Burke Wheels and Deals for Phaneuf and Jiggy


Written on 1/31/2010 by Jim Cerny

As the losses mounted and his team sunk further into the basement of the Eastern Conference you just knew that Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke was itching to pull the trigger on something that would shake up his team. Not just something, something big. A headline grabber that would befit his DNA makeup.

On the last day of January consider it Mission Accomplished. Actually make that Mission Accomplished Times Two.

Burke announced this morning that the Leafs had acquired defenseman Dion Phaneuf (photo) from the Calgary Flames as the headliner in a seven-player trade. Shortly after that announcement Burke was back to confirm that he had picked up goaltender J-S Giguere from Anaheim in a three-player swap.

Phaneuf and Giguere. A couple of years ago Burke would have been heralded as a genius for landing this pair. Then again a couple of years ago there is no way Calgary would have traded Phaneuf or Anaheim would have dealt Giguere, two All Stars playing at the top of their game.

But the last two years have tarnished the on-ice images of both Phaneuf and Giguere as each player has seen a rather steep decline in his play. Burke is banking on both to return to form, and if that happens, he will indeed be heralded as a gutsy genius.

Of course both players will have to resurrect their careers in the crucible that is hockey-mad Toronto, while also trying to lift a marquee Original-Six franchise back to respectability. No easy task for Phaneuf and Giguere. This isn't exactly going to Nashville or Atlanta or Long Island to quietly go about getting your game back on track.

At his best Phaneuf is a monster on the blueline, a vicious hitter with a booming shot. He can be a force in both ends of the ice, a minute-muncher who is deployed in all critical game situations. Two years ago he played in all 82 games, notched 17 goals and 60 points, and racked up 182 penalty minutes while being selected to the NHL's First All-Star Team.

The last year-and-a-half Phaneuf has seen his offensive numbers decline along with his steady play in his own end. He was a minus-11 last year, and often seemed disinterested and not engaged. Did anyone say "Security of long-term contract"?

Though better this season, Phaneuf's play has not quite returned to form. Hence today's deal as the Flames gave up on the 6'3", 214 pounder who is still only 24 years old.

"[Phaneuf] is a warrior. He's got a cannon for a shot," Burke said after the deal was announced. "He plays the game hard and I want players who play the game hard because they're hard to play against."

To get Phaneuf, useful 3rd/4th line winger Fredric Sjostrom, and six-foot-six defense prospect Keith Aulie from Calgary, Burke traded away four players, losing quite a bit of his limited scoring depth along the way. Toronto sent winger Niklas Hagman (a three-time 20-goal scorer who has exactly 20 this year), center Matt Stajan (41 points in 55 games this season), rugged Jamal Mayers, and solid defenseman Ian White (a career-high tying 26 points, plus a respectable plus-1 rating) to Calgary.

From Calgary's point of view they are clearly trying to shake up the mix. The Flames have been struggling, and clearly the Sutter Brothers felt Phaneuf was expendable what with their deep backline. White will fit in quite nicely along with Jay Bouwmeester, Robyn Regehr, et. al in Calgary, though he is due a big raise at the end of the season. Calgary's inconsistent offense gets a boost with Hagman and Stajan.

Good deal from the Flames point of view, UNLESS Phaneuf regains form. Then this trade will haunt them for years to come.

As for Giguere, his future has been in doubt ever since Jonas Hiller challenged his reign as the No. 1 goalie in Anaheim a year ago. Hiller took over the mantle this season, and his inking a four-year $18 million extension on Saturday was the final nail in the coffin for Jiggy.

So Giguere takes his Stanley Cup ring and Conn Smythe Trophy and heads to Toronto to try and resurrect his sagging career. He is only 32 years old, and is just two years removed from a season that saw him post a 2.12 goals against average, four shutouts and 35 wins for a Ducks team that was run at the time, not so coincidentally, by Burke.

It will be interesting to see how Jiggy responds to this challenge. Jonas Gustavvson essentially plays the role of Hiller in Toronto, so his situation has not changed a whole heckuva' lot. Except for the fact that he is now playing for a worse team than he did in Anaheim, where his goals against rose to 3.10 last season and 3.14 in 20 games this year.

Vesa Toskala and Jason Blake were shipped to the Ducks in order for Giguere to be reunited with Burke and goaltending guru Francois Allaire in Toronto. Toskala, an unrestricted free agent at the end of the year, replaces Giguere as Hiller's back-up. And Blake is the classic case of addition by subtraction for the Leafs. His play has diminished greatly since signing as a free agent in the summer of 2007 following his breakout 40-goal season with the Islanders. Plus he wore out his welcome with his grating personality rather quickly in TO.

Time will tell if Burke mined some gold today, or if it really is Fool's Gold. But he swung for the fences in a city that demands so much if its hockey team.

Good for Brian Burke. Good day for hockey.

Carcillo's Fight with Gaborik Stirs Debate


Written on 1/22/2010 by Jim Cerny

Last night and into this morning debates have raged on in the Blogosphere and on Twitter regarding Dan Carcillo's fight with Marian Gaborik in Philly last night.

Did Carcillo go out of his way to find Gaborik during a scrum beside the Flyers' net in the second period? Did Gaborik initiate the fight by being the first to drop his gloves once the two became entangled? Did Carcillo break an unwritten rule that noted pugilists should not throw down with noted non-fighters? Was Carcillo targeting Gaborik because he is the Rangers' best player? Why didn't any Ranger rush to Gaborik's defense? Did John Tortorella overreact on the bench and in his post-game press conference? Does Peter Laviolette condone Carcillo's actions whom he, of course, supported after the game, or was he a bit queasy by seeing Carcillo pummel Gaborik, as well?

Great debates, all of them.

If you have not seen the fight yet, check it out here.

Most likely your opinion on this will depend largely on if you are a Rangers' fan or a Flyers' fan. The Rangers' supporter will claim that the blood-thirsty Carcillo could have let Blair Betts pull Gaborik out of the scrum, but instead saw an opportunity to get at New York's best player. The Flyers' fan will retort that Carcillo just yanked the first guy out of the pile he saw, and only was willing to fight when Gaborik dropped his gloves first.

The truth, of course, lies somewhere in the middle. I don't really think Carcillo is such an innocent here, but Gaborik was more than willing to have a go with him. In fact, while Tortorella sarcastically said that Carcillo "is a real brave guy" and added that there "was no honor" in what he did, Gaborik himself had this to say after the game:

"I think there was a little scrum in front and we got caught up and dropped the gloves. That’s what happens. Obviously, he got a few shots in on me but that’s hockey.”

So the guy most affected by what happened, the superstar who took a beating from a noted heavyweight, shrugged the whole thing off.

Of course Carcillo did not make himself look so good or innocent after the game when he said, "I was pretty much licking my chops" when Gaborik dropped his gloves.

As big a story as this fight is, there are two larger ones from last night's game the way I see it. The Rangers did not protect their best player, just as they have not protected their star goalie, Henrik Lundqvist, who has been repeatedly banged around by opponents this season. And if the Flyers play as they did last night the rest of the second half and into the playoffs, then they are going to be the threat I believed they could be when the season started.

Philly shut down the neutral zone, as well as the shooting and passing lanes in their defensive zone all night long. They created many more prime scoring chances with a diligent forecheck. As a result Ray Emery barely broke a sweat in a 2-0 shutout victory.

That is key for Philly moving forward. A strong team defense takes the emphasis off the team's weakest link, goaltending. Add in some opportunitstic offense last night against a hot goalie in Lundqvist, as well as some added swagger on home ice (5-0-0 last 5 at the Wachovia Center), and a real physical edge (four fights and some big bombs thrown against the Rangers), and these Flyers could certainly throw a scare into both Pittsburgh and Washington in the East.

When all is said and done regarding last night's game, that might be the most important fact, though right now, it is the most overlooked.

The Halfway Home Awards


Written on 1/19/2010 by Jim Cerny

Clearly I am a step behind here as many teams are approaching 50 games played, but let me run through my choices for the first-half award winners in the National Hockey League.

Hart Trophy:

1) Alex Ovechkin (Capitals)-30 goals and 64 points in 40 games for the game's most dynamic player on the team that sits atop the Eastern Conference.
2) Henrik Sedin (Canucks)-Career-year and it's only halfway through; has been worth every penny from that big contract signed this past summer; stunningly leads league in points.
3) Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton (Sharks)-(pictured above) maybe a cop-out answer, but how you can seperate the top two players on the top team in the West? Marleau is the league-leader in goals, Thornton tops the NHL in assists.

Norris Trophy:

1) Duncan Keith (Blackhawks)-It's not just the points (44 in 49 games), he is the shutdown defenseman on an elite defensive team. Averages 26:29 worth of ice-time. He is underrated no more.
2) Mike Green (Capitals)-League's top scoring defenseman (49 points in 47 games) does not receive eneough credit for improved defensive play. His +20 is a bit skewed perhaps because Caps score so much, but it still stands out.
3) Chris Pronger (Flyers)-Surprising that this is a surrpise pick. Perennial Norris candidate has quietly had very strong year for a team that has vastly underachieved. Is +17 on a team that has scored only 6 more goals then they have surrendered while playing in every big situation, averaging 26 minutes per night.

Vezina Trophy:

1) Ryan Miller (Sabres)-The backbone in Buffalo, leading the surprising Sabres to 66 points already. Insane .936 save percentage, stellar 2.01 goals against, toss in 5 shutouts and 27 wins. Not too shabby, as Adam Sandler would say.
2) Martin Brodeur (Devils)-The future Hall-of-Famer, coming off an injury-ravaged season a year ago, has proved to be ageless in leading the Devils to the top of the Atlantic, yet another surprising team in the NHL this season. Leads league with 29 wins and 6 shutouts, and became the NHL's all-time leader in shutouts.
3) Craig Anderson (Avalanche)-A lot of contenders here. Miikka Kiprusoff, Ilya Bryzgalov, Henrik Lundqvist, Tomas Vokoun, Evgeni Nabokov. But I go with Anderson, so solid in his first opportunity to be a true No. 1 goalie.

Calder Trophy:

1) Tyler Myers (Sabres)-Has become shutdown defenseman, playing 23 minutes a night, as a rookie. Towering giant also is 5th among all rookies in points with 27. He gets my vote, so far, because he is excelling so at the most difficult position for a youngster.
2) John Tavares (Islanders)-The expectations and pressure for Tavares to live up to his tremendous hype has been enormous. Granted, he toils on Long Island---not exactly a hockey crucible---but he has delivered. Poised and as talented as advertised, he has a rookie-best 17 goals.
3) Evander Kane (Thrashers)-Maybe this is a reach, especially with Matt Duchene, Michael Del Zotto, Ryan O'Reilly, Tuukka Rask, and James van Riemsdyk excelleing so, but of the rookies I have seen in person, Kane really impressed me. Ten goals with guarded ice-time for the 19 year-old, and he is a plus player. And I like that he plays with an edge.

Jack Adams Trophy

1) Dave Tippett (Coyotes)-Took over a team one week before season started that could have been relocated, and instilled his sytem immediately. More importantly, the players have bought in. Stunningly has the Coyotes in 5th place in the West. Just an amazing job, so far.
2) Joe Sacco (Avalanche)-Rookie head coach using plenty of rookies and a first-time No. 1 backstop to reach first place in the Northwest Division. Just a fantastic job, so far.
3) Scott Gordon (Islanders)-Second year on the job, and Gordon has stuck to his guns all the way from Day One a year ago, going with the kids and relying on a relentless work ethic. Kids are maturing nicely, key veterans like playing for him, and now Rick DiPietro is back healthy. Could be exciting second half on the Isle.

Langenbrunner Named Team USA Captain


Written on 1/11/2010 by Jim Cerny

This isn't going to get much play in the press, certainly not when considering the fact that Mark McGwire just announced that---shocker!---he did take steroids during his Major League Baseball career, but USA Hockey announced today that Devils' captain Jamie Langenbrunner will serve as captain of the 2010 US Olympic Hockey Team in Vancouver.

Really this had not been a well-kept secret. Langenbrunner has been spilling the beans to the Devils beat writers himself.

But secret or not, this is a solid choice by the powers-to-be at USA Hockey, including team GM Brian Burke and head coach Ron Wilson.

Langenbrunner is one of the most underrated players---and captains---in the sport, though not to those who follow the game closely, and certainly not to anyone within the Devils organization. Hard-working, intense, respected, no-nonsense, honest, big-game player. Those are just a few of the adjectives that can be used about Langenbrunner.

He is also a two-time Stanley Cup winner---once in Dallas, and once in New Jersey. He is now a two-time Olympian. He is a four-time 20+ goal scorer, coming off a career-best 29 at the age of 34 a year ago. He led the all scorers with 11 goals and 18 points during the 2003 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Langenbrunner's resume is so impressive. Yet so few really appreciate his value.

Now he will have the opportunity to help shape the future of the US Olympic program by leading an extremely young squad in Vancouver that will be the core of future Team USAs---if the NHL continues to take part in the Winter Olympics. And I think he is the right man to captain this band of (mostly) youngsters.

Many believed when Chris Drury was selected to play for Teams USA in '10 that he would be the captain. And though I believe Langenbrunner is the correct choice as captain, what is Drury's true value to this team if he is not the captain? Drury's on-ice play has diminshed so that you can most definitely make the argument that others---even vets like Mike Modano or Bill Guerin---make more sense on this roster.

Drury's value to this team---as a three-time Olympian, captain of two NHL teams, and with one Stanley Cup ring---seems to be as a leader, the captain. But he is not even an alternate. Brian Rafalski, Ryan Suter, Dustin Brown, and Zach Parise landed those slots.

Burke said today on a conference call, "We know what Chris Drury can bring. He doesn't need a letter."

That is true, and Drury will still be a valuable member of the leadership core of Team USA in February. But in hockey, there is something special about wearing a letter. And if this is really Drury's value to the US Olympic Team, then him not wearing a letter stands out more than if he was not selected to play on the team.

After Rangers' practice this morning, Drury replied with a quick "No" when asked if it mattered to him if he would wear a letter with Team USA. But that's all he had to say about it. Hmmmm.

Nonetheless, none of that should take away from the announcement about Jamie Langenbrunner, a well-deserved honor for an understated, but perfect, choice as captain os the 2010 US Olympic Team.

US Wins WJC Gold in Overtime


Written on 1/06/2010 by Jim Cerny

Wow! That was fun!!

Team USA won the Gold Medal at the 2010 World Junior Championships last night in Saskatoon, 6-5 over five-time defending-champ Canada on defenseman John Carlson's overtime goal. And what a thrilling, exciting, emotional, and just plain fun contest it was.

Back and forth on the scoreboard. Back and forth chances on the ice. Hard hitting. Passionate. Intense. Complete with a tremendous rally by Canada which received a pair of goals from Jordan Eberle in the closing minutes to make a 5-3 game 5-5 as the home-town fans erupted in ear-splitting delerium.

And then it all is decided in overtime. Both teams with chances during the 4-on-4. Finally Carlson hops up to not only join a rush, but lead it, from his defense position, creating an odd-man advantage. His left wing shot, after a nifty shoulder fake, is true blue.

Make that, true Red, White, and Blue.

Was it a perfectly-played game? Far from it. The goaltending on both sides left much to be desired, as did commitment to defensive play. But who cares? This was a really, really fun game to watch between a pair of very talented programs. No losers here. Not the ones who earned gold. And not the ones who wear silver today, either. And most definitely not those who were fortunate enough to watch the final act of this great tournament.

As for the Rangers' prospects I touted yesterday, well, they all delivered for Team USA.

Chris Kreider, the Rangers' first round pick in 2009, put the US on the board by scoring his sixth goal of the tourny in the opening period, a quick rising shot from the left circle off a rush. Exactly the type of goal the Rangers are not scoring enough of at the NHL level these days. Kreider's speed is well-advertised, and was on display in full last night. What is not as advertised is his passion, and he showed plenty of it on the big stage last night.

Derek Stepan, a secound rounder from 2008 who captained Team USA, was among the best players in the entire tournament, leading all scorers with 14 points and 10 assists. A real heart-and-soul player, with a solid yet-not-dynamic skill set, Stepan played big in the biggest game of the tourny last night. He took the big faceoffs, logged major time on both specialty teams, and when the game was tied 3-3 in the third period Stepan assisted on the go-ahead score and then tallied the goal that put the US up 5-3 moments later.

Not surprisingly Stepan took home much hardware following the game, voted to the all-tourny team, named Team USA's Player of the Game. But most importantly he took home a gold medal, and was the first to touch the tournament trophy.

And Ryan Bourque, son of Hall-of-Famer Ray and the Rangers' third round pick in 2009, played an integral part in last night's win, as well. In fact Bourque, who assisted on Team USA's second goal of the game and was a real sparkplug on the forecheck all night, nearly scored the game-winner off a slick move into the high slot two minutes before Carlson's memorable goal.

All in all a great night for hockey's future, and not just because I'm from the United States and Team USA grabbed the gold. It was great theater, and a great selling point for hockey, no matter the winner or loser, though I will say that I agree with NHL Network analyst Dave Starman who said that this game and tournament is the type to inspire American youngsters to play this great game of hockey. Maybe that's why a US victory was more important than a Canadian one. Perhaps.

And speaking of Starman, great work my friend. Not only last night, but throughout the entire 2010 World Junior Championships.

Just like the teams you covered on the ice.

Congrats Team Canada.

And congrats Team USA. 2010 WJC Gold Medal winners!

Gabby and the Googly-Eyed Money


Written on 1/05/2010 by Jim Cerny

Fun stuff after Rangers practice this morning as Marian Gaborik shared the spotlight with the famed Googly-Eyed Money to film a commercial for Geico at the MSG Training Center.

Now before our friends in Minnesota get all sarcastic and question whether or not it was actually Gabby looking all googly-eyed at a stack of money, let's just clarify that indeed it was really the Geico Googly-Eyed Money character sharing the ice with the league's leading goal scorer.

Gaborik did not have any lines to speak during the commercial shoot. Instead he just did what an NHL sniper does: shoot the puck, though he did have some funny visual moments, as well.

The funniest moment to me came after Gabby had already finished his part and headed to the locker room. Six men, including two with cameras, surrounded one of the goals and focused in on the famous Googly-Eyed Money seated atop the net. Clearly Gaborik was not the biggest star in the commercial.

By the way, the money---which has gained much fame by appearing in Geico ads throughout the years---has a name. It is "Cash". Not so original, but a name nonetheless. And it is transported in its own sturdy metal case. That is because there is only one Cash. No joke. The same Cash appears in all of the commercials. There is no understudy. Can't make this stuff up.

Nonetheless, I digress. Gaborik's Geico spot will run in-arena only at Madison Square Garden, so don't look for it on TV. I wouldn't be surprised, however, if it ended up on YouTube one of these days.

By the way, in a Geico/NHL-related story: Andrew Gross from The Record in New Jersey was telling me today that Geico also filmed a commercial after a Flyers practice, except in this one the stars were the Geico Cavemen characters.

Well apparently no one informed Scott Hartnell about the shoot, and after practice someone ushered the two cavemen into the locker room and told Hartnell that some of his relatives were in town and wanted to say hi! The long-haired Hartnell took it all in good fun, or so I am told.


TiVo Reminder: Tonight at 8:00 Eastern Time tune in on the NHL Network here in the States to catch the United States battle Canada in the Gold Medal game at the World Junior Championships in Saskatoon. This is a rematch of Canada's dramatic comeback and subsequent 5-4 shootout victory earlier in this tournament back on New Year's Eve.

If you are a Rangers fan, watch two of the organization's top prospects---Chris Kreider and Derek Stepan---closely as they skate for the United States. They are both having marvelous tournaments, so far. Kreider, the Rangers' top pick in the 2009 draft, has scored five goals, which is tied for fourth most in the tourny. And Stepan, Team USA's captain and the Rangers' second round pick in 2008, leads all WJC skaters with 11 points and 8 assists.

Ryan Bourque, the club's third rounder in '09, also plays for the US, and has notched a pair of assists, so far.

I'd argue that this international competition is far more imprtant to the Rangers organization and future than Chris Drury and Ryan Callahan's participation for Team USA in the upcoming Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

Tune in and check it out tonight.

A US Squad to Get Excited About


Written on 1/04/2010 by Jim Cerny

First off, apologies for my extended absence. Holidays, jam-packed hockey work schedule, then a quick vacay to go skiing last week...

But I am back in the saddle again, and quite intrigued by the team that the United States will put on the ice for the 2010 Winter Olympics next month in Vancouver.

Intrigued and excited, because, in my opinion, this team invokes that underdog mentality we hockey fans "south of the border" have not had since the amateurs last represented our respective countries in the Winter Games a couple of decades ago.

That's not to say I didn't appreciate those great US squads featuring NHL stars like Chris Chelios, Brett Hull, Brian Leetch, Keith Tkachuk, Mike Richter, and Mike Modano, among others. Or that I didn't revel in their World Cup of Hockey title in '96 or Olympic Silver in 2002.

It's just that I am a child of that magical 1980 Gold Medal, where an upstart group of college kids shocked the world with their two-week run at Lake Placid. When professionals were finally allowed to participate in the Olympics---even if the US squad wasn't quite as good as Canada's or Russia's or Sweden's, etc.---some of that us against the world feeling was gone for me. And I have missed it, mainly because 1980 was so special to me.

But this group of NHLers representing the United States in February almost has that upstart quality. Gone are most of the old guard, save for the likes of Chris Drury and Brian Rafalski, perhaps. They have been replaced with a very young nucleus that features Patrick Kane, Bobby Ryan, Erik Johnson, Zach Parise, Jack Johnson, Ryan Callahan, and Phil Kessel.

This squad will be a big underdog in Vancouver, but really this is just step one for this group. They have been handed the mantle by Modano's group and will form the nucleus of future---if there are future---US Olympic ice hockey teams.

It is a fresh and exciting time for US hockey. Will they medal in 2010? Likely not. Are they capable of throwing a scare into some teams, and could they pull enough upsets to finish in the Top Three? Absolutely.

The key will be goaltending, really just as it was in 1980 and just as it usually is in any big tournament. I can't imagine that Ryan Miller (photo above) is not the number one goalie for Team USA. Tim Thomas is the veteran here, the sentimental choice, but Miller may be the hottest goalie in the game today. He gives the US their best shot at a Jim Craig-like performance.

I like the make-up of this team. I am excited to watch it take root and grow over the coming years.

For me it's time to be excited about Team USA again.