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Summer Fill: M&G Talks to Blueshirt Banter's Joe Fortunato

The Flames and Rangers have been in similar positions since the lockout; both have experienced decent but unspectacular regular season successes followed by mediocre playoff performances, and both missed on the post-season this past spring for the first time since the work stoppage. Both general managers seem to have zero awareness of the concept of budgeting and both seem to share some sort of fetish for goons, expensive defencemen, and Scandinavian goalies. In an effort to get to know our Eastern Conference parallels better, I sent a few questions over the boys at Blueshirt Banter as part of SBN Hockey’s Summer Fill series. Enjoy! 

Like Sutter, Sather’s teams never seem to be complete without an enforcer. What is your opinion on the modern day NHL goon and his place in the game?

I think that the modern day enforcer is an important tool to have on a roster. You need a guy who can not only throw his weight around, but stop other guys from doing the same. In the Rangers case, I feel that an enforcer is not only an important tool, but a vital one. In the big, bad Atlantic where you have a ton of big, tough teams, an enforcer is a pretty big piece of the puzzle-- even if they only play five minutes a game.   

The general consensus on Olli Jokinen’s time with the Flames thus far seems to be that although he didn’t done much help himself, he was also a tad unlucky and wasn’t always deployed in the best circumstances by head coach Brent Sutter. As a Flames fan, I have to ask what your impression of Jokinen was in the short amount of time he spent with the Rangers?

Olli Jokinen was a very interesting player for the Rangers. A ton of talent (which he flashed every now and then) and perhaps a sense of relief that he was out of the oppressive atmosphere in Calgary. I never saw any signs of a negative attitude, and everyone said that he was a great guy in the locker room, I just didn't see any drive or passion. It's like he didn't even enjoy playing the game. Plus it wouldn't hurt him to shoot a lot more. 

Realistically, do you expect Wade Redden to be demoted, bought out, or otherwise rid of before the season starts?

Ah, the million dollar New York Rangers question. Redden will never be bought out, because the punishing cap hit is ridiculous due to the current structure of his contract. He might (and I truly believe he will) be buried in the AHL this year. The Rangers are going to be over the cap once the current Marc Staal holdout ends, and Sather is going to need some wiggle room for mid to late season moves, call-ups, etc. Plus a variety of newspapers (including Newsday, which is owned by James Dolan, who owns the Rangers) have reported that once training camp hits, he's done. The only other option would be a trade, but no team would ever think of taking Redden. That would be like taking Kotalik and Higgins for an expiring contract of Olli Jokinen and then re-signing Joki-- ..... :)

Any word on Marc Staal’s status with the team? What is your ideal figure/term for a new contract?

The Rangers are, and always have been, a very close-to-the-vest organization. You're not going to hear anything about negotiations or other issues anywhere, it's all just speculation and rumors. As of right now, I have no idea what's going on, and I have no idea when it will be solved. I would assume somewhere around September. As for figures, Sather offered him a 4-year/$14 million contract and it was denied. There are rumors that he wants more money, less years or both. 

The Rangers have been fairly quiet on the free agent front this summer apart from the Frolov signing, what is your take on the moves the team has made and the current roster? Despite being up against the cap ceiling, are there any holes yet to be filled?

I like the Derek Boogaard move, but I hate his contract. Like I said above, having an enforcer in the Atlantic is necessary, but not at that price tag. Re-signing Prust (remember him?), Christensen, Prospal and Girardi were all great moves. Adding Biron (the Rangers sorely needed a backup goaltender) makes a huge different as well. Overall I give Sather a nice fat A- for this off season. The Frolov contract was pretty amazing too. 

In your opinion, which prospects in the Rangers’ system should fans be most aware of? Any perspective dark horses?

Derek Stepan lead the World Junior Championship in scoring this year (over 1st overall pick Taylor Hall and many other big name prospects), however Evgeny Grachev is probably the Rangers best prospect in the system, Hockey's Future ranks him as the 18th best prospect in the NHL. Kreider is another guy who's name you should keep on your radar; entering his second season in Boston College, he had 6 goals in the 2010 World Junior Championship. As for any dark horses, there are a bunch, but 'll simply go with Ethan Werek, a guy who I think has a ton of talent and potential. Although some people don't agree, I see him doing big things one day. 

After narrowly missing out on the post season this past spring, what are your expectations for the coming season, in terms of where the team will finish?

I'm probably the wrong person to ask, I called the Rangers winning the division last year. But with the addition of Frolov and Biron (and basically the same team as before), I think that the Rangers are a playoff team who could surprise some people.  

Lastly, what is your favourite moment/memory from last season, and what are you looking forward to most this coming season?

My favourite moment from last season would have to be the Rangers' last home game against the Flyers. The Rangers won 4-3 in regulation to set up a "whoever wins makes the playoffs" game in Philadelphia. It was like a playoff game. Henrik Lundqvist made some unreal saves, and it was just a great atmosphere. I'm probably looking forward to just getting the season back on track, honestly. I love hockey and August is a horrible month for me!