The Case for Blair Betts

Grant KieferContributor IAugust 28, 2009

NEW YORK - FEBRUARY 18:  Blair Betts #15 of the New York Rangers defends the net against Mike Comrie #89 of the New York Islanders on February 18, 2009 at Madison Square Garden in New York City.The Rangers defeated the Islanders 3-1.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Now that most of the trade rumors have died down and the season still being a little over a month away, how about this idea? The return of Blair Betts.

With a little over a month to do before the season starts, Blair Betts still does not have a team. It seems that this offseason, the only team Betts has been linked to is the Edmonton Oilers.

Although he had been linked earlier this offseason with old coach Tom Renney and the Oilers, Edmonton has since inked two more centers in Gilbert Brule and Ryan Stone.

Although neither of the two may be NHL ready this year, in a year or two, former Penguins prospect and 32nd overall pick in the 2003 Draft, Ryan Stone, may be ready to take the ice in the NHL.

Including Stone and Brule, who will be working their way up the ranks in the Oilers organization, the Oilers have a total of eight centers inked for the upcoming season. The remaining six centers are:

Shawn Harcoff, an Oilers alternate captain, who is one year into a six-year, $33 million contract

Sam Gagner, the sixth overall pick in the 2007 NHL entry draft, a 20-year-old London, Ontario native with 20 goal potential.

Andrew Cogliano, the 25th overall pick in the 2005 draft, who played a full 82 games in both of his first two seasons in the NHL and has 25 goal potential.

Marc Pouliot, the 22nd overall pick in the '03 Draft, who tallied 47 points in 55 games for the Springfield Falcons of the AHL last year.

Rob Schremp, the 25th overall pick in the 2004 Draft, a 2007-08 AHL All-Star who put up 76 points in 78 games in his 2007-08 season, scoring 23 goals

Ryan Potulny, a 24-year-old Grand Forks, ND native, a 2008-09 AHL All-Star who put up 62 points in 70 games at AHL Springfield including 38 goals.

Now with the wealth of centers in the Oilers organization, where would one put Blair Betts? With the surplus of players at the position, Edmonton now turns into a very unlikely destination.

As far as other teams go, the Oilers were really the only team that seemed to show any sort of interest in the 29-year-old Betts. If any other team had a true interest in Betts, he most likely would have been signed or at least strongly linked to a team earlier in the offseason.

The case shall now be made for a return of the fan favorite and PK Specialist Blair Betts to Broadway.

First and foremost, Blair Betts is one of the most durable hockey players to don the Rangers' sweater of recent memory. During the last three years of his four-year tenure with the Blueshirts, Betts has played a total of 238 games out of a possible 246, playing a full 82 games in '06-'07 and missing only one game this past season.

Blair Betts is known as one of the Rangers' most able and dependable centers when it comes to face-offs, who has a career high 52.3 percent face-off percentage.
As well as his durability and faceoff prowess, Blair Betts brings certain intangibles to the ice such as hard work, dedication and leadership by example. He was even given the "A" for a part of this season while Scott Gomez was out of the line-up with an injury.

It is because of his hard work, dedication and leadership that Betts was named "the most underrated player in the league" according to TSN's Pierre McGuire.

With Fredrik Sjostrom now gone (he signed a two year/$1.5 million deal with Calgary), Blair Betts is the remaining half of the best penalty kill tandem of the 2008-2009 NHL season, posting a PK Percentage of 87.5 percent. Bringing him back would assure that the Ranger's penalty kill remains a strength and doesn't quickly turn into a glaring weakness.

Back to our current roster, the Rangers first three lines will be centered most likely by Drury on the second line and Prospal and Dubinsky switching between the first and third lines, depending on performance and their compatibility will newly-acquired star Marion Gaborik. This leaves a fourth line without a center and, unfortunately, Artem Anisimov is not the answer.

Although Artem Anisimov was said by many to be on the Opening Day roster this year, the signing of the veteran Prospal means that Anisimov will have to wait. If Anisimov were to make the team this year, he would be playing on the Rangers' checking line with Brian Boyle and Donald Brashear.

Being that he is still only 21-years of age, Anisimov would benefit more from playing one more year in the AHL than playing on a non-scoring line where he won't have the players around him that he would need to succeed.

With Betts, his gritty, "down and dirty" play fits well with this line, providing a touch more athleticism to a line of two giants in the 6'7'" Brian Boyle and the 6'3" Donald Brashear, while strengthening, not softening the line.

At 6'3" himself, Betts helps maintain the attitude of the line with his hard-nosed brand of North American hockey, which is quite contrary to Anisimov's Russian finesse-oriented hockey style.

The point has been mentioned many a time that, because we have Donald Brashear, a return of Blair Betts would be impossible.

Yes, it is known that Brashear's blindside hit on Betts in the playoffs was rather awful to watch as Rangers' fans saw the team's best penalty killer and hardest worker fall to the Garden ice but like most Rangers' fans who will forgive and forget, I'm sure Betts will as well.

Brashear and Betts and both professional hockey players and, more importantly, grown men who would be completely fine playing together. Betts is known as a soft-spoken player and has never had an issue with anyone and he'll understand that, even though it was a cheap-shot, that it’s hockey and that stuff like that unfortunately happens.

Both Betts and Brashear will be able to play on the same line when both of them can play together in the pursuit of the Stanley Cup, rather that facing off against each other in pursuit of the same goal.

Given the fact that the Rangers have the cap room, Blair Betts should be resigned to a two-year/$2 million dollar contract to center the fourth line and to continue to be the penalty killing specialist that he is.

Betts would be a welcomed sight in the clubhouse and would continue to be a leader on and off the ice for the Rangers 2009-2010 campaign as well as over the rest of his hopefully lengthy tenure with the Rangers.


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