So, what to do on a Manic Monday with temps near 100 with expected heavy storms approaching? What about some Battle fun as we attempt to come up with the best possible starting lineup, consisting of Devils, Islanders, Rangers and Sabres. It won't be easy because when you take the elite players from each club and whittle it down to 18 skaters and two goalies, it becomes an increasingly tough task. So, how would you rate the area's puckers we cheer? Imagine the possibilities chalk full of different line combos, etc. You can go so many ways, which makes it compelling.
What would your top line be? With talent such as Ilya Kovalchuk, Zach Parise, Patrik Elias, Thomas Vanek, Brad Richards, John Tavares and Marian Gaborik, you couldn't go wrong. If you're a Kool Aid drinker, you could be swayed by Kovalchuk and Zach Attack, taking your top two forwards. But would it work? As we discovered, the Dream Line (Kovalchuk-Zajac-Parise) didn't mesh before Parise needed surgery, missing the rest of the season except one game. Finding the right trio should play a role in how you choose. At least in our selection process, it has to be considered. If you're a True Blue supporter, dare you go with Richards and Gaborik before they've even played a game? Especially off Gabby's forgettable Broadway sequel. A Sabre fan might ask why isn't Derek Roy or Drew Stafford part of the competition. Roy's a solid No.1 not much different from Travis Zajac. Both fit their teams as No.1's but don't measure up to the talent of Richards or the pizazz of JT91. As for Stafford, he must duplicate his strong second half with a new contract increasing expectations.
Are Brandon Dubinsky, Michael Grabner, Ryan Callahan, Jason Pominville, Tyler Ennis and Matt Moulson worth considering? On a serious challenger, most are better suited for the second line while young talents Grabner and Ennis still have much to prove as does Derek Stepan, who could be a nice candidate for third line duty. If we're able to put together three lines from all the players mentioned, what about a physical checking line that can shutdown the opposition while dishing out punishment? Certainly, there are a plethora of choices in Brian Boyle, Brandon Prust, David Clarkson, Dainius Zubrus, Blake Comeau, Kyle Okposo, Paul Gaustad, Patrik Kaleta, etc. How do you separate when we left out Artem Anisimov along with promising youngsters Jacob Josefson, Mattias Tedenby, Nino Neiderreiter and Nathan Gerbe?
While selecting the best possible 12 forwards could lead to plenty of bar debates, there's also the back end to consider. Who would make your top six? When looking at all four Battle clubs, there's not really a quote on quote, franchise guy who can do it all. There are some primary candidates though in Tyler Myers, Mark Streit, Christian Ehrhoff, Marc Staal, Dan Girardi, Anton Volchenkov and possibly Swedish teen Adam Larsson. While Devil fans might be tempted to go with either the potential of Larsson or even overlooked American Mark Fayne, it more logical to choose a tandem that's proven they are reliable. Do Sabre fans take newly minted German Ehrhoff and Myers? Would Garden Faithful keep Staal/Girardi together, overlooking the potential of Ryan McDonagh? Islander fans can make a good case for do everything man Streit, who must prove he's 100 percent after missing the season. They have to like Travis Hamonic's upside.
If you're going to get it right, pairing a defense first guy with a solid puckmoving type who can get involved offensively should get strong consideration. Perhaps it comes down to a Staal or Volchenkov for that role while Ehrhoff, Myers and Streit are all capable of the other department with Myers the meanest of the trio. If you wanted a heart and soul type who also could chip in occasionally, then Danny G's your man. A player who'll lay the body out for the good of the team who still possesses a decent shot that gets through. Since we've narrowed it down, there are plenty of ways to fill out your second pair with the third also strong. Does a Mike Sauer, Andrew MacDonald, Jordan Leopold or Andy Greene fit into your plan? Guess it depends what kinda roster you covet.
Last but certainly not least is your goalie. The last line of defense could be the difference between winning and losing. Who do you want? Fortunately, our four teams boast some great players with legendary Devil Martin Brodeur headlining a list that includes Henrik Lundqvist and Ryan Miller. All are capable of stymieing the opposition. MB30 has the most experience winning three Cups, Olympic gold along with Vezinas and all-time winningest and shutout king. Even the biggest Brodeurian supporter has to wonder if at 39 going on 40 next Spring if Marty's the right choice. Is it King Henrik's time to shine or American hero Miller's Time or as legendary Buffalo announcer Rick Jeanneret would echo:
"It's Miller Time!!!!!"If you're going with either Lundqvist or Miller, the Sabre netminder has been to two Conference Finals while King Henrik has advanced past the first round only twice. Of course, Miller had the better teams including the '07 one that came back to edge the Rangers in six with that guy Chris Drury dashing True Blue hopes of a possible ECF for the first time since '97. Who do you want? Even if you love the Islanders, you gotta admit you're better off with a durable goalie over franchise man Rick DiPietro. Al Montoya's a nice story who becomes more vital if DP needs rest. Who's it gonna be? It's up to you.
If we're going to pick our team, we may as well have a coach too. Currently, the Devils still are leaving fans guessing while Jack Capuano, who did a solid job after relieving Scott Gordon, now enters his first full season. That leaves Lindy Ruff and John Tortorella. One who's the longest tenured coach that gets results while the other a fiery type that won with Tampa Bay. Both are quality choices. However, it's hard to argue with Ruff's overwhelming experience steering the Sabres to within an eye lash of Lord Stanley along with a few Conference Finals. Let's face it. Everytime you write him off as Brian seems to religiously, he gets it turned around. Case in point last year when the Sabres overcame a dreadful start before pushing the Flyers seven with Pominville missing a good chunk and Roy probably at best 60 percent. Ruff is an overachiever who is well respected. Tortorella certainly has proven he can motivate, getting the most out of his team even with Gaborik MIA. He's definitely been better at developing kids on the fly. Hardly an easy situation in the Big Apple. Now, he has his guy Richards from that '04 Bolt team. Let's see if he can get out of the first round.
When the dust settles, how would your team look? We'll unveil our's in the next post.