Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Is Brandon Dubinsky Now Top Line Quality or Same Inconsistent Results?

Andrew Burton/Getty

For the first 20 games this season Brandon Dubinsky seemed poised for a breakout season and to put all his skeptics in their place.  In those first 20 games the 24-year-old left winger would be the New York Rangers best player registering eleven goals and seven assists with the majority of that coming in the absence of star winger Marian Gaborik.  Plain and simple Dubinsky was playing at an all-star type level.  The key to the tremendous start for Dubinsky the level of aggression and consistency of it on the offensive end was higher than he had been at thus far in his career.  For some they were just waiting for the offensive slumps that came to define his previous seasons as much as any of the good things he had done, but he looked to be over that and then Marian Gaborik returned from his 12 game absence.

For many the assumption was that with Gaborik returning it would mean easier competition for Dubinsky and similar if not increased production because of it.  The problem with that assumption is from the moment that Gaborik came back sans a few games/or stretches within a game Dubinsky has seemed content to fall back into the secondary role and defer to Gaborik.  With that shift in mentality Dubinsky has seen a drop in his production as well collecting a mere three goals in his last 15 games while adding another six assists, but being held scoreless in 9 of those contests.  The question then becomes this; Is Brandon Dubinsky the player who has the mentality and skill to carry an offense as he showed in the first 20 games or is he the same guy he has been the last few years inconsistent with flashes of brilliance?  Only Dubinsky can truly decide.

The reason the answer to that question is so critical to the Rangers present and future is because Marian Gaborik while back is struggling himself, along with Ryan Callahan now being out of the lineup and this summer the Rangers will have to decide what Brandon Dubinsky is worth when he becomes a restricted free agent.

Dubinsky, in the 35 games this season still possesses number that overall are still very good with his fourteen goals and thirteen assists.  Those numbers place him first on the team in goals, tied for third in assists and with the overall team lead in points.  The problem is the production has slowed at a point where the Rangers are getting little consistency from their top offensive weapon and Ryan Callahan’s injury only further depletes a roster that has not been known for consistent offense the last few years.  Since the injury to Callahan Dubinsky does not have a single point in the nearly 3 games and his impact has been diminished.

In light of those two issues for the Rangers the team needs for Dubinsky to take on the mentality he had early in the season when there were questions about how the team would score in the absence of Gabroik from the lineup.  The Rangers have built their team identity this season on being tough to play against and generating their offense through the forecheck and cycling the puck in the offensive zone.  This system has all the ingredients to be very beneficial for Dubinsky as he is does the tough work in the corners, is very tough to knock off the puck and will work in the dirty areas around the net.  Those things defined Dubinsky early in the season and the results spoke for themselves, but since the Gaborik return Dubinsky has not attacked the net in the same manner and is overall much more passive in the offensive zone.

Instead the focus for Dubinsky seems to have drifted to other aspects of the game like defending teammates and talking to the media and while both of those things can be good and show leadership in their own way it cannot become a distraction from doing what the team needs from him on the ice.  The selflessness with which Dubinsky plays defensively, killing penalties and sticking up for teammates are all things you love, but the offensive end needs to see more of a selfish persona.  Dubinsky needs to take the loss of Callahan in the same way he took the absence of Gaborik as a challenge that his team needs him to answer the bell as a consistent offensive threat if not producer.

With the Rangers latest line changes Dubinsky will now be on a line with Gaborik in order to spark Gaborik, but the player the Rangers need to spark just as much is Dubinsky.  It will be very interesting to see if this move to stick them together corrects the mental block Dubinsky is playing with right now in looking for his own offense or exacerbates it and for me it will say a lot about where Dubinsky can eventually end up as a player.  Dubinsky showed last season that he could play and had chemistry with Gaborik and did so in a way that did not require him to defer his own offense, so maybe this move of putting them together will rekindle those memories for Dubinsky.  If not the Rangers will have problems because for the most part they are sticking their best offensive weapons together hoping for magic and if they do not find it the grind they thought they were having to score will only get tougher.  Then again it is coach John Tortorella so if they fail for a period it could start all over.

All the best players in this league have a mentality that they want the puck on their stick in the crucial moments and they have no hesitation to take the shot when the defense gives it to them no matter who is on the other side of the ice.  Once Dubinsky decides that is the mentality he wants to consistently play with then, and only then will he put the slumps behind him and show his full potential.  For me the issue with Dubinsky is that mental block because the talent is there and the work ethic is there, but he has to believe he is that kind of player who can be one of if not the main guy even with Gaborik in the lineup.

Dubinsky has everything it takes to be a first line player in this league from a skill and work ethic standpoint along with the leadership qualities to be a captain and right now they need him to find all of that and put this team on his back because he is the only Rangers skater capable of doing it.  No player on the Rangers has the combination of skill and intangibles that he has and they need every bit of it now and when he finds his consistency will be the moment the Rangers find theirs.

So you tell me which form of Dubinsky is the one that will win out; the one that can carry this club to another level or the one content to be in the background and leave the Rangers right where they are?