Wednesday, August 6, 2008

The Great Petr Nedved Debate. . .

What was originally a paragraph, now quite a novel. I bring you the great Petr Nedved debate:

Petr Nedved is coming to training camp. For the New York Rangers. No, silly, it’s not 2001. Now why on Earth would you think that? :p

Anyway, overall I’d say the opinions on the Rangers hockey boards are about 97% against this. It’s a joke, they say. Yikes, say others. Others come in with huh? And yet others – plenty of others – say things too crude or too colorful for Natural Hat Trick Productions to reprint. (at least not in this blog!) But use your imagination.

And me. I say, quite honestly - why not?

Now, I must be candid in saying I was one of Nedved’s supporters when he was here. I still, to this day, do not know how you can criticize a guy who had the best numbers on a team. On a very bad team, sure. But the best numbers. And, for most of his years here, better numbers than any Rangers player had during the 2007-2008 season. By far. But, we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

I respect Nedved. I think that not one of us (unless you were a 17 defect of what was at the time Czechoslovakia held under Soviet rule that happens to be reading this blog) can ever, ever comprehend the sacrifices this guy made to play hockey. You can hate him – the way he plays, the way he talks, the way he walks - for all I care. But, you can’t hate him because he’s a coward. For that, he is not. Now I’ve said it before (and I might have said it before in this blog and if I did so please forgive me) that I know that Europeans tend to mature quicker than those of us living in North America. It’s a different world over there. More independence and more maturity at younger ages. But come on. You tell me it wasn’t hard, at age 17, to leave your home country, without knowing if you’d ever be allowed to return. If you’d ever see your parents again. Your home again. If you’d even make it out of there alive. Those are very scary things. I can’t even imagine having that kind of courage. But Petr made those sacrifices to escape a communist regime and come play hockey in the NHL. Because he wanted to. It was that important to him.

So we could sit here all day and discuss the why he should or why he should not make the team. I don’t know the answers to that. If the Rangers are at training camp any example of the puzzle they appear to be right now, no one knows that answer. I’m merely sitting here saying that the guy should not be attacked and that if anyone deserves the benefit of a doubt it’s a guy that has been through what he has in his life, and who has given, quite admirably considering all the crap he had to endure when he was here, some really good years to the New York Rangers. If they want to give him a try-out, no strings attached, then that’s great. I’m all for it.

Now, to take a few extra minutes of your time, let’s go a hypothetical step further. Say he tries out and looks good. (Hey, anything can happen in Rangerland people). Petr Nedved, despite every horrible (although, yes, at times slightly chuckle worthy) taunts he had to endure during his time in New York, was a good player. A very good player by the standards of those playing on a team that had eight playoff-less years. For a fact, he led the team in scoring twice (99-00, 02-03) and the team in goals twice (00-01, 02-03). Now, I can’t have to tell you those were banner years here. They were not. The 2000-2001 season was three years removed from Mark Messier, the first year without Wayne Gretzky, and Adam Graves’ final year on Broadway, and as such the Rangers were without much tangible direction. That’s putting it nicely. And yet this guy from Czech Republic, in his second stint with the Rangers, came to play. His best year, arguably, was that 2000-2001 season, the year he played with fellow Czechs Jan Hlavac and Radek Dvorak, and the year those linemates (Czechmates if you will) combined for 91 goals and Nedved was 26th in the league in scoring. On many nights it was a situation where if they didn’t “go, fight, win,” the rest of the team, well, the rest of the team did not follow suit.

Fans that taunted in the years that followed and that still, to this day, cannot think of anything worse than having him on their team, obviously forget that he was one of the ONLY reasons to cheer back then. Mike Richter, incredibly unfortunately, spent the early 2000s injured in one way or another. The back to back seasons of ligament damage followed by the concussion in the following was most unnecessarily cruel. The team aimed and missed with the signing of many former elite players – who I won’t take the time or bring back the memories to list here - who just never hit their stride in NY. Trust me. The days were bleak and the fans were happy to have something to cheer about. Someone to score goals. And yes, someONE to cheer for!

How soon we forget.

Now it’s been said that Nedved’s goals were mostly of the garbage variety. Scratch that, not garbage in the sense of crappy goals in front of the net going off his shin pads or his skates. But goals that were throwaway. That’s the word. A fifth goal in a 5-1 win. Or an only goal in a 6-1 loss. I’m sorry, but I’m really not going to sit here and argue whether his goals were the most meaningful and clutch and super-important goals in Rangers history when ANY goals during that time period must have been better than nothing. I mean come on. I am not a fan of low scoring games (and if the 2008-2009 New York Rangers become the 1995-2000 New Jersey Devils, I’m seriously going to vomit) and I never have been. (Exception. Mike Mussina for New York, David Cone for Boston, early September 2001. Both held no hitters into the late innings; Mussina was almost perfect. A single in the bottom of the 9th with 2 outs. Perfect game – over. THAT was one of my favorite games. One of the best I’ve ever seen. But those are rare.) Give me 6-4 wins. Honestly. I loved that 7-0 blowout of the Bruins at the Garden on St. Patrick’s Day 2007 because the horn was constantly sounding. And you know what, the Rangers and Boston have almost always played to 1-0 shootout games in recent history. That 7-0 game was the abnormality, but that was fun. Seriously though, when I went to one game a year (and that was the case from the early nineties through, umm, about 2003) I prayed the team would win. (which I think happened once, maybe twice). But I certainly prayed they’d score. I didn’t care if it was Mark Messier or Wayne Gretzky, or Jeff Toms or Valeri Kamensky or Sylvain Lefebvre. Or Petr Nedved. As long as the goal light went on and the horn sounded. (remember this was before the days of let’s review every single little goal, so you were pretty sure it counted the first time!)

And all that said, it just so happened that Petr Nedved was not only not a bad player when he was in New York. From 1998-2004, he was one of the better. Argue all you want that, well, he was the best of the worst. I’m sorry. There were some really bad years in there, yes. But there is always a shining light. Admit it or not, like it or not - Nedved was one of ours.

And sure, some may argue that in his last year here, he had one of his worst seasons. Well I’ll tell you what. Everyone was on the decline that year. Everyone. I think the Rangers won 12 games at home that entire year. Maybe 14. No one was good that year. Honestly. No one. So get over it.

Now, back to the present. Apparently Nedved has said that if he makes the team, he only expects to play a few minutes on the third or fourth line. And, unlike Shanahan, who towards the tail end of last season needed a rest and apparently refused to take or was not given 4th line minutes and minimal special teams play in order to get that rest, I believe Nedved knows what he wants and what he can produce. (No disrespect to Shanny who has been a GREAT player for the Rangers and someone I have personally enjoyed watching play very much, but it’s the truth, one way or the other; he played too much last year while injured and recuperating from injury). If Nedved dazzles at training camp and wins the 4th line center position – does anyone honestly think the 4th line will score less goals than they did last year (Betts – 2, Orr – 1, Hollweg - 2) ? Honestly? I like Blair Betts just fine, but I think Nedved might actually provide a bit of an offensive boost to the 4th line. Again, really, you think Nedved himself might get more than 5 goals, not to mention set up at least 15? Really (and all inaccuracy jokes aside)? I do.

Now does it have to be Nedved – no. If someone else, someone from Hartford perhaps, blows up in training camp, should the Rangers still give the position to #93 because they owe it to him – no. If Nedved just plain out sucks, should we all just call it a nice little experiment and move on – yes.

But all ignorant and childish comments aside, what would be the worst that happens? You get a little veteran leadership. You get someone who wants to Be a Ranger! (and has been a Ranger, has played well as a Ranger, etc). You get a guy that can potentially and will most likely score more than your whole forth line combined for last season. To borrow a phrase from Tommy Solomon in one of the funniest episodes of Third Rock from the Sun ever – “You’re going to have to help me out here, because I’m not seeing the downside.”

Nedved is 37. Will be 38 in December. This is not a forever thing. This is a one year, see where the future takes you; I’m along for the ride type thing. If it even happens. If it even happens.

But honestly, with the question marks adding up surrounding this year’s team. I’ve already thrown it out there that I think the Powerplay can’t possibly be any worse (although as a Rangers fan I am always open to that possibility) next year. But wouldn’t I like to have a guy that has been there before. Because, you know what. Not to pick on Chris Drury – although honestly until he proves to me he’s worth 7- million a year, I’m gonna – but for his 710 NHL games, Mr. Clutch has 44 game winning goals. For his 982 NHL games, Petr Nedved has 39. (Which for fun, is one less than Adam Graves, and one more than Brian Leetch, Rangers fans). I’m not saying Petr Nedved is at all (at all!) comparable to Chris Drury. And I’m sure Drury has more years, presumably, ahead of him than Nedved does. But, I’m sorry. So much for throwaway goals, even though I never bought that. 39 GWGs and 717 points in 982 career games is not bad. It’s the opposite. And yeah, I know, he played for Pittsburgh. He thrived in Pittsburgh like a few other Czechs who called NY home the last three seasons. But in Petr Nedved’s 478 games in Rangers blue, he scored 149 times, offered up 202 assists. 351 points in 478 games. Can most of the guys that have played in NY during the same time period say they did that?

Just for kicks, I heard this on a radio broadcast a year or two ago, but I found it fascinating. Name the top five all-time scoring leaders in the NHL from the Czech Republic? Come on - #1 is easy. Jaromir Jagr. (Not only the most for a player from the Czech Republic; but most of any European player and more than player from any country other than Canada). Stumped? #2 is Bobby Holik. #3 – Well, Martin Straka and Petr Nedved are both tied with 717 points. #5 is Robert Lang. That’s pretty damn good company.

In closing, the above was intended to be merely a reason why people should not be shocked, upset, or ready to sell off their Rangers season tickets (yeah right) just because Petr Nedved has been allowed to come to training camp. But what it looks like, to me, is more of an argument as to why people should not be shocked, upset, or ready to sell off their Rangers season tickets (again, yeah right) if #93 has a good camp and makes the team.

We are 2 months away from the regular season. Nothing is set in cement in Rangerland. Breathe. Relax. Read a book. Have a drink. Nedved coming to training camp is not the worst thing that can happen to you. Honestly. It’s not. Trust me.


No comments: