The Zionist Conspiracy

A clandestine undertaking on behalf of Israel, the Jets and the Jews.

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Tuesday, September 25, 2007
Interview With The Hockey Rabbi

Between the Jewish holidays, the baseball pennant race and upcoming playoffs, and the NFL season, it's hard to believe that the NHL returns next week.

Hockey is indeed coming back, and The Hockey Rabbi, who very quickly has become recognized as one of the web's finest analysts of the New York Rangers, graciously agreed to answer questions about the Blueshirts.

1. Tell us about yourself and about your site.

I'm a Chassidic Jew who grew up in a traditional Jewish home. I became religious about 8 years ago. I'm married with three kids (Baruch Hashem). I make my living as an attorney. My father is from the Ukraine and my mother is from Poland. Growing up in Eastern Europe, my father was a huge soccer and hockey fan. When he came to the US, soccer wasn't popular at all. Therefore, he focused his sports "energy" on hockey. I grew up watching and playing hockey. I played ice hockey for several years and later played floor hockey for my yeshiva high school. I'm a die hard NY Rangers fan and my blog focuses primarily on the Blueshirts.

2. How long have you been following the Rangers?

I'm in my early 30's now and I've been watching the Rangers for as long as I can remember. I remember watching games as a little kid with my dad.

3. What other sports and teams do you follow?

I only follow hockey. Whenever my wife's complaining during the hockey season I always tell her it could be worse, I could be a fan of multiple sports!!!

4. My yeshiva high school principal hated sports, likening it to avodah zarah (idolatry). Let's assume he was exaggerating. Still, is there any value in being a sports fan? Why should anyone care whether a group of men wearing a particular jersey wins or loses?

To me, life is about balance. A happy well adjusted person makes time for his/her varying interests and needs. Obviously, you've got to have perspective: family, health and other obligations come first. That's a no brainer. But everyone needs some recreation and down time. Some people accomplish that by watching and/or playing sports. In general, I don't think there's anything wrong with that. In fact, I think the draw that many people have to sports is that sports are a microcosm of life: we identify with the ups, downs, successes and failures that the athletes go through because we all experience those same things in our own lives. When your cheering for your favorite team and/or athlete, on some level you're really cheering for yourself. Team sports also teaches us the value of team work and humility. Obviously, for some people, spending several hours watching a game would be a colossal waste of time depending on their level and station in life. I certainly wouldn't advocate cutting back on one's learning schedule in order to make time to watch a Ranger game! But like I said, it's all about balance in each person's life. I try to focus on the positive and take the good out of every experience.

5. What are your thoughts about Glen Sather and Tom Renney.

I've warmed up to Sather. However, it's been a long process! I never considered him to be as good of a GM as some people made him out to be. Gretzky fell into his lap in Edmonton. He got lucky drafting Messier relatively late in the draft.

That being said, you have to give credit where credit is due: He correctly anticipated that the new rules implemented in the NHL would open up the game. Whereas in the past, teams focused almost exclusively on defense, in the "new" NHL skilled players are of a greater premium. Sather anticipated that and took some risks by building the team around Jagr and his European style of play. Sather gambled that Jagr could still be the "go to guy" if put in the right environment. Then he went ahead and created the right environment. That was no small accomplishment. Also, Sather had what it took to trade away fan favorites and Ranger legends like Adam Graves and Brian Leetch. Both trades were very unpopular yet undeniable necessary in order for the team to turn the page and start over. Only a guy with Sather's self confidence could have pulled that off!

As far as Renney, to me the jury is still out on him. He's a very likeable man and he clearly has a good grasp of the game. The most important thing about him is that he knows how to coach superstars and the large egos they sometimes have. New York will always have its share of stars and, therefore, the team needs the kind of a coach that knows how to handle them. On the flip side, thus far Renney has had the opportunity to work with relatively little pressure. No one expected the Rangers to make the playoffs two seasons ago. In fact, no one expected much of them at all. After making the playoffs, expectations were definitely raised for last season but no one really considered the Rangers to be anywhere near serious contention. It's much easier to work under low expectations. This season will be a real test for Renney. With the off season signings of Gomez and Drury, many consider the Rangers to be legitimate contenders. The pressure is officially on! All in all I think he's a good coach and I think he'll rise to the challenge this season (and beyond).

6. Turning to the 2007-08 Rangers, I like the signings of Scott Gomez and Chris Drury, but are they really elite, star players?

I like the signings of Gomez and Drury as well. In fact I wrote an analysis on my blog containing several parts. I analyzed the signing from different angles and discussed some of the implications these signings have created. At the end of the analysis I gave the Rangers high marks for their aggressive moves to improve the club this off-season.

As to whether or not they're really elite players, I don't know! The league is changing drastically. When I think of elite players from the immediate past, I think of three different categories:

1. Gretzky and Lemieux;
2. Messier;
3. Yzerman, Sakic, Forsberg and Jagr.

With the exception of Sidney Crosby and maybe Alex Ovechkin, the league just doesn't have anyone of that caliber. The real question is, where have the true superstars gone? To me, Gomez and Drury are excellent "new" NHLers. Gomez has the ability to score 1 or more points per game which would put him relatively close to the top of the stats charts. Drury scores less but he's the ultimate clutch performer and brings tremendous intangibles to the team.

7. Are you confident that Henrik Lundqvist can play at a high level for a full season?

Yes. I wasn't sold on him until the playoffs this past spring. However, he certainly proved his ability in last seasons playoffs. That being said, the Rangers could use a capable back up. Weekes was perfect for that role but unfortunately he signed with Jersey. You'd hate to see Lundqvist be forced to play too many games down the stretch. Having a capable back up is very important even if Lundqvist was penciled in to start 70 games this year. Psychologically there's a gig difference between playing 70 games because you're an elite goalie who can and should handle that load versus playing 70 games because the team doesn't have an adequate back up. The latter creates much more stress and pressure.

8. I know there are cap considerations, but aren't the Rangers wasting Al Montoya in Hartford? Why not let him start 25 regular season games?

That's a tough call. Montoya has played well as a professional in Hartford. He seems poised to become a legitimate NHL goalie. The question is what's better for him: getting the lions share of playing time in the minors or playing sparingly in the NHL but practicing with the NHLers? Come to think of it, the real question is what's better for his trade value! Unless Lundqvist vanishes, I don't see how Montoya will ever be the #1 goalie on Broadway. Lundqvist is young and he'll be here for a long time. Ultimately, the Rangers will have to trade one of them and it's probably going to be Montoya. So the real question is will sending Montoya to Hartford or keeping him in NY be better for his trade value?

In the short run, if none of the other goalies in camp step it up I wouldn't be shocked if Montoya at least starts with the big club. I think that working his salary under the cap (should that prove necessary) may have been one of the factors management considered in deciding to pass on Peca.

9. Will Marc Staal open in New York or in Hartford? Do you think he will have an impact on defense this season?

In a perfect world, Staal would have the opportunity to play in Hartford before joining the NHL. Defense is a very tough position to master and it never hurts to take it slow with young defensemen. Having the opportunity to excel as a first year pro in the minors is also a huge confidence builder. Given the state of the Rangers' blue line, however, if Staal is ready to play in the NHL he may very well make the club. Since the first two preseason games fell out on Yom Kippur night and motzei Yom Kippur, I didn't get a chance to see the kid in action so I don't have any personal thoughts on his readiness.

10. Is the defense good enough?

No! However, Lundqvist is capable of masking a lot of their problems. Additionally, the Rangers have some forwards who are very good defensively. Chris Drury is one of them, yet another reason I liked his signing. If Lundqvist plays well and the forwards back check responsibly, the team could over come its thin blue line. The bottom line is that there really aren't any teams in the league that are dominant from top to bottom. Every team has a weakness so they're all in a similar boat!

11. The Rangers still don't have anyone to lead their power play, do they?

No not really. As Ranger fans we were really spoiled by having Brian Leetch! The team is definitely lacking that true power play quarterback. But again, it all comes back to the forwards. If the forwards play up to their potential, they could overcome the lack of a true power play QB. Another player to watch for is Paul Mara. His contract expires at year's end. Therefore, he's got a huge incentive in having a career year or he can kiss his annual $3 million goodbye! He's got a great shot from the point. Good forwards can help make the point men look better then they are!

12. I wasn't thrilled with the Rangers getting rid of Matt Cullen, but I understand that his salary was too high for a third line center. But wasn't Michael Peca a perfect fit for that role? Isn't he exactly the type of player the Rangers will end up looking to acquire at the trade deadline?

You hit the nail on the head regarding the Cullen deal, it was a salary dump plain and simple. As for Peca, I have mixed feelings. I advocated signing him. In fact I wrote a couple of articles about it on my blog (one of which was linked to by MSG's Game On!). Obviously, however, Peca posed a very real health risk. Ultimately, management opted to go in a different direction. In my mind, Sather & Co. have earned the benefit of the doubt.

Whether the team ends up looking for a Peca type down the road remains to be seen. They definitely already have enough pieces to the puzzle up front to not necessarily have to bring in that type of a player. The ultimate question up front is Jagr. Finding him suitable linemates is priority number 1. After Jagr's line is solidified the team will be able to set the rest of its combinations. At that point we'll be able to determine whether or not a 3rd line center will have to be brought in from outside the organization.

13. Why did the Rangers let Jed Ortmeyer go? Who will replace him and Cullen on the penalty kill?

I share your concern about this move. Primarily because they also traded Cullen. Cullen and Ortmeyer were 2 of the teams best penalty killers. I think the rationale is that the team is already very deep up front and has more than enough players capable of killing penalties. Cullen and Ortmeyer presumably moved down the depth chart and became salary cap casualties. The problem I have with that theory is that it looks like too few players will be relied upon to do too many things. Is it wise to have Drury getting significant even strength ice time plus significant power play time and then expect him to anchor the penalty kill? Ditto for Avery, Straka, Shanny and possibly Gomez. The beauty of Cullen and Ortmeyer anchoring the penalty kill was that they didn't get much (if any) power play time. They had fresh legs when they took the ice.

14. I had mixed feelings about the Rangers bringing back Brendan Shanahan. He's making way too much money (more than $5 million with easily attainable incentives) and seemed to lose a step after coming back from his concussion. He definitely provides lots of leadership, but couldn't we have got that from Peca?

I had the same feelings as you did. However, with the major off season moves the team made, Shanny became an indispensable leader on this team. Peca is a great leader but I don't think he compares to Shanny. More importantly however, with Shanny we have a superstar (albeit an aging one) who has successfully adjusted to playing for Jaromir Jagr. Shanny will be able to help the newest Rangers do the same thing. That's crucial as jagr is the most important skater this team has.

15. Peter Prucha was disappointing last season. Will he bounce back?

Prucha started slowly but he really came alive down the stretch. In the playoffs he provided the Rangers with never ending energy and hustle. Unfortunately his stats didn't reflect his over all contributions. What we can't forget is that this kid only has 2 years of NHL experience under his belt. He suffered a pretty serious injury late in his rookie year. It was the first serious injury he had. Not surprisingly, the effects lingered a bit. But again, he really came alive down the stretch last season. The other thing with Prucha is that I'm not sure that Renney really gives him the opportunity he needs to really excel. Compare Renney's treatment of Hossa v. Prucha. With Hossa, Renney stuck with the guy no matter what. Ultimately, Hossa showed signs of life (for the first time in his career) late in the season. With Prucha, on the other hand, the kid scored 30 goals as a rookie in his first season in North America playing with Jagr. Then Renney goes and takes him off the first line!?!? I think he's a good player and he'll have a strong year with or without his coaches help!

16. There's a huge amount of optimism surrounding this team. I think another second round playoff exit is most likely. What's your prediction?

There is definitely a huge amount of optimism surrounding this club. And for good reason!!!! Unfortunately, I'm saving my predictions for the eve of the season opener!!! Thanks for your time and a happy, healthy and sweet new year to all.