KELLEY: What's up with the Rangers?

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Jim Kelley

AROUND THE BOARDS: Kelley's look at the NHL

New York state of mind

Everyone has a theory on what's wrong with the New York . Here's mine: They think they are good. Sounds trite, doesn't it? Yet, think about it. The have had some success this season. At times their offense looks good and their power play, at least earlier in the season, indicated it can be productive. As recently as last week the scored two decent wins, beating the Calgary (a team that has been hot of late) and then the Edmonton in a game in which they played reasonably good defense. But then the go off and get smoked by the Columbus and you have to wonder why. Well, we'll tell you why. It's because the lumped Columbus, a third-year expansion team, in with the likes of the too many teams they think they don't have to work hard against to beat. The actually are playing better than Calgary, Edmonton and even the so far this season, but the , a team laced with supposed super-star talent, don't see that. They see expansion and automatically equate it to a team they should beat. And that's the problem with this team. Certainly there are issues on the team. The defense is one. From time to time, the goaltending has been one. So has the power play in recent weeks, and even and especially the relationship between the veteran players and the new coaching staff (see head coach Bryan Trottier's benching of as exhibit A). But the fact is that the have yet to evolve as a team. At least not as a team that approaches every game as the New York vs. fill-in-the-blank opponent and does what the need to do to win. That was never more obvious then in the 6-3 loss to the on the weekend. The played the kind of dedicated game you would expect from a still-new team looking to measure itself against a club that, in the United States at least, is the epitome of the Original Six. The targeted individuals they needed to contain. The coaching staff made sure the forwards came back to help the defense. Coach Dave King tried, with the benefit of home-ice advantage, to get the line matches and sometimes even the individual match-ups that would help his team. The did none of that. They showed up and, for the most part, expected someone would cause them to win just because they have players named Lindros, , , , , , et all. Individually, there's barely a Ranger in the lineup who hasn't been told he's great and is paid accordingly. Collectively, there's no one — and that includes Trottier and general manager Glen Sather — who has convinced them that they aren't nearly as good as they think they are, largely because they won't pay a price, at least not in terms of effort and dedication, to win. To paraphrase another New Yorker, the late Dorothy Parker: "There is no team there." Not yet anyway.

And while on the subject ¿

A couple of other Ranger points worth nothing: Lindros has responded poorly to his benching. He's not scoring and he's not working with linemates to create scoring. The power play is rag-tag because there is too much passing and not enough chaos inside the scoring zones and that comes about because there are too few players willing to go there and make something happen. hasn't backchecked with any team he's ever played for, New York is no different, but he also isn't scoring because he's pouting. And he's pouting because he's been asked to backcheck.

And in closing on this subject ¿

Were you shocked that Trottier got two games for his actions in sending out his goons to beat up on Columbus with just 2.8 seconds left in the contest? You shouldn't have been. The league came down with a similar suspension last season on Calgary's Greg Gilbert. It's not something you see every day in the NHL, but you do tend to see it at least once in the early season as the league gets out a message to the coaching staffs that blatant thuggery will not be tolerated. Gilbert sent a goon squad out early last season and got a similar fine and suspension.

Elsewhere in the Empire State ¿

If the New York can find room in the budget they may make a pitch for Florida's . The veteran defenseman could be the spark that ignites center . The two were teammates together a long time ago in Russia (Moscow Dynamo) and the are looking for ways to get more offense out of Yashin, especially with long breakaway passes from the defense. There's an argument in New York that says Yashin needs a finishing winger more than a helping hand from the blueline, but those are especially difficult to come by. If that argument does hold water in GM Mike Milbury's office, then the better acquisition would be Victor Kozlov. The would love to move this guy, but his penchant for uninspired play and injuries make it a riskier acquisition.

Nashville hangs tough

Just about everybody outside of Al Gore expected that Nashville management would fire head coach Barry Trotz, given the team's slow start, but they overlooked two things: 1. General manager David Poile is an extremely patient man. 2. The Preds aren't nearly as bad as their record would indicate. Going into Tuesday's game with the Detroit , a team by the way the Preds have already beaten once this season, Nashville was 2-6-2-4. While that is by no means a good record, the team has played 10 of its first 14 games on the road. The four overtime losses are killers, but the Preds did get points in those games. The six regulation losses are disturbing, but the majority of those were one-goal losses and that's been the main problem. Of the 10 losses this season, nine of them were by one goal (four in OT and five in regulation). The Preds have earned points in eight of 14 games so far, however. In the win vs. Colorado over the weekend, Nashville had five regulars out of the lineup and lost one of their better puck handlers when was forced out of the second half of the game after blocking a shot. As this team gets healthier, Trotz is going to look a lot smarter and that should make Poile look like a genius. Especially with six of the next eight games at home.

Oh, the Shark bites

Having caved in rather quickly against goaltender Egenvi Nabokov, the are going a different route with unsigned defenseman Brad Stuart, pretty much sticking with their qualifying offer of $1,072,000, a decent upgrade from last season's $975,000. The problem is that Stuart thinks he had a breakthrough season last season and wants considerably more. The second problem is that in every game he doesn't play, he appears to be more valuable. (Monday's 5-4 loss to the would be a perfect case in point.) So what's a good general manager to do? GM Dean Lombardi needs Stuart back, but he also needs to send some sort of message that a substantial raise is a substantial raise and the club cannot be held hostage to every player who thinks he's suddenly worth Nicklas Lindrstrom's money. It's a tough stance to take given what went on in the Nabokov negotiations, but in the end, the goalie was more important to winning than one defenseman. So you can figure the Stuart signing is going to take awhile longer. The tough thing about all of this is both sides have a case. Stuart is a top-line young defenseman who's proved his worth to the team and now wants to cash in. Lombardi has made an offer comparable with what other clubs are paying Stuart-like players. In the end, someone has to blink.

One final thought

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has been going from NHL city to city upping the rhetoric about wanting to start a negotiation with the Player's Association and saying that the current agreement doesn't work and has to be fixed. He's got a very strong point, but it takes two sides to make a deal and you have to wonder why the NHL ever allowed itself to sign an agreement that will have run 10 years when it finally ends. The truth of the matter is is that the owners signed off on this deal and now want to blame the players because it doesn't work. Makes you wonder just why they locked the players out for 103 days way back when this contract was forged, doesn't it?
Who's he?
was supposed to make a big splash in the NHL. Two seasons ago, the Philadelphia lured him out of the Czech Republic, confident in the oft-reported story that the was the best player not currently in the NHL. A season of non-production later they traded him to Edmonton for a draft choice. Edmonton recently placed Dopita, 33, on waivers. If he's not claimed, and no team is interested in making a deal for him (highly unlikely), he could well be cut. He dressed for 13 games so far this season and has yet to score a goal. He does have three assists, but is a minus-five on the team's plus-minus charts and doesn't engage physically. In six of his appearances he failed to even register a shot on goal, prompting watchers to wonder if he's even interested in playing in the NHL, let alone for the . , a player the picked up last season as a part of the deal, is currently taking Dopita's place in the lineup. Dopita is the kind of mistake the cash-strapped can't afford to make. Now they need to go back into the market for a big center-iceman and they don't have the money to pay for one. They also don't have much to tempt other teams. Meanwhile, Dopita will make $1,750,000 whether he plays again or not.
Five things you should know
1. The Chicago struggle from time to time, but they don't lose to the Florida . Monday's 2-2 tie marked the seventh straight time Florida has failed to beat Chicago. There has been progress for the , however. The previous six meetings were loses. 2. Atlanta's was a team-record plus-six against the Buffalo Saturday night. Smehlik, who left the as a free agent, put his money where his mouth is. He offered teammates a night out on his old town if they beat his old team Saturday in Buffalo. He then backed it up with his best performance of the season. 3. Calgary's , the league's scoring leader last season and the MVP as voted by the Player's Association, hasn't scored a goal in six straight games and has just one in his last 11. His absence has been noticeable as the ' offense has gone south. Even in Atlanta, it produced just one goal and Iginla didn't get it. 4. Heading into Tuesday's game, the Ottawa have lost five of their last seven starts. The issue is defense; the aren't playing enough team defense, a staple of their game last season. Injuries have also been a factor. 5. Tuesday marks the first and only meeting this season of the New Jersey and the of Anaheim since their big off-season player swap. The have lost three of five since they started the season 6-1. The Ducks come to the game on a three-game winning streak, but have lost seven of their last eight with New Jersey.
Thug Watch
Recent reports from the NHL indicate that fighting continues to make a dramatic decline in the NHL (down 20 percent so far this season when measured against the same time frame last season). Hurry-up faceoffs account for a part of that, so to does the crackdown on obstruction that allows skilled players more room to play. In addition, thugs aren't getting onto the ice as often because power play opportunities are up substantially in the still early season. However, thuggery seemingly remains unchanged. 's hit on , a hit that earned him a five-game suspension, was particularly appalling to the NHL. That's because he delivered a deliberate blow to Marshall's head without any regard for winning the faceoff (the two were lined up in the faceoff circle at the time of Oliwa's attack). Blows to the head are still in evidence regularly in the NHL despite the NHL's semi-consistent efforts to curtail them.
Say What?
About eight million wing nuts e-mailed last summer saying I was a fool and didn't know anything about hockey, largely because I predicted the Detroit might struggle a bit this season. Funny, but most of them must have had their keyboards lock up or something because they've been awfully quiet about where the stand this season. Nothing personal, folks, it's just that it really is hard to win in the NHL when you don't play as a team. Just ask the or Detroit forward , who after another loss said: "Too much individual junk. We're being too individual. We're not being team players. Until we do that, we're not going to win. "That's our game, puck control and passing, give and go and passing," Hull added. "We're not doing that. Everything's one-on-one. Everything's stick-handle around a guy. Everything's do whatever you want to do, instead of doing what the team wants you to do."
In the next 48 hours
  • Now that Tampa's has tied Phil Esposito's record for most power play goals in the NHL (249), expect him not to waste any time breaking it. The have the best home record in the NHL so far this season and their next opponent is San Jose (Nov. 15), a team that has been struggling defensively of late. San Jose also ranks 28th in penalty killing this season.
  • Look for backup goalie to start getting more starts in goal for the Buffalo , perhaps as soon as Tuesday against Boston. The young netminder, considered one of the top pro prospects for the NHL in each of his last two seasons in the minors, has a goals-against average of under 2.00 with the . Both the coaching staff and management are looking to create some kind of spark. Though offense is Buffalo's problem, Noronen is expected to pressure starter for playing time.
  • F.Y.I.
    The Los Angeles are at Toronto tonight. It would be news if it were the other way around. Each of the last five meetings between these two teams has taken place in The Big Smoke. Los Angeles is in a stretch of playing 13 of 15 games on the road. Three games into that stretch they are 1-2, having beaten the Ottawa while losing to the San Jose and the Montreal . Toronto, meanwhile, is in crisis mode. The Leafs would love to dump , but he has a no-trade clause in his contract, so they are said to be shopping his brother-in-law, , in an effort to change some of the chemistry in the locker room. The reported thinking is that if Tucker is gone, Corson might waive his no-trade, but he would never do it while Tucker is still a Maple Leaf. A Tucker-for-Marc Savard (Calgary) rumor is making the rounds.
    Jim Kelley can be reached at his e-mail address: jkelley@foxsports.com.
    Tagged: Sabres, Flames, Blackhawks, Red Wings, Oilers, Kings, Devils, Islanders, Rangers, Senators, Flyers, Sharks, Blues, Lightning, Maple Leafs, Ducks, Panthers, Predators, Jets, Blue Jackets, Martin Biron, Mika Noronen, Brett Hull, Grant Marshall, Bobby Holik, Alexei Yashin, Petr Nedved, Brad Stuart, Doug Weight, Dave Andreychuk, Darcy Tucker, Jarome Iginla, Kimmo Timonen

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