“The $60,000 question”


That was how Tom Renney referred to the current debate within the Rangers over how to handle some of its more promising young players (here’s “my story on the issue in today’s paper”:http://www.thejournalnews.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20060922/SPORTS01/609220371/1046/SPORTS).

The dilemma looks something like this: for prospects like Brandon Dubinsky, Nigel Dawes and Marc Staal, is their time better spent seeing limited minutes on the Rangers or playing a more prominent role at a lower level (presumably Hartford for Dubinsky and Dawes and juniors for Staal)?

Renney himself seems to be going back and forth on this. So as I always do when struggling with such pressing matters as whether to buy a new lawnmower, where to take my summer vacation, and whether or not to have a second bowl of ice cream, I suggest making a list.

Assuming all three have at least the ability to play at the NHL level right now, here are the pros and cons (at least as I see them) to keeping such young players with the team.


— Nothing compares to NHL experience: If you want your players to learn to play at the increased tempo of the game’s highest level, the only way to do it is by exposing them to it on a regular basis.

— They’ve achieved all they can at lower levels: Along the same lines, there is the risk of diminishing returns by keeping players down too long. In the case of Staal, for instance, he can take certain shortcuts against inferior competition in juniors that he wouldn’t get away with in the NHL. That leads to bad habits that might not be easy to break down the road.

— There’s more to it than NHL games: Even if they’re seeing only limited minutes a night, there are inherent benefits to being around NHL players on a daily basis. That includes practicing against the likes of Jagr and Lundqvist, getting used to rigorous demands of NHL travel, even learning to deal with yahoos like me in the media. That experience can’t be duplicated anywhere else.

— It sends a message to everyone else: This part has been stressed to me from various people around the team. If the Rangers’ emphasis continues to be on development, then allowing young players a chance now has a trickle-down effect to everyone else in the organization. If those players can make it, other prospects see they’re efforts are not in vain, either.


— Young players need to play now: This is a tough one to disagree with. At such a crucial stage, one theory says its better for a young player to just be playing anywhere as opposed to getting 8 to 10 minutes a night at a higher level. As someone who spent a fair amount of time riding the pine as a young player on a team, I can tell you practicing against good players helps. But playing in real games helps even more.

— They may be forced to change their games: In the case of Dubinsky and Dawes, both could eventually be front-line NHL type players. But if to start they’re buried on the fourth line where they’re only expected to go out and bang for 40 seconds, they might get away from doing what they do best. Renney says that’s not the way he likes to coach, that his fourth line would play the same type of game as the first. But sometimes reality dictates otherwise.

— You risk breaking their spirit: Along with young legs, young players also carry an infectious optimism. But what if they struggle to start at the NHL level? If you bring them along too fast, whatever confidence they had might dissipate over the course of the season. Sometimes it’s better to put players in such a position where you know they’re going to succeed.

So where does this leave the Rangers? I don’t know. I just made the list. I don’t envy the guys who have to actually make the decisions.

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  1. As I see it, the hardest decision to make of those three is on Staal. Dubinsky and Dawes can be sent to and recalled from Hartford on a few hours notice. There’s no saying they can’t be sent to Hartford for a weekend stint to get some playing time in, similar to how Prucha was before Rucinsky was hurt last year. Given how the pre-season has progressed, it looks like the Rangers will have no chance at avoiding the injury bug as successfully as they did last year. At least one of Dubinsky or Dawes will most definitely start the season in NY (though in my gut I suspect both will) and the other would get the call as soon as a forward goes down. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see 4-5 prospects/pack players in the lineup on a night at some point this season. I just have a bad feeling about injuries this year.

    The problem with Staal is that it’s an all or nothing situation. After the first 10 days of the season, it’s either another year of juniors, or the full season in NY. It’s a crap situation to be in, really. I haven’t had the opportunity to see him play yet, so I can’t really say how close he may be to a full-time NHL player. But I wouldn’t want him to stay here as the 7th defenseman. I think there’s more to be gotten from playing on a regular basis (even if it’s at a lower level of competition) and participating in events such as the WJCs. From a team standpoint, if the injury bug continues to bite, they have players like Richter, Pock and Lampman who can step up and fill roles probably as well as Staal can right now, on a short term basis. My understanding from listening to and reading reports on the Pack’s playoff run last year was that Staal struggled at times at the AHL level. NY fans are rough. I’d hate to have him struggle early on and hear fans calling him a bust and including him trade rumors, much as Tyutin has already been by some folks. There’s no shame in playing out your junior eligibility. Defensemen generally take longer to mature as players than forwards, so in this case I’d probably err on the side of caution and send him back to juniors rather than rush him now. I expect, given Renney’s penchant for using caution, that will ultimately be what he decides to do.

  2. My sense is that it’s a rare player that gets called up to start on the second line. It’s on that player to warrant a longer look once they’ve proven they can hang at a higher level.

    Dubinsky or Dawes can start the season getting comfortable on the third or fourth lines, and force Renney to move them up with their play, the way Prucha did last year. Give them a couple of special teams shifts along the way, see what they’re made of.

    And if they don’t show us anything, we have the luxury of sending them down and bringing up whoever is lighting it up in Hartford.

    With Staal, if he hasn’t played his way into the lineup after game #9, send him back to juniors for the rest of the season. Then you’re not limiting his dev, but you’re also not holding him back. He’s tougher because our D-corps seems to be locked in.

    My $0.02

  3. imo staal should head back to juniors without question. no use in wasting a year of free agent eligibility on a 19 year old that isn’t one hundred percent ready. let him develop another year in juniors and then maybe even a full year in hartford no point in rushing a kid like that with loads of potential. we aren’t starved for depth at defense, with rachunek, lampman, pock, baranka, liffiton, and richter all capable of playing nhl hockey if an injury happens. dawes and dubinsky on the other hand are the best options we have at their respected positions and i am fully confident that they will make this team.

  4. All good points. You guys are sharp.

    I think in Staal’s case, it makes sense to keep him for those first 10 games because it’s a free look. If he’s out of his depth, you send him down as you expected, and everyone’s fine.

    I asked Renney yesterday what the downside was to letting him start the year in New York and he said it would be an issue if he couldn’t give him minutes. But even then, it’s 10 games. The only way to know if he’s ready now is to give him the chance. If not, wait ’till next year.

  5. Hi Sam !

    As tough as it to see live NHL games over here in Germany
    ( we have one pay tvchannel, showing live games from the NHL twice a week starting at 1 am in the morning !!) it is even more tough to assess the talents of a Nigel Dawes, Brandon Dubinsky or Mark Staal. In the past I heard from a poster, frequently seeing those guys, that especially Dawes is maybe able to play on the Rangers top line in the future

    Would you agree and do you think he will have the same breakout season like a Petr Prucha under the tutelage of a Jaromir Jagr ????

    Do you think that Brandan Shanahan will have the same impact on their developments as has a Jagr on a Prucha realizing that he already started to skate in the offseason with Hugh Jessiman !!!

    I would really like to see a reenergized Shanny after the last couple of disappointing early exits with the Wings. I really recall to see a match live at the Joe when he was skating on a line with Stevie Y and Sergej Fedorov and that belongs to the best I ever seen on a ice rink !!!
    He probablay shoud fit very good with his humor in the NY media world….:)���

  6. I have another question to you:

    On Saturday you will probably seeing me again asking for an internet coverage of the Rangers game in San Jose. In my previous post I wrote about difficulties to catch live games out of the NHL…..

    Probably one an half year ago I really had a fantastic idea to explore the possibility of webstreaming of live games over the internet after some anger with some paytvchannel and their bad services and high fees….I have downloaded a software from china ��� which enables me to see live games of top matches out of every international soccer league as well as live games par exemple from the NBA without any additional costs ( it is with Chinese commentary but I don´t care and it is sometimes funny !!) A couple of weeks ago Eurosport offered live webstreaming from the US Open in Flushing Meadows from any available courts and two weeks I had the same services offered for 5 Dollars for each game of stage one of the European Soccer Champions League !

    Now to my question !

    What do you think how far away is the NHL or the New York Rangers offering the same service maybe making single matches or packages available over the net ??????

    On Tuesday I heard about the Flyers webstreaming a preseason game against the Capitals which is not on TV…

    I would really like to hear your assessment !!!!!

  7. Patrick Hoffman on

    I feel that Staal should play with Hartford this season. I do not think he is ready to play in the NHL just yet and as an NHL head coach, you only put players on the ice who are 100 percent ready to go.

    Give Staal a full year in Hartford and then by this time next year, he should be ready to crack the Rangers roster.

  8. 10 game look is fine but who sits? it works out if roszival isn’t ready for the opener but otherwise you’d be sitting a guy like rachunek who most likely is going to be on this team opening night just to get a look at staal. imo you really only use that option if roszival isn’t ready to come back.

  9. Matthias —
    Not sure about the webstreaming option mostly because I’m not exactly tech savvy (you’re lucky I can even figure out how to do this blog). My guess is if there’s not a lot of extra overhead, it would be the same thing as some of the packages you get with satellite TVs. Maybe someone else can chime in on this because I’m out of my depth. What I will do, however, is ask someone who does know when I get the chance.

  10. Well, it would be great to be on the Rangers website to select the game you are looking for a reasonable price and making it available for registered users all around the world….

    I admit that sometimes the quality is not the same as in TV but the technique and the internet lines progresses and I hope in the future I can select any game I am interested in….I am going to wait for this for a very long time now….

    The NHL should realizes very quick that is the future and it would expose their product and would even more generate money for the benefit of everybody involved in the industry of hockey…..

  11. fellas – first time reader. got your address from the guys over at the BB. nice work. imo, let dubinsky and dawes play. i don’t think dawes has much more to gain by scoring another 50 in the ahl. as for dubinsky, if the kid is working this hard to make the team now and playing as well as he is, i say he deserves a shot at the big time. adding a little more youth (and skill) to this team would help on several levels and serve to balance out the roster nicely. send staal back to juniors – as another poster said, let’s not waste that year of eligibility.

  12. phild, I absolutey agree ! Let those guys play and show what they can do. I dream about a line of Shanny tutoring Dawes and Dubinsky like a couple of seasons ago when Brett Hull played on this line with Pavel Datsjuk and Henrik Zetterberg…They had a kind of nickname I forgot about….!!!!

  13. matthias – that’s exactly the line i was hoping for. shanny needs to play with creative guys… plus, opposing players will surely be a little careful around the rooks with shanny out there with them.

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