Leafs Hockey, What's Goin on in the Big Apple, and more…

Well, some of you asked me “why not the Rangers?”, so alright. I’ll give you my take on them.

How about some Leafs hockey? Hey, it’s the hot topic in the NHL world on here, and this time it’s not about who the Leafs should get and other things that have been talked about. I’m taking the discussions in a different direction in regards to John Ferguson Jr.

Plus, extra tid bits on another team, and my other attack on another media outlet. Well, I was pleased to see a lot of good readers in my previous CM article. Many of you agreed on the issues, and I was glad to see many Leafs fans agree with me on the Toronto media.

I also enjoyed the Flyers fans who tried to discuss, with some odd character, the Flyers current situation. I just want to set it straight that I was very positive about the team’s new additions, and that they are great. All I did was show concerns that could happen. That was all. My main opinion, though, is that the Flyers have what it takes to be #1 in the East.

So moving on to the topic that some people were surprised that I did not mention it earlier, the New York Rangers.

Is it not weird how the Rangers, Avalance, Red Wings, Maple Leafs, Blues, and the Stars have been so quiet in this off-season? Well, it’s not really weird since now it’s the reality, but I’d also say it’s great.

The Rangers just started their rebuild last year at the March trade deadline when they had a fire sale. Their youth has also just begun to show signs that they might be NHL ready. Remember, it takes a few years for prospects to come up, and recently those prospects have shown a lot of bright signs.

For years, hockey fans have claimed that the Rangers should start from scratch and begin a rebuild, and now that they are doing so….. there is no reason to criticize the Rangers roster. Rangers fans wanted a rebuild as well, so expect to lose and not make the playoffs unless a miracle happens that the young players will form some sort of magic. That will not happen though.

The young players will get their chances to make the roster, but they may not yet be ready to play an 82 game season at the NHL level.

Down in Hartford, the Wolf Pack had a solid season and once again the goaltending of Jason LaBarbera was outstanding as well as the defense, something that the Rangers have lacked in the past decade. The problem, however, with the Wolf Pack was the coaching. Coach McGill was great, and he is a good coach that can make it to the NHL, as well as Nick Fotiu. He tought discipline and did very well in teaching the players how to be responsible defensively. The problem? He made it too defensive. A sniper style player in Jozef Balej with scoring skills cannot be forced to play too defensively, and his offense hurt.

This is why I have concerns with Balej projected to be given a shot on the 2nd line RW. If his offense does not come around, then the Rangers have a major hole to fill. Balej is lucky enough to have a crisp passer in Michael Nylander, and the hopes are that he can start his scoring, and he should.

On that second line, the Rangers are looking to add a LW’er. While it may be John LeClair, which I am not too fond off, the Rangers need to get a vet on that 2nd line to fit in as a role player.

Now, if Balej shows he is not yet ready the Rangers will be looking to add another 2nd tier veteran. On the RW? I think free agents will still be available in October, and though Palffy will most likely be taken by then, the Ranger could look at Petr Bondra, who is still capable of netting 25 goals, be a PP force, and is familiar with Nylander, at a very cheap price, or Valeri Bure who is still available, which surprises me as he is more than capable of scoring 60 points.

So those are the possibilities if some plans fail.

The first line is pretty much set with Rucinsky, Straka, and Jagr. With the new style of hockey that will be played, this line has the potential to be lethal, although it is quite weak as all three players can are injury prone. Rucinsky is a very reliably two way forward and has played well with the Rangers and did okay in Vancouver. I was always a fan of Martin Straka as he has great speed and is lethal if healthy and given scoring opportunities. Then there is Jaromir Jagr who came out as the best player from the World Cup, and was super when playing in Europe this past season. So, he is coming out ready.

The third and fourth lines are interesting as they will be all Ranger products, for the most part. Ville Nieminen was a great addition. The Rangers specifically said that they were seeking character players, much like the Florida Panthers did by bringing in Gary Roberts, probably was a top choice of the Rangers, and Joey Nieuwendyk.

I actually had my own list for the Rangers, as Ziggy Palffy topped my list, and Ville Niemienen was fifth on my list.

Though he throws some cheap shots, he was a great personality for the Flames as Iginla said that he was arguably the sleeper and best acquisition (when acquired from the Hawks) that the Flames made that season. He is an unskilled version of Esa Tikkanen, basically, and he still plays good agitating hockey. Also, his PIMs are very respectable as he never reached 100 PIMs. I like this addition.

The rest of the players will be Rangers, such as Lundmark, Ortmeyer, Dominic Moore, Garth Murray, Alex Giroux (acquired from Ottawa in de Vries trade) and maybe, but more of a long shot, Ryan Hollweg.

This group of youngsters formed great chemistry in Hartford, and definitely know their duties as checking forwards who play hard and play smart defensively, as tought by McGill and Fotiu. And by the way, McGill was let go by the Rangers, and Jim Schoenfeld, Ken Gernander, and Ulf Samuelsson are the new coached. Fotiu, joined the Rangers scouting staff.

So, you are looking at the Rangers building their own youth strongly on the fourth and third lines. These guys will make rookie mistakes, no doubt, but they will receive the chance to be NHL players and form a nucleus for the Rangers future.

The defense may actually be surprising as I believe it to be a coin toss.

Fedor Tyutin has shown excellent potential as a two-way defenseman, and his Russian mate Maxim Kondratiev has also shown a lot of potential. These two did not play much in the AHL as they were better fit to play at a much higher level of hockey in the Russian league. Tyutin is most definitely part of the Rangers line-up, and I am expecting Kondratiev to be there as well as he had 7 good games with the Leafs, and showed more upside than Carlo Colaiacovo.

Tom Poti is actually rumored to be shopped around, and though I would definitely not miss the guy, Tom Poti is still young and may be an excellent fit with the new rule changes. He is a very smooth skater for his size, and has very good passing skills. He has more space to join rushes and contribute offensively, and potentially he can rack up 50-60 points. Will he? We shall see, but the potential is there. Of course he is weak defensively, and that is where Marek Malik may come in and cover Poti’s defense. Malik put up great numbers with the Canucks, and he was an annoying defenseman with the Hurricanes. He knows his defensive duties, and was a good addition for a Rangers rebuilding team.

The Rangers may also see Tomas Pock, a very offensive minded d-man, make the line up, and he could make Poti expandable by the end of the season. Also, Bryce Lampman and Lawrence Nycholat were a top defensive pairing in the AHL, both are entering their mid 20’s, and could be NHL ready.

Also, Darius Kasparaitis chose to remain a Ranger as he refused to get bought out. I think that shows a lot of character in a player as he had no interest in making money by receiving 2/3 of his current contract, plus sign with another team for around $3M a season. Kaspar did not go for that money, as Holik did, and he would be my number one candidate as captain. The young players who have practiced with the veterans admire Kaspar a lot, as Rangers high profile prospect Hugh Jessiman stated the following in an interview:

Hugh Jessiman: That was an incredible experience (when asked about training with the vets) for me and something that I’ll always be grateful for. Kaspar is a great guy to be around. He works extremely hard so I was able to learn a lot from him. I guess the biggest thing I learned from him was being professional about training, which means coming in everyday looking to improve your game and get stronger.

I would second that as Kasparaitis was play great defense with Greg de Vries before getting injured. He was ready, consistent, and played very well.

So, the Rangers defense is pretty much a coin toss as on one side, it could all go pretty well with a young defense that learns throughout the season and shows improvements. The other side is a yougn defense that is too inexperienced and needs another veteran d-man to be a mentor.

There are still a good bunch of defensemen to be had, and two of my picks for the Rangers, again… very low profile, are Alex Khavanov or Brad Bombardir.

The Rangers main stronghold is goaltending for the future. Kevin Weekes was kept to be a goalie for a year, maybe two, while prospects Henrik Lundqvist (23), and college USA kid Al Montoya develop.

The bright side is Henrik Lundqvist right now. He is older, and more mature than Montoya. He has also been argued as the best goaltender in Europe as he proved himself in every stage of competition, and currently sits as the best Swedish goalie in Swedish hockey history. The Rangers may be hoping to see him take back-up role behind Kevin Weekes, and the more he improves, the more games he will start. If not, then Lundqvist will split time in Hartford with Al Montoya, and the Rangers would find a goalie to pick up before the season starts.

That is where the Rangers stand right now, in my point of view. It’s a start, it’s a rebuild, and patience is a key factor. They key is to have a competitive hard working team that grows, and that team could take them in the middle of the pack for the non playoff teams, or could be in the lower bottom five teams in the NHL, which gives them another opportunity to put up a fire sale in late February, and rack up on draft picks/youth, plus receiving a solid spot in the 1st round.

So, I hope that was informative enough for you non-Rangers fans out there, and informative enough for you to decide on what kind of expectations you would have from the Rangers.

Now, on the BIG story.

The Toronto Maple Leafs.

So, I read a lot of the same thing from Leafs fans and the media. And it’s all mainly about “what can the Leafs do now?”

Well, that’s repetitive and it’s all speculation. What I want to do is concentrate on what the Leafs should have done and what GM Ferguson Jr. should do now.

Right now, I am looking at the current Maple Leafs roster (this counts Nolan), and the payroll totals up to about $29M with just ten players.

Mr. Ferguson Jr….. WHAT WERE YOU THINKING!?

It appears to me that Ferguson and his staff did not even have a plan and were not prepared for this off-season.

Forget about who he should sign now. It’s too late for that. Who cares about that, it won’t make a difference if he gets Palffy. I mean, he’d work great with Allison, but what about the rest of the team?

Now I am not sure if the Owen Nolan situation is cleared up. I am looking at the NHLPA.com site and he is due $5.6M. If it is cleared up, then I’ll go either way with and without him in my arguement.

So, this is counting Owen Nolan on the roster. Later I’ll do it without him.

It is ten players and $29M in salaries. This year has the largest total of free agents, and many UFAs.

Now, what the heck is Eddie Belfour good for at $4.56M? He should have been bought out. Tough luck, he should have been bought out. A guy his age, with injuries, playing in a $39M salary cap system is NOT WORTH that kind of money.

I don’t care if he was a need and it would be a tough loss for Ferguson, and the media, and the fans. Tough luck, you think I was thrilled to see Bobby Holik go for nothing?

Welcome to the new NHL, which means you better know how to manage your finances.

Eddie Belfour should have been bought out to clear $4.56M. Look at the market. For short term goalies, Cujo could have been brought back at a much cheaper price and he will sign for cheap in Pittsburgh or in Tampa Bay (I underlined that for you to keep in mind for later). There is Chris Osgood who could be had for cheaper. There is Brian Burke who could be a good mentor to Mikael Tellqvist. There is Mike Dunham who can be had for real cheap and play decent, and he is a shut out goalie when at the top of his game.

I mean, there is a wide range of goalies available, and Jocelyn Thibault would have been a great addition right now as he is on the block.

Belfour should have been bought out, period. I don’t care how much you like Eddie the Pigeon, he is just part of the problem in Leafs hockey right now.

So now that buying him out is too little too late, why not trade the guy? Leafs ownership is very rich, they can eat up about half of his contract and a team like the Lightning would desperately need a goalie like Belfour. The Coyotes could use him as well.

Owen Nolan is a bit complicated, but he should also be rid of. He carries a hefty salary, and the main importance for the Leafs is to get this guy out of their payroll.

Though he is a fan favorite, and a solid defenseman, Bryan McCabe carries $3.45M this season.

Guess what, he should have been bought out. With a lot of defensemen to choose from this year, who could also come at a cheaper price, McCabe should have been let go.

So far, we got Belfour and McCabe cleared, and that would have freed up around $8M. If the Leafs can get Nolan off their payroll, it would be $13M.

Why not trade McCabe? The Canucks are looking for a defenseman, so are the many other teams. The Predators will spend $4.5M on Paul Kariya, they’ll take a defenseman like McCabe at his price.

So it would be $13M slashed with a payroll of about $16M on the Leafs roster. Resigning Nik Antropov, Drake Berehowsky, Nathan Perrott, Alex Ponikarovsky, Carlo Colaiacovo,and Pilar…. maybe Belak. I don’t think that would be that much more than $11M, and that is IF Antropov decides to play in North America. If not, then it’s not bad news as it would clear about $1.2M or so, pushing it down to around $10M used on current Leafs players to resign.

Plus, USE THE YOUTH. Every team will have a veteran-youth mix, the Leafs should do it too, saves money and gives a chance for players to develop.

So that would leave the Leafs at $26M with a resigned roster of current players, and letting go of:

Mogilny, Belfour, McCabe, Francis, Antropov (maybe), Marchment, and Kidd, and hopefully Nolan.

Their current roster at around $26M would be consisting of 14 players.

That beats the hell out of having ten players at $29M.

Ferguson should have come out honest saying that because of the new CBA, changes will occur in Leaf land, and it would be pretty much a rebuilding team with new faces. He should still come out and say it!

He should have at least bought out Belfour. I have no understanding as to why he kept him at that price.

So, about $26M used on 14 players, you need 18 skaters, four more players to go and a couple of extras.

I listed the goalie choices who would come at the very most half of what Belfour makes. I’d take Chris Osgood before the Wings do, and I also think Osgood was not pleased with the Leafs, so why not take him? He’s lef the Isle’s to the playoffs, he is still a good goalie. Also, it’s all about letting Tellquist get some starts, so maybe a guy like Mike Dunham who would come at no more than $2M would be a good fit for 45 games or so.

Ask Islanders fans how it feels like when playing against Mike Dunham when he is at the top of his game. They could barely beat him, no matter how poorly the Rangers played.

So I would expect no more than $2M to be spent.

On defense, there are guys like Alex Khavanov, Brad Bombardir, Boris Mironov, Roman Hamrlik, Jiri Slegr is a decent depth player. Dan McGillis could have been had for $2.2M, and he is a steady d-man.

With a question mark on Hamrlik, all those defensemen would not cost more than $3M, and most of them may be no more than $2M. And, all are solid defensemen. Signing them to two year contracts does not hurt.

So, nab three of those guys and I’d go with Khavanov, Mironov, and Bombardir/Slegr. I’d estimate the total to about $5M. Khavanov would be had at $2M, Mironov at just under $2M, and Bombardir/Slegr a little over a million.

So now, from $26M to around $32M and the Leafs have a respectable and capable defense.

A total of $7M is left, and it is not much. However, the Leafs have a full roster now, and have the ability to add a free agent who is expensive, or two free agents.

I mentioned his name earlier, and I would have gone for Valeri Bure at a cheap price, and I really do not expect him to go at more than $2M.

Another player would have been John LeClair at probably close to $3M for one year, $2.2M for two years with incentives.

There goes near $5M, and yes, it is pushing it close to the very limit of $39M. BUT, the Leafs would have a full line up, full roster and have a decent season.

Right now, the Leafs are spending nearly $30M on a team that has just ten skaters.

So I leave it up to Leafs fans to decide what they would rather have. And, I am not a Maple Leaf expert, so I may have done decisions that would be big no-no’s for Leafs fans, but they have to look at reality. And the reality is that if they bought out those players that I mentioned, they would be much more flexible right now.

Toronto Maple Leafs is in major danger here, and the situation is quite disastrous. GM John Ferguson Jr is to blame, as well as Quinn and the rest of the staff. They poorly managed this team and drove it to a point where they have a sloppy roster and cannot afford to make any improvements.

So, why not come out and save your rear end, Mr. Ferguson, and say that the Leafs will be looking to rebuild?

What say you, Leaf fans?

Your team should have done what I proposed, in my opinion, and they cannot do that now unless they trade away Belfour and McCabe to at least find some flexibility.

The other tid bits regard the Nashville Predators!

This is the team I’m rooting for as the underdog. I was surprised they made the playoffs last time with a defense that is made up of a bunch of nobodies, except for Jason York, Timmonen, and Bombardir. Zidlicky was a nice surprise on the offense, and watch out for him with the new rule changes, but he was not used for even strength hockey as he is a horrible defenseman in his own end.

The rest of the defense is pretty much nothing and quite inexperienced. But, it got them in the playoffs!

Still, welcome to the new NHL and I believe all 30 teams, except for Carolina and Washington (they ought to take Bondra back), will be competitive. I think the Predators need a defenseman with experience, and they could trade for one, such as McCabe, or sign a Roman Hamrlik, or go for the sleeper, again I mention his name, Khavanov. He is not a great d-man, but he is reliable, smart, and has playoff experience. He would also be a welcoming defenseman for newly acquired Danny Markov.

Also, by adding Paul Kariya the Predators may want to add another forward to compliment Kariya’s game. It could be Eric Lindros, who I think would fit in perfectly and won’t feel “lonely” as his got Kariya. If not a center, go for the RW’er and I mention his name again, Valeri Bure.

Obviously, the Preds also must resign the following: Sullivan, Legwand, Hartnell, Erat, Hordichuk, Upshall, Hall, Eaton, Hamhuis and Lilja.

The Predators would remain fairly young, but will now be more experienced and more competitive to easily beat teams like the Red Wings, Canucks, and Stars.

I like this team a lot, and I’d say it will be the team that is the underdog, but that no one would want to play against in the 1st round of the playoffs.

My next media TARGET: ESPN RADIO

So far, according to ESPN radio reports. The Rangers signed LeClair, Battaglia, and Hamrlik. This was all reported earlier this week. The Penguins signed Cujo according to ESPN, and that was days ago.

WHAT IS UP WITH THE RADIO!? Of course ESPN is clueless about hockey as I think it was suggested that Tom Poti would be traded for a 4th rounder to Vancouver on another ESPN station, but what is up with this reporting!? I’ll give them major credit if they are right (days later), but you can’t report something and it has not happened yet after two or five days.

I hope the NHL does not come back to ESPN, it is just outright dreadful.

And that concludes my new CM article. I hope you all enjoyed it, especially Leafs fans. And, you know the usual….challenge me if you want.

Thanks,

Micki Peroni