The NHL All-Star Game returned after a year hiatus, but now it’s come and gone, and the second “half” of the season is set to begin. With 35 games remaining, the Rangers have put themselves in a position where winning less than half of their games would get them to 98 points. It will take a monumental collapse for the Rangers to not play a postseason game for the first time in five years (I’m counting the 2019-20 playoffs as real postseason games for them).
Because of the Rangers’ two-week break from Feb. 1 through Feb. 15, there has been a lull in animosity toward non-Rangers around the league. But in sticking with tradition of the All-Star break, here is the 2021-22 All-Animosity Team.
We came dangerously close to Barzal and Artemi Panarin playing together for the foreseeable future. If not for Panarin taking less money (about $1 million per year less) to be a Ranger instead of an Islander, Rangers fans would have had to deal with those two flying around together for years to come. It gives me chills just thinking about it. Thankfully, it didn’t happen.
When Barzal is on the ice, I’m scared. I’m not scared at the level of Sidney Crosby, Alexander Ovechkin, Nathan MacKinnon or Connor McDavid, but I’m still scared. He’s the one true playmaker on the Islanders and not someone I enjoy entering the offensive zone with the puck. Every time he does his patented circling of the zone with possession it feels like it will only end badly, and unfortunately, he’s not going anywhere in terms of the rivalry.
Marchand is the ultimate player who you hate to watch your team play against, but would love if he were on your team. He’s dirty and annoying, he’s a pest and nuisance, but he’s really good. He makes up one-third of the Bruins’ “Perfection Line” and the Bruins go as that line goes, and that line has been going for years.
Marchand might have been on this team solely for what he does with the puck because he’s that talented, but it’s what he does without the puck that solidified his roster spot. His lapses in judgment and total disregard for player safety whether it’s unnecessary hits to the head or irresponsible slew foots have made him universally disliked in the entire hockey world outside of Boston. I don’t envision a scenario where Marchand is in the league and isn’t on this team.
OK, maybe Wilson is the ultimate player who you hate to watch your team play against, but would love if he were on your team. Like Marchand, Wilson is a really good player, however, his lapses in judgment are nearly impossible to comprehend. His presence on the ice worries me for the health of the Rangers’ elite talent, but if he were flying around throwing big hits and scoring big goals for the Blueshirts, my perception of him and the Tri-state’s perception of him would be much different.
OK, so I had to do some odd maneuvering like putting a historically awful defensive player on defense for this year’s roster. But considering he does hover around the top of the left circle on the power play, it’s almost like he’s a defenseman sometimes. A stretch? Yes, it is.
In his career, Ovechkin has 41 goals in 67 regular-season games against the Rangers and another 13 goals in 33 playoff games across five postseason series, with four of those series going seven games. He’s the ultimate “When is his shift going to end?” and “Get the puck out of the zone” player there is and when he’s waiting at the top of the left circle on the man advantage, two minutes feels like 20 minutes as you pray the shot attempts he does get somehow miss the net.
I keep waiting for Ovechkin to slow down, thinking age or games played might start to catch up to him, but in his age 34 season he led the league in scoring with 48 goals and was on a 58-goal pace before the season was shut down. In 91-regular season games since January 2021, he has 53 goals. He’s not slowing down. At worst he’s keeping pace with what he has always done, and it’s possible he’s getting even better with age.
I do respect his ability and appreciate that I’m watching greatness, a generational talent and the best goal scorer in the history of the game, but that doesn’t take away how I feel when he’s playing the Rangers. And no, I don’t want him to break Wayne Gretzky’s all-time goal record, though unless he unexpectedly decides to retire, he’s going to break it.
Chara’s last three stops have gone from the Bruins to the Capitals to the Islanders. All he needs are stints stint with the Devils, Flyers and Penguins at this point to increase an animosity that doesn’t need any increasing.
Chara isn’t close to being the player he once was and appears to be a liability on the ice more times than not, but he’s not once again on this team for the player he is, but the player he was.
I will miss him when he’s no longer in the league though. Chara and Joe Thornton remain the last members of the ’90s club of current NHLers who played in that decade with both going back to the 1997-98 season. Derek Jeter was finishing his second major league season when Chara and Thornton both made their debuts, and this year will be eight years since Jeter retired, all while Chara and Thornton keep on playing in the NHL. It’s preposterous, and the length of their careers is something we may never see again, and we’re seeing it from two players at the same exact time.
During Henrik Lundqvist’s number retirement ceremony, I couldn’t help but think how unfortunate Lundqvist was to have his career take place during a 15-year period in which the front office gave him to little no help defensively and asked him to single-handedly carry the organization to each win during his career. Lundqvist deserved better. He deserved more than one chance to play for the Stanley Cup, and he did everything one single member of a hockey team could do to win a championship.
It’s not Murray’s fault he got to play behind the 2015-16 and 2016-17 Penguins en route to back-to-back championships. And for as unreasonable as it is, it bothers me that he got to do so. I’m glad Lundqvist retired only ever playing in an NHL game for the Rangers, but I still wish he had agreed to waive his no-trade five and six years ago and went to a contender at the time and won. Then I wouldn’t have to think about the all the fortunate goalies over the years who have gotten their names engraved on the Cup, while Lundqvist who was undoubtedly the undisputed best goalie of his era never did.