Let’s all take a moment here to appreciate Tanner Glass. I say that sincerely and with a straight face – dude had a nice game on Thursday night and deserves some appreciation. I’d like to do a bit more than just appreciate Tanner Glass however, I’d like to talk about him and the phenomena of obsession over him by some fans and members of the media.
You see there’s a misconception out there that some fans who would rather he not be in the lineup hate Tanner Glass or hope to see him fail. The response by those who hold this misconception is to praise Tanner Glass over and over, exalting his character and work ethic.
To the first point nobody hates Tanner Glass or wants him to fail; hate is such a strong word to use when we’re talking about what is literally just a game that we all follow as a hobby, and to say that some fans want him to fail is to deny them legitimacy as fans, implying that they’re more committed to the name on the back of the jersey and on the front when really it’s the other way around for all of us (yes, even the fans we disagree with are still fans).
Glass himself hinted at these feelings the other night, when after the Rangers Game 4 win over Ottawa he said the following: “My game’s not one that’s easy to like at times. People who know hockey. Your coaches. Your teammates. Those are the important people and they’re supportive … You know what? The people who do say those things don’t know much about the game, or being part of a team. Part of a locker room. Especially in a game like hockey. It’s a physical game. There’s so much that goes on, that the average fan doesn’t understand. To me, when I hear that stuff, it seems to be uneducated people.”
Now, before unpacking this quote and some of the praise Glass got the other night, I should say that he has every right to defend himself against what he sees as criticism of his character. So much of his part of being on the team has to do with his character that it probably seems like when people like myself say they’d rather he not be in the lineup, they’re saying they don’t want his character in the lineup. This couldn’t be further from the truth, as what I’m mostly concerned about is the skillset that leads to on-ice contributions and wins, but everyone’s a person, so how could you not take the intense scrutiny that comes with playing a professional sport personally? It’s completely fine that he might react this way and respond to what he feels is unwarranted criticism or ad hominem attacks.
What’s a little more puzzling to me is the way some fans and members of the media react to the criticism of Glass. The first is, as I mentioned earlier, more or less a questioning of others’ legitimacy as fans. To say that critics of Glass want him to fail is insulting; there are no members of the Rangers any fan wants to see perform poorly, we all like this team after all.
Beyond that though, there’s the effusive, almost never-ending praise heaped on him to drown out the basic fact that he’s not a particularly good NHL player. We heard a lot of this from Pierre McGuire last night, who at one point praised him for accepting his AHL assignment without any fuss or pushback. I’m sorry, but are we really praising a guy for not being a total jerk about what is simply an inevitable fact of the modern NHL, all while being paid handsomely to do so? One would reasonably expect any professional hockey player to act like a professional, and while it is commendable that he took his AHL assignment seriously it’s not necessarily exceptional.
While we’re here, do we ever hear any praise for Henrik Lundqvist for not bolting from a team that hasn’t been able to deliver him a Stanley Cup despite ten years of netminding dominance? There are literally dozens of things that NHL players do and don’t do on a regular basis that are commendable that don’t necessarily deserve the kind of praise Glass got on TV the other night. Oscar Lindberg scored two goals for crying out loud and didn’t even make the back pages of the NY sports dailies.
I also want to touch on this notion that he plays “blue collar hockey” or that he tries harder than other players on the team. There simply is no such thing as blue collar hockey, full stop. According to sportrac.com, Glass has taken home a little less than $8 million total over the past 8 seasons, and there’s nothing blue collar about that. His income surely and his lifestyle most probably are substantively different from that of the average American, and that’s not even touching on his degree from an elite institution of higher education. His effort on the ice is commendable, but to single him out as trying hard implies that the other guys on the ice (the ones on the team we all like, who we all want to succeed) are not trying as hard, and considering that these guys have been conditioned since they were young children to play hockey and strive for success at an elite level, it’s pretty hard for me to believe that they’re not.
Further, Tanner Glass is still, at every level of the game except the NHL, an exceptional athlete who could take any one of us in a game of hockey. To put it plainly, there’s nothing about Glass that’s more relatable than any other NHL player, from his salary cap hit to his skill set.
Now, I’d like to offer a few caveats to what I’ve just said. The first is that by all accounts, Tanner Glass is a decent, warm hearted individual, and I see no reason to doubt this claim. Along those lines, if Tanner Glass is your favorite player because of his personality, I’m happy for you (seriously!) because it’s always fun to have a favorite player who you can follow and look out for, and it’s definitely fun to get attached to certain players’ antics (Mats Zuccarello is one we can all agree on here I think). Hell, if Tanner Glass is your favorite player because of his style of play, that’s great too. But let’s be honest here, there’s nothing particularly virtuous or effective about his brand of hockey, and the lavish praise heaped upon him in response to what are perfectly valid, hockey based criticisms is frankly insulting to those fans who aren’t as into him and unfair to the dozen or so other guys on the team who also try hard and are good team mates, in addition to bringing the kind of skill set necessary to succeed at the NHL on a regular basis.
The next caveat is that as of late, he’s certainly been deserving of some of the praise he’s getting. He’s played well, getting in behind Ottawa’s trap system and beating opposing players to the puck, helping to set up scoring chances along the way. If he played this way every night you wouldn’t hear a peep out of anyone about his role on the team. The criticism is that he plays this way incredibly infrequently, and that’s a perfectly valid criticism to make. The criticism that he’s taking up a roster spot from a player who has proven to be more skilled than him, Pavel Buchnevich, is also perfectly valid, because it comes from a place of wanting to play the best lineup possible night in night out, giving a chance to a rookie to grow and develop into what will hopefully be a role on the top six.
Lastly, I again want to state that I have nothing against Tanner Glass personally, and by no means hate him. I have issues with the denigration of those who criticize him, and find the gushing praise heaped on him to be simply dishonest. Beyond that though, if he’s your guy, he’s your guy, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Let’s hope he keeps playing the way he’s playing, and he can be everyone’s guy.