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Glass’ road back to the Rangers

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NHL: New York Rangers at Toronto Maple Leafs John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Tanner Glass’ return to New York has created an emotional divide among Rangers fans.

Some fans believe that recalling Glass is simply a response to a team that has been bullied and pushed around in their last few games. There is hope that Glass could provide a wake-up call to the Rangers and bring some much-needed intensity to the lineup.

Other fans see recalling Glass as a disastrous and infuriating step into the past and ultimately in the wrong direction. The veteran Canadian winger has become a symbol of everything that is wrong with Alain Vigneault’s approach to hockey. To many Glass is the epitome of intangibles and archaic thinking in hockey. He’s a relic of a time when hockey was less about speed and skill and more about knuckles and bags of ice.

The Rangers’ head coach has his own take on Glass’ return to New York. And at the end of the day Alain Vigneault’s opinion is the only one that will shape the fate of the Rangers now that the trade deadline is in the rearview mirror.

“Tanner’s been playing hard. He’s been playing well there,” Vigneault said after Sunday’s practice. “I think right now, you bring in Tanner and [Steven Kampfer] and it gives you a little bit more depth.

“At this time of the year, all teams play hard and play harder,” Vigneault continued. “Teams are playing hard and playing tight. There’s not a lot of room. You’ve got to compete, and you’ve got to battle hard, and you’ve got to battle hard for puck battles. You’ve got to win your share. I do think that in the last couple of games there, in those puck-battle situations, we could have been better. So this gives us a little bit more flexibility as far as our lineup decisions.”

For those that it might have slipped by, the word “hard/harder” was used six times by the Rangers head coach in that quote. The word “battle” was used four times.

It’s safe to say there is very little mystery why the Rangers have once again turned to Glass. They’re looking to the veteran to bring the medley of intangibles and adjectives that have been stuck to him like old pieces of gum throughout his career.

Before being recalled to the big club over the weekend Glass played in 57 games in the AHL. So, is Vigneault right- has Glass been playing well in Hartford?

The answer to that question would very much depend on your definition on the word “well”.

In 57 games in the AHL Glass has nine primary points and 86 penalty minutes as a member of the Hartford Wolf Pack this season. He’s currently tied for 14th in points on Hartford and unsurprisingly leads the team in PIM.

Those are hardly inspiring numbers for a 33-year-old veteran with 60 Stanley Cup Playoff games under his belt. But how has Glass been used in the AHL? What role has he been playing?

The Wolf Pack’s head coach Ken Gernander has been using him in a role similar to the one that he played last year with the Rangers: a rough-and-tumble fourth line winger that sees shorthanded minutes.

“We’re still hoping that he makes his return to the NHL and to do that he’s going to be a role player who finishes his checks, is a penalty killer, a reliable guy defensively to help his team late in the game protect a lead,” Gernander said back in December. “And that’s how we like to use him here.”

Gernander also stated back before Christmas that he played Glass in a depth forward role because that was the veteran’s best chance of getting back to the NHL.

Glass averaged 18:01 TOI/G in Hartford and his most common line mates were Matt Carey and Phil McRae.

Carey is back in the AHL this year after a season in the ECHL where he was nearly a point per game player with the Quad City Mallards. He has 16 goals and 56 PIM on the season. McCrae is a 26-year-old former second round pick of the Blues from 2008. He has 17 points and 107 shots playing mostly with Glass and Carey at even strength.

Glass had the fewest goals, points and shots on his line in Hartford. The veteran did rank fifth among the Wolf Pack’s forwards in GF% and had the fifth-highest WAR according to Matt Pfeffer’s AHL stat project. But it’s important to remember that Glass achieved those feats against AHL competition.

Glass is also responsible for six of of Hartford’s 22 fighting majors this year. It doesn’t take looking at five months of game film to guess what he brought to the Wolf Pack before he got the call that he was back on Broadway.

On February 18th Glass and the Wolf Pack lost to the Phantoms by a score of 6-4. It was a nasty game that ended with a bench brawl. Glass was right in the middle of it.

"[Glass] stirred things up, of course, slashes me there," Phantoms forward Andy Miele said after the game, "and Greg Carey gives him a whack back and a melee breaks out. You don't really need that stuff at the end of the game. But guys like that do that kind of stuff."

Guys like that. Guys like Glass. Guys who finish every check, get in your ear all night long and don’t have to think about whether or not to defend a teammate. Guys who are cut from a very different cloth than the forwards who were playing for the Rangers before Monday’s game in Tampa Bay.

Glass, of course, dropped the gloves last night in his first game as a Ranger this season. His fight was just the 11th of the season for New York.

Say what you will about Glass and his style of play, but he is literally willing to fight for his roster spot. Players don’t come much tougher than he is. But as admirable as his toughness is, it doesn’t make Glass a better hockey player than Matt Puempel. It makes him a different kind of player.

Vigneault and the front office believe that the Rangers need something different. They’re not alone. Glass is not without his advocates.

The Rangers are 1-0-0 with Glass in the lineup. Last night’s victory will get called gutsy and a character win. And some fans will focus more on Glass’ intangible impact to the team more than they will on the fact that he played 5:07 in a nearly 64 minute hockey game.

And that’s okay. As long as you aren’t hurting anyone or utterly spoiling an experience for someone, be the kind of hockey fan you want to be. Don’t let anyone tell you how to cheer and show support for the team and players that you care most about.

You can’t measure what a first period on the road fight after a neutral zone faceoff brings to table. You can’t hold a ruler up to momentum or energy or sending a how much of a message was sent to the other team. There’s no equation for it. It’s smoke. But, at the end of the day, that is just my opinion.

Some might think that our inability to measure intangibles makes those who put stock in analytics underrate and/or dismiss them. But I do not believe that is the case.

We know that hockey games are not won by which team blocks the most shots and had the most checks. We know that because we have data that suggests it isn’t the case. Even without that data we understand that in order to block shots or throw body checks you can’t have the puck.

You don’t win hockey games by dropping the gloves in a scoreless game after a neutral zone faceoff in the first period. You hope to make a statement to the other team or to energize your team. You hope to prove your worth and just how hungry you are to do whatever it takes to win hockey games.

Even if that means you spend only 17 more seconds on the ice than you did in the penalty box in your NHL game of the season.

Some coaches love those players who will do anything and everything for the team. If we’ve learned anything about Vigneault in his time in New York we’ve learned that he is one of them. And he’s the man holding the marker that scribbles in the lineup on the dry-erase board in the locker room.

As maddening as it is to some Rangers fans, it’s time to accept that Vigneault won’t see things differently anytime soon. He has his favorites. He has his beliefs. And now, after a 5-4-1 stretch in late February and early March, he has Glass.