Wondering what could have been

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By Jesse Liebman

The annual NHL Draft is an event of intrigue and sometimes one of underwhelming delivery.

It’s fair to say that the 2015 iteration leaned toward the former through the first day of this weekend event.

Some teams were forced to remain sitting on the sidelines, without a pick in the first round. Others jettisoned their first round selection in the hopes of acquiring an immediate impact player.

The New York Rangers were one such team, having sent their first round pick to Tampa Bay at the 2014 trade deadline in the Martin St. Louis deal. Oddly enough, the Bolts eventually flipped the pick to the New York Islanders in a later transaction.

As Ryan Kennedy of The Hockey News points out, historically under general manager Glen Sather, the Rangers have only had 12 first round picks in 16 drafts, and selected in the top eight just once (Al Montoya was taken sixth overall in 2004). New York hasn’t taken a forward in the first round since 2011 when the club grabbed J.T. Miller, who is only just now starting to come into his own.

There is no miracle formula for Stanley Cup success, but a common theme amongst winners in the salary cap era is a combination of a core built on a foundation of solid drafting, a few trades, and a small handful of free agents to complete the puzzle.

In the case of the 1994 Rangers, Neil Smith dealt away a number of promising young players and prospects at the deadline to make a run at the Cup. In the short term, it paid off, but pretty soon New York fell victim to a seven-year (plus one lockout season) of no playoffs on Broadway, and none of the high-priced hired guns could change the Rangers’ fortunes.

In the years following the lockout, the Rangers started to show signs of turning things around. A couple of shrewd maneuvers and some late draft picks eventually panned out, but the team was still looking for a first round gem.

It appeared they found their man with the selection of Alexei Cherepanov in 2007. Scouts and pundits alike raved when the young Russian whiz kid fell to New York with the 17th pick.

We all know how everything tragically panned out with Cherepanov. There’s no way to tell what might have been; he could have developed into a top-flight goal scorer, or could have been another whiff on draft day. The harsh reality is that due to Cherepanov’s medical condition, he shouldn’t have been playing hockey at any level of competition to begin with.

But imagining a line of Cherepanov and Chris Kreider centered by Derek Stepan is tantalizing. And with the Rangers evidently mortgaging a lot of their future over the past few seasons by trading out of the first round, one has to wonder whether New York’s window for success is getting smaller by the moment.

It’s not the end of an era; it’s a fresh start

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By JESSE LIEBMAN

The end of hockey season is always tough, especially when there’s no championship to celebrate after coming so close.

For my work with the Ontario Reign, it was especially tough.

Since moving out here in the fall of 2012, a lot has changed within this organization, and for me personally. I moved on from an internship, to a part-time ticket sales job, to full-time corporate sales and media relations. I’ve gotten to know plenty of people in the front office and the locker room, and formed what I hope to be lasting professional and personal friendships with many.

Some will be sticking on heading into next year; others will not. It’s the nature of the business. It would have been nice for us to collectively go out with a bang, and for a few magical weeks, it seemed like there was a strong likelihood of the dream becoming a reality.

It wasn’t meant to be. Read the full post »

We can do better

Let’s call a spade a spade: The hockey Twitter community can sometimes be a cesspool of stupidity, just as any other Internet-based community is susceptible.

Exhibit A: I was reminded again of this truth yesterday during the coverage of the annual World Junior Under-20 tournament being held in Montreal and Toronto.

During the 8-0 drubbing that Canada put over Slovakia on Friday, amidst all of the enthusiasm and armchair GMing that accompanies this yearly competition of some of the world’s top amateur prospects, my feed was populated with a small handful of tweets that managed to kill my buzz. There were not a lot, mind you, but enough to prompt me to write this post.

Holy hell, did these people miss the mark. At the end of the day, they were describing the action of an amateur hockey game, something that in the grand scheme of things is completely trivial and has no real-world implications in terms of how their lives will be affected. Read the full post »

Carpe diem

By JESSE LIEBMAN

Because we are food for worms lads. Because, believe it or not, each and every one of us in this room is one day going to stop breathing, turn cold, and die. […] Carpe. Carpe Diem. Seize the day boys, make your lives extraordinary.

–John Keating, portrayed by Robin Williams in “Dead Poets Society.”

By now you’ve likely heard the tragic news of beloved actor Robin Williams’ passing. His death has prompted many of us to think: about his demons, his comedic talents and his legacy that he leaves to pop culture.

One of his more oft-quoted and cited works is his performance in “Dead Poets Society.”

As Williams’ character intimated, we are all living on borrowed time.

Read the full post »

Finding peace in a violent sport

By JESSE LIEBMAN

It is hard for me to reconcile what has transpired over the last several weeks in Israel and the West Bank, a continuation of centuries of violence and hardship in the region.

In many ways, I’ve turned a blind eye to it. It is difficult for me to fathom how and why innocent people on both sides are mercilessly and needlessly killed each day; it is difficult to see why there should be sides at all.

There was a time when politics and the notion of resolving conflict appealed to me. I was young and naive; in many ways, I still am.

When I was younger, I wanted to be a politician or an ambassador; someone with power and a means of effecting change for a greater good. As I grew older, that gradually gave way to a desire to become a journalist; to cast light on truth in darkness and call attention to change where it was needed.

Eventually, I grew disillusioned with that career path as well.

Read the full post »

Serenity now or: why I’m not devastated by last night

By JESSE LIEBMAN

Photo: Getty Images.

Photo: Getty Images.

After all was said and done, the New York Rangers couldn’t overcome the finesse and center depth of the Los Angeles Kings last night.

When the chips were down, the Rangers were unable to conjure up the critical goal to keep their season alive, and it bit them in the end.

Nevertheless, this was a hard-fought five-game series that left both parties bruised and beaten, although the Rangers’ ego may also be wounded.

Still, this was a year any Rangers fan can appreciate. New York’s regular season journey was just as intriguing and critical to its postseason run.

Oddly enough, after last night’s series-clinching goal from Alec Martinez, a fellow Rangers fan tried to reconcile his disappointment with the statement that the Rangers had no business reaching the final round of the playoffs in the first place.

There’s a problem with that statement.

Read the full post »

Getting back on track

By JESSE LIEBMAN

The premise for this piece was simple: I needed to start writing again.

I’ve always had a respect for storytellers. The ability to weave a masterpiece into a single sentence is truly an under-appreciated art.

It was inevitable that my various hobbies and training would lead me to telling stories as well.

What makes a good story? I’ll let you know when I have my audience hanging on my every word. But for now, I’ll settle for using hockey as the backdrop; I wouldn’t have it any other way. Sure, I could be talking ad nauseam in regard to a library’s worth of topics — subjects that have caught my attention over the years that warrant more than a casual interest — but hockey’s always been present, even if it wasn’t at the forefront.

If there is a certainty to the storytelling — and to a greater extent, the human condition — it is this: the less said, the better. At least, that’s the direction my storytelling has taken these days, now that my work is done from behind a microphone, and not a keyboard. No one wants to hear me ramble on in the midst of the play, interjecting opinion. They want the truth.

Make no mistake, the whole point of me using this blog was to give all hockey-related musings a platform; now I have one that’s more tangible. Granted, said platform is far limited in scope than a desk in front of a camera connecting me to a national audience. Baby steps, people.

In any case, it would seem that the purpose for this medium has been fulfilled.

Don’t count on it. I’m here to stay.

“The Kid” remains a Tweet-less bird

By JESSE LIEBMAN

Does a penguin squawk, chirp or Tweet? Or is it simply mute?

Since arriving to the NHL as a much-hyped teenager, Sidney Crosby has done virtually everything that has been asked and expected of him: as an athlete, a figurehead and a national icon for the sport — he has a scoring title, a MVP award, a Stanley Cup ring and an Olympic gold medal.

Yet there remains one summit The Kid has yet to conquer: social media. Unlike many of his hockey-playing peers and high profile athletes in other sports, Crosby does not use social networking tools such as Facebook and Twitter.

Whereas some athletes may use their social media pages to harp on hot-button societal issues, espouse their political beliefs or offer a glimpse into the mind of a total narcissist, Crosby has remained a non-participant in that arena.

It seems almost inconceivable that in this day and age of social media and trending news topics that an athlete of Crosby’s notoriety would be capable of shrouding much of their personal life in secrecy. Yet Crosby has managed to do just that — his image in the public eye having been meticulously crafted by himself, the Penguins, the NHL, his agent Pat Brisson and the folks at Creative Artists Agency — and the details of his private life are more secret than some Pentagon memos. Read the full post »

Draft Preview: Identifying metro teams’ needs

By: JESSE LIEBMAN

If we are to buy into the media hype, the 2013 NHL Draft, set for Sunday at 3 p.m. EST at the Prudential Center, is shaping up to be one for the ages.

Not only is the current draft prospect crop expected to be the deepest talent pool since the much-heralded class of 2003, but a number of current NHL players including Tyler Seguin and Kris Letang are reportedly in play as trade pieces leading up to the draft.

Here at Two Minutes for Blogging, we will present to you the best-case scenario that we anticipate playing out for each metro area team on Sunday when each team is called to the podium for the first time.

Read the full post »

By the numbers: Chara a candidate for compliance buyout

By: JESSE LIEBMAN

Disclaimer: I do not — I repeat, *do not* — think that Zdeno Chara will ultimately be bought out this offseason, so avoid jumping from the Tobin and breathe with me, Bruins fans.

Hockey players can be a funny bunch. They aren’t shy about showing some skin, as evidenced by Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara posing in ESPN’s 2009 edition of “The Body Issue.” Conversely, one thing many hockey players bristle at showing is their age.

Chara’s age — he turned 36 in March, by the way — was on full display Saturday night in Chicago at United Center, as the Blackhawks at times made him look less like the behemoth who shut down the likes of the Sedin twins and Ryan Kesler in the 2011 Stanley Cup Final, and more like a lumbering golem.

Since the 2002-03 season, Chara has been considered among the elite of NHL defensemen, culminating with a Norris Trophy win as the league’s top D-man in 2008-09. But as with every professional athlete, there comes a time when a player’s skills wane; one must wonder if we were watching the beginning of the end of Chara’s sure-to-be Hall of Fame career.

To wit: Chara has been on the ice for nine of Chicago’s 14 goals during the Finals, and was on the ice for every Blackhawks score in Game 5.

More importantly, Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli was watching as well. And with Boston heading into a summer of relative financial uncertainty, one must also wonder if Chiarelli has been considering the possibility of buying out the contract of his No. 1 blueliner.

In many ways, it’s almost ludicrous to even suggest that Chara could so easily be cast aside by management. Mention Chara, and the glowing reviews flood in. He is the Paul Bunyan of the NHL, his stature and feats reaching mythological proportions. But as entertaining as a tall tale may be, the truth is Boston’s window of opportunity to contend for a Stanley Cup in subsequent seasons may shrink if they don’t take advantage of a unique opportunity. Read the full post »

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