People like a good villain … someone that they just love to hate. Some are more obvious than others. There are movie characters, like Darth Vader, Hannibal Lecter, and Tony Montana. They are so evil that you want to see them pay for their actions, until you come to understand there are deeper internal struggles with which you can sympathize. There are sports figures, like Alex Rodriguez, whose perceived arrogance regarding PEDs infuriates many people. You have Ray Lewis and Aaron Hernandez, who seem likely to have participated in or committed vicious crimes. One can understand the motivation for the utter contempt for the aforementioned fictional and non-fictional individuals.
Then there are the players to whom many fans just cannot bring themselves to give any latitude. And these players wind up on the Whipping Boy Meter. Every game. The players on the list over the years are plentiful: Scott Gomez, Chris Drury, Marek Malik, Michal Roszival, Jaromir Jagr, Valeri Kamensky, and Alexei Kovalev are some of the more recent members.
So let’s take a look at three current Rangers who cannot escape the WBM©, and what are the reasons they are consistently berated by a large contingent of boneheads.
Note: number in parentheses indicates average WBM© position (lower number is worse).
Brad Richards (1)
Well, this one is pretty easy, but not 100% was his doing. Richards was considered the top of the 2011 free agent class, so looking only at the acquisition itself, there were not many complaints. The questions began with the length of contract and the dollars involved. Nine years and $60M for a 31 year old with a concussion history gave us reservations. All things considered, Richards played pretty well his first season, helping the team to within two wins of the Stanley Cup Finals with some clutch goals and playmaking throughout the regular season and playoffs. Maybe not an elite first-line center, but certainly a major reason the Rangers got to where they did.
Then came the lockout and seemingly being a step behind the following season. He was seemingly put on every single power play regardless of how poorly he performed on it. If you extrapolate his point totals, Richards would have had 61 points over a full 82 games (compared to 66) the year before. Not a significant drop, but then followed up by one goal in the playoffs and the infamous scratches in the last two games.
This one ultimately gets chalked up to the contract and expectations that come with it. While no one can blame a player for signing a contract, there is an onus to come prepared and perform. And for the most part, Richards has done neither.
Michael Del Zotto (2)
Del Zotto is an interesting case because he is almost a victim of his initial success. When he arrived in 2009, he showed offensive flashes that reminded some fans of Brian Leetch in accumulating 37 points. Then came the sophomore slump the following season, and eventual demotion. Earning a roster spot out of camp in 2011, Del Zotto put together a solid season (41 points in 77 games) and playoffs (10 points in 20 games). Last season, he tallied 21 points in 46 games, or 37 over a full 82-game season.
Del Zotto being a whipping boy is a little less clear. He is essentially the fourth defenseman on the Rangers, and I think no less than 26 teams would be happy with that. He has contributed the most points from the blueliners the last few seasons, with average defensive play. He seems to play best when the other team gets in his face, thinking back to the Ottawa series against Chris Neil in 2012. Perhaps it relates to the struggles the power play has had the last few seasons. However, I think that he raised the bar for himself early, and there were expectations that he would blossom. At 23 and in a new system, I think there is still hope that he becomes an even better offensive contributor.
Brian Boyle (0 – Permanent)
Then there is Brian Boyle, whose value has been debated here ad nauseum. He came to the Rangers as a raw third/fourth line checking center with size. He showed the ability to win faceoffs, forecheck, play solid defense, and kill penalties. When he exploded for 21 goals in the 2010-2011, he doomed himself to be the epitome of the whipping boy. It seems that no matter how well he plays in other areas, he is considered terrible when he is not scoring.
I think that he adds significant value to the team, even when he is not scoring. Unfortunately, those contributions usually don’t show up on the stat sheets. There have been arguments that you can get the same skills from minor leaguers at half the cost. However, being an excellent defensive player is more difficult in today’s NHL, with much of the clutching and grabbing a thing of the past. He is more of a 10-goal scorer (last year was probably as much of an aberration as the 21 goals) and is perfectly acceptable as a fouth-line center/wing. If and when he is traded or let walk, he will be much harder to replace than many think.
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