If Heath Ledger’s iconic turn as The Joker in Christopher Nolan’s epic 2008 crime drama “The Dark Knight” has taught us anything, its that as long as everything goes according to plan, everything is fine. Even if the plan is horrifying. When the Flames lose 50+ games this season, nobody panics. When franchise players are flipped for unknown prospects and picks, everything is fine. But when one little ol’ contender struggles, especially in New York, well, then everyone loses their minds.
This year’s New York Rangers club has fallen well short of expectations thus far. This team was supposed to be the cream that rose to the top of the less-than-stellar Metropolitan Division and carry Stanley Cup aspirations into the late spring months. Alain Vigneault was supposed to be the final piece of this puzzle, taking a team more offensive talented than the 2012 team that grinded their way to the Eastern Conference finals to the next level.
Clearly, the transition has been sandpaper smooth to this point. The team in general (but, especially the defense) have had a difficult time going from John Tortorella’s straight forward 2-1-2/low zone collapse to AV’s more complex, matchup oriented overload system. Henrik Lundqvist has been mortal to this point, and our beloved Blueshirts are clinging to playoff contention more as a result of the weak Eastern Conference and weaker Metropolitan Division than of the quality of their play.
So, who or what is to blame for this debacle of a start? Did Glen Sather build a shaky roster? Has he been at the helm too long? Is AV too hands off to get what he needs from this group? Was Mark Messier the answer after all? Why don’t we have a Torey Krug to call up and make a huge difference? Is our drafting and development model broken? All of these concepts have been floated around not just our comments section, but all over the Ranger-related interwebs.
The all encompassing, so-simple-it-must-be-right-in-front-of-our-face answer has proved elusive. The sports talk radio crowd has gotten louder than the objective analysts and fans are scrambling for a quick fix all solution. Unfortunately, folks, its not that simple.
The Rangers have several holes, but these are compounded by poor performances by many of the team’s core players. We know Rick Nash is a better hockey player than he has shown. Ditto, Henrik Lundqvist. If those guys were firing on all cylinders, Ryan Callahan was healthy and Dan Girardi wasn’t doing his best snow angel impression two or three times per shift, we’d probably be having a conversation about minor upgrades to solidify for a Cup run.
I guess the point I’m trying to make is that when you read an article or a comment, think twice before letting overly-simplistic “back page” analysis skew or influence your opinion on a very complex problem. There are multiple layers to the dysfunction of this year’s team. It is impossible to explain it away with a “Fire Sather” rant or claiming Messier would have been the right call for the job. We have no way of knowing how alternatives to the decisions affecting the team would have turned out had they gone in a different direction.
It’s really easy to say the alternative would have been more effective, simply because it can’t be disputed. It’s possible that the Rangers would be even worse off under Messier or Sather’s replacement could have traded away a Datsyuk-ian prospect in a panic move to quiet the outraged fan base.
One thing we all have in common is that we love the Rangers. We have statistical analysis, the eye test and other observational methods to evaluate the performance of this group. Leading an angry mob with pitch forks when things don’t go according to plan isn’t helping the situation. This summer, we believed the pieces were there for this team to do great things. Underachievement and lack of meaningful transition to the new system are really the biggest difference between then and now.
This ended up being a little more of a rant than I set out to write, but I challenge our incredibly dedicated and intelligent readership to do better than the WFAN sites out there. If you believe wholesale changes are necessary for this club, that Hank is already starting to decline, that simply replacing Sather would bring us to the promised land, then let’s hear a “why” instead of how the blame du jour tenuously connects to the disappointing results on the ice.