Does Torts Coach #TheRightWay? Part I

No, really. This did happen. (That's a helluva playoff beard!)

As many of you know, The Garden Faithful is hot and cold in our relationship with Rangers head coach John Tortorella. While we fully acknowledge he has transformed a bunch of blue-collar guys and a world-class goaltender into the best team in the East, we also see fatal flaws in his coaching philosophy that worry us come playoff time. In other words, will the “system” he uses in the regular season work as effectively come late spring? We’re skeptical.

Accordingly, we decided to reach out to a Tampa Bay Lightning blogger and pick his brain about Torts and His Ways, in an effort find out how our head coach guided the 2003-04 Lightning to a Stanley Cup, in addition to finding out what caused his demise on the Gulf Coast of Florida. Our line of questioning would lead you to believe we view Torts as a crappy floor hockey coach who won a contest to become the Rangers head coach and is leading them to the first winless season in NHL history (well, Jason Ward may feel that way.) Instead, our inquiries to John Fontana, the managing editor of the Lightning blog “Raw Charge,” were intended to either help prove or disprove our negative thoughts on Torts’ coaching style.

What we received from Fontana was a thoughtful, educated and passionate defense of Tortorella. In the same way Rangers fans idolize Mike Keenan, Fontana shared his unconditional affection for Tortorella. That’s what happens when a coach wins you a championship. He elevates from a jerk-off to an immortal prophet. Just as we may find Fontana’s responses a bit overzealous, consider what people from Philadelphia, Chicago, St. Louis, Vancouver, (deep breath), Boston, Florida, and Calgary think when they hear Rangers fans extol the virtues of Iron Mike. But that’s what a Stanley Cup does. Every person associated with that championship becomes emblazoned in your memory as a saint.

So do we think Fontana is a Torts homer or an erudite hockey fan that has seen Torts’ coaching style breed multiple superstars and a Stanley Cup? For me its more the latter than the former, but keep an open mind who’s defending him. Regardless of what you take from the interview, it is reassuring to hear how Torts guided a team to the Promised Land.

Can lightning strike twice? We’ll find out. (Sorry. I had to. It was too easy.)

Fontana did such a wonderful job answering our questions, we’ve decided to publish this in two parts: Part One today, Part Two tomorrow before Torts returns to Tampa Bay.

(Everything in italics is Fontana, everything in regular print is The Faithful.)

For what it’s worth, to give context before we begin: John Tortorella is going to be a Jack Adams finalist. If there is a segment of Ranger fans unhappy with this, then the problem isn’t necessarily the head coach.

Q: Many Rangers fans are upset with Torts’ constant preaching of “going through the process” and not playing outside “the system.” He refuses to acknowledge the Rangers are a Cup contender. He say’s “we’re not quite there yet,” making it sound like we’re an 8-seed fighting for our playoff lives, rather than a team running away with the Eastern Conference. Did Torts say the same kind of things during the Lightning’s Cup-winning ’04 season?

A: It’s called keeping the team grounded. Yeah, Tortorella talked like that in 2003-04, and the team bought into it. Veterans like Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier speak in grounded terms in the media to this day when the team has success, and Steven Stamkos and other young players are following their lead. And there’s nothing wrong with it.

Last season, the Rangers only made the playoffs with thanks to Tampa Bay beating the Carolina Hurricanes on the last day of the season. You and fellow Ranger fans remember that, right? And the disappointing first-round bouncing from the playoffs by the Washington Capitals? Would it be better if Tortorella let success go to his and the players heads and started a Laissez-faire management style where anything goes? No. Why? Because bad habits start to form when players get cocky and undisciplined; mistakes get made, and success can quickly turn into failure.

(Editor’s Note: As the blog’s lone Jets fan, I just started hysterically crying.)

Q: The ’04 Lightning were far more offensively talented than this Rangers club. They had the Hart Trophy winner in St. Louis, Lecavalier, Stillman, Richards, Modin, and Boyle on defense. Khabibulin was good in net during the regular season, but certainly not great. Did Torts preach conservative play or did he let the offense flow? In other words, what was his coaching philosophy? Did he coach to the team’s strengths or was he stubborn and made them play his way?

A: He made the team play his way, and his philosophy was “Safe is Death”. Players were supposed to be opportunists, but had to be responsible at both ends no matter what.

You can talk about the offensive prowess of St. Louis and Modin, but they were also effective penalty killers. Lecavalier and Stillman were a strong combo but Vinny was expected to win faceoffs. The Lightning were great on the forecheck, and that enabled the offense to flow.

Playing within a effective system – and Torts system has proven he has one– with the right personnel and the proper execution, works out in the end.

Q: Rangers fans are often infuriated by Torts inability to consistently run four lines. He’s constantly switching and flip-flopping lines, even if certain combinations are clicking. Did he do the same thing in Tampa Bay? Did he shorten the bench in the playoffs? Or did he continue relying on his third and fourth-line guys?

A: He continued relying on his guys. Rolling four lines. While the line combos were consistent or had small variations, you have to remember 2004 was different (for the league) than it is now. More coaches are now constantly shuffling lines. Rick Tocchet, when he coached in Tampa (who infuriated fans), constantly did that but his management was ineffective. Guy Boucher does that now to mixed results. Generally the same players will likely end up together, but line combos remaining static isn’t necessarily going to happen.

Q: Did Torts play favorites in Tampa Bay. For instance, were certain players on a short leash if they made mistakes in games, and would they ride pine as a result of their mistakes? Once you were in Torts’ doghouse, were you able to get out?

A: This happens with any coach in any league in any sport. If you can’t play in a system that the head coach – the guy in charge — employs, or if you go loose-cannon and make ill-timed, ill-advised mistakes on a regular basis, you are going to go to the doghouse.

It’s not a John Tortorella thing, it’s a head coaching thing. Currently, Tampa Bay head coach Guy Boucher has put guys into a doghouse from time to time during the season –Teddy Purcell, rookie Brett Connolly. Were they able to work their way out of the doghouse? Yup, by playing better within the system.

That goes for Tortorella as well. Andre Roy was the player in Tampa under Torts that was repeatedly in the doghouse, and for the reasons that I alluded to above: Ill-timed penalties, carelessness, not playing within the system. Did he find his way out of the doghouse? At times. But you have to earn that right – that goes for all coaches in any sport, though.

(Read Part II of “Does Torts Coach #TheRightWay on Friday!)

Brandon Dubinsky, It’s Time To Step Up.

Brandon Dubinsky was traded to Hell today…

The trade deadline has passed and Brandon Dubinsky remains a New York Ranger. Like an alleged criminal who has been acquitted of multiple murder charges, Dubinsky has a new lease on life. He has 22 games and the playoffs to show us that he deserves the contract he was given last summer. He can show us that the first 60 games of this season were just a fluke. I believe that he can get back to being the player he used to be and fulfill his potential. For many of you who wanted him gone and had your Rick Nash jerseys pre-ordered (ME!), you may have forgotten what Brandon Dubinsky has done here over the years and what he is capable of bringing to the table. The guy has had a difficult year and it’s become easy to forget how valuable he was to this team prior to this season. This was supposed to be an obituary type article (Journalism 101…wrote this two weeks ago), but instead it’s an inspirational tribute.

Here are the Top 10 Brandon Dubinsky Moments courtesy of The Garden Faithful.

10. In Game 5 of the playoffs vs. the Devils in 2008, it was Dubinsky’s empty-netter that sealed it for the Rangers as they won the series in a tidy five games.

9. While the rest of the hockey world praised Sidney Crosby, it was Brandon Dubinsky who reminded everyone who he truly is.

8. Do you remember Sean Avery’s return to the Garden two years ago with Dallas? We all knew Avery would want to stir things up early. At the end of his first shift he stood in Lundqvist’s crease and tried to get in his head. It was Dubinsky who came in and told him The King would not be subjected to his antics.

7. When Artem Anisimov shot his infamous rifle at the Tampa Bay net, it was Dubinsky who stepped in when the Lightning attacked him. And when the refs were trying to speak to Anisimov in the penalty box (unsuccessfully, of course), it was Dubinsky who spoke up for his much less fluent teammate. (Fast-forward 40 seconds in.)

6. After a Sidney Crosby dive, it was Henrik Lundqvist who reminded Crosby to stop acting like a woman and to stay on his feet. But it was Dubinsky who reminded Crosby that no matter how much special treatment he gets in this league, he can’t touch The King.

5. Mike Richards might go to sleep next to Jeff Carter every night, but it is Dubinsky who he has still has nightmares about.

4. The Rangers were nearing another defeat at the hands of the Penguins, when it was Dubinsky who unleashed this beautiful toe drag and pass that set up Ryan Callahan for the game-winning goal.

3. When Alex Ovechkin tried to wake up his team at the Garden and hit Dan Girardi, it was Dubinsky who answered the bell as the two dropped the gloves at center ice for a memorable bout.

2. When the Rangers needed to win essentially every game at the close of last season to make the playoffs, it was Dubinsky whose game-tying goal against the Bruins catapulted the Rangers to a tremendous and unforgettable win.

1. In Game 3 of the playoffs vs. Washington last season, in a back-and-forth game, it was Dubinsky’s nifty goal that put the Rangers in front for good and put the Garden into an absolute frenzy. It remains the biggest goal of his NHL career.

If the Rangers are going to take that next step as they enter the last quarter of the season and the playoffs, it is Brandon Dubinsky who must step up and help lead this team. As you can see, he’s done it in the past and there’s no reason to think he can’t do it in the future.

Prove us right, Dubie.

Plan B Stands For Brown

While the Rangers have their eyes set on adding Rick Nash at the deadline and we are very big advocates of that, there is always the possibility that the asking price will be too high. Teams like the Sharks and Leafs will be making competitive offers as well as Monday gets closer. If Sather were forced to trade Dubinsky, one of Del Zotto or McDonagh, Kreider and a 1st rounder, it might be too much. He has reportedly been reluctant to include any of those guys except for Dubinsky in a deal. If that’s the case and Sather doesn’t pull the trigger it won’t be the end of the world, trust me.

Here is what we would do if the Nash trade falls through:

Trade for Dustin Brown: With the recent acquisition of Jeff Carter in Los Angeles and his reunion with former teammate/lover Mike Richards, it appears that the Kings are looking to shake things up. While they do love Dustin Brown as a player they feel that they don’t like him as the captain of their team and are looking to move him and ultimately make Richards the captain. Brown is available and the Rangers are reportedly interested. Having coached Brown with Team USA in the Olympics, Tortorella is already familiar with him. Brown is a Callahan-type guy and will have no problem adjusting to playing #TheRightWay. If the Rangers can make a deal for Brown (cap hit at $3.175 million for the next two years), without sacrificing any roster players or top prospects than this would be a great move. We have heard rumors of Tim Erixon and a 1st round pick going to LA which would be perfect. Given the surplus on defense Erixon is expendable. Dustin Brown would fit in nicely on a line with Brandon Dubinsky and our next recommended acquisition. Which brings us to…

Sign Chris Kreider: We keep hearing how great and untouchable this guy is and therefore if we don’t trade him at the deadline we would be silly not to at least bring him along for the playoff ride. His college season will be over the first week of April at the latest. I saw him play a couple times for Boston College when they visited UMass the last couple years and he definitely stood out. He was certainly an effective player who with his strength and speed was visible whenever he stepped on the ice. He could provide that spark that the Rangers are missing right now. He’s dominated the Hockey East Conference all year posting point per game numbers. While he has been reluctant to leave college he should know that an opportunity to be part of a long playoff run is going to be a lot more fun than whatever the hell he does over at Boston College. Sather would be foolish not to sign him.

Show Mike Rupp where the Skybox is located: Ah last but not least! “How are we going to make room for these new players?!” Is what you are probably all worrying about. Which brings us to Mike Rupp. Tortorella loves Rupp because he’s great in the locker room. But who says if you’re a healthy scratch you can’t come inside the locker room. The door to the locker room is wide-open Rupp! Come in take a seat, chill out and talk to the guys. But when it is time to start the first period, let’s direct him to the nearest elevator and right upstairs to the press box. There will be a bowl of popcorn waiting for him, maybe some iced tea, as well as the friendly faces of Mitchell, Wolski and Woywitka. Rupp has experience in the playoffs but to be honest if he isn’t fighting and plays 4 minutes a night he has no use out there. He has 4 goals this season and half of them were scored outdoors. That doesn’t help us because all playoff games will be played indoors, so therefore Rupp won’t be as useful.

The forward lines would look something like this:

 Anisimov-Stepan-Gaborik

Hagelin-Richards-Callahan

Kreider-Dubinsky-Brown

Prust-Boyle-Fedotenko

By creating a 3rd line with scoring ability we become a deeper team. The 4th line will serve as a shutdown line and Tortorella can run all four lines with confidence. Kreider and Brown would give us more offensive weapons and could fit in nicely with this group. Not blowing up the team by trading roster guys could give the players assurance that they can win the Cup without a major deal and that management has faith in them. If the Rangers can somehow make the trade for Dustin Brown without sacrificing roster players or top prospects they should go for it. With the abundance of Americans in this lineup they might as well just wear “Team USA” jerseys for the playoffs a few times, which I also have no problem with. While I am still an advocate of a trade for Nash, I feel that these few moves would maintain the chemistry of the team and simultaneously make us a threat come playoff time.

Trade Deadline Preview: Trade With Thy Brain, Not Heart

The Rick Nash of candy.

What’s more fun than a good trade? The answer: Nothing! Trades are the best! They are the most basic form of human negotiation. Whether you’re an 9-year old camper on movie night negotiating a deal that nets you five watermelon Sour Patch for three pink Starbursts (the person giving up the watermelon SP’s is getting FLEECED), or a 68-year old NHL general manager determining the future of 18 and 19-year old prospects who will likely retire after you’ve died, there’s no denying the excitement and unadulterated joy of making a trade.

It is for that very reason the entire NHL world will stop what they’re doing Monday afternoon, turn on the NHL Network, and cross their fingers for a blockbuster trade. In order to be involved in one of these highly-desired blockbusters, you usually have to be cellar-dweller looking to unload a highly-paid, veteran talent, or a Stanley Cup front-runner searching for that final piece to the puzzle. And for the first time in 18 years, the New York Rangers are firmly cemented in that second group. But then there is the paradox of success. Fans become so enamored with the players who have brought them success, they become reluctant to replace them with players who are more talented but don’t carry the same sentimental value. But then fans get upset after a failed postseason run because their team’s management didn’t Go For It when they had the chance. So which is it? Do you trade with your heart or your brain? Here at The Garden Faithful, we say Trade With Thy Brain!

So, with that in mind, here are our Five Players Most Likely To Leave Broadway, and of course our Five Players Most Likely to Arrive On Broadway.

(NOTE: I did not rank prospects for the simple reason I have not seen them play enough, nor do I know their intangible qualities or lack thereof (e.g. Why is Chris Kreider considering going back to BC for another year of college when he could win a Stanley Cup this spring? That doesn’t sound like a “winner” to me, but then again, I have no idea.)

GOOD RIDDANCE!
(Just kidding! I don’t really want you to leave! It’s my defense mechanism! I’m afraid Old Man Sather is going to deal you so I’m pretending I hate you! I’ll always love you!)
5. Sean Avery

Huh, right? I would have never considered this a possibility until I read NHL scribe Andy Strickland’s tweet on Wednesday afternoon that one Sharks player has been pushing management to acquire the AHL healthy scratch millionaire. It makes sense, really. Despite his pariah status throughout the league, a team could tolerate his antics for 20 games plus the playoffs knowing his contract expires at the end of the season. It would also get Torts off the hook for not dressing him in the playoffs when Stu Bickel is inevitably playing first-line forward minutes.

Best Reason Not to Trade Him: He’s Sean Avery.

Best Reason to Trade Him: He’s Sean Avery.

4. Artem Anisimov

Before the season started, err, 24/7 happened, I would have been totally OK with trading Artie. Now, after his classic goal celebration, exchanging of devilish smirks with Avery in the locker room post-misconduct, and of course every one of his cute, feeble attempts to speak English, Artie has become my cozy Russian bear! (I’m a heterosexual male, I swear!) His Twitter account is absolute dynamite, and stories like this make me absolutely adore him…

Following a recent Rangers victory, the media heard this brief exchange between Torts and Artie.

“Tortorella poked his head into the locker room and said to Anisimov, ‘Great f***ing game. No one’s going to talk to you, but great game.’”

That’s absolutely fantastic. And stories like that make me sad to think he might be dealt, but like we said, Trade With Thy Brain!

Artie is on pace for a 42-point season, a decrease in what we saw our cute little Russian bear produce in 2010-11. He’ll be 24-years old at the start of next season, and it’s hard to argue he’ll ever be more than a 50-point guy. The best thing he has going for him is his $1.8 million cap hit (Wojtek Wolski makes more than double that…barf). Is that enough to make up for his inevitable future as third-line center on a good team? Maybe.

Best Reason NOT to Trade Him: His cute Russian accent. Duh.

Best Reason To Trade Him: You probably won’t realize he’s gone a second after the trade happens.

3. Michael Del Zotto

Del Zaster. Where to begin? Yes, he’s on pace for a 10-goal, 35-assist season at the age of 21. That’s excellent. It cannot be said enough how valuable point-scoring defensemen are in the NHL—young ones, especially. But if you watch MDZ on a nightly basis, his flaws in the defensive zone—where in theory he will make his living—are hard to ignore. I would not simply throw MDZ in a big trade as an add-on, but if an offer comes along where a team wants Del Zaster as the centerpiece, I would give them my undivided attention, whereas I wouldn’t with, let’s say, Mac Truck.

Best Reason NOT to Trade Him: Someday, in theory, he will quarterback the power play.

Best Reason to Trade Him: He’s a hipster, techno-music loving tool who constantly is found standing in the corner as his man casually beats Lundqvist from close-range.

2. Marty Biron

I really LOVE this one. Why not? You know how many games Marty Biron will play in the playoffs if the Rangers win the Stanley Cup? NONE. ZERO. NADA. ZILCH. (I’ll stop. Sorry.) He totally served his purpose in the team’s first 60 games, but outside of maybe five more starts between now and the end of the regular season, his work here is done! (Not to mention his performances have been getting weaker and weaker by the start.) If a goalie-hungry team calls you and says they’ll give you an effective third-line player who would be an upgrade over your current personnel, how do you say no? You don’t. You just do it. And if you’re really that concerned about having a backup goalie, give the Lightning a late-round draft pick for Dwayne Roloson. Done.

Best Reason NOT to Trade Him: None.

Best Reason to Trade Him: Even when he plays well, I feel it’s sacrilege for people to chant Mar-ty! in celebration at Madison Square Garden. I want him gone. Now!

1. Brandon Dubinsky

I think you know our stance on this. We love the guy. Absolutely adore him. Would let him date our collective daughter if he didn’t already have a smokin’ hot fiancee. But he’s just not that good. And his cap number, $4.2 million, makes him an albatross. That’s right, an albatross! You can’t be paying a guy who’s on pace to score 9 goals that amount of money when there’s a salary cap. His heart and desire and love of all things New York and all things Rangers will be sorely missed, but remember what we said: Brain, not heart.

Best Reason NOT to Trade Him: Over it.

Best Reason to Trade Him: Rick Nash.

Welcome to Our Home!
(Note: I’m giving you an ass-out hug because I don’t really know you and if you end up sucking I don’t want a picture of us passionately embracing because people will always make fun of me for it. But yeah, good to have ya!)

5. Michael Ryder (Stars)

I really like this guy. He’s 31-years old, has a reasonable cap hit for next year ($3.5 mill), is on pace to score 31 goals this season, and has won a Stanley Cup. And unlike the names underneath him, he will not cost you a core guy or an elite prospect. Get it done, Slats.

4. Robyn Regehr (Sabres)

This excites me for so many reasons. First off, he’s Brazilian so I’d automatically subtract his rather feminine first name and make him a traditional one-named Brazilian athlete: Regehr. Done. And he’s not as old as you’d think (he’ll be 32 in April), and he’s a free agent after next season (with a $4.0 mil cap hit for next year). Regehr would also fit right in with the team’s shot-blocking mentality (he had 142 last season; would have been good for second on the team). Anton Stralman can suck it! Bring in Regehr!

3. Bobby Ryan (Ducks)

Remember him from earlier in the season? Yeah, I do, too. One report described his arrival to the Rangers as “imminent,” but then that whole bizarre coaching carousel took place and the Ducks got Bruce Boudreau and you never heard about it again. Well I’m saying the rumors will come back, and by next Monday at 3 p.m., he’ll have a new team. Will it be the Rangers? Quite possibly.

2. Ryan Smyth (Oilers)

Captain Canada makes perfect sense. He’s gritty, hard-working, blocks shots and would provide the veteran leadership and power play-scoring this team sorely lacks (they are awfully young when you think about it). He’s a free agent after the season so his large cap hit will be a non-factor come next October. Plus, it would probably annoy Islander fans in some way if he won a Cup with the Rangers. That’s never a bad thing.

1. Rick Nash (Blue Jackets)

Just like with Dubie, I think you know where we stand on this. Nash is an absolute superstar. He’s big, fast, clutch, talented and was arguably the MVP of Team Canada at the 2010 Olympics. He’s played on a shit team his entire career and has still put up great numbers. He would instantly become the team’s best offensive weapon (don’t you dare argue that!), and he would not only be of great help this season, but for the future, as well. Yes, his cap number is very large, but he’s worth every penny. He’s 27-years old and would absolutely thrive playing at the Garden.

“But we’re going to have to give up Dubie and prospects and draft picks and it will hurt the team’s identity! WE CAN’T RUIN THE IDENTITY! IDENTITY!!!!!!!!”

Nah, we can. Prospects are prospects. That’s all they are. They, like draft picks, are an unknown commodity. And when you have a team that sits atop the Eastern Conference and has not lost four games in a seven-game stretch since this first week of the season (yes, I did not use that stat by accident), you are obligated to package those unknown commodities for a superstar. In a sport as violent and unpredictable as hockey, you have to Go For It when the opportunity presents itself. Take the Capitals, for example. I’m sure last season many teams offered them big-time players for some of their younger, more promising guys like Marcus Johansson, but the Caps said “no” because of their potential to be great in the future. Fast-forward a year and the Capitals may not even make the playoffs. You never know when a team is going to lose that “it” quality, you never know when your franchise player will lose his Hall of Fame touch (Ovechkin), and you never know when an injury can ruin your best player’s career (Crosby). The 2011-12 New York Rangers are a known commodity and so is Rick Nash.

On this one, you can forget our trade-making motto. It’s a no-brainer.

Five Trades We’d Like To See

5. One less shade of ocean blue in Hank’s eyes for dental implants for Brad Richards. It’s painful seeing him smile.

4. Five of Sather’s Cuban cigars for a pack of gum for Tortorella. The man’s breath stinks.

3. One player’s beautiful girlfriend/fiancee for fungus removal medication for Tortorella’s thumb.

2. Wade Redden for a pair of stilts Tortorella. He cannot be taller than 4-foot-8 (see picture below).

1. Boyle, Rupp, Wolski, and Fedotenko for a roster spot for Landon Girardi, Dan’s son. He’d be far more useful than any of those four mongrels. If you put him on the ice the other team would be so enamored with his cuteness and would be so careful not to hurt him that he’d play an invaluable role on the penalty kill. Plus, he’d get to travel with team which would make Dan happy. It’s a win-win for everybody!

"(Smelly short) guy in a little suit..."

-Thomas Pock

Why Rick Nash Should Take Off His Blue Jacket & Put On A Blueshirt

As a Ranger fan, it’s hard to complain about much right now. Things are clicking, and through old school grit and toughness, our boys continue to find ways to win games. With the trade deadline rapidly approaching, every Ranger fan has been mulling over the possibility of adding Blue Jacket forward Rick Nash. After hearing opinions from peers, as well as reading reactions from fans on Twitter, it seems that most are not in favor of sacrificing Brandon Dubinsky and top prospects for Nash. I am here to share with you, however, why I, as well as the other contributors to The Garden Faithful, believe this trade should be made if the Rangers expect to make a run in the playoffs.

Listen, as I said before, it’s hard to sit here and complain about how this team is playing. However, the facts have to be faced. The Rangers have two lines that can score: Gaborik-Stepan-Anisimov and Richards-Callahan-Hagelin (disregarding the constant mix-up of lines from Tortorella, of course). The Boyle-Dubinsky-Prust line is together to essentially be matched up against our opponent’s top line, and for good reason. This is a blue-collar line, and these three forwards grind out every shift to forecheck, block shots, and take the puck away. There’s no denying the heart and guts that they exhibit every night, and it’s a testament to the approach the Rangers have every game. Our fourth line, well, let’s not even go there (I can’t take this line seriously with Bickel included). So here is the point I am trying to get at: Come playoff time, can we really compete with elite teams if we can only count on two lines to put the puck in the net?

Rick Nash is a beast. He’s a 6’4, 220-pound, five-time NHL All-Star who’s played for an expansion team with little promise his entire career. He’s only 27-years old and has yet to play with a talented supporting cast. If he joins the Rangers, he’ll not only answer the team’s request for another elite scorer, but he’ll also fit in with New York’s tough, hard- working, gritty identity. A fellow Garden Faithful writer pointed out what our first power play line would likely be if Nash joins the team: Nash, Richards, Gaborik, Callahan and Del Zotto. Considering the Ranger’s troubles on the PP, that looks pretty appealing to me.

Now to answer the questions that everyone will likely be asking. Yes, I am willing to give up Dubinsky. While he may be a face of the team and a true example of a grinder, he is simply too inconsistent and has been a disappointment with his lack of scoring. It will be sad to see him go, but he is great trade bait. Along with Duby, we will have to sacrifice a prospect, as well. I admit, it will be tough to give up Kreider. The dude is big, rough, and can flat out score. We’ll also likely have to give up either Erixon or Miller, as well. Despite this, I am willing to make the sacrifice to get Nash. Prospects are not guaranteed, and we have plenty of other young players to ensure the long term success of the franchise. Finally, the question of cap space is certainly legitimate. Cap room is going to change over the offseason as the collective bargaining agreement is restructured, and it is uncertain how it will affect teams. But the Rangers have depth, and if we get Nash, we have no problem letting Fedetenko, Wolski, and Mitchell walk during free agency. We can fill the bottom half of the lineup with hungrier young players who won’t command as much money. I don’t believe the acquisition of Nash will hurt team as much as people say.

This is an exciting time to be a Ranger fan. After years of mediocre regular seasons and early playoff departures, we are finally an elite team. We hold the lead in the Eastern Conference with a generous cushion. We have the individual talent, team chemistry and overall tools to win NOW. Getting Nash will immediately and greatly increase our chances of a long playoff run, and will guarantee the Rangers a spot among the NHL’s best teams in the years to come. Prospects are a great thing, but one can only look to the future so many times. If this trade is not made, I won’t necessarily be upset. I will still believe in this team like I have all season. However, the unknown scares me, and I don’t want to be embarrassed with a first-round upset in the playoffs. We have the best goalie in the league. Actually, let me rephrase that. We have the best goalie in the world. He is in his prime and at 30-years old (next week! Our Lil Hanky is growing up so quickly!) he isn’t getting any younger. Personally, I’m tired of waiting. I’m ready to win right now, and I believe we can with the help of Nash.

Not Just Torts…Felonies.

Tortorella

Fifty-seven games played. A 38-14-5 record has our New York Rangers not only standing atop the Atlantic Division, but leading the Eastern conference. Life is good, right? Actually, no, it’s not. Life is far from good for our beloved New York Rangers as we head into the final 25 games of the season. And the primary reason to be worried lies within our enigmatic head coach, John Tortorella. He has consistently mismanaged the personnel of this team from Day One. While he does have us playing “the right way,” err, #TheRightWay. it is certainly with the wrong players. Anything short of delivering a Stanley Cup to the Garden Faithful come June will be a complete disaster, and the fans will have to look no further then our very own Torts for who to blame.

As the trade deadline approaches and rumors continue to gain momentum, Brandon Dubinsky remains the flavor the week. As a loyal Ranger fan, I love this guy. He gives you 110% every night and you know exactly what you’re getting out of him. Of course, his major shortcoming this season has been his inability to put the biscuit in the basket. With only 6 goals on the year, Dubs has not performed up to his or our expectations. However, I think it is extremely important to look at who he has been forced to play with on a nightly basis. Paired with Brian Boyle and Brandon Prust is not exactly an ideal situation. And that’s where Torts comes in. How can you expect anyone to start scoring playing third-line minutes on a grinder line with two other players who are not goal scorers? It makes zero sense, but to be fair, very little Torts has done this year makes sense—so at least he has been consistent about something. It is also worth mentioning that when Dubinsky was struggling to record his first goal (which did not happen until the 15th game of the season vs. Carolina), Torts had him buried on the fourth line with the likes of Christensen and Deveaux. That’s a solid strategy when you’re trying to get an important player out of a slump, right?

Let’s take a look at another pressing issue as we head down the stretch and into the playoffs: Scoring. Any knowledgeable Ranger fan will concede we have a scoring problem. After watching last night’s Columbus game in which the Rangers dominated from beginning to end, it took overtime to put the final dagger in the NHL-worst Blue Jackets. And why did it take so long? Well, the simple answer is that the Rangers could not score on the abundance of opportunities provided to them. So where does Torts fit in? Our 3rd and 4th lines consist of Dubinsky, Boyle, Prust, Rupp, Mitchell, and Bickel. If you do not see a problem with that then you should stop watching hockey or jump off a bridge (or both). Also, if you do not find those lines comical you clearly do not have a sense of humor. With the exception of Dubinsky, the other five players are fourth liners at best. (It is highly debatable if they could find employment anywhere else in the NHL) So, when the playoffs roll around and the Rangers find themselves battling the Bruins or the Penguins and are desperate for goal scoring, we are essentially relying on our top-six forwards to get the job done without the help from the bottom six. Do not get me wrong here. I like Prust, Boyle, and Feds (assuming he returns) and feel there is a place for them on this squad. But they are nothing more then fourth liners. Rupp and Bickel play 4 minutes a game and are utterly useless. Why not create a third line with the potential of scoring? We have plenty of players in our AHL affiliate perfectly capable of playing NHL minutes and scoring goals. (Zuccarello, JAM, Wolski, Wellman to name a few…) Of course to our head coach this is probably a crazy idea and has never even entered his psychotic, shallow mind. Instead, he continues to throw the Boyles, Feds, and Prusts of the world over the boards in all situations and does not understand when the postseason begins it will be a disaster if we do not acquire a goal-scorer or simply adjust our anemic lines.

With all of this being said, I really hope I am wrong. I hope Captain Cally is hoisting the cup come June in front of the Garden Faithful. But the journey to the Finals is a long and challenging one. I can say with confidence that if we fall short of our goal, it will be the inability to score pivotal goals in critical moments that dooms us. While the likes of Hags, Step, and Arty have come a long way since the beginning of the year, can they really be counted on to score consistent and important goals come June? Richards has been more of an enigma than Torts so what can we expect from him? We have so many uncertainties on offense that unless Torts changes his ways immediately, I fear that we are already doomed.

-Jason Ward

Midseason Awards, Second-Half Preview…For The Boys.

It's been all smiles on Broadway this season!

Forty-seven games into an NHL season is no time to get giddy, but here at The Garden Faithful we’re thinking big. We can’t wait for warm spring nights on the Hicksville train station platform, useless white towels that we use to clean up our dogs’ piss, and insufferable trials of sudden death overtime. It’s all a part of what makes the NHL season so enthralling, as the temperature rises the season reaches a pulsating crescendo, and the smells of early spring and intensity of Garden crowds leave you knowing exactly what time of year it is. It’s playoff hockey and when your team is at the center of the madness, it incarcerates your heart and mind for its duration.

But before we can climb that mountain together, we must review how we got here. So without further ado, The Garden Faithful’s Midseason Awards.

The Bobby Holik Award for Big, Lumbering, Useless Oaf That Contributes Nothing To The Team: Brian Boyle

A perennial whipping boy of The Garden Faithful, Boyle has brought new meaning to the word “useless” with three goals in 47 games this season. He would likely be a healthy scratch or AHL regular for any other organization, but with the Rangers and head coach John Tortorella he’s a first-liner who occasionally leads the forwards in ice time. And the worst part is that this is just the first year of a three-year deal he signed over the summer. Don’t be surprised to see Torts ride him and Rupp in playoff games like he did Jody Shelley and Prust in the final game of the 2009-10 season in Philly.

The Marcel Hossa-Jozef Balej Award for Overrated Finesse Eastern European Player Who Should Never Crack The Starting Lineup: Wojtek Wolski

If it were not for Boyle he easily could have won both these awards, but instead Wojtek takes home this distinguished prize. If you’re in the mood for a good laugh, check out Wojtek’s Twitter feed and take note of how he tries to pretend he’s part of the team. It’s quite humorous, really.

The Borat/”That’s What My Dad Looks Like In Pictures From The Day Of My Bris!” Award for Big, Curly, Thick Mustache:  John Tortorella

The Mike Gartner Award for Fan Favorite Most Likely To Be Traded At The Trade Deadline: Brandon Dubinsky

It’s hard saying goodbye to a homegrown talent, especially when that player exerts maximum effort on a nightly basis, but in the case of Dubie, he’s ripe to be traded come early March. Maybe the four-year, $16.8 million contract he signed in July has been weighing on him, but Dubie has been a shell of the guy who saw his goal and point total increase each of the past three seasons. In reality, at best, he’s a 60-point guy. Yes, he has a smokin’ hot fiancee and is the creator of #ForTheBoys, but if the right deal comes along, Dubie is prime to be on the move.

The Joe Namath/Willis Reed/Mark Messier/Derek Jeter (Dry Heaving)/Eli Manning (BARF.) Award for Will Still Be Cheered In Public Even If He Commits a Double Murder As Long As He Wins A Championship: Henrik Lundqvist

Henrik has gone from great regular season goalie to elite regular season goalie this year. In my mind he’s the front-runner to win the Vezina and with his ability to make both men and women lose their train of thought when his crystal clear blue eyes and strong, toned…whoa, come on the television screen, he has easily become the most universally liked Ranger since the 1993-94 season. With that said, if he wants his number in the rafters and to never have to pay for a meal in New York City again, he needs to win a Stanley Cup. And while he has been a master of the regular season, the playoffs have been a challenge. Sure he’s had his moments (Game 3 vs. Sabres in ’07; Game 4 vs. Caps in ’09), but The King has yet to steal a playoff series like all great goalies do. This is by far the best Rangers team he has played on so it will be interesting to see how that effects Henrik’s play come springtime.

Midseason Grades (Performance, Expectations, Intangibles all taken into account)

Forwards

Marian Gaborik: A
Ryan Callahan: A-
Brad Richards: A-
Carl Hagelin: A-
Derek Stepan: B+
Artem Anisimov: B+ (the plus is for his futile efforts to speak English in 24/7 and his cute Russian accent)
Ruslan Fedetenko: B-
John Mitchell: B-
Brandon Prust: C
Brandon Dubinsky: C
Mike Rupp: C-
Brian Boyle: D
Andre Deveaux: D
Erik Christensen: F
Wojtek Wolski: F
Kris Newbury: Incomplete
Mats Zuccarello: Incomplete
Sean Avery: Incomplete

Defensemen

Dan Girardi: A+
Ryan McDonagh: A-
Michael Del Zotto: B
Michael Sauer: B
Jeff Woywitka: B
Stu Bickel: B
Steve Eminger: B
Anton Stralman: B-
Tim Erixon: Incomplete
Marc Staal; Incomplete
Brendan Bell: Huh?

Goalies

Henrik Lundqvist: A+
Marty Biron: A-

Coaching Staff

John Tortorella: B+ (The constant line shuffling is infuriating, and reports of atrociously bad smelling breath hurt him; imagine a stiff odor of garlic and tuna cascading from his mouth into your nostrils as he chews you out on the bench, shoving his thumb fungus in your face…he makes me sick.)
Mike Sullivan: Incomplete (still has yet to speak in locker room)
Benoit Allaire: A+ (Genius.)

Five Not So Bold Or Relevant Predictions

5. A key player will have his season ended blocking a shot. You can’t play with fire how the Rangers do with blocking shots and not get burned. It’s inevitable.

4. The Rangers will acquire a big-time player at the deadline but he will quickly fall out favor with Torts and see minimal playing time in the playoffs.

3. Dan Girardi’s legs, heart and lungs will breakdown after playing 59 minutes in the first game of the playoffs; Boyle will begin double-shifting on defense.

2. Carl Hagelin will continue winning over the hearts of Rangers fans everywhere and will have the team’s second-best selling jersey once he gets a real number.

1. Henrik Lundqvist will take The Leap and single-handedly win the Rangers multiple playoff series.

Season Prediction: Win Atlantic division; 2nd in East; Lose in 6 to Bruins in Conference Finals.