Wednesday, January 26, 2011

C on D?

So, before I get into it, let's take a moment to reflect on how fucking fantastic it is to watch this team right now. I hate to use the clich├ęs that are all over the media about us right now, like "never-say-die" and crap, but they're pretty accurate: we just refuse to lose hockey games, regardless of the circumstance. It is impossible not to love this team.

And so, instead of stumbling to the All-Star Break wondering where our playoff position went, we come flying through January 7-6-1, in 6th in the Conference - 2 points behind the 5th-place Caps, tied with the 3rd-place Bruins, and 7 points to the better of losing a playoff spot. And that includes last night, a game I'm considering a moral victory despite not getting any points out of it. That game-winning goal for Florida was going 3 feet wide, Anisimov was coming over to get in the way, and it took a bizarre bounce high up into the air and landed right behind Lundqvist. It's a ridiculous way to lose a hockey game, and whatever. That goal was Florida's only registered shot of the period, after we held them to only 4 shots in the first. We came back to tie it early in the 3rd after being down 3-1, and we did everything we were supposed to. Fuck the two points, it's been a great month.

So here's the question: what next? I wrote last time about 8 injured starting forwards. Well, Brandon Prust proved me wrong by just cold playing anyway, leaving 7. We know Frolov is never coming back. Let's make some bold assumptions, for the purposes of discussion: 1) we don't give a damn if Boogaard ever gets healthy; 2) I know people are talking about Prospal finally returning very soon, but let's remain dubious and keep him out of the conversation.

Even without Prospal or Boogaard, we're looking at 4 forwards that do return to the lineup: Christensen, Callahan, Dubinsky, and Fedotenko. With the team playing like this, what do we do with them when they come back? Which lines deserve to be broken up? Who deserves to be sent down?

Well, I think we start by sending down Kolarik and putting Fedotenko back on that line. That's easy. Then, honestly, I'd take Anisimov out from the middle of Avery and Gaborik and insert Christensen there instead. I'd leave Wolski-Stepan-Zuccarello alone, and I'd use Anisimov to re-construct a new old line, centering Dubinsky and Callahan once again.

See the problem? We've got Avery-Christensen-Gaborik, Dubinsky-Anisimov-Callahan, Wolski-Stepan-Zuccarello, and Fedotenko-Boyle-Prust. We've also got Grachev or Dupont, Drury, and Newbury - and I really only see three of those four guys going back down to Connecticut. What do we do with Chris Drury?

Surely I'm not suggesting cutting him from the lineup - regular readers will know that I stand behind him as a player, and even though he's not producing, he's solid on the PK, and it's nice to have a veteran presence in the locker room. I don't think he's the travesty of a captain that a lot of Ranger fans seem to (and as I've said, I think our youth movement is well and truly in place, and I don't really think we need to cut everyone over 30). At the same time, look at those 4 potential lines, and tell me which forward you cut to make room for Drury. Is there anyone on any of those lines that you'd rather send down in deference to the captain?

Here's my wacky recommendation: suit up Drury on the blue line. Here's the thing: in 21 games since he returned, Drury has 4 assists and no goals in skating an average of 12:30 per game. I am passionately not one of those people who says "he makes a lot of money, so he needs to score a lot of goals" - I know there are lots of ways to contribute to a hockey team that aren't scoring goals. But the fact is that he's not producing. That's not why he's valuable to us this season.

He's valuable because, despite what we may think of his non-committal, soft post-game interviews, everyone on the team seems to say he's a great locker room presence. He's valuable because he's one of our best penalty killers. He's valuable because despite not scoring, he goes hard after the puck, he blocks zillions of shots, and it's very hard to score while he's on the ice (with only 4 assists and 0 goals on the season, as a forward, he's still a +2). Now, which position on a hockey team does that skill set describe?

Meanwhile, let's take an honest look at our defense. Yes, Staal, Girardi, and Sauer have all stepped up and played just inspiring defense this season. They're three great, young reasons to be excited about the future of this team. Eminger (the defense's resident old man, at 27) has been very good most of the time, with some awful games here and there, and needs to work on a little consistency. Then there are Matt Gilroy, Michael Del Zotto, and Ryan McDonagh, all of whome I'm happy with at times, all of whom I'm excited to see as part of this club's future, and all of which could stand some more time in Connecticut improving their games.

See what I'm getting at here? Throw the captain in the mix! Even on a third pair, he'll get a little more ice time than he does now, so it's not a demotion. People can stop expecting him to score, which he's not doing anyway. He can keep being the defensive strength he is for us now. Meanwhile, our blue line gets a little bit of veteran presence. We gain a little more depth for when there are injuries on defense, and we get Gilroy, DZ, and McDonagh to spend more time in Connecticut, actually competing with each other for spots. It's one thing to have DZ there working on his game by himself, it's another entirely to have a healthy rotation of kids, where every day they spend with the Whale, they're competing to get back onto the Rangers. Maybe even throw Eminger into the mix.

The one down side I see to this plan is faceoffs. Drury is the one Ranger who has taken over 50 faceoffs and is over 50% on them. We are awful on the faceoff, and moving Drury back to defense would only make us worse. But I'm thinking that might be worth it. Disagree with my crazy plan? Leave a comment: what would you do if Christensen, Callahan, Dubinsky, and Fedotenko all returned this week?

4 comments:

  1. Well, I can't say I can come up with anything better, because I've been wondering the same myself to no avail. I guess my best guess that doesn't involve something horrible is that Zuccarello starts playing like his age before we actually get all of those guys back, and it's easier to send him back down at that point.

    But if we did get them all back next week, let me ask you this - wacky fantasies aside, do you realistically think Slats/Torts would have him move back? I feel like sending a guy down who is playing well enough to stay or clearing the extra spot via trade is more likely.

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  2. I think your guess is right on - people will come back slowly, and management may get "lucky" enough that someone's play makes it clear that they deserve to be sent down.

    Realistically, no, I don't think either Slats or Torts will think to do this. I think that, with no other moves, they're more likely to sit Zuccarello (despite his play lately) or Anisimov (because of his play lately) or Avery (because Torts sometimes decides not to let Avery play, despite the fact that he's our best passer).

    Clearing the spot by trade is interesting. Who do you think we'd try to move? There aren't a lot of people I could see them giving up right now. Maybe Drury to a team like Boston or Nashville? I like Drury a lot, but would we mind seeing him go for, say, Shane O'Brien and a pick or two?

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  3. Son of a bitch, I lost my comment.

    The idea was: yeah, Drury. The original post was really a "we like this guy, he's solid, but we don't really have a good spot for him", so that's a trade candidate, right? I don't shit on him the way many people seem to be recently doing either (shouldn't we be happy there's at least one person that can win a fucking faceoff when it counts?), but if we need to lose a forward and everyone's playing the way they are currently, I'd be willing to see him go for someone else to shore up the blue line. We can get someone that would be at least as good a defenseman as Drury (on the ice; off is another story), and if we wanted to reach for a rental we've certainly got some cap room.

    Didn't Shane O'Brien get in trouble at some point for fucking with Avery? I know that doesn't narrow down the league too too much, but I feel like I remember something specifically with him.

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  4. Agreed. Hell, we've got all the cap room in the world - trading Drury would basically give us $17 million free. The question is: where is there a team with a good defenseman or two they'd be willing to lose?

    It looks like O'Brien got the usual Avery treatment: Avery pissed him off enough that he (O'Brien) speared Avery a few times out of nowhere, and was suspended a few games for it. Nothing special there ;)

    Whom would you go after? I hear Phoenix just picked up a $5m, veteran defenseman...maybe they'd move him?

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