Monday, April 5, 2010

Extra Effort. . . ?

Well, to start, since I wrote the last post following the Boston game, the Blueshirts have gone 5-0-1 and garnered 9 of the last 10 available points. They've done it with grit, they've done it with tenacity, and they've done it with heart.

For that I give them a hearty bravo.

And, of course, a small chastizing for not having started doing that - playing hard, coming from behind, winning! - 10 games prior. You know, so we wouldn't be watching our team, with four games remaining, and seriously having no idea whether or not they'll make the playoffs.

As much as it's in the NYRs hands to win - and win out - it's in the hands of the others surrounding them - Philly, Boston, Atlanta. The Rangers must win, but two of the above must falter as well.

I won't say it's over til it is and they can very much still make the playoffs - they can - but it's been fun to watch them over these last week of games. It really has.

A shame it wasn't sooner, but...again...what can we say?


Which brings me to The Steven McDonald Extra Effort Award, the annual award as voted by the fans for the player that goes "above and beyond the call of duty."

Normally, almost ever year in fact, I have a clear cut favorite, a "that's my guy," a "he's the one."

This year, I am in a quandry. I come up with two answers.

a) No one

b) A bunch of someones.

Last year, Ryan Callahan exemplified the award and he deservedly won it. My rational was explained here.

He gave his all, every night, but more importantly, it was not expected of him. Who was Ryan Callahan? I mean sure he was great, the fans loved him, but he was not the guy anyone expected to be "that guy" going into the year. But he was, when all was said and done, the ONLY guy it seemed, that showed up and gave 100% every single game.

Well, even Ryan Callahan couldn't live up to his own billing this season. I love the guy. Think the Rangers are a better team for having him. I hope he stays a life-long Ranger.

But Ryan Callahan doesn't even make my cut.


I will again go back to the days when the Award was given to the Jed Ortmeyers, the Sandy McCarthys, the Matthew Barnabys. The guys that weren't the highest paid, the guys that didn't play the most minutes, but the guys that got the job done, did the little things, and did them humbly, with the team in mind.

I've always had a very specific vision of this, and that's why, oftentimes, one player just jumps out at me.

This year, not so. I mentioned in my Ryan Callahan epic of last year, that I didn't think this award was for the highest paid or for the team MVP. Sometimes it works that way. Maybe when Lundqvist won it in 06 he was our MVP (next to Jagr of course). And maybe on last year's at times disaster ridden teams, Cally was our MVP. I can accept both of those.

But I hesitate to do the same this year. Instead, I'll give you a handful of guys, and see where we go from there.

Lundqvist, to some degree, has gone above and beyond his expectations for himself and that we have of him. More-so, at times, than even last year, he's had to carry this team. Go further than we thought he could. Further than we should expect. For that, I'm okay if he gets the award. He should be one of our best players, yes. But we are spoiled rotten by how he's kept the Rangers in this playoff race at all. No Hank - no chance.

Gaborik, in any normal sense, would not have my vote for this award. He's paid the most money and we had amazing expectations of him. But did we? I'd consider Marian Gaborik for this award not based on the fact that he is the second half of our MVP tandem (Hank the other), but because with his injury-riddled past - who could have legitimately seen this happening? A 41-goal season? Only a relative few man games lost to injury? A stretch for much of the season where he scored what seemed like 50 percent of the teams goals? (In actuality, he's got 41 of the teams 210 - so 20%). Even though we knew he potentially could, and hoped against hope that he would, can we honestly say that we knew this would happen? I can't.

Prospal, even though he has trailed off as the season has gone on, has been perhaps the biggest surprise. I know he only got paltry $$ because he knew Tortorella, had no other offers at the moment, and, perhaps, understood that thanks to Fisher Price Glen the NYRs simply had no more to give, but he has been the biggest steal the Rangers have. He's one goal shy of 20, is second on the team in points with 56, and is a plus 10. And those smiles after someone scores. I can believe, for a while, he was the only true veteran leader these kids were looking up to. Having been around, having won a Cup, having been a positive person to be around. The Rangers are much better for having Prospal. If he's stay (sadly for the again paltry $$ they'd be sure to give him) I'd love to have him in blue next season.

I'm not sure if anyone else would give a vote to the guy I'm going to talk about next, but I would. (And did).

Erik Christensen. Erik Christensen may have just blown up anyone's expectations of him when the Rangers claimed him off the waiver wire in early December. Why? Because I don't think anyone had ANY expectations for this kid. I heard of him, saw him play sparingly, but I sure didn't. I didn't think he'd be the guy that could play with Gaborik. I didn't think he could be the guy winning faceoffs. I didn't think he could be the guy making those sweet moves (goal on Brodeur, set-up to Drury on goal on Brodeur). Heck, right there alone we should love him - he plays well against Brodeur! Kidding aside though, to me, Erik Christensen may just be the best true example of "above and beyond." The guy may have made it clear he had to try hard because this was, perhaps, his last shot. But he didn't let the pressure get to him. Not on the ice, or off of it. For putting aside those pretty moves for a minute, the top reason I respect Erik Christensen? He tells it like it is. Not the "we did what we had to do, things just didn't go our way," variety to often spun in the NYR lockerroom. But real, to-the-core honest assessment. Of himself and of the team. I may have thought nothing of him coming onto this team, but once he was on it, I think he has cemented himself as a valuable asset and someone who clearly gets what it means to "Be a Ranger!"

And there you have it, my (one-less-than) handful of players who I can see winning the award, for very different reasons. If I have to cast my vote here, I pick Erik Christensen, for getting back to what I felt the award was truly about. But any of these guys are very deserving.

Ah, it's been a weird year in Rangerland. I love this team when they play the way I know they can. I hate that they wait so long to do it.

Four more games to go. Where the team will end up...they have to win to find out.


Anonymous said...

Kels-- You steal my thoughts and weave them into beautiful paragraphs, as usual. ;)

There are two things you mentioned that I've been feeling very strongly about recently: Why Callahan shouldn't have gotten the Extra Effort Award and why Christensen should have.

For some reason, Callahan just doesn't do it for me. He's a fantastic player and I'm so proud that he's a Blueshirt, but like you said, I just don't feel like he's "that guy". It's almost like he set the bar too high for himself with his unbelievable play last season! And maybe I'm missing something here, (please point it out if I am) but since when does "Extra Effort" mean "leads the team in hits"? Hitting's great, but why does everyone laud Callahan for his superb hitting skills? I get that he's gutsy for hitting guys that weigh double his weight, and I get that his abundance of blocked shots shows his heroic determination to sacrifice his own body...But despite all this, I just don't see "it" on his face. I can't explain what "it" is, but for me, Callahan's just missing it. I dunno. I understand that I'm totally alone in this, lol.

All I know is that Prospal has that look on his face when he scores, like you mentioned. That's the single reason I would have voted for him to get that award. I mean, seriously, is this guy playing the game he loves day in and day out or what?? No one rocks the "I JUST SCORED!!! YAY!" look like he does. (And Prucha, of course.)

Oh, and you hit the nail on the head with Christensen. I didn't just jump on the bandwagon with that guy, I hijacked it and took the wheel. XD In fairness to myself, though, I first started really liking him after I met him following one of the Rangers' awful losses a few weeks ago, which is a pretty solid way to decide that you like someone. Most of the other players were moody and pissed off-- which is totally understandable after a game like that one and even encouraging, because it's a sign that they actually care...or that they have hot dates waiting for them-- but when signing autographs, Christensen was really friendly. When someone asked him "How are you?" he responded frankly: "Not so great actually. Kind of frustrated..." etc, etc, and actually conversed with the fans in his usual quiet manner. He was courteous about pictures, too, instead of muttering, "quickly!" and then running off before anyone else could accost him. Also, he came out with Callahan after the game, and in classic Erik Christensen manner, he kind of shirked off to the side as everyone crowed around Cally, almost as if he were thinking, "Nobody's gonna want MY autograph over Callahan's..." Hahah. Anyway, LOVE HIM. Getting to see him score two goals in the last game before I left home again made my night!

Thanks for your wonderful insights, and keep up the great work!

kels said...

Thanks Allyson.

It's funny right. Because I say that I love Cally, I say I love him on the team and want him to stay forever, and yet, he wasn't our guy. I mean, he deserved it, surely; I just think others deserved it more this year.

I think, too, it may be because he is a victim of his own success. He was SOOO amazing last year, that anything compared to that, we take for granted. Oh he hits everyone. That's Callahan. Oh he's a good team guy. That's Callahan. (If that makes sense).

That's great about Christensen. Thanks for sharing your experience. I think it just makes me like him more. To know that really is how he is - to media, to fans. Real. I like real hockey players. Not cookie cutter. And I hope he's back next year. Prospal too, for the record.