Slats’ Smurfs gotta muscle up

When was it exactly that the people making the personnel decisions

for the Rangers came to the conclusion that size and strength are

not necessary attributes for a team to thrive over the course of an

82-game season?

The contrast is striking every night, when the Blueshirt

smurfs try to get to the front of the net against (much) larger

defensemen while enemy attackers flood Henrik Lundqvist’s crease

without meaningful opposition from players who are either too small

to make a statement or too meek to matter.

It is imperative that GM Glen Sather acquire big bodies who

will use them, even if it means sacrificing some of the skill level

that coach John Tortorella covets in his athletes.

But then, there is no point in Sather acquiring these people

if Tortorella won’t give them the chance to establish something,

and, no, four-to-six minutes of ice time a game does not qualify as

getting an opportunity.

Nearly halfway through the season, it is impossible to tell

whether Donald Brashear can play at all. This much, however, is

certain: Brashear, who is just over a week away from his 38th

birthday, cannot possibly contribute by getting five or six brief

turns a game.

No 38-year-old, let alone one at 6-foot-3, 235, can be

expected to sit for eight, 10, 12, 15 minutes at a time and then be

able to find his legs when called upon.

The Rangers don’t so much owe it to Brashear to find out

whether he has anything left in his repertoire of villainy —

he was not hired to dangle — but to themselves, given that

No. 87 is on an over-35 contract that means that his $1.4M for next

year will be applied against the cap even if he is waived to the

minors, bought out, or retires.

Fourth-line players cannot be afterthoughts. Jaromir Jagr

knew that when, during the magical sleigh ride through the winter

of 2005-06, he consistently cited the Dominic Moore-Jed

Ortmeyer-Ryan Hollweg unit as, “the best fourth line in the league

and that I ever played with,” as a key to the Blueshirts’ success.

Tortorella is zealous in his belief that you score and win by

riding your top players. It worked with the Lightning. Of course at

Tampa Bay, he could construct a Brad Richards-Vincent

Lecavalier-Martin St. Louis top unit that could just as easily have

been the NHL’s first all-star team.

It is essential for Tortorella to establish a structure and

construct defined lines with identities and roles, rather than

switch combinations every six minutes. Tortorella likes to label

himself a “spontaneous” coach, but the Rangers need more definition

and less impulse.

Marian Gaborik does not need Brandon Dubinsky as his center.

Vinny Prospal is just fine there if accompanied by a left wing who

stays out of the way, much as Brad Isbister did for Jagr and

Michael Nylander.

But the Rangers need Dubinsky between Ryan Callahan and Sean

Avery on a forechecking, crash-the-net second line. Chris Drury and

Christopher Higgins could then form a third-line combination. The

Rangers would at least present a pretense of depth under this

scenario.

Tortorella’s method of creating offense isn’t working. The

Rangers cannot consistently score more than two goals a game with

the coach’s over-dependence on the cream that rises to the top of a

bottle that is half empty – the half that on any given night

doesn’t have a role and doesn’t get the chance to contribute.