Friday, February 8, 2008

The Whitney Saga

Since Michel Therrien publicly called out Ryan Whitney for his poor play against the Devils on Monday night, there has been quite a bit of fuss over it. Whitney hasn’t played well the past month or two, and has actually regressed this year. But Therrien, despite getting criticism for his maneuver was absolutely right in doing so. Whitney needed a kick in the ass. He had yet to be benched and we hadn’t heard any criticism on him from the organization at all this year. He responded last night with two goals and an improved defensive game, almost making you wonder if Therrien should call him out after every game.

But that’s not the main point of this article. There has been quite a bit of buzz since Therrien’s call out about Whitney from the fans and media, two members in particular, and I want to address them.

The Fans
As opinionated as ever, the fans tend to have a wide range of emotions regarding the young blue liner, but there seem to be three that are prevalent.

1) The “I love Whitney” Crowd
These guys gush over Whitney like he is the second coming of Orr at times. They see nothing but the upside Whitney can bring but ignore his struggles. In other words, they’re fanboys. Overly optimistic is a good way to describe them and they get annoyed when you say something negative about him.

2) The “I Hate Whitney” Crowd
These guys are over the top but luckily in the minority. They see only what he has done recently and some go as far as to say trade him and get what you can. These are the kind of people we always tell we are glad they aren’t our GM because they just don’t btehr to think things through.

3) The “Whitney has a way to go” Crowd
This is where myself and most of the logical fans stand. Whitney has tons of potential no doubt, but he also has some serious flaws. His defensive game is suspect even for an offensive minded defender, and worst of all he seems to be terrified of physical contact never playing the body or willing to take a hit to make the play. We also realize Whitney is only 24 and still has a long time left to develop. He’s had his problems, but he’s far from a bust.

The Media
Now for the most part the Pittsburgh media has remained unbiased, seeing what Therrien did as necessary. However there are two well known members that immediately rushed to the rescue as soon as Therrien called Whitney out: Rob Rossi and Mark Madden.

Rossi sites that no one should expect Whitney to be physical and that Therrien calling him out for it was basically a cheap shot. Rossi couldn’t be more wrong. When a guy is standing in front of a net you move on him, not let him stand there because, just like Monday, they will score on you. You don’t have to run him over, just tangle him up. Rossi doesn’t seem to know the difference between this though. People don’t expect Whitney to be physical, that’s not a problem. What they expect is for him to cover a person in front of the net or take a hit to make a play. If Kris Letang is willing to at 5’10 there is no reason Whitney shouldn’t be at 6’4. But Rossi doesn’t get that, thinking that saying a lack of physical play means people expect play like Orpik. Rossi, please don’t comment on things you don’t understand. And that you stated how nice a guy Whitney is and willing to give you interviews only shows you are being biased on the matter.

Then there is Mark Madden. The self indulged radio host who is desperately wanting to be a cool badass. Whitney always appears on his show, and anyone who does that Madden will forever defend like he did Ian Moran who everyone knew was awful but Madden would actually call a second pairing guy. But you have someone like Jerome Bettis who missed one show and Madden takes shots at him every chance he gets not only at the person as a player, but as a person as well. It’s this kind of petty behavior that sparks the booing at the Igloo every time Madden appears on the jumbotron. Look Mark, we get you don’t want to say anything bad about him because he is friendly with you, but really, you go way overboard. Saying Whitney will be a Norris contender in coming years is, well, idiotic. When is the last time the Norris Winner wasn’t good in both ends of the ice? Whitney still has a long way to go before he is even decent in his own end.

This kind of biased fanboy treatment from Rossi and Madden annoy me. They don’t want their “buddy” to be criticized. No, they expect the coach to tell him everything he does is right, pat him on the back and say “good job!” This is exactly how you ruin a player’s development.

A person can only tell so much of what they do wrong. It gets to a point where they need to be told their mistakes. They need instruction. Whitney wasn’t playing well, he got called out and put up a three point night. Do you honestly think he would have done this if not called out? Rossi and Madden don’t want Whitney’s feelings hurt. They guy is making $4mm a year and is a professional athlete, if he cant take come criticism there is something seriously wrong with him. Probably too much pampering of people telling him what a good job he’s done all the time.

Seeing where I am going with this? Rossi and Madden want preferential treatment for Whitney because he is media friendly and they’re willing to ignore his actual play in his defense. They are willing to ignore what really needs to be done to help a player because they don’t like Therrien’s methods. It is very unprofessional for members of the media to do something like this.

After both Madden and Rossi spoke out Whitney said the next day how he wasn’t offended (pay attention Rob and Mark: Ryan can fend for himself!) He’s played for Therrien since his time with the Baby Pens and knows exactly what Therrien is doing. “Tough love” is how he put it. Even Steigy and Errey were commenting on how Whitney can take it and knows what he needs to do. It’s part of the game. If the guy who the comments were made at takes it in stride than there is no reason people should be jumping all over Therrien for doing his job.

The funniest thing about this situation? If Therrien did this to someone Madden didn’t like Madden would be praising Therrien for calling the guy out and needing to do it more often, plus the guy needs benched etc. Madden holds a complete hypocritical stance and nothing but double standards. And face it, theirs is a reason he disconnects people who he can’t beat in an argument because he knows he is wrong but does it anyways.

So in closing, I will say this. Whitney is still young and needs time. He has his faults, and they are plenty, but there is still a lot of time for him to get better. Things like a call out will help him in the long run because it points out something he is doing wrong. Telling him everything is fine is a good way to ruin his career because you will never get anything more from him than you are now. Acting like he is awesome or horrible are extremes that should be ignored. He’s still developing and only time will tell how good he really becomes. But he needs help along the way, and that’s exactly what Therrien did Monday night whether you have the intelligence to realize it or not.


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