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The Joker

Posted By Dan Rakusan On Feb 6 2010 @ 9:56 pm In New York Rangers | 2 Comments

Sorry Rangers fans for my lack of recent blogging.  Lots going on behind the scenes, as well as at home.  I promise to be more regular starting now.  Before we talk of Gotham's finest, I'd like to take a brief moment to wish my utmost condolences to the Burke family in the wake of the death of Brian's son Brenden.  Brenden demonstrated a lot of courage in opening up to his father and the public about his homosexuality, and for that he should have earned everyone's respect.  It's always sad when a young life is taken, and this is no different.  Our thoughts and prayers go out to the Burke clan on this blackest of days…

Now, on to our team.

As everyone likely knows, the Rangers pulled a rabbit out of the hat this past week, acquiring center Olli Jokinen and rugged forward Brandon Prust from the Calgary Flames.  Not only did we secure a much-needed trigger man to complement/supplement Marian Gaborik, but along the way we somehow managed to divest ourselves of one of our many albatross contracts by sending Ales Kotalik to Calgary!  Also sent to the Flames was under-performing winger Chris Higgins, who while always demonstrating great effort somehow forgot what a net looks like…

The biggest part of this deal was the salary/cap hit purge that Kotalik's departure gives us.  Kotalik, signed this past offseason to a 3-year deal at $3M per season, simply wasn't playing well enough to merit a regular roster spot.  His booming shot from the point on the powerplay as well as shootout ability, simply didn't manifest themselves in any meaningful way for the Rangers, and he found himself watching games from the pressbox for 8 of the 9 games prior to the trade.  To think Calgary took him off of our hands for any reason other than a momentary lapse of sanity by GM Sutter is simply surreal.  Many Rangers fans I speak to regularly were convinced Kotalik was un-tradeable.  Well, a few snifters of brandy can work wonders for a team, if offered to a rival GM who can't handle his liquor.  At least, that's my theory on what may have transpired…

It's hard to be happy that Higgins was moved, as he was very obviously putting in an honest day's work in most games.  He simply couldn't bury his plethora of chances, and it obviously affected his confidence level.  When we got him in the Gomez trade (Sather sucks at signings, but he seems to be a magician of Merlin-esque proportions when it comes to trades), I was very excited.  I figured he would be, at least, a 20-25 goal scorer.  It just never worked out.  He should find some kind of bounce-back in Calgary.  At least, that is what I'd like to see.

Looking at our end of the deal, Jokinen fits in nicely, provided coach Tortorella doesn't put him on the top line with Gaborik.  Two finishers on one line on a team with little scoring prowess is simply just asking to have two guns shooting blanks.  Every team is smart enough to simply put their shut-down players out against that line, and we're right back where we started.  My suggestion is to keep Gaborik with Christensen or Prospal and Dubinsky.  Then, Jokinen can center the second line between either Prospal or Christensen and Ryan Callahan.  That gives us two lines who are legitimate scoring threats each time they hit the ice.

Brandon Prust is somewhat of an odd pickup, but a much needed one.  While not overly large, Prust plays an “in your face” style of aggressive hockey.  He'll take all comers when it comes to fisticuffs, and brings a glaringly lacking element of toughness to the Rangers.  He's the kind of guy who steps in to defend his teammates.  We need that, as all season long, teams have been running Henrik Lundqvist with impugnity, and nobody on our roster was willing to step up and make those transgressors pay.  Prust will drop the gloves with those who choose to find their way into Hank's crease.  He's also the type of player who would have made Dan Carcillo pay for fighting with Marian Gaborik.  No matter if Gabby was a willing combatant, someone had to take care of Carcillo to show him we'll stick up for our star.

Aside from all of this, we go back again to the unloading of Kotalik's burdensome contract.  Sure, Jokinen is a higher-priced player at the moment, but he goes into UFA status in the summer, giving us the choice to fish or cut bait.  That's a $5M+ contract that could be viewed as “potential cap space”.  If he works with the team dynamic, we could likely re-sign him for about $3M.  I would suggest a one or two year deal, personally, as we've learned our lesson with long-term lucrative deals, at least I hope…  Kotalik would have eaten up $3M for the next two seasons, so it is nice to have relief from that.  Forget about pursuing any major UFA talent this summer, as we're still handcuffed by the Redden, Rozsival and Drury contracts, but we could look into some secondary talent to bolster our team next season.  Here are my suggestions:

1 – With no movement by the Habs in terms of Tomas Plekanec, he could be available and would be an ideal fit with the Rags.  Brandon Dubinsky could finally play on the wing full-time, where he seems more comfortable.  Pleks would give us a scoring forward who can both shoot and pass, which is something that would make our top unit a confusing one to defend against.  He's a streaky guy, but my belief is that he'd really break out in a market that isn't a fishbowl like Montreal.  The risk is that he's a bit of a party-guy, as confirmed by my late friend, who discovered that his girlfriend was romantically involved with Plekky at the same time.  That didn't go over well, but I digress…  Anyway, I think he's a viable option that would cost us about $3.5-4M per season, which I would happily pay on a short-term deal.

2 – One thing that is glaringly absent from the Rangers is a physical defencemen who keeps people honest when they enter our zone.  One name that could potentially hit the open market is a guy I've been following since a rookie tournament I covered for thefourthperiod.com a few years ago – Anton Volchenkov.  I haven't heard of any talks taking place about an extension with Ottawa, so I'm holding out hope he'll be available in the offseason.  “The A-Train” is exactly what the doctor ordered for a blueline corps consisting mainly of youth and offensive defencemen.  His bone-crushing hits are a thing of beauty, primarily because they are clean.  He's a good skater, very sound positionally, and I figure he'll command about a $4M salary.  With Volchenkov, I'd be open to a deal that runs anywhere from 3-5 years.

Now, for either of these potential signings to take place, we'd need to unload a bit of cap space.  My bet is that Michal Rozsival ends up on the other side of the Atlantic next season, and Wade Redden possibly in Hartford.  Those two contracts have us by the short and curlies, and severely limit our personnel options.  I'm hopeful one or both will be playing elsewhere next season, although my money is on Rozi going back to the Czech Republic or KHL to play.  I don't see our owner – Dolan the magnificent – paying Redden to toil in the AHL, no matter how much sense it makes.  Dolan is not about sense, he's about cents.

—-

Tonight, we take on the Devils, and newly acquired sniper Ilya Kovalchuk.  My guess is that we'll probably lose, although New Jersey is the team I'd like to match up against if we make the playoffs.  For some reason, we can get the better of them when it really counts, but we can't score on Brodeur during the regular season.  Predicted Score:  4-2 Devils.

Until next time!
Na Zdravi!
DR

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