There seems to be this black and white mentality prevalent amongst Rangers fans right now; if everything is not perfect then we must panic. No in-between. Which of course is ridiculous. I think we can find a middle ground; we're not where we want to be yet. This is a start that other teams might be satisfied with, but not a team that finished first in the Eastern Conference last season. Not a team that made it to the Eastern Conference Finals last season. Not a team that added one of the elite talents of the NHL in the offseason. I think it's completely okay to admit this while still acknowledging we're in a perfectly stable spot. We're 7-3-1 in our last 10 games. We're in a playoff position and only a few wins out of reach of the division or even the conference. And it's not even a third of the way through the season yet. There is more than enough time to get to where we want to be.
What is necessary to get to that place? Surely the powerplay needs to at least become respectable. A lot of blame has been thrown in the direction of Gaborik and Richards. And it would be ignorant to insist they have earned none of it.
But what about Ryan Callahan? A homegrown product. A guy who has proven he is a consistent 20+ goal scorer in this league and who flirted with 30 last season. A guy who embodies the identity of this team. When you look around the NHL, there are certain teams who gave the captaincy to respectable players; the Islanders and Mark Streit. The Wild and Mikko Koivu. The Stars and Brendan Morrow. And I of course mean no disrespect to those guys, who are hard workers, talented, and are looked up to. But Ryan Callahan belongs to the class of captains who serve as the paradigm of what the organization represents. He is the undoubted leader of this team and he embodies everything John Tortorella and the rest of the coaching staff wants to see. Every minor leaguer and unsigned prospect is told to emulate Ryan Callahan. In how he conducts himself, how hard he works, and how he plays every shift.
Surely, many of the qualities we expect from Ryan Callahan are still there. He's energetic every shift. He throws hits and blocks shots at will. And doing those things definitely gives him some leeway. But for all the (somewhat deserving) criticism that Gaborik and Richards have received, they still have respectable point totals; 11 in 15 games for each. Ryan Callahan, on the other hand, has a whole four points in 12 games. And again, while he has a slightly less offensive role than those two, his offensive contributions have been very underwhelming by his standards.
Moreso than just the tangible statistics, Ryan Callahan needs to step it up in a different way. When onelooks at the elite, successful leaders in New York sports history – Mark Messier, Derek Jeter, and Eli Manning for example – they all have something similar. It's not just ability or even hustle. It's not just about saying the right things. In fact, these guys didn't or don't need to say much at all. In big moments, when the team needed somebody to step up and be The Man all three of those guys did just that. It is inherent in their DNA. They have egos. Their teams were not going to fail under their watch. Of course talent had plenty to do with it, but Mark Messier does not score a hat-trick in Game Six against the Devils without that ego; without that will. Not only were the Rangers going to win the game, but Mark Messier was going to be the guy who stepped onto the ice, put the team on his back, and physically made sure of it. And when Messier returned to the bench after a goal, or Jeter returns to the dugout after an important base hit, or Eli walks to the sidelines after a successful two minute drill, the entire universe (and by virtue, their teammates) can see it in their eyes. We're going to win, I'm going to lead the charge, and you have no choice but to buy in.
Now of course, it would be unfair to expect Callahan to be on par with those guys right now. He's only in his second year as captain, and it's the middle of February; not in midst of an important playoff matchup. I'm not criticizing the job he has done on the ice or in the locker room I'm simply challenging him to move up to that next level. Be even better. The learning curve is no longer existent. He's no longer a kid trying to find his place in the league. He's already been through a season and playoffs as captain of the team. He's 27, a veteran of this team, and established as captain. No, he can't even come close to equaling the likes of Jeter, Manning, or Messier right now in February. But he can take that first step towards their status. The offense is somewhat flat (especially on the powerplay) and Nash's absence makes scoring even more difficult. The energy, effort, and selflessness is admirable and present as always with Callahan, but Staal and Girardi are doing those things as well. Brad Richards is a veteran with a Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe to his name. Show why Ryan Callahan wears the "C" and not any of those guys. Be the man. Put home a couple of goals. Score one on the powerplay, or in overtime against a division rival. Put together a streak of games with points. Part of being captain of a team in New York is thriving under the pressure and reaching expectations, even if they are unfair at times. It's about being the man who takes the reigns and produces when the team needs it most. Jeter, Manning, and Messier all did it. Chris Drury was unable to, and regardless of how hard he worked and how key he was in the locker room, his tenure as a captain will ultimately be remembered as unsuccessful. The energy, hard work, and general leadership of Chris Drury has been there with Callahan and maybe he has surpassed it to some degree. But that alone is not good enough. I have no doubt that he wants to reach that next level on the pyramid. Now it's time to execute.
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