Leadership is not about what you have done. It is about what you are doing. It is about instilling enough confidence in those around you to formidably face a challenge. It is about making responsible decisions and understanding when you have made a mistake. Most of all, however, it is about collectively teaching each other to learn from mistakes and come back even stronger than before.
I'm not insinuating that Chris Drury is failing as captain. Sure, he is underproducing, obviously overpaid, and leads a group that is unsure of its identity, having posted only 4 regulation wins since November 1. While Drury himself has had a pretty inconsistent 08-09 campaign, he has had his hands full with a pretty big problem: a lack of logical leadership from the head coach.
To observers, many of Tom Renney's moves this season have made little to no sense. His line shuffling seems to take place when the Rangers are winning. He has yet to admit that Petr Prucha has deserved more playing time, that maybe the power play needs a new coach, or that playing Brandon Dubinsky with bottom 6 forwards is not going to help the sophomore center's development.
I've only named four issues here, but they are important ones. Let's start with the lines.
Line shuffling is necessary when players start to stagnate and get complacent with each others' play. The problem is, no line on the Rangers has been together long enough to even know its tendencies! The 08-09 roster is far different from last year's squad and you have to let the lines feel themselves out before making changes.
Petr Prucha may not be the player that he was in 05-06, fine. Who do you think deserves the blame for that? Renney should get most of it - not for incessantly making Prucha a healthy scratch - but for the failure to explain why #25 was returned to a fixture in the press box after scoring a BIG goal against Pittsburgh on December 4. For a coach is supposed to be a specialist in player development, Renney has really failed to instill any confidence in a player that desperately wants to play for this hockey club.
The power play is an issue that has been beaten to death by Rangers fans, but I will say one thing: when you pride yourself on being a defensive team that wins close games, you sure as hell better be great on specialty teams. Perry Pearn has been leading the power play for the past three seasons. Maybe it is time for a change.
The Dubinsky issue is most important. All of the Rangers' scoring talent is focused on the top line. Zherdev-Gomez-Naslund is a nice combination, but it really makes it difficult to form a formidable 2nd line that consists of top 6 forwards. What the Rangers are left with is some combination of Dubinsky, Drury, Ryan Callahan, Nigel Dawes, Fred Sjostrom, and Aaron Voros. With the exception of Callahan (and MAYBE Drury), none of these players have found the ability to score on a consistent basis. Dubinsky has been unable to find a linemate that can feed off of his abilities.
Look, I'm not saying Renney should be fired right now. The team is struggling but still stands at 22-12-3, which is something you can work off. Renney's Ranger clubs have turned it on in February each of the last two seasons (and got screwed by the Olympics in 05-06), so I'm going to wait until playoff time and beyond to issue any type of judgment. However, if the Rangers are going to build on anything they have done or failed to do this season, they will need a lot more accountability and confidence from their head coach. Leadership starts at the top and works its way down to the core. Hopefully Renney can get there.