Thursday, December 16, 2010

For Rangers Losing Ryan Callahan Will Be Toughest Test Yet

Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

The New York Rangers of 2010-11 are no strangers to losing key players from their roster for long stretches due to injury.  Marian Gaborik has missed 13 games, Chris Drury 29 games and Vinny Prospal every game thus far and all are key components to the Rangers, but this is different.  You will hear all the clich├ęs about how the New York Rangers have played well without Gaborik, Drury and Prospal, but losing Ryan Callahan is a different beast altogether.  I will grant that the principle is the same in that the team will have to rally and that other players will have to step up in his absence for the next six weeks, but the shoes that need filling are possibly the biggest on this club outside of Henrik Lundqvist.  Ryan Callahan has been called the heart and soul of the this hockey club for a reason and it is all of those reasons that making losing him different than any of the other losses the Rangers have suffered this year.

In losing Drury they lost the man who wears the ‘C,’ a very good faceoff man and an excellent penalty killer.  In losing Gaborik they lost their most explosive and dynamic offensive player.  In losing Prospal they lost a tough veteran who can be a very good offensive contributor.  All of those things are obviously important to a hockey club, but the difference in losing Callahan you are losing a combination of all of them in one guy.  With Callahan down you are losing an excellent penalty killer, one of your best forecheckers, a key power play guy, one of your leading point scorers, a guy who can chip in some goals, an unquestioned leadership figure and a lead by example leave it all out there every night player.

During the game I heard people say this guy can fill this part of his role and that guy can fill this part of his role and while Drury can fill pieces of what Callahan does and Prust can also fill parts of what Cally does, that is the point there is no one on the team or in the organization that can fill the role of Ryan Callahan.  The Rangers have created their identity as a blue collar hockey club that will hit you and outwork you in order to succeed and that mentality is derived from Callahan as the embodiment of what they want the club to do.  I am not saying that there are no other players on this team that do that because certainly guys like Prust and Boyle and Fedotenko live off the blue collar play that has become this team’s identity but they also do it in the background.

Potentially the biggest loser in the injury to Ryan Callahan is his running partner Brandon Dubinsky.  Dubinsky has played at an all-star level this year and with a consistency of effort that he has not had in his game before this season and I will attribute at least some of that to playing with Callahan full time whether it be at even strength or killing penalties together.  The two of them have gone through some sort of mind meld with each other where whether they look or not they both know where the other will be at all times and that has been tremendously helpful to each in all phases of the game and their synchronicity has resulted in both being off to career offensive starts this season.  They have become the de-facto leaders of this club in all aspects because frankly they have outworked everyone else for the title by mixing the hockey skill they possess with their tireless work ethic and you have to wonder how the loss of his other half in a hockey sense will impact Dubinsky on the ice.

There will be players like Brandon Prust, Chris Drury, Brian Boyle and Brandon Dubinsky who seek to step their games up in the absence of Ryan Callahan and watching the Rangers this season I have no doubt they will put in the work to try and accomplish that in whatever grinding way they have to, but they still will not replace all that Callahan brings to this club.  The reason you cannot replace him is because of just how much of what Callahan does which is beyond a box-score because the points, the blocked shots, the hits will never fully tell the story of Callahan and why he is the heart and soul of this club, so you can replace all the statistics and still come up short because a soul is something you cannot find in someone else.  Ryan Callahan will wear the ‘C’ of this club officially at some point in his career and as much as the Rangers fans and team learned that in the last 10 weeks in the absence of Chris Drury they will learn how real that fact is much more poignantly in the next six.

The motto of this site is: “no player is bigger than the sweater,” and I fully believe that to be true, but what might make Callahan different is how the way he carries himself shows his deep belief in that same philosophy.  For Callahan it is purely about the name on the front, not the one on the back and that is why every Rangers fan out there will spend the next six weeks waiting until they can see Callahan on the back of their team’s sweater again.

I will talk about what comes next and how the Rangers will try to fill the many roles of Ryan Callahan later today, but felt this needed to be said first.