Good teammate DeAngelo deserves credit for sticking up for Strome


Tony DeAngelo went to bat for teammate Ryan Strome, who’s been a steal for the Rangers since coming over from Edmonton last year. AP Photo credit Newsday.com via Getty Images

In the sometimes exasperating world of social media, things can blow up pretty quickly. The way things are spread like wildfire isn’t right. It’s almost as if some of these people have become too cool for their own sanity. They think what they say matters.

Newsflash. It does not. They’re not the story. As much as a few bloggers believe the stuff they say is 100 percent factual, it isn’t even close. If you run a blog of any kind, it’s for opinion on something you’re passionate about. It doesn’t have to be hockey or sports either. I follow a unique blogger who has overcome Anorexia and gives her thoughts and ideas on eating healthy and staying mentally focused. Her blog is great because it’s fresh and she’s not full of it.

I believe it’s very easy for some of us to become full of ourselves. There’s a certain amount of arrogance when you have a blog that becomes popular due to a cult following. While some blogs have gone way overboard at continuing to force the same redundant opinions on people, there was one former Ranger blogger I totally respected. That would be former TheNYRBlog fan turned podcaster Kevin DeLury. He isn’t forcing his views on anyone because he’s level headed. Believe it or not, you are allowed to disagree with him.

It’s funny because for a while now, Ryan Strome has become a hot topic for Blueshirt fanatics. Everyone has an opinion on him. When GM Jeff Gorton acquired him from the Oilers in exchange for Ryan Spooner last year, nobody gave it much thought. It was a scenery change for two underperforming players in their mid 20’s. Spooner wasn’t able to duplicate what he did when he first became a Ranger and quickly fell out of favor under new coach David Quinn. Strome, who had signed a two-year deal with Edmonton, suddenly was persona non grata over in Alberta, Canada.

So, the swap made sense. Nobody could’ve predicted that Strome would show improvement as a Ranger while Spooner was so disappointing, he was sent to the Canucks before winding up overseas first in the Swiss League and now in the KHL for Minsk Dynamo. While Spooner went a combined 2-5-7 over 36 games with Edmonton and Vancouver, Strome rediscovered himself by putting up respectable numbers of 18 goals with 15 assists for 33 points and 50 penalty minutes over 63 games with the Rangers.

Thirty-three points isn’t overwhelming. But Strome did it in a secondary role under Quinn, who started to trust the former Islanders fifth overall pick in 2011. He earned power play duty and more ice time under the demanding coach, who liked what he saw.

Even the most optimistic Ranger fan couldn’t have predicted his early success in the first two months of this season. Since top pivot Mika Zibanejad went down with a mysterious “upper body” injury due to Patrice Bergeron’s reverse hit against Boston three weeks ago, it’s been the steady play of Strome that’s really been a nice boost for the team.

Ryan Strome celebrates one of two goals in a win over Buffalo with Brett Howden. AP Photo credit nydailynews.com via Getty Images

A versatile forward who can shift over to center from right wing when needed, the 26-year old veteran has done just that under Quinn while picking up the scoring slack for Zibanejad, who’s now missed 12 consecutive games. He could be finally medically cleared this week with the team having four games including tonight’s emotional home match versus the Wild in what’s former popular Blueshirt Mats Zuccarello’s return. However, with Boo Nieves getting called up for Tim Gettinger possibly due to Greg McKegg leaving the Montreal game with an injury, there’s been no change regarding Zibanejad’s status.

In the early going, Quinn had Strome work with leading scorer Artemiy Panarin. But also tried Brett Howden due to Filip Chytil waiting to be called up from Hartford. Since Chytil returned, he’s shown much more confidence by scoring seven goals and adding two assists for nine points in a dozen games.

While he’s meshed well with playmaker Pavel Buchnevich and Chris Kreider, who had one of his strongest games in Saturday’s big comeback from 4-0 down to stun Montreal 6-5, Strome has mostly been playing with Panarin, who’s been unbelievable. After having his career high 12-game point streak snapped in a ugly 4-1 loss at Ottawa, Panarin was back at it helping lead the stirring comeback with a great primary assist on Chytil’s seventh while later finishing off his team-leading 12th off a gorgeous no look Kreider feed that Strome helped set up to cut the deficit to 5-4.

Even in a game he struggled defensively by missing his assignment on Habs scorer Artturi Lehkonen’s second of the game, Strome bounced back by assisting on both Panarin and Jacob Trouba’s shocking game-winner that came directly off a big face-off win from the $3.1 million cap bargain. In 21 games, Strome is a point-per-game with his 6-15-21 ranking second in team scoring behind the Bread Man (12-15-27). Both are tied for the club lead in assists (15).

You couldn’t ask for a better start from a player that’s still young, who’ll turn restricted next summer. Like close friend and teammate Tony DeAngelo, who’s pacing all Blueshirt defensemen with 15 points (6-9-15), Strome could be looking at a nice payday next summer. So too could new Grate One Brendan Lemieux, whose signature performance on Saturday in which he recorded two goals including a huge shorthanded goal that tied the score at five in front of proud Pop Claude Lemieux.

If there is a perception that’s been pushed by the redundant bloggers who base a bit too much information on charts, it’s that there’ll be no room to keep Strome. The ridiculous part is they were pushing for Gorton to trade him before the season began. Where would this team be without his big contributions? DeAngelo chimed in in defense of his productive teammate on Twitter, which immediately blew up the way most things do in NYR Twitter.

While it’s so easy for some of these contributors to talk up Strome’s trade value, let’s say they decide to listen. Who exactly would replace him? Before you all answer Zibanejad, we have no idea how he’ll respond once he returns. He’s injury prone. Something that’s a little concern moving forward. Last year was the first one he played in all 82 games, producing career highs across the board in goals (30), assists (44) and points (74).

Since Gorton acquired him from the Senators in exchange for the since well traveled Derick Brassard, the 26-year old Zibanejad has turned into Gorton’s best trade. He’s signed to a cap friendly average of $5.35 million through 2022. Prior to his injury, he was off to a quick start with 4-7-11 in his first nine games. A potential future team captain, there’s nothing not to like about one of the Rangers’ best players and leaders. He gets it. Hopefully, he can come back healthy. That’s why I’m happy they’re not rushing him.

Now, here’s another point regarding the Trade Strome crowd. Right now, isn’t it better to keep him since he’s been so valuable? Who exactly is going to blow up Gorton’s phone before Christmas. We’re not even at Thanksgiving yet. Some fans are so impatient. Let’s see where things stand in February next year. Scary to think it’ll be a new decade and 2020. I can still remember the cool night we met Theo Fleury and got his book signed and took this cool family photograph below at the old bookstore Borders in MSG. I sure miss those days.

Where have they gone? Back then, social media was still in its infancy stage. Facebook wasn’t as big and Twitter was almost brand new. When I first created an account on there, everyone treated each other nicely. Nobody was so judgmental as so many have become today due to intolerance that’s continuing to be spread. I’m not going to make this blog political. That’s not its purpose.

I’ve always believed in treating others the way you want to be treated. Respecting different opinions. That’s sadly no longer the case in this declining city. I know who I blame. Blame whoever you want. But some of you need to look in the mirror and see what you’ve become and what you’ve projected yourself as. It’s ugly.

Getting back to the original topic. If you have Strome going well like he has while doing whatever Quinn asks, there’s nothing wrong with having him stay with Panarin to keep that scoring balance while Chytil improves and Zibanejad works his way back. That would make the Rangers much better. They’d have three scoring lines and Howden could slide down to center the fourth line. If you want the best of both worlds in this rebuild, doesn’t that make the most sense? Let Lias Andersson continue to regain his confidence with the Wolf Pack.

Kaapo Kakko can be elevated to play with Zibanejad and either Lemieux comes with him as an effective Sean Avery deterrent, or maybe it’s Kreider, who’s always had chemistry with Zibanejad. Unless they want to try complement Jesper Fast, who fits better down in the lineup.

Here’s my reaction to Strome. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. He’s proven to be a responsible player that Quinn and the coaching staff trust to play in every situation. That includes power play where he has good patience and poise with the puck at reading the play. Ditto for him at five-on-five during a good forecheck. Strome also kills penalties. An area the team wants to improve upon. That’s more about the four personnel functioning as one unit.

I like Strome because he’s not only versatile, but also willing to mix it up. I think this team needs some of that attitude and approach. You don’t ever want to become too predictable. The quote from Ottawa defenseman Thomas Chabot was pretty damning on Friday night.

That’s the perception from opponents who have been successful against this team. It’s why you need your DeAngelo’s, Lemieux’s and Strome’s who aren’t going to put up with that nonsense. I’ll throw in team player Brendan Smith and Trouba, who’s learning about life without all the ridiculous talent he had to work with in Winnipeg. He’s pretty tough.

It’s not easy to work in three rookie defensemen the way Quinn and easy target Lindy Ruff have with the promising Adam Fox, tough Ryan Lindgren, and skilled Libor Hajek. They’re three different style defensemen who are all the same young age of 21. When things go right, does Ruff get any credit or is he to only blame for all nine losses? Come on. I’m not even suggesting he’s perfect. But the impatience is a little over the top from this rational fanbase. Stay woke.

I also appreciated this gem from Strome following Saturday’s stirring comeback that was only the fourth time in Rangers franchise history they’d completed a comeback from a 4-0 deficit:

It shows that he’s got some personality. These guys do pay attention to this stuff. They know what’s being said. If you want a more in depth take on this story and his great trip to Ottawa and Montreal which also included meeting the family of completely forgotten Rangers Hockey Hall of Famer Frank Boucher, go read Sean McCaffrey’s blog recap. It’s priceless. Just as a warning to any huge Henrik Lundqvist supporters, he doesn’t pull any punches on how the organization and MSG treats him compared to the rest of the roster.

If you’ve read some of my recent stuff, I’ve hinted at it. But it is what it is. He had a choice to leave, but opted to stay by exercising his full no movement clause. That’s his right. He sure is expensive with that $8.5 million AAV thru 2021. But those kind of contracts always age badly. Let’s not forget what the Blackhawks gave Jonathan Toews and Brent Seabrook. The difference being they won three Cups. I’m sure Henrik would trade all those wins and Vezina for one Cup. Ego aside. He loves being a New York Ranger. I know I’ll catch flak for that from some of the Lundqvist critics. But I’m fair and objective unlike a couple of other blogs that will defend Hank like they’re Joe Micheletti or Steve Valiquette.

At some point, the organization is going to face a tough decision regarding top goalie prospect Igor Shestyorkin. I prefer spelling it that way. That’s the Russian in me. Or for those who are curious. Игорь Счестяоркйн!

Right now, that’s a topic for another day. I am curious to see two things this week. How the team handles their comeback win with Zucc in town later tonight. Can they actually put together consecutive wins, or a more consistent effort than what we saw over the weekend? How will Alexandar Georgiev handle his next start coming off the worst of his season? There’s pressure. He can be sent down before a deadline. The Rangers know it.

Finally, just to reiterate the main point on this post. What a stand up teammate and great guy DeAngelo is. He didn’t have to respond to that tweet, but did because he felt obligated to defend Strome. That’s a team oriented person. Some of the overreaction to it was sadly predictable.

When Kreider called me out that one time on a honest mistake I made, he was right. I apologized. It’s interesting that he’s deleted Twitter the last couple of years. Probably the smartest decision on his part. Social media can be a huge distraction for professional athletes and even a detriment to even bigger names. That’s as far as I’ll go on the subject.

I’ll have something up later on Zuccarello.

About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included separate stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also interned for or hockey historian Stan Fischler and worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil telecasts. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has covered consecutive Staten Island Yankees NY Penn League championships in '05 and '06. He also scored Berkeley Carroll high school basketball games from '06-14 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree. The Battle Of New York administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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