Friday, November 26, 2010

Marc Staal: A New Whipping Post For Some Rangers Fans

What started to become more apparent this summer and has only built during the early season is this faction of people who seem to enjoy nothing more than ripping on Marc Staal.  I am not going to sit here and say the 23 year old defenseman has had a great season to this point as I have said many times Dan Girardi has been by far the best d-man for the Rangers, but this notion that Marc Staal is an over-rated overpaid player is beyond me.  What troubles me more than the criticism because I criticize Staal when he plays badly, as he did against Tampa the other night, is the combination of vitriol that comes with it and how some really seem to enjoy him playing bad so they can gripe about it.  Not to impinge upon or impune on others motives but there are some in the universes in which I follow and chat about the Rangers who are nowhere to be found when the team plays well and especially when Staal plays well, but if he makes one mistake in a game they spring up from wherever they were previously stashed.  Case in point would be the crickets heard from most of them when Staal laid out Matt Stajan on Monday but the roars that have come since the Tampa game.

Each season there is a group of guys who fans will look to jump on for anything they do wrong and I expected coming into the year Rozsival would be one for his past and especially with Redden gone he was the most likely along with Erik Christensen who is just plain erratic, but I did not expect for this faction of anti-Staal people to either be growing or just screaming louder and louder to make themselves seem like they are increasing in number. 

I am not going to say that Staal is the number one target for the fan base as a whole as Erik Christensen put that target on his back when he dared to criticize fan darling Sean Avery in the press, which is literally like touching the third rail for some.  I think the only thing worse than criticizing Avery for some fans would be to say something about Ryan Callahan, and while I am not one of those who believes Avery can do no wrong, the form in which EC did his was as I have said.  Rozsival for his past is probably still ahead of Staal as is newcomer Alex Frolov who because many expected him to light the world on fire from day 1 has become on many enemies lists quickly this year.  Right about there, number four on the list is where Staal seems to come in, at least until Drury comes back.

So I am left to ponder what it is that causes the level of angst for some against Staal and the most frequent answer I can come up with in trying to understand it is just simply that he is paid as a number one guy and they don’t think they get that from him.  I guess they expect him to be a two-way threat even though he has never been that.  I guess they expect him to have Chris Pronger’s nasty streak or Brooks Orpik’s penchants to bang bodies, though he has never really been that.  Maybe they want him to morph into Jeff Beukeboom and kill anyone in the crease even though he has never been that.  Instead of appreciating Marc Staal for what he is as stay at home defenseman who ranks among the best shutdown D in the league playing top minutes against the best lines every night there are those who just seek to complain about what he is not in terms of his offense or his physicality.  I guess what we have again is the disparity between expectations and what fans want of a player versus what the reality of the player is. 

Staal from the time he stepped into the league has relied as much as on positioning and stick play than any other form of defending and I suppose the expectation for some was that as the years went on he would convert into a player who relied more on the physical side of the game.  He has shown signs of more physicality of late, but I don’t ever expect him to be an Orpik or Beukeboom with the nasty streak those two could play with as his natural inclination is to the positioning and stick play and as much as anything else he has failed at those things to this point this year.  When he has struggled it has been because he was caught leaning for pokechecks and getting burned wide because of it or that he was allowing pushing too much offensively and getting caught up ice out of position.  I wish he was more physical in the crease and certainly did more to protect Henrik Lundqvist from being run, but I can say that about all the defense as well, so why single him out for it?  I have my problems with how Staal has played this season as should any other fan of this club, but as a whole he has played well and been the second best defender on this club and if he was truly the biggest problem this team had I would be very happy about the position they were in. 

Who knows maybe in the next few weeks the Staal bashing contingent will dissipate or at least be drowned out by those who seek to whip on Rozsival and Drury as they are due to return, but what I do know is that to single Marc Staal out for the debacle that was the game on Wednesday as the reason they lost says more about the person doing it than Staal.  As I said in the recap the only person that showed up the first two periods and cared was Henrik.  In the third there was the Fedotenko-Boyle-Prust line and Stepan as the biggest positive factors, but as quick as some are to defend Avery or jump on Staal those same people balk at the idea of Tortorella calling out Gaborik blaming everyone but Gaborik for why he has been invisible the last series of games, why is that? 

Maybe it really just is as simple as it seems that there are favorites who get passes, guys that aren’t liked who get jumped on good or bad and those who are on the edge with people waiting to pounce and slow to praise, and for some Staal has crossed that line and there might be no point of return which in some ways saddens me because they are missing out on enjoying a great young player who may have some bad nights, but is still one of the best two we got and a 23 year old who can play 24 minutes a night against the world's best and more than break even with a plus five so far this year is not too bad.