Walking through the halls of MSG, you will see many names on the backs of jerseys. There are the all to common Lundqvist jerseys, the Jagr jerseys, and the Shanahans. There will always be a bunch with Gomez or Drury, and a few with names like Dubinsky, Callahan, or maybe Dawes. But if you see me in the garden, you will find just one Blair Betts jersey (2 if you count Blair himself), on my back. Blue jersey, with the number 15. I ordered it on friday the 13th, when he was number 19. Two days later, it was announced that Scott Gomez got number 19, and Betts took 15. I quickly emailed the company who was customizing my jersey, and I was fortunate enough to get it changed, just in time. Every time I wear it to the garden, I get the usual questions from the fans I mingle with. "Why Betts?" Or "whats with the jersey?" Well I'll tell you why. It's the same reason that anyone gets a jersey with a name on it. They get their favorite player on a jersey, and I'm no different. In fact, for my user name on the Rangers message boards, I use the term I have created, Blair Betts Blocks Everything. Being the only Betts jersey in New York comes with the responsibility of explaining why I have the jersey. Well, in an attempt to avoid any further confusion, I will explain why in an article.
All fans cheered when players like Hollweg or Callahan would go in on the fore check and hit someone. They were praised (well, maybe not so much with Hollweg) for playing with guts. Betts is no different. He is an expert Shot Blocker, who will risk injury to make Lundqvist's job a little bit easier. In fact, he was going down blocking shots while playing with a painful bone spur in his foot at the end of the season. He uses his shot blocking skills, and his superior defensive play to contribute as one of the better PKers in the league. His contributions to our PK and defensive zone play has been very underrated. Some people even see him as taking up a roster spot. A 4th line player making under 700k per year is never taking up a roster spot. We saw in 06-07 what happens when you bring a young player up to play 4th line minutes. You get Nigel Dawes at the start of his career. While yes, he has developed, and has become a quality player for us, when he made the team out of camp, he was out of place, not playing enough minutes to really learn the game. Would you make the same mistake again? Bring up Anisimov to play at most, 9 minutes per game, or let him play top line minutes as he learns the game in the minors? Betts is the ultimate 4th liner. He's a solid, steady player, who rarely makes a mistake. He makes barely any money at all, and still contributes a lot to the team. He has one of the qualities that we saw in Chris Drury, and that we praised Chris for, so why not give credit to Blair?
While one might look at his 2 goals (one empty netter against Ottawa) and 5 assists and say he has no offensive talent, his offensive game is also underrated. While he will never score 20 goals, Betts has the tools, that if put with the right linemates, can put up decent numbers. In 07-08, Blair played with Ryan Hollweg and Colton Orr all year. And while neither of those players are defensive specialists the way Betts is, they did settle in and play a more defensive game, instead of just going out and gooning it up. So Blair followed that road, and became a strictly defensive player this year. When it was him all by himself in 06-07, when it wasn't a defensive line, Betts scored 9 goals, including one very nice wrist shot on opening night of that year, and another beauty against Anaheim, skating by the team that won the cup on defense like they were standing still. 9 goals isn't superstar status, but it's a solid number. When the Rangers acquired Fredrik Sjostrom from the Phoenix Coyotes at the trade deadline of 07-08, he was put on the 4th line, and while they didn't put up big numbers, you could see some chances develop. You could see that the seed of a line had been planted there, and it was missing the one element that wouldn't drag them down the way Hollweg did, but would compliment their style they way that new Ranger Patrick Rissmiller might. With a new set of line mates that actually have skill, I wouldn't, nor should you be surprised if Betts puts up 10 or so goals this season. I don't expect to see any other Blair Betts jerseys this season, but I hope that more people will finally see, that you don't need to be a goal scorer, or a play maker to give positive contributions to the team.