The mystery of Paul Ranger


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One of the most read posts in this website’s history is titled “So, what happened to Paul Ranger?”. That post went up last summer when a defenceman that had previously left the NHL at age 25 returned to hockey by signing with the Toronto Marlies. Turns out, so little had been written about Ranger that it jumped up to the top of Google search rankings, and it still gets hundreds of clicks per day. There’s a lot of interest in Paul Ranger, and for good reason.

Ranger’s NHL departure left a lot of questions, and they all seemed to go unanswered, and continue to do so. His departure and subsequent return is a bit of a mystery. Even with two of Canada’s top storytellers attending Leafs’ media day that coincided with the first day of training camp, Rangers refuses to go into specifics for why he left such a promising career with the Tampa Bay Lightning.

From Michael Grange:

As for what happened in the intervening three years, Ranger politely refuses to address it or any of the circumstances even tangential to it.

“That’s off limits for me,” he said. “I’m not really going to talk about it at this point. I did a lot of things for myself; I just needed my own time.”

David Branch has known Ranger since he was a precocious kid he coached in minor hockey with the Whitby Wildcats.

“He was always one of my favourites, not because he was one of the better players,” says Branch, the commissioner of the Canadian Hockey League. “But because he was a very bright kid and he did very well in school and had a lot of questions. He was always very philosophical, even at a young age.”

That whole post over at Sportsnet is definitely worth a read. Grange is one of the best Canada has to offer not just in storytelling, but also in keeping things in proper context. I think too many people take for granted that so many hockey players are happy where they’re at when they’re playing in the pros. Ranger has all of the physical abilities that are required of him to be a good hockey player, and reads like a good, smart, kid. His small sample of possession statistics paint a very positive picture, and his point scoring rates are in lockstep with some of hockey’s mid-tier offensive defencemen such as Keith Ballard and Adrian Aucoin. Worth noting: he’s also ahead of Jack Johnson in points per 60 minutes of play.

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I always liked Ranger when he was with Tampa Bay, and never really noticed that he had left the game. It was unceremonious. One day he was there, and then he was gone, and he was never high-profile enough to warrant serious consideration from even a die-hard fan that lived a zillion miles away from Tampa.

In 2007-2008, with Ranger on the ice with regular partner Dan Boyle, the Lightning took 54.7% of all the shots on net. With Boyle on the ice away from Ranger, the Lightning took just 49.8% of shots. Ranger sees a similar dip away from Boyle, but that’s to be expected. The point is that those two were both exceptional defenceman during that time on a pretty poor Lightning team defensively. Regular defencemen included Filip Kuba, Brad Lukowich and Shane O’Brien, and the Ranger-Boyle pairing provided a plus-possession oasis for hockey’s worst team that season.

From Bruce Arthur at the National Post, another story worth reading in full:

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Until Oct. 24, 2009, when he went to his coach before a morning skate and said he thought it would be best for the team, and best for him, if he took a personal leave of absence. His team, after talking with him, agreed. The Tampa Bay Times said he requested not to be paid during his absence. He never really came back.

“All I can say is I just needed some time to myself,” says Ranger, 28.

Ranger briefly attended the University of Ottawa; two years after leaving the Lightning, he spent a year coaching with his former coach, OHL commissioner Dave Branch, and his sons on Ranger’s old bantam triple-A team, the Whitby Wildcats. The boys were 13 or 14, not yet flooded with the arrogance of teenagers. Ranger liked that. He would exchange late-night texts with Branch’s sons about the next practice, the next game. He loved it.

The Leafs paid attention, kept his name on a list, tucked it away.

I like to quote the meaty bits of any article, but there’s just so much to talk about in all of this. Ranger preferred to be close to home, and definitely fielded offers from other teams, and he turned them down to sign a very cap-friendly deal with the hometown Maple Leafs.

The Paul Ranger signing may have been a bit overlooked, but it’s possibly the best deal that the Maple Leafs made all summer. I really have no way to end this, but I guess I do encourage you to read both of those pieces. Ranger’s a great story, and if you have a positive or a negative viewpoint about the Leafs for this season I think that the feelings surrounding Ranger have to be uniformly optimistic. Coaching and playing in the minors obviously re-ignited his desire, and there’s a reason he wants to return. 

He’s playing under his own terms, and likely moreso because of the team he picked. We take for granted that so many young men get drafted by teams based in cities they’ve never visited and choose to follow that path. In pursuit of an NHL career, many young men give up choice and familiarity, and all they get in return is to have their dedication to the game questioned during a scoring slump or a bad period in an inopportune game. That lifestyle didn’t appeal to Ranger, and he left the game quietly, believing the Lightning didn’t owe him anything more. Ranger the person is a mystery, but what matters to the Maple Leafs is Ranger the hockey player, and the optimism that those two aspects of a young man’s life can live together harmoniously once again.

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  • For what it’s worth, in Lightning land, no one was too upset that he left.

    He handled his departure very professionally and quietly, and while we all wondered what was going on, for the most part fans in Tampa respectfully accepted that he didn’t want to talk about it, and that he was doing what was best for him.

    As for his comeback, I would say nearly everyone is happy for him that he’s coming back to the game on his terms, even if it isn’t with the Lightning.

  • LeafHead2154

    I have come across a similar case as Ranger in cricket. Marcus Trescothick, a leading English batsman, left the game abruptly in 2006 just like Ranger. He later made a statement that he suffered from a ‘chronic stress-related illness which caused high anxiety’. More info on wikipedia:

    Let us hope Ranger manages to control and overcome the issues which caused him to walk away in the past! If he manages that, I fully agree with you that they really lucked out with him!

  • Not Norm Ullman

    Hey Cam. Weird thing about those stats at Hockey Analysis. shows Ranger with 25 ES points in 2007-08, while Hockey Analysis shows 17. I’m not sure at all how or why these keep gaps appearing, but I’m gonna keep pointing it out until someone explains it or something resolves it. I mean, ENG’s don’t explain it, and I seriously doubt dude had 8 points during 4v4 play. I’ve tried adding up all his points on the site, including PP and PK, but 25+9+1 still = 35. Though shows him very clearly with 46 points over those years.

    Anyway, it comes out as reasonably important, as it moves him from 125th in 5v5 scoring up into the Top 20. And just FYI, I keep on finding this at that site. The overall points numbers just do not work.

    Maybe I’m misreading, but unless somebody can say he had 11 points during 4v4 play which then disappeared, there’s a problem.

    Anyway, nice write-up. But he’s away better offensive D-men than the stats up top show.

  • Just had to say Cam – you said “I really have no way to end this” but I thought you closed it extremely well.

    I think people forget that hocey players are like any other population – wih 690 plus players you’re going to have guys who prefer to be alone more often than not. I hope the Toronto media doesn’t eat him alive.

    And… I don’t know about the whole weed thing – but he would definitely be an outlier in the pot community with respect to the physical shape he’s in. Just saying….

    Excellent read…

  • LeafHead2154

    Obviously he went through some sort of depression. Hockey wasn’t cutting it for him, and as his minor league coach pointed out, Paul was always a little more aware – more philosophical, asking questions that the ordinary person doesn’t ask. I bet Paul wasn’t feeling so well and needed some time for soul searching. Beyond saying this (which is easily inferred) it’s impossible to know any specific precipitating situation that caused him to want to leave the NHL.

    I love sports, but like Paul, I’m also a thinker. It’s always nice to see people like this in such unsuspected places. I’m not saying professional sports isn’t conducive to being highly intelligent, but they aren’t common. Just listening to Paul Ranger speak on sportscenter spiked my interest; the way he handled himself during the interview looked as if he was aware of what he was saying, and the language he used, his comportment, was all very attractive.

    Hope he has a good season. He certainly has the build for it.

  • Somebody asked about Chad Kilger. He was never in the same league as Paul Ranger. If you look at his stats alone, he was very marginal. He didn’t get many points as a forward. The guy didn’t play half the games or more each year and I don’t recall it being because of health reasons. Only two years, when Toronto was abysmal, did he play most of the year. Teams tended to trade or release him. Toronto got him because Montreal didn’t really want him. Toronto “traded” him for a 3rd round pick. He just wasn’t good enough which actually doesn’t mean he wasn’t a good hockey player, there were enough who were better though.

    • Appreciate your thoughts on his career, but if you remember, he walked away. Took a personal leave of abscence, then never came back.
      I was just always curious as to why, as I enjoyed his play, and thought he was a nice guy.

      • Chad Kilger is a fireman in his hometown. He left on a personal leave and never came back becuase that was the only option his wife gave him to save his marriage due to infidelities with the team massage therapist.

        They sold their house in Leaside and moved back to his hometown. Doubt what I say, don’t bother, my best friend lived next door to them and knows the wife well. Sad but they remain together.