The Left Wing Conundrum

June 1, 2011, by

With all the offseason focus on Brad Richards, another question about the makeup of the Rangers for next year is about who will complete the line of Richards (presumably) and Marian Gaborik.  Last season, the Rangers used almost every LW on their roster in that spot, and that constant change does not bode well for the chemistry of a top line.  When looking at the possibilities for LW, the Rangers have three routes to go: in-house (including pending UFAs playing for the Rangers last season), free agency, or trade.  Let’s tackle the choices for each possible route the Rangers may choose.

Note: For the purpose of this post, I am going to assume the Rangers will sign Brad Richards.  This is far from a done deal, so don’t analyze that too much.


The Likely Candidate: Brandon Dubinsky.  If the Rangers choose to address the top line LW in house, Dubinsky is the likely choice to play along side Gaborik and Richards.  Dubi has a nice combination of skill and grit that he could do the dirty work and open up the ice for the more talented Gaborik and Richards.  In this role, Dubi would serve as the Tomas Holmstrom of the Red Wings, where he grinds it out, and then plants himself in front of the net.

The Other Possibilities: Ruslan Fedotenko, Sean Avery, Vinny Prospal, Mats Zuccarello.

The Dark Horse: Christian Thomas.  Thomas is the Rangers most gifted scorer in the prospect pool (that has signed an entry-level deal), and is definitely has a shot to make the team next season.  Thomas would need a lot of things to go right for him, but his skill and work ethic may give him an edge.

Free Agency

The Likely Candidate: Jason Arnott.  I have to be honest, I’m looking at the UFA forwards, and not one of them looks like they could be a likely candidate for LW on the Rangers.  Arnott does everything that Dubinsky would do, he’s just more seasoned and would provide good veteran leadership for a Rangers squad that would be in need of some veterans with Prospal and Chris Drury likely gone.  If the Rangers are forced to go the UFA route, I’d rather they just re-sign Ruslan Fedotenko.

Other Possibilities: Simon Gagne, Alex Kovalev, Erik Cole, Sergei Samsonov.

The Dark Horse: Steve Sullivan.  I think Sullivan will re-sign with the Predators, but should he hit the open market, he would be a nice addition at the right price.  Sullivan presents a significant injury risk, having played just one full season in the past four years.  He has consistently been the Predators best scorer though, and has averaged roughly 60 points when extending the numbers for full season.  It’s likely he would do well with both Gaborik and Richards.


The Likely Candidate: Ales Hemsky (pure speculation).  The Oilers have more prospects with elite potential than Matt Cooke has suspensions.  With another one on his way, the Oilers may look to move Hemsky at the draft for a pick and a defensive prospect (where they are weak).  Hemsky, like Sullivan, presents an injury risk, but with one year left on his deal, he’s low risk.

The Other Possibilities: Ray Whitney, Peter Mueller, Kristian Huselius

The Dark Horse: Paul Stastny.  Yes, he’s a center.  Yes, he will cost a fortune.  No, it’s not likely the Avs will trade him.  But, the Avs have great talent at forward and little depth.  Trading Stastny can help them address many holes in their roster.  It’s unlikely, but he’s one guy where the rumors just won’t go away.

Categories : Analysis


  1. Matt J says:

    Pass on arnott. Dubi should play with richards and gabby. Watch his numbers sky rocket. Thomas is a possibility but we gotta see what he does in camp.

  2. Blueshirt in Paris says:

    I would like to keep the Dubi-AA-Cally line intact, thought you could backfill Feds into that slot and still have them take defensive assignments.

    Cole would be an interesting option. Good speed, good strength, good hands and good team player. just a question of what he wants.

    Though I could see this might be a good case for burying Avery and using that money to help offset Cole. He made $3mil last year.

    • Zen says:

      Cole will never leave Carolina… and even if the Canes decide they don’t want him, it would take a way too much money and years to sign him. He is not really a top line elite player either. This team can’t afford to spend money on anything other than that.

  3. Mikeyyyy says:

    Why not try Brian Boyle on the left. He’s big has a decent shot and steamrolls people along the boards.

    Plus no one will take cheap shots at the more dainty players on that line.

    • Zen says:


      Boyle has almost zero play-making ability or offensive vision. His decent shot and some good bounces created a solid season for him, but you can bet that there is little talk of using Boyle anywhere other than line 3 or 4. I know there have been power forwards that have come along and have done decent a similar role with 2 highly-skilled players, but most of those players were much more talented than Boyle. Brian is a great player, but only good in the role that is currently in.

  4. Brian SCS says:

    I hope they go in-house with this one. With all of the current options MZA, Dubinsky plus players on the way – Grachev, Kreider, Thomas, the Rangers should avoid any expensive LW UFA’s. Though I wouldn’t have a problem with giving Prospal a look in camp. And what about Stepan? If Richards is signed Step would be delegated to the 4th line. I’m not sure how he would look on the off wing but he is smart and has talent and would compliment a player like Richards well.

    • Blueshirt in Paris says:

      Grachev is not projected to be a 1st line LW

      Krieder is at least 2 years away most likely

      Thomas on 1st line at his age is not a great decision.

      Agree MZA should be switched over as it should be easier for him to come off the boards on his forehand as he is left handed. Off wing worked well for him with more ice but here he needs to protect the puck better.

      Steph, not sure they are ready to give up on him at center. I would think 1 more year to see if there are any improvements then you can think on moving him over or let others take faceoffs. If we sign Richards Steph plays on the so-called 3rd line with either MZA or Thomas.

      As the article states, we dont have a 1st line LW now or any ready to make that jump this season. You might be able to convince Cole to sign 2 years to play with Richards and Gabby which put himself in a good position to sign his last contract before it becomes a 35+ while we let the other develop correctly.

      • Brian SCS says:

        It’s likely that at least one of Grachev, Kreider or Thomas will be ready earlier than expected and last thing I would want to see is one of them blocked by a Simon Gagne or Arnott. MZA deserves at least a look and Stepan could switch to wing for the short term as he works on face-offs and until one of the aforementioned prospects is ready. Erik Cole is interesting but I would think his asking price and term may make it cost prohibitive.

        I would re-sign Feds to play on Boyles line, keep Dubi with AA, let avery and Hagelin fight it out for 4th line duty and invite Prospal to camp to let him compete for a spot as well.

        Bottom line is that the Rangers have enough options to break camp with solid depth at LW for the short term.

    • Zen says:

      I expect Step to have a much larger role even if they sign BR, so it wouldn’t necessarily surprise me to see him on the top line. Although it might not make many of you happy, I really wouldn’t be surprised if AA or Boyle (plus prospects/picks) is moved at some point for a scorer.

  5. JFrankNYR says:

    I still think Wolski is capable. Streaky yes, but he is already here, has potential, and you can still maintain a productive Dubi-Ani-Cally line.

    • Dave says:

      I didn’t include Wolski because I am almost positive he gets bought out.

      • Hoggo says:

        What’s the point in buying Wolski out? You’re not going to find anyone as talented on the free agent market?

    • Zach says:

      In order to get Richards in the first place, Wolski would likely have to be bought out.

    • Zen says:

      I expect Drury gone more than I do Wolski… and that will be enough to get BR.

  6. The Suit says:

    Arnott is too slow. I’d pass on him. Cole intrigues me.

    Still, the best bet is to go in house. Dubi should be fine with Richards and Gabby and I think Zukes could be a good option to play the left side with Arty and Cally.

    To me, Zuccarello’s struggles generally occur along the boards. This is mostly due to the fact that he is a left handed shot playing right wing. While playing the “off wing” is good for scoring goals (remember the whole Kovy fiasco in NJ this season), it does make board play more difficult.

    At LW, I think it will be easier for him to get used to receiving pucks along the board on his forehand, than receiving pucks on his backhand.

  7. Zen says:

    I just don’t think that you can look the free agent route for a LW, because the open market will create too big a price tag no matter who it is. Unless Sather can find a stud in a trade, we are better off looking within.

    Dubi: Any time he has been given a chance to run with it, he has only managed temporary success. Too many long runs of being a ghost on the ice, given his style of play. The only person in the way of Dubi is himself. He is better on the 2nd line IMO, unless Sather can’t find better.

    Feds: Good bet on being re-signed unless he wants a raise. I’m not sure he is good enough to be a permanent fixture on line 1.

    Avery: He will be the guy they put there in spot duty only… that is if he is even on the team.

    Prospal: Don’t think he will be back, but he would be my bet to their LW if he is re-signed.

    MZA: The jury is out on him. Did he hit the wall or is he just not good enough to be a top 2 line NHL player. We will see this year.

    Wolski: I have little doubt he has the talent to play with Gabs and BR… and even produce consistently. He is the type of player (although it is annoying) that produces best with highly-skilled players around him. It will be interesting to see if the team buys him out to look for better use of the money or gives him another shot but maybe demote him if he doesn’t produce. Don’t you at least give him a full training camp with Torts to see what he is made of? Tough call.

  8. Section 121 says:

    In house would either be Dubi or Wolski.

    UFA top three LW options are Laich, Jokinen, & Leino. The first is just like Dubi – most complete player and latter two have more offensive upside potential (Cole is like Laich lite and he’s 4 yrs older).

    Trade (while we’re getting creative and purely speculating) Artem Anisimov, Wojtek Wolski, and EC for Evander Kane and Anothony Stewart

    Dubi Richards Gabby
    Kane Stepan Cally
    MZA Drury Stewart
    Avery Boyle Prust

    Atlanta (for now)

    Ladd Little Wheeler
    Wolski Anisimov Antropov
    EC Burmistrov Thorburn
    Boulton Slater Stapleton/Maxwell

  9. KC says:

    Scottie Upshall