BY: Bruce Berlet, Special to Howlings
The 4-for-3 trade, including two draft picks, that brought All-Star left wing Rick Nash to the New York Rangers left a few openings on the Blueshirts roster.
Former Hartford Wolf Pack/Connecticut Whale forwards Brandon Dubinsky and Artem Anisimov and defenseman Tim Erixon and a first-round pick were sent to the Columbus Blue Jackets for the NHL’s top free agent, defenseman Stephen Delisle and a third-round pick on July 23. Nash, the first overall pick by the Blue Jackets in 2002, is projected to be on the Rangers’ top line with veteran center Brad Richards and speedy wing Carl Hagelin, who started last season with the Whale before being promoted Nov. 23. High-scoring Marian Gaborik could replace Hagelin after he returns in December following offseason shoulder surgery.
All that is contingent on the NHL and NHL Players’ Association reaching a new collective bargaining agreement before the current deal expires on Sept. 15. NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said Thursday he hopes the forthcoming proposal from the Players’ Association’s negotiating committee will lead to further progress being made toward a new CBA. The NHL’s negotiating committee expects to receive a response Friday to the six-year counterproposal it presented on Tuesday. The two sides are scheduled to meet Friday morning at the league office.
Players such as Whale veteran center Kris Newbury will be watching the proceedings closely. Newbury, who shared the Whale scoring lead last season with AHL All-Star rookie wing Jonathan Audy-Marchessault despite five recalls to the Rangers, could have a better chance of starting on Broadway with Dubinsky and Anisimov having been traded. Newbury, signed to a new two-year contract this summer, should get a good long look in training camp, scheduled to start Sept. 21, because of his versatility, grit and feistiness.
“It might help a bit, but you still have to go in and be at the top of your game and play your best to have a shot at any NHL club,” Newbury said after participating in the Harry Nowobilski Celebrity Amateur Tournament on Thursday at Tallwood Country Club in Hebron with coach Ken Gernander and assistants Pat Boller and Jeff Beukeboom, who moved to West Hartford on Monday. “As long as I do that – if there’s camp – then hopefully I’ll have a good shot.”
Newbury, who is getting treatments for a sore back and hopes to be fully recovered by the scheduled start of camp, is even more hopeful the NHL and Players’ Association reaches a new CBA and averts a repeat of the lockout season of 2004-05.
“It’s frustrating after having gone through the last (lockout),” said Newbury, 30, who again spent much of the summer working out extensively and participating in a camp with several other NHL and AHL players. “It’s never good to have a lockout in pro sports but obviously the players want the right deal for them, so it’ll be interesting to see what happens in the next two or three weeks. Hopefully they’ll get something worked out, and everything will work out in our favor.”
Since being acquired from the Detroit Red Wings for forward Jordan Owens on March 3, 2010, Newbury has been a major contributor with the Wolf Pack and Whale, getting 46 goals, 87 assists and 303 penalty minutes in 152 games while playing in all situations. Though he has only one assist and 59 penalty minutes in 18 games with the Rangers, coach John Tortorella has said he likes Newbury’s intelligence and willingness to stand up for his teammates, a major reason that he got the contract extension.
Despite the prospects tournament in Traverse City, Mich., being canceled because of the labor strife, Gernander said not much has changed as he and his assistants prepare for the Whale’s 16th season. Gernander is about to begin his sixth season as Wolf Pack/Whale head coach after two years as an assistant to Rangers assistant GM/assistant coach/Whale GM Jim Schoenfeld. He previously was the team captain for eight seasons in Hartford before retiring in 2005 as the third-leading scorer in franchise history.
“The mindset right now is that we’re going to prepare for the regular NHL season until we hear otherwise,” said Gernander, who has led the team to four playoff appearances and returned Monday from six weeks of vacation with his family in Minnesota not far from his parents. “There’s not a lot of huge preparation for the prospects tournament because our pro staff is the ones who invited the players. And obviously a lot of the players have already been drafted, so it doesn’t change much from my perspective.
“It’s unfortunate that the prospects tournament was canceled because it’s an excellent opportunity to meet some of those new faces in the organization and monitor the progress of the guys that you had last season. But things for our coaches are not really a lot different.”
Gernander had no update on rugged defenseman Dylan McIlrath, who had surgery on a dislocated kneecap on July 6 and isn’t scheduled to be ready for the start of the training camp. The 6-foot-5, 220-pound McIlrath, the Rangers’ first-round pick (10th overall) in 2010, hoped to compete for a spot on the Blueshirts blueline in his first pro season after finishing his junior career with Moose Jaw of the Western Hockey League and playing five playoff games with the Whale. But during a prospect camp after the NHL draft in June, McIlrath collided with forward Kyle Jean on an open-ice hit and fell to the ice in pain. McIlrath saw team doctors and opted for surgery, performed by Dr. Andrew Feldman and Dr. Anthony Maddalo at the NYU Langone Medical Center’s Hospital for Joint Diseases in Manhattan. Meanwhile, Jean was signed to a free-agent contract.
“I’m sure (McIlrath) is on schedule, but aside from that, I really can’t give you an update because I’m not a medical person,” Gernander said.
Gernander also said there hasn’t been any talk about opening Whale camp in Hartford earlier than Sept. 28 if there’s a lockout or which young players might join the Rangers’ top affiliates. Leading contenders are Hagelin and wing Chris Kreider, who played 18 playoff games with the Rangers after helping Boston College win a second national championship in three years.
“Nobody is making plans for a lockout,” Gernander said. “We’ve been instructed to prepare for a season just like we would any other season, but if they can’t reach an agreement by Sept. 15, then we’ll plan accordingly. But everybody, as far as staff and management, are preparing for business as usual. … We can’t prepare of the unknown (as far as which Rangers players would join the Whale). They might make a ruling as to who’s available to you, and that prohibit certain players from coming to us. But you can’t prepare for things that may or may not occur. Now we’re preparing for a season just like we would any other season, and if something terrible happens on Sept. 15, we can adjust accordingly.”
Gernander said Beukeboom will work mainly with the defensemen and run that end of the bench, but it might be another six weeks before all the coaches’ roles will be finalized, especially as far as the special teams, a mainstay of former assistant J.J. Daigneault, who left on June 29 to become an assistant with his hometown Montreal Canadiens.
“We’ll have to see how things evolve,” Gernander said.
Regardless of whether the NHL issues are resolved, the AHL will play, as it did in 2004-05. The Whale will play three preseason games, starting Oct. 3 at 7 p.m. against the Albany Devils at Champions Skating Center in Cromwell, the team’s practice facility away from the XL Center. Proceeds from the game will benefit Middlesex Whalers Youth Hockey.
The Whale’s only road preseason game is Oct. 4 at 7 p.m. against the Worcester Sharks at the College of Holy Cross’ Hart Center in Worcester, Mass. The Whale concludes their preseason Oct. 7 at 2 p.m. at the Koeppel Community Sports Center at Trinity College in Hartford. The game will benefit the Ryan Gordon/Connecticut Whale Community Scholars Funds, with donations accepted at the door in lieu of an admission charge. The fund memorializes Gordon, an avid Wolf Pack fan who died in 2006 at 18 and asked that a portion of the monies be set aside for his college education be donated to the Connecticut Whale Community Foundation.