FROM THE CREASE with BRUCE BERLET

bruce mug shot 1By Bruce Berlet

HARTFORD, CT. – If the New York Rangers are to find a trade for veteran defenseman Wade Redden to eliminate his annual $6.5 million salary cap hit, they’ll have to find out which eight teams he doesn’t want to be dealt to that’s part of the six-year, $39 million contract he signed on July 1, 2008.

During Connecticut Whale exit meetings Tuesday, Redden said he has no timetable on when he will decide on his future.

“I haven’t even talked to my agent yet,” Redden said.

If Redden was trying to make a statement to the Rangers and the 29 other NHL teams about his desire and ability to play hockey, he certainly proved his point in spades over the last month of the season. He was the Whale’s best player and a key reason the team put together a 14-4-0-1 run from early February to late March that assured they wouldn’t miss the playoffs for a second straight year.

Redden continued to anchor the defense playing alongside fellow alternate captain Jared Nightingale and also became more active offensively, finishing 15th in the AHL in scoring among defensemen (eight goals, 34 assists) despite sitting out the last two games. His six assists also tied center John Mitchell (3, 3) for the Whale scoring lead in the playoffs while playing the most minutes, and he tied for second among AHL defensemen in the first round.

“The playoffs is the time of year where it’s the most fun to be playing and the best time to be on the ice,” Redden said. “Everything is amped up a little more, and I think that’s what guys look forward to all year long is to get in there and make something happen. As a team, I thought we all elevated and played better together down the stretch to get in the playoffs. We had a pretty good run, battling some teams (Worcester, Providence and Springfield), and then played strong in this series, too. But at other times, we just made some errors, and that was the difference.

“Personally, I wanted to finish strong. You always want to end the season with a win, but it didn’t happen this year, so we’ll move on and see what happens next.”

Ah, yes, what happens next? The second overall pick by the New York Islanders in 1995 has played 994 NHL games with the Ottawa Senators and Rangers and was in the minor leagues for the first time this season, earning a record salary in the AHL.

Redden hopes to get another shot at the NHL after seemingly discovering the fountain of youth, but it’s only one of several options. He could remain with the organization and likely return to Hartford, take a buyout from the Rangers for the $19.5 million left on his contract or forfeit the remainder of his deal and look for work in the NHL or Europe. He’s back on the salary cap from July 1 until he’s waived again, and the cap is recalculated at the start of the season. The Rangers are highly unlikely to buy him out on June 15 and take a $1,833,333 cap hit next season and in 2014-15 and 2015-16 and a $3,333,333 hit in 2012-13 and 2013-14. So if Redden wants to go elsewhere, he could not report to camp, then his contract would be void and he would be a free agent.

“Money isn’t an issue,” said Redden, who has played for Canada internationally seven times, winning two gold medals in the World Cup and one in the World Cup of Hockey. “My focus was to play well because that was the only thing under my control. I did feel more comfortable, and every shift at the end of the year is important.

“It’s a decision that’s not totally mine as far as what the Rangers are going to do with me and what their plans are. There are other teams that are starting to decide what they’re going to want to do, and I’m sure (Rangers president/general manager) Glen (Sather) and his staff are talking and getting prepared, too.”

GRUMET-MORRIS SHOWS HIS ALLEGIANCE

Goalie Dov Grumet-Morris, the Whale MVP as voted by his teammates, demonstrated his off-season allegiance during his exit interview by wearing a grey T-shirt with a small Milwaukee Admirals logo on the breast.

“They’re my hometown team,” a smiling Grumet-Morris said. “I’d got to support them.”

Grumet-Morris will get to support them for at least a few more weeks after Mark Van Guilder scored at 10:42 of the second overtime to give the Admirals a 3-2 victory over the Texas Stars on Monday night and a 4-2 decision in their West Division semifinal. Admirals goalie Jeremy Smith had 52 saves, two more than the Stars’ Richard Backman.

The Admirals open the division finals at home Friday night, and Grumet-Morris sat there’s a good chance he’ll be on hand. He and his wife, Rachel, will get reacquainted in Milwaukee and spend a few weeks together after having spent most of the last three years in separate locations as each was pursuing their career. After time in Milwaukee, they will head to Houston, where she will have a two-year research position in surgical oncology. That will come after eight years of medical school and time as a general surgeon before two years of residence for the oncology job.

Grumet-Morris is an unrestricted free agent and should get several offers, including from the Rangers, after he helped Greenville get off the best start in the ECHL and then joined the Whale for good on Feb. 3, signed an AHL contract on March 2 and finished 13-4-1-1 with a 2.12 goals-against average, .923 save percentage and one shutout in 22 games.

“He proved he’s a very capable AHL goalie,” Rangers assistant coach/assistant general manager and Whale GM Jim Schoenfeld said.

Grumet-Morris played the previous two seasons in Austria but isn’t interested in returning to Europe.

“I want to remain in North America,” he said. “And I don’t care where I play or I would have retired and found a job in the Houston area. There’s a lot more lucrative jobs than in hockey.”

NIGHTINGALE, KOLARIK ALSO HAVE TRAVEL PLANS

After their exit meetings, two unrestricted free agents, defenseman/alternate captain Jared Nightingale and wing Chad Kolarik, headed in opposite directions before ending up in the same state.

While spending a few weeks in the area before returning home to Michigan, Nightingale wanted to head east to Boston for a Red Sox game and hopefully a Bruins playoff game.

“I’ve never been to Fenway Park, and I’d really like to see it,” said Nightingale, who put a new set of tires on his truck in preparation for the long drive home. “And it would be great to get to a Bruins game.”

Meanwhile, Kolarik immediately headed west to his alma mater, the University of Michigan, where his girlfriend is graduating on Friday. He also would reunite with former teammate Carl Hagelin, the last player to join the Whale after he co-captained the Wolverines to the NCAA championship game. Hagelin completed his final course last week, submitting a 15-page research paper on leadership at Michigan via email.

Kolarik was a senior captain and Hagelin a freshman when Michigan last reached the Frozen Four in 2007, losing 5-4 in overtime to Notre Dame in the semifinals. On April 9, the Wolverines lost 3-2 in overtime to Minnesota-Duluth, which won its first national title. … The Whale averaged 5,659 fans, which was the highest since 5,845 in 2002-03 and was 12th in the 30-team AHL after an all-time low 4,188 ranked 28th last season. But bolstered by a name change from the Hartford Wolf Pack to Connecticut Whale on Nov. 27 and an AHL-record 21,673 at the Whale Bowl at Rentschler Field in East Hartford on Feb. 19, the average increased from 3,466 for the first 11 home games to 6,540 the last 29. The Wolf Pack/Whale hadn’t averaged at least 6,540 since 6,714 in 2001-02.

QUICK CAN’T SAVE KINGS AGAIN; SMITH KEEPS CHAMPS ALIVE

Hamden native and former Avon Old Farms standout Jonathan Quick couldn’t save the Los Angeles Kings again Monday night as former Kings/Rangers/Edmonton Oilers/St. Louis Blues Hall of Fame center Wayne Gretzky and his three sons looked on at the Staples Center.

Quick earned “unbelievable” reviews after making a playoff franchise record 51 saves in the Kings’ 3-1 victory at San Jose on Saturday night that sliced the Sharks’ lead in their Western Conference quarterfinals to 3-2.

A series of jaw-dropping saves came after Quick allowed six goals in losses in Games 3 and 4, and he continued his brilliance early in Game 6 as he stopped 16 shots in a scoreless first period and ran his saves streak to 71 before Kyle Wellwood scored high to the glove side at 2:58 of the second period after Quick lost his stick.

It was the first of three leads for San Jose in regulation, and Antti Niemi, who backstopped the Chicago Blackhawks to the 2010 Stanley Cup title but wasn’t re-signed because of salary cap problems, got the Sharks to overtime when he made a sprawling stop on Ryan Smyth racing down the slot with 27.5 seconds left and smothering Dustin Brown’s bid with 6.9 seconds to go.

Those game-savers came as the Sharks were killing a five-minute charging major to Jamie McGinn, who also got a game misconduct for slamming Brad Richardson into the boards with 3:23 to go in regulation.

Then 59 seconds after killing off the major early in overtime, Sharks captain Joe Thornton scored his first playoff winner at 2:22, putting a close-in turnaround rebound past Quick (31 saves) off Patrick Marleau’s deflection after a strong rush around the net but bad pass by Devin Setoguchi. Though Niemi (26 saves) was pulled twice in six games, including after allowing three goals on four shots in Game 5, the Kings still haven’t won a playoff series since 2001.

“I don’t really know what happened (on the winner),” said Thornton, who assisted on Wellwood’s goal. “I have no idea who shot it, but it just spun to me, I got my stick on it and swiped it in. I think I was pretty lucky, but Jonathan Quick played just great. But Niemi is the backbone of our team.”

Another Connecticut product, Ben Smith of Avon, kept the Blackhawks alive Sunday night when he scored 15:30 into overtime to give the defending champions a 4-3 victory over the top-seeded Vancouver Canucks, forcing a Game 7 on Tuesday night in British Columbia. Smith is coached by former Hartford Whalers defenseman Joel Quenneville after playing for former Whalers center Tom Earl at Westminster School in Simsbury.

Smith’s backhanded rebound goal past Roberto Luongo after scoring one goal in six regular-season games continued a remarkable comeback for the Blackhawks, who got to the verge of becoming only the fourth team in NHL history to win four in a row after three losses.

“He seems to know the right place to go to get rewarded,” Quenneville said of Smith.

Smith said the two goals he scored in Game 2 gave him the confidence he can contribute at the highest level after spending most of the season with the AHL’s Rockford IceHogs, where he had 19 goals and 12 assists in 63 games as a rookie after four years at Boston College, which won the national title in 2010.

“I’m just grateful,” Smith said. “The guys have been so good to me, and I’m really grateful I could contribute that way, help the season move on a few more days and see what happens.”

CONTRACT STATUS OF WHALE PLAYERS FOR 2011-12 SEASON

Signed: D Lee Baldwin, LW Chris Chappell, D Michael Del Zotto, F Evgeny Grachev, LW Tommy Grant, LW Carl Hagelin, D Sam Klassen, D Tomas Kundratek, D Ryan McDonagh, G Jason Missiaen, C Kris Newbury, D Jyri Niemi, D Wade Redden, G Cam Talbot, D Pavel Valentenko, W Mats Zuccarello, D Dylan McIlrath*, LW Ryan Bourque**

Restricted free agent: D Stu Bickel, LW Devin DiDiomete, D Tysen Dowzak, F Brodie Dupont, G Chad Johnson, F Matt McCue, C John Mitchell, LW Justin Soryal, RW Dale Weise

Unrestricted free agent: RW Derek Couture, C Ryan Garlock, G Dov Grumet-Morris, LW Kyle Kerbashian, W Chad Kolarik, C Francis Lemieux, LW Chris McKelvie, D Jared Nightingale***, D Blake Parlett, F Kelsey Tessier, RW Marc-Oliver Vallerand, C Mark Voakes, C Todd White, C Shayne Wiebe, RW Jeremy Williams, F Brandon Wong, LW Andrew Yogan

* McIlrath signed an entry-level contract but will be too young (19) to play for the Whale next season, so he has to make the Rangers or return to his junior team, Moose Jaw in the Western Hockey League

** Bourque signed an entry-level deal and could play with the Whale next season.

*** The Whale have control of an option on Nightingale for next season

2 Responses to FROM THE CREASE with BRUCE BERLET

  1. Andrew Yogan was a NYR draftee in 2010 and is only 19.
    While he does not have a pro contract, I believe he is bound to the Rangers until just before the ’12 draft.
    Similarly, my understanding is that NYR have into June to sign ’09 Junior draftees Ethan Werek, Roman Horak, Dan Maggio, Scott Stajcer; also ‘maybe 2010 draftees 20-year old Jason Wilson, and unsure about the cut-off, Randy McNaught, who turns 20 in August. And they should have until August for Max Campbell, just completed his NCAA eligibility.

    • Here’s how I understand this…The rights to a player after he is drafted have to do with what he does, and what the Rangers do, rather than his age. The team has the ability to keep a player’s rights for at least 2 years from his draft date (by giving him a “Bona Fide Offer after one year) if they want to.

      Players rights for those who “defect” or who go to college can be held onto even longer without having to sign them.

      Basically, all of the remaining unsigned 2009 draftees need to be signed, or they are free. Werek, Horak, Maggio, and Stajcer have no special circumstance, so they would have to be signed for the Rangers to keep them beyond this summer.

      The 2010 draftees can all be retained for at least another year, provided the Rangers give them Bona Fide Offers to them to extend the rights.