Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Should Dubinsky Move Back to Center?

Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
Looking for a player capable of holding down the number one center spot is something the New York Rangers have been doing for far too long.  In the search, just this season, the team has tried a lot of different line configurations, and while many of them are generating shots and chances, they are not currently generating goals.  One thing the team has failed to attempt is moving Brandon Dubinsky back to his previous position of center.  The team is already using Dubinsky as a de facto center in terms of taking every draw when his line is on the ice and now taking most defensive zone draws with the absence of Chris Drury, so why not just leave him on the pivot after the puck drops?
While I do not think Dubinsky’s ideal position is as a first line center, he is the player best equipped among the current roster to handle the duties.  Anisimov and Stepan have shown flashes at times, but are not ready for the responsibility on both sides of the ice as a first line center.  Christensen has had so many chances, mainly by default, but has never shown any semblance of grabbing hold of the opportunity.  Vinny Prospal is another candidate, but his knee might not be up for the task of being a center as opposed to playing on the wing.
The fact is, for better or worse, Dubinsky has become the Rangers go to offensive player and the best place for him to do his work is at center.  Playing in the middle will allow Dubinsky more space on the ice to create for himself and his teammates.  I also like that it forces Dubinsky to be more in front of the net as opposed to drifting to the corners, which he has a tendency to do.   There are some negative possibilities in that he could become unfocused like was previously when he was at center, and there is the potential that he could lose some of his aggressiveness in the power forward type role he has taken on.  In the end, for right now, the potential rewards outweigh the possible risks.
This is not meant as another form of tearing the lineup apart to solve Gaborik as I believe the onus for that is on him, but with his line not working and the Dubinsky, Anisimov, Callahan line not producing goals, mixing and matching those parts might not be a bad idea.  I would surround Dubinsky with the Rangers best forward of late, Sean Avery, and their supposed best offensive player Marian Gaborik.  As I talked about yesterday, the chemistry that Avery and Gaborik have has been the closest thing to getting some consistent play out of Marian this season.  The team has tried to turn the clock back in the three games since Prospal’s return, but the pairing has not shown anything like what they had last year and honestly right now Prospal’s energy is being wasted on Gaborik.
Putting Dubinsky and Gaborik together should create space for each as long as Dubinsky does not defer to Gaborik, which I believe he has gotten over.  I think the results, leadership role, and the vocal role which Dubinsky has taken on this season allows him to and will have him be more comfortable in being more forceful with Gaborik than anyone else who has played with him can be. 
This line combination has the potential to play multiple styles at the same time.  The line can play both a dump and chase/forecheck style game, with Avery and Dubinsky being the primary players to work those battles,  and one that is capable of carrying the puck into the zone and creating offense that way.  For me it is the best mix of the two styles the Rangers have tried with Gaborik and it allows for a skill game, without being a soft line that can get pushed around.
Beyond what it does for this trio, the move has positive ramifications down the roster as well.  The move allows Stepan and Anisimov to not have the burden of being the top line guy or the one responsible for Gaborik while just playing their game.  It also eliminates Christensen from the equation as he becomes a spare part of the fourth line until other players return to the lineup or the Rangers recall a player better suited for a fourth line role.
I would run the following lines:

It would be more likely though that coach Tortorella would go with a line of Prospal, Dubinsky, Gaborik, and work from there, in an attempt to give Gaborik and Prospal as much time to recapture last year as possible.  The move might be a long-shot to happen because of Tortorella's public statements regarding Dubinsky as better on the wing, then at center, but if the Rangers are going to try different groupings as much as they have, then there is no reason to leave a possible solution untried.