Gaborik a No-Go in Return to Minny Tonight


Written on 10/30/2009 by Jim Cerny

Let it not be said that Marian Gaborik did not hit the ice in his return to Minnesota for the first time as a member of the New York Rangers.

He skated. He laughed with teammates. He fired shots on goal.

I was there. I saw it all.

Unfortunately there were 18,064 empty seats at the Xcel Energy Center at the time Gaborik was on the ice. And it was seven hours or so before game time.

No, Marian Gaborik will not be playing this evening when the Rangers face the Wild. A right knee injury suffered during last Monday's 5-2 win over Phoenix at Madison Square Garden will keep him out of the lineup, just as it did for Wednesday's ugly 3-1 loss on Long Island.

This morning marked the first time that Gaborik skated since Monday. He said that the knee felt better once it warmed up, but he wasn't sure when he'd be able to return to the Rangers lineup.

Gaborik is very disappointed that he will not be able to play against his former team tonight. He was the face of the Wild organization for its first eight years, and he is the club's all-time leader in goals (219) and points (437).

"It's very disappointing," Gaborik stated this morning, while standing in the odd surroundings of the visitors' dressing room at the Xcel and not the Wild's more familiar room. "I tried to push myself in order to have a good feel, but it's just  not there. I don't think I'd be a piece to the puzzle tonight. If it had been any other game, I wouldn't even think about (playing), but, obviously, this was a special game."

That Gaborik---who is off to a tremendous start this season with ten goals (tied for 2nd most in the NHL) and 18 points (3rd most)---is unable to play in his return to Minnesota is more than ironic, of course. Since the lockout, he missed 121 of the Wild's 328 games due to injury. Most of the games missed were because of nagging groin and hip issues which are unrelated to this knee injury, and were supposedly corrected by surgery that limited him to 17 games a year ago.

Many fans in Minnesota hold a certain bitterness towards Gaborik, labeling him soft and injury-prone, preferring to remember his numerous games missed as opposed to the five 30-goal seasons. It is part of what made his return here to The State of Hockey today so intriguing. That, and the fact that Minnessotoans did  not take kindly to his "money grab" this summer, leaving for the bright lights and greenbacks of Broadway.

"He'd get booed for sure, no doubt about it," Wild forward Cal Clutterbuck stated this morning.

"That's not my comment," laughed diplomatic Wild captain Mikko Koivu when Clutterbuck, seated at the next locker, provided his opinion. "I don't know what would happen. It's tough to say."

Aaron Voros, a popular former member of the Wild who is in his second year with the Rangers, praised the fans in Minnesota as being extremely intelligent hockey people. And he is not so sure they would boo his good friend Gaborik if he was able to play this evening.

"I'd be surprised if they booed him," said Voros. "He brought a lot to this organization. He spent eight years playing through injuries, scoring goals. He was probably the most recognizable face of the franchise for eight years. I think for them to boo him would be really unfortunate."

Gaborik was able to catch up with some of his former teammates upon arriving last night. In fact he took in dinner with long-time teammate Andrew Brunette, among others.

"The weather when you get off the plane doesn't change much," Gaborik joked about the grey skies and rain that greeted the Rangers when they arrived yesterday in Minneapolis/St. Paul. "It's special to come back into this building. And I've seen a few guys, nice to see them, obviously. We talked about old times. I had a lot of fun with them."

"I'm probably partial because I played with him a long time, and I know how good he is, but I always thought something would get done the whole time," Brunette explained of Gaborik's not re-signing with the Wild. "It was a little disappointing. But you move on. It's part of the deal, right?"

Ironically, the Rangers last visit to the Xcel Energy Center was on December 20, 2007. The Wild won that game 6-3. Marian Gaborik scored five goals and recorded six points in a masterful performance that evening.

"That was a fun night to be on the other end," noted Voros, who played alongside Gaborik for Minnesota in that game.

No such luck in seeing another virtuoso Gaborik performance this evening, though.


Seperate from Marian Gaborik not being able to play tonight, the Rangers will also be without forwards Sean Avery and Christopher Higgins, who both were nicked up in Wednesday's loss to the Islanders. In case you are counting, that is three of the Rangers top six forwards out of the lineup tonight.

Rugged Dane Byers has been recalled from Hartford in the American Hockey League and will play this evening. PA Parenteau, who was recalled from Hartford on Tuesday and scored his first NHL goal the next night, will also play, as will Donald Brashear, who has been in and out of the lineup due to injury.

"This is a chance for some guys to get more ice time and show what they can do," said Brashear. "It's a long season, you have challenges that come up like this."

"We'd like to keep our lineup healthy all the way through," Rangers coach John Tortorella said this morning. "But it's not going to happen. There's always another side to it. Do we want to remain healthy? Yes. But now this helps me see what we have in the minors."


The latest addition of Rangers Radio is available on the New York Rangers official web site. No guest this week, but Steve Gelbs and I tackle the latest news, and share some interesting anecdotes along the way.

Remember that each episode of Rangers Radio can be downloaded and remains up on the Rangers web site for future listening pleasure!

Next week, Hockey Hall of Famer Andy Bathgate will be our guest, and will answer your questions!

The Secret About Enver Lisin


Written on 10/27/2009 by Jim Cerny

Oh no. Our little secret has been discovered.

That was among my first throughts when I heard that 23 year-old Enver Lisin was being bumped up to play on the Rangers top line alongside star forwards Marian Gaborik and Vinny Prospal.

Oh no. Our little secret has been discovered.

I had the same reaction when Lisin scored a big third-period goal against his former team, the Phoenix Coyotes, last night at Madison Square Garden.

Oh no. Our little secret has been discovered.

Yup, those same words rattled in my brain when I headed to the Rangers' locker room after last night's 5-2 victory and saw Lisin being interviewed on television as the post-game guest.

Now everyone is going to know what a great guy, and engaging personality, Enver Lisin is.

"We're going to lose him now," Andrew Gross, Rangers' beat reporter for The Record in New Jersey, said, thinking the same thing I was.

You see, since arriving in New York a week or two before training camp to skate with his new teammates after a summer trade from Phoenix, Lisin's locker stall has become a popular daily destination for beat writers like myself, Andrew, Michael Obernauer of The Daily News, and Newsday's Steve Zipay.

Stop by Lisin's stall and you are sure to be greeted with a genuine smile, a funny remark or three, and an openness and friendliness that is not often found inside the locker room of a professional sports team.

He is at the same time wide-eyed and innocent---in an endearing Yakov Smirnoff way---and thoughtful and intelligent. In one breath, Lisin will be telling you about his PlayStation skills---"I'm a really good sniper in those killing games"---and in another he will be breaking down the importance of team concept---"I am happy to play on the first line, but I will do anything they ask me to do here---first line, fourth line, whatever---because the only thing that matters is winning the Stanley Cup".

We are blessed in hockey to be able to deal with so many good people on a day-in, day-out basis. I have worked in all four major sports, and am well aware that hockey people are far and away the best, and most respectful, of the lot.

And in my many years covering the NHL I have been able to become acquainted with some very special people. Adam Graves and Mike Richter stand out from those 1990's Rangers teams I covered. When I broadcasted for the Islanders, I had the pleasure to work with and get to know Don Maloney, a real classy gentleman who was GM on the Island for a bit. Mariusz Czerkawski, Zigmund Palffy, and Robert Reichel were Islanders I was pleased to count as friends. Steve Valiquette and I forged a bond on Long Island, and now we are fortunate to be together again with the Rangers.

There are so many people I could name. But Enver Lisin is fast moving up that chart of great guys.

And there for a month or two, no one outside of our small writers' circle knew much about Lisin, a speedy winger who played in 78 games, scoring 18 goals, over parts of three seasons in Phoenix before being shipped to Broadway in exchange for Lauri Korpikoski this past July. Overshadowed by his more famous teammates---like Gaborik, Prospal, and Henrik Lundqvist---as well as other more highly-touted youngsters---like 19 year-old Michael Del Zotto and 25 year-old Matt Gilroy---plus playing 3rd and 4th line minutes, there wasn't much reason for the fans or the TV and radio media to care much about Lisin.

But we knew there was something special about Lisin. More importantly, so did Rangers coach John Tortorella. And it extends far beyond the fact that Lisin is really, really good guy.

"Lisin is a talented player, and he is getting better and better at the (defensive) part of the game," stated Tortorella. "There is upside there. And he really works at it. He's a great skater, and he has that great offensive instinct, but he's willing to work hard on the other parts of his game. And that's what is going to land him more opportunities to play and be put into more offensive situations."

Always among the last to leave the ice following practice, Lisin's kid-like features and twinkling eyes bely the fact that he is one of the hardest workers on this Rangers team. And now he is being rewarded with more ice-time---more than 17 minutes in each of the last two games---and the chance to skate with the club's top two offensive forwards.

"All you have to do with those players is work hard and listen to what they tell you to do," said Lisin, as usual with a laugh at the end of his sentence. "I learn something from them every game. There's only one way to play the game and that is to face the pressure. I am very lucky to play with them, and to be on one of the best teams like the Rangers"

Lisin, who has put up decent offensive numbers (3-5-8) considering his lack of ice-time to start the season, has a goal and two assists in two games skating alongside Gaborik (10-8-18) and Prospal (4-12-16).

Last night, with the Rangers leading 4-2 in the third period---but with the Coyotes having already shaved two goals off New York's lead---Lisin accepted a Prospal pass on left wing, skated over the 'Yotes blueline, and blistered a slap shot short-side on Jason LaBarbera that sealed the deal at The Garden. It was a glimpse into some of the possibilities Lisin brings to this Rangers squad.

The goal was followed by a somewhat-awkward jump for joy, which brought Lisin much teasing following the game. As could be expected, his response was nothing but good natured.

"I don't know why I did that, it just happened," Lisin tried to explain afterwards.

When I asked him if the goal was more special because it came against the team that selected him 50th overall in the 2004 draft, Lisin responded, "Somewhere deep, deep in my soul, I was pretty happy about it."

Classic, classic reply. The kind of answer that will have a host of media folk dropping by his locker on a more regular basis, for sure.

Oh no. Our little secret has been discovered.

Hits by Richards and Scuderi Suspendable or Not?


Written on 10/26/2009 by Jim Cerny

Frightening scene in Philly on Saturday where David Booth of the Panthers was laid out on a hit by Flyers captain Mike Richards.

Any time you see a player motionless on the ice and then being taken off, immobilized on a stretcher, it give you pause for how dangerous a game this great sport can be.

Fortunately Booth is already out of the hospital, being released yesterday after sustaining a concussion on the play. But it was still extremely scary to watch Booth absorb the hard hit after dropping a pass to his left, and then hit the ice head-first, and remain motionless thereafter.

If you have yet to do so, check out the hit here.

So what do you think? Clean hit by Richards? Or a dirty one, with intent to injure?

The referees called it one way and Colin Campbell saw it another, with the benefit of much video study, of course. The refs handed Richards a five-minute interference major, and a game misconduct for "intent to injure". Campbell, after much review, did not see reason to suspend Richards.

For the most part, the referees and Campbell were both right.

The refs were on the mark with the interference call, as Booth clearly had dished the puck before being leveled, and without the benefit of watching the replay, they had little recourse other than to toss Richards from the game with Booth out cold on the ice.

But with the benefit of studying the video at all speeds and from all angles, Campbell was correct not to suspend Richards. I do not think there was an intent to injure here. And I agree with Richards' post-game analysis that he was just trying to deliver a hard shoulder-to-shoulder check, which, unfortunately flipped Booth to the ice head-first.

"Everything happened so quickly," stated Richards. "I just wanted to separate him from the puck. Obviously, I am not trying to hurt him. I don't have a history of head shots, and I am not even sure it was a head shot."

I was in Montreal at the Bell Centre writing my final game story for the Rangers-Canadiens match that night, while also watching and listening to the reaction to Richards' hit on Hockey Night in Canada. It sounded as if the fellas agreed with my take, that it was interference, for sure, but not a suspendable hit.

In fact the HNIC on-air crew was more upset with a string of knee-to-knee hits that took place around the league that night.

Then last night, the Kings Rob Scuderi sent Columbus' Jason Chimera head-over-heels with a hip-check dangerously close to Chimera's knees. Chimera flipped over Scuderi and landed face-first on the ice,  suffering cuts on his face and inside his mouth.

You can watch that play here.

Scuderi was not penalized on the play, and claimed afterwards that he made a split-second decision on delivereing the hip-check and was not trying to injure Chimera.

Needless to say, Chimera did not agree.

''I don't care what you call it. It was a dirty hit,'' Chimera said. ''I've been hip-checked before, but this wasn't a hip check at all. It was a direct hit on the knees. I mean, I landed on my face on the ice, and my neck was squished against the ice. I'm lucky I didn't come out with a concussion or something."
I have to side with Chimera on this one. Scuderi went way too low, much lower than your normal hip-check. Whether that was his intention or not can be debated.

Ironically when the game was complete, Chimera had racked up 12 minutes in penalties, and Scuderi had zero.

Scuderi needs to pay a post-game penalty for that hit, I think, perhaps two games for going for the knees

Retooled Canadiens Look for Solid Footing


Written on 10/24/2009 by Jim Cerny

The Montreal Canadiens spent the better part of their summer retooling the coaching staff and roster following a second place finish in the Northeast Division, 8th place in the Eastern Conference, and getting swept by the Bruins in the opening round of the playoffs.

Now, nine games into the 2009-10 season, the question is: where exactly are the new-look Canadiens after all of the changes?

The answer from new head coach Jacques Martin is, "a work in progress."

"It takes a while, not only from the players standpoint, but from that of a coach," Martin told me this morning at the Bell Centre. "It takes me a while as a coach to really appreciate what a player brings to the table. And as for the team, I think we have progressed, but it will take some time."

Martin's club---with seven players on the roster who did not play for Montreal a year ago---has won two in a row after a five-game losing streak had the Canadiens off to a dismal 2-5-0 start. And Martin is beginning to see some positive signs in his club's all-around game.

"I have been happy as far as how we got better with our fore-checking, spending more time in the offensive zone, versus the first couple of weeks in the season," Martin told me. "We've also been better with limiting the scoring chances for the opposition."

Montreal has surrendered only two goals in their past two games---a 2-1 shootout victory over the Thrashers and a 5-1 win against the Islanders. One of the key reasons for this is that Jaroslav Halak has replaced a shaky Carey Price in goal, stopping 43 of 45 shots in those two starts.

Martin indicated this morning that Halak---sporting a 1.88 goals against average and .921 save percentage in four appearance sthis season---will make a third consecutive start between the pipes this evening against the Rangers.

As for Price, the 22 year-old supposed stud goalie of the present and future?

"I think Carey is OK, he's fine," stated Martin. "He's a young goaltender who can take this time to work on his game."

Not exactly a ringing endorsement.

Martin was similarly lukewarm about the play of center Scott Gomez, the first of the big names acquired by the Canadiens this summer. Gomez, who will play against the Rangers tonight for the first time since the June 30 trade that sent him to Montreal for Christopher Higgins, among others, scored his second goal of the season on Thursday against the Islanders. So far, he is 2-3-5 in nine games, skating with fellow newcomers Brian Gionta (4-0-4) and Michael Cammalleri (2-5-7).

"We count on Scott o play hard every night," noted Martin. "He's given us some good minutes, in particular against Atlanta (on Tuesday). His emotion and passion were the best they've been all year in Atlanta. He has to recapture that."

You can expect Gomez to play a strong game tonight against his former club. Gomez has always been a big-game player, and while in New York he had some clutch performances against his first club, the Devils.

"This is a business, and I've been in the league long enough to know that it is," Gomez said about the trade following this morning's skate. "Last year was an off year, but it's in the past. I have nothing but great things to say about the New York Rangers organization."

Gomez was his usual wise-cracking self this morning in his chat with New York media. Whether it was telling stories about his difficulties taking French speaking lessons, the obsessive nature of the Montreal media and fan base, his new Mini-Cooper car, or the recently fabricated story that he punched out Sergei Kostitsyn during training camp, Gomez ripped off one one-liner after another.

Of the bogus Kostitsyn story, Gomez said, "I guess that was my first welcome to Montreal. Yeah, that was my initiation, and welcome to Montreal moment."

As far as what's taking place on the ice, another newcomer, defenseman Paul Mara, said, "It's coming along, especially the last two games. You know they live and breathe hockey here, and they're knowledgable fans who know hockey, so that raises our level of play. You come to the rink every day wanting to play better for them."


On a side note, this week's Rangers Radio talk show, which I co-host with Steven Gelbs, is available to listen to at Click on this link to listen. Former Rangers forward Adam Graves is our special gues this week.

2009 Lester Patrick Awards Coverage


Written on 10/21/2009 by Jim Cerny

I am here at the 2009 Lester Patrick Awards here at the phenomanally beautiful Gotham Hall in Manhattan as I write this.

Tonight, Mark Messier, Mike Richter, and Jim Devellano are being honored for their "outstanding service to hockey in the United States." It's a real hockey who's who here this evening, with NHL commisioner Gary Bettman on hand, along with his right-hand man Bill Daly and other assorted hockey notables like Glen Sather, Brian Burke, Brian Leetch, and Chris Drury.

Not shocking to see Leetch (as seen in above photograph with his good friends Messier and Richter) here. He is a 2007 recipient of the Lester Patrick Award, and will soon be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in early November. His career---and life---has dovetailed with that of Richter, and Messier guided him into becoming an NHL superstar upon his arrival on Broadway in October of 1991.

But it is the relationship between Leetch and Richter that is most interesting. Long-time teammates with the Rangers, Stanley Cup champions together in 1994, and powerful forces in the resurgance of US hockey beginning in the 1990's, Leetch and Richter are forever linked to one another.

"We've been together since we were 15 or 16 years old," Leetch told me tonight. "To be in the same area and last that long with the same NHL team, and have so many shared experiences, is fantastic."

They shared three Olympics together, the 1996 World Cup of Hockey tournament title, and too many to count memories in New York as Rangers teammates.

They also helped influence a whole new crop of U.S.-born NHLers, though Richter will have none of hearing that.

"I felt a sense of responsibility, and maybe had sense of awareness, that we had an impact (on US kids), and the more succes you had, the more impact you had," explained Richter, who was quick to add that whatever influence he has had pales in comparison to that of the 1980 United States Olympic Hockey Team.

"That's a whole different story," Richter told me. "We could never match what the '80 team accomplished and how they captured the imagination of a whole country. It's what inspired so many of us to strap on skates and try to play for our country one day, and believe that maybe we could play in the NHL."

Richter is spot-on with his observations about that 1980 squad, but he is far too modest about what he, Leetch, Mike Modano, Keith Tkachuk, et al did for hockey in the United States.

As for Messier, he spent much of his time this evening talking about how to grow the game of hockey in the United States and how kids are being pushed at too young of an age into tournaments and travel programs, instead of simply playing for the enjoyment of the game and the life lessons that go along with participating in sports.

A father of both a 22 year-old hockey-playing son, and a 6 year-old that is just beginning to take up the sport, the legendary Captain does not like what he sees from youth coaches, officials, and parents.

"In my humble opinion, I think we are weeding out the kids who can't just play for the love of the game," Messier told me. "For the most part, from the youth standpoint, we need to be teaching them the life lessons that hockey teaches us, about being good civilians, about being good teammates, the code of conduct, how to interact and treat others with respect. Those are the lessons we are supposed to be teaching our youth, not the yelling and screaming and punishment for winning and losing."

Interesting stuff from the man known to be as fierce as a competitor ever seen in the National Hockey League.

"Sports is about physical and emotional well being for our children, not about professionalizing them at a younger age," stated Messier. "And I think we've really gotten off the track here. And as a result we are losing younger players from the sport."

Speaking of teaching, that is one of Devellano's great gifts to this sport. He has taken many a keen and eager young executive under his wing over the years while working in various front offices with the Blues, Islanders, and Red Wings, and has helped turn them into successful executives on their own.

Respected in near-unanimous fashion aroud the NHL for the quality person he is, Devellano has helped Neil Smith, Ken Holland, Darcy Regier, Don Waddell, and Scott Howson among others become general managers in the National Hockey League.

"I've always liked to help young people who have a real passion for the game," Devellano stated tonight. "I like to be a guardian."

For more on tonight's festivities, check out my story over at

And speaking of the Rangers, and walking down memory lane, Adam Graves will be our guest on Rangers Radio this week. The show will first air Friday at noon, and then will be available to download at

The Sharks Regain Their Bite


Written on 10/20/2009 by Jim Cerny

Compared to last year's record-setting start, the San Jose Sharks have come out of the shoot in a very halting manner so far this season.

However, last night's 7-3 road thrashing of a hot Rangers team just might be the signature victory that puts the Sharks back on their expected course this season.

"This is the team I expect to see," head coach Todd McLellan said after last night's win pushed his club to 5-3-1 through nine games.

Thirteen different Sharks recorded at least one point, with Devin Setoguchi (2-1-3) and Patrick Marleau (1-2-3) leading the way offensively. But more important to the coach was how his team battled back to escape from an early 2-0 hole...on the road...against a team that had won seven straight games...and with the fourth line contributing a clutch goal to set the stage for the stars to take over later on in the contest.

"(There were) a lot of plays against the boards, and I like the fact our team competed in those areas," explained McLellan. "Often we're about passing and making nice plays. (Monday) night we were about being ugly there, and the nice plays happened after that."

Guess what? That sounds like the formula for winning in the post-season, something that the Sharks have not had much success with since the end of the lockout, really throughout their history.

Last year the Sharks set franchise records for most points (117) and wins (53) in a season. They had a ridiculous .811 winning percentage by the All Star Break, did not lose in regulation over their first 22 home dates (20-0-2), and ended up winning the President's Trophy as the NHL's top regular season team.

All of that is well and good. But the trophy this organization craves is the one handed to the team that is the best in the post-season. And that most assuredly was not the Sharks last spring.

Ousted by the Ducks in the first round of last year's playoffs, the Sharks have not advanced past the second round now since reaching the Western Conference Finals in 2004. Since the lockout they have put up 99, 107, 108, and 117 points in the regular season, only to be knocked out early come playoff-time each year.

This past off-season, GM Doug Wilson added sniper Dany Heatley to the mix, and decided to retain Marleau---who has become the symbol of San Jose's repuation for great regular-season play and post-season failure. In a move as much to relieve pressure on Marleau as it was to embolden team leadership, veteran Rob Blake was handed Marleau's captaincy.

Expected to bolt out of the gates againt this year, the Sharks instead stumbled to a 3-3-1 start, with a disconcerting 4-1 loss in Washington last Thursday most troubling for the overall lack of effort shown by this talented team.

"We've played some pretty poor games so far this season," veteran defenseman Dan Boyle told me last night. "I don't think it's from lack of effort necessarily, though the Washington game was just horrible. I think it's up here to be honest with you. It's a lot of mental mistakes. We've had a few too many of those bad games."

Such was not the case last night. Though they did fall behind 2-0, the Sharks efficently took control of the neutral zone, won the one-on-one battles in all three zones, and dictated the play with a heavy forecheck that had the Rangers scrambling much of the night. The Sharks benefited from sloppy penalties by their hosts, as well as an off-night from back-up goaltender Steve Valiquette, but their battle level was extremely impressive.

"It was a good opportunity for us," stated Boyle. "We've been kind of a .500 hockey club, and they're seven and one, and it's a perfect situation for us to come into their building and get one, which we did. This was solid."

Halfway through a six-game road trip---with back-to-back wins over the Islanders and Rangers following the loss in Washington---the Sharks now need to build on this gritty victory with the Lightning, Thrashers, and Flyers still ahead on the schedule.

A mixture of great play from the stars---Marleau, Heatley, Setoguchi, Boyle, Blake, Joe Thornton---grinding efforts and timely contributions from the hard-working grunts---both Brad Staubitz and Jed Ortmeyer scored last night---pleasant surprises---Ryan Vesce has scored in both games since being recalled from Worcester---and the strong play of goaltender Evgeni Nabokov, is what the Sharks received last night. It is what they will need throughout the regular season. And most importantly, they will need to remember how they pulled themselves up off the mat last night when they get socked in the jaw at some point come playoff time.

"This is a good bunch of guys, and a really good team," a smiling Manny Malhotra said last night. "There's a lot of good stuff going on here."

Monday Musings on the Avs, Bruins, and More


Written on 10/19/2009 by Jim Cerny

As we turn the corner and head into the third full week of the 2009-10 season, I realize that I have put the whammy already on quite a few individuals and teams.

First I pick Vancouver as my Western Conference team this season, and they proceed to stumble out of the gate at 3-4-0, surrendering bad goals at an alarming rate despite having, arguably, the best goaltender in the league.

Then I hail Carey Price in another Rink Rap entry for his monster effort in an Opening Night shootout victory, only to see his goals-against skyrocket to 3.36 and his save percentage shrink to .886 over the first two weeks of the season as his Canadiens are currently mired in a five-game losing skid.

My run continued by writing about how good I believe the LA Kings will be this season, right as they are in the midst of a three-game slide. I am standing behind this belief, though. The Kings are going to be just fine, and they will be one of the eight teams coming out of the West in the spring.

Unless I just put the whammy on them by saying that, of course.

To my credit, not all of my entries have brought doom and gloom to those being written about. The Rangers are still rolling at 7-1-0, and the teenagers---John Tavares, Matt Duchene, Ryan O'Reilly, and Michael Del Zotto---I featured in another piece are still all contributing nicely to their respective clubs.

In fact, Duchene and O'Reilly have played major roles to the fast start the Colorado Avalanche have enjoyed this year. Duchene recored his first NHL point---an assist---in his NHL debut, and netted his first goal on Saturday night in a win over the Red Wings.

Duchene, the 18 year-old 3rd overall pick by the Avs in June's draft, has notched three points in his last four games, and is 1-3-4 overall to date. He is one of the many nice stories on an Avalanche squad that has shocked most by starting the season on a 6-1-1 run, best in the Northwest Division.

Not surprisingly, Adrien Dater at the Denver Post is reporting that Duchene is not going to be returned to his major junior club in Brampton and  instead will remain in Colorado all season. He is playing on the second line, receiving plenty of power play time, and has logged some major minutes already this season. Duchene is a fixture this year, and for many years to come.

O'Reilly, the Avs 18 year-old second round pick this past June, has also played well, but whether or not he remains with the big club is still a question mark. O'Reilly netted his first NHL goal last week against the Canadiens---and it was big one as it tied the contest. He is also riding a four-game point-scoring streak, and has outproduced Duchene, so far, with 1-5-6 numbers.

It's very rare to see an NHL club carry one 18 year-old on the roster, much less two. But the Avs might just break that mold this season.

Heck, what's another surprise for a team that lacks star power, but which has been terrific in all three zones of play so far this season en-route to a fast start out of the gate? The Avs may not have gotten the high-profile coach they wanted this past summer in Patrick Roy, but give Joe Sacco---the man who did eventually get the nod---a lot of credit for having this team prepared to outwork the opposition on a nightly basis.

And let's not forget goaltender Craig Anderson, who right now ranks up there with the Rangers' Marian Gaborik as the best free-agent pick up this past summer. After two seasons splitting time and playing well for the Florida Panthers, Anderson has established himself as the Avs true No. 1 netminder, starting all eight games this season and posting a 2.09 goals-against average. The question will be how he holds up over the long haul. Last year's 31 appearances are the most he has ever made in a single season.

Great start, and a great story, so far in Colorado.

A few other musings on this Monday morning:

*You must check out the 100 facts to know about the first 100 games over at Greg Inglis, who has long worked on the PR side with the league did a fantastic job compiling this list, which is just awesome reading if you are a hockey junkie.

*I am very curious to see the San Jose Sharks in person this evening. Having followed them online, and seen them a couple of times in action on the tube, I want to study their chemistry in person. Only 4-3-1 to start the season, the Sharks have so much talent, and I am waiting for it to fully jell.

*Similar to the news about Matt Duchene, it is not surprising that Rangers head coach John Tortorella told me yesterday that 19 year-old defenseman Michael Del Zotto (3-5-8 in 8 games) is not returning to junior this year. In fact, Torts said it was never a question in his mind that Del Zotto would spend the whole season on Broadway.

*Funny moment yesterday when Larry Brooks of The New York Post jokingly said to Tortorella, "I guess this means you won't let Del Zotto play for Canada at the World Juniors?" Torts' response: "Uh," Of course, Canada has bypassed Del Zotto each of the last two year's anyway...

*Keep an eye on the Bruins. They picked up another second round pick in yesterday's deal that sent Chuck Kobasew to Minnesota. They now have multiple first and second round picks. Kind of makes it easier to swing a bigger deal down the road, doesn't it? The only hitch is cap space. Trading Kobasew saved some money, but the Bruins would need to shed more if they have any plans to land a needed big-time scorer at some point.

Kopitar and the Kings Both on the Rise


Written on 10/16/2009 by Jim Cerny

Los Angeles Kings forward Anze Kopitar (photo left) and his teammates may not have been able to celebrate the last two nights following road losses to the Rangers and Red Wings, but there already has been---and will be---plenty to celebrate this season for one of the league's youngest and most exciting teams.

The Kings are 4-3-0 to start the season, but the somewhat-unexciting record should not overshadow the good things taking place with the Kings. They are a gifted offensive team, backstopped by an emerging young goaltender in Jonathan Quick, and with a strong defense featuring a nice blend of veterans---headed by 38 year-old Sean O'Donnell and Stanley Cup winner Rob Scuderi---and youngsters---including the talented threesome of Drew Doughty (19), Davis Drewiske (24), and Jack Johnson (22).

Last year the Kings were a bit too wet behind the ears to secure a playoff spot. But the off-season additions of Scuderi and veteran winger Ryan Smyth, along with the maturing of all the young talent on the roster, should land the Kings a post-season berth this season.

The 22 year-old Kopitar, who is already in his fourth NHL season, is an example of a young homegrown talent that is emerging as an on-ice leader, while also looking to make the jump from the star to superstar level, out in L.A.

There is a different look to Kopitar this season. The 11 points in seven games---second most in the league---attests to that. But it's not just the numbers. Remember, we are talking about a kid who notched 32 goals and 77 points as a 20 year-old two years ago, and who followed up with 27 goals and 66 points last season.

Kopitar is an elite talent. But now he is taking on a bigger role, carefully guided along by the likes of Smyth, Scuderi, O'Donnell, and veteran center Michal Handzus. He is now joining the youthful leadership core that 24 year-old captain Dustin Brown and 26 year-old forward Matt Greene lead.

This talent---pretty much all homegrown---is maturing like a fine California wine. And Kings coach Terry Murray is taking notice.

"You know what I notice?," Murray said to me following Wednesday's 4-2 loss to the Rangers. "I notice that our young guys are really talking on the bench. The young guys are now speaking the same language as the veterans. That means we're maturing, and it's coming. We have a better understanding of what is going on."

Murray's opposite number Wednesday night, Rangers coach John Tortorella, was also very impressed with what he saw from a Kings team that featured nine players under the age of 26.

"It wasn't a fluke that they were four-and-one coming in here, that's a good hockey team," said Tortorella. "They have built their team, as they have gone through some tough times, and I think some of that is coming to fruition right now. "

The Kings very well could have won their fifth in a row on Wednesday night, if not for a huge effort by Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. They outskated their hosts---winners of six straight themselves---and outshot them by a wide 36-21 margin.

And the Kings played well in another tough road barn last night---Joe Louis Arena---before falling 5-2 to the Red Wings. Two more games remain on L.A.'s six-game road trip. And once they return home, and get settled in, I think their season will unfold in a very positive fashion.

This team is ready to make the next jump. Just watch and see.

Rangers Radio Debuts with Mike Keenan on Friday


Written on 10/15/2009 by Jim Cerny

As you can well expect I am fired up to host the brand-new weekly podcast talk program, Rangers Radio, over at

While I love serving as the beat writer for the team's official site, broadcasting is still very much in my bones. So the chance to chat Rangers hockey with my co-host Steven Gelbs, while also interviewing current and former members of the organization, and answering the fans e-mail questions, is going to be a lot of fun, plain and simple.

And we have a very special guest for the first show, former Rangers (and Flyers...and Blues...and Panthers...and Bruins...and Flames...and, well you get the idea) head coach Mike Keenan. Expect Keenan to look back at the magical 1993-94 season (it's already been 15 years...incredible!), while also analyzing the current state of the Rangers in his new role as guest hockey analyst for The MSG Network.

Here is complete information on the show from the Rangers official team site.

I have reported on the NHL for 20 years, and for much of that time, I have covered the New York Rangers, whether as a radio reporter, talk show host, reporter for The Rangers Fax Report (remember that oldie but goodie from the mid '90's?!), or as beat writer. Because of that experience, I have many stories to share and insight to dispense.

And if nothing else, I'm good for a few laughs along the way!

Speaking of laughs,  Andrew Gross from The Record in northern New Jersey plugged Rangers Radio in his blog this morning, while also sharing a funny tale about how he crushed my career as play-by-play voice of the New York Islanders earlier this decade. It's funny stuff, and it's 100 percent the truth!!

You should be following Andrew's blog anyway, but definitely check out today's post.

And come join Rangers Radio at, this week and each week to follow. It's going to be a fun journey.

As a side note, I am considering hosting a weekly NHL podcast based on this Rink Rap blog---seperate from Rangers Radio---not just Rangers-related, but chock full of NHL news, opinions, guests, etc. If you like---or hate---the idea let me know. You might be able to sway my decision one way or the other.

Ugly Start for Maple Leafs


Written on 10/13/2009 by Jim Cerny

Are the Toronto Maple Leafs really this bad?!

I mean after Brian Burke's summer of cleaning house, this is what the Maple Leafs are? A team that can't keep the puck out of its own net, is horrid down-low in its own end, has trouble finishing at the other end, and compounds one dumb penalty after another by being a putrid 57.9% on the penalty kill so far this season?


Well at least they can fight (witness Colton Orr tangling with Donald Brashear, above). And to their credit, the Maple Leafs did battle the Rangers for a bit last night before succumbing under the weight of their own ineptitude to the tune of a 7-2 final at Madison Square Garden.

In fact Toronto was the better team---certainly the harder-working team---for stretches of the second period last night, prompting Rangers head coach John Tortorella to say after the game, "They're a quick, hard-working hockey team . Obviously, they are a team that is building again...but they took it to us in the second period."

While that praise is nice, it doesn't clean up the mess the Leafs made for themselves in the opening period or the one that saw the Rangers pull away with four unanswered goals in the third.

Two quick penalties by the Leafs two minutes into the game handed the Rangers a 5-on-3 power play. Seconds later, Toronto was in a 1-0 hole when defenseman Luke Schenn put the puck into his own net. Six minutes later the Maple Leafs allowed Vinny Prospal all the time and space he desired behind Toronto's cage before watching his perfect pass lead to a Wade Redden goal, and a 2-0 deficit.

That the Leafs did not quit is commendable. That they put forth such a horrid start and finish is not acceptable.

The numbers are atrocious to start the season. The Maple Leafs are one of two winless teams in the NHL---at 0-4-1, they are still two points worse than the 0-1-3 Islanders---and they have surrendered a league-worst 24 goals in those five games, nearly five per. Their goals against---4.80---is exactly twice what their goals for average is---2.40. You're not going to win too many games that way.

Throw in the brutal PK, the early disappointing play of their big-time free agent acquisition Mike Komisarek, and the fall-off in the play of the sophomore Schenn, and it's easy to understand the Maple Leafs brutal start to '09-'10.

Many other reporters have written excellent pieces about the state of the Leafs, but I suggest you check out Chris Botta's take on FanHouse. Botts was at the game last night, and was disgusted with Toronto coach Ron Wilson's post-game lack of accountability.

I missed Wilson's huffy post-game exit as I was in the Rangers' locker room. But read Chris' take. Good stuff.

So will things get better in TO this season? I'd think they'd have to, especially with Phil Kessel eventually returning to the lineup. But based on what I witnessed last night---as well as watched on the tube during Saturday's loss to Pittsburgh---this could be one long year for the Leafs.

The Importance of Number Two


Written on 10/12/2009 by Jim Cerny

Taking in yesterday's Rangers-Ducks contest from the press box at The Garden I got to thinking about the importance of back-up goaltenders as I watched New York's Steve Valiquette get the better of Anaheim's J.S. Giguere in a 3-0 Rangers victory.

Interestingly, Valiquette and Giguere are back-ups in distinctly different positions for their respective teams.

On Broadway, Henrik Lundqvist is the King. There is no disputing that Lundqvist is the Rangers' No. 1 goaltender and that Valiquette is No. 2. Yesterday's start was Valiquette's first of the season, and only his 23rd in the past three seasons. Even with John Tortorella's plan to spell Lundqvist more frequently than in the past, it would be hard to imagine the 32 year-old Valiquette starting more than 15 games this year.

And that works because Valiquette has accepted his role on the team, and thrives in it. Yesterday's shutout was his fourth over those 23 starts, a pretty impressive stat.

"He played very well," Tortorella said of Valiquette's performance last night, before adding, "If (we) want to get to where (we) want to be, he's going to have play well for us."

Valiquette is an easy guy to root for. I was there as team broadcaster when he was summoned by the Islanders as an extremely green 22 year-old---fourth or fifth on the organizational depth chart---pressed into NHL duty by a rash of injuries. He won both of his starts during that 1999-2000 call-up, posting a 1.87 goals against average and .949 save percentage over six appearances. His first NHL win in Ottawa that April saw him stop 45 of 46 shots.

It'd be another four years before he saw the NHL again, and not until 2007-08 that he established himself as an NHL goalie, albeit a backup to Lundqvist.

In between, there were thousands of miles on minor league buses, a standout season playing in Russia, and the career-saving tutelege from Rangers goaltending coach Benoit Allaire.

"I owe so much to Benny," Valiquette told me. "From the mental part of the game to on-ice drills and skills, he has been a God-send for my career."

Where Valiquette is today, in my opinion, is right at the top of the list of back-up goaltenders in the National Hockey League.

Surprising to many is that Anaheim's Giguere is on that list, too. Surprising because we are talking about a Stanley Cup-winning, Conn Smythe Trophy-winning goalie here.

But last spring Jonas Hiller emerged as the favored starting goalie in Anaheim, as Giguere's goals against rose to 3.10, a full goal higher than the previous season. And so far this season head coach Randy Carlyle has turned to Hiller as his No. 1, with the 32 year-old Giguere trying to make the most of his starts.

To his credit, Giguere---who likely would have been dealt this past off-season if not for his cumbersome contract---played extremely well last night, making 35 saves as the Ducks were thoroughly outplayed by their hosts. But unlike Valiquette, Giguere has not accepted his No. 2 status, and, in fact, he is more a No. 1a. It is hard to imagine that he would not start at least 30 games this season, if not more, in pushing Hiller constantly for more and more playing time.

As Carlyle told The Los Angeles Times last month, "Both players have been informed that it's not a given here. You have to go out and earn it."

Don't forget that Giguere had to deal with important off-ice issues last year with the death of his father. Perhaps with a more clear head this season, he could reclaim his No. 1 spot in Anaheim. But for now he ranks at the top of the NHL back-ups list with Valiquette.

Who else is on that list? Here's my Top Five of back-up goaltenders in the National Hockey League:

1. J.S. Giguere, Anaheim Ducks
2. Steve Valiquette, NY Rangers
3. Mathieu Garon, Columbus Blue Jackets
4. Ty Conklin, St. Louis Blues
5. Brian Boucher, Philadelphia Flyers

I didn't list any of the two (really three with Rick DiPietro included) Islanders goalies because really there is no clear back-up or starter between Dwayne Roloson and Martin Biron. And until Washington clears up who is No. 1, I can't place either Jose Theodore or Semyon Varlamov on this list, either.

What do you think of the list? Let me know your thoughts.

Hats off to Pittsburgh


Written on 10/09/2009 by Jim Cerny

The latest edition of The Sporting News landed in my mailbox yesterday, and the cover had a picture of Sidney Crosby and Ben Rothlisberger, along with a banner proclaiming Pittsburgh as the best sports city.

And I thought that was kind of cool.

Now, I am big city all the way. Grew up in New York. Have worked in New York, or its environs, my whole career. Currently live in a suburb of Manhattan.

But Pittsburgh has always been one of my favorite stops on the NHL tours I have taken as a broadcaster and reporter. And the city---and its people---deserve to be recognized.

As do the teams of Pittsburgh. The disasterous Pirates aside, Pittsburgh has the reigning Stanley Cup and Super Bowl champions, with the Penguins having reached the Cup Finals two years straight, and the Steelers having won the Lombardi Trophy two of the past four years. Pretty impressive stuff.

That the Penguins are still in Pittsburgh is a great story in of itself. With Mario Lemieux championing this organization through bankruptcy, restructure, and re-birth, Lemieux has, in a way, embodied the spirit of blue-collar Pittsburgh and its loyal Penguins fans.

And it's interesting that Lemieux---who played with elegance on the ice during his Hall-of-Fame career in Pittsburgh---has taken up permanance in Pittsburgh, embracing the city and becoming one of its own, a real hard-hat hero, a transformation that probably took shape when he battled his way back from cancer and several debilitating back woes. I think that---along with his work saving the franchise now that he is part of the team's ownership---transformed Lemieux into a real blue-collar fixture on the Pittsburgh sports scene.

I have always admired the fanaticism of Penguins fans, even if they did go overboard during the 1992 playoffs, threatening Rangers winger Adam Graves for having broken Lemieux's hand with a slash during a playoff series that spring. I was there In Pittsburgh covering that series, and Graves could not step foot outside his hotel without being surrounded by team and league security.

That said, I do admire the passion of the Penguins fans. And I love the atmosphere at The Igloo---or as the corporate types call it, Mellon Arena.

This is the final season for The Igloo, before it gets replaced by a brand-new state-of-the-art arena across the street, and I am going to miss it. The oldest arena currently in existance in the NHL, The Igloo has that quirky spaceship look, with the unique retractable roof for summer concerts. I remember walking up the hill from the Westin Hotel many, many times for skates and games, looking up at this wild UFO-like structure sitting atop the hill, beckoning us all to come see some hockey.

Once inside, the atmosphere at The Igloo has always been awesome. This building can get as loud as any in the National Hockey League. And I can still get chills when I think about the fans chiming in with the PA Announcer during goal calls: "Theeeeee Pittsburgh goal....scored by number 66.....Marioooooo.....Lemieuuuuuux!" Or even the goal calls for Jaromir Jagr, and more recently Evgeni Malkin and Crosby. Neat, hometown fan stuff.

Funny thing about The Igloo, no matter how many times I have been there---and I first covered a hockey game there during the '91-'92 campaign---I still get lost in the bowels of the arena, searching for the locker rooms, media work room, the exit to where the team bus sits.

My partner back in the day when I broadcasted for the Islanders was Chris King. Well, like me, Kinger was a devotee to the cult movie classic "This is Spinal Tap!" If you are not familiar with that "rockumentary" about a fake heavy metal band on the decline, then, well, move along two paragraphs.

But Kinger and I would snake through the underbelly of The Igloo going through wrong doors and down the wrong corridors, trying to find exits or locker rooms, etc. And as we did, we would be shouting "Hello Cleveland! Rock-n-Roll. Rock...and ...Roll!"

Fun times.

Just another reason why the city of Pittsburgh brings a smile to my face, and why it has always been one of my favorite stops in the National Hockey League.

Congrats on The Sporting News honor citizens of Pittsburgh. Well-deserved.

Grachev Could Make NHL Debut Tonight


Written on 10/08/2009 by Jim Cerny

Already flush with the early successes of rookie defensemen Michael Del Zotto and Matt Gilroy, the Rangers might be able to see another of their talented top prospects make his NHL debut this evening in Washington D.C.

19 year-old winger Evgeny Grachev has been recalled from the club's AHL affiliate in Hartford due to the fact that Ryan Callahan suffered what the team is calling a "minor upper body" injury at this morning's skate at the Verizon Center. No media members saw the injury occur since all were speaking with coach John Tortorella at the time, so by "upper body", I mean exactly that.

It is not known whether or not Callahan will be able to play this evening, so clearly Grachev's recall is a precautionary move. It also means that Sean Avery is not yet ready to return to the Rangers lineup, since he was already in Washington skating with the team. Had he been deemed healthy enough to play---he has missed the first three games of the season with a sprained knee---there would not have been a need to call up Grachev from Hartford.

Avery told me at practice yesterday, "Not to say that I'm not effective at 85 or 90 percent, but I think it's not fair to the team, and I don't think it's fair to myself, when you do it this early (in the season). It's not Game 80 and we're in a playoff race."

When he does return to the lineup---and Avery is now targeting Sunday at home against Anaheim---he does not expect to hold back at all.

"When I am ready to play, I just play," said Avery. "I don't think I am going to favor anything. I certainly don't think that's in my mentality."

But obviously both Avery and Tortorella feel that he is not quite ready to re-enter the lineup, otherwise Grachev would not be in DC right now.

As for Grachev, he had a solid pre-season and impressed Tortorella with his battle level and with how strong he was on the puck. Interestingly, the one area that Grachev did not excel during the pre-season was in putting the puck in the net, which is his forte, evidenced by his 40-goal output with Brampton in the OHL a year ago.

Defenseman Alexei Semenov, who was in camp with the Rangers before signing in the KHL back in Russia, shared some interesting observations with me about the 6'4", 220 pound man-child that is Grachev. He said right now the only thing holding Grachev back from playing in the NHL is confidence to bury the puck, again intriguing considering that is the main talent he brings to the table. Semenov said he noticed a hesitation in that area by Grachev, and believed that some time---maybe not even a whole season---in the AHL would solve the problem.

Follow me on Twitter tonight to see if Grachev makes his NHL debut, and, if so, how he fares. Also, check in for the latest on Callahan's injury.

It's Just Fantasy, It's Not the Real Thing


Written on 10/07/2009 by Jim Cerny

Let's get one thing straight, right from the get-go. I play fantasy hockey, but I also have a real life, OK? I'm not sitting in my basement with bloodshot eyes staring for hours upon hours at a computer screen to assess every last statistic out there in order to outwit the other team owners in my league.

That said, I don't like to be embarrassed either. I mean, I do work in hockey, and have been a writer and broadcaster in the National Hockey League for 20 years. So that means I am supposed to come to the table with a semblance of knowledge.

Taking part in a fantasy hockey league is all about the fun, so I am walking a fine line here. It is fun, as long as I don't embarrass myself.

That said, the league I am a part of---which consists of NHL writers and broadcasters from The Fourth Period magazine and web site, both of which I contribute to---held its big draft last night. The best part about it? That we whipped through 16 rounds with eight teams in just about 45 minutes! That's a good start to the season as far as I am concerned.

Since I have this great blogging avenue to share and receive feedback, I'll roll through my 16 picks and see what you think. Keep in mind that this is a head-to-head league with points awarded for goals, assists, points, PIM, plus-minus rating, power play points, shorthanded points, game-winning goals, goaltender wins and losses, goals against average, saves, save percentage, and shutouts.

First Round: I own the fifth pick in the draft, not a bad place to 12 year-old son Ryan is fired up and keeps shouting "Take Lundqvist! Take Lundqvist!"...I try and explain drafting strategy to him, but he wants Henrik Lundqvist...Ovie, Sid, and Malkin gobbled up...I want Ryan Getzlaf for his great combo of points and PIM, as well as strong plus-minus...Zach Parise goes #4, and I do not hesitate selecting Getzlaf (photo above)...welcome to The Broadway Blues Ryan Getzlaf!

Second Round: My Ryan is appeased by the fact that I chose someone named "Ryan" with my first pick, but he still wants me to choose I tell him it's too early to select a goalie, someone takes Evgeni Nabokov with the 7th overall pick...Now I have to explain that everyone has different strategies...he is not amused...I'd like Jeff Carter, but he is gone at start of Round 2, so then I target Mike Green...he's still there...but the guy right in front of me selects Green...time to re-think...I think Ilya Kovalchuk will have a monster season...he's my guy in Round #2.

Third Round: Ok, now I am explaining to Ryan why two more goalies have been chosen, Kiprussof and Backstrom are off the table now...but my son has now latched on to Rick Nash...he's still out there and my pick is coming up!...Ryan and I are in agreement on this one, Nash will be my guy...if only the owner selecting right before hadn't taken him, that Nash, so now I think defenseman or goalie...I am weighing Zdeno Chara or Cam Ward...and Cam Ward is my third round pick...yes, I am hearing it about Lundqvist again, and likely will get drilled by Henrik himself if we ever discuss my drafting strategy one day. I think Lundqvist will have a strong season, but I believe Ward's numbers will be a shade better.

Fourth Round: This is a no-brainer for me...four defensemen have been chosen already, not one of them is named Zdeno Chara...Big Z who was a rook with the Islanders when I was the broadcaster there is now reunited with me on The Broadway Blues!

Fifth Round: Ryan is chewing my ear off because Lundqvist was selected near the end of the 4th round...he is angry, but I am trying to figure out if I want Patrick Marleau, Joe Thornton, or Mike Richards with my fifth pick...geez, I love Richards, one of my favorite heart-and-soul players to watch, plus he has tremendous numbers...but I can't escape the thought that Joe Thornton is a steal in the 5th round...Big Joe is my man.

Sixth Round: Surpised that Luongo is not taken until the first pick of this round...owners spooked by his poor start maybe?...that's a mistake, he is an absolute steal this late in the for me, though my son has now shifted from the Lundqvist bandwagon to the Brandon Dubinsky bandwagon, I fly a bit under the radar and select Daniel Alfreddson.

Seventh Round: D'oh! first big mistake, at least in my book....I failed to realize that Nicklas Lidstrom was still available when I made my sixth pick...he is gobbled up two selections later...damn!..I go defense again in Round 7 and choose Sheldon Souray, but wish I had Lidstrom.

Eighth Round: Owners are getting a bit creative now that the cores of their teams are in place...David Backes is picked, so, too, is the injured Andrei Markov who will sit on IR for 3 go with Bobby sophomore slump for him...I think he's in for a big year.

Ninth Round: Shoot and double-shoot!...had my eyes on both Chris Ponger and Jay Bouwmeester for this round, but both are snatched son is back in the room and calling for Dubinsky again...I tell him that Dubi might be a good late-round pick, but I also extoll the virtues of Travis Zajac, who I think will have a big season...but in the end, I want points and PIM and plus-minus, so I choose Scott Hartnell.

Tenth Round: I'm thinking second goalie all the way here...I weigh Ray Emery and Steve Mason...Emery will put up wins this year playing in Philly, but I like Mason's all-around game better...Mason's the choice.

Eleventh Round: I sense Ryan is starting to lose focus...he wants me to scroll down to see which player is ranked last on Yahoo's draft board...he tells me that everyone left stinks!...I explain that there are still plenty of good players left, and that we can check for who is last on the board when the draft concludes...I notice while talking with him that several good choices were just made by others...there goes Sergei Gonchar, John Tavares, and Jonathan Toews...hmmmm...thinking defenseman with this pick....shoot, there goes Dennis Wideman...but I think Kimmo Timonen will have nice numbers this year and am glad to select him.

Twelfth Round: OK, here is my first real reach, and maybe I could have waited another round or two...but I have watched Matt Gilroy every day since even before training camp started and am convinced that the 25 year-old rookie is going to be a quality player...Ryan is happy now that a Ranger is on the team.

Thirteenth Round: Yet another round where the selection is easy for me...Alex Burrows is like Scott Hartnell in my book, points, PIM, all of it...that's a quick pick for me.

Fourteenth Round: We are near the homestretch here, and Ryan has bailed on me to go play PS2...owners are taking a bit longer in-between picks, though the team in front of me has taken the full two minutes nearly every round before making a selection...he is either going to win this league or he doesn't know what he's doing...either way, he's a pain in the ass...any way, Steven Stamkos is my pick.

Fifteenth Round: Damn!...I thought I could out-wait everyone and steal an injured Marian Hossa here in the 15th round, but he was just snatched up...this is a spot where you might take a reach...Ryan's "Dubinksy" chant rings in my head...he's going to put up points playing with Gaborik...I also am eyeing Zajac still...I take almost the full two minutes for the first time in this draft before choosing Paul Kariya...a small risk....he is a great player when healthy...can he stay healthy?...we will see...this roster will be fluid with several changes during the year anyway, so why not take a chance on Kariya?

Sixteenth Round: Ryan is back and really wants to know who the final player on the Yahoo draft board is...I tell him to hang in there, one more pick...I need another defenseman...I spend nearly the full two minutes again before selecting Tom Gilbert...not sure I love the selection, but we shall see...changes can always be made.

And in case you are curious, Ryan and I did scroll to the end of the draft board, and what name did we see? Shockingly, that of Jiri Hudler, the former Red Wing who is now playing in Russia!

As for Dubinsky, he went undrafted. I'll keep an eye on him. Zajac, though is off the board.

Ryan still wants to know why I didn't draft Lundqvist, or at least Steve Valiquette! He's not happy with me, and I don't think Valli is either.

The Kids Start Off Alright


Written on 10/05/2009 by Jim Cerny

John Tavares (photo left) did not disappoint in his NHL debut on Saturday night. The first overall pick in this past NHL Draft---and annointed savior of the Islanders franchise---notched a pair of points, including his first NHL goal, against Sidney Crosby and the defending Stanley Cup champion Penguins at the Nassau Coliseum.

If you haven't yet seen Tavares' goal, check it out here. He displays a quick set of hands, turning a broken play into a big goal. True goal scorers---whether they have played ten years in the NHL or ten minutes---instinctively know where to position themselves to get the prime scoring opportunities.

Rangers coach John Tortorella says that, "the puck just follows these kinds of finds them all of the time."

John Tavares is that kind of player. Right spot, natural instinct, great hands.

Good for the Islanders and their fans to have landed Tavares following years of misery on The Island.

Bad for the Islanders that not long before Tavares and his 'mates took to the ice on Saturday, team owner Charles Wang spoke in bitterly disappointed tones that the Town of Hempstead had not met his October 3rd deadline to resolve whether or not his planned Lighthouse Project---which includes a new arena for the Islanders---would go forth. In grave tones, Wang spoke of options such as selling the team or relocating it to another city.

Veiled threats? Perhaps so. But threats nonetheless as far as the dispirited fans on the Isles are concerned.

Chris Botta over at NYI Point Blank and BD Gallof at The Hockey Independent are the two reporters who have covered this story the best---really for years now---and the best part is they usually offer up very different views on the goings on. That makes for some fun reading, while also providing a wider scope of opinion. Go check them out if you have not already.

Anyway, getting off topic here, it's a shame that Tavares' debut was pretty much overshadowed by arena politics. As Arthur Staple wrote in Newsday, "I went to a hockey game and a press conference broke out."

Good stuff that Tavares scored a goal and an assist in his NHL debut, even if he failed on a couple of other prime scoring chances and muffed his shootout attempt.

And JT was not the only youngster making a positive early impression over the weekend. Both Victor Hedman, the second overall pick right behind Tavares, and Matt Duchene, chosen No. 3 this past June by Colorado, had nice starts, as well.

Though he was a minus-two in Tampa's season-opening 6-3 loss to Atlanta on Saturday night, Hedman played confidently, and he played a lot. Coach Rick Tocchet used Hedman in all game situations, and the kid led the Lightning with nearly 27 minutes worth of ice-time. He also picked up his first NHL point, assisting on the Lightning's first goal of the season, and was second on the team with five shots on goal.

Duchene, one of two 18 year-olds in the Avs lineup along with Ryan O'Reilly, earned an assist in his NHL debut last Thursday, and played 15:29 in Saturday's win over the Canucks. O'Reilly, the Avs second rounder this year, has seen far less of the ice than Duchene, but he also earned an assist in his NHL debut against the Sharks last Thursday.

Another member of the 2009 draft class---Atlanta's Evander Kane, selected fourth overall---made a neat play to also earn an assist in his first NHL contest on Saturday. Kane stole the puck at the Lightning blueline, burst past the defenseman to drive towards the net. Though goaltender Mike Smith poked the puck off Kane's stick, Rich Peverly was there to clean up for the Thrashers and hand Kane a point.

Two other kids have impressed right from the get-go, Philly's James Van Riemsdyk (first round in 2007) and Michael Del Zotto (first round in 2008) of the Rangers. Van Riemsdyk, who is in the perfect situation, I think, surrounded by such a deep and talented group of teammates, has three points already in his first two games. In Saturday's win over the Devils, he notched a pair of assists and was a plus-three.

Del Zotto is clearly still adjusting to the speed and intensity of the pro game, but there is no denying his offensive skills. The 19 year-old defenseman is playing on the Rangers' top power play unit, and looks comfortable doing so. He also picked up his first NHL goal on Saturday in the final minute of the second period against Ottawa. You can check out Del Zotto's first goal here.

Early samplings for sure, but so far, the kids are looking alright at the NHL level.

Garden Thoughts on Rangers and Sens


Written on 10/04/2009 by Jim Cerny

It struck me last night as I sat in the press box high above Madison Square Garden, that the first Rangers' home opener I covered as member of the media was 20 years ago---October of 1989!

There have been some very memorable ones for sure, most notably in 1991 when Mark Messier skated out in pre-game introductions to a thunderous standing ovation, just days after being acquired from the Oilers in a trade that would change the course of franchise history. There was a bevy of former Ranger captains on the ice that night to welcome Mess, who dramatically undid a safety pin on his jersey during pre-game ceremonies to display the "C" on his blue Rangers sweater as the crowd absolutely came unglued.

Then, of course, there was the home opener on January 20, 1995---the team's '94 Cup banner raising delayed by the lockout. It was a bit over the top, but to see the Stanley Cup lowered from the rafters on to a table at center ice was pretty cool. And to witness the emotion on the faces of the long-suffering Rangers Faithful as the banner was raised was very special.

And personally for me, perhaps the most memorable Rangers' home opener I worked was on October 3, 1997. That night I stepped into the full-time role as the play-by-play broadcaster for the New York Islanders, and, as luck would have it, the first game of the season was a New York-New York battle at MSG.

I had served as the back-up play-by-play Voice of the Isles for a few seasons to that point, and had been host of the club's pre-game, in-between-periods, and post-game shows. My goal, though, was to land a pbp gig of my very own, and that opportunity was finally afforded me in the summer of '97. And to have my maiden broadcast at The Garden---the building I grew up in as a kid---made the whole experience that more special.

Nonetheless, there I was at MSG last night for the Rangers 2009-10 home opener against the Ottawa Senators, reminiscing a bit, albeit with Blue Man Group performing a drum routine during the pre-game festivities!

Some observations from last night's game (but first some trivia...can you name the longest-serving captain currently in the NHL? answer below...):
  • The Rangers were not introduced to the crowd individually as is usually done on an opening night. Instead they were introduced collectively as "the 2009-2010 New York Rangers", and skated on to the ice as a group. Clearly that is John Tortorella's touch, an opportunity to stress the team ahead of individual players. Nice touch by the Rangers to skate to center ice and salute the fans with raised sticks prior to the game, the same routine they do after each home win at MSG.
  • It's only two games, but Brandon Dubinsky looks awfully comfortable playing on a line with veterans Vinny Prospal and Marian Gaborik. That line scored four goals in the Rangers 5-2 win last night, with Dubi netting a pair to go along with an assist. I thought that Torts said exactly what I was thinking after the game, "He just has a different look about him, even when he's not playing, just how he is handling himself." I have observed the same thing since Dubinsky ended his contract holdout a couple of weeks ago.
  • Torts on the Prospal-Dubinsky-Gaborik line: "The thing I like about it, and that is our top line right now, I think it's one of the hardest-working lines, too, which is very important."
  • Both the Rangers and Senators allowed far too many odd-man rushes, and as Torts said of his team, "We have to button up some things", but boy was that fun hockey to watch! Both teams were uber-aggressive in pushing their respective offensive games, and goalies Henrik Lundqvist of the Rangers and Pascal LeClaire of Ottawa both had to make a basket-full of great saves. There were probably more odd-man rushes----both for and against---in last night's game than in the first 20 or more Rangers games I covered a year ago when the team played a much-more buttoned down style under Tom Renney. Last night was fun stuff for the paying customer---and those of us in the media---to watch.
  • Though Dubinsky (photo above) was selected as the game's No. 1 star, in reality that honor belonged to Lundqvist, who was sensational in goal, in particular in the second period when the Senators blitzed him with 20 shots, and he denied all but one. Somehow the Rangers managed to outscore the Sens 3-1 in that middle 20 minutes. No matter how much this team improves offensively, Lundqvist remains the single most important Ranger.
  • I thought LeClaire had a very strong first period, most notably when he stopped all 13 shots he faced during the first period. Eight of those shots came during Rangers power plays and were of high-quality. In the second, the Rangers may have found a bit of an achilles heel in LeClaire's game, twice beating him up high over his gloved hand.
  • The Rangers power play was 0-5 last night, and is 0-9 to start the season, but there is no reason for the team to panic. They are moving the puck well, controlling the attacking zone, and creating excellent scoring chances. "But again, you have to score," noted Torts, who did praise his team's power play, as well.
  • Ottawa wisely re-signed the rugged Chris Neil in the off-season, but he logged only seven-plus minutes last night as Cory Clouston shortened his bench once the Sens fell behind. Still, Neil was credited with a game-high six hits in that span.
  • Very quiet debut for Alex Kovalev. Ottawa signed him to a nice free agent deal in the off-season, and other than being whistled for the game's first penalty, he was pretty invisible with his 20 minutes of ice-time.
  • And congrats to Rangers 19 year-old rookie Michael Del Zotto, who scored his first National Hockey League goal in only his second NHL game. And it was a timely score, too, coming with under a minute to go in the second, right after the Sens had cut the Rangers lead to 2-1. "That made it that much bigger, the fact that it was such a big goal, a little insurance goal there," Del Zotto told me after the game. "And the fact that we got the win made it even better." Torts was lukewarm about DZ's all-around game over 11-plus minutes, but did add, "I am happy for him scoring a goal."
My complete game story can be found over at the Rangers official team site.

Trivia Answer: Ottawa's Daniel Alfredsson, who scored his club's first goal last night, is the longest current-serving captain in the NHL. He was appointed Sens captain in October of 1999.