Red Bull Gives You Wings
Two men have received the majority of the blame for the ineptitude of the 2008-09 Rangers offense. After all, Chris Drury and Scott Gomez do eat up over 14 million dollars of the Rangers cap space, and their production has been far from comparable with other players making similar amounts of money. However the reason for their struggles throughout their tenures in New York City is not because they lack talent or effort.
Rewind to 2007. The Buffalo Sabres win the President's trophy, thanks to the fastest and most explosive offense the post-lockout era has seen. Chris Drury,
Co-Captain of the Sabres, puts up 37 goals and 32 assists in his second straight 30-30 season. It is not coincidence that Drury has put up two career seasons in the first two winters following the lockout. The once lowly Sabres put together a perfect "New NHL" team that perfectly exploited the rule changes that allow speed and skill to prosper. Drury was the beneficiary of this, and thanks to his talented teammates and Lindy Ruff's offensive system, he earned himself a huge contract from the Rangers. What they didn't foresee is that he would not click with Jaromir Jagr and would be subjected to a third line role in his inaugural season. Nor did they realize that his future included centering Nigel Dawes and Ryan Callahan who are not exactly your natural born scorers. What they should have known that all of his power play points that year came on a PP line that had superstar Daniel Briere
quarterbacking it from the left circle and that the Rangers could not provide a similar environment. We all know this now, but now it is too late. Too late to go back on that lucrative contract, and in a cruel twist of irony, too late to get quality wingers for the Connecticut native as a direct result of that lucrative contract. So the Rangers are stuck between a rock and a hard place and will be for the next 3 seasons as well, unless a team wants to take on a whole lot of salary and a whole little talent
And so, the fault for Chris Drury's performance lies mostly, not fully but mostly, with Glen Sather (surprisingly, this will be the theme of the blog) not for signing Drury, but for signing him without considering what else is needed to ensure his success.
Lets travel a little further back, all the way to 2005-06, the first season out of the lockout. The New Jersey Devils were on their way to another division title and would eventually sweep the Rangers in the first playoff round. The leader of the offense was the only man ever to dislocate Jaromir Jagr's
shoulder without touching him. He also put up 84 points that year, 33 of them goals, and that was impressive enough for the Rangers to offer him a equally impressive contract in the 07 offseason. What the Rangers didn't realize is that teams had yet to adjust to the new NHL rules and refs were trying to drill the "no hooking/no holding rules" into everyone's head by making phantom calls. They did not realize that Gomez,
was having such great success because his speed and puck handling abilities created a conundrum for big, slow opposing defenses. What the Rangers should have realized when his shooting percentage dropped from a whopping 13.5% to an average 5.2% the next year is that teams are adjusting and he isn't worth as much money as he is earning. Even though Renney is isolating his only two scoring wingers, Naslund
and Zherdev, by putting them on the Gomez line, the center is still on pace for just over 50 points on the year. Another misjudgment of talent by Glen Sather and even Renney's solution of restoring the wing talent equivalent of Elias and Gionta wont help because teams can now zero in on the top line. Another rock, another hard place, and this one will last for another 5 years. Getting scared yet?
One last trip back in time brings us to 2007-08. Brandon Dubinsky has barely scored his 40th and final points of the year and the fans already have made him a fan favorite. Phrases like "the next Mike Richards" and "lock up long term" are thrown around in conjunction with his name. He is only a rookie after all and .5 points per game is quite a feat for a first year player. This year he is on pace for another .5 point per game season, but most of the 22 points he scored came in the first 15 games of the season. Now he is in a slump, possible coming to earth after losing Jaromir Jagr as his winger. Is it really a surprise that Dubinsky has not improved on last season when he has played with the likes of Voros,
Fritsche and Sjostrom instead Jagr and Straka? Shouldn't we realize we have not seen his trademark drive to the net with one hand on the stick, or his ability to maneuver through the neutral zone before dishing out a perfect pass, in quite a while. Is it possible to fathom that he is another Ryan Callahan, not the next Mark Messier?
And would you dare to think that other team's are over evaluating his talent and would be willing to take on a big salary if they can get a hold of him. After all, the Rangers need a top winger more than they need a potentially great 3rd line center, and the only way to get a top winger is with money they don't have. So come trade deadline, will Sather plan on signing another questionable center to a long term deal, or will he let another team make that mistake?