Rangers NHL farm system ranked 11 by Pronman

Good morning, boneheads!

The other post was getting too long, and unless Carp comes up with something in between, it will not be enough until Monday when we have another George Grimm’s jewel scheduled. So there you go.

Corey Pronman from The Athletic listed NY’s farm system at #11. They were #29 last year. He ranked Chytil as a high-end NHL prospect. Interestingly, they are one spot above Philadelphia. The Flyers, according to Pronman, do not have any high-end NHL prospects, but have the deepest system in terms of quality depth. Pronman thinks the Rangers are tied with Philadelphia for the second deepest farm system. Sounds like Gorton did very well.
Note how high he ranks K’Andre Miller.

Click here to read Pronman’s article

Reminiscing with Gilles Villemure by George Grimm

Gilles Villemure was born on May 30, 1940 and grew up in Trois-Rivieres, Quebec where the local hockey rink was right next to the fairgrounds race track, and so his two passions became hockey and horse racing. Luckily for him he was able to pursue both of these interests professionally.

Gilles began playing goal at the age of fourteen when the netminder on his team was injured. He had a brief tryout with the Troy (Ohio) Bruins of the IHL, and played his junior hockey with the famed Guelph Biltmores of the OHA where his teammates were Jean Ratelle and Rod Gilbert. He was scouted by Yvan Prud’homme and at sixteen signed a ‘C’ form and received a $100 signing bonus from the Rangers, with the promise of $500 when he turned pro. Following a season in Guelph, he played for the New York Rovers (1960-61) and the Long Island Ducks (1961-62) and signed with the Rangers as a free agent in 1962.

Gilles Villemure: I took Eddie Giacomin’s job with the New York Rovers. He went up to Providence and I took over with the Rovers. Then I played for the Long Island Ducks.  Lots of traveling. We played in Nashville, Knoxville, places like that. We used to play five, six games on the road with 15 – 16 hour bus trips. But we didn’t know any better. We just played. But I was happy to be there. I was making $165 a week and I had to pay for my rent and things like that. We got $4 a day meal money.

Unfortunately back then there were only six goaltending jobs in the NHL and most of the incumbents were future Hall of Famers. So Gilles’ road to the big leagues was a long one, spending most of next nine years playing for Ranger farm clubs in Vancouver, Buffalo and Baltimore. In fact it was while playing for the Baltimore Clippers in 1966 that Gilles started wearing the mask with the famous grin that would become his trademark. He also got a brief taste of the NHL, making his Rangers debut during the 1963–64 season when he played five games in place of the injured Jacques Plante. He also saw action with the Rangers during the 1967–68 and 1968–69 seasons.

Gilles excelled at every stop along his minor league trail, being named the WHL’s Rookie of the Year in 1962-63, winning the AHL’s Les Cunningham Award as the league’s MVP twice (1968-69 and 1969-70) and the Harry “Hap” Holmes Award for the lowest GAA in the AHL those same years. During the 1969–70 season Villemure’s goaltending took the Buffalo Bisons of the AHL to regular-season and playoff championships. He posted eight shutouts, was named to the league’s First All-Star team and was considered by many to be the best goaltender not playing in the NHL.

Villemure finally made it to the Rangers on a full time basis in 1970-71 going 14-1-3 in his first eighteen games.

Gilles Villemure: “I thought I was ready because the last two years in Buffalo I was the MVP of the league and I thought I was playing well. But you never know, the minors and the NHL are two different things. But Emile Francis gave me a chance.

Teamed with Ed Giacomin, the duo gave up a combined 173 goals for a 2.22 GAA, edging out their nearest competitor, the Chicago Black Hawks (2.33 GAA) to earn the Vezina Trophy. It was the first time a Rangergoaltender had won the award since Davey Kerr in 1940. The pair also combined for a total of twelve shutouts (Giacomin 8, Villemure 4) the most since John Ross Roach recorded thirteen blankings in 1928-29.

Gilles Villemure: At first Eddie didn’t like it because I was taking half his playing time. But once I started playing in the NHL when I was 30, I was winning, so Emile had no choice but to play me, and Eddie and I got along very well. Winning the Vezina was special. Eddie played that last game against Detroit and I came on the ice and he lifted my arm up. I’ll never forget that. I still have a picture of that on my desk. Team trophies are better, but the individual trophies stay with you. You remember them.

Both of them also made the All-Star team in 1971 and 1973, the first time two goaltenders from the same team had played in the mid-season game. During the course of Villemure’s Ranger career, he appeared in three All-Star games 1971, 1972 and 1973 and set a record for the longest recorded shutout streak at 79 minutes, 21 seconds. In a total of 88 minutes in three All Star appearances Gilles surrendered only one goal. His 0.68 All Star GAA is still the lowest of any netminder who has made at least two All-Star Game appearances.

Gilles Villemure: “In those years, the 1970s, the game was not the same as it is today. Now it’s wide open, but back then we played a regular game with low scores, now they’re 9–8, 10–8, whatever.  It’s all offense now, nobody wants to get hurt.”

Villemure and Giacomin had vastly different styles. Where Giacomin was acrobatic, Villemure was a classic stand up goaltender who played his angles extremely well.

There was also another difference between the two netminders which Emile Francis used to the Rangers advantage. “It was great when I had Villemure and Giacomin because Eddie caught with his left hand and Gilly with his right and the other team was always all screwed up as to where they should shoot,” Francis once said. “They were both great goaltenders. But I had to keep telling the reporters, ‘We don’t have a number one goalie and we don’t have a number two goalie. They’re both number one goalies.”

Gilles was very low key, self-deprecating and perhaps the most under-rated goaltender in team history. He could have been a starter for any team in the league. But as Ed Giacomin often said,” I think way down deep Gilles Villemure’s first love was horses. But, what made the rotation so special for him was that he happened to have a guy who liked to play a lot, so he could devote more time to studying the racing forms.”

Gilles Villemure: “It didn’t bother me. If I played I played,if not it didn’t bother me one way or the other. Whatever was best for the team.

Often asked the eternal question, Gilles knows exactly why the Rangers of the Francis era never won a Stanley Cup.

Gilles Villemure: Jean Ratelle got hurt at the wrong time. He was the best player we had. Rod Gilbert has said that many times, ‘Jean was the best’. We went to the sixth game of the finals against Boston in 1972, I played the last two games because Eddie got hurt. We won the fifth game in Boston 3-2 and lost game six at home 3-0. But losing Ratelle was the big thing.

During the offseason Villemure pursued his other passionHarness Racing. He began driving horses at the age of seventeen and eventually raced locally at Roosevelt, Monticello, Freehold and the Meadowlands race tracks.

Gilles Villemure: “When I was a kid I had a chance to be a goalie or a harness driver. But I choose hockey. But I was that good as a driver. I was doing that well back home in the summer time. I did both, I think it helped my reflexes, It’s all timing. Emile Francis didn’t know that I was driving the horses and one day he was at Roosevelt Raceway and he sees me in the race and he says what the hell are you doing there Gilly? He didn’t even know I was racing. But he never bothered me about it. Never said you can’t do that.

The Giacomin – Villemure partnership lasted through the 1974-75 season when injuries began to catch up with both of them. During the summer of 1975, the Rangers had obtained goaltender John Davidson from the Blues and were in the process of revamping the team. Reading the handwriting on the wall, Villemure, who was going through a divorce, asked Francis for a trade and was sent to Chicago for defenseman Doug Jarrett on October 28, 1975.

Gilles Villemure: “I was having problems at home and I said to Emile, if you want to trade me, just trade me. And the next day I was gone. There was a big turnover there. I don’t know why or who was behind it. You hear different stories. But everybody was being moved.”

Gilles stayed in Chicago until the end of the 1976-77 season, seeing spot duty as Tony Esposito’s backup. At that point John Ferguson tried to get him back for the Rangers who needed a steadying influence in goal.

Gilles Villemure: “I was traded back to New York when John Ferguson came in. However the third string goalie in Chicago got hurt and I had to go back.

Former teammate Glenn Sather who by then was coach of the WHA’s Edmonton Oilers also offered Gilles a job, but he didn’t want to take his children out of school and disrupt his family life, so he retired.

In 194 regular season games with the Rangers, Gilles posted a 98-53-23 record with 13 shutouts and a 2.63 GAA. In 14 playoff games he went 5-5 with a 2.93 GAA.Overall in 205 regular season games with the Rangers and Black Hawks his record was 100-64-29 with 13 shutouts and a 2.81 GAA.

Villemure enjoyed his years with the Rangers and still lives in the area. He also has many fond memories of his Ranger teammates and the camaraderie they shared.

Gilles Villemure: “The team, the players we had were all unbelievably nice guys. That’s what I remember the most really. We were very close. On the road after the game we would all go out for a beer. Everybody was there and that’s an amazing thing right there, because usually you have your own way to go. But we stuck together like that all the time. It was incredible. Even at home after practice we would all go out to lunch together. I don’t think I was ever mad at anybody on the team. No one ever fought off the ice, everyone got along very well. That’s what I remember.  We were all on the same page.”

George Grimm is the former publisher of Sportstat… The Ranger Report and columnist for the Blueshirt Bulletin. He currently writes the Retro Rangers column for Insidehockey.com. His book “We Did Everything But Win” about the Emile Francis era Rangers was published in 2017 and he is currently working on a book about the history of Ranger goaltenders.

Reminiscing with Gilles Gratton by George Grimm

Gilles Gratton was one of the most colorful characters to ever tend goal for the New York Rangers. Unfortunately “Gratoony the Looney” was known more for his eccentric behavior, claims of past lives and Lion’s goaltenders mask than actually stopping pucks.

After three seasons with the Oshawa Generals of the OHA, Gratton was selected by the Buffalo Sabres in the fifth round (69thoverall) in the 1972 Amateur Draft. That same year he was also selected by Edmonton in the WHA General Player draft and eventually signed with the Ottawa Nationals who had acquired his rights from Edmonton.

Gilles Gratton:Buffalo offered me $5,000 to sign and $8,000 for my first year and $10,000 my second. Ottawa offered me $20,000 to sign and $25,000 for each of the next two years. So I had no choice.

Gratton stayed with the Ottawa Nationals \ Toronto Toro franchise for three seasons. But when his NHL rights were traded to St. Louis by Buffalo for cashin July 1975 he signed with the Blues. Ironically the addition of Gratton as well as their number one draft pick, goaltender Ed Staniowski, made John Davidson expendable which led to his trade to the Rangers.

However after playing only six games for the Blues, Gratton walked out on the team, claiming that he wanted to return to Toronto of the WHA. The Blues put him on the voluntary retired list but refused to place him on waivers, blocking his attempt to re-sign with the Toros. He sat out the remainder of the season and was signed by Rangers GM John Ferguson that summer. It was Fergy’s first signing and probably his most memorable.

Gilles Gratton:When my agent called to tell me that the Rangers wanted to sign me I really didn’t want to play hockey anymore. Coming to New York was a mistake, I was out of shape, I hadn’t played in a year and I didn’t really want to play anymore. But I figured that John Davidson would play most of the games so I thought, well I’ll go and sit on the bench, get into shape slowly and get my money because I wanted to travel and go to India. But JD got hurt right away and I had to play, That year was hell for me. I smoked pot every day when I wasthere.

Gratton, the younger brother of former Blueshirt, the late Norm Gratton, won his first start as a Ranger, a 6-5 opening night decision over Minnesota and appeared in a total of 41 of the Rangers 80 games that season. He may have played in a few more if he didn’t sometimes feign an illness or tell Ferguson that his planets were not aligned properly to get out of playing. But the real reason he refused to play was that he just didn’t want to. In fact he used to do a little dance when Ferguson would enter the Ranger locker room and toss John Davidson a puck before a game, meaning that JD would be playing that night and not Gratton. He also had a run in with Ranger captain Phil Esposito which ultimately led to the end of his Ranger career.

Gilles Gratton:I had a situation with Phil Esposito, a bit of a conflict and I was told a few days after that that I wouldn’t be playing again. At that time Esposito was kind of king of the locker room. So I was told by Rod Gilbert, who I lived with, that there had been a meeting and that I was not going to play anymore. That was around January I guess and after that Fergy asked me to play a few times so I told him that my planets weren’t aligned. But that wasn’t true. I was just playing with his head. I just thought that since they told me I wasn’t going to play, I wasn’t going to play. So I told him that my planets were not aligned or I had an injury from a past life. But it wasn’t true.

Gratton was the first Ranger goaltender to wear a birdcage-style mask. However about midway through the season he adopted his trademark Lion mask, which  he insists was inspired by pictures of tigers he saw while leafing a through a copy of National Geographic.  Gilles took his idea to Toronto-based mask maker Greg Harrison who turned the concept into a reality. Gratton surprised everyone when he unveiled the mask right before the opening faceoff of a game against the St. Louis Blues at the Garden on January 30, 1977. He kept the new mask in a box in his locker and wore his cage mask during warm-ups. He then hid the new mask under his arm during the playing of the National Anthem and donned it for the first time right before the opening face- off.

Gilles Gratton:The crown went oooohhh! The players and referees came down to see it. It was cool.  It may have been the best $300 I ever spent.

Gratton believed that in a past life he had been a Spanish Count who enjoyed throwing rocks at commoners and stoned people to death in Biblical times and that being a goaltender was his punishment for his past deeds. He also thought that his recurring abdominal pains were a result of being stabbed during the Spanish Inquisition.

Gilles Gratton:It’s kind of strange but I had memories when I was a kid and then later on I did past life regressions.  I’ve been a 12th century sailor, a 14th century Indian “hobo,” a 17th century Spanish landowner, an 18th century Spanish priest and a 19th century British surgeon among other things.

Gratton was known for “streaking” after practice and doing handstands in the shower. He is also an accomplished musician although he never took a lesson.

Prior to his final game with the Rangers, Gratton was slated to back up John Davidson and gave his suspender to a fan in the stands. However when called on the play later in the game he was forced to stuff his jersey into his pants to help keep them up.

Gratton started the 1977-78 season with the Rangers AHL club in New Haven, but his heart wasn’t in it and his contract was eventually bought out. He then left for an Aswan in India, leaving behind all his goaltending equipment including his famous mask.

Gilles Gratton:I should have taken my mask because I would have gotten a lot of money for it today. I heard that the mask is in Boston, Some collector has it. I now work for Classic Auctions and my boss tracked it down to a guy in Florida who paid me $5,000 for it with a promise of $5,000 more. But I never heard from him again. Then I heard that he sold it to someone in the Boston area.

Unfortunately Gratton is still feeling the effects of the many concussions he suffered during his playing days, more that four decades ago.

Gilles Gratton:I had a lot of concussions. I remember six, but I must have had more. Because in those days you got hit in the head, you threw up and were dizzy for three days but you kept playing. But we didn’t know about concussions. When I was with the Toros of the WHA I got knocked out and the trainer came out and waved the smelling salts under my nose and I put the mask back on and kept playing. After the game I threw up. That was a concussion but we didn’t know at the time.

I had bad headaches from the time I was 20 years old to about 50. I had about three or four headaches a week. But over the last 10 years it’s been maybe one or two a week. But sometimes I get up and lose my balance and have to lay down. The headaches are not so bad, but now it’s the dizziness. It’s like everything is spinning around.

Gratton spent most of the 80s and 90s in ashrams in India and the Catskills. He also worked as a photographer and is currently a consultant for Classic Auctions. He has also written an autobiography with Greg Oliver called “Gratoony the Looney.”

Gilles Gratton was a talented goaltender, but unfortunately he lacked the desire to succeed. He has freely admitted that he really didn’t like to play hockey and was only in it for the money which he used to finance his quest for spiritual enlightenment by meditating, going to ashrams and practicing yoga.

Gilles Gratton:  Meditating with the Monks in Tibet was something I always wanted to do as a kid. It was a dream of mine. I wasn’t looking to run away but I couldn’t wait to have enough money to travel. For me hockey was a way to gather up enough money to travel, to fulfill my real dreams.”

 

In 41 appearances with the Rangers Gilles posted an 11-18-7 record with a 4.22 GAA. Overall in 47 NHL games he went 13-18-9 with a 4.02 GAA

 

George Grimmis the former publisher of Sportstat… The Ranger Report and columnist for the Blueshirt Bulletin. He currently writes the Retro Rangers column for Insidehockey.com. His book “We Did Everything But Win” about the Emile Francis era Rangers was published in 2017 and he is currently working on a book about the history of Ranger goaltenders.

 

 

 

Rangers Agree to Terms with Ryan Spooner

Click here to read the official release from NYR. It’s reported to be a 2 year deal at $4M AAV. Spooner and Namestnikov received similar contracts, even though Spooner’s QO was approximately $1M higher than Namestnikov’s so he could’ve gotten a higher arbitration award than Namestnikov.

So now all RFAs are signed. If you don’t count Beleskey, Holland, and some extra D-men, NY still has close to $9M of cap space left.