As the start of a new season approaches and the 23 best players on each team battle to secure roster spots, hockey discussion is dominated by projected line combinations. There is open season on any player for any spot, from the #1 defenseman, to the 4th line right wing, to the healthy scratch.
But for the New York Rangers, what really matters is the top forward line. The club's scoring woes has been well-documented in the past; the huge contract given to Brad Richards shows the organizations feelings on the scoring abilities of the prior year's team. But the Rangers have no shortage of secondary scoring talent. The Rangers had five 20 goal scorers last year, and if you add Richards' 28 goals to the mix, along with Artem Anisimov's 18, you get a good supporting cast of forwards.
But once again, the Rangers sat in the bottom half of the league in scoring. Further analysis shows that if you wipe out a few blowout games, the Rangers barely scored at all.
The reason: There was no player, much less an entire line, that could score at will.
That is supposed to change.
There is Marian Gaborik, supposedly recovered from whatever ailed him in the spring, certainly recovered from the lack of playmaking forward as his pivot.
There is Brad Richards, coming off a career year of goal scoring and now getting an opportunity to set up a world class sniper.
But the final spot on that top line, the line that will make or break the Rangers' season, is up for grabs. There are various philosophies in this matter. Some say, put the most talented player to maximize his potential. Others argue that the line needs a grinder whose goals will come automatically from playing with the two stars. And at the end of the day, it will certainly come down to chemistry. We saw this with players like Scott Gomez, Chris Drury, Marty Straka, and Marcel Hossa: the money and the talent means nothing, the chemistry means everything. But who is going to get the opportunity to form a rapport with the two all-stars? That is up for grabs.
To this point, it seems that John Tortorella is going to give every opportunity to enigmatic forward (which seems interchangeable with "talented European" these days) Wojtek Wolski.
He probably is the 3rd most talented player on the squad, certainly more so than the other top line options who are closer to grinder-plus-offense than scoring talents. But consistency has been, and continues to be an issue for the Polish winger. Even in scrimmages, where the Gaborik-Richards-Wolski has shown great chemistry, there have been problems with Wolski's shift-to-shift consistency.
So while in a perfect world, Wolski works out his issues, allowing the "Pack Line" and Fed-Boyle-Prust to stay together, one has to assume that by Game 10 the line shuffling is going to be on in full force.
Which begs the question: Who is the next in line?
Certainly not someone in a contract year!
- Glen Sather
But all jokes aside, reports indicate that Tortorella has two players in mind, Brandon Dubinsky and Brian Boyle, while a third option suggested by fans, Ruslan Fedotenko, deserves some analysis.
The downside of any of these players moving up is that it will break up a good line. It can be argued that if scoring is the issue, its better to break up the 3rd/4th line than the 2nd line. But it is my belief that, for the most part, any harmful effects down the lineup is worth it, so long as the top line plays to its potential.
Fedotenko has the clear cut chemistry advantage, having clicked with Gaborik at times last year, and having played with Brad Richards in Tampa. But at the end of the day, he is not a top line player.
He has one career 20 goal season in the first season out of the lockout when there was more scoring in the NHL than there is at ... you get the point. Feds may see a jump in scoring on the top line, but that is true for any player and certainly no justification for putting a bottom six forward in prime scoring role.
Boyle is the most interesting name in the mix. He is a wild card for any line he plays in; it is uncertain if his enigmatic (here we go again) career is really on the upswing, or if 2010-11 was a fluke. He has certainly had a good camp and that may be enough to catapult him to the top, should the Wolski experiment fail. The fact that his move to the top would open up the 3rd line center spot for Derek Stepan (who has no business playing on the 4th line, by the way) is a definite positive. Richards has stated he likes to play with north-south type players, and the big-bodied Boyle certainly fits that bill.
But at the end of the day, the next in line needs to be Brandon Dubinsky.
As my readers panic about the breakup of the Pack Line like they are The Beatles of hockey, I will be quick to point out that the line can do just fine with Derek Stepan in the middle, as they did at various points during The Year of the Line Shuffle. It will certainly be a better spot for the sophmore pivot and he probably brings more raw talent to the line than Dubinsky would anyways.
Brandon Dubinsky, on the other hand, is closer to a grinder-plus-scoring, which is why he fits perfectly in the top line. He wins pucks along the boards. He is impossible to knock off the puck.
He goes to the dirty scoring areas of the ice. Who else on that line is going to do the dirty work? Certainly not the fragile Gaborik. You probably don't want the previously concussed Richards getting knocked around too much. But Dubinsky also has the skill to click with his talented linemates. He has shown a lot of promise, but is still looking for his breakout year, going into his 5th full season. If there was every a situation that could jumpstart him from career 2nd liner to 1st line talent, it is this.
So the way I see it, Dubinsky on the top line is a win-win-win-win.
We got a good situation for Dubinsky himself. We got someone to do the dirty work on the top line. We got someone on the ice to protect the fragile stars. And for bonus points, we got Derek Stepan in a spot he can thrive in.
Can't argue with that.
Argue with that in the comment section below
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