The memory of the Tom Wilson episode is seared into the Rangers’ collective consciousness, there is no doubt about that. The players who were with the Rangers for the May 3 outrage on the ice and the subsequent abandonment by the NHL, George Parros and its department of player safety will not forget.
That will provide the backdrop for the 2021-22 season, which not so coincidentally at all, will commence with next Wednesday’s opening game at Washington. That provided the backdrop for the Rangers’ response to the left leg injury Ryan Reaves sustained Wednesday after awkwardly clicking skates with the Devils’ P.K. Subban during the first period of their preseason game at the Garden.
Some might have been taken aback by the fact that it was Chris Kreider who took it upon himself to confront Subban, first with words at the bench during the television timeout that coincided with the incident, then by engaging the defenseman directly off the second period’s opening draw, then by fighting Subban directly off the third period opening draw, when the Devils defenseman tackled him.
Some might also have inferred that Kreider’s reaction was part of a campaign drive for the captaincy, a position the Rangers will fill before the opener after leaving it vacant since trading Ryan McDonagh at the 2018 deadline.
But those who were surprised with Kreider’s response and those looking for an ulterior motive on the senior Ranger’s behalf are not familiar with his history. This was not an out-of-character night. In fact, it was entirely consistent with his résumé.
Backtrack to Game 6 of the 2015 conference finals at Tampa Bay. The Blueshirts, facing elimination, were up 2-0 late in the first period when Steven Stamkos ramrodded McDonagh into the wall with a cross check. Who provided immediate retribution of his own, who came to the defense of the captain, who, by the way was playing with a broken foot?
Why, it was Kreider.
(The next morning, after the Rangers had won 7-3 to set up a Game 7 at the Garden, and the less said about that the better, then-head coach Alain Vigneault was asked about Kreider’s response. This is what he said: “As much as at some point you’re happy that a player protects their teammate, and at this point not knowing what the referees are going to call, I’m more tempted to say turn the other cheek and let’s play.” Thus neutered, the Blueshirts were 2-0 losers in Game 7, about which I have already said too much.)
Enough cheeks have been turned in the interim. Way too many, in fact.
Fast-forward from May 2015 to September 2018, with the Rangers in New Jersey for the first preseason game of David Quinn’s tenure. Midway through the third period, Devils defenseman Eric Gryba concussed Boo Nieves with a brutal head shot that effectively ruined the young center’s career. There was no call on the play. There was no response from the Rangers, either.
In the room following the game, however, it was Kreider who stood up and told his teammates that was unacceptable and would no longer be the order of business. Now, the message may have eroded over the years, but a few days after the fact, when Ross Johnston tried something foolish during an exhibition game in Bridgeport, Cody McLeod actually retaliated. So Kreider’s words, which remained behind the closed doors, did have at least an immediate impact.
This is who Kreider is, this is what he believes in. Kreider was raised as a pro in the Rangers’ room by Ryan Callahan, who never turned a cheek. Kreider broke in at the end of the Black-and-Blueshirt run. Kreider is a Ranger who believes in the crest, who believes in the organization, who believes in the value of backing up a teammate.
Wednesday night was not a campaign stunt. It was the senior Ranger, here first off the Boston College campus in April 2012, here to stay in October 2013 after a few short stints with AHL Hartford, being himself.
I have endorsed Kreider for the captaincy before, but unless Chris Drury sees things dramatically differently from John Davidson and Jeff Gorton, that ship has probably sailed. It seems as if Jacob Trouba is the favorite son.
Regardless, Kreider will keep being Kreider.
Wednesday was not a one-off.