Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Where Does Tim Kennedy Fit in With the Rangers?

By Eric Bancker

Yesterday the Rangers came to terms with forward Tim Kennedy, the deal is for one-year/$550,000. This contract is also a one-way contract which means Kennedy is guaranteed a roster spot.

This signing is pretty much unnecessary for the Rangers. They have plenty of young talent that should be fighting for rosters spots in camp. Now Kennedy will be brought in and will be taking a spot away from a young Rangers forward looking to prove themselves. Now Kennedy is young (24) but the Rangers didn't need to add him to the roster.

There are only two reasons I could see for him being signed and one is if the Rangers were planning to make a move with their current roster. A trade could be possible but it doesn't seem like it will be something big that will really shake this team up.

The only other thing I can come up with is that fact that Kennedy was brought in to add competition during camp, and with a bunch of young players looking to prove themselves you want heavy competition.

Kennedy is a good bottom-six forward who can give you strong shifts on the penalty kill as well as contribute a little bit on the offensive side. He plays big for his small stature (5'10, 173lbs), he also possesses a quick release and has good speed.

The Rangers didn't have to really splurge to get Kennedy but this signing did put them over the salary cap. This signing also makes me feel as though Wade Redden will be waived, I wrote an article on that as well if you haven't seen it check it out. The Rangers now also have 15 forwards under contract for this season and as you know you only need 12. Now there will be healthy scratches and things like that but things don't seem right in Rangers camp.

Why sign Kennedy when you have young talent waiting to get a roster spot? Why was signing Kennedy more important than re-signing Marc Staal? The Rangers have added a ton of depth this off-season, which is great for the team but this signing really doesn't make much sense and it leaves me to believe that Sather has at least one move left before its all said and done.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Can Devils Be Contenders in East?

By: Tim Brennan

For as long as anyone can remember, the New Jersey Devils have been a prime example of a solid franchise that amasses 100 points each season and usually claims the Atlantic Division crown. Along with that, the Devils earned 3 Stanley Cups in a 10 year period from 1993-94 to 2003-04. But lately these Devils succeed in the regular season only to disappoint in the post season. In a way, New Jersey has become the San Jose Sharks of the Eastern Conference.

The last three post seasons for the Devils have all ended the same way: an early first round exit at the hands of a team lower than them in the standings. Most recently, the Flyers polished off New Jersey in 5 games. The Devils were outscored by a margin of 15 to 9, which included a 3-0 series clinching victory by Philadelphia in Game 5. The Devils couldn't shut down the Flyers offense and looked even worse on the penalty kill where they gave up 8 goals on 29 opportunities. The team looked troubled throughout the series and wasn't able to overcome their lack of discipline and poor defensive play. In the end, New Jersey was outplayed and sent to the golf course early.

If anything, this Devils team needed some changes to shake them out of the current funk they seemed to have gotten themselves into. The first decision was the resignation of head coach Jacques Lemaire. Lemaire is the man responsible for the trap style that the Devils have cherished and have utilized for over two decades. Lemaire's first stint in New Jersey lasted five years and guided the team to it's first Stanley Cup victory in franchise history in 1995. The prodigal son returned last season after eight seasons in Minnesota due to Brent Sutter's resignation. New Jersey finished 1st in the Atlantic under his guidance but lost to Philadelphia in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.

The search for Lemaire's successor came down to a former Devil and the team's leading scorer of all time, John MacLean. Along with MacLean, the Devils hired former Devil shot caller Larry Robinson and future Hall of Famer Adam Oates to back him up on the bench.

Shortly thereafter, the Devils acquired a familiar face in Jason Arnott from the Nashville Predators. Arnott, most well known by Devils fans to have scored the Cup clinching goal in 2000, was brought back to provide secondary scoring that the team so desperately needs.

Prior to free agency, the Devils parted ways with long time Devil Jay Pandolfo by placing him on waivers and buying out his contract, making him a free agent. These looked to be the only moves Lou Lamoriello would make this off season.

Unknown to all of us, this was just the tip of the iceberg.

One of the Devils most highly coveted players, defenseman Paul Martin, couldn't agree to terms with the team the day before free agency started. As a result, Martin left town and signed on with the Pittsburgh Penguins, who started a defensive overhaul that also included Zbynek Michalek. The Devils needed to address the loss of Martin so names like Dan Hamhuis, Pavel Kubina and Joe Corvo came to mind to replace the 29 year old puck moving defenseman from Minneapolis.

Instead, the Devils surprised everyone by outbidding several teams to sign coveted defensive defenseman Anton Volchenkov to a 6 year deal. Lamoriello wanted to make clear that the team wanted to address their concern area of defense before anything else. Veteran defenseman Henrik Tallinder was also brought in to help establish a strong defensive presence on the blueline as well as providing leadership for youngsters Andy Greene, Anssi Salmela and Mark Fraser.

Amid the flurry of signings and trades, the Devils squeezed in one more deal on July 1st by picking up goaltender Johan Hedberg. Not only was this a smart move on Lamoriello's part, it was one that should have been made 3 seasons ago. A one year deal for a goalie who posted 21 victories for the Atlanta Thrashers last season and continues to prove his worth. Brodeur won't get dethroned by Hedberg, but he sure will help fill the void when Brodeur takes a seat on the bench. There's no doubt in my mind that Hedberg will get around 20-25 starts under new head coach John MacLean.

Then there's the Kovalchuk debacle that has the entire NHL off season on hiatus. After an initial contract of 17 years and 102 million dollars was inscribed, the NHL intervened and declared it null and void, stating that the contract circumvented the regulations under the salary cap. A rumored 15 year, $100 million contract for Kovalchuk has surfaced but no one has yet to make a comment on the proposal.

Now how does all of this fit it with the question stated in the title?

Well, the Devils made some changes in personnel and philosophy, which can mean either the team gels together as a cohesive unit or it crashes and burns under a new system (i.e. the Minnesota Wild last season). The Devils are primed to be a playoff team, no doubt about that. It all depends on whether the team can improve on it's 19th ranked offense last year and whether the new system implemented by John MacLean serves for the betterment of the franchise. Another issue that could lead the team down the wrong path is the Kovalchuk situation and whether a deal can be struck.

There are far too many stellar elements on this team for a regular season finish outside the top 8. The top line of Zach Parise, Travis Zajac and Jamie Langenbrunner are the majority of the offense and set a pace during each game. Even though the line was brought about last year, at a glance it appears that they've played together for their entire lives. The speed, agility and quick shot of Parise helps put pucks in the net while Zajac makes plays with crisp passes and Langenbrunner gets into the dirty areas and battles along the boards. During the regular season, the ZZ Pops line combined for 82 goals accounting for 38% of the team's goals. In order for this team to succeed in the goal scoring department, the Devils need an all around effort so as to not depend on one particular line. Along with the first line, the Devils could have a deadly 1-2 punch if Kovalchuk gets under contract to join Patrik Elias and newly acquired Jason Arnott.

The defense looks alot better than last season, with strong pairings and great signings on the part of Lou Lamoriello. More than likely, Anton Volchenko a.k.a. "The A Train" will match up with the highly underrated replacement for Paul Martin, Andy Greene. Tallinder and Bryce Salvador could make an excellent shutdown pair but since Tallinder was brought in to mentor the Swedish defender will spend time with either Anssi Salmela or Mark Fraser while Salvador and Colin White join together.

And of course the goaltending situation is top notch with the two headed monster of future Hall of Famer Martin Brodeur and veteran Johan Hedberg.

The only problems that this team will face are the lack of depth at forward and depending on rookies for offense. Outside of the top two lines, the Devils aren't going to get much help on the goal scoring front. Only Brian Rolston has been able to put up 20+ goals the past few seasons. Dainius Zubrus is a better playmaker than scorer and David Clarkson continues to struggle with finding his niche offensively. Newcomers Jacob Josefson, Vladimir Zharkov, Alexander Vasyunov and Mattias Tedenby will all battle for positions during training camp but the team can't force these youngsters to put up 10-15 goals. Zharkov has the best chance of giving the team good offensive numbers after posting 10 points in 40 games last year. If Kovalchuk isn't coming back, then the Devils will regret giving up promising winger Niclas Bergfors.

Also instead of depending on Parise and Zajac for special teams, maybe the team can look at someone like Rod Pelley to get more time on the penalty kill, or utilize Zubrus and Rolston in more situations than they were used under Lemaire.

Finally, the answer to the question is yes, the Devils can be contenders this season only if they improve on goal scoring, Parise continues his growth as an up and coming superstar, Brodeur doesn't falter come playoff time and gets more time off splitting time with Hedberg. My prediction for New Jersey is a 4th place finish during the regular season.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Waive Good-Bye To Wade Redden

By Eric Bancker

As teams report to training camp this September there is one thing that is almost certain for the Rangers, Wade Redden and his $6.5 million cap hit will be banished to the minors as the Rangers are expected to waive the 13-year veteran.

Two years ago, Rangers general manager, Glen Sather, signed veteran defenseman Wade Redden to a 6-year/$39 million contract in hopes of adding some offense to the blue-line. This contract has proven, in my opinion, to be the worst contract handed out in the salary cap era, which started in 2005 after the lockout.

In the two years Redden has been in a Rangers uniform he has 40 points (five goals and 35 assists) in 156 games. Not really the kind of numbers you want a high-priced free agent to put up.

Redden had moderate success in his first year with the Rangers but he still wasn't winning over any fans. Redden had only three goals his first year on Broadway. He started off promising, scoring a goal in the Rangers second and third games but he then had a goal scoring drought that spanned from October 10th till February 25th.
A lot of people figured it was just taking him time to adjust to his new team and new city and that his second year would be more promising...that wasn't the case.

As he came into his second year with the team, Redden was already being booed on a nightly basis by Rangers faithful. I also strongly believe that he was one of the main reasons why during the Rangers home-opener this past season, that the team decided to come out as a group and not individually as they have done in years past. Redden would have been ripped apart by the fans on opening night and his confidence would be even lower than it already was.

Redden didn't fair any better his second year with the team as he had a career low in goals, assists, points, power-play goals, power-play assists, shots, and had the second worst shooting percentage of his career. He was benched by head coach John Tortorella on multiple occasions and really has lost his place in New York.

Now we have arrived at the point where free agency is underway and training camp is right around the corner. The Rangers have added new pieces to the team (Frolov, Biron, Boogaard, Eminger, and Zuccarello Aasen) The typical questions are staring the Rangers in the face, can this team score enough goals? Can the defense in front of Lundqvist be solid to give them a chance to win? But this off-season one question already seems to have been answered. What will happen to Wade Redden? It appears that once training camp opens up Redden will find himself in the AHL with the Rangers affiliate the Hartford Wolfpack.

Redden has been told that he will need to earn his roster spot. But with the below average hockey he has been playing for his high price tag means that he will be packing his bags. Now from a fans standpoint this is great news. He is no longer wanted on the team and his $6.5 million cap hit will be banished to the minors and the Rangers will have a ton of wiggle room financially.

But let's not look at this from a business standpoint but look at it just from the human aspect of the game. Redden is 33 years old, his contract expires in four years. If Redden is sent down to the minors then this spells the end of his career. This is a guy who was one of the top offensive defenseman in the NHL roughly five years ago. He hasn't lived up to any part of his contract but is that really his fault? Did anyone really think he was worth that much money? Did you think he was going to walk into Sather's office and say "Hey Glen, I don't feel as though I deserve $6.5 million a year could we talk about possibly giving me less money?"

When it comes down to it this contract is all Glen Sather's fault. He over-valued a rapidly declining defenseman and threw his checkbook at him. But Glen now must do what he has to do. He has to own up to his mistake and send Redden to the minors and end his career. Redden is a 13-year veteran who can still play at the NHL level but not at what he is getting paid for. I personally feel bad for the guy because he wasn't given a chance from day one to succeed as a member of this team. All I can hope for is that when Glen Sather does sit him down and tell him he is being sent down that he does it with respect. Wade deserves that much from a team that is ending his career for him.

Now there is a very interesting scenario that is popping up that could keep Redden on the NHL squad. The Rangers young star defenseman, Marc Staal, is still not signed with the team and it doesn't seem as though a contract is close to being done. Now lets say for all intents and purposes that when training camp opens that Staal isn't there. The Rangers will have a big gap in their defensive corps, giving Redden a chance to slip in and make a difference. Now Redden would need to be amazing in camp, which is unlikely to happen but there his hope for him. This is Redden's last chance to save his career, let's see what he does with that chance.