Playing With The Key Chain

by Jess Rubenstein

The closer we get to the regular season the more the debate about which player is the key to the season increases. Depending on who you listen to that key player is going to be Lindros, Kovalev, or Dunham. Each player is going to be important to whether or not the Rangers end the non-playoff streak but yet at the same time they really isn’t one key player that will make or break the season.

You see there isn’t going to be one key player for the Rangers this season who’s play will help to determine the team’s fate but rather there are going to be 23 key players who will. Lindros for example could lead the NHL in scoring, win the Hart Trophy and the Rangers could still fail to make the playoffs. Same could be said about Kovalev and his role on the team or even Mike Dunham but that is just it as if only individuals have a good season then the team will not put an end to 6 years of frustration for Ranger fans.

I say there needs to be 23 key players on the Rangers because at different points in the season each player is going to have a chance to help decide the Ranger’s fate. In fact the one single player who I feel is going to have the greatest impact on the Ranger’s chances doesn’t even know that fact himself because he has stepped forward yet. To me the most important key player on the Rangers is going to be the guy who decides that he is going to put his own game aside and do whatever the team needs to win even if it means hurting his own personal stats.

I had a great laugh today when I read Sandy McCarthy’s comments about what was wrong with the Rangers in the Boston Herald. Our old pal Sandra was quoted as saying: “It’s really tough to play with a bunch of stars on the team, because nobody wants to do the grunt work. I think that explains it. That’s my theory, at least.” Now of course I won’t bother to remind Sandra of all the times he used to say how much he was happy being a Ranger because they allowed him to become a “more complete player” which most of us viewed as his way of saying wannabe goal scorer.

Nor would I bother to mention how the player who was brought in to be the Ranger’s enforcer forgot that role and stopped fighting during his time as a Ranger. However though once I stopped laughing and read a bit further he did in fact make a good point regarding how most teams are built as compared to the Rangers.

“A lot of guys make a lot of money on that team,” said McCarthy. “On most teams throughout the league there are one or two guys making big money, and then there are 18 grinders. And those grinders are what makes those star players as good as they are.” And as much as I hate to say this Sandra is right on the mark here as that has been one of the biggest problems the Rangers have had in recent years. Which player is going to do the dirty little jobs that make it possible for the goal scorers to score their goals?

Which player is going to do the grunt work by going into the corners to dig out the puck? Which player is going to give up his body to open up space for his teammates? Which player is going to step up his game on nights when the rest of his teammates have nothing in the tank? How about which player is going to realize that by giving up part of his own game that he would be setting the example for the rest of the team about it takes an entire team to win?

And there is going to be more key players as well. Which player is going to make sure that the hot scorer on the other team that is his check for the night doesn’t score by concentrating on defense instead of trying to match him goal for goal? Which player is going to jump to the aid of a teammate when someone tries to cheapshot him? Which player is going to speak up in the locker room when something needs to be said?

What about which player will be there when someone gets injured? Injuries are part of the game as every Ranger fan knows so at some point in the season there will be a time for a player to have to step himself up to replace another. There will be also times when a key player will be the guy who takes himself out of the lineup because he is hurting or tell a teammate that he has to. How many times did we see Messier for example continue to play last season while hurt but was ineffective due to his injury and thus hurt the team. More than anything else when you look at the big picture the key player for the Rangers this season is the one who leaves his ego in the locker room and can convince his teammates to do the same.

We saw it happen during last year’s playoffs as the teams that went deep into them were the ones who always said “the team comes first”. If one player or even a few players can convince the rest of their teammates about the importance of the “team must come first” attitude then he will be the team MVP.

That is why I say that there are 23 key players on the Rangers this season. No one player is going to carry this team no matter what hype is placed on Lindros or Kovalev or anyone else. This season is going to require a total team effort for them to make the playoffs for if they get themselves bogged down into individual efforts then come next April we will be talking about everything but the NHL playoffs for the Rangers.

We have heard the Rangers talking about the need to come closer as a team to get this effort but history tells us that most of the time talk is just talk. That can’t happen this season as this group simply can’t afford to get hung up on individual stats, to break the team into cliques or even to use the media to complain about things. This is going to have to be all about doing whatever it takes to win for if they don’t then they will find themselves once again the butt of NHL jokes not to mention hostile crowds at the WMFA like they have never ever seen.

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