Matthew Lombardi

Rangers’ Lombardi goes the Mueller route, rejects AHL assignment


This summer, ex-NHLers Matthew Lombardi and Peter Mueller left the Swiss league to attempt comebacks with the Rangers and Blues, respectively.

Now it sounds like both are headed back across the pond.

Following news that Mueller, who was released by St. Louis, signed with the NLA’s Kloten Flyers, TVA reported that Lombardi refused his assignment to AHL Hartford — meaning a return to his old Swiss club, Geneve-Servette HC, could be in the cards.

Lombardi, 32, looked to have a decent shot of cracking the Rangers this year, especially after center Derek Stepan went down to injury in the preseason. But Lombardi suffered a lower-body injury of his own during camp and was unable to make his way up the depth chart, and didn’t want to toil in the minors for another crack at the NHL.

It’s very similar to the Mueller situation in St. Louis. From’s Lou Korac:

“He doesn’t want to go to [AHL] Chicago,” [Blues GM Dough] Armstrong said of Mueller, who played in four preseason games with the Blues. “We put him back on unconditional waivers today. If he clears tomorrow, we’ll talk one more time and make sure that he no longer has the desire to stay in North America. He’ll be released out of his contract, no buyout.”

Mueller was originally penciled into the Blues’ top nine but didn’t make the cut as camp progressed. But the team signed him with the assumption that Mueller would report to Chicago should be not make the opening night roster and work his way back to St. Louis.

“That was a difficult one obviously for the organization and for Peter,” Armstrong said. “We thought he had a good camp. He was in our group of nine players that were going to start in our first three lines and we viewed him as a top nine player. He just doesn’t feel like he has the desire to go to the American Hockey League at this time and work his way back up. I have to respect that and we’ll move forward with that.”

Comeback stalled: Rangers’ Lombardi on waivers


Matthew Lombardi was hoping to return to the NHL after a strong season in Switzerland, but he might have to work his way up from the minors. The New York Rangers have placed him on waivers, according to Newsday.

Any team that claims Lombardi will have to inherit his two-year, $1.6 million contract. It’s a one-way deal, so he’ll be expensive by AHL standards if that’s where he ends up.

The 32-year-old’s comeback attempt hit a road block when he was forced to miss the start of training camp due to a groin injury. All the same, it’s telling that there’s not a place for the center on the Rangers’ opening game lineup even after Derek Stepan suffered a broken fibula.

The Rangers have also waived defensemen Michael Kostka and Steven Kampfer as well as goalie Cedric Desjardins. Those moves have set the stage for Matt Hunwick to enter the season as New York’s seventh blueliner.

Risk Factors: New York Rangers edition


From the same bunch of pessimists who brought you “Why your team won’t win the Stanley Cup,” PHT presents a new series called “Risk Factors,” i.e. three reasons to be worried about each NHL team in 2014-15.

New York Rangers

1. Depth at center, or lack thereof. Two key middle men from last year’s Stanley Cup Finalist are gone: Brad Richards (bought out, now in Chicago) and Brian Boyle (free agent, signed in Tampa Bay). A third, Derek Stepan, will miss the first 4-6 weeks with a fractured fibula. Even prior to the injury, New York’s center depth was going to be an issue; the Blueshirts had Stepan, ideally a No. 2 guy, masquerading as a top liner and Derick Brassard, who thrived as a No. 3 last year, playing as a No. 2.

So now what?

Head coach Alain Vigneault could be forced to open the season with Brassard, Dominic Moore and a trio of 22-year-olds — J.T. Miller, Kevin Hayes and Oscar Lindberg — vying for minutes at center. (Veteran Matthew Lombardi, signed out of the Swiss league to provide depth down the middle, is sidelined indefinitely with a groin injury.)

Vigneault admitted he has a tall task at hand, especially trying to replace what Stepan brought to the table.

“When you think of Step, you think five-on-five, you think penalty kill, you think power play. Someone else is going to get those minutes,” Vigneault said, per the New York Daily news. “We’ll see who steps up.”

How the Rangers deal with their center situation will be a two-part act. The first part is surviving the length of time Stepan is out, and it’s fair to suggest he could miss all nine games in the month of October. It’ll be tough, but not impossible; the Rangers can band-aid the problem (heck, Marty St. Louis already offered to play there) and even if they do struggle, no biggie — the Blueshirts won just three of their first nine games last year, and rebounded fine.

The second act, though — a season-long lack of center depth — will be a problem. New York didn’t have a bonafide No. 1 last year but advanced to the Cup Final with a committee approach; problem is, that committee was exposed against the Kings, and now it’s thinned out.

More importantly, the Rangers still lack an elite center and don’t have anybody to match the likes of Sidney Crosby, Ryan Getzlaf, Jonathan Toews, Claude Giroux, Tyler Seguin, Patrice Bergeron and Anze Kopitar. Just how crucial is having top-end talent atop your depth chart?

“If you want to be one of the elite teams,” Stars GM Jim Nill told the CP, “you have to have it.”

2. Can they still roll four?

Last year, much of New York’s success came from its ability to roll four forward lines — especially in the playoffs. From the New York Post:

“I think if you look at the teams that have had success and have won the Cup since the [2004-05] lockout, you see those teams have had depth and have been able to play their depth,” Vigneault said Saturday.

“From personal experience, I know when we [the Canucks] lost the Cup to Boston, Boston was a four-line team — probably the best fourth line, I felt, in the league,” the coach said, referring to the unit that generally featured Gregory Campbell, Daniel Paille and Shawn Thornton. “We didn’t have four lines.

“From that experience, if you can play four lines and manage the minutes, I think you can play at a higher tempo and faster paced game.”

Depth up front really was the Rangers’ calling card last postseason. Brassard, Mats Zuccarello and Benoit Pouliot were arguably the postseason’s best third line and in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final, it was the fourth line of Boyle, Moore and Derek Dorsett that scored the series-winning goal while providing countless shifts of dynamic forechecking.

Cap issues and free agency hurt New York’s depth. Boyle, Pouliot and Dorsett are all gone and the Richards departure bumped Brassard into a different role. Without much money for replacements, the Rangers acquired the likes of Lombardi, Ryan Malone, Tanner Glass, Lee Stempniak and Chris Mueller on the cheap; there’s experience in that group, but also a large number of question marks.

3. That blueline… is not fresh.

Perhaps nobody’s reputation took a bigger hit last spring that Dan Girardi, who opened the Stanley Cup Final with an egregious mistake — and things didn’t get much better from there. The knocks on Girardi by the end of the five-game ouster all sounded the same: he looked slow, fought the puck and lost too many physical battles, leaving many to wonder if 1) years of heavy minutes under John Tortorella wore him down, and 2) if the Rangers made a poor decision inking Girardi to a six-year extension in February.

So then they went out and got even older on D.

New York’s big free agent acquisition was Dan Boyle, signed from San Jose to replace the outgoing Anton Stralman. The irony was that Boyle, 38, was allowed to walk from San Jose following a playoff series against — guess who! — the Los Angeles Kings, in which Boyle looked a step slow and unable to contain the Kings forwards.

(For Boyle, replacing Stralman is no small task; the Swedish rearguard averaged nearly 20 minutes per game during the regular season, then finished fourth among all Rangers in playoff TOI.)

Overall, the Rangers’ blueline is not a young group. Boyle and Girardi are already on the wrong side of 30 and Kevin Klein gets there in December. Marc Staal, a pending UFA, turns 28 in January — meaning the young guns of the group are 25-year-old Ryan McDonagh and 23-year-old John Moore.

Now, McDonagh is a star in the making and likely the Rangers’ future captain; he’ll anchor the group for this season and beyond. But it’s the parts surrounding him which could be problematic — after the top-six of McDonagh, Boyle, Girardi, Klein, Moore, Staal, the Rangers’ reserve depth consists of a trio of journeyman NHLers in Steven Kampfer, Matt Hunwick and Mike Kostka.

St. Louis offers move to center in wake of Stepan injury


Martin St. Louis, who has played the wing almost exclusively over his 15-year-career, is willing to make a move to the middle if the Rangers need it.

From the New York Daily News:

Alain Vigneault received a text message Wednesday night from veteran Rangers right wing Martin St. Louis, hours after top center Derek Stepan had broken his left leg during training camp.

“If you need me in the middle, I’m ready,” St. Louis wrote, knowing Stepan will be out 4-6 weeks.

While Vigneault said thanks but no thanks — for now — St. Louis’ offer underscores how desperate things are for the Rangers down the middle. With Stepan hurt, Brad Richards in Chicago and Brian Boyle in Tampa Bay, the Blueshirts will star the season without three of their top centers from last year’s Stanley Cup run (only Derick Brassard and Dominic Moore remain).

It’s expected that former first-rounder J.T. Miller will get a shot at an increased role in light of the Stepan injury, as will veteran Matthew Lombardi.

Hayes sees opportunity with Rangers


With the New York Rangers losing forwards Brad Richards, Benoit Pouliot, Brian Boyle and Derek Dorsett newcomer Kevin Hayes believes there’s an opportunity to be had at training camp.

The Boston College product, who chose to sign a two-year, $7.5 million contract with the Rangers earlier this month, spoke to the Rangers website about his decision.

“At the end of my BC career we sat down with my family and thought that it was best to explore other options,” he said. “It wasn’t really hectic cause I wasn’t allowed to talk to anyone until Aug. 15 so I basically had a free three months to train, hangout and relax. But ever since Aug. 15, it’s been pretty hectic.

“Ultimately I chose the Rangers and I’m extremely excited about it.”

Hayes admitted former Boston College teammate, and current Ranger, Chris Kreider called him to sell him on New York while he was making his decision.

“He called me Aug. 15 late and kind of just broke down everything about the city the good, the bad and stuff,” he said. “I only talked to him a couple times on the phone.

“Kreids was my line mate the year we won the national championship and it’s always nice to have one of your good buddies on the team. Hopefully he can show me the ropes.”

The 6-foot-3, 205-pound left-handed shot scored 27 goals and 65 points in 40 games during his final season at Boston College. In total, he appeared in 142 games for the Eagles scoring 44 goals and 132 points.

Hayes, 22, was originally a first-round pick of the Chicago Blackhawks (24th overall in 2010).

According to the Massachusetts native, Alain Vigneault’s style in addition to talking to Kreider and Boyle is what helped him settle on the Rangers.

“The coach… I really like the style the coach plays so I figured this would be the best opportunity for me,” he said.

Hayes says his ultimate goal is to crack the Ranges lineup this season. Despite the aforementioned departures, the Rangers did bring in NHL veterans such as Tanner Glass, Lee Stempniak and Matthew Lombardi so Hayes will have competition as he tries to make the jump from college hockey to the NHL.

Related: Rangers win Kevin Hayes sweepstakes