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KEN HAMMOND
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Even Henrik Lundqvist has attracted a core set of detractors

Blue Poppy Syndrome
Posted by Toby Ivey ≡ 2:57:38 PM - February 10, 2010

In Australia - where I lived eight years - there is a phenomenon known as Tall Poppy Syndrome. It refers to the habit of Australians to turn on their own, particularly those who become "too" successful, and leave the rest behind. It's pretty much limited to those in the business world, but over the years of mingling with Rangers fans, I'm starting to see a similar habit here too.

There's no set plot for how this Blue Poppy Syndrome unfolds, but there are certainly some aspects that are core to the effect. Generally it starts with a prospect getting a lot of attention before they even get to the NHL. Whether it be on draft day - such as Marc Staal, Manny Malhotra or similar first round pick - or after they generate some success in the feeder leagues - think Henrik Lundqvist or Petr Prucha.

The Rangers organization, the New York media, and even the fans themselves are keen to highlight the potential of the players in the organization, and before you know it we have the next Edmonton Oilers from the eighties on the brink of breaking into the league. Okay, perhaps I exaggerate just a little.

By the time the player makes it to the league, they have a lot of expectations. If you're like Lundqvist or Staal, then the expectations get only bigger on the back of some early success. This is inevitably going to lead to disappointment at some point, as the player goes through natural cold streaks, or fails to be amongst the leaders in a number of statistical categories.

By the time a player's been with the team for 3 or 4 years, the expectations are often completely out of proportion to what the player can contribute, and thus begins the real campaign to undermine their popularity.

Certainly there are always people that come out at the beginning of a player's career - albeit a minority - to express concerns, or simply to counter or go against the majority view, but that voice generally picks up more volume as the years progress.

Case in point Henrik Lundqvist who is amongst the league leaders if you take his career and compare it with other goaltenders during the same period of time. Over the past five or so seasons, Lundqvist has played 316 games (second only to Mikka Kiprusoff), he has played 18,610 minutes (third behind Kiprusoff and Martin Brodeur) and has recorded 165 wins (third again behind Kiprusoff and Brodeur).

His Goals Against Average over that time is 2.33, which is just 0.02 behind Brodeur and trails only he and Dominik Hasek for goaltenders who've played more than 32 games over the past five seasons. His Save Percentage is at .917 which ties him with Brodeur in 7th place behind goalies with more than 50 games. In fact, his Save Percentage this year - .919 - would be good enough for a tie with second, trailing only Tomas Vokoun.

Yet for some, Lundqvist's performance has not been good enough this year. Certainly when you look at individual games, or limited stretches, you can find reasons to doubt Lundqvist's ability. But goaltending is more like climate than it is the weather. While we can look at this winter in a place like Washington D.C. and suggest that we're likely to get eight+ feet of snow each winter, experience tells us than you're more likely to get an average of 22.3 inches.

When you look at Lundqvist's ability to play consistently over a long period of time, and you compare him with what others have done over a similar period, and you can certainly make the case that he's amongst the NHL's best netminders.

When you add in that he's done this while playing in one of the most difficult places to play, and has recorded 165 wins (5th amongst Ranger netminders), 22 shutouts (6th), Save Percentage of .917 (second only to Chad Johnson amongst netminders who've played more than 20 minutes since 1983) and a Goals Against Average of 2.32 (best of any Rangers netminder since Dave Kerr finished his Rangers career in 1940-41), you can make the case that he's a franchise goaltender.

Certainly he hasn't won a Stanley Cup, but at 28 years of age he still has plenty of time to record that honor.

But Lundqvist is not alone in drawing negative remarks in spite of significant contributions to the franchise. Marc Staal, who has to be one of the best value defenders in the league at the moment on his entry level contract, is finding the focus turning to the negative aspects of his game, rather than acknowledging all the things he does well.

You could even make the case for Michael Del Zotto and Dan Girardi having their value to the franchise overlooked, as fans rush to explain why the team is losing so much. While they certainly have limits to their game at this stage of their careers, you also have to take into account, that they (Del Zotto 19, Girardi 25), along with Staal (23) are yet to even break into their prime years of the late 20s.

Ultimately it comes down to judging these players with a fair and measured eye, over a longer period of time than just a few games or a season. Certainly no player is above criticism, and even the best players have their flaws. There's also value in weighing up risk and reward, and what you might earn in a trade. For instance trading Marc Staal for Alex Ovechkin might make sense in terms of player value, but if you can't find a way to clear salary cap space and get another defenseman, then even this doesn't make your team better.

Likewise, replacing Lundqvist with Johnson, or a veteran who is half or less in terms of salary is cheaper, and allows you to potentially improve other areas, but not necessarily the team as a whole.

Finally there's also some value in knowing what you have. The Rangers history is rife with players who had success elsewhere, but couldn't make it in New York. There's chemistry and coaching, as well as simply being able to play on a big stage where your every move is dissected by a critical media and fan-base.

Bottom line, don't become part of the problem in perpetuating Blue Poppy Syndrome, look at both sides of the equation before dismissing the value of what the Rangers already have.


Profile of the Author:
Has been an active follower of the New York Rangers since the 1996-97 season. Began OutsideTheGarden.com in 2001, and has continued to collect data and provide analysis on the team through to the current day.

 Additional stories from Toby Ivey:


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