Booing of players has been a topic that has come up a lot around the Devils, of late. At the center of the issue is New Jersey's much-maligned captain, Bryce Salvador. Fans have grown weary of the team leaning on the 38-year-old defenseman over the past couple years, and that frustration is starting to boil over into the arena on game nights. Of late, Salvador has been hearing some of the boo birds when he gets announced in the starting lineup during introductions, leading to some push back from the Devils in defense of their captain.
At Fire and Ice several days ago, Tom Gullitti had some comments from GM Lou Lamoriello and teammate Ryane Clowe on Salvador hearing it from fans a little bit. Lamoriello called the booing "unfair" and and Clowe went to bat for the captain, saying the following:
"There’s no reason to boo a guy like that. That’s what you want your team to be represented by – a guy who’s a leader and a character guy. For me, the people in New Jersey, I think that’s what they respect more than the flashy kind of players. Maybe I’m wrong, but if you want to boo somebody, don’t boo that guy."
Pete DeBoer has also supported his captain when talking to the media this season. It's clear that there is a lot of respect for Bryce in the locker room, and players and coaches appreciate the type of effort he brings to the building every day. Even if you feel the decision to make him captain was the wrong one (like me), you can understand why the team gave him the "C" a couple years ago. He is a guy who is steady in temperament , well liked by his teammates, and, by all accounts, a very hard worker. As a rule, you don't want to project too much about a professional athlete's character without knowing them, but Salvador really does seem like a good guy.
The issue is not with Salvador's work ethic, personality, or leadership skills, though. The reason fans boo is because he is not performing on the ice and really hasn't been for a while now. His struggles on the ice have been well documented, particularly around these parts, and the team coming out of the gate handing him 20+ minutes of ice time a game led to a lot of clenched fists and gritted teeth. People are on edge after consecutive seasons of no playoffs in New Jersey, so when they see the team making decisions they feel are unwise, they are going to be particularly unhappy.
Bryce Salvador is almost certainly the least effective Devils defenseman at even strength over the past few seasons and there is certainly plenty of reason to wonder how effective he really is on the PK. Between the number of attempts and shots he has been facing compared to his peers over the last couple seasons and the fact that the penalty kill unit that has been leaning on him so much this season has been getting battered, the evidence against his overall effectiveness continues to gather. When considering this along with a young defenseman typically needing to be scratched for him to be in the lineup, it's not difficult to tell why the boos are coming.
Now, I'm not much for booing my own team. Hell, it kind of annoys me more often than not, but there admittedly isn't really any better way for a fan to show disapproval, short of just not showing up. No one is going to write their congressman about Bryce Salvador getting too many minutes (not that they could get anything done anyway [rimshot]) and, last I checked, there is no hotline that goes to a bright red phone in Lou's office where I can tell him that Bryce Salvador being pinned back in his own end constantly is a bad thing, regardless of how 'steady' he is. I would actually consider the boos to be more directed at his deployment than the actual player himself, and Salvador has actually seen his minutes slide lower over the first month of the season, so maybe the coaches are taking a closer look at his impact now (likely more coincidence than anything).
I understand the frustration that players and coaches feel when a guy who works hard like Bryce Salvador draws ire from fans. It's a crappy situation for him, because you know he is busting it out there, but I'd stop short of calling it unfair. Like it or not, fans show up to the arena to see their team win, not to watch players be great guys on skates. You certainly would like players like that on your team, but not necessarily at the expense of your team winning. Whether they admit it or not, most fans will take a team of jerks who win over a group of loveable losers. When players people love get traded or leave via free agency, fans are told not to take it personally and it's a business and that's just how it goes. Well, think of the current situation as that in reverse. People understand Bryce is a great guy and someone willing to go to bat for his teammates, but if him being on the ice hurts the team's ability to win hockey games, he is going to hear it sometimes, whether that is from Twitter, the blogosphere, or the stands. Sorry Bryce, it's not personal, it's business.