couldn’t tell by their play as both teams seemed to just want to get the game over with.

For me, I just wanted no injuries. But as has been the case the past few games, we again didn’t get that lucky. This time it was Eric Staal who needed help off the ice late in the second period after a collision on an offensive zone faceoff. I didn’t see what happened, just the aftermath of him lying face down on ice. After the game it was announced he was taken out for precautionary reasons and should be fine. We can only hope. I would feel horrible for him if he couldn’t play in playoffs.

Other good news? During the post game on ice ceremony, Ryan McDonagh, Dan Girardi and Mats Zuccarello were on the bench and came on the ice to give their jerseys. McDonagh had his drapped over his right hand but the other two looked perfectly fine. Viktor Stalberg, who also missed todays game, was not part of the events but he reportedly will be ready for game one as well.

As for the game, there’s not much to say. Both teams played like it was game 82 and the result didn’t matter. Fortunately for the Red Wings, the Bruins did the same thing against Ottawa so they still were able to clinch a playoff spot. It was interesting in the building as a number of Red Wings fans were in attendance and kept trying to start a “Let’s Go Red Wings!” chant. You could tell Rangers fans were reluctant to stop them cause many were secretly rooting for the Wings.

On the ice, the most noteable thing to happen? With Oscar Lindberg scoring the empty net goal, the rookie can say he scored the first and last goal of the regular season. That’s all I got.

And so the regular season comes to a close. If the Islanders win tomorrow (as they got a point tonight), the Rangers will be headed to Florida. Otherwise it’s another trip to Pittsburgh. While most fans don’t want that, Marc Staal was right in saying it is really bad hockey karma to play to lose. Problem is I’m not sure they played either of last two games to win. Hopefully playing as if you don’t care brings them luck.

 

(Photo: Melissa Andus)

Rangers Lose Isles + Penguins In One Sweep

It almost looked staged, as if the Rangers agreed with the fans and some of the media that they should intentionally fail so they could fall into fourth place. One period of evenly played hockey resulting in no goals. More than half of another period with great chances but “unable to solve” the opposing goaltender. A shot going ten feet wide “accidentally” deflected into their own net, two more quick ones after that and then going through the motions in the final twenty. Honestly, it couldn’t have been written any better if they wanted to fail without making it obvious.

Do I think that’s what happened? Not really. But in losing yet again to the Islanders, the Rangers not only were swept for the first time in franchise history by their rivals but they also probably lost third place in the Metro and a trip to Pittsburgh next week. It’s not the worst thing in the world…minus the fact the youthful ignorance mixed with a couple of savvy veterans on the Panthers could be the worst match up of all for anyone in the playoffs. Guess we’ll find out soon enough.

I could recap the game but that first paragraph basically says it all so let’s discuss everything else that happened today.

First, the newest injury update. While no one would’ve been completely surprised to see Dan Girardi somehow on the ice for practice this morning, it wasn’t all that shocking he wasn’t. After practice, Vigneault gave some possible good news:

I agree with Larry Brooks when he said there is no reason for Girardi to play on Saturday but the fact they are saying “day to day” instead of “out indefinitely” could be a good sign. I say could because you have to take all injury updates with a grain of salt during this time of year. Remember, we all thought there was a chance Zuccarello would play again last season and later found out there was no way that was happening. But let’s hope the iron man is well enough to be on the ice for the post game events on Saturday afternoon.

And in even better injury related news, no one got hurt against the Islanders tonight. There were close calls but to everyone’s knowledge, the team thankfully came out in one piece.

In other news, a couple of team awards were announced today.

Earlier in the day, the team announced that Henrik Lundqvist had been voted as Team MVP by the media while the players voted for Jesper Fast as the Player’s Player award.

Lundqvist being MVP is no surprise – when there is no clear MVP, just go with the goaltender. I’m going to assume that was the thinking of most of the writers who voted for that. But Fast being the players pick was a nice surprise. Vigneault has said that players like playing with him and he honestly was my MVP vote for the season. It’s just nice to see him get the recognition.

Speaking of the fans’ MVP vote, before tonight’s game Steven McDonald was on-hand to award the Extra Effort award. It’s always a highlight of the season as the ex-police officer always leaves the team and fans with words of wisdom. Tonight he started by asking “Are we ready to chase Lord Stanley’s Cup?”. The fans are, I just hope the players are as well.

He then went on to say that we all know “…there are no easy victories. That’s how they play the game. That’s how we live our lives. That’s how we like it.” Rangers fans probably don’t like it but we know there are no easy victories, and I expect that to be written on top of the Stanley Cup puzzle placed in the locker room next week.

As I previously stated, my vote had been for Fast. Since there was no clear cut favorite, the fans went with a fan favorite meaning it was no surprise to see Mats Zuccarello take the award again. I can’t really argue with the pick as he’s had a good year.

While the entire ceremony wasn’t as inspiring as previous years, the one thing that stuck with me was how he repeated there were no easy victories. The players know this all too well and learned it again tonight. Hopefully they will be able to gut out 16 more wins starting next week.

 

(Photo: Melissa Andus)