Its been a busy couple of weeks in Rangers hockey, as the team fills in the pieces to become more competitive this season and prepare for a bright future. I took a couple of weeks away (look back at my last post to understand why), but I did keep up with what has gone on and wanted to post some thoughts on what has transpired.
First, about Traverse City. As you know, for most of the last five tournaments, I have been up there reporting on the games, covering all eight teams in the tournament. This has required me to run back and forth between two rinks, basically covering the prospects in two games going on at the almost the same time (the games are scheduled a half hour apart). It is an honor to do so, but basically a lonely venture, with very long hours (I go to almost all the practices of all teams in addition to the games) and lots of meals on the run. To have MSG up there broadcasting the games will not only give all Rangers fans the opportunity to watch (which is an outstanding development), but also allow me to do more of my main job up there, which is scouting prospects. Although I do report on the games, what is more important to me is the many things that may not seem important in game recaps, such as is how a prospect plays with linemates, is he taking instruction well during practices, how is he doing on drills, is he really fast, how is he positioned, and on and on; things that often have little to do with whether he scored or got an assist. Seeing firsthand, with my own eyes, in person, how a prospect is doing for his age and experience level is the best way to evaluate a prospect’s potential, which is a big part of why HF sends me up there. Now, Rangers fans will be able to get more of both the game play, as well as my scouting reports, and I am very excited for that to happen.
In another development during the past two weeks, Steven Fogarty decided to play in the BCHL rather than with the Chicago Steel of the USHL. There were a lot of rumors that the Rangers did not want him to play in the USHL, which was and is untrue. First of all, despite the Rangers general pre-disposition to suggest to their North American-drafted prospects that the CHL route is preferred (a suggestion made to their Euro prospects too), they do not insist on anything with any of their players. It would be foolish to do so, as the player could just wait the team out and opt for free agency after college. The Rangers don’t do it. Fogarty wants to maintain his college eligibility, at least for now, so he did not opt for the WHL to begin the 2011-12 season. That’s all there is to say regarding the choice of junior A over major junior.
As far as Fogarty’s choice of BCHL over the USHL, this may be more of a choice of the Penticton Vees over the USHL, rather than Fogarty deciding to play in the BCHL. Penticton expects to have seven Minnesota players on their roster this fall, including two 2011 NHL draft selections (Fogarty and Mario Lucia). Four of those Minnesotans will be Vees rookies this season. The loss of Fogarty and the others is bad news for the USHL, but this is an opportunity for the USHL to take another look at itself and determine why some of the best US players are not selecting the premiere program in the country.
The good news for Rangers fans, at least those with some cash to burn, is that all of the Penticton games are live streamed, and have been for several years. During the 2010-11 season, the company involved with the livestreaming was Neulion. Not sure when the contract expires, so it may be a different company this coming season, but the link for livestreaming for last season was http://bchl.neulion.com/bchl/.
In other news, on Thursday, the Rangers re-signed Brandon Dubinsky. The signing was at the eleventh hour, thereby avoiding arbitration that was to take place in Toronto on that day. Word has it that the contract is for four years, at a cap hit $4.2 million per year (see capgeek.com and others). According to those sources, Dubinsky will make $3.75 for the first two years, with bonuses of $.5 million and $1 million, respectively, and $4.65 million for the last two years. Unlike most other commentaries about this that I have seen, this deal (if it has been structured in the way it has been reported) makes me uncomfortable.
I am still working though my thoughts on this, but I will share with you what my current thinking is. Although there is no question that the Rangers need and want Dubinsky now, that may not be case two to three years from now. If the players that the Rangers are counting on to develop to potential do so or even come close to potential (i.e., Kreider, Thomas, Fasth, and even Hagelin), where will Dubinsky fit in? Especially if the Rangers want to keep Ryan Callahan for the long term, which is expected and, in my mind, is more important than the Dubinsky signing.
As we all know, not every player fulfills his potential, and that may be true for any of the prospects mentioned above, but Dubinsky is 25 and developed in the CHL, so basically what you see with him is what you are going to get. And when folks are honest, what you see is a second to third line forward, who can play either center or wing. Given what the Rangers have coming, not to mention who will be selected in the 2012 and 2013 drafts (which have excellent talent and depth in them), and the expected lower cap in the new CBA, despite Dubinsky’s desire to be a Ranger long-term, that might not be the best for the team. Because if the Rangers projections are correct, there is a power forward coming within two years that will fill out the first line. Thomas, if he meets expectations can play wing on a second line, which does not leave room for Dubinsky (with either Anisimov or Stepan at center). Assuming no additions (which does not happen in hockey), this scenario leaves Dubinsky on the third line, with Fasth, Lindberg, Hagelin, and/or Yogan as the other winger. As you can see, its a crowded field, and with the need to cut down on the cap (which is widely expected to be one of changes in the next CBA), Dubinsky is anything but a lock to stick around.
Sure, Dubinsky will get a shot on the first line this season, but he is not the power forward that is needed for the line with Marian Gaborik and Brad Richards. Although he may do well for awhile on that line, there is only so long that a second to third line player can perform with more talented players before everyone suffers. So, while its clear that the Rangers need Dubinsky for the next year or two, the issue becomes, should the Rangers have either paid less, front loaded the contract, or even gone to arbitration with him? Any of those options would have either shortened the contract or made it more tradable under a new CBA. We will have to see how this turns out, but instead of the elation that I hear all around me, I have this slight churning in my stomach, this nagging feeling that I just can’t shake. I am putting it out there in contrast to so many of the other reports. Hopefully, I am completely wrong and its just something I ate earlier this week that is biting back.
Finally, on the Derek Boogaard tragedy that just keeps getting more heartbreaking by the day. Addiction always reaches far beyond just the addict; it is a family illness that, as the developments of this week show, all who care for the addict get caught up in. Having been in that cycle, I know how devastating it is for everyone involved. My thoughts and prayers are with the Boogaard family during this difficult time; may everyone involved get the help they need.