I realize this will get rambling and messy, so I apologize in advance. What, you say, when is it not rambling and messy? Uh, fair point.
I just want to highlight two recent Larry Brooks articles and clip and paste some key points from them.
The first was Friday's [10/31/08], after the Rangers won behind Nik Zherdev's heroics:
Friday's article said:
"Scott Gomez , the ultimate playmaking center, continues to skate between mismatched bookends Ryan Callahan and Nigel Dawes, the latter of whose continued presence in the lineup mystifies as much as his assignment on No. 19's left side."
" 'We can't mistake what we're doing here for being great,' said Tom Renney, who unaccountably sat Petr Prucha in favor of Dan Fritsche. 'The effort is, the intentions are, and Henrik has been.'"
The next was yesterday's [11/3/08] - two days after the embarassing train-off-the-tracks ending in TO.
"But the most distressing pattern thus far revolves around the Renney's reluctance to give his best playmaking center, his most creative pivot and his elite puck-carrying breakdown skater - they're all Scott Gomez, by the way - complementary wingers who belong on his line. The head coach's attempt to spread the wealth has created a fragmented offense lacking a go-to line with which the opposition must contend.
The Rangers have committed $51M over seven years to Gomez, yet they've assigned him to play with Nigel Dawes and Ryan Callahan, wingers who probably are more compatible to third-line responsibility. They have taken their most talented center and all but marginalized him as an offensive force."
I'm not writing this to bring on yet another Prucha or no-Prucha scenario - although please note that Larry very obviously feels Prucha should play in place of not only Dan Fritsche but Nigel Dawes, perhaps, as well.
I am writing to say, he's right. He's right.
Some people on blogs right now are actually saying that the Callahan/Gomez/Dawes line has looked good, shown promise, or had chances. Ironically, or naseatingly, these are the same things coach Tom Renney is saying. And to that I say:
Seriously. Phooey! I cannot believe that this team, it's fans and it's coaches want to settle for just okay. And right now, the guy that could potentially garner 70 points as a play maker and set up any two of his linemates to get 25 goals a piece, is sitting on 3 goals, 8 assists, and 11 points. (2 assists which came in that Detroit game where the plan worked, and 3 of those points in Europe, and only 3 of which have come in the last 5 games).
I am a huge Rangers fan. I got yelled at last night at dinner because apparently that was all I talked about all weekend. Hockey. And I admit it. I have a very one dimensional life at the moment and, no, none of this makes my opinion any better than anyone else's but. . come on now.
I realize they are winning. And the winning was fun when it became, hmm, how long before they lose. And they did versus Buffalo. Then it became will they get the all-time best record to start the season. And as of last Thursday, they did. All good things. But now that those things are over (and kudos, overall, because we're talking about 82 years!), it's time to go back to basics.
If anyone watching this team can honestly say that they have a) shown a 60 minute effort b) been cohesive and/or c) been playing entertainiing, in your-face, hockey, - - I will find it impossible to believe.
If it's 60 minutes, it's 60 minutes in play-to-get-by mediocrity. If it's cohesiveness, it's cohesiveness to a system that is flawed. And if it's entertaining, in-your-face hockey they've been playing, I think I need my eyes checked.
When I watched this team in pre-season and in Europe - what little I did see of Europe, there was one thing that could not be denied. Their speed. It was commented upon and written about.
If this team does nothing else, it will be fast. Or so they said.
Now, where did that go?
They have not been fast. They've been, actually, quite slow. Slow in movement, slow in skating, slow in thought, and slow in results. Slow.
And that's not okay with me. Not at all. Why? Because they showed they can.
Let me tell you who is fast on this team. Gomez, 9 times out of 10, is fast. Freddy Sjostrom is fast. Colton freakin' Orr even showed he had wheels the other night against Atlanta (?) when I mistakenly looked down and thought he was Sjostrom. Guy has wheels. Petr Prucha is fast. Ryan Callahan is very fast. Zherdev is fast.
Now have they won? Yes. But let me tell you. And I'm not going to be popular. Now that they've done what they did. Gotten off to a good start and padded some extra points, why is it so wrong to want the speed, want the fast, want the exciting back? And this is where I get unpopular. Even if they lost the game, but it was a game of forechecking, hitting, crisp passing, end to end rushes, breakout passes, hustle, and speed, I'd take it. At this point I'd take it.
I said it in pre-season. If this team becomes the boring-as-hell trap and clog and skate around in circles, score two goals and sit on it team, I'm going to vomit. Literally.
Here's my take. Gomez, as Larry said above is being wasted. He is. Sure I can go back and say, really, did we need even one new center on the team two years ago - ? Perhaps. Did we need two? No freakin' way. It wasn't broken. It wasn't broken. But Sather & co played "ooo pretty, me want" and the Rangers were saddled with two overpriced and unmovable centers. Neither of whom could play with the big man - Jaromir Jagr. The Rangers struggled the most they did post-lockout that season. Got two centers when the team was not broke. Fast forward to this summer. Now with Shanahan, Jagr, Straka, and Avery gone - not a lot of wingers. So they add Naslund, Zherdev, Voros to the wing. Fine.
And the ONLY time this team has seemed exciting so far this season was when their two best new additons (sorry Dmitri Kalinin - you didn't make the cut) - Voros and Zherdev were sandwiched with.. ..wait for it. .. Brandon Dubinsky. Dubinsky, the savior to Jagr's season last year. The savior to almost anyone. Stick him with Dawes, Prucha, Callahan, - the whole lot. And they've all looked good with him at times. That's a credit to Dubinsky, but death to this team getting anything done across the board.
So we're back to no effective centers. Again. And no effective wings. Again. Really. If Nik Zherdev didn't skate on 10/24 in Columbus or on 10/30 against Atlanta (and Hank didn't play well), I argue they lose both those games. This team cannot survive with just getting by. It was proven Saturday night.
And again, back to Larry's point that you are wasting Gomez. Damn right you are wasting him!
You already have one line that you pretty much know is around to do the "other" stuff. The imovable although steady 4th line of Betts, Sjostrom and Orr. My desire to replace Betts and frustration that it was not Nedved to do so has passed (although #93 could still gladly replace #23 for my sake), and I've realized he and his line are very effective at what they do. Keep the puck out of their own nets. Betts had a nice goal before the meltdown in Toronto. Orr has fought almost on a nightly basis it seems, and not been a defensive liability. And he has wheels. Sjostrom might be a waste on that line because he's too good for it, I'll be honest. But I'm sure I'll get back to that later.
But my point is, we already have that line. That line that is just there.
So now, people are saying the Gomez/Dawes/Callahan line is fine to keep because they haven't given up goals. And they have been getting chances. Umm, here's a shocker for you. That's not the way it's supposed to work! The line that Gomez is on need to be scoring. Because guess what? Dubinsky, post-benching or post-something, is having a slight case of the sophomore slump right now. And he's dragged a once confident Voros down with him. Naslund, thank goodness (and kudos to him) has looked more like the finisher he is. But he's not going to be fancy, remember. Niki Z has looked sharp, but he cannot be the guy every night. And then you have the captain of the ship, slow and lazy, who scored a fake goal on the Island and then went back to invisiblity. And cannot even seem to win faceoffs anymore. Sorry, but apparently I've gotten sarcastic and a little bitter in this (but I did apologize already once, right?). Come on, the team is in shambles and I can't believe I'm defending Blair Betts!
Okay, I don't know what it makes me that I knew it in advance. But I apologize for the above rambling mess.
Back to what should be done:
Sjostrom (1-1-2 with a +3), Betts (2-1-3 with a +4) and Orr (0-1-1 with a +2) seem to be the immovable. I somewhat disagree. Take whomever proves to be the odd man out. Be it Prucha, be it Dawes, be it Fritsche- and stick them with Betts and Orr. Sjostrom's speed is being wasted here. Betts has more goals than he does (shootout king status not withstanding). Put someone else there that will not be a defensive liability and the line sticks. Sjostrom and Betts can still be PK partners, which they are great at. Sjostrom, honestly, for all his PK hustle and hustle in general, deserves more minutes, period.
Take Gomez and stick him with anybody but Dawes. Stick him with Naslund or Zherdev. Yes, I agree with Larry. He needs to play with one of these guys. If its Zherdev, then stick Prucha or Voros on there. If it's Naslund, stick Sjostrom or Callahan there. (again, I'm holding out it's not been Callahan dragging them down).
So Gomez, Zherdev and Voros or Prucha OR Gomez, Naslund and Sjostrom or Callahan.
That leaves Dubinsky. How about sticking the guy that can play with everyone with two guys he's played well with before - Callahan and Dawes. Not perfect, but that can be a nice 3rd line. I mean I'd suggest Sjostrom go in there, but goodness knows Renney will probably never move him from the fourth line.
That leaves Drury. And I've used all my energy coming up with the above, sorry to disappoint. But do not put Drury with people slower than he is. So that cuts out half the team. Honestly though, maybe you do stick him with people as slow as him. Or maybe you put him on wing and stick him with Orr and Betts. I almost think I'm not kidding.
Honestly, didn't Dawes/Callahan and Drury see some success at one point? Perhaps that.
Either way, I've wasted enough time. Gomez with Zherdev or Gomez with Naslund. Sjostrom moves up to play with somone so HE can score goals. We know he's poised to. Stick Voros with someone who can get the puck to the net. Let Prucha play because he's looked like he at least has a pulse and win/lose/or draw, I'd rather watch him out there skating than guys just circling around and looking bored.
One last thing, however, before I sign off on the long, rambling mess that no one will ever read. As posted on Steve Zipay's Newsday blog[11/3/08]:
"Nigel Dawes was back with C Chris Drury, a pair that had success in the preseason. Petr Prucha was on the right side.
Dawes, who registered an assist in Toronto, but has just one goal, won't be riding the bench, said Renney. At least not yet.
'There was a time when Chris Drury had the most primary chances on this team..I think he still may, but Nigel's creeping up the ladder to have the most," said Renney. "He's been the guy shooting, he's hitting posts or the guy's making some real good saves. Nigel is a goal scorer, he scores the pure stuff, I think that's in him; If it doesn't translate into goals though, when you're looking at people like that, you ask yourself. 'OK, is his contribution what we need?' As with most people you've got to hang in with them and give them that chance....Nigel's a pretty confident guy, but that doesn't mean he's not sensitive to what's going on around him and what's required of him. And that's probably as important.' "
Which begs me to say, so that logic only applies when the player in question is not Petr Prucha?
If so, that's BS, and hypocritical. Renney said two things pre-season about #25. That he was the most in shape guy in camp and that he would be given the chance and the minutes to play consistently for this team.
So far, he has not been given anything of the sort, despite those promises.
But wonderboy Dawes, has been in for 8 straight games. And playing with the best playmaker on the entire team.
What part of that story do we not know?
**note, I wrote everything yesterday for this - but am only posting it today. In case something appears inconsistent with my use of today/yesterday. I tried to fix it as best I could. That, however, does not justify the rambling mess. We've already been through that before. ;) **