Sunday, July 3, 2011
Max Them Out
One thing is for sure as now the Rangers have seriously increased the expectations on the franchise. Contending for the 8th seed is now no longer acceptable. This team now has to do what the franchise has not done since 1997 and that is get out of the first round, get out of the second round and contend for the conference title.
Anything less and things will get really ugly in the Ranger Universe. But despite adding Richards one thing has not changed. That is the need for fans, media and team to exhibit patience.
Brad Richards yes is a high quality player but that does not mean the moment he steps on the ice all will be better. The team still has to discover their identity and that is not going to happen overnight.
It will take time, it will take patience and it is going to take effort from everyone not to panic at the first sign of trouble. Richards whether he likes it or not is going to find out that his every move is going to be dissected and argued over.
The first real question to ask now is how best to use Richards as this "Richards will fix Gaborik" theory is not working for us mainly because Richards should be judged on his own play not whether or not he can make Marian Gaborik effective again. There is only one person who can fix Marian Gaborik and that is Gaborik himself.
Too many excuses have been made for Gaborik and truth be told none of them really have merit. "He can not play Tortorella's grind it out style" is the one used the most and it is the one that also has the least validity to it.
Gaborik came to the Rangers from the Minnesota Wild where he was coached for 8 years by Jacques Lemaire. Under Lemaire, the Wild played the "trap" which is more of a killer for a sniper than what Tortorella used last season.
Yet Gaborik was able to average around 30 goals a season in his 8 years with the Wild and the "trap". Yes Richards will start off as the center for Gaborik but it would be an even bigger surprise if the duo finish the season on the same line.
After all we are talking about John Tortorella, the coach who changes his line combos more often then he does his socks. And no matter how we look at it, Gaborik just does not fit with Richards and what gets the most out of Richards.
Neither do we start with Brandon Dubinsky on Richard's left side either in part because that breaks Dubinsky away from Callahan. The duo has built up a chemistry together over the years that both players benefit from being on the same line together.
No instead of Dubinsky, try Derek Stepan there first as Stepan scored 21 goals playing all over the lineup as a rookie so imagine what Stepan could do with a playmaker? Going back to his time at Wisconsin, Stepan was always more effective playing along the left side boards than he was in the middle.
Not to mention what better way to teach Stepan how to be a first line center then by playing him with one. And really if Gaborik can not find a way to score with 2 playmakers on the same line then he is a lost cause.
It also puts Dubinsky in the more comfortable spot of the second line as Artem Anisimov still is not selling us as his being the second line center. Dubinsky is still better at taking face offs than Anisimov so keeping those 2 together with Callahan makes the most sense at least to start the season.
But in the back of our mind, Dubinsky, Callahan and Richards as a line also really appeals to us a whole lot. Richards playing playmaker for Dubinsky and Callahan is going to create a lot of offensive opportunities for all 3 as the trio have no problem playing a power game or if needed a finesse game.
All three are not afraid to mix it up but we can see these three as more alike then any other trio on the Rangers. Expect to see this line at some point of the season and if Tortorella gives it a chance then this will be the eventual first line.
The third line looks like Fedotenko/Boyle/Prust as they were the Ranger's best line defensively but when you can get 44 goals out of this trio then put them back together. Boyle should repeat his 20 goals from last season but if Prust can remain healthy then there is no reason why he can not put up at least 15.
Fedotenko may start the season on the left side but before the season is over that job will belong to Carl Hagelin. Nothing against Fedotenko but Hagelin is the future. Fedotenko will best help the Rangers by being able to move in and out of spots in the lineup.
The fourth line is going to be the most interesting one to sort out as the only player who one can say for sure will be in the lineup (or on the roster) is going to be Mike Rupp. The biggest question facing the Rangers is which of the following players to keep.
Sean Avery is in the last year of his contract but his biggest problem is finding the right balance to have Tortorella's confidence. The Avery of last season looked really lost because it always seemed that Avery played questioning his own self.
It is also hard to picture Avery being able to handle being a fourth liner again and the lack of minutes that go along with it. And to be fair to Avery, all this "Avery can not play for any other team" does not work.
Ulfie Samuelsson made a career of getting people to hate him but if he was your teammate you loved him. There is also this other thing as well which is for all Avery has done; it has been 95% verbal. If you can point out a time when Avery was guilty of a cheap shot then please show us the play.
Avery's biggest issue is he does not know when to shut up on the ice or in the locker room. And give Avery some credit too as he has been able to stay in the NHL for almost 10 years.
Annoying yes, self absorbed a very good possibility, a master of self-promotion no doubt about it. But when you take all the other stuff out of the picture then you can get an effective hockey player who can kill penalties and chip in some offense.
But in the end, unless John Tortorella has had a change of heart then it is really hard to see Avery regaining Tortorella's confidence. Still if we had to pick between Avery and Erik Christensen then Avery wins hands down.
Avery will drive a coach nuts with his antics but you will never have to wonder if Avery is going to show up as he will. That is the main reason we would keep Avery over Christensen.
If the NHL had designated shootout role then Christensen would have a place in the lineup but other than being a shoot out specialist, Christensen is very good at being inconsistent and invisible.
It is like Erik Christensen has a shelf life of 2 seasons with a team before wearing out his welcome. His low salary helps keep him a Ranger but Christensen's time as a Ranger is coming to an end so why not move him while you can?
Mats Zuccarello has a problem which is while there is no questioning his creativity, his hands, his decision making and his on-ice vision are all excellent. He is deadly in open space but his main problem is that he can not seem to earn the confidence of John Tortorella which is strange to say the least.
Tortorella coached Martin St. Louis who is no giant at 5'8 but Zuccarello has not been able to overcome the "size" issue with Tortorella. Sure we are not going to send Zuccarrello to cover Zdeno Charra but the Hobbit's offensive skills are badly needed by the offensively challenged Rangers.
Zuccarello has to be on the Ranger roster even if it as a power play specialist because how many players on the Rangers in 2010-11 set up goals by 11 different Rangers? This one is on Tortorella because it is his job to get the most out of his players using them in roles that max out their skills while hiding their weaknesses.
And maybe because we have a strange sense of humor putting 5'7 Zuccarello out there with 6'5 Mike Rupp appeals to us. That leaves 1 spot in the lineup open one of which it is hard not to picture Carl Hagelin getting one of them.
If you want a John Tortorella prototype player then that is Hagelin. A very skilled forechecker who's defensive skills are already NHL ready but his offense fits in with what Tortorella is trying to do.
Hagelin's ability to hit the pass on the tape while rushing up ice puts the pressure on the defense. If Tortorella is ever going to start transitioning the Rangers to the "Safe is Death" offense then Hagelin will be a part of it thanks to his skating and passing.
Hagelin is going to earn his playing time first on the penalty kill then filling in everywhere in the lineup. Hagelin was Michigan's leading scorer last season but it was his ability to play both a finesse and physical which makes him so valuable.
Hagelin ideally is a left wing but can play the other two forward positions if need be. After watching Hagelin go at it with Derek Stepan for 2 years; it is going to be very interesting to see them play as teammates.
If Tortorella gets to carry two extra forwards then the battle will be among these players.
Wojtek Wolski somehow is going to survive to make it to training camp but not if we had a say in the matter. There is no question that Wolski has the talent and skills to play in the NHL.
The problem is that there is no reason why Wolski was a 12 goal scorer last season (combined NYR/PHO). Wolski should be putting up no less than 25 goals a season but now on his 3rd team in the last 2 seasons is not good for the resume.
12 goals and 3.8 million cap hit should equal either buyout or exile to the AHL. Nothing angers us more than seeing a player who has real NHL talent not use it.
We see a Zuccarello who at 5'7 throw his body at people even though he will just bounce off them. It is like a cruel joke that Zuccarello is just 5'7 and Wolski is 6'3 since you give Zuccarello Wolski's height and you have a superstar.
There is not one good reason why Wolski is even mentioned as no better than a 4th liner but Wolski needs to ask the person he sees in the mirror why is that?
Dale Weise had 10 games with the Rangers last season and he gives Tortorella an extra option of a physical player to mesh with Rupp. Weise though has to show that in the NHL he is more than a big body or he is going to run out of chances with the Rangers.
John Mitchell is an interesting player as he has Jim Schoenfeld's support which means more than people may think. Mitchell is a natural center which helps his cause but like Weise has to show that he is more than just an AHL player.
Chad Kolarik is the dark horse but during his brief time with the Rangers, not only held his own but we thought he deserved a longer look. Not flashy, not overpowering but hard working despite being just 5'11.
Kolarik though is like Weise and Mitchell as he too has to overcome being a good AHL player to stick with the Rangers. Yet of those listed, only Kolarik seems to realize that the clock is ticking on chances to be an NHL player.
The defense is a totally different story as really the Top 4 are set in Staal, Girardi. McDonagh and Sauer. The door is wide open for Tim Erixon and Michael Del Zotto but for both to make the Rangers then changes will have to happen to protect Del Zotto's weak defense as well as Erixon's adjustment to the North American style.
Glen Sather for reasons he keeps to himself will not carry a 7th defenseman and in doing so is hanging Tortorella out to dry. The excuse is Hartford is not far will not work when the Rangers are on the west coast and someone gets injured in the pre-game warmups.
If we have to say more than Henrik Lundqvist and Marty Biron in goal then cmon what are you a Toronto Maple Leaf GM talking trade with the Boston Bruins?
(Richards courtesy of Media.NHL.com)
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