Two-Thirds of a Top Line Is Enough for Rangers

Colorado Avalanche left wing Wojtek Wolski (8) and New York Rangers right wing Marian Gaborik (10) during a regular season game between the Colorado Avalanche and the New York Rangers at the Pepsi Center in Denver, Colorado. The Rangers led 1-0 after the first period.

It looks like the Rangers are considering Wojtek Wolski for the top-line wing spot, which would have him playing with Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik.

It would be a nice gig for Wolski, especially since there were rumors the Rangers might buy out his contract this summer.

But the Rangers really don’t have many options for their top line. Coach John Tortorella probably wants to keep his Brandon Dubinsky-Artem Anisimov-Ryan Callahan line together. And any trade ideas the Rangers might have had are probably on hold while the team tries to figure out Marc Staal’s health after a concussion last season (although the team is shockingly deep on defense).

So it makes sense the Rangers would look for an internal candidate for that top-line spot. But maybe there’s another option.

Quite a few coaches over the years have worked with two-man lines, basically having two permanent members of a line, with a third player variable, depending upon who’s hot or who’s tough. Flyers’ coach Peter Laviolette works a fair amount with two-man units, too.

Tortorella has never been this kind of coach. When he’s had a top line at his disposal, he’s used that as much as he could. When he hasn’t had a top line, he’s been inclined to randomly throw players together when things start to go south.

Tortorella relaxed a bit with his random lines last season, but he still likes to mix things up when he feels the team needs some kind of boost.

Keeping that winger slot open would allow Tortorella the flexibility to mix lines up, without having players getting to know each other on the fly.

If Richards and Gaborik have a chemistry with each other, and that’s yet to be established, then a mystery third man could help keep things fresh for them. Someone like Sean Avery could join them when Tortorella wants to create a little havoc. Someone like Dubinsky could come up when Tortorella wants some size. Tortorella would have options and variety without disrupting his top line.

The Rangers had quite a few injuries last season and one of the things that allowed them to keep their season together was Tortorella’s discipline with his lines. He tried not to mix things up too much, which allowed healthy players to get familiar with each other.

I don’t expect Tortorella to deviate from that plan this season, and with two-thirds of a genuine top NHL line at his disposal, I also don’t doubt that he’ll get that line out on the ice as much as he can. By mixing up the third member, though, that line might be harder to match against. Plus, he can keep at least a third of the line with fresher legs, by rotating who’s out there with Gaborik and Richards.

Tortorella has dreamed of a legitimate top line to lean on. He still doesn’t have that line, but he just might be one player closer to the dream. Now, he just needs to be open to the idea of a committee approach for that left wing slot.