The Rangers aren’t in the stretch run to the playoffs. They are in the playoffs. Every game the rest of the way is a playoff game for a team that has forgotten how to score goals in what are now the most important games of the season. But I’m used this by now with the Rangers and their annual March meltdown.
When it comes to Rangers hockey in March, the games mean more, the points feel more valuable, the clock ticks faster while trailing and slower while leading. Old rivalries are heightened and new enemies are made and they are made easier than they would be at any other point of the season. And because between now and Game 82, I will likely have a gripe with every Rangers player (except for Henrik Lundqvist, Rick Nash and Martin St. Louis of course), it means I will also have that much of a gripe and that many more gripes (I don’t think I ever used the word “gripe” in any column ever and just used it four times in one thought) with their opponents. So I figured what better time than now to announce the 2013-14 All-Animosity Team?
A tradition I started in 2012 with baseball, this is now the second annual NHL All-Animosity Team. This team is primarily made up of players who their fans love because they are on their team, but would hate if they were on another team. Except for Matt Cooke (who actually made the 2012-13 team, but didn’t make this year’s) since I don’t think anyone likes “Cookie” and that includes his own teammates. The team is made up of players that have caused me heartache or distress or really any emotion any Rangers fan would get from watching Anton Stralman play another game in the NHL this season.
For the returning players, here is the 2012-13 All-Animosity Team if you want to reference what was said about them last year in addition to my new thoughts on them.
(Note: Once again, Brian Boyle wasn’t eligible to make the team. Neither was Dan Girardi.)
Welcome back, Milan! After leading the 2012-13 team, Lucic is back to lead the 2013-14 team.
Lucic has been one of the best power forwards in the game for a few years and might be the best combination of scoring and fighting ability in the game. However, for some reason, Lucic’s desire to fight has slowly declined since entering the league. Since his rookie season (2007-08), Lucic has had 13, 10, 4, 7, 6, 5 (shortened season) and 5 (this year) fighting majors. Either Lucic no longer feels the need to prove himself (which he doesn’t), is more valuable to his team now than he was six years ago and doesn’t want to waste minutes sitting in the box, or he is very picky about picking his spots at this point in his career (also very likely), but Lucic doesn’t drop the gloves the way he used to. I guess it’s fine since he did give us the legendary toe-to-toe battle with Joel Rechlicz during the preseason.
Lucic won’t always go with the most even opponent and might do things like try to mix it up with Ryan McDonagh or take a run at Ryan Miller, and he won’t ever become Cam Neely 2.0 the way Boston wanted him so badly to be, but he will continue to be the No. 1 guy in the NHL you hate, but you would love to have on your team.
Since being named to the 2012-13 team, Ovechkin had another seven-game series against the Rangers in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals and once again had a letdown performance with just one goal and one assist, so I guess I should actually like him at this point.
Since the lockout (no not the most recent one, but the second-most recent one … is it bad there are so many that I have to clarify?), I have had to actually defend Sidney Crosby in arguments with those who believe Ovechkin is the better player. Or should I say “believed” Ovechkin is the better player since I don’t think anyone can still argue that Ovechkin is better than Crosby and take themselves seriously. So not only do I not like Ovechkin for what he has done against the Rangers in his career (mostly the regular season), but because I have had to use so much energy debating against his supporters.
In the last Rangers game before the Olympic break against the Penguins, I did an email exchange about the two teams and said the following about Kunitz:
Chris Kunitz is the luckiest man in the world. Or at least the luckiest hockey player in the world. A solid player and reliable scorer through the majority of his career, Kunitz did have 161 points in 163 games with the Ducks between 2006-07 and 2007-08 seasons. But prior to the 2012-13 season, Kunitz’s career single-season high for goals was 26, which he scored in 82 games in 2011-12 with the Penguins. And then last season as a linemate of Sidney Crosby’s, Kunitz’s production took off and he scored 22 goals … in 48 games! This season, also as a linemate of Crosby’s, Kunitz has 27 goals in 56 games and is on pace for at least a 40-goal season.
(He now has 31 goals in 65 games.)
I feel like you could stick pretty much anyone and I don’t mean just any NHL player, but rather any actual person on a line with Crosby and they would be good for 15-20 goals.
There isn’t a doubt in my mind that the Rangers will falter down the stretch here, get into the playoffs on the last day of the season as the second wild card and then have to face the Penguins in the first round rather than the Flyers. And there isn’t a doubt in my mind Kunitz will probably score seven goals in the series (because of Crosby) and end my hockey season.
It’s weird to think that the Bruins will retire Chara’s number one day considering the team they were when they signed him and the team they have become now seven years later. But Chara is as big of a reason as anyone in the Bruins’ turnaround from finishing the 2006-07 season with 76 points to eventually winning the Cup and being in another Cup Final. It felt like it would be at least another three decades until the Bruins won again when Chara arrived in Boston and he should be recognized for … wait a second … this is supposed to be about why I don’t like Chara. In that case, let me repurpose what I said about him last year:
Jack Edwards will likely tell you that Chara is the best defenseman in the league, but he’s the same guy who thinks fights are decided by whichever plays ends up on top of the other player on the ice. Is there anything worse than when broadcasters talk about Chara’s 108-mph slap shot in the Skills Competition in a real game? No, there’s not. Because there are a lot of times in real games when you get to sprint untouched from the blue into a still puck in the slot and rip a bomb into an open net. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg that is the lovefest for the 6-foot-9, one-time Norris Trophy winner.
It’s tough to say that Chara won’t fight or fight frequently since there aren’t many willing opponents to go against his reach, but unlike Lucic, when Chara picks his spots, he picks them correctly, except when he intentionally tries to injure someone like Max Pacioretty (listen to Jack Edwards blame it on the geometry of the rink), which I wrote about after it happened. But it’s not tough to say that outside of being a massive body on the ice with the longest stick in the league, Chara’s game is overrated by everyone and anyone willing to form an opinion based on his name alone (except for maybe Mike Milbury who thought that Chara, Bill Muckalt and the pick that turned into Jason Spezza was worth Alexei Yashin).
The second of two additions to this year’s team is the captain of the Maple Leafs. This selection is a product of HBO’s 24/7, which couldn’t have painted a more unlikable picture of Phaneuf in just a four-episode series.
After his first three seasons, it seemed like Phaneuf would be a star in the league for a very, very long time. His combination of youth, punishing hits and ability to score made him feared with and without the puck and was the kind of all-around defensive staple that every team wants. But over the last few years, Phaneuf has regressed and has never developed into the superstar it looked like he would become after gracing the cover of NHL ’09. But that hasn’t stopped many from talking about him as if he has reached his star potential and it didn’t stop the Maple Leafs from paying him as if he were one. (I’m not mad at Phaneuf for signing a seven-year, $49 million deal since that’s on the front office for even offering it, but I’m still going to talk about it.)
Phaneuf’s new contract is the type of ridiculous that Ryan Callahan’s would have been had the Rangers met his demands. Starting next season, Phaneuf will be the fifth-highest paid defenseman in the game, according to cap hit ($7 million). His cap hit will be more than fellow All-Animosity Team teammate Zdeno Chara, who despite my animosity, turned around a franchise, won the Cup, a Norris and is the captain of the best team in the Eastern Conference. His cap hit will also be more than 2011-12 Norris winner Erik Karlsson and two-time Cup champion and gold-medal winner and 2009-10 Norris winner Duncan Keith. It will also be more than Alex Pietrangelo, Mike Green, Brent Seabrook and Jay Bouwmeester. Basically the Maple Leafs paid Phaneuf the same elite money that Callahan wanted because of a letter on his jersey rather than his abilities. Thankfully, Glen Sather isn’t as much of a pushover (at least anymore) as Dave Nonis is.
Like last year … was there any other choice? And unless you’re a Devils fan or have changed your stance on the Ten Commandments, then you will agree with Brodeur as the starting goalie once again.
I’m still not sure what happened during the Trade Deadline Day when Brodeur was supposedly on the move and then not on the move and then never on the move, but it was a weird day for Devils and even Rangers fans. There are some players that are just supposed to play for one franchise forever and Brodeur is one of those players, considering he has been on the Devils since I was in kindergarten. Yes, I said KINDERGARTEN! Very rarely does a Ray Bourque-like move work out and instead it just gets weird when someone like Brian Leetch, who was a Ranger for 17 years, ends up playing 15 games for the Maple Leafs and 61 games for the Bruins at the end of his career.
If Brodeur doesn’t start on Saturday against the Rangers and doesn’t play next season and never faces the Rangers again, then the last time he will have ever played against them was at Yankee Stadium. In that game, Brodeur was embarrassed, giving up six goals on 21 shots and then asking out of the game before the third period by making up the excuse that he wanted Cory Schneider to experience an outdoor game. But that wasn’t the only excuse that Brodeur gave as part of that game, saying after the game, “It was the worst ice I ever played hockey on.” I’m sure the conditions weren’t exactly perfect or equal to the quality of ice he is playing on, but Henrik Lundqvist also played on the same ice and after giving up three goals in the first, shut out the Devils for the final 43:53 of the game, 20:00 of which Brodeur willingly spent on the bench. I will miss Martin Brodeur when he retires, but my animosity for him will stay the same.