A New York Rangers Fan Guide: Can I root for Dan Carcillo?

When the New York Rangers acquired Dan Carcillo early in January, there was a minor revolt within the team’s fanbase. Carcillo, thanks to three years in Philadelphia from 2008 to 2011, had become one of those players you have to hate to call yourself a Rangers fan. To see the team then go out and trade for the guy felt like inviting Denis Potvin to Christmas dinner.

He was brought in, everyone knew, out of necessity. Derek Dorsett, the Rangers’ obligatory fourth-line pest/fighter, had just suffered a broken leg and would be out four to six weeks. The Rangers needed someone not named Aaron Asham to fill his role, so Carcillo, who came cheap, made sense. From a tactical standpoint, the fans were assuaged.

From an emotional standpoint, they were anything but. This was Dan Carcillo, a slew-footing, elbow-throwing, cheapshot-chucking dirtbag, who’d been suspended nine times in his eight years in the NHL. The same Dan Carcillo who went after a defenseless Marian Gaborik in 2010, breaking one of the most accepted rules of the game that goons don’t fight non-goons. To Rangers fans, he was the very manifestation of scum.

(They’re not the only ones, either. Though they might feel particularly spiteful toward him given the Gaborik incident, Carcillo is a widely recognized villain in the NHL universe. He carries a reputation as a guy that doesn’t respect the “hockey code,” an outright dirty player. In hockey, it’s better to break a rule that’s written than one that’s not, and Carcillo’s never seemed to care for either.)

So Rangers fans were facing quite the dilemma. Were they supposed to forgive Carcillo right away? Were they supposed to disown him like a bastard child? Could they even trust that he wasn’t still a Flyer deep in his core? It was a trying time for the Garden faithful – and I speak from experience – for Carcillo represented such a vexing Catch-22.

This is one way for Dan Carcillo to endear himself to the Garden faithful.

On the one hand, to root for him would betray a fundamental rule of Rangers fandom. You simply can’t like both the Rangers and Carcillo. On the other hand, to root against him would invite bad karma. You can’t denounce one of your own.

The question that must be answered is this: is Carcillo a tried and true Ranger? And the jury is still out. The fans should let Carcillo make the next move.

It’s okay to dislike the guy still. (The loathing, by now, should be finished with.) And it’s okay to find some satisfaction in him making a mistake, so long as it doesn’t cost the team. Should you have been happy that it was he who scored the game-winning goal at Yankee Stadium against the Islanders? No, probably not. It feels like he stole an iconic Rangers moment.

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Right now, you should root for Carcillo to do the inglorious things well. You should cheer him on when he does the dirty work that protects Rick Nash and Derek Stepan and Brad Richards. You should view him as a rental, a stopgap, a kind of objectified automaton that’s here out of necessity. That way, he is neither an enemy nor an ally, neither a True Ranger nor an imposter.

You don’t have to love him. You don’t have to hate him. You only have to appreciate what he does for the team, a small gadget in the big machine.