So here goes our first installment of the Blog’s Official Q-and-A. Let the record show that we are willing to consider a name change for the right price. With that in mind, I should mention that I began the morning with a two bowls of Special K and Dunkin’ Donuts coffee. And I’m currently using a Mac laptop (hint, hint….).
But I digress. Again, since I can’t get to all your questions, I ask that you keep plugging away for next time.
So without further ado, Max, strike up the band….
Q: Sam, what is Renney thinking by sitting Mara? In my opinion, Strudwick has done nothing to prove he belongs on the ice. Having a $3 million defenseman in the press box does not seem like a wise investment, certainly for someone with a great shot for the power play. What are your thoughts on this? — Mark
A: OK, so a lot of questions about Paul Mara since that seems to be the issue du jour. Why is he sitting? Is he about to be traded? What’s his political affiliation (All right, no one asked that)? To hear Tom Renney tell it, Mara’s absence from the lineup tonight is not a reflection on him as it is a reflection on Marc Staal, who should be afforded the opportunity to get his feet wet at the NHL level; and Jason Strudwick, who offers the type of grit the Rangers need against the Islanders, and who is maybe a more natural mentor for Staal (Renney today mentioned that he thinks Strudwick will one day be a coach).
Which is great, except I think we can all agree that $3 million is a lot of money to pay for a guy who can’t even crack the lineup. We still don’t know whether this is only a short-term deal, but yes, it’sreasonable to think that the Rangers would be willing to unload Mara’s salary on someone else. I’m of the belief that the best way to move a guy is to showcase him, but it’s worth noting that the Rangers benched Aaron Ward (the guy they traded for Mara) right before they dealt him last winter.
Don’t mistake: I don’t know of anything in the works. But you’d have to think in a salary cap world, the Rangers find Mara expendable. Of course, whether other teams are willing to take him is a whole other matter….
Q: Sam, two questions:I know you always wear a brown belt with brown shoes, but what about black shoes? Always a black belt? Second, everyone always talks about veterans and how important they are to a hockey club, but all we ever get to actually see or hear are Rangers PR snippets. Can you give us either one specific instance of a veteran leading the club, or alternatively, just some general overview of how it usually works? — Doodie Machetto
A: Doodie, I wear a black belt when in fact I own a black belt, which for a long time I didn’t. Back then it was black shoes, brown belt, and hope the lighting was right so no one would notice. Or just make sure they all had plenty to drink.
As for the whole “veteran influence” thing, I agree it often can be overplayed, and if none of those guys could play a lick, it wouldn’t count for anything. But I did see plenty of the examples you’re seeking from Brendan Shanahan last season, be it in trying to pump up Darius Kasparaitis when he was struggling to get in the lineup, or pulling Dan Girardi aside when he was anxious about his first NHL game.
Actually the best example came in what was ultimately a failed effort, after the Rangers’ devastating Game 5 loss in Buffalo. In what was a very subdued dressing room, when most of the team already looked defeated, Shanahan came out and immediately talked about the opportunity the Rangers had in Game 6. Then the following day at practice, when most veterans would normally take the day off, he made sure he was out on the ice and upbeat. Again, it didn’t work out because the Rangers lost Game 6, but it did set a necessary tone.
Q: Sam, I donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t quite undertand why Hossa has started the season riding the bench. I felt like last year, besides the injury, he FINALLY became what so many teams were waiting for him to become — a scorer who is tough on the puck and in the corners. Not a 50 goal scorer but perhaps a 25-30 goal scorer given an injury-free season… So why does it seem that he is back in the Ã¢â‚¬Å“We donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t know what Marcel can doÃ¢â‚¬? category? Any insight? — Tony
A: Tony, there is no more mysterious Ranger. What’s funny is that after Hossa began to show signs of life last year, I declared him one of Tom Renney’s great successes as coach. When everyone else was wondering what he was doing in the lineup — or even in an NHL uniform — Renney stuck by him, and the investment paid off when Hossa began playing like he did.
But now he’s back to his old enigmatic self, and I’ll chalk it up to two possible reasons: One is he still may not be 100 percent — be it mentally or physically — after his injury. But the other possibility is that Hossa is a lot like Nigel Dawes in the sense that if he isn’t going to play on a top line, he’s not as effective. You wonder why that is when Hossa is actually a pretty good defensive player, (and maybe the Rangers best player in re-gaining the puck in the offensive zone after they lose possession). But just like in the playoffs last year, when Hossa returned and was invisible on the fourth line, he languished this preseason. Is it confidence? Is it not having the same caliber linemates to feed off of? Maybe it’s a combination of the two. But what I will say is Hossa now has a golden chance to regain the form that he displayed last year. And I expect him to.
Q: Hey Sam, whatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s the general consensus regarding Montoya? Is he just a trade chip to get a player for a playoff run this year? Is there a chance heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll still be here next year? Thanks, Phil
A: Phil, I suggest you look at it as if there are two Al Montoyas. There is Al Montoya the prospect, and yes, there is Al Montoya the very intriguing trade chip. The Rangers right now don’t have a better one, which is a reflection of a No. 1 draft pick who by all accounts had a strong training camp; but also a reflection of the fact that he may well be expendable as long as Henrik Lundqvist is in front of him.
I can’t tell you what exactly the Rangers have in store for him, but as with Mara, it’s reasonable to think they’d at least be willing to entertain offers. My educated guess is if they they do anything it will be later in the season, not only because that’s when the market will be better defined, but also because it will give the Rangers time to lock into Lundqvist long term. Remember after Jan. 1, the team can sign Lundqvist to a deal that won’t affect this season’s salary cap.
Since you can count on them doing something with Lundqvist after the first of the year, they’ll probably wait until then to make a decision (if any) on Montoya. Who knows what teams might offer in return for him? As for Montoya the prospect, the Rangers have him in Hartford in part because of his salary, but also because it will give him a chance to play regularly.
Q: Sam, a rumor regarding the relationship between Jags & Gomez has been floating around one of the Rangers forums which apparently originated from someone on the Rangers staff. This guy has stated that essentially Jagr wants no part of playing with Gomez, and that this is a primary factor in RenneyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s decision to not have the two paired together on the top line. — Jeff L.
A: It’s true, Jeff, Jagr and Gomez can’t stand each other. In fact it’s gotten so bad that they have actually needed a stand-in for Jagr whenever the two have to be seen together. OF COURSE, I’M KIDDING. No, I don’t think there’s anything to that. In fact, the two spent time in the skate this morning working on drills together, and then going over plays Renney had diagrammed on the grease board for them.
All that being said, I think it’s safe to say that, like with Brendan Shanahan last season, Jagr has struggled to adjust to Gomez, which is why Gomez is now playing with Shanahan and Chris Drury is with Jagr. In one sense, it’s not much of a surprise. Gomez likes to carry the puck, and so does Jagr, so it makes sense to have Gomez play with a winger like Shanahan who simply wants to set up in the slot and fire. But I don’t think Jagr and Gomez are through, and if Jagr can learn to adjust to where Gomez is going, he could have the very sort of chemisty he enjoyed the previous two seasons with Michael Nylander.
Q: IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d like to second the question about the Rangers power play and whether or not they have been deigning to work on it actively. And do you think itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s odd that the team needs StrudsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ Ã¢â‚¬Å“sandpaperÃ¢â‚¬? when they are also dressing Orr and Hollweg? Seems redundant (although obviously there is also StrudwickÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s incredible, Lidstrom-like Ã¢â‚¬Å“calming effectÃ¢â‚¬? on Staal). I donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t remember Tie Domi or Joey Kocur needing so much back-up. — Chris F.
A: Are the Rangers actively working on their power play? Yes. Are they attempting to overhaul it after two games? No.
I think as with everything regarding this team right now, there is a sense that the chemistry will take time because of the caliber of the additions they made. There will be tweaks as the season goes on, and without Sean Avery and Paul Mara tonight there will almost certainly be some new faces on at least the second power play unit. But my sense is the Rangers don’t want to stray from the framework they already have in place, and are just striving to find a groove.
As for Strudwick, I think it’s an excellent point. Do you need three enforcers in the lineup? And more importantly, do any of them really serve as a deterrent? My sense is no. I think Orr and Hollweg, and to a lesser extent Strudwick, make the rest of the Rangers feel good about themselves knowing that there are always reinforcements waiting. But I doubt it really makes a tangible impact on the other team, whether it’s one such player, two, or 15.
OK folks, if you’ve made it to the bottom of this, then you are officially ready for a nap. I’m sorry I didn’t get to everyone’s questions, but as you can see, I can be a tad long-winded. The good news is we will do this again. The bad news is you may all be sick of me before then.