And the winning numbers go to?....

The debate began as far back as July 2, 2011, remember? Once the jubilation subsided after we signed Brad Richards as a FA, just about everyone penciled - make that magic-markered - Gabby in to be Richie's go-to RW. Our only pure scorer, determined to rebound from an injury-plagued season and tragedy-filled off season, teamed with one the leagues best passers. What a pairing these two elite talents would make at "The World's Most Famous Arena!"

But still, the question remained: Who would play the left side on NY's new #1 line?

Lots of thought-provoking banter ensued. Dubinsky perhaps? After all, coming off a breakthrough season during which he led the team in scoring and having just signed a nice contract extension, he might be a good fit and up his game as anticipated playing with those two, although Brandon had jelled well with Artie and Cally for most of the prior year so a shift to the top line would simultaneously create another hole.

What about Step? Though listed as a "C", he had some collegiate experience playing wing and had already demonstrated some nice hands around the net during his rookie year. Plus, given his struggles defensively and on draws, wing might be a nice change for Derek with less of those types of responsibilities. But could he handle the pressure of playing on the #1 line as a mere sophomore? Who knows?

And then there's Sean? Many, many of us out there thought back then that Avery might make a nice fit with those two, more finesse-oriented players by adding some much needed grit to the top line. Alas, we all know what happened with that option.

more after the jump....

Well, as it turned out, that NY Happy Meal of a combo was missing more than its "prize" winger for most of the year. Within a month after returning from Europe in September, the two most talented skaters on the team were playing on separate lines. And with mixed results. Gabby has had the most non-Richie success, putting together a nice run playing with Step at center and Artie on the other wing. And meanwhile, Richie and Cally have often formed a pretty good #2 tandem, although it seemed the new problem of finding a winger for them had emerged.

So what to do? What to do?....

Well, low and behold, down the stretch run of this unfathomable, 50 win, 107 point season thus far - marks achieved primarily with Gaborik and Richards rarely coming over the boards together at even-strength. and with Richie's game slumping at times - JT took a shot, so to speak.

That's right. He reunited NY's burger and fries. But aha, this time, he unexpectedly super-sized the Happy Meal with the prize of Carl Hagelin. Who? Yup, "Hags" - an early season call-up from the Whale who a) Torts admits he wanted to keep around after camp to infuse even more youth into an already young core, b) oh-by-the-way, won the Fastest Skater honors at this year's All-Star Weekend and c) has meshed so beautifully with Gabby and Richie, that the two exploded for top production league-wide in the month of March.

Oh yeah, THAT Carl Hagelin!

So, for those of you who can honestly admit that, back in July, they had Hags penciled in - make that even as a passing thought - to be Gaborik and Richards' #1 LW down the stretch and going into the playoffs, please fess up or forever hold your peace.

I have some Mega-Millions ticket forms for you to fill out next time. :)

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