Playoffs and Player Evaluations: Perceptions vs Reality

Apologies in advance for the length...

Over the last week or so as the talk of getting a top 5 draft pick this season and selling off parts that are tradable (prospal, girardi) either in bigger deals as the rumored Horton deal of the last couple days or for picks to help continue to build the farm system with talent.  To these types of suggestions there has been a mix of support for the idea of selling what we can and getting a high draft pick, while the other side of that opinion considers it unfathomable to give up on a season and likes to throw around the term tank when this subject is mentioned.  As I have said before there is a huge difference between selling what you can and "Tanking."  When I hear the phrase tank I think about benching your best players just so you lose games and I will be the first to say that is cowardly and disgraceful.  That in my opinion and maybe I will just speak for myself is never something that I have suggested doing.

As I said above what I have suggested is selling for more picks and not being buyers to try and squeak into the playoffs.  Yes there is the part of all of us as fans that believes that if they got into the playoffs anything can happen and while technically it can, the reality is it doesn't in hockey.  The problem with the anything can happen in the playoffs and don't give up on the season side of this debate is in very short order it could become a moot point.  We have played 60 games already this year and after tonights loss this team that apparently could make a run to win it all is under .500.  The first thing honestly that comes to mind when I hear playoffs and this team is Jim Mora.  All the indignation against the word "tank" misses the reality that as constructed this team is tanking all on its own with 4 points in the last 10 games.  No team in the league has less points in the last 10 than us, only the islanders even tie us.

With the results of tonights games the Rangers have now fallen 5 points out of 6th, and 4 points behind 7th and 8th while sitting in 11th overall, 3 points from 13th in the East and 7th fewest points in the league.  Yes I am well aware that 4-5 points can be made up in 22 games, but what is also not reflected in the current standings is that every team from 7-10 all holds 2 games in hand on the Rangers, so it might be more accurate to classify it as being down 6 or 7 points not 4 or 5.  Then we come to the reality of the upcoming schedule.  In the last two games before the break they go to Pitt whom they cant seem to get over the hump against as we have lost all 4 games thus far this year and follow that up with a home game against suddenly hot again TB who destroyed us there and we destroyed here all with questions at this point on the availability of Gaborik, though apparently Friday is looking very possible if not likely for him to play.

The schedule doesn't get any easier following the break where we start with games @Ott, Pitt, @Was, Buf, @NJ who are currently the top 5 in the eastern standings.  So what right now is a 3-4 point hole against the teams in front of us for the final playoff spots could oh so easily be 6, 8, 10 points after these seven games it total and then you are looking at having to make that up w 15 games left just to even get in.  I wish that with this team we have this year I had that same blind hope in the possible run into the playoffs and run deep in the playoffs, but I guess I have pulled as much emotion out of it and am looking at the reality of the team in front of me.

The question then becomes how if I am saying to sell could I advocate for a trade for a Nathan Horton.  To me a deal for Nathan Horton, whether it could be giving up Brandon Dubinsky or Ryan Callahan is one that adds talent to this team and sure it could add a few points to the final tally on the season, but it is a move that has the potential to be both a buy and sell move.  What I mean is that in Horton sure you could get a few more points this year, but it is a buy move for the next 3 years not a stop gap get me in the playoffs move (ie Antropov last year).  I personally love the potential Dubi has and the heart that Cally plays with every night, but for anyone who is hockey fan not just a ranger fan to think that either is a better player than Horton means they cannot separate the emotion of the sweater they wear to see the actual hockey skill possessed by both.  We can argue the merits of what Dubi and Cally have done on the ice, but what always seems to show up is the heart/grit type comments of which why for many of us even those of us who would trade cally before dubi love cally.  There is a reason that players like Cally, Avery and a Prust, or the Orr, Ortmeyers before are fan favorites and there is nothing wrong with that, but we also have to at some point admit it isn't totally about production or skill. Cally obviously is more skilled and productive than the others listed there.

Examples have been brought up recently in different threads of these types of blinders in the difference in fan reaction to the same things by players who are and those who aren't fan favorites.  Prime example is Higgins who clearly underachieved and couldn't hit the ocean from the sand this year in terms of goal scoring but he did all the little things the fan favs get credit for and produced just as many goals as Avery, hitting the net as often as well, but Higgins sucked on offense while Aves has excuses made for him.  Avery's antics for the most part amuse me as much as anyone here, but how many games can we realistically say that Sean has shown up and made a real difference for this team in his play, maybe a dozen  if we are generous?  Dallas and mostly division games are the ones that come to mind. 

Same happens with Dubinsky vs Callahan as Dubi is called inconsistent (which he is) and underachieving while producing more efficiently than Cally (partially due to linemates, but Cally also gets a huge boost this year from PP1 time) while Cally is working hard.  Frankly I expected a lot more from Cally this year and maybe he is pressing too much because of the A I don't know, but with what he showed at the end of last year under Torts, I thought 25-30 G was not out of the question and if not for a few goal spurs he wouldn't even be at the 15 he has now.  Cally has had 2 7 game and 1 6 game streak this year of zero points, so why isn't he labeled as inconsistent in his production? 

Same can be said on defense where if one the R sisters who are awful, but have each played well in spurts this year, Rozi more often, makes a mistake defensively that leads to a goal the lambasting begins while if it is MDZ or even Gilroy the apologists come out.  I know MDZ is young and learning, but we must also admit there are plenty of times where he looks in over his head or makes mistakes that cost us goals or games and we cant apologize for him and blame it all on age just because we love his offensive upside.  This obviously isn't directed at any one person, but more a general double standard that in many ways develops naturally based on the level of attachment we get with certain players over others.We can call some of the guys out that we love without loving them any less and we can give credit to those we dont like as much when it is deserved.

The final thought is as a fan, is the goal of the team to get to the playoffs or win a championship?  My thought was the goal for every team each year is to win the whole thing.  Obviously for some that goal seems more realistic and attainable than for others, but the gal is the same.  Is there anyone that realistically not just hopes but believes this team can win 4 series when they cant even consistently show up from one night to the next.  If the NHL playoffs was like the NFL where it is one game winner take all then maybe it's different and that is where the anything can happen really stems from, and baseball where wildcards win the title as well.  The reality is Pittsburgh last year as a 4 seed in the East was the lowest seed to win the cup in the decade.  As much fun as last year's series with Washington was and how they almost beat them, did getting Antropov and giving up a 2nd round pick, even getting Morris make the Rangers any better for the future? 

I am not saying for the rest of the year I will sit here and root against the Rangers winning because I cant do that, but I also cant try to delude myself into believing this team is a contender, or is anywhere near that a trade to get us into the playoffs will make us one.  We have a lot of young talent on the team and coming through the system, but another piece of reality is that in those youngsters we do not possess one true superstar talent.  Some of them have the potential to be very good in AA, MDZ, Grachev, Stepan, but I don't see any of them as superstars to compete even on the 2nd tier (saying Ovie, Crosby, Malkin, Kovy, maybe Gabby's of the league are 1st tier) with Toews or the Sedins as players that can carry a team even like Gabby is doing this year.  Every team needs role players and players that actually play to those roles, but championship teams also need in many cases at least two superstars outside of the net to win.  We have one in Gabby and if losing this year can actually help the rangers in the long run by adding a true talent like Hall, Seguin, Nino then call me a traitor or a tanker if you want, but as far as I am concerned I am a fan looking out for the future even if it means it hurts right now.  Reality is any of those guys could flame out as well, as other ranger high picks (also not an excuse to say it is pointless to pick high cause they screwed it up in the past), but from where i am sitting what we continue doing over and over of trying to buy the next piece is not working in making us a more legit threat so maybe something new is in order.

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