Waiting on Dubinsky


Written on 12/14/2009 by Jim Cerny

There have been many recurring themes for the New York Rangers so far this season, none more common than their lack of secondary scoring on a game-in game-out basis.

But another theme that has been repeated since the start of training camp is the club waiting on 23 year-old center Brandon Dubinsky.

First the Rangers had to wait on Dubinsky to arrive at training camp. A no-show when he could not come to terms on a new contract with the club, Dubinsky was on the receiving end of some verbal wrath of head coach John Tortorella before his holdout ended during the first week of training camp.

Then after a strong start to the season, both Dubinsky and the team hit a major lull. The Rangers looked to Dubinsky to be one of the club's top offensive players, but instead found themselves waiting on Dubinsky to be more consistent with his play. Dubinsky had eight points in the first eight games of the season, and not shockingly the Rangers posted a 7-1-0 mark in that span as Dubi and his 'mates were clicking on most cylinders.

But then Dubinsky hit the skids, notching just two assists over the next ten games, and the team mirrored his offensive struggles. His ice-time---often in the 22-23 minute range while skating with Marian Gaborik and Vinny Prospal in the opening weeks of the season---was cut back by Tortorella. In fact, Dubi found himself rooted to the bench, playing just nine minutes up in Montreal on October 24.

Everything came to a halt for the third-year centerman on November 7 in Calgary. On that night Dubinsky went down to block a Jay Bouwmeester slap shot during a Flames power play. The puck hit Dubinksy on the right hand, breaking a bone and sending him to IR.

Dubinsky has missed 13 games since breaking his hand. And with the Rangers struggling mightily to score goals (they have been held to 2 goals or fewer in 15 of their previous 19 matches) and win games, the organization has been waiting for Dubinsky's return to game action to hopefully spark the club.

The latest wait for Dubinsky may finally be over.

Dubinsky, who has skated in full-contact practices this past week, took part in the morning skate earlier today and all indications are that he will return to the lineup this evening at Madison Square Garden against the Atlanta Thrashers.

I spoke with both Dubi and Torts this morning and neither would confirm Dubinsky's return this evening. But my gut says Dubi is in, meaning Erik Christensen would be out of the lineup and Prospal likely will shift back to wing from center.

"My hand feels great, and, obviously, we've given it enough time," stated Dubinsky. "I'm anxious to get back in."

Dubinsky said there is still some pain in the hand, and that he will have to wear a protective cast over it during games. He also noted that only yesterday did he practice taking faceoffs. The hunch here is that if he does return tonight, Dubinsky will defer to a linemate---perhaps Prospal or Christopher Higgins---to take draws for him.

"Yesterday we had a chance to do some battle drills and I was able to lean on some guys, put some pressure on some guys without the hand hurting," explained Dubinsky. "I took some (faceoffs) yesterday. As far as that is concerned, I think we'll just see how it goes."

If Dubinsky does return this evening, Tortorella said that he will play him Top-six forward minutes.

"We'll go full-bore (with Dubinsky)," said the head coach. "Practice is one thing, but then the game comes along. We'll just have to read him. We think he's healthy, but we just have to be careful there."

One look at Dubinsky and you can see he is absolutely ready to jump out of his skin if he doesn't get back in the lineup soon. Though he said he enjoyed eating the shrimp, popcorn, and "maybe even a little candy" during games, it was also "hard to watch" his teammate struggle so.

Dubi said that he is done being a "fan" and a "cheerleader" for the team. He is ready to be a Ranger again.

It loks like the latest wait is going to be over, sooner rather than later, as far as Brandon Dubinsky is concerned.

Now the Rangers have to hope that they do not have to wait on Dubinsky to regain his scoring touch.

That already has been the longest wait so far this season.

Vokoun's Availability Doesn't Help Rangers


Written on 12/11/2009 by Jim Cerny

Chris Botta has himself a nice little scoop over at Fanhouse today.

Botta is reporting that the Florida Panthers have contacted teams about Tomas Vokoun's availability.

Add Vokoun's name to those of fellow netminders J.S. Giguere, Martin Biron, Jaroslav Halak, and, perhaps, Manny Legace and you have quite a group of experienced goaltenders available via trade.

Dealing Vokoun is easier said than done, what with his hefty contract extending past this season. And it's a huge risk for the Panthers because he has been their best player this season; and what would become of the Panthers without their most important player?

But as Botta points out, Florida has top prospect Jacob Markstrom at the ready beginning next season to assume duties in goal, so the Panthers may be willing to make a deal now during the season as other teams become desperate, as opposed to next summer. They would just have to bite the bullet on this season and see if Scott Clemmensen has any New Jersey magic in him left over from a year ago.

Vokoun's contract is a major stumbling block. Clearly the Panthers would have to take serious salary back in any deal for their No. 1 goalie. But how could the Flyers not be interested in Vokoun, especially with the inconsistent state of their goaltending this season and the current injury to starter Ray Emery?

What about Ottawa? They did swing a deal last spring to make Pascal LeClaire their No. 1, but surprise of all surprises, he is injured again.

Then there is Toronto. If Brian Burke believes his club's recent run the past two weeks is for real, does he consider such a big move? Vesa Toskala has been horrible and Jonas Gustavvson has had heart issues. Logic would say no deal for Toronto because Gustavvson is the goalie of the future, but yet with Burke, well, you never know.

I have chronicled Detroit's goaltending issues before here on Rink Rap. Vokoun would look quite nice in red and white, but no way the Red Wings could slip him in under the Cap, right? Right? Hmmmm......

Of course the playing field changes dramatically if another team---in particular, a serious Stanley Cup contender---loses their No. 1 goalie to injury. That would make Vokoun, arguably, the hottest commodity on the NHL market.

As for backup goaltenders, the question on Broadway is: will Henrik Lundqvist play every game the rest of the season now that his backup, Steve Valiquette, has shockingly flamed out and been sent to the minors?

Well maybe that is not exactly the question, but it is close. The Rangers are right up against the salary cap ceiling and really can't afford to add a Halak or Biron---the most affordable options out there---as Lundqvist's caddy. So right now rookies Chad Johnson and Matt Zaba are alternating playing in Hartford for the club's AHL afffiliate, practicing with the Rangers, and backing up Lundqvist on game day. Not exactly the ideal situation.

"It's a mess," Rangers coach John Tortorella said this morning of the goaltending situation behind Lundqvist. "Let's call it what it is. It's a mess."

Tortorella shared that the plan was for the veteran Valiquette, who earns a Cap-friendly $750,000 this season, to make 15-17 starts this season, "especially with Hank set to play in the Olympics."

Now Torts has no idea when, or how, he can give Lundqvist any nights off, in particular because the team is struggling so mightily right now and needs his play to either steal them some victories or keep them in games. At some point, Tortorella explained, Johnson---a rookie who played at Alaska-Fairbanks last season, and who is considered a decent NHL prospect---will be forced to make a start.

"We sent a veteran backup down and he's still struggling down there, and we don't even know what we have in Johnson," explained Tortorella. "I'm not trying to paint a lousy picture, but that's the picture it is."


By the way, check out the Rangers Radio page at newyorkrangers.com for an interview Steve Gelbs and I conducted with John Halligan, author of "100 Rangers Greats", this week. Halligan, a long-time Rangers employee, is a true historian of all things Rangers, and our conversation is a lot of fun, and sprinkled with many Rangers anecdotes and memories. Not to mention we have some fun debates! For example how can Mike Gartner, perhaps one of the top two or three snipers in franchise history be ranked No. 67? Fun stuff, so go check it out.

Also, for you folk up in Canada, I am a guest this week on The Fourth Period Radio Show. Dan Kingerski and I will be debating topics such as the return of the NHL to Quebec City, who will be the next coach fired in the NHL, and will Wayne Gretzky coach Canada at the World Championships.

If you are not north of the border, http://www.thefourthperiod.com/ should have the show on its site beginning on Saturday.

Monday Musings on Flyers, Canadiens, and Goalies Valiquette & Howard


Written on 12/07/2009 by Jim Cerny

After being smoked 8-2 by the Capitals in Peter Laviolette's debut behind the bench, the Flyers will look to show their new coach their better side tonight when they skate against the Canadiens in Montreal.

But what exactly is their better side right now?

The Flyers have lost four in a row---outscored 16-4 in the process---and seven of their last eight. They scored three goals or more twice in that span, and lost both games anyway.

They are having problems putting the puck in the net. Their goaltending with Ray Emery and Brian Boucher has been spotty. And their commitment to strong defensive-zone play comes and goes on a nightly---and sometimes shift-by-shift---basis.

Bu the biggest issue in Philly just might be in the dressing room. Though there are plenty of denials from the Flyers, I have heard from several reliable NHL sources that the mix may not be a good one in Philly. And if that is the case, that is a huge problem.

Already we have seen a very good man, and solid coach, in John Stevens lose his job. Word is that he couldn't handle the locker room issues that have arisen with the club. Laviolette, not as much of a player's coach, will do his damndest to get the players in line.

But the issues may run deeper than any one coach can correct. From what I saw on Saturday, these players sure didn't look like they gave a damn about trying to impress their new coach.

Laviolette has been a winner at his previous stops. He guided the Islanders to playoff appearances in both seasons he was their coach, and in 2006 he coached the Hurricanes to the Stanley Cup Championship, which was secured with a Game 7 victory. Clearly he seems to have what it takes to get a very talented Flyers team back on track.

Or does he?

Check out Puck Daddy's take over at Yahoo! Sports.

Despite a strong case made by Puck Daddy, I still think Laviolette can turn things around in Philly. And I would not be surprised to see the Flyers right in the Eastern Conference mix when the playoffs roll around in April. They are too talented a bunch not to be.


The Canadiens sure know how to throw a party, eh?

Saturday night's extravaganza to celebrate the organization's 100th birthday was both classy and memorable, plain and simple. The introductions of former greats, complete with the ex-Habs skating out on to the ice, was really just phenomenal.

To see Patrick Roy and the reclusive Ken Dryden not only skate out on to the Bell Centre ice, but do so with their full goaltending gear on, and then proceed to set up in their respective nets and face shots, was most definitely my favorite part of just a terrific night in Montreal.

Hats off to Les Habitants, as classy an organization as you will find in professional sports.


And a tip of the hat to Red Wings netminder Jimmy Howard, who really showed me last night. Back on Friday I wrote right here in Rink Rap that I believe---and still do, by the way!---that Detroit needs to upgrade their goaltending situation. Part of the reason for that is the inconsistent play of Howard, the 25 year-old rookie.

Well, with me in the building at Madison Square Garden, Howard was simply terrific last night in a 3-1 win over the Rangers. It was more than the 28 saves he made. It was the quality of the saves, the timing of the saves. In short, Howard had himself a brilliant night.

Trailing 1-0 with less than 30 seconds to go in the first period, Howard exploded across his crease from left to right to stone Christopher Higgins on the doorstep. A 2-0 lead at home for the Rangers would have been huge, especially receiving a goal so late in the period. Instead Howard kept the deficit at one.

Then less than two minutes into the second period Ryan Callahan was awarded a penalty shot after being hauled down on a breakaway by Detroit's Jonathan Ericsson. Callahan made an excellent move in-tight, switching from backhand to forehand and sending his shot to the far corner of the net. Howard dropped into the splits, and somehow got his left toe on the puck, stopping it along the goal line.

Yet again, Howard kept the deficit at one with an amazing save.

Then after the Red Wings had tied the game at one apiece, Howard made several more big-time saves, including at least a pair during a Rangers power play in the third that swung the game's momentum in favor of the Red Wings.

I still believe Howard needs to be more consistent. And I still think adding a Martin Biron, for example, would be the move to make. But give credit where credit is due. Howard was splendid last night, giving me and 18,200 at MSG a glimpse into the player he could be on a regular basis.


I'll end on somehwhat of a downer today.

One of hockey's real good guys---and a long-time personal favorite of mine---Steve Valiquette was placed on waiver by the Rangers last week. Unclaimed, Valley was shipped to the club's AHL affiliate in Hartford.

In his first two games for the Wolf Pack this weekend, Valiquette struggled even worse than he had at the NHL level this season. On Friday, Valiquette started and was pulled in an unsightly first period. Restored between the pipes in the second, Valiquette ended his first game with the Pack having allowed five goals in a 7-1 defeat.

It didn't get any better yesterday. Valley was pulled early in the second period after having allowed five goals on 16 shots in what would turn out to be a 9-3 loss to the Hershey Bears.


First Valiquette struggles to the tune of a 3.74 goals against average and .852 save percentage in six appearances as Henrik Lundqvist's backup this season. Then after being strafed for eight goals two Saturdays ago in Pittsburgh, Valley is placed on waivers. When no one claims him, an indignity itself for a goalie who performed very well as a backup the past few seasons in New York, he is sent to the minor leagues, where he thought he had finally escaped back in 2006-07. Now Valley is rocked in his first two starts at Hartford.

It is very tough to sit back and watch this happen to a man who is among the most friendly, and funniest, I have known since working in the National Hockey League.

Valley and I first met when he was fourth or fifth on the Islanders depth chart, but was called up to the NHL level in 1999-2000 out of necessity anyway, and I was the team's radio broadcaster. We formed a friendship then, and rekindled it when I became the Rangers' beat writer for newyorkrangers.com and Valley had evolved into a capable NHL goalie with the Blueshirts.

Here's to hoping that Steve Valiquette can pull his game back together and escape the minors again at the age of 32.

Goaltending Solution Sought in Hockey Town


Written on 12/04/2009 by Jim Cerny

Watching another ugly goaltending performance by the Red Wings during last night's 4-1 loss to the Oilers just makes me wonder how and when Detroit is going to fix this season-long problem.

Jimmy Howard overplayed two shots/passes last night and, as such, allowed a pair of weak goals that helped to undermine his team.

It continues to be a case of one step forward, one step back for Howard during his inaugural NHL campaign. On Monday I thought Howard played one of his best games of the season, positionally-strong and at times outstanding in denying the Dallas Stars during a 4-1 Red Wings triumph. Then last night he looked awkward and allowed a pair of softies.

The numbers bear out Howard's inconsistent play. He has appeared in 14 games, posting a 7-5-1 record with a 2.67 goals against average and .907 save percentage. Howard has been better of late, but he doesn't seem capable just yet of stringing together a slew of solid starts in a row.

Of course this wouldn't matter if veteran Chris Osgood was playing better. Ossie is following up a very mediocre regular season performance from a year ago with another shaky one, so far, this season. Osgood's 2.75 goals against---while better than last year's 3.09 mark---is disappointing, and worse than Howard's. So, too, is his unsightly .897 save percentage.

The thing is, Osgood redeemed himself a year ago by turning in a phenomenal effort during the playoffs, carrying the Red Wings to within a game of another Stanley Cup Championship with a solid 2.01 goals against average.

Just two years removed from his third Cup, a league-best 2.09 regular season GAA, and a ridiculous 1.55 GAA in the post-season, Osgood certainly has the appropriate street cred and quite a bit of cache built up in Detroit. But yet this is the second straight regular season where you scratch your head and wince when you consider his play.

Last season Detroit was fortunate to have Ty Conklin, much more of a proven commodity than Howard, to shoulder some of the load during the regular season. Now the Red Wings have turned to Howard, the 25 year-old goalie of the future who has been apprenticing in the American Hockey League the previous four seasons, and the results are decidedly mixed.

Of course both Howard and Osgood do have somewhat of a built-in excuse for their average numbers, what with how Detroit has been ravaged by injury so far this season.

Still, Wings GM Ken Holland and head coach Mike Babcock are not ones for excuses. So what is their move? And do they have the cap space to make the type of move they may deem necessary?

Anaheim would be willing to unload J.S. Giguere now that Jonas Hiller has emerged as the favored goalie, but his contract is very difficult to move. And I'm not so sure that the Ducks would be eager to send Giguere to a conference rival like the Red Wings anyway.

Perhaps now that Rick DiPietro is closer to returning to the Islanders, New York might consider trading one of its goalies. Dwayne Roloson, who is on a two-year deal, has played better than Martin Biron, who signed a one-year contract this past summer. Likely Roloson and DiPietro, who basically has a lifetime deal to remain on the Island, would stay, and Biron would be shipped somewhere.

The Red Wings could do worse than Biron to split time with Osgood during the regular season, and push him heading into the playoffs.

If such a move would take place, it would not be for amother few weeks, I would think. DiPietro is going to play some games in the minor leagues starting this Saturday, and you'd have to believe that the Islanders want to see him play a few games at the NHL level and see if he can remain healthy, a big IF considering he played only five games a year ago, and has yet to play this season.

In the meantime Howard and Osgood will try and convince Red Wings brass that outside help is not needed.

From my point of view, I disagree. Change is needed in goal for the Red Wings.

Tuesday Tidbits on Ovie, Vokoun, Savard, and more


Written on 12/01/2009 by Jim Cerny

Less than 24 hours after being helped off the ice with an injury to his right knee, Washington Capitals superstar Alex Ovechkin was back on the ice this morning testing that knee.

According to Caps beat writer Tariq El-Bashir on Twitter, and Joseph White of the Associated Press, Ovechkin donned a sweatsuit and skated gingerly for about five minutes by himself before retreating to the dressing room.

After practice the Capitals reported that Ovechkin is listed as Day to Day.

Ovechkin was hurt in a knee-on-knee collision with Carolina defenseman Tim Gleason in last night's Caps victory.

As Gleason was starting a rush out of his end of the ice, the aggressively forechecking Ovechkin went for a hit on the defenseman and simultaneously threw his right leg out as Gleason cut towards the middle of the ice. There was direct knee-on-knee contact, and both players remained on the ice for several minutes. Ovechkin was helped from the ice, and was also assessed a five-minute major for kneeing and a game misconduct. Gleason eventually returned to the game.

After the contest Caps coach Bruce Boudreau was in full spin mode trying to protect his most valuable asset, Ovechkin. Boudreau claimed that, at best, Ovechkin should have received a two-minute minor, and that a suspension was not warrented. Boudreau's main fact to support his belief was that Gleason was not seriously hurt.

I disagree, and I am not influenced by the severity of Gleason's injury.

Ovechkin made a similar knee-on-knee hit to Pittsburgh's Sergei Gonchar in the playoffs last spring. Enough is enough. I understand he might just be the biggest draw in the game, but Colin Campbell has to make the right call here. Ovechkin deserves to be suspended.

Whether he is or isn't, though, it seems that Ovechkin will miss some game action no matter what due his own knee injury.


Washington's next opponent is the Florida Panthers. You may not see Tomas Vokoun between the pipes for the Panthers at the Verizon Center, though, on Thursday.

In one of the most bizarre---and embarrassing---plays you will ever see, Vokoun was struck down by his own teammate after Atlanta's Ilya Kovalchuk scored a goal in last night's game. Defenseman Keith Ballard was so incensed that Kovalchuk was able to pot his own rebound past Vokoun---due in large part to the fact that Ballard had skated himself out of the play behind the goal line---that he swung his stick wildly in frustration. In the process his stick struck Vokoun on the side of his mask, sending the veteran goalie crashing down to the ice, with blood pouring from his left ear.

Apparently unaware of what he had just done, Ballard proceeded to swing his stick again, this time smashing it against the goal post, while Vokoun lay writhing at Ballard's feet.

Simply incredible.

Ballard then skated to the bench. Meanwhile the Florida trainer was sprinting past him to tend to Vokoun, who eventually was taken off on a stretcher, and spent time at a local Atlanta hospital.

You absolutely need to watch this video if you haven't already. 

The good news is that Vokoun only suffered a laceration of the ear, and had no internal damage. He flew home with the team after last night's game.

But in a season chock-full of injuries---and by the way add Columbus defenseman Rotislav Klesla, Carolina's Joe Corvo, and Ovechkin to that list, all from last night's action---this one has got to be THE most bizarre, and stupid, of all.


Cross Marc Savard's name off the free agency list for next summer. Savard and the Bruins today agreed to a seven-year deal, that reportedly averages out to about $4.2 million a year.

My initial reaction is a split one.

On one hand, I say good job by the Bruins keeping one of their best players in the fold, and doing so at a cap hit that is not brutal. Though hurt ealier this season, Savard has thrived in Boston, recording 96, 78, and 88 points in his three full seasons with the Bruins.

But on the other hand I say "Yikes!" Seven years for a player who will be 33 years old by the time his contract kicks in? That is a long commitment, though---this season aside---Savard has been remarkably healthy the past four years. By the end of this contract, Savard will be 40 years old. I understand wanting to lock him up so that he didn't receive other tempting offers, but seven years sounds like an awfully long time to be tied into Marc Savard if you ask me.


Saw that Devils beat writer Tom Gulitti tweeted earlier today that Johnny Oduya returned to practice this morning. Oduya and a whole host of other key Devs have been sidelined recently, not that anyone would have noticed.

New Jersey has won three in a row, including a 6-1 pasting of the Islanders on Saturday, a game that saw six of the Devils regular 18 skaters sidelined due to injury. Dating back to the end of October, the Devils are 11-2-1 in their last 14 games, making them, surprisingly, one of the hottest and top teams in the league this season.

Not sure how they do it over there in Newark, but Lou Lamoriello seems to be a magician year after year.