NIGHT VISION

Bruce HeadshotBy Bruce Berlet

New York Rangers assistant general manager and Wolf Pack GM Jim Schoenfeld categorically denied a report that Wolf Pack wing Mats Zuccarello was leaving the organization.

New York Rangers assistant general manager and Wolf Pack GM Jim Schoenfeld categorically denied a report that Wolf Pack wing Mats Zuccarello was leaving the organization.

According to a Sportbladets source, the Rangers had given the green light for the 23-year-old Norwegian to leave after former NHL player Markus Naslund contacted president and general manager Glen Sather. Naslund ended a 14-year NHL career with the Rangers after the 2008-09 season and then was a teammate of Zuccarello last season with MoDo in the Swedish Elite League.

Zuccarello reportedly was going to return to MoDo, where he had 23 goals and 41 assists in 55 games and was named league MVP last season.

“This situation (in Hartford) is not optimal, and we have a solution,” Zuccarello’s Swedish agent, Erik Ryman, reportedly said. “But he is under contract with the Rangers, and it is they who decide.”

According to the Sportbladets sources, Naslund contacted Sather and asked what plans the team had for Zuccarello. The sources said Sather had no clear answer. Naslund said MoDo would like to have its point leader back, and Sather reportedly replied that if Zuccarello asked to leave, he could do it.

A source reportedly told Sportbladet that the man known as “the Hobbit” for the past scoring talents he has exhibited in a 5-foot-9, 170-pound frame has been unhappy and “would like nothing more than to leave Hartford and the New York Rangers.”

A 3-2 loss to the Springfield Falcons on Saturday night “was almost certainly his last game for Hartford.”

“Bunch of made up (bleep),” Schoenfeld responded by email.

Zuccarello has two goals in 11 games with the struggling Wolf Pack (3-5-2-1) and has seemed especially frustrated by his failure to convert good scoring chances during a 0-5-0-1 slide in which the team has scored only six goals. But Zuccarello isn’t alone. The entire Wolf Pack team has seemed snake-bitten and discouraged by what center Ryan Garlock called an “unthinkable” scoring slump.

Zuccarello could not be reached for comment Sunday, but in a story in the Hartford Courant last week, he sounded happy to be with the Wolf Pack. In fact, he has enjoyed being a playmate for center Kris Newbury’s 8-year-old son Jacob, wrestling on the locker room floor after practice and eliciting the expected good-natured ribbing from teammates.

“These guys are great,” Zuccarello told the Courant. “Everybody here is good friends. It makes it easier, having good teammates. I mean, you don’t feel homesick when you’ve got good friends here.”

After Zuccarello excelled in the Olympics for Norway and won the Golden Helmet as the Swedish Elite League’s MVP, the Rangers outbid five other NHL teams for the free agent’s services, signing him to a two-year, $3.5 million contract.

When Zuccarello arrived in training camp, he was one of the most anticipated additions in years. He was given a good chance to make the offensively challenged Rangers but was among their last cuts and sent to Hartford.

“We expect a lot from him,” Schoenfeld told the Courant. “We think he has a real chance to contribute down the road. It’s a big adjustment for him, but he’ll make it.”

Zuccarello has said his biggest adjustment is to the smaller ice surfaces in North America. That limits his quickness and maneuverability in the corners and gives bigger players a better chance of catching and hitting him.

“I’ve been up and down,” Zuccarello told the Courant. “But the more games you play, you get used to it. It’s just a matter of playing every day. I knew (the AHL) was a good league. It’s a tough league. I knew it was physical. So this is good. It’s getting me ready (for the NHL).”

Americans Will End Affiliation with Florida Panthers After Change of Mind

A little more than a month after Florida Panthers general manager Dale Tallon told the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle that he wanted “to develop a long-term relationship here in Rochester,” the Americans have announced they will not extend their current affiliation after their third season with the NHL team.

“We need to explore all the options that are out there and perhaps look at a whole new model,” Amerks president Lewis Staats told Your News Now in Rochester. “If you look at who’s won the Calder Cup over the last 10 or 12 years, it’s been the teams that don’t have a full affiliation agreement like we currently have with Florida. They have modified agreements, maybe they supply the coaches, for sure they look at veteran talent to be able to achieve the on-ice success that translates to box office success which translated to you being able to remain competition year after year.”

Tallon made his remarks on Sept. 22, but Staats told the Miami Herald, “When we negotiated this agreement with Florida, it was agreed we would put a ‘re-negotiation date’ in it to ensure that both organizations had time to either investigate extending the terms of the agreement or provided sufficient time to explore other options.

“We will explore all the options that are available to us in terms of an NHL parent club going forward at the conclusion of the 2010-11 season when our existing agreement with Florida expires. We are continuing to build and improve the Amerks from a business perspective and will be very diligent in our search for an NHL partner who we believe will help us achieve our goals both on and off the ice.”

Schoenfeld said he didn’t know of any talks between the Amerks and Rangers that was reported by Biz of Hockey in May.

“Just because someone says they are going to pursue and affiliation with the Rangers doesn’t mean we are pursuing the same,” Schoenfeld said via email. “As for Rochester, there is nothing going on as far as I know.”

Such talks would seem ludicrous since Howard Baldwin and his Whalers Sports and Entertainment are doing everything possible to revitalize the local hockey market in hopes of increasing attendance and bringing another NHL team to Hartford.

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