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
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
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
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.