Thursday, December 2, 2010

Who Is The Most Irreplaceable New York Ranger Right Now?

Over the past few days I have looked at the team, the record and what is coming next in determining if the team is legit this season.  Today I want to take a little step back and go with a more open ended discussion seeing as how the Rangers have missed various players this year due to injury and illness on the topic of what player can the Rangers least afford to be without.  When I say be without I am mainly referring to injury situations, but there is also the idea that if they left the organization in there as well.  If I had to guess coming into the season the obvious front runners for this type of question would have been Henrik Lundqvist with Marian Gaborik probably coming in second.  Right now I would say there are probably six candidates in what personally I would deem to be a relatively close debate as the current team is constructed.

Henrik Lundqvist: Henrik is the franchise goalie who has played who has won 30 or more games in each of his five seasons with the club and played in 70 or more games each of the last four seasons while being a Vezina finalist in three of those years.  Arguably the face of the franchise, a leader on and off the ice and as I said probably a lock to be the guy before this season started as the guy the team could least afford to lose for any amount of time.  The reason it might not be the same lock as before is that Martin Biron has shown in his action to be a very capable goaltender that could certainly fill in for a decent amount of time if Henrik was to go down.

Marian Gaborik:  The offensive face of the franchise that in his first season in NY put up 44 goals and 44 assists and for long stretches carried the offense.  He is the definition of a game breaking player as he can create offense for himself or his teammates at any moment.  On a team that has had its struggles generating consistent offense for years his value is likely more than what it would be on a different club that had more consistent weapons around him.  What is working against Gaborik in this type of debate is his health history and that in his 12 games missed this year the team went a respectable 7-5 as opposed to 7-6-1 in the 14 games he has played. 

Brandon Dubinsky: The 24 year old winger had a breakout start to the season elevating not only his offensive production in the absence of Marian Gaborik but also his consistency of play.  Dubinsky has been a key penalty killer for the Rangers for years now and in the absence of Chris Drury despite playing the wing this season has been the man to take all the key draws for the club and been their best faceoff man.  What works against Dubinsky is that despite being the best player on the team so far this season he has no track record of sustaining this level of excellence.

Ryan Callahan: Callahan like Dubinsky had a breakout start to the season in the offensive production being elevated along with his typical work leading the team and being among the league leaders in hits.  Callahan is an excellent penalty killer and shot blocker only adds to the value that Callahan brings to the table.  Just as important to what Callahan does in his game might be his standing in the room and the leadership void he has filled in the absence of the Chris Drury, the Rangers Captain.  Callahan is by no means the most skilled Rangers player but his combination of skill, guts, grit and leadership might be unmatched on the club.

Marc Staal:  The 23 year old defenseman has been on the Rangers top pair virtually since his second professional season and is seen around the league as one of the top shutdown defenders in the game.  Whether paired with Dan Girardi or Michal Rozsival Staal is sent out each night to take on and hopefully shut down the best offensive threat from the opposition and be on the first pair killing all penalties.  Heavily working in Marc Staal’s favor in this kind of discussion is the weakness of the other defenders on the left side and that there is absolutely no replacement for him on the club; especially one that can fill the void of 24 minutes a night.  Working against him is his up and down performance this year.

Dan Girardi: Like Dubinsky and Callahan, Girardi has made this discussion based on his value to the club so far this season.  Of late his play has dipped slightly but overall he has been the best and most consistent of the defenders the Rangers have.  Girardi is leading the team in minutes played, the team and league in blocked shots, defenders on the team in hits, and is fifth on the team in scoring.  What works against Girardi is the way that Steve Eminger and Michael Sauer have shown they can play when more was asked of them when Michal Rozsival went down for his name game stretch.  The fact that both of those guys can handle more responsibility and that Rozsival is proven as top 4 defender creates some sense of depth on the right side that does not exist on the left.

The reality is the Rangers with their talent level cannot afford to lose any of these guys for any stretch of time and still expect to have success.  Truth is there are not that many teams that can afford to lose one of their top six players and not feel it.  For me this is not question of who is the best player, but who is the most irreplaceable based on what is behind them in the pecking order and thinking of it in those terms really elevates Marc Staal up the list, and Brandon Dubinsky has clearly been the teams driving force and best player this season, but as well as Martin Biron has played in his action, Henrik Lundqvist is still the most irreplaceable figure on this club because they are only going as far as he carries them.  He is why when discussing the idea of Brandon Dubinsky being untouchable last week I said that the only player on this team that is truly untouchable would be Lundqvist.

Tell me what you think and if I missed someone that should be on the list or even if someone I put on should not qualify in your eyes.