[Note by Jim Schmiedeberg, 08/10/09 8:43 PM EDT j-red is one of the newest members of our site, and he's put together a real nice opinion piece here. Welcome to the Banter j-red!]
I'm obviously new here. I've been looking for a place to read and chat about the Rangers, and I think I've found it.
Optimism is seldom seen when discussing the New York Rangers. Often, on other sites, optimism is met with criticism, insults, and long lists of past failures and disappointments. Rangersmurf's post last week was a breath of fresh air amidst the complaining and deriding statements surrounding Glen Sather and this Rangers' offseason. Despite the Rangers' shortcomings of the past, I feel that there is much to be optimistic about with regards to the upcoming season. My purpose in this post is to expand on Rangersmurf's expression of optimism from last week.
The most immediate inspiration for this post is the strong feeling that I have that we will see the longest, and most productive season from Marian Gaborik yet. My other reasons for optimism are (the obvious one) the new coaching staff, and the possible chemistry of what I feel should be the second line.
Let me start with Gaborik. I've read horror stories in the past about how Minnesota fans would cringe at the words 'Gaborik' and 'groin' in the same sentence. Everyone is aware that he has had multiple groin injuries in the past. He has been labeled 'fragile', 'soft', and I've even heard him called "Mr. Glass". However, I haven't read many (or any) in-depth analyses of his injury history and his most recent surgery. I have heard (in passing) that the surgery was completed to solve the nagging issues with his groin. I don't think this has been given any weight though, among fans and critics. Most seem scared to be optimistic about his health. While that is completely understandable, I think its important to take a look at the relation this surgery has to all of his previous injuries. Just today I came across a great article related to this by Arthur Staple, which can be found here:
Basically, (as noted in the above article) Dr.'s Philippon and Kelly are othorpedic surgeon's who have led the way in diagnosing and treating a torn hip labrum, an injury that has been found to cause ongoing groin and hip problems in professional athletes. Dr. Philippon completed the surgery on Gaborik this past season, and by Gaborik's own account, he has recovered nicely.
Here are a couple of important quotes from the article:
Team trainers are taught to look for deeper causes of soft-tissue injuries like strained groins and hip flexors and even sports hernias, which is a relatively new diagnosis. But looking for underlying hip issues had never been the thing to do until recently.
"Now we have a red flag. It’s exciting," said Ronnie Barnes, the Giants’ head trainer for the last 30 years. "The focus on the labrum and its importance, it just wasn’t there."
And the surgery simply wasn’t there a decade ago. "It’s like going back 30 years ago and nobody’s had a ‘Tommy John,’" Delgado said of the elbow surgery that saved the former All-Star pitcher’s career. "Now, everybody’s had a ‘Tommy John.’ And they save their career."
It's important to keep in mind that until Gaborik plays a full season, injury-free, questions about his health will not go away; nor should they. Obviously, if he goes down with another injury, then none of this is relevant. But is this fairly new surgery enough reason to be optimistic about his health for next year? I think so; absolutely. If things progress as they should, and are expected to, he could be past his groin problems for good. But of course, nothing is 100%.
Another reason to be optimistic about the upcoming season (and I believe most already recognize this) is the new coaching staff. I've heard it said that the coaches don't win games. It's true that you can have the best coach in the world and sub-par players, and not go anywhere. The coach does not infuse the players with talent. But I don't believe this team is talent-less. In fact, I think that there is a lot of talent, and potential talent on this roster right now. What the coaching staff does is bring that talent out, and push the players to use it properly. They design the system that allows the players to flourish and they put guys in the right position to succeed. Furthermore, they teach players how to achieve that success. I think, and I hope many would agree, that John Tortarella and Mike Sullivan will be much more effective at doing this than the previous staff. This is not a knock on Renney and his staff. They were instrumental in ending the playoff drought and bringing 'winning' back to New York. I don't think, though, that they had the ability to take this team to the next level. Tortarella brings that ability; he has shown that he has the ability to coach a team to the Stanley Cup. If he believes he can get Redden and Roszival to play better, then I believe him. He can also take the Rangers' youth and turn them in to solid NHL'ers. I absolutely love what this new coaching staff brings to the team. None of this excuses the ridiculous contracts given out by Sather. But if there is a coach to get the best out of those players, its likely Torts.
My last point (there'll actually be two points here) is about what I think should be our second line, and their possible chemistry. It is my opinion that a line of Higgins - Drury - Kotalik will be very successful and should be together for most of the season. Higgins and Drury are both very good defensive forwards. Both can play the penalty kill, and both are very responsible in 5 on 5 play. Also, Higgins is a worker, a strong skater, and can play the boards fairly well. Drury, meanwhile can also work the boards, and is wonderful in front of, and around, the net. He can score dirty (albeit clutch) goals with the best of them. Kotalik brings a different dynamic. He has a powerful and accurate shot. He is exactly who you want in the slot, above the circles, or at the point when guys like Drury and Higgins dig the puck out from behind the net. Also, Drury had his most productive year playing with Kotalik; he scored 37 goals the year before coming to New York. Many of those goals came from in close around the net, and I'd be willing to bet that a good chunk of them came off of rebounds from Kotalik shots. I think these three can complement each other very well. My second point that goes along with this, is that Dubinsky and Avery should be on the first line, while Callahan should be on the third. I know many will disagree that Cally should play third line, but I believe that Avery needs to be on the first line with Gaborik. Avery is a very strong skater, can carry the puck, and because he is so agitating, he demands attention and can create a lot of space for Gaborik - which is exactly what he needs. Furthermore, Avery is grittier than Cally and can fight much better. He provides modest protection for our new star, and is probably the best combination of fight and skill that we have. Cally will provide an offensive punch for our third line. He creates his own chances by forechecking and forcing turnovers, and would likely have more chemistry with Anisimov and possible Lisin than Avery would. In fact, I think that Avery's best chance at being very productive is by playing on the first line; he could rack up a ton of assists playing with Gaborik because he works the boards so well and can create space.
That is all I have to add to Rangersmurf's 'optimism-inspiring' post from last week.