Thursday, July 24, 2008

No Matter What It, Chemistry is the Key

It is funny how Ranger fans seem to get more heated during the off-season than they do during the actual hockey season. Over the last decade, Ranger fans have become increasingly divided over the direction of the franchise to the point of almost civil war.

Because of all the moves or non-moves (depending on your views), this off-season just might be the most bitter of them all. It is still July with about 6 weeks before training camp even gets under way and the in-fighting among Ranger fans is at a fever pitch at many a site.

Even the beat reporters are divided as to whether or not the Rangers will be winners or losers come next season. The only problem with all this fighting is that nobody not the media, not the fans not even the Rangers themselves have any idea as to what is going to happen or how things will happen.

Perhaps the only thing that anyone media, fan or team can agree upon is that everything is a giant question mark and it is going to be about 2-3 months before anyone has any kind of answers.

If you really want to look for something to agree upon then it might be that no matter what the line combos are, no matter what further moves/non-moves are made/not made is that whoever takes the ice on the next Ranger roster had best have better team chemistry than last season's squad.

It will not matter if Naslund. Zherdev, Redden or anyone else has a great season if overall this roster fails to mesh as a team. It is not going to matter how individuals do if the team as a whole subjects us to the same kind of up and down season the Rangers drove us mad with last season.

All season long the Rangers struggled to find any kind of identity as woes in different areas caused players to play roles they were not suited for and it showed via the lack of consistency or even worse on the power play.

To see the Rangers now blaming Jagr after he is gone is wrong as chemistry is a blending of players. It was more than Jagr not meshing, it was a combination of players not working out.

And that is going to be the key next season as if next season's roster struggles to blend as a team like last season's squad then we will see another scratching it out just to make the playoffs and then another early playoff exit.

If Tom Renney turns over the lines as often as he did last season then the Rangers will have problems. The coach needs to find the right balance of players and allow them to develop a bond, to gel as units or else all that money that was spent will be wasted yet again.

Part of it is going to start with Drury and Gomez as if they are the leaders of the team then they need to find a way to unite the team as one. Last few years people made a big deal about the Czechs surrounding Jagr but yet many want to see the Rangers add another Swede or 2 thinking it will help Henrik.

It won't as if anything too much of one thing will divide the team. If anything Drury and Gomez whoever gets the "C" needs to take a page from the Messier manual on leadership and find ways to unite the Rangers.

Chemistry begins when everyone feels like they belong, that they think they are a part of a team and making a contribution. We all know the things that Messier did on the ice, we know about his tirades in the locker room but what was not always told was what Messier did away from the rinks.

Messier would organize player only activities like going to the movies on the road, stopping for beers after games or practices or even going out for meals. What worked was that Messier made sure than it was the team not just one group of players.

It was not just the old Oiler crew, it was Messier making sure that the rookies were just as welcome as the veterans and it paid off as players thought of themselves as a team not just groups.

Sure Tom Renney tries his West Point trips but they are not coming directly from the players as they are planned out events whereas the Messier kinds of events were made to look like spur of the moment ones.

The Messier ones were relaxing ways to talk among each other and a chance to get know each other away from the rink but quietly and more importantly privately. If you want to make a point to someone then at times doing it far away from the spot light sometimes is the most effective way.

Ask yourself if you would be more willing to do something to help the team if you felt your role on the team was understood and you believed that your teammates believed in you. That starts one on the road towards a team chemistry.

The next step is going to be if the coaching staff does not change up the line combos every 2-3 games as it felt like they were doing last season. Some combos are going to work pretty quickly, some will take time and some will be failures but give it some time and a fair shot to see if it does have any hope.

There is one line combo that does deserve a serious look as it is the Drury/Dawes/Callahan combo. During the Devil series this was the best 2 way line the Rangers had. When you look at how balanced the numbers this line put up (3-3-6 for Drury, 2-2-4 for both Dawes and Callahan with all 3 a +3) then it does deserve a second look.

The three of them meshed as a line under playoff conditions, finally Drury had linemates who seemed to work with him giving Drury a chance to play HIS game so why not try them again.

You got the goal scorer in Drury, the creative playmaker in Dawes (who also can score) and then the guy who will do the dirty work and fight for the puck in Callahan. When you look at all three it is as if here are 3 players who were meant to play together.

Give it a chance to work and see if it was more than just a playoff fluke. Of all the possible line combos this one has some battle tested game experience behind it as no other possible line combo of the Ranger roster can say that.

If you have at least this one line meshing then you do have a building block to work with the other lines. They just have to have some time to work with each other.

If not then we get to see 60 different line combos in 60 games again then heaven help us all because it will be a long season on and off the ice.


ryanloral said...

hey jess-i'm actually more excited about this upcoming season than any prior year for about a decade it seems at this point. i really like the fact we don't have a "superstar" that the team is built around. and this goes back to post '97 messier, messier redux, and the last few years with jags. i think chemistry is easier to come by when everyone feels they're on the same level. with anyone on the ice with jagr deferring to his presence, and mess taking shifts whenever and where ever he felt like it, now we have a team that hopefully will find its identity early in the year, as philly did last year having a huge amount of turnover in their lineup.
line combos definitely need stability as last season proves, but i'm not ready to say who skates with who (altho i really like detroit's idea of playing their two best together, which we could do with dru and gomer but with our new additions i think is less likely to occur). i think rozi has a good season coming up as he won't have to have every play he makes going through jags and the pressure that comes with that.
i was very unhappy with the redden signing and the amount of years he got, but maybe his wanting to play here will have an effect on his play here, as last year in ottawa everything fell apart, including his game.
i'm sure we'll have many more of these conversations before the season starts, hopefully not too much while the season's going on!

Jess Rubenstein said...


Kudos to you for being excited, even I am bit nervous but I think it is the past speaking.

I do not think there is any other NHL franchise which will tease you with a possible success then break your heart when it falls short.