Brandon Dubinsky

Pluses and Minuses

With the Rangers just a couple of weeks away from the NHL trade deadline (March 4th), the players in the organization no longer just have to worry whether they’ll be dressing in Broadway Blue, but whether the new man behind the bench will make them be successful, or perhaps send their careers the wrong way.

It’s fair to say that every coach has their successes and failures with players. Certainly some have more success than others, but ultimately it’s human nature to have favorites, and to perhaps work harder on some than others. It’s also fair to say that not all players respond positively to a given coach, so we take a look at the Rangers and who may and may not benefit from the tutelage of John Tortorella.

Mark Bell – Neutral
Newly acquired off of re-entry waivers today, Bell’s career is close to the point of no return. Bell clearly has talent (he scored 20 goals twice early in his career with Chicago), but there’s something clearly missing with three organizations having now passed on his services.

One might question his maturity level, and perhaps commitment to work hard, while an-off DUI conviction during his tenure with San Jose, certainly didn’t help things. He’ll be given a chance to resurrect his career under Tortorella, but likely it’ll be in the player’s, rather than the coach’s hands.

Blair Betts – Negative
Betts has played for three coaches since coming into the league, but only brief stints under Greg Gilbert and Duane Sutter in Calgary before joining the Rangers. Under Renney, Betts has flourish, getting plenty of ice time despite only limited scoring. Betts has earned his time largely through his defensive reliability and his penalty killing ability, but now must face the prospect of getting less even strength ice time under Tortorella.

John Tortorella has already indicated that he’s not a fan of rolling four lines, and that means Betts and his line mates will be amongst those who suffer. It’s likely he’ll continue to be used as a PK specialist, but with UFA status looming this summer and a tight budget, Betts find himself on the outer.

Ryan Callahan – Neutral
One might ask why I’ve chosen to predict that the coaching change will have a neutral effect on Callahan, and I’d have to answer that I think he would probably progress much the same way under any competent coach. Callahan has proven to be a player who tries to make the most of his opportunities. In some ways he’s like Mike York, in that he has been able to generate success beyond what was predicted, he’s also a little undersized for the type of game he plays.

There’s not much doubt that he’ll at the very least, be one of the initial fits in Tortorella’s system, but the question remains as to whether he can grow his offensive ability to more than what it currently is…a tough ask for any player.

Nigel Dawes – Positive
Under Tom Renney, Dawes was in many ways expected to play a game that didn’t take advantage of his natural scoring abilities. Dawes has struggled to get on track with his offense, while at the same time his defense has remained at times inconsistent.

In a more offensively minded philosophy, there’s a good chance that Dawes could benefit, and become the offensive threat the Rangers have wanted. On the downside, Dawes may face the prospect of being traded as the Rangers tune their roster at the deadline, particularly given his pending RFA status and a tight Rangers’ Cap position.

Chris Drury – Positive
Drury has spent time in three different organizations prior to the Rangers and has played for the likes of Bob Hartley, Al MacNeil, Darryl Sutter and Lindy Ruff. For the most part he’s been a career 20 goal scorer, but under Ruff in Buffalo he broke out with 30 and 37 goal seasons.

It’s clear Drury is trying to shoulder much of the team’s woes himself, and that has proven to be too much for a guy who really is more of an all-round second line player, than a guy who can spark an anemic offense. The introduction of Tortorella will likely provide a much needed break from the media glare, though brief as it may be, it has probably bought him enough time to get his own game on track.

Brandon Dubinsky – Positive
If there’s one player I really think will benefit under John Tortorella it’s Brandon Dubinsky. The confident (some would say brash) center/wing has had modest success in his first two full seasons in the league, but has stalled this year along with the rest of the team. Dubinsky has the size and has overcome concerns about his skating from junior, and has cemented a position on the top two lines.

The introduction of a harder edged coach, who is more inclined to stay on the young Alaskan native when he eases back would seem like a good thing, and if there’s further upside, I’m betting Tortorella can find it.

Dan Girardi – Positive
If someone needs help on the roster right now, it’s Dan Girardi. The third year defender (2nd full season) has really struggled this year, and many point to his pairing with Wade Redden as a key reason. Too often he’s been left high and dry, and to top things off his offense has completely dried up after his power play time was cut.

With Schoenfeld back to help out the blueline, and a new sheriff in town, we see Girardi as potentially being one of the biggest beneficiaries. One thing that would certainly help is a new defensive partner…though if one is to be forthcoming, we’re yet to find out.

Scott Gomez – Positive
If there’s anyone who’s used to coaching changes mid-season, then it’s probably Scott Gomez. Gomez played for no fewer than six coaches across the river (Robbie Ftorek, Larry Robinson – twice, Kevin Constantine, Pat Burns, Lou Lamoriello and Claude Julien), four of whom didn’t finish out the season.

Perhaps the constant change is one of the reasons why Gomez has never seemed to make it to the next level, and has remained a streaky player. At any rate, the gregarious Alaskan native appears to be one of the types of players who might benefit from a coach who puts success back on him.

Dmitri Kalinin – Negative
It’s amazing to think that this is the first time that Kalinin would have experienced a mid-season coaching change in the NHL, despite this being his 9th season (excluding the lock-out). Of course that’s because he played for Lindy Ruff, who managed to largely keep Kalinin in the line-up, despite his defensive lapses.

Tom Renney seemed relatively patient with Kalinin this year, but with no spare NHL defensemen, it may have simply been that he had no choice. With Reitz now on the roster, this could well mean that Kalinin will be one of the first to be held accountable if he doesn’t tow the coach’s line.

There’s a possibility that Schoenfeld might be able to get a bit more out of him, and it’s likely that he’ll be given more of a green light to jump into the play, but ultimately this looks like a losing proposition for the Russian, who was signed just for the one year.

Lauri Korpikoski – Negative
It may surprise some that I’ve selected Lauri Korpikoski as one of the players most at risk of failing under Tortorella. Korpikoski is very much a product of the “feel good” approach that was evident under Don Maloney and Tom Renney and there’s definitely some question as to how the young Finn will stand up to a more assertive approach.

Korpikoski for his part has been one of the few bright spots in the last few weeks, and he’s likely to have an ally early on in Hartford GM and former coach Jim Schoenfled, still there remains some concerns as to how he’ll do if he continues to make the rookie mistakes defensively, while not generating offense at the other end.

Henrik Lundqvist – Negative
Lundqvist has played his entire NHL career under Tom Renney, and while he didn’t immediately earn his coach’s trust at the beginning of the year, he seldom heard a critical word from Renney, but that is likely to change if he goes through a less than optimal phase under Tortorella.

Certainly the new coach is more nuanced than his calling out of John Grahame a couple of years would suggest, but he’s certainly not afraid of trying to motivate his goaltenders directly. Whether Lundqvist is the type who’ll respond to that kind of motivation if it comes up, is also questionable…and it may come to that with Tortorella likely to implement a less defense first approach that will leave his goaltender exposed more often. Overall it looks like this might be a bigger challenge for Lundqvist than many of his team mates.

Paul Mara – Positive
Mara has played for a number of coaches in his NHL career (Jacques Demers, Steve Ludzik, Bob Francis, Rick Bowness, Wayne Gretzky and Dave Lewis) and is the only Ranger who has played a regular season game under John Tortorella, having played for him whilst in Tampa. In that first go round, his coach considered him selfish and inconsistent, but has stated he likes the way he’s played this year.

In the second go round (and through his play to date this year) we expect Mara to benefit this time from Tortorella being in charge. Mara could well see a bigger role on the power play, one place he had a lot of success with while in Phoenix.

Markus Naslund – Neutral
As the most experienced player on the Ranger roster, it’s not surprising that Naslund has seen his share of coaches. From his time with Ed Johnston in Pittsburgh to stints with Rick Ley, Pat Quinn, Tom Renney, Mike Keenan, Marc Crawford and Alain Vigneault in Vancouver, before rejoining Renney in New York.

Overall the biggest benefit Naslund is likely to receive is a loosening up of the reigns and maybe a greater offensive production from the team as a whole. As the leading scorer, it would seem likely that he’ll also benefit there. But overall I don’t see the fate of Naslund changing too much in the short term, and next year when he’s a year older, it’s hard to see him being too much more productive.

Colton Orr – Neutral
Orr started his career with the Boston Bruins under coach Mike Sullivan, who many believe will be the next assistant under Tortorella come the 2009-10 season. It’s not clear though that there’ll really be any effect either way on Orr’s development or time on the ice, with the only real reason he’s in the line-up being that he’s a willing combatant, able to stand up for his team mates.

Tortorella has shown he’s not afraid to dress enforcers (see Chris Dingman and Andre Roy in Tampa), but Orr is far from a flawed NHLer and will need to continue to prove that he serves a purpose, though may actually benefit from the fact that Tortorella doesn’t roll four lines and can afford to keep a specialist like himself in the line-up.

Petr Prucha – Positive
Whether Prucha will actually get a chance to benefit from Tortorella’s changing of strategy is yet to be seen. As one of the few contracts over $1M in value that could potentially be moved, Prucha may find himself playing for a new team come March 4th.

If he does indeed stay, then there’s a good chance that he’ll get some of the opportunities denied to him by Tom Renney. After starting the season slowly, Prucha has been in and out of the line-up since, and despite having some modest offensive success, he’s continued to be the first man sent to the side lines.

Wade Redden – Negative
Wade Redden played most of his career under Jacques Martin, before finishing out his stint with Ottawa under the management of Bryan Murray, John Paddock and Craig Hartsburg. While Martin oversaw Redden’s rise to the top of the blueline ranks, it was under Murray that things started to go downhill…a trend that accelerated last year under Paddock and then Hartsburg.

Perhaps also the loss of his long time partner, Zdeno Chara had something to do with it…but for whatever reason, Redden has not lived up to even part of the 6 year 40+ million dollar contract he signed.

Still the new coaching staff is already focusing special attention on Redden to try and find a way to make him successful again, whether they can do that in a short time remains to be seen, and if the Rangers continue to struggle (and the MSG faithful boo), then it’s hard to see how they can right his ship. Ultimately it doesn’t look good for the quiet Redden, who appears completely ill-suited to play in the unforgiving New York market.

Erik Reitz – Neutral
Reitz was added to the Rangers to provide some depth at defense, but has been quickly pressed into service due to the injuries of first Kalinin and then Mara. Reitz has played under Jacques Lemaire, so is certainly familiar with a no nonsense style of coaching, and in some aspects he may get a greater chance to play through Tortorella denying others playing time.

Whether Reitz is really up to the task is probably beside the point at this stage, he’s sufficiently skilled to play a regular shift in the NHL, though perhaps is best suited as the depth defenseman he was brought in to be. Ultimately I don’t see much affect either way on his future with the Rangers.

Michal Rozsival – Neutral
Though he’s only played for two franchises in his NHL career, Michal Rozsival has already played for five different coaches including: Herb Brooks, Kevin Constantine, Ivan Hlinka, Rick Kehoe and Tom Renney. While Rozsival gets plenty of grief from the fans, he’s relatively durable and fairly productive as a Ranger, and there’s no reason why that should change under Tortorella.

Perhaps one effect we will see is a change in power play ice time, which might drag his numbers down a little, but that might be balanced out by the increased focus on offense and the additional assists you’d expect as a result. If the new coaching staff can figure out a way to get Rozsival to shoot more, then this could easily be a positive…but no one has yet figured that out.

Fredrik Sjostrom – Negative
All four coaches (Bob Francis, Rick Bowness, Wayne Gretzky and Renney) have given Sjostrom a chance to succeed offensively, but on each occasion the former first round pick has come up short. It’s not unlikely that we’ll see Tortorella also give the Swede a shift or two on a more offensively gifted line, but it seems clear at this stage that Sjostrom’s value is more as a role-player who can forecheck aggressively, kill penalties and get the odd goal.

The only thing perhaps going for Sjostrom is that there’s not a lot of competition for his job, with Prucha and Dawes both weak defensively and neither has produced much more offensively this season. On the whole though, it doesn’t appear as if Sjostrom will be the type of player who will benefit from the style that the new coach brings…if he’s noticed much at all.

Marc Staal – Positive
At times this year, Marc Staal has looked like the best Rangers defenseman in the line-up, but in recent weeks he’s struggled with consistency and was probably as guilty as anyone of a drop-off in play. The addition of Jim Schoenfeld to the coaching staff is likely to have the biggest effect on the second year blueliner, and that might very well be what he needs to get to playing his best hockey yet.

Look for Staal to join the rush more under Tortorella’s direction, and we might finally see some of the offensive ability that he’s demonstrated at times.

Stephen Valiquette – Neutral
There’s a good chance that Valiquette will see more playing time under Tortorella, if for no other reason than his new coach might be more willing to try and inspire Lundqvist by sitting him after a poor performance. The veteran netminder has played a handful of games in his career under Butch Goring (6) and Craig MacTavish (1), but almost all his career has been with Tom Renney behind the bench.

Still, with just 21 games remaining and UFA status pending this summer, it’s hard to see there being much affect over all for “Valley”.

Aaron Voros – Negative
Voros has played for just two coaches, both of whom have felt it necessary to make him a healthy scratch after his performance tailed off. With the first lines out of Tortorella’s practice noticeably missing the former Devils draft pick, and the acquisition today of Mark Bell, it doesn’t look good.

In his defense, it may simply be that he doesn’t have what it takes to play at the NHL level on a consistent basis. He certainly has less than average foot speed, and his physical play is too inconsistent…coaching is likely to be unable to change either of those things to the extent that they need to be.

Nikolai Zerdev – Negative
Just ask Doug MacLean, Gerard Gallant and Ken Hitchcock how easy it is to coach the Ukrainian born Zherdev. Likely you’ll get plenty of positive comments about his natural ability, and even his ability to turn a game, but that is also likely to be followed by frustrations over his inconsistency and at times, poor decision making.

Zherdev has let it be known that he likes playing in New York, and he’s certainly had more good games than bad in the Rangers sweater, but as with many players from the Soviet Union, it’s difficult to know exactly how to motivate and challenge these players without putting them into a funk.

Tortorella had his own Ukrainian experience with the Lightning, turning Ruslan Fedotenko into a 25 goal scorer, but Fedotenko’s style of play is very different from Zherdev’s and certainly several of the Russians he coached (Alexandr Svitov, Nikita Alexeev and Dmitri Afanasenkov) never managed to prosper under his leadership.

Ultimately I think Zherdev may initial benefit from the change in style, but may struggle longer term with maintaining the level of consistency that Tortorella will seek, causing neither to be happy with the situation.

In The System
Of those players in the system, it’s difficult to see anyone who is likely to benefit or suffer under Tortorella’s control. There maybe an outside chance that a guy like P.A. Parenteau or Patrick Rissmiller gets another look now, while the likes of Corey Potter, Jeff Fahey and Artem Anisimov will likely have to wait for injuries to open up spots for them to compete as Tortorella goes about the process of evaluating what he has.

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