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.