In normal circumstances, I would be writing about the Rangers 1-2 trip out to Western Canada. But as any Ranger fans will tell you, there is no such thing as normal when it comes to the New York Rangers. There are three topics which are more pressing then the Rangers record on the road trip: 1) How are the Rangers going to replace Chris Drury and Brandon Dubinsky 2) Why didn’t the Rangers retaliate when Curtis Glencross knocked Drury out of the game 3) When is the NHL finally going to do something about hits to the head.
The answer to the first question has gotten a little clearer during the last couple of days. While Coach John Tortorella has not ruled Drury out of Thursday night’s game against Atlanta, even if the Captain does miss the game the news is definitely more encouraging.
Unlike a certain baseball team (the Mets), the Rangers have had experience (unfortunately, too much of it) when it comes to dealing with concussions and post-concussion syndrome. The Rangers training staff would not have allowed Drury to fly home with the team if there any complications.
There is some concern because Drury has had two previous concussions. He missed two games during the 2003-2004 season and four games (and 13 days) during the 2006-2007 season. While he did not take the ice on Monday, Drury did ride the stationary bike so he is able to partake of some physical activity. It appears that Drury’s return is a case of sooner rather than later.
On the other hand, the same is not true for Brandon Dubinsky who suffered a broken bone in his right wrist. Reports say that he could be out anywhere from four to six weeks – marking the first time he will miss NHL games since becoming a regular.
Tortorella does not anticipate the Rangers recalling anyone from Hartford because he has enough available players who can shift from wing to center (e.g. Sean Avery, Ryan Callahan and Chris Higgins) or he can just run three lines and spot the fourth line. This idea is not a crazy strategy given the Rangers relaxed schedule during the next two weeks (three games in the next 10 days and four games in the next 15).
While it might be perceived as a confidence boost for Ranger forwards, it is mainly an indictment of the state of the organizational depth in Hartford at center. Evgeny Grachev has five goals and seven assists in 14 games, but you get the feeling the Rangers don’t want to yo-yo him up and down between the AHL and the NHL. In other words, when he gets recalled it will be to stay.
Corey Locke is a possibility, but as Mitch Beck Howlings pointed out to me, he is in the same boat as P.A. Parenteau. Both players have deficiencies when it comes to defensive play and skating – although Locke does thrive on the power play.
There really isn’t much the Rangers can do on the trade market because of the lack of salary cap space. Even though the Rangers could get some relief by placing Dubinsky on Long Term Injured Reserve, that is not athe best case scenario. While he will be out long enough to qualify for LTIR (10 games and 24 days out of the lineup), the Blueshirts lose that cap space once Dubinsky is ready to return to the lineup. All LTIR does is give the Rangers room to call up players from Hartford – where they run into the problem about a lack of depth at center in Hartford.
It seems that as long as Drury is not out of the lineup for the long term, the Rangers will mix and match with what they have. If they need to add some offensive punch, odds are they will recall Parenteau and just live with what they have. Claiming Adam Mair off waivers from Buffalo just adds another fourth-liner and looking at Peter Forsberg is not an option because of cap issues and health issues. You can also scratch Tyler Arnason off the list beacuse he has been suspended by the Wolf Pack for signing a contract with a European team.
As for our second question, let’s turn to Torts himself for his take on the Rangers lack of retaliation. Here is what Steve Zipay wrote on his Newsday Blog on Sunday.
“I think a lot of guys didn’t even see it. But we’re here to win the hockey game, that’s so early in the game.”
The coach is spot on with his assessment. The Glencross hit occurred 49 seconds into the game. Any retaliation at that point could have jeopardized the game. Yes, I know the Rangers lost, but no one knew that was going to happen a minute into the game. Besides, Daniel Girardi did take a “run” at Glencross who proceeded to skate away.
Some fans would respond that the Rangers should have done something at the end of the game. Perhaps, but don’t forget what happened when Dane Byers drew an instigator penalty with less than five minutes at Vancouver.
Of course, this begs the question – Who would been the player to seek out the retaliation?
Sean Avery? The last thing Avery needed was to cause some kind of ruckus after returning to the scene of his “sloppy seconds” comment that got earned a six-game suspension and an eventual ticket out of Dallas. If Avery had even looked cross-eyed at anyone, you could bet the NHL would hand down a suspension faster than a New York minute.
Byers? The rookie was just returning from his automatic one-game suspension and the last thing he needed was to cause any trouble. It is that type of action that gets players their own rules (see Avery).
The interesting thing about all this retaliation talk is it is coming from a fan base that couldn’t fathom why Colton Orr was in the lineup while he was here and don’t see why Donald Brashear and Aaron Voros on the team as we speak. If you want the Rangers to retaliate, Brashear and Voros are the types of players you need in the lineup – flaws and all.
I know that Voros is the 2009 version of Joe Paterson – a fighter who is willing to drop the gloves but can’t beat anyone. I know that Brashear’s best days are behind him and that age and injuries have caught up with him – and he is a suspension waiting to happen based on past history. However, I don’t mind if an over-the-hill player gets suspended. I do mind when a rookie trying to make his mark in the NHL does.
For better or worse, the Rangers are going to have find a way to keep Byers and Brashear/Voros in the lineup if there is a concern about opponents taking liberties with the Rangers star players. The other possibility is to recall Justin Soryal from Hartford. The 6-2/210 left winger is a tough guy fans are waiting to see. Mitch Beck of Howlings says he has earned his nickname (“Scary”) and as Mitch said “and by the time he’s ready to come to NY watch out…”
Before I end, allow me to step on my soapbox and rail against the job the NHL is doing when it comes to hits to the head. I know that in today’s world we have more access to sports news than ever before. With that said, it seems that the number of injuries as a result of hits to the head is increasing at an alarming rate. Sadly, the NHL is not going to fully address and correct this issue until it is too late and someone dies.
While the league (and more specifically Colin Campbell) deserves all of the negative press it gets as a result of uneven – and in some cases – light suspensions, for once the blame lies beyond Gary Bettman and the league.
The NHL Players Association must share the blame with the NHL. Since the players have the most to lose, it stands to reason that the NHLPA should be at the forefront of any discussion on hits to the head. However, it is difficult to take up this problem when the NHLPA can’t even get their own house in order.
If both sides were smart (and it is a big IF), they would meet to address this problem and use it as a stepping stone for getting a new Collective Bargaining Agreement.