The New York Rangers may not have landed their biggest target before Monday's trade deadline in Rick Nash of the Columbus Blue Jackets, but when all is said and done, that non-acquisition may very well turn out to be the organization's smartest move all year. The biggest concern with bringing in Nash, other than the future cap constraints he'd put on the team with his hefty salary, was that he would disrupt the club's intimacy and chemistry that's contributed largely to their consistent success this season. There were no guarantees that he would fit like a glove into that locker room, which has developed a very unique atmosphere that they've maintained since their trip to Europe back in September and October. It's best that they didn't take that risk.
For those of you that have every participated on a team of any sort, whether it be in sports, business, music or whatever it may have been, after working with that group of individuals for a certain amount of time, you no longer work as individuals - you become one. The body can no longer function without maximum contribution from all of its parts, and when working together at a smooth pace, an indestructible system establishes itself and you run with that for as long and as far as it can take you.
This is exactly how I view the 2011-12 New York Rangers. They’re not the most talented roster out there in terms of skill on paper, but I can promise you they are the club with the biggest belief in themselves within the locker room. We, as outsiders, have had the benefit of seeing this in HBO’s 24/7 series which actually brought us into that locker room and behind the scenes, showing just how tightly-knit this hockey club actually is. And in addition to that, we see it every night on Twitter following a win. Each player will point out the game’s stars, but you’ll also notice that they’ll include something about “the boys” which is referencing the team as an entirety. Almost every tweet is ended with a hashtag containing the phrase “For the Boys” or “The Right Way”.
Now every team has a bond in some way or another, but the one here in New York is an extraordinarily special one. We’ve seen these players have each other’s backs a countless number of times this season. Hell, these guys are diving in front of 90+ mph slap shots on a nightly basis for their goaltender – if that’s not team commitment than I don’t what is.
And whether you are open to admitting it or not, head coach John Tortorella deserves a ton of credit for this. His coaching strategy relates greatly to that of a stockbroker. He has a product and he must do everything in his power to get his clientele (in this case his players) to buy into it. Once they are bought into it, it is then his job to maintain their interest as the stock (production) continues to increase in value.
Well, we might as well start calling Torts “Gordon Gekko” because he’s done this better than any coach I’ve seen behind a New York Ranger bench in my lifetime (granted I was a newborn in 1994 when Mike Keenan coached).
Every player in that room believes in the system, the coaching staff, and most importantly, each other. And coach Tortorella is only the beginning of where this mutual trust stems from.
You also have to look at the guy wearing the ‘C’ on his chest by the name of Ryan Callahan. Callahan is the best role model to skate at Madison Square Garden since Mark Messier. Everything from his effort to his determination is highly contagious.
I remember a few weeks ago NBC did a brief special on Callahan during the intermission, and within that special interviewed a number of the Rangers to get their take on the captain’s play. Each and every one of them made a comment along these lines: the way Callahan plays makes them want to continue to play better and give more. Just seeing him out there makes the rest of the team want to take their own game to the very next level – that’s special. And I should add that one of those players speaking was Brad Richards, who is a veteran noted for his leadership abilities, yet he is still inspired by Callahan.
This is where the whole “the right way” thing has emerged from, as the players feel their captain does everything “the right way”, so they should as well. I’ve even heard Tortorella use the phrase a number of times during press conferences.
This team togetherness is why the Rangers are so well respected around the National Hockey League. They are not a flashy team by any means, nor do they boast or carry a pompous attitude. Their work ethic remains the same no matter where they are in the standings or what team is opposite them on that specific night. To me, that’s most definitely doing it “the right way”.
I, as a follower, believe in this team just as much as they do in themselves. I’ve seen many rosters come and go, and by far this year’s is the easiest to support and encourage on a gamely basis. They are a fun group, but also a determined and confident group that can accomplish whatever they set their hearts and minds to. They’ve proven that they can beat any team under any circumstance, so I don’t think there should be any doubt that they have a chance to make this season a memorable one in the spring.
Now I can sit here and talk about the team’s unique bonding and togetherness and what not all I want, but I don’t think anything says it better than this quote from Henrik Lundqvist following Monday’s 2-0 win over the New Jersey Devils at Madison Square Garden...
“I’m glad management believes in us and what we have and what we have built the last five or six months,” Henrik said to the New York Post. “This is crunch time now, this is the fun time now and we get to stay together to try and accomplish our goals.”