Category archive: New York Rangers

It is redundant, of course, to say games at this time of year are big when it comes to the standings. That's the case for any team with anything on the line with less than four weeks to go in the regular season.

But in the case of the New York Rangers, this is a week that may tell the tale of their topsy-turvy season. They have head-to-head matchups against the two teams they're chasing for the final two playoff spots in the Eastern Conference, tonight at home against Montreal and Sunday in Boston on national TV.

Sandwiched between those two clashes is a visit from St. Louis on Thursday. Following that game with the Blues, the Rangers play eight of their final 11 games on the road to close out the regular season.

"It's pretty big," Rangers captain Chris Drury told ESPN.com on Monday. "Especially coming into Sunday's game [a 3-1 win over Philadelphia] knowing we had three at home, it was set up pretty good for us this week with no back-to-back games and no travel. These are things good teams take advantage of. We did a good job Sunday, but certainly there's some more coming at us here. ...

"Knowing what's down the road in terms of road games, that makes this week's homestand crucial."

The Rangers are five points behind the Habs with a game in hand and one point behind the Bruins with Boston holding the game in hand on New York.

First things first: the red-hot Canadiens. Montreal followed up an impressive 3-1-0 road trip after the Olympic break with three straight wins at home, including Saturday's 3-2 victory over the visiting Bruins. Drury has kept an eye on the Habs.

"I'm just impressed with how they did on that road trip and battling back in that one game when they were down 3-0 in Anaheim," Drury said. "We go to bed thinking it's 3-1 for the Ducks. You wake up and [Montreal] won 4-3 in a shootout. To come away with what they did on that trip, you couldn't help but notice. So it'll be a tough test for us."

What the Rangers need tonight against Montreal is Sean Avery to show up again after his two-goal, under-your-skin performance that helped the Rangers beat the rival Flyers on Sunday.

"The biggest thing is, even if he didn't score [Sunday], he was playing straight ahead, getting pucks deep, finishing checks, just playing like we know he can," Drury said. "But certainly the two goals were a big boost for us."

The Canadiens and Rangers have a lot in common this season. They've driven their fans nuts at times with inconsistent play. They've both been written off many times. But they're both still alive, and both markets can overwhelm players during tough times.

"You have to reset, regroup every day," said the veteran Drury. "Whether it's after a tough loss where people are writing us off, or if it's after a big win like Sunday where people are saying, 'Well, maybe, they're playing good right now.' Either way, you have to regroup and leave the last game in the past."

Will the Rangers make the playoffs? By week's end, we may have a pretty good idea.

There was a fresh new wave of Vincent Lecavalier trade rumors last week, with the New York Rangers again linked to the star center. But the owner of the Tampa Bay Lightning wants everyone to know there's absolutely nothing to them.

"We have never talked to the Rangers about Vinny," Oren Koules told ESPN.com on Saturday morning. "And by the way, Vinny has 50 points; he's not having a bad year. He's having a great year."

As I've written before, Lecavalier has a no-movement clause, so he alone will decide his NHL future, not the Lightning. There's no point worrying about it until then.

In the meantime, Koules made an interesting point about Lecavalier's production. When he had a slow start in October, Lecavalier was largely written off, and it certainly didn't help when Team Canada skipped over him for the Olympics on Dec. 30. But Lecavalier has come on of late. He entered Saturday's play 15th in NHL scoring, ahead of the likes of Zach Parise, Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, Rick Nash, Anze Kopitar, Alexander Semin and Jarome Iginla.

Lecavalier is on pace for 82 points; still, not really worth the $10 million he's earning this season, but certainly not a bad year at all.

Meanwhile, I also asked Koules about the reports regarding the team's financial problems. While he confirmed the league is assisting him in actively trying to find a buyer or investor, he denied that the Lightning has been forwarded an advance share of revenue sharing to help pay the bills.

It's clear the league wants to find a buyer/investor ASAP for the Lightning.

Toronto traders
The 28th-ranked Toronto Maple Leafs will be sellers ahead of the March 3 trade deadline, but they'll be in a unique position compared to any other club in the NHL. They've got cap space to sell, but more importantly, budget room.

In other words, they may be sellers and buyers at the same time. Confused? Unlike, say, Carolina or Edmonton (teams that solely want to shed salary like traditional sellers would), the Leafs are ready to take on huge contracts if the deals include draft picks or prospects in the process. And that's exactly the message being sent to the buyers around the league right now by GM Brian Burke and assistant GM Dave Nonis.

Burke has had this financial muscle at his disposal all along, but has been waiting for the right time. That time is coming.

For example, pretend you're a Cup contender. You want to make a deal to help your team March 3, but you don't have enough cap room. The Leafs are telling those types of clubs they'll take a contract off their hands for a pick or prospect. No other seller, in all likelihood, will offer that scenario to buyers because no other seller is willing to park big money in the AHL to make these deals happen. This is where the Leafs hope to start recouping some assets, especially after dropping a pair of first-rounders to Boston for Phil Kessel.

In the meantime, the Leafs are getting feelers for pending free agents, such as Alexei Ponikarovsky and Matt Stajan, and even guys under contract past this season like Niklas Hagman (two more seasons at $3 million per). A handful of the free agents will almost surely be moved out. Ponikarovsky, hot of late, could be a fetching pickup for a team looking for second-line offense.

The Leafs' pro scouting staff, led by vice president of hockey operations Dave Poulin, met Friday and Saturday in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., to prepare for the March 3 trade deadline. Burke joined them Saturday. The staff ranked every player on all 30 teams over the two-day period so Burke and Nonis can quickly pull up those individual reports once trade talks heat up.

Know this: The Leafs' desire is to be extremely busy from now to March 3. We'll see if they find willing partners.

Hurricanes listen
Any player headed for unrestricted free agency is available in Carolina, but the Hurricanes are getting lots of calls on a player that's under contract for next season.

Joni Pitkanen has another year on his deal at $4.5 million for next season. The Canes like him a lot and are not trying to move him in any way. Yet, the interest from other teams is so high for the puck-mover, one wonders if Carolina will be able to say no before March 3 if the offers are too good to resist. The 26-year-old leads all NHL players in ice time per game, averaging just over 27 minutes. There won't be many top-four defensemen moving before March 3, so the high interest in Pitkanen is reflective of a barren marketplace for that position.

One player who will very likely move if he allows it with his no-trade clause is winger Ray Whitney, as I mentioned last week. To me, Pittsburgh and Calgary are screaming for this kind of move, as both clubs need offensive help and a boost to their power plays.

Here's the thing: He's cheaper to acquire now than on March 3. If the Hurricanes could unload him now, they'd save on their payroll. Come March 3, there's only five and half weeks left on Whitney's $3.55 million salary, so the Hurricanes wouldn't be saving nearly as much. In the meantime, teams will be scrambling for his services that day and the price will go up. Either way, the Hurricanes are hoping to recoup a first- or second-round pick and a prospect for Whitney.

Flyers-Rangers fallout
The Rangers, understandably, weren't happy when their star player, Marian Gaborik, got beat up by Flyers agitator/tough guy Daniel Carcillo on Thursday night. I don't blame them. I can just imagine their anger Friday when these Twitter posts were sent out by the Flyers:

From: @NHLFlyers
Sent: Jan 22, 2010 1:06p
In case you missed it, here's video of the Carcillo/Gaborik fight from last night.
http://bit.ly/5akcFO
sent via TweetDeck

From: @NHLFlyers
Sent: Jan 22, 2010 9:44a
Check out last night's media availability following the game, inc. Carcillo's "licking his chops" comment (video): http://bit.ly/71Pv6V
sent via TweetDeck

"I can't say I was aware they were doing this," NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told ESPN.com via e-mail Saturday. "It's not in violation of any existing policy we have."

There are no rules against it, but it's in poor taste, in my mind.

This and that
• The phone calls keep rolling in to Atlanta with inquiries about Ilya Kovalchuk, and it's going to get more serious over the next two weeks. Meanwhile, a source described contract talks with Kovalchuk as "pretty quiet" of late. I think a trade is inevitable at this point.

• Had a chance to touch base this week with Finland Olympic GM Jari Kurri. The former Oilers great said he couldn't believe it when both Saku Koivu and Teemu Selanne went down with injuries in back-to-back games recently. But Koivu is slated to return this week, and Kurri said he was confident the "Finnish Flash" would also be ready for the Olympics. "He should be OK," Kurri told ESPN.com. "Our understanding is that he'll be back in time, but it's going to be close, for sure."

• The Phoenix Coyotes are on the lookout for cheap offensive help; they can't take on too much of a payroll bump. Ideally, they're looking to make a dollar-for-dollar move. That's not an easy thing to do in this market right now, although that's exactly what Minnesota and Montreal pulled off in the Guillaume Latendresse-Benoit Pouliot deal (both players are earning the exact same salary).

• The New York Islanders continue to cast their fishing lines around the league in an attempt to move goalie Martin Biron ($1.4 million salary, UFA July 1). The Isles are pretty open to what they'd want in return: a draft pick, a defenseman or a left winger. Any one of those three apparently will do.

We all knew Vancouver would generate headlines this season, with the Olympics being there and all. But this past week's entertainment was something else.

First, a fan uses a laser to try to blind Calgary Flames goalie Miikka Kiprusoff on Jan. 9 in Vancouver. Bizarre, to say the least. Then we've got the Stephane Auger/Alexandre Burrows brouhaha Monday night. And finally, Wednesday night's third-period fisticuffs in Minnesota, where Canucks tough guy Darcy Hordichuk reportedly told Wild enforcer Derek Boogaard that Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault told them to go out and fight. Later in the period, Vancouver's Alexandre Bolduc invited Minnesota goon John Scott to a fight that I thought would end the Canucks player's career it was so violently one-sided.

In any case, the allegation that the Canucks coach would have ordered some of his players to fight (denied by all involved in the following days) certainly touches a universal nerve given Vancouver's history with the Steve Moore incident less than six years ago.

A source told ESPN.com on Saturday that league disciplinarian Colin Campbell did phone Vigneault in the aftermath of those allegations. He got the obvious denial, and without any corroborating evidence, what else can the league do?

Meanwhile, on the Auger/Burrows front, Canucks fans won't see the veteran referee anytime soon. It just so happens the schedule didn't have Auger doing a Canucks game during the next two months (the schedule was already drawn up before the incident). But when the league draws up the schedule for the rest of the season, you can bet Auger won't be doing any Canucks games. It's called common sense.

And finally, NHL director of officiating Terry Gregson, who sends out a memo to his on-ice officials every Friday and Monday, had a timely message in Friday's e-mail. I'm told the theme was "communication," and essentially having a sense of the proper etiquette to deal with players and coaches, etc. You can read between the lines on that one.

Selling Souray
In the aftermath of Sheldon Souray's announcing that he would waive his no-trade clause if it helped the Edmonton Oilers and was a move that he could live with, the obvious question is, as one NHL GM told me this week, "But which team can afford him?"

The 33-year-old blueliner entered the weekend with 12 points (3-9) and a minus-14 rating in 30 games this season, not the kind of return you'd expect for a $5.4 million cap hit. On the other hand, he's surrounded by the 2009-10 Oilers, not the 1986-87 Oilers. A change of scenery could very well bring out the old Souray, not to mention the fact his actual salary goes down to $4.5 million for the last two years of his deal (starting next season).

One NHL team I believe has interest is the New York Rangers, a club that could certainly use his offensive touch from the back end. I also think Souray would welcome a move to New York. But to make it happen, the Rangers would need to create cap room by shedding the contracts of either Michal Rozsival ($5 million cap hit; will earn $4 million next season and $3 million in last year in 2011-12) or Wade Redden ($6.5 million cap hit; four more years left after this season at $6.5 million for 2010-11 and 2011-12 and $5 million per year in 2012-13 and 2013-14).

The only real option on Redden is to send him to the AHL and eat his contract. A buyout next summer doesn't solve anything because the Rangers would still carry a $2 million cap hit from him for the next eight years.

I guess if you're New York, there's also the hope that when the next collective-bargaining agreement is negotiated, whether that's after next season or the season after that (the NHL Players' Association has the option of extending it a seventh year), teams will once again get a one-time shot at buying out their worst contract without cap implications, which was the case in August 2005, when the last CBA started. That would be an opportune time for the Rangers to deal with Redden.

Pens update
Contract negotiations have recently resumed between the Pittsburgh Penguins and representatives for defensemen Kris Letang and Sergei Gonchar.

The team isn't close to a deal on either front at this point, but that can change in a heartbeat. Letang will be a restricted free agent July 1, while Gonchar will be unrestricted.

"We met with Kris and his agent [Kent Hughes] recently," Penguins GM Ray Shero told ESPN.com on Friday. "They know where we stand. Kris is a guy obviously we want to re-sign, but we're not there right now."

Gonchar turns 36 in April, so no matter what contract he signs, the entirety of it will count against the salary cap even if he retires before the end of it (according to the 35-and-over rule in the CBA). This makes the term the most significant item on that docket. Shero met with Gonchar's agent, J.P. Barry, over the past week in Calgary.

"We'll just keep the dialogue going," said Shero. "We just need to find a way to get it done hopefully."

There's going to have to be some give from these two players for the Pens to be able to keep both. Interesting situation to say the least.

As for the March 3 trade deadline, the Penguins have their pro scouting meetings this upcoming week. That conversation, along with thoughts from the coaching staff, will help crystallize Shero's deadline game plan. The Pens don't have too much cap room, so Pittsburgh fans shouldn't expect a huge addition.

Preds goalies
So, you're the Nashville Predators and you're having a terrific season as young players step into the lineup again and produce (can this team draft or what?). But you've got a major issue: the two people who wear a goalie mask on your team.

Pekka Rinne and Dan Ellis are both slated for unrestricted free agency.

"I'm going to talk to all our unrestricted guys during the Olympic break," Preds GM David Poile told ESPN.com on Friday. "Both are goaltenders who have been real good for us this year. We've been rotating them pretty much."

But in my mind, you won't see both back next season. The frugal Preds can only afford to keep one of them; and frankly, I don't think these two guys want to share the net again next season. They're both No. 1 material. The question is, will both still be with the team past the March 3 trade deadline? I think that's a question Poile himself hasn't answered yet in his own mind.

If he's able to re-sign one of the two goalies before March 3, then maybe he dangles the other in exchange for some offensive help. But if he's unable to get either one signed to an extension before then, he'd be wise to keep them both past March 3 and give himself time to talk contract with them right up to June 30 at midnight, when he still owns their rights.

Meanwhile, Poile confirmed what John Glennon first reported in The Tennessean on Friday: Coach Barry Trotz had his contract extended through next season.

Senators stuff
Somewhat under the radar is the fact that shutdown blueliner Anton Volchenkov is slated for unrestricted free agency. The Ottawa Senators can't afford to lose him, but contract talks haven't gone anywhere yet.

"I'm hoping this week to have some concrete discussions in that regard," Sens GM Bryan Murray told ESPN.com on Saturday.

Volchenkov, who is represented by Jay Grossman, is earning $3.2 million this season, but his cap number is $2.5 million. He's getting a raise, whether it's in Ottawa or elsewhere.

I've also noticed a few of my media colleagues suggested over the past few weeks that it might be time to look at moving Alexei Kovalev. But Murray told me that was a no-go.

"He's not going anywhere, Alex is a real good player for us," said Murray. "He's a talented player. That's why we signed him. He gives that dimension on the second line that we were looking for."

Kovalev has another year on his deal at $5 million for next season.

Stars goalies
Marty Turco will almost certainly be available come the trade deadline, as my colleague E.J. Hradek also speculated in his Friday blog. The veteran netminder is UFA July 1 and it's probable the Stars, as they continue to get younger, will go in a different direction in goal.

It'll be interesting to see what kind of traction the Stars get on Turco close to the deadline. His cap number is $5.7 million, which is a little rich even with that number being smaller come March 3, with just over a month left in the regular season. But on the flip side, this is a goalie who can bring it when he's dialed in, and he could be a great pickup in the right situation.

Meanwhile, who will play goal for Dallas next season? That will be GM Joe Nieuwendyk's top priority between now and July, to find his next goalie(s). I'm told the Stars did chat with Montreal earlier this season about Jaroslav Halak, but the price has gone up big time now with the Habs netminder putting together a great season. I'm not even sure why the Canadiens would want to move him anymore.

If I was the Stars GM, the goalie I'd look at is the oft-injured but talented Kari Lehtonen in Atlanta. He's a restricted free agent July 1 and he may have maximized the Thrashers' patience. He could be the ideal buy-low gamble for the Stars. Lehtonen (back) has been out pretty much all season, but he may return next weekend on a conditioning assignment with the AHL's Chicago Wolves.

Video review
In the wake of the Pittsburgh TV replay scandal, which cost Philadelphia a goal in a Jan. 7 game and resulted in the suspension of an FSN Pittsburgh producer, the NHL sent out this memo late in the week to all 30 markets:

    To All Rightsholders:

    The NHL's Video Review process was established to assist in determining the validity of all potential goals. In establishing this process, the Member Clubs have given their support and resources to the League's Hockey Operations Department to ensure that all goals are properly reviewed.

    One of the primary resources in the review process is the game telecast. In support of the mandate from the Clubs for video review, it is required that replays from all camera angles be shown in a timely sequence so as to provide the Hockey Operations Department with the best opportunity to review the situation and make a ruling.

    In the case of video review, producers and their crews have an obligation to the game, the teams and our fans to provide any and all replays of the play in question. Obviously, under no circumstances should a replay be withheld as to be selective with any sense of prejudice toward one outcome or another.

    As television rightsholders to the NHL and its Member Clubs, your understanding of this responsibility is imperative. We appreciate your continued partnership."