Friday, March 4, 2011

Analysis: Does Rangers Slide Reveal Lack of Player Leadership?

Chris McGrath/Getty Images
With a team as young as the New York Rangers are a slump was to be expected at some point during the season.  Add in the fact that the team frankly lacks elite talent and has been decimated by injuries of varying lengths to just about everyone on the team and what is going on right now should not truly shock anyone.  If anything the fact that they held on for this long should be the bigger surprise.  The difference between the good teams and the great ones though is the ability to stop the bleeding and the Rangers really have not shown that right now.  For me, at some point there has to be a questioning of the leadership on this team.  That questioning goes from top to bottom, but while many will take the easy route and look at the captain Chris Drury I want to look at some of the young leaders on the team who are falling down on the job right now.

There is a push by many Rangers fans to give Ryan Callahan the ‘C’ on his sweater right now and not even wait until next season when it is presumed he will get it.  I am a big Callahan guy, as I love the way he competes on the ice, but I would ask where is this great leadership that makes him worthy of being the captain during this tailspin his club is currently in?  I am not seeing a captain in the making out there right now.  He had two huge games in the back-to-back wins against Pittsburgh and Los Angeles two weeks ago, but his game has been inconsistent since returning from his injury, and I get no sense of urgency when I watch him give the same interview after every single game they lose the same way.  How many times can he talk to a reporter after the game and say we have to start better before he goes out and does something about it?  Before he stands up in the room and demands the whole team goes out and does something about it?  That is what being a captain is about.

I am not talking about a sense of panic because panic is the worst thing for this team right now, but there is no sense of urgency in their play or their words.  They talk about how important the points are and say all the right things about doing this or that better, but then they go out and repeat the same things again.  Each game this team takes the better part of one period off and wonders why it finds itself in a mad dash to get back in the game late.  A lack of energy, effort, focus, whatever you would like to call it that happens in every game and repeating the same mistakes, to me, has to do with leadership in the room.  We can talk about the coach all we want, but at the end of the day the players on the ice are the ones that decide these games and this group does not seem to have the appropriate fire right now.

I do not think it is a question of age or respect in the room because I believe Callahan has both.  For me the best captain in the league is Jonathan Toews of the Chicago Blackhawks, who at 22 already has a Stanley Cup and Gold Medal on his resume, but he is not satisfied.  Just a few weeks ago his team was on the outside looking into the playoff race and he has taken that team on his back and carried them to a six game winning streak and a spot in the top 8.  Beyond the points he has put up what I love about watching Toews is sheer will he has right now that he will not let his team lose.  

The Rangers do not have that guy right now and yes it is unfair to put that on Callahan alone, but between him, Dubinsky, Prospal, Staal, Lundqvist and even McCabe someone has to take the reins of this team and lead it out of this slide before they fall right off the playoff cliff.  Every one of those guys has to take some responsibility for this as well, especially Dubinsky, Staal and Lundqvist as along with Callahan they are supposed to be the core of this team and the only guys that possess the ability in their own way to will this team to victory.

It is always easy to be the leader when thing are going well as you will get the credit, but the true tests of leadership are forged in adversity and the fact that the Rangers continue to fight says there is leadership in the room, but it is not doing enough during this slump to fix the issues that continually bite this team.  I expect that from my captain and right now Ryan Callahan is not doing that even though he is being anointed as the next one for this franchise.

P.S. Let me cut off all the Drury bashing comments before they come and say he has not done that job either since he has been the captain which is why everyone wants the letter off his sweater, so skip those comparisons if you don’t mind.

Hit me with your thoughts.