Friday, March 18, 2011

Is Mats Zuccarello Getting A Free Pass From Rangers Fans?

Al Bello/Getty Images
One of the best parts of being a fan of sports is having players you love to follow and for each fan there are different reasons that certain types of players or individual guys strike a chord with them.  New York Rangers fans are certainly no different and there favorites are totally up to them.  It is also a part of reality that fans judge their favorites on a different scale than other players.  That statement should not shock nor surprise you and it is true of every team in the league and their fans.  There is nothing wrong with it and it is a very natural thing because there is more of an investment in those players.  The place where I take issue with it is when certain players are getting called out for poor play while favorites are getting a pass while producing even less.  One of those players, at least it appears to me, who is getting a pass from Rangers fans is Mats Zuccarello.
Let me try a blind test to see how well this works.
Since January 11

PP Points
Player A
Player B

Those numbers look nearly identical and yet from listening to fans discuss these two players you would think one is enigmatic and only shows up sometimes while the other is there every night and playing great.  Player A is Mats Zuccarello.  Player B is Wojtek Wolski.
I believe Mats Zuccarello will become a very good player at this level and he has already shown flashes of his tremendous future, but the fact that you believe in his future does not make him immune to criticism now.  Overall Zuccarello has 20 points (6-14) in 36 games as a New York Ranger.  If you take out his four multi-point games however his numbers are a mere 11 points in 32 games, which clearly is not good enough. On the goal scoring front, before scoring those three goals in the two games against Ottawa and Philadelphia he had gone 18 games without a goal.  Name me a forward on this team who could have a drought of 18 games without a goal and have so little said about it.  I give massive credit to Eddie Geick of Blueshirt Banter Radio for bringing this up a few weeks ago as the general discussion of struggling Rangers never included Zuccarello.
There is no denying that Zuccarello gives an honest effort every night and that cannot be said of all the Rangers players, but results are results and at some point we have to stop patting some guys on the head because we like that they try and bashing others because we don’t think they try hard enough.  Either we judge guys on results or we don’t and we cannot change the scales to fit the guys we like and ding the guys we might not. 
I believe part of the free pass that Zuke was getting beyond the effort side of it was about his prowess in the shootouts, but the opposing goalies are starting to figure that out as well as after going 4 of 4 to start his NHL career he is now 1 of 4.  Fans also naturally love smaller players, especially those who like Zuke show no fear in taking on the bigger guys because toughness is always rewarded with fan appreciation.  All of those things are great and natural reactions, but at the end of the day hockey is a game that is dictated on the scoreboard and Zuccarello is not producing consistently enough to warrant his free pass.  With Sean Avery struggling to find a place in the lineup at the moment these 12 forwards might be safe for the rest of the year, but if Avery was to earn his way back in then Zuccarello should be a potential candidate to sit as well if things dont change.
I hope that Zuccarello goes out and hits the Habs up for a hat-trick just to make me talk about the other side of this tomorrow because I love to praise his game as much as any Ranger.  If we are going to praise and criticize guys, favorites or not, there has to be some semblance of consistency in what we are basing it on.
Let me know what you think.