At last we have reached September, the month when NHL training camps and preseason games begin, so there is light at the end of the hockeyless summer. We can start to warm up our emotional engines and conjure all the irrational excitement, hatred and other strongly worded feelings that accompany an eight-month devotion to watching men making billions playing a game.
To start the September engagement off, we'll start with an easy fan game: On even our worst rivals, there can be players a fan (grudgingly, or guiltily) appreciates. And of course, the enemy usually offers a plethora of players to hate.
We'll start the exercise off today with the traditional hated rivals, the New York Rangers, owners of one whole Stanley Cup since World War II.
Love Envy and Hate: Short Island Smurfs
We are in a weird era right now where (for me at least), there aren't many individual Rangers who conjure a lot of hate. It's almost like they've made a point to steadily reduce their tool quotient over the past few years; now they even have a likable coach in Alain Vigneault.
In terms of players to despise, Rick Nash works though. He generally skates with a doofus expression, often finds himself doing doofus things, and perfectly represents the modern Rangers as just the latest big free agent or other team's expensive wantaway who is brought in under the typical MSG overload of hype and quickly becomes a disappointing lightning rod in the eyes of fans or media.
(It's a special bonus that, amid all this scrutiny, Nash has actually been a good player for the Rangers. But the people and fans who think he has been terrible and quickly turned on him are the same kind of fans who think you build Stanley Cup winners by buying the next expensive player you can find on the shelf.)
As for "love"? Well, that's why this is called hate and "envy." It's frankly impossible to love a Ranger. But it's at least plausible to admire the way one plays. Ryan McDonagh might be that player, if I could see past my loathing of Bob Gainey for giving him to the Rangers so cheaply.
So instead, Carl Hagelin is the one.
Hagelin has Grabner speed, Cizikas relentlessness, and hockey smarts beyond his years. I get nervous every time I see him on the ice hounding an Islanders puck carrier. Thank goodness he only has Grabner hands (if that) so he's not as prolific as he threatens to be.
And you? Which Smurf to you hate most, and which one to you kinda, you know, privately, think is an alright guy? (You can base this on talent, admiration for a certain skillset, traditional passion-fueled fan hate and jealousy, or, I don't know, facial expressions.)