In this space, just yesterday, the point was made that, due to the potentially extended loss of defenseman Marc Staal, it would be incumbent upon the second line of Artem Anisimov, Brandon Dubinsky and Captain Ryan Callahan to compensate by producing offensively. The thinking was that with more overall offensive production the Rangers' depleted defense corps would not be expected to carry as much of a load.
This would additionally reduce the pressure on the top line combination of Brad Richards and Marion Gaborik, playing with whomever reveals themselves over time to be worthy of that role, as they are likely to face the opposition's top checking lines more often than not.
One game into the season, it appears as if Rangers head coach John Tortorella has different ideas regarding line compositions, as for last night's matchup with Los Angeles he moved LW Dubinsky off the second unit and placed him on the first line with Richards and Gaborik.
This is Tortorella's team, of course, and undoubtedly he has the most knowledge of the strengths and weaknesses of his players, but keep in mind that this also is the same coach who had Marion Gaborik skating with everyone but Dorothy Hamill last year.
While Gaborik is responsible for his own production, familiarity with linemates typically breeds anything but contempt in the hockey world. Gaborik never settled in last season, was never the force he was the season prior, and the Rangers consequently had no true sniper to rely on as the season wore on.
With Brad Richards as his center, Gaborik is expected to produce this season at a pace that is commensurate with his skill. Combined, Richards and Gaborik have more than enough ability to ensure that their line will produce consistently. As a result, the winger who they ultimately play with long-term does not necessarily need to provide big numbers offensively.
Placing Dubinsky on their line, in addition to giving them a legitimate offensive threat, does provide the physical presence that Richards and Gaborik will need to ensure they have space to create. There are, however, other roster options available that accomplish at least the physical piece without diminishing the second unit's potency.
They would have more options, of course, had Tortorella recognized that Sean Avery belonged in New York and not with the Rangers' Connecticut minor club. Different story for a different day, though. And in an ideal world, Wojtek Wolski would have revealed himself to be the answer on that first line. So far, not so much.
One option actually with the club is Ruslan Fedotenko, a physical winger who understands his defensive responsibilities thoroughly. Fedotenko is a long-time veteran of the Tortorella system as well, which makes putting him on that top line as the enforcer/defensive conscience so attractive. Fedotenko will chip in the odd goal as well. With all the attention being paid elsewhere, his production would increase.
Brandon Prust is another, very similar, option at LW for the first unit. He is high energy and will not back away from any conflict in defense of his teammates. These are huge attributes for a number of reasons, however they are made more substantial in that, again, they serve to deflect attention away from Richards and Gaborik.
Would you keep Dubinsky with Richards and Gaborik?
What has yet to be addressed is the reality that by adding Dubinsky to the first unit, Tortorella is obviously not making him available for the second. While Callahan and Anisimov are threats in their own rights, the second line with Dubinsky on it would be a classic example of the sum being greater than the value of the parts.
The second unit is decidedly diminished without Dubinsky's presence, and consequently the first unit is diminished by extension. For the Rangers to excel this season they will need a balanced offense that produces consistently. By putting all his metaphorical eggs in one basket, however, Tortorella is undermining balance in favor of isolated firepower. It's a strange choice and a bit shortsighted as well.
Ranger fans, entering the season with very high hopes, will more than likely not have much patience for a team that cannot score or defend very well. Staal's absence ensures that the team will struggle defensively far more than anticipated. Similarly, Dubinsky's absence on the second unit ensures that the offense will not be what it needs to be. Early days, no doubt, but a situation worth watching.