DETROIT - APRIL 25: Radim Vrbata #17 of the Phoenix Coyotes celebrates his second period goal with Robert Lang #20 and Taylor Pyatt #14 while playing the Detroit Red Wings during Game Six of the Western Conference Quarterfinals of the 2010 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs on April 25, 2010 at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Doing a job, doing it well and eliciting yawns or ire.
It's something I call the "Robert Lang Effect."
Lang was signed by the Penguins in 1997, returning from a spell in the Czech Republic after disappointing with the Los Angeles Kings. The Bruins claimed him on waivers not even a month after he was signed by the Penguins. And then, less than a month later, the Penguins reclaimed him on waivers.
This all took place between Sep. 2 and Oct. 25.
Lang didn't show much in Boston and he didn't in Pittsburgh either. As an offensively inclined player, he only put up 22 points in 54 games for the Pens.
Gradually, cheap, relatively young talent in Martin Straka and Alexei Kovalev made their way to Pittsburgh. Soon the duo formed a line made in heaven with Lang and terrorized opposing defenses.
For two seasons the KLS line, as it was fondly referred to, finished 2-3-4 in scoring for the Penguins in some combination or another.
Of the three, Lang was the ugly duckling.
Kovalev was the sniper, Straka was the shifty playmaker. Lang was the scraggly, unshaven guy who was just kind of there.
In truth, Lang was well-rounded on the puck, able to shoot and pass with effect, and possessed an excellent offensive mind and positional awareness. He found holes in the defense, beat goaltenders with simple movements and racked points without really looking like he was doing anything.
Which made him look lesser than Kovalev and Straka. It was easy to do that next to a Kovalev or Straka.
But almost everyone you talked to was absolutely positive that Lang was a bum. You couldn't turn on the radio or stumble onto the Penguins message board without getting into an argument over his worth. If you were a Lang backer, like I was, you were frequently in the minority.
The Pens ran out of money. The team started to fall apart.
Lang signed with the Washington Capitals and flourished. He was the Capitals leading scorer in 2003-04 by a wide margin with 74 points in 63 games. Second on the team was Sergei Gonchar with 49 points. Both were traded by the end of the season, Lang to the Detroit Red Wings..
In Detroit he continued to score. He then bounced around to Chicago, Montreal and Phoenix, valued as a power play option and versatile scoring threat.
The point isn't that Lang was better than Kovalev or Straka, he wasn't. The point is that he was a valuable, skilled player who never received full recognition for his worth while donning black and gold.
So, the question is, at the midway point of the season, who is the 2011-12 Penguins' Robert Lang?
Do you think people are too hard on Jordan Staal because he's not Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin? Or that Paul Martin is overly scrutinized? Does Pascal Dupuis take too much heat for not producing higher numbers? Has Chris Kunitz gotten a bum rap for not scoring enough goals? Is Brooks Orpik is glossed over far too often?
Take this from the perspective of a Penguins fan hearing the opinions of other Penguins fans, rather than the NHL as a whole. For example, if you believe James Neal should be on the list, do it from the viewpoint of what you hear in Pittsburgh rather than him being an All-Star snub.
We'll take the best nominees from the comments section and start a poll tomorrow. If a particularly eloquent nomination is dictated, perhaps the commenter can write an ode to He Whom is Deemed Most Lang-like.