Sunday, May 3, 2009

Rangers Season In Review/Part One: The Players and the Payroll Factor. . .

If the Rangers weren't doomed from the start of the 2007-2008 season by the decisions made in the off-season, they were most certainly doomed by the start of the 2008-2009 campaign. This is something I highlighted extensively during last summer, long before the current team even took to the ice.

In "Does it Really All Add Up, Rangers Fans?" I used simple mathmatics to explain why the Rangers were, without a doubt, screwed. And screwed not just for the immediate season ahead, but for the better part of the next decade. Why? Because they had chosen to tie up essentially half their cap allotment in four players, only one of whom was an important component to their team. Those players were Gomez, Drury, Redden, and Lundqvist.

I guess I don't have to tell you which one was the "important component" now do I?

Once again, we must focus on the chosen three, not because they are chosen for greatness, but because, for reasons still unknown to, well, just about everybody, they were chosen to make the most money for Broadway's team.


Gomez, in dollars and cents, makes the most money on this team at approximately 7.357 million per season. His actual salary for this year was $10 million.

Scott Gomez did absolutely nothing to warrant this type of money. That, in this post-lockout new NHL, is superstar money. And Gomez, whether you like him or hate him, you must admit is simply not worth that type of money. Never was, never will be. I said that before he ever played a game in New York and I say that again, two years into his seven year deal.

But when you pay a given player the most money on your team, it does a few things. It makes whatever line he is playing on the "#1 line." It makes him a focal point of all things good and bad with the team. And it makes him someone that people will look to - for results, for point production, for positive attitude, for leadership.

No, Scott Gomez's folly was not in his not being worth $7.357 million. His folly was in being none of those things that the Rangers needed their top money maker to be. A result getter. A point producer. A positive influence. Or a leader. Gomez was none of this.

If possible, Gomez looked even worse this year than he did the year before, this time floundering without any Jagr or Straka to hang on to. Not only did he not make himself look better, he failed to make anyone else on this team look good for more than a fraction of a moment in time. He'd have a good game, maybe two, and then fall right back off into obscurity.

When he wasn't gone off the map, he was the focal point. Oh yes, the focal point for undisciplined penalties and moronic plays. I wouldn't want to be the judge of a contest over which Rangers player made the most moronic gaffs this season, but Gomez would have to have been a finalist.

I think back to the game in Dallas in early February for two reasons. One, for the Dallas announcers calling Gomez's early pass "vacuous" and two, for him saying "this is not rock bottom." Vacuous stuck with me because it became the perfect analogy for so much the Rangers and Gomez did. They did such rookie things on the ice without seemingly any thought to the fact that they were actual honest to goodness hockey players in the NHL and not kids in pee-wees. And as for the "rock bottom" comment, that stuck with me, of course, because it got worse after that, and I always wonder whether Gomez knew something that we didn't.

But, no, it was not his failure to score points or his uncanny ability to weave the puck into the offensive zone and have it slide harmlessly off his stick, that made me loathe his being stuck on this team for five more years.

What can be worse, you ask yourself?

I never once, in all Gomez's saying "we're professionals" believe he truly understood what that meant. He strikes me as the perfect example of someone who saw how wonderful the players in New York had it and wanted to come there. Face it, he already won more than many players ever will in the league with what he won in NJ. He boasts two Stanley Cups. Some players will never win one. So he signs for a ton of money in New York and, really, who can blame him? New York apartment, New York scene. Oh yeah and play some hockey in between.

When he was in NJ, I used to think Gomez was a moron. Even when he was signed to be a Ranger, I got sick to my stomach at the thought. He always struck me as a little bit of a "punk."

What, save a few Garden of Dreams events - which are very admirable, yes - has he done to make anyone think he is any less the punk he was in New Jersey? Seriously give me one example of what he's done to prove to anyone he's matured beyond a guy that was blessed with speed and was able to fool many into thinking he was an elite hockey player in this league?

I used to think his interviews where he kidded with John Giannone about his wardrobe were cute - the first dozen times - but if that is really - really! - all he brings to this team is a funny interview, I question why they need him on the ice.

And after he did that during a playoff interview, I seriously questioned - for the hundreth time this year - just where his head was at.

If I'm making the most money on an original six team and playing in the biggest US market for a team like the New York Rangers, I can't promise the world but I should be able to promise to have my head on straight.

Gomez, I'm afraid, has never proven to me that he is capable of being a professional and having his head in the right place. He's also never proven to me that he has realized that he isn't and that he doesn't. And I actually do not know which is worse.


I am saving some words on Chris Drury for Part 2 of this already incredibly long Season in Review segment. So we'll just stick to the basics here.

The Rangers signed Chris Drury because he was "clutch." They signed Chris Drury because he had been labeled a "winner." He had won at every level - Little League baseball, collegiate hockey, the NHL.

Therefore he was a "must-get."

I feel worse for Drury than I do for Gomez, because I actually believe Chris Drury wanted to do well and is upset with himself that he hasn't.

BUT, none of that makes me feel sorry for him that he, too, is making $7.050 million per season and that he had done little and has done little to warrant it.

The history of being a winner only means so much. It only means something if you can bring something tangible with you.

Drury, at his best, was inconsistent this year.

Drury, at his worst, wasn't good enough.

That's not including his playoff run where he played, admirably, with a broken hand. That is an admirable thing and that showed that he cares more about the team than himself.

I actually would never argue that fact, that Drury cares more about the team than himself. I would however admit that, sadly enough, that hasn't mean very much.

Drury, like Gomez, would be amazing on faceoffs one game, and dreadful the next. I've never, in all my watching hockey seen such inconsistency as I saw with this year's team.

Now sure, some of that, perhaps, can be blamed on the coaches, the systems, or the lack thereof, but the bottom line is a player decides on a given night if he is going to come to play or not. Not whether he will play or how much he will play or in what way he will play, but if he is going to be ready to play.

Again, I'm not sure how much this was evident in Drury's performance. In his case, perhaps, it was not a matter of caring too little but caring too much. Either way, Drury seemed ill-committed at times. Nervous. Confused.

Not what you'd want or expect from a $7 million dollar a year player.

And point production? Surely he didn't have that. Making others around him better? I cannot with honesty say I am sure he did that either.

Sometimes it is not your fault. Sometimes you just aren't good enough to live up to all the good things people want to believe about you.

Perhaps Chris Drury is clutch and perhaps he is a winner. But it means two different things to win on a team playing a team game as part of a unit and to win on a team playing a team game when you have the responsibility of being one of the biggest parts of that unit.

I have yet to see that push and that desire from Drury when he has been in New York. He scored a few game tying goals last season, one to force an Edmonton game to overtime, specifically.

This year we saw a gutsy playoff goal from Drury in game 4, which turned out to be a game winner.

This was, perhaps, the most clutch moment he had since joining the Rangers.

It was perhaps his only truly clutch moment, with two years down and three to go on his contract.

I like Chris Drury just fine. But the problem with having a great past as a winner and a clutch performer is that if you don't continue to live up to it, you will always be deemed a failure in those places you did not succeed.

It's a shame, but it's simply the truth.


When all is said and done, not Scott Gomez, not Chris Drury, but Wade Redden, will go down as having the worst contract in the history of the New York Rangers.

When I heard the news that the Rangers got Redden, my immediate reaction was to vomit over a theatre balcony. (True story)

I said Wade Redden was the last player I wanted on this team. The last, and that it killed me that he was not only on this team, but on this team for that money and for that many years.


To Redden's discredit, he did nothing to prove us nay-sayers wrong. He began the season with a bit of a snap and a goal in Prague and gave an interview where he said he was so "excited" to be playing with this team and excited to come back and play in New York.

He'd come back, indeed, and score another goal at opening night at the Garden against the Blackhawks.

Goodness hopes he had a long memory because it would be four and a half months, two head coaches, and 58 games later that he'd score again.

6.5 million for a guy that scored 3 goals all year. A guy that was, presumably, hired to be the powerplay quarterback, was a big part of the second to worst powerplay in the entire league.

His best year, numerically, was 2005-2006, where he scored 10 goals, 40 assists and was a plus 35. His best powerplay year, came in 2003-2004 when he scored 12 of his 17 goals with the man advantage.

Problem was, that his last two years in Ottawa produced paltry numbers compared to the three seasons prior. To any observer of even a handful of games in Ottawa, this was a guy that was not on the upside of anything, as I saw myself and well noted here.

And yet, he was given a contract to rival all contracts and to confound even the best of us.

You might expect me to rip into Redden here, let him have it for all he the miserable plays he made this season, for all his lack of effort and lack of goal production. But I'm not.

Instead I am going to give him a teeny-tinsy break, if only for a moment, to make a point.

Wade Redden was set up to fail in New York.

You heard me.

Wade Redden, under the best of circumstances, could never have succeeded here in New York.

For Wade Redden to be worth the contract he was given, he'd have to be in the same league as Brian Leetch, when it all comes down to it.

The Rangers have searched and discarded and pushed aside defensemen, but they have never closed their arms around anyone even half the player that Brian Leetch was.

For Brian Leetch was, in my opinion, the greatest player to play for the New York Rangers. There are things he could do that were so effortless and amazing that we all, each and every one of us, took them for granted. Took for granted that night in and night out, you'd have the most consistent, hard working, professional, and talented player play for your team.

In the years Leetch was here and in the years he's been gone, no one has even come close.

Wade Redden, in his best years, wasn't half the player Brian Leetch was.

And I mean what I am going to say next with no personal disrespect to Wade Redden, the person, but he is not even fit to sharpen Brian Leetch's skates.

That's how far off the reservation of elite NHL defensemen Wade Redden is.

And yet, he is making money comparable to what the Rangers would pay an elite defenseman of Brian's stature.

(Sure, yes, agreed, Brian Leetch would deserve much, much more, in reality, but bear with me here.)

And that - not his lack of skill, not his lack of poise, not his lack of guts -, that is why Wade Redden was doomed to fail here.

Because he is not even worth half that much, or a third of that much. And yet by giving that money to him, we all expect just too much from a man that has, sadly, nothing really left to give.

And now, the niceness stops.

Forget the dismal powerplay and Redden's horrific hesitancy to shoot the puck for the moment. Wade Redden did nothing, nothing!, to endear himself to this group.

He took the paycheck, but he didn't pay the price. He wasn't playing like a Ranger!, he was acting like a fraud.

Forget the numbers. Look no further than these two instances. On January 3rd, Redden got annoyed with Capitals captain Chris Clark, and he knocked him out, with a single punch.

Great, you say. Why bring this up? I bring this up because this still, to me, remains the only example in an entire 82-game season that I have of Wade Redden showing he had a pulse.

The second instance was on February 28th, in the great Avalanche/Rangers goal-fest. In an-already decided game, Colorado took to being nasty, and Dubinsky got involved with a player (Laperierre?) along the corner boards. Every other player went to his defense, and tied up someone.

Redden, in the ultimate moment of team unity, showed team indifference in refusing to drop his gloves so that he could gain an adequate hold on the Avalanche player. Instead he watched as Dubinsky was beaten not by one, but by two Colorado players.

Want to talk about being a good teammate? How about a decent human being? I've never seen a player so hesitant to get his hands dirty.

So no, Wade. It's not your lack of scoring, or your lack of powerplay precense that disappointed me. Remember, I - unlike Glennie Boy - knew in advance of July 1st that I didn't want you for $1 million, let alone $6.5 million, because you were just not good enough.

But it's your lack of pride, lack of support, and lack of anything resembling team unity that disgusted me more in the end.

Why? You can't help that you are a crappy player getting paid the money of a superstar in this league. But you can help your attitude and your committment to the game. I saw neither. And that is where I stop defending you.

Sure, you came back and found some of your game in the playoffs, and weren't a complete disaster there. But, seriously, the majority of the 82 games leading up to it were no-shows. We can't in all ethical honesty applaud a guy for showing up when the spotlight was on, when for every game that the fans and teammates wanted and needed more from him, he came up empty.

In closing Part One of this Season in Review, I feel I must state the obvious. None of these players alone is responsible for the disaster that this Rangers season was. None of these players is soley to blame or to chastise for that fact.

BUT, these three players have to shoulder the brunt of it.


Because of their salaries, other players - other necessary players that perhaps could actually do the jobs better - could not be obtained. Because of their salaries this team is handicapped and these players are, barring insanely tricky measures, untradable.

Is that their fault? No, perhaps not. Ultimately, of course, blame falls back to the Great Concoctor, Glen Sather.

But I, as a fan, would like to think that even if I were not that good, or even if the situation wasn't perfect, that I'd at least show up to every game, play with a sense of urgency, a sense of pride, and a sense of self-worth, that I'd play the best that I could every single night out, knowing, in the end, that was all I could do.

And I am quite sure that none of these three players did that on a regular basis, did the one thing they could control most.

So instead we can sum it all up with these words:

Saddled with similar $7 million dollar salaries from Free Agent Folly Day 2007, Scott Gomez and Chris Drury became married to this team and inevitably connected to its money woes. That is a fact that will remain true until they are no longer a part of this team, and will forever remain true in the memory of the years they spent here.

Wade Redden will have one distinction in his time in New York and it will have nothing to do with his talent or his lack thereof. It will be that he was, undoubtably the biggest most inexcusable folly in a long, long list of big and inexcusable follies.

**Many apologies for the length of this blog, but come on, let's face it: if you are coming here to read this site, you are not reading for quick hits and light reading, you come here to read the always rambling, sometimes scattered thoughts of a wordy individual.

Stay tuned in the coming week for a few more parts of the Season in Review.**


Luke said...

“But I, as a fan, would like to think that even if I were not that good, or even if the situation wasn't perfect, that I'd at least show up to every game, play with a sense of urgency, a sense of pride, and a sense of self-worth, that I'd play the best that I could every single night out, knowing, in the end, that was all I could do.”

It’s poetry Kels. Beautifully written, depressingly sad, and undeniably true.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

kels said...

Well, thank you for reading and responding, Luke. I do appreciate it.

Post two coming soon!