Over the past few years with the Rangers, the clearest indicator of a slump is when the 3rd line is the most effective line on the team for several games in a row. Really, the best way to know the team has been playing poorly is when you hear Sam Rosen say the 3rd line has been the team’s best line.
The common misconception amongst Rangers’ fans when this happens is that the 3rd liners deserve to have a bigger role on the team because they’re more noticeable than the top-6 forwards. When a team’s 3rd line forwards are guys who have produced points in their career but accepted roles as defensive forwards (think Jordan Staal or Franz Nielsen) for the sake of the team, the idea of giving that type of player more minutes makes sense. When a team’s 3rd line forwards are guys like the Rangers have had the last few years, it’s a bad idea at best.
The best example of fans’ dissonance between actual ability and perceived ability is Sean Avery. Fans liked him because he mixed things up and was a major asshole and this is New York, but when it came down to it the best production of his career by a mile was 48 points and he’s now NOT EVEN PLAYING IN THE AHL. At the beginning of this season, fans chanted for Avery all around MSG and articles were written and there were calls for John Tortorella’s firing for not using such a legendary player the right way. So, how’d that work out this year? I’m still waiting for my apology from Avery fans. I expect I will receive no such thing.
Players like Brandon Prust and Brandon Boyle are great at what they do, which is play smart and physical hockey at a high level of energy, but they don’t put points on the scoreboard. Metaphor time: in the NBA there are plenty of good big men who can defend the paint and rebound and blah blah black people. Fans and sportswriters fawn essentially masturbate to guys who have heart and never stop giving 110 percent even though you can’t actually give more than 100 percent but people are retarded, but the fact of the matter is they have to because they don’t have low post moves and can’t hit a mid-range jumper. If they could, then they wouldn’t be in the paint banging bodies all game unless they get to venture out because they were needed to set an epic screen.
Coaches and management are the best evaluators of talent in the world and they also have the most opportunity to evaluate the talent they have at their disposal. Sometimes they’re wrong or they miss on a player (excellent players like Dan Girardi and Alex Burrows started in the ECHL), but 99% of the time they’re right and they know what cards they’ve been dealt. If guys had the talent to play in the top 6, they’d play in the top 6. Does anyone think Torts is afraid of mixing up line combos? If he thought Prust had 25 goals in him he’d would be with Richards and Cally in a heartbeat, but he doesn’t. When the 3rd line is like the offensive line on a football team: when they stand out it’s nice, but really it means someone in another position who’s supposed to produce points probably isn’t doing his job.
Why can I only describe hockey by writing about other sports?
This is the first extended stretch of the season where at least 1 of the top 2 lines hasn’t been able to get anything going. If the guys on lower lines could step in and produce Torts would let it happen, but they aren’t capable of that. If the guys on the top lines can’t get going again, it’s time to write the season off. The Rangers would be completely fucked because they will not score goals. It would require the team to play mistake-free hockey, and that isn’t going to happen.
In earlier years, grinding lines would stand out because the Rangers’ scoring lines were horrible (2nd line vs. Caps in ’09 playoff series: old Drury with a broken wrist, horrible Nik Zherdev, and, worst of all, Sean Avery). This year not winning at least a playoff series would be the failure of a much more talented roster, and that would be a shame for a team that’s been so much fun to watch all season.
To conclude: if this team doesn’t start scoring Henrik Lundqvist will throw himself off the Brooklyn Bridge, and Avery is the worst.