Monday, May 11, 2009

Rangers Season in Review/Part Three: Personality Plus. . .

When the season first began, and certainly as it went along, I found myself asking a question I cannot remember asking myself in all the years I watched Rangers hockey.

That question:

Do I really even like this team?

Or, more specifically, do I really feel a connection to these players?

It's been mentioned by many this entire year. This Rangers team - and not just the Redden/Gomez/Drury triad I previously tore apart verbally - was just not very likable or enjoyable to watch.

Likeable, enjoyable, you may ask - does that really matter?

My answer - HELL yes!


Because even when this team was winning back in October, I wasn't embracing them like I usually did.

And even when this team was self-combusting in February, I wasn't torn apart about it like I usually would be.

In both cases it was one of two things or both wrapped up together that caused such emotion, or lack of emotion, in me: the lack of personality of the players and the lack of personality of the product on the ice.

The Players:

These, to be quick about it, are not your fathers NY Rangers. These, to be outright blunt, are not even the NY Rangers of my own youth.

To start, only a handful of them, at best, really seem to embrace the idea of Be{ing} a Ranger!

In those precious few, you see immediately that they truly get it. They understand the meaning of playing for this team and love the pressure and challenge of playing in one of the worlds great cities.

Those are also the guys, if you'll notice, that made promises to themselves and the fans to start the season. A promise to be committed and to play each game with the same enthusiasm and committment. Now I think I'd admit that the promises you make to yourself are great but its the promises you make outloud that really put yourself on the line.

A perfect example of this is Marc Staal.

Staal was quoted in Prague saying he had worked on his hitting in the off season and that was one area of the game he was looking to improve from his first to second season.

And, what, may I ask was the one thing many noticed about young #18 this year besides his overall growth and poise with the puck? He took the body each and every game. He hit consistently and because he's 6'4", he hit with his body behind it and he knocked guys over. He did his job. Everyone embraced his effort.

Staal was not alone. Callahan obviously made promises to himself and the fans. To play hard every night and never stop giving 110 percent. That's why he was the Steven Mcdonald Award winner. That's why the fans loved him. Few things gave me such pleasure this year as seeing Cally run around hitting everyone in sight.

Lundqvist, even when he didn't play his best, still committed himself to this team. I don't think there is a person that cares more about how he personally performs and how the team does. We saw him start to lose patience with the 2-1 system, but the guy continued to give, and give, and give. However, as we saw, Hank could only do so much. He needed, too often, to be perfect, but he could not make up for the lack of scoring. And yet, his professionalism never wavered.

Avery, like him or hate him, came back to this team at trade deadline. He wasn't perfect, but I think we'd all be hard pressed to find an example, besides any of the above, of a guy that worked harder, skated harder, or wanted more to make this thing work. Avery wasn't here the whole year, but he provided a very big shot of life to a team in desperate need of all he offered.

Now that we've covered the good, - well, there was everyone else. The others that just did not have the same level of committment. I won't name them, because its really unnecessary to do so. All you really have to know is that those I've just written about were, arguably, the only four players that brought it each and every game.

Now Staal had a small handful of bad games. Hank had a few more than Staal. Avery had a few as well. I'd actually argue that Callahan may not have a bad game all year.

Regardless of good versus bad, they all came to play hockey, each and every night, with the interest of winning the game and taking one for the team.

By default everyone else will pale in comparison. And many will completely fade off the map.

Look, I wanted this team to do well - whether I expected them to or not- but it is very hard to like a team when it appears so few of the them are really trying. Or that so few of them seem to care if they are trying or not.

That is something I struggled with all year. And that is something we'll all struggle with as long as the team stays the way it is.


The Rangers went from being a team with many strong personalities to being a team severly lacking them. No one can ever truly replace the league's true great personalities like Jaromir Jagr. Or the wise personalities of those like Brendan Shanahan. They are simply in a class by themselves.

But it is almost unbelievable that so many stale personalities end up on the same team, unless of course it was by design.

What I say next is not meant to be a personal indictment of any of these players. As they have given us so little of themselves, I truly know nothing about their personalities off the ice and away from the team, or in the room where none of us are privy to see.

That being said, some of them have it and some of them don't. And by "it" I mean personality, something special that sets them apart from the rest of the nameless/faceless players that play in this league.

Have It:

Mara has probably the best personality on the team. He showed it and it suited him. Listen to those games he was mic'd up. I mean not only were those segments some of the funniest stuff I've ever seen, but they show how his personality helps the team.

"That a boy, Raymond James."

"Nazzy, where's my hug?"

"Sick pass!"


(Although I'd be much obliged to anyone that can explain "carpool" to me) =)

Avery, who I'll discuss more some day this summer when we're all bored, has a personality. Hell he is personality. Like he said, even half Sean Avery is still not so mild.

Hank has a charismatic personality. Sure, he's not Tim Thomas in terms of open book, laughter and chatting on gamedays. But he'll smile at the camera and engage the listener, with honesty and thoughtfulness (not kindness, thoughtfulness).

Valiquette has a noble eloquence and a good sense of humor.

Gomez, when kept in check and perhaps in small doses, has a great personality.

Nik Antropov actually has a very good personality. I saw an interview with him on NHL Live that I suggest you watch if you can find. (Although this is a funny one too). And, truth be told, even though he arrived late in the year, he quickly became one of the few players I'd look forward to hearing from post or in-game.

We might not have gotten to see enough of it, thanks to dozens of previously discussed and yet to be discussed reasons, but Petr Prucha had a fun-loving personality and a likeability his teammates and the fans couldn't help but respond to. His smile simply could not be contained. The response of everyone to him - teammates and fans - showed the charisma that he undeniably had and that we were all unfortunately deprived of enjoying more of.

Middle of the Road:

I'm not sure whether Callahan has as engaging a personality as the rest, but lucky for him and for us, it doesn't matter that he does or not. His ON ICE personality more than makes up for any other aspect he lacks. And truth be told, he does not lack as much as his teammates. I can see him, if he allowed himself to be, opening up and being more engaging with people. And, honestly, in comparison to others, he does give a pretty nice mid-game interview.

Staal and Korpokoski, although we don't see enough, appear to have similar dry senses of humor. Staal, particularly, reminds me of a Robin Ventura type, cool and calm, but funny in a thoughtful way. I wish we'd hear more from them so we can tell for sure.

I think Colton Orr smiling after he beats the crap out of somebody, is funny. It shows he does have personality. And it reminds me of PJ Stock, which is never a bad thing.

Dubinsky is here, merely because I do not know what he has - yet. He has shown glimpses of being funny at times. And at others he's giving the same boring speech as everyone else. I reserve the right to hold judgement on him.

Don't Have It:

I like and respect Markus Naslund because I truly believe he had a great career and was a well respected player in this league. And he gave truthful, honest, and solemn post-game interviews. But he was not a sparkling personality. He reminds me, at times, of Martin Straka, not in talent, but in personality. You understood he cared, and you appreciated what he was saying, but there wasn't much dazzle at all.

In the same vein as Naslund, I place Fredrik Sjostrom. I think, honestly, it's the solemn poise and stoicism of the Swedish players, of which there are a few exceptions I'm sure. I always liked Freddie Shoes, even when he was with Phoenix, but he, like Naslund, will not dazzle with personality. At least not to us. We like him because he tries hard and he's good at his job, but not because we're engaged by him.

Blair Betts might just be tied, in my mind, for the most boring guy on the team, next to the quiet Captain. You notice when he was mic'd up twice this year that they always ended up showing just one segment, right? It wasn't an accident. There just wasn't anything left to show. Valuable as hell to this team and underappreciated by everyone, myself included, but he is just not an engaging personality.

The Captain Chris Drury wins my award for worst interview ever. Ever! I'd take an interview from Vladimir Malakhov over a Drury interview, and that's just hard to believe. Why? Because Malakhov has an excuse, still, years, later, with being Russian and harder to understand. But Drury? There is really no excuse for him being so boring, so soft-spoken, so mumbling. This is actually painful for me to type. I do appreciate the guy. I do, because I think he's a fine human being. . .but again, he's not a great captain and he's definitely one of the absolute worst public speakers. Again, ever!

Trading Derek Morris for Nigel Dawes was like trading the same personality to me. I couldn't tell the difference.

Zherdev, Rozsival, and Kalinin never gave us enough, or had nothing to give - perhaps we'll never know. Maybe it does have something to do with the European factor. I mean Rozsival has been here four years, but I don't think I heard the other two speak more than once each!

Girardi might have a personality but we haven't really gotten a chance to see it.

Voros might have had a personality, but he, perhaps like others, lost it somewhere before Thanksgiving.

Redden. I'm not even going to bother with this one. Redden is a polite country farm boy that plays hockey in Manhattan. A personality clash if you've ever seen one.

What does this all mean? It means different things to different people, I guess. I know some fans like whatever guy is wearing "the uniform" and doesn't care whether he can differentiate one from the other.

If that's the case, these were YOUR New York Rangers.

I openly admit, I love to love the players and if I become attached to a player, it is something I do so very completely, as you may have guessed.

Now, my favorite New York Rangers in the past have fallen into one of two categories - players that I loved for their talent and players that I loved for who they were.

Who they were could mean the way they carried themselves, their grace, their passion for the game. Their personality. Their extra something special that set them apart from everyone else.

I love the Rangers "team" regardless of who is on it, but that doesn't mean I have to love and embrace every single player on that team. And this team, for the first time in a long time, made me realize that truth.

I respected Naslund. I respected what many other of the stoic players like Betts and Sjostrom did.

I didn't appreciate some other players at all because they gave me very little reason to: either with their lack of effort on the ice or with their indifference or lack of defining personality off of it.

But I did embrace a handful of guys, a small handful. Staal, for his talent and the promise of a guy that can have it all. Callahan, for his drive and undying dedication. Hank and Vali for their committment to the game and thoughtful exploration outside of it. Avery for his character. And Prucha for his heart.

If we're tearing down all walls here and being honest, those were my favorite players on the team this year and have always been among my favorites during their times on this team. Those were the guys I embraced. Those were the guys I was happy to see do well. Those were, also, the guys that so often did well.

I don't think that's a coincidence either. And not because I sat here and picked my favorites because they were the best, but because I probably was drawn to them because they worked so hard.

Now, granted, they perhaps were the ones that stood out because next to everyone else they just shone that much brighter. That may very well be true.

But I loved them because they gave something more - if not in talent, then in effort. If not in points, then in heart.

As much as I love and embrace those players and understand why I do, I still wonder why it is only the precious few that seem to put everything together here.

Why do they come with that drive, that distinct essense of wanting it more and not settling for giving less than one hundred percent?

Perhaps it is the knowledge of how the fans embrace their heroes, those great players who have been here before and left a tangible piece of themselves behind.

Perhaps it is that that inspires them, these few among so many others - the possibility, no matter how remote, of being one of those rare players that is remembered here, long after their career is over.

Of being one of those special players that is still thought about, decades after the've last skated on Garden ice.


Kerri said...

Interesting, Kels, that this is part of your season review.

Personality doesn't effect goals scored or goals against or the effort a player puts into the game. Right? Personality is a separate entity.

But we have seen this year just how important personality is to the spunk and attitude on the team, as well as the team's relationship with its fans. We would have never been talking about personality last year around this time...(oh wait, we were in the playoffs last year around this time :-P.) Butpersonality has never been an issue, my entire life of loving the Rangers. Now, it seems to stifle my enjoyment of the squad.

Look, I love Blair Betts. Freddie Sjo. Dan Girardi. I want to love Chris Drury. But not all on one giant team of boring. We need some spice on this team. Avery coming helped, but letting Mara go is wrong. And we're back to where we started.

kels said...

Haha, no Kerri. It's a fair point. I use the "Season in Review" tag, but in reality it's really just "The Rambling Mess of Thoughts In My Head About This Years Rangers Club" - but that seemed a tad too long to write in the title. ;) So it became Season in Review, but really it is just MY thoughts on the players and the team this season.

I almost feel silly writing these type entries, because they really are just rambling. They are not cohesive thoughts, just a bunch of the crap I've been thinking about over the season and now that it's over.

But, now that I think about it, isn't that what a blog is supposed to be?


Don't confuse me though. The lack of personality did not cause this team to play poorly. I was just commenting, and you do agree - (I know we've all chatted about it enough this season!) - that for the first time in a long time there is no major personality to cling on to. Few players to embrace or root for. And the biggest one, was sent packing in a trade for a rental and he gets to be someone else's player to cheer for. (Ours still, too, but you get there I am going with this).

Now would more players with individual personality have help the team win more games? No.

But it would have made the disaster that was this season a lot more interesting. The product was boring. The method was boring. And, for whatever reason, it seemed that 95% of the parts of this team were boring too. Just a lot of boring to take. I think we are not alone in thinking that.

However I called it "Personality Plus" for a reason. If this team were all made of Drury clones, each and every one of them, BUT, they all played with the intensity and drive of a Ryan Callahan ON ICE, it wouldn't matter in the same way.

Maybe I'd still struggle to pick a favorite player among the mass of the interchangeable, but I'd be able to embrace the team because all the players were trying so hard and going for a common goal.

As is it was a boring group of players, on a boring team, that played a boring style of hockey. Bored to tears I was. Hockey shouldn't bore us to tears, should it? :(

Kerri said...

Hey, it's your blog, is it not? You can ramble as incohesively as you want. ^_^ That's what I do, lol.

I agree with just about everything you said. But even if the Rangers played exiciting hockey, with the intensity of Cally, I still would have missed having some personality. Of course, I blame the lack of personality on Tom Renney.... in several ways this team fit his mold, and it was everything we couldn't stand about the team. It started with the style of play and went right down to what these boys eat for breakfast every morning.

No, hockey shouldn't bore us to tears. There shouldn't have been chunks of time (such as that Western Conference trip in January, I believe) that I would find myself not watching the game at all! Knowing they were on, but not watching all the same. There shouldn't have been those moments that I feel asleep during the game... I remember falling asleep in the middle of overtime one night.

Really? Really?! Asleep in the middle of overtime?! That's just so wrong.

I blogged about the experience, I originally wrote that I "fell asleep on the coach." I meant couch, of course, but my original statement wasn't too far off, either! :-P

Anonymous said...

^Hahha, interesting slip there, Kerri!

Kels: "Nazzy, where's my hug?" = Easily the best quote of the entire season. It made my night, that was amazing. <3 (And yeah, I have yet to figure out what carpool means!)

Great season review. I enjoyed reading all of it. I have to agree with the two of you, and I won't say any more about that because talking about the team boring me to tears is going to bore me to tears even more.

But I would like to add someone to your list of 'Have it': I think Torts has it. He's such a Sean Avery character in that you either love him or hate him. Personally, I love him. He replaced someone who clearly did NOT "have it" (Tom Renney is your vanilla, plain and simple...Nobody can deny that by adding Tortorella to the mix, we got a more exciting coach, at least) and man, has there been controversy since he arrived. Love him! So feisty. :P

And I really, really love Sjoe. He doesn't have the in-your-face type of sparkling personality, but he's just ALWAYS smiling, and I have a thing for beautiful smiles (see Prucha, Petr). He always seems so happy and excited to be playing on the New York Rangers. Plus, he's always one of the guys (Gomez being the other one that immediately comes to mind) who would literally light up with glee after Prucha scored. Girardi is another one who's very smiley-- I love his expression after Prucha scored against the Pens. (Yes, I have watched and rewatched that numerous times.) And apparently Girardi does have a great sense of humor, as I remember Korpedo mentioning him in his biofile interview.

Ahhh, I miss this. :D

Kerri said...

We have now learned that Allyson likes her Rangers based on how smiley they get when Prucha scores a goal, lol.

On the point of Tortorella, though, I worry that he's TOO fiesty. No doubt, I would take too much spunk over no spunk at all, but that throwing the water bottle thing was arguably a factor in the game 6 loss (which I unforunately-thanks-for-nothing-Rangers-attended).

Anonymous said...

"We have now learned that Allyson likes her Rangers based on how smiley they get when Prucha scores a goal, lol."

Ahh, you caught me! :P

Heh, at least you weren't at the game where they got shut out completely. That pretty much sucked. Anyway, I can see what you're saying about the water bottle incident arguably being a factor in the game 6 loss (not sure I agree, though) but I do love the fact that Torts was standing up for his players. I'm sure you read the letter that was posted on every beat writer's blog and you know what those fans were saying, and OMG, it makes me so furious. But I think we all agree with what the Rodent said, that he should have just marched his team to the locker room and refused to play until those fans were evicted.

Still, I like him. And I love the whole kinship going on between him and Avery...Well, we'll see how it all plays out next season I guess.

kels said...

Sorry - I'm kinda behind on this one...

Love that that's how you pick your favorites Allyson ;) Don't think you'd get much argument from us!

And you're right. Like him,hate him, much like Avery, Torts has it.

While I didn't love the actions in and ramifications of game 5, at least Tortorella proved he had a pulse.

So many of the Rangers this year couldn't do that much.

My main joy for next season - seeing a full year with Tortorella ripping into those that don't come to play.

Oh and watching Prucha - wherever he may be.