A Word On Fancy Stats And Being A Hockey Fan

I hate that I’m about to write this article. Let’s start there because why not? I hate that I have to pen this out.

I’m going to focus this story on the Rangers -- specifically Dan Girardi — but you can swap the name of the team and the players for anyone in the league and it fits the same mold.

Here’s the premise of the article: Being an advocate of fancy stats does not make you heartless, does not mean you’re a disloyal piece of crap and does not mean you hate the team/actively root against them. Most importantly: IT DOES NOT MAKE YOU A BAD FAN.

Girardi is an incredibly polarizing figure on the matter because he’s one of the original “home grown” players in a time when we were begging for them. Brandon Dubinsky, Ryan Callahan, Girardi and even Artem Anisimov ushered in a new age of Rangers hockey where the team turned their focus away from the old veteran payouts and started focusing more on what the seeds they’ve planted could do for the team. There’s an added aspect of loyalty that comes with that, especially when he’s the last of that first crop of “kids.”

I get it, I really do.

I’ve been one of the loudest voices when it comes to Girardi, Tanner Glass and Marc Staal’s performance against their salaries/roles. Humble brag time: As the biggest Rangers website out there not credentialed or affiliated with the team, that makes us the loudest voice on the subject in general from an “independent” perspective. Others have joined us, of course, just like some have opposed us, but I have to take some responsibility for the venom social media generates for the three of them.

That’s not the intent, though. If you’ve missed it let me remind you: This isn’t, has never and will never be about the person. I don’t want to hear about how much we “hate him.” If you’re going to make an argument about how much I suck at least understand the argument.

Here’s the thing about Girardi: There’s three major flaws to his current situation and, shocker, none of them are his fault.

  1. His contract is awful and the Rangers have been forced to let really good players go for nothing in order to keep him around. Again, though, not his fault the Rangers negotiated against themselves and offered him that deal. You would have signed it, too.
  2. His age and play are rapidly deteriorating. Can’t blame him here for believing in himself. No player in the world would ever be like “you know what, make that six-year extension a three-year one just to be safe, I don’t mind.” And the fact that Girardi’s gritty, tough style of play (that ironically makes everyone love him) helped speed this process along is also (gasp) not his fault.
  3. His coach refuses (at least to this point) to adjust his role around his current ability. This is on Alain Vigneault for continuing to put Girardi in a position to fail. Girardi isn’t going to ask to be given a lesser role. Vigneault’s pride is a big issue here, but this has nothing to do with Girardi being at fault.

Let me make something crystal clear: You can appreciate what Girardi represents, what he’s given to this team and what he’s helped build and still think that the Rangers best option is to move on from him under any circumstances. Read that sentence until you understand it. Hockey is a business, and the end goal is to build the best team to get you to winning a Stanley Cup. It’s uncomfortable. It’s hard. And it’s fundamentally different from the normal walks of life but it is what it is.

That ideology has helped widen the gulf between the two sides. A lot of the loudest anti-stat voices have been some of the most obnoxious and aggressive. By the same token, when pressed a lot of fancy stat advocates become very aggressive and holier than thou. It’s a cycle. But there’s a small portion of both sides who yell and scream about how obnoxious the other side is when they’re the people who are usually lobbing the first grenade. Those people chase the shadow they cast, and it’s making places like Twitter a war zone when they don’t have to be.

Here’s always been my take: If you come at me with respect I will come at you with respect. I am friends (well, online friends) with plenty of people who hate advanced stats and think they’re stupid. I have debates about it all the time that never escalate above “agree to disagree.” If you come at me with snark, I will return the snark because I’m not perfect and as much as I try to ignore the nonsense it becomes overwhelming at times. I need to be better, too.

Finally: You’re not a bad fan however you choose to root for your favorite team. You root for the New York Rangers however you see fit. That’s the whole point of sports, to enjoy it. I have always maintained that I wanted this space to be safe for everyone, regardless of their beliefs. I would never want robots to visit here, and more often than not my articles are pulled apart in the comments. It’s fun, but also makes me realize just how much this place has grown. More often than not we’re in pretty uniformed agreement but there’s always disagreements that get debated in the comments. It’s part of what makes this site great that more often than not those disagreements never turn into explosions that the modding community here needs to deal with.

Back to Girardi: I understand why it might be offensive to some to talk so openly about wanting him gone. He’s a warrior, and there’s an old school dynamic behind that which truly endears him to a portion of the fanbase. Girardi the person seems like a genuinely good guy and none of this has ever been about his character as a man or a hockey player. It’s more about his current abilities and what he brings to the team.

I will cycle back to my final words on his report card which was published nearly two months ago:

I do think Girardi deserves a lot of credit, though. Here's the list of things you can blame him for: His play on the ice. Here's the list of things you can't blame him for: His coach refusing to give him an easier workload, his contract extension, that the Rangers selected him over Anton Stralman, his current cap hit being a big part of why the Rangers might not be able to keep Keith Yandle and that he was played over a younger, better option that rotted on the bench. All of those gripes belong at the feet of Vigneault and Glen Sather.

That Girardi, as hurt as he's ever been in his career, gave his all night in and night out, was still blocking shots and putting his body on the line is a testament to Girardi the person and the player. If I could build the perfect hockey player I would take the heart, compete level and toughness from Dan Girardi. No question.

But the skill parts of the game? The parts that, ultimately, make the biggest differences between an effective and ineffective hockey player? That's a totally different story. And sadly that's what he's being graded on.

So root how you want. Agree or disagree, let’s try to be more compassionate to the fact that we all want the same goal -- for the New York Rangers to win the Stanley Cup — and we just have a different idea on how to get there.

It doesn’t make you a bad fan to root for the team however you see fit.

And don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.