New York Hockey: training camp

Gordon issues challenge for rookie D-men

September, 20, 2010
Just a few days into training camp and we're already getting a clearer picture of how the team plans to handle promising rookie defensemen Travis Hamonic and Calvin de Haan. Head coach Scott Gordon says that both blueliners will need to crack the team's top four in order to stay with the Islanders this season.

The move makes sense since skating on the third pairing will drastically limit their playing time, which doesn't exactly help development.

Chris Botta, who reported Gordon's comments, has more.

Morning Links

Top five training camp questions

September, 17, 2010
The 2010-11 season has arrived. This weekend marks the opening of training camp for all three New York area teams and the end to the summer speculation hockeyheads have leaned on in lieu of on-ice action. Starting this weekend, we’ll finally get some answers to some key questions. Here are the top five facing the Rangers, Devils and Islanders as the curtain rises.


Who will be the Rangers’ first-line center?
In speaking to the media, head coach John Tortorella said that the only jobs that had been decided beyond King Henrik's continued reign in the crease were the two top-line wingers, Marian Gaborik and Alexander Frolov. Who acts as their pivot is still up for grabs and fantasy hockey players especially are eager to find out.
One candidate it Erik Christensen. The 26-year-old, acquired last year from Anaheim, finished the season strong with 2 goals and 6 assists in his last six games. However, he posted just 26 points in total, not exactly the type of production you expect from a top-liner. Brandon Dubinsky and Vinny Prospal also spent time skating with Gaborik last season, and veteran Todd White could be in the conversation as well.

Will there be new blood?
Tortorella also noted that Derek Stepan, Evgeny Grachev and Ryan McDonagh will get long looks this training camp. Stepan and Grachev could be welcome additions to a roster that has struggled to score. McDonagh’s task is slightly tougher given the shortage of blue-line openings, but he’s been impressive in rookie camp and at the Traverse City prospect tournament.

How long will Wade Redden last?
Tortorella says it’s not automatic that Redden will be banished to the minors. Is he just trying to say the right thing and do right by a veteran player? Or does Redden really have a shot?
It seems like he’s a dead man walking (skating?) since his play for the Blueshirts has been sub-par and sinking his salary-cap hit in the minors solves the Rangers’ money problems. If Redden sticks on the Rangers roster -- and let’s be clear, that seems to be a gigantic IF at this point -- there will be some massive shakeups to compensate and clear the needed $4 million-plus to get below the cap.

Who rounds out the blueline?
We hit on this yesterday. Marc Staal, Daniel Girardi, Michal Rozsival and Michael Del Zotto appear to be locks for the top four spots. That leaves two active spots, with the team possibly carrying a seventh defenseman. Steve Eminger, Matt Gilroy, rookie Ryan McDonagh, AHL veteran Mike Sauer and invitees Garnet Exelby and Alexei Semenov will duke it out for those final slots.

How fast can Mats Zuccarello-Aasen adjust?
It’s almost a cliché. Every time a European player makes the jump to North America you’ll see some skepticism about how well he can adjust to this continent’s smaller ice surfaces. Yeah, the question’s warn out, but it wouldn’t be asked it if wasn’t true. Most European players play a finesse game. On a smaller sheet, with guys like Zdeno Chara defending the lanes, there’s less room to maneuver. If last season’s scoring leader in Sweden can adapt early, he could be a very welcome weapon.


Is Patrik Elias really going to play LW?
New head coach John MacLean told the media that Elias will enter camp as a left wing. Come again?
That likely puts him on the third line and leaves us wondering who skates with top LWs Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise on the other two lines. Elias has played some center in the past, but with MacLean's statement it seems Travis Zajac and Jason Arnott will center the top two scoring lines. Having a star like Elias on the third line will give the Devils some tremendous depth, in theory, but it will be interesting to see if his style can synch up with a grind line.

Which prospects will make the team?
LW (there’s that position again!) Mattias Tedenby is the top prospect, but don’t discount C Jacob Josefson. The Devils could use some depth down the middle since Arnott’s not exactly a spring chicken and if push comes to stomach punch, GM Lou Lamoriello may need to trade Zajac out of desperation in order to get below the salary cap at the start of the season. Which brings us to …

Who’s going?
Until something breaks, Dainius Zubrus and Bryce Salvador are going to be skating like guillotines in tow. They’re the owners of the biggest contracts that don’t include no-movement clauses. Of course, those big contracts also make them rather unpalatable to other teams, so trading them will be a tall order. One way or the other the Devils need to get below the cap ceiling, which means some veteran players are heading out the door. Until they do, there will be some dark clouds hovering over Prudential Center.

Can Kovalchuk’s style mesh with the Devils?

After acquiring Kovalchuk from the Devils, the team’s playing style started to skew from a workman-like dump-and-chase to a more skill-based game. Grinding is what the Devils do best. Streaking down the ice and scoring is what Kovalchuk does best. Can the two exist in harmony?

Can Kovalchuk stand the spotlight?
The single biggest topic this summer revolved around Kovalchuk’s free agency and contract. He’s going to be under scrutiny from the media in camp and early in the season. How well will he handle it?


Who wins the blueline battle?
Mark Streit and James Wisniewski look like they’ll anchor this unit with a lot of other fairly proven names (Jack Hillen, Mark Eaton) also in the picture. I could go on, but Lighthouse Hockey’s already shined a very nice spotlight on the coming competition.

Will the kids stick around?
There’s nothing that excites a rebuilding franchise like new blood and the Islanders have some very choice prospects. But will they make their mark in 2010-11?
Nino Niederreiter, Kirill Kabanov, Calvin de Haan and Travis Hamonic comprise four of the Isles’ top eight prospects according to Hockey’s Future.
It’s expected that El Nino will make the strongest run to remain on the roster, but there’s no shortage of top talent in this system. Some veterans will be pushed hard to keep their spots.

Can Kabanov behave?
I kind of hate to ask this one, since I’d prefer to give an 18-year-old the benefit of the doubt. However, Kabanov keeps making his enigmatic behavior a big issue.
If he can keep in line for the duration of camp, that will go a long way towards dispelling the notion that he’s a headache not worth dealing with -- the same perception that allowed someone of his elite talent to slip to the third round of the draft.

Will Rick DiPietro be up to full speed?
The netminder says he feels good and he’s ready to go this season, but staying healthy has never been the former top pick’s strong suit. Even if he’s not up to par, it’s unlikely the Isles make a move to acquire another goalie, but there are still some veteran options (Jose Theodore) out there should DiPietro again find himself sidelined, with some prospects waiting in the wings as well.

Is there a big year coming from John Tavares?
You can’t usually tell much in the preseason, but a lot of eyes will be on him to see if he can take that next step. Steven Stamkos set the bar (impossibly?) high with his 51-goal campaign in his sophomore season. Tavares may well have the ability to match that feat, but does he have the supporting cast? The Lightning may not be the team they once were, but Stamkos is still surrounded with a cast of stars in Tampa. The Isles aren’t without talent, but it’s just not the same setting for Tavares.
For what it’s worth, Tavares is ranked No. 54 in ESPN’s fantasy projections, with 30 goals and 64 points.

Got questions of your own? Post them in the comment section below and we’ll check them out as the preseason unfolds.

Staal signs; Redden all but done?

September, 16, 2010
The Rangers have signed Marc Staal to a five-year contract extension with a cap hit of $3.975, ensuring one of the league’s best young defensemen will skate on Broadway through the 2014-15 season.

With the signing, the Rangers’ currently sit a little over $4 million over the cap ceiling as training camp begins. Though it has been rumored all summer, it now appears inevitable that defenseman Wade Redden -- who carries a $6.5M per season cap hit by himself -- will enter camp assured of being placed on waivers and demoted from the team.

With Staal back on board and Redden likely gone, the stage is set for a camp showdown for the final two defensemen spots on the Ranger roster. It is thought that Staal, Michal Rozsival, Dan Girardi, and Michael Del Zotto already have the top four slots locked up, leaving the battle for Steve Eminger, Matt Gilroy, rookie Ryan McDonagh, AHL veteran Mike Sauer and camp invitees Garnet Exelby and Alexei Semenov.

Camp officially begins tomorrow for veteran players, though many have already arrived at MSG Training Center.

Morning Links
  • Jesse Spector of the Daily News has more on the Staal signing, as well as the increasing expectations for Girardi after he re-upped this summer.
  • The people have spoken and want to waive Redden in order to get under the salary cap following the Staal signing, according to the unscientific Twitter poll conducted by Spector. The scibe notes that the only teams that could even afford Redden’s gargantuan contract under the cap are the Islanders, Thrashers and Avalanche. I made this point earlier when talking about the Devils’ trade candidates following the Kovalchuk signing: Just because a team has cap space, don’t assume their willing to spend it on an abysmal contract. (FWIW Spector isn't implying the interest of those teams, just the available cap space.) Redden’s deal is almost universally regarded as the worst in the NHL.
  • Blueshirt Banter uses advanced metrics to see how Redden’s removal will impact the defense.
  • Larry Brooks asked Redden’s agent if he’s been in contact with European teams as an alternative to Hartford, but he declined comment.
  • Henrik Lundqvist guarantees the Rangers will make the playoffs this season.
  • The Rangers' prospects closed out the Traverse City Tournament with a 7-2 shellacking of the Stars. Seven different players scored for the Blueshirts, including top prospects Derek Stepan and Evgeny Grachev. The production from those two has to be encouraging to the talent evaluators of the scoring-starved big-league club.
  • SNY Rangers Blog summarizes Lundqvist's Wednesday interview on WFAN.
  • Alexei Semenov is just happy to be here, per Ranger Rants.

Devils roster reform looms as rooks report

September, 13, 2010
We all know the Devils’ summer was defined by Ilya Kovalchuk, but how much of next season will be? A New York Post preview article raises an interesting point about how Kovalchuk’s acquisition altered the team’s playing style last season -- and it wasn’t for the better, according to Mark Everson:
“Previously, the team prospered by dumping the puck from the red line when confronted by defenses, winning races and outbumping opponents.

“Suddenly, star players were intent on carrying the puck across the blue line, making passing plays and keeping possession.

“It didn't work then, was never solved, and now, it's up to MacLean to get these two distinct philosophies playing the same way, reacting similarly to the same keys. Good luck.”

The article goes on to list some prospects with a shot to stick on the Devils’ roster this season. Among them lie jewels like Jacob Josefson and Mattias Tedenby, as well as the likes of Alexander Urbom, Tyler Eckford, Matt Corrente, Adam Henrique, Nick Palmeri and Vladimir Zharkov.

In other roster news, a previous Post article puts Dainius Zubrus on the record as not wanting to leave New Jersey. That reluctance probably means he won’t be willing to sit out the NHL season and play in Europe, a move that could alleviate his salary cap hit ($3.4 million) the same way the Blackhawks buried the contract of G Cristobal Huet.

Morning Links
The Islanders get a late start on their preseason schedule, but they'll make up for it by pulling a move from the Yankees' and Mets' spring training handbook.

On two separate days the Isles will separate their roster to play two games virtually simultaneously. The first such split-squad games is slated for Sept. 29 in Philly and Saskatoon. The second instance closes the preseason with games in New Jersey and Long Island. Here's a closer look.


Day Date Opponent Site Time
Wednesday Sept. 29 Calgary (Split) Credit Union Center (Saskatoon) 9 p.m.
Wednesday Sept. 29 Philadelphia (Split) Wachovia Center 7 p.m.
Friday Oct. 1 New Jersey Prudential Center 7 p.m.
Saturday Oct. 2 New Jersey (Split) Nassau Coliseum 7 p.m.
Saturday Oct. 2 Montreal (Split) Pepsi Coliseum 7 p.m.
Yes, the Devils do more than negotiate interminable free agent contracts. In fact, in less than a month the Devs will be on the ice with or without Ilya Kovalchuk. Here's a look at their preseason slate. Training camp begins Sept. 17.


Day Date Opponent Site Time
Tuesday Sept. 21 Philadelphia Wachovia Center 7 p.m.
Thursday Sept. 23 New York Rangers Madison Square Garden 7 p.m.
Saturday Sept. 25 New York Rangers Prudential Center 7 p.m.
Tuesday Sept. 28 Philadelphia Prudential Center 7 p.m.
Friday Oct. 1 New York Islanders Prudential Center 7 p.m.
Saturday Oct. 2 New York Islanders Nassau Coliseum 7 p.m.

Rangers preseason schedule

August, 31, 2010
Rangers training camp opens Sept. 17 at the MSG Training Facility, which means real live hockey isn't far behind. Here's a quick look at the team's preseason schedule.

Day Date Opponent Site Time
Thursday Sept. 23 New Jersey Madison Square Garden 7 p.m.
Saturday Sept. 25 New Jersey Prudential Center 7 p.m.
Sunday Sept. 26 Detroit Joe Louis Arena 5 p.m.
Wednesday Sept. 29 Detroit Madison Square Garden 7 p.m.
Friday Oct. 1 Ottawa Madison Square Garden 7 p.m.
Saturday Oct. 2 Ottawa Scotiabank Place 7 p.m.

The Aas Man's in town

August, 31, 2010
Norwegian forward Mats Zuccarello Aasen (which, despite the Seinfeld nod, is pronounced Awe-sen) was among the first wave of 11 players to arrive for Rangers training camp. Jim Cerny of Rangers On Demand caught up with him for a post-workout interview yesterday and got his impressions on New York, trying to make the roster and North American hockey as a whole.

The 22-year-old made a name for himself playing at the 2010 Winter Olympics for Team Norway and led the Swedish Elite League in scoring last season with Modo. While the Rangers could use some goals from guys not named Gaborik, his spot with the team is far from assured. Prospects coming over from Sweden sometimes struggle with the smaller ice surface in North America in addition to simply adapting to life in the NHL.

FanHouse supplied this write-up on the 5-foot-7 foward back in May, but the highlight is the YouTube video at the bottom, simply titled: "Mats Zuccarello Aasen - Norwegian Hobbitt Wizard"

El Niño causing a stir on Long Island

August, 31, 2010
As hurricane season continues, and hockey season creeps ever closer, talk on Long Island is turning towards El Niño.

No, not that freaky weather pattern folks blame for global warming, never-ending rain storms and Rick DiPietro’s bum hip. I’m talking about the freaky good prospect the Isles tabbed with their first pick in the 2010 NHL Draft -- Nino Niederreiter.

Lighthouse Hockey tackled the topic in wonderful depth yesterday, including a report from Portland, Ore., where Niederreiter’s old WHL club conducted its media day last week … without Niederreiter. WHL scribe Gregg Drinnan of the Kamloops Daily News writes that the Islanders kept their top prospect in New York and speculates the team will keep Niederreiter with the big club to start the season.

ESPN Insider Gare Joyce, the guru of the NHL Draft Blog, wrote back in June that Niederreiter was a prime candidate to crack the NHL from Day One. Here’s what he had to say in an article on the 2010 draftees’ NHL ETAs:
LW Nino Niederreiter, New York Islanders
Under GM Garth Snow, the Isles are wide open to the idea of bringing their prospects right in. John Tavares was a no-brainer, but Josh Bailey is a useful analogy. Niederreiter is more ready than Bailey was a couple of years ago when he had his initiation under fire on Long Island.

Recently ranked as the Isles’ top prospect by Hockey’s Future, Niederreiter projects as a top-line forward in the NHL. A sensational performance (6 goals, 10 points in seven games) at the 2010 World Junior Championships started the hype machine for the super-skilled LW dubbed The Swiss Can’t Miss, and coupled with his NHL-ready size (6-foot-2, 205) he raced up draft boards last spring. However, expectations should be tempered a little as he’s still among the youngest prospects in the draft class. He turns 18, Sept. 8.

Should he sign with the team, he doesn’t have to permanently stick on the roster in order for you to see him in game action this year. The Islanders can sample the goods for nine NHL games before returning him to his junior team. Something to keep a close eye on when the puck drops on training camp.

Bettman disputes report; Medvedev lurks

August, 26, 2010
It just wouldn’t be a sunrise without a little new light thrown on the Ilya Kovalchuk free agency marathon. ESPN’s Scott Burnside writes that NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman denies the NHL nixed the proposal brought by the New Jersey Devils and Kovalchuk’s agent, Jay Grossman.

The New York Post reported Wednesday that the league had spiked the second attempt. The Commish may just be parsing words here, as he states, “In order for a contract to be rejected, there would have to be a signed contract submitted," Bettman said. "There has not been a signed contract submitted."

It’s been previously reported that no contract was actually submitted at the much-discussed Monday meeting between the Devils, Grossman and the league, but rather a conceptual framework. Burnside notes that Bettman did not dispute that there has been ongoing discussion between the parties on what the league would allow under the salary cap.

Meanwhile, KHL top boss Alexander Medvedev, on hand in Toronto for the World Hockey Summit, made it clear that his offer to Kovalchuk was still on the table and said he’d received a call from the winger’s agent yesterday.

As reported by Pavel Lysenko of Sovietsky Sport, and posted on the New York Post’s hockey blog, the NHL will only agree to a contract term of 13 years or less. The last framework on Monday was reportedly for 15 years.

Morning Links