As all the images and stories come in from those in our area affected by Hurricane Sandy, sometimes I wonder, “How many of these people are hockey fans?” In the chaos of trying to rebuild homes and mend fractured lives are people who need some happiness and something to enjoy, an escape, if you will. Hockey could have been there. In a larger sense, I think of the people who all they had to look forward to in their busy lives was what game would be on tonight. Hockey could have been there. I think of all the kids and young hockey players whose only dream is to lift the Stanley Cup above their heads one day. Hockey could have been there. Instead, we have millions of people who have found something else to fill the void with, as the sport of hockey once again has slipped into complete obscurity without so much as a mention. It was always a niche sport but was steadily gaining popularity, just like it was in 1994/95 when the first lockout took a half a season. Every time hockey seems to be on the rise, a dagger is thrust through its heart, dishearteningly enough, by those inside of the organization. What’s that old, famous saying? Something like, “All great civilizations fall from within“? I suppose that quote can apply to a business as well, with the NHL being a grand, tragic example.
With the New Jersey Devils already being the oldest team in the league (the only team whose average cracks 30), according to reports, it appears that they may be willing to go a little bit older, with a reclamation project of sorts, in signing free agent Alexei Yashin, a player who has actually been a free agent in NHL terms for the last five seasons, as he has been playing in Russia ever since he was bought out by his then-current team, the New York Islanders. Though his play was not terrible, he was accused of not trying his hardest on a perpetually mediocre squad, and because of the buyout, will actually still be receiving payment from the Islanders another next three seasons, to the sum of more than $2 million per year. With the Ottawa Senators earlier in his career, he had put up superstar numbers before leaving for Long Island due to a contract dispute. From there, his totals went nowhere but down, which led to his eventual demise. He is now 37 years old and coming off his worst Russian season since he embarked on the journey in 2007.
For this breakdown, I teamed up with New Jersey Devils blogger and friend Tommy Zilinski, who runs a very popular blog and Facebook group titled, Devils Army. While looking for potential story ideas that we could collaborate on, he chose to pose questions relating to the Hudson River rivalry between the Devils and New York Rangers. A sample of some of the article, which is featured on his site can be read below:
Hey Devils fans! As per fan request on Twitter, I decided to write about the rivalry between the New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils. I have teamed up with my friend Greg Caggiano of From New York to San Francisco, who is unfortunately a New York Rangers fan (you can express your sorrows in the comments section, if you wish). If you recall, I teamed up with Greg to bring both Devils and Rangers fans an in-depth series preview of the Eastern Conference Finals, which featured these same two teams, with the Devils knocking out the Rangers in 6 games to advance to the Stanley Cup Finals. I asked Greg a couple of questions about the rivalry, and you will see his responses first. I will post my answers after his. Enjoy!
The waiting is finally over: the Minnesota Wild have signed both of the NHL’s highly coveted free agents, Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, to mega-deals worth $98 million over 13 years. While I would argue against Suter being worth as much as Parise, I suppose it is a rather symbolic gesture that the two American players who probably took so long to sign so they knew for sure that is where the other one was going to go, would receive identical deals. This is a great day for the Minnesota Wild, which has an excellent fan base and atmosphere for hockey. This is a team that has never really succeeded, despite continuing support. They got off to a strong start last season and eventually faded away and out of playoff contention due to poor coaching. Thanks to these signings, though, they are going to be major factors in the Western Conference for many years to come. Throw Dany Heatley, Mikko Koivu, Niklas Backstrom, and to a lesser extent, Devin Setoguchi into the mix, and you have one of the strongest teams in the west.
Here is a signing that no one saw coming, and that is tough guy Arron Asham completing his Atlantic Division tour by signing with the New York Rangers this afternoon for two years, at $1 million per season. While I was surprised to learn of the acquisition, I am very pleased with it, though it probably spells the end of Brandon Prust’s time on Broadway. However, Asham is a much better fighter and a lot more intimidating than the scrappy Prust. He might not bring as many intangibles, but his signing is a bargain price, something that Prust’s would most likely not be, as he is expecting to get both more years and more money with his new contract.
Hello there again! It’s time to take a look at what’s going on in the wide world of hockey. From a coach at war with the writers who cover his team, to already ridiculous off-season speculation involving the New York Rangers, it’s all here, in Around the NHL! (Oh yeah, and there was a Stanley Cup Finals game played last night too.)
- It’s no secret that I cannot stand the New Jersey Devils; well, actually, it’s their fans more than the actual team. Anyway, I gave them the benefit of the doubt heading into these Stanley Cup Finals. All we heard from them during the series against the Rangers is how they, as a fan base, are growing more now than ever before, how they are finally solidifying themselves. If that’s the case, then how come Game One of the biggest series in this sport was not sold out? Not just empty seats appearing in view of the TV cameras, but a laughable amount of available seats. Example: my friend (who is a Rangers fan wanting to see some Finals action with a group of people) buying eight tickets just a few hours before puck drop, then other people posting screenshots of Ticketmaster a half hour before the game, with plenty of seats still empty. I guess this should not really be a surprise—they could not sell out against the Rangers just weeks ago, and that was with the Blueshirts buying up roughly 20% of the seats in the arena. It’s a shame for them that there aren’t more Los Angeles Kings fans living in the Garden State.
This second installment comes from our “On the Rink with Gootz” columnist Chris Hoeler, who I thank for helping me out with some additional hockey coverage this season. This article is titled, “A Step in the Right Direction”. Enjoy.
There was a scramble in front of the net as the puck bounced around, and it disappeared under Henrik Lundqvist and then reappeared on the stick of Adam Henrique. Just like that, the 2011/12 season for the New York Rangers ended as the New Jersey Devils and their fans celebrated their ticket being punched to the Stanley Cup Finals against the Los Angeles Kings. On the other side of the spectrum, the Rangers and their fans sat feeling like they had been punched in the stomach. That is the feeling you always get when your team’s season ends.
But while the pain slowly ebbs away there was so much this team did that fans can look back on. While the trip to Europe to start the season was only a few months ago, it seems like years considering how much this team developed together. One example is Ryan McDonagh, who went from a young player looking to solidify his position on the team to a top defenseman going up against the best players. Another is Dan Girardi who went from having to fill a concussed Marc Staal’s shoes to making the All-Star Team.
This is going to be a two-part series, the second of which will feature some guest writers and their take on the surprising rise and disappointing fall of the New York Rangers in this 2011/2012 season.
The NHL playoffs can be described as one word: relentless. The pace is non-stop, the play is aggressive, and there is never a moment’s peace where one can step back and take a deep breath. On that basis alone, one could argue that the New York Rangers have been in the playoffs for the entire season, starting before the season actually started. Playoffs are full of endless trials and tribulations, elated moments of victory and agonizing moments of defeat. It does not matter how it ends, and people rarely think about how it even begins. For the Rangers, it started with a 10,000 mile trek across Europe for some pre-season match-ups with local teams, culminating with two season-opening games in Stockholm, Sweden against the Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks. When they returned to North America, they then had to go on an elongated break and even more road games, as Madison Square Garden’s phase one transformation had not yet been completed. It took a while for the Rangers to get going, but once they did, there was never a break. Even with some bumps in the road along the way, the Rangers managed to lose three regulation games in a row only twice in the regular season, and then once in the playoffs. They did all of this while being watched by HBO’s cameras 24 hours a day, seven days a week for the month of December, and then had to prepare for a mini-Stanley Cup game, as I refer to the Winter Classic, against the Philadelphia Flyers in Citizens Bank Ballpark, in front of 50,000 fans, a game which they won with a late comeback and some stellar goaltending.
Well, ladies and gentlemen, it’s game day at last, with the New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils slated for a big Game Six matchup in just under ten hours. This series has been very exciting, regardless of who you root for, but a lot has also been happening off the ice as well; some crazy, some stupid, some funny. (Okay, it’s the NHL so of course it’s mostly stupid.) It’s time we take a look at that, and go Around the NHL…
- When NHL games were being played on Versus, and before that, the ridiculous Outdoor Life Network, there was never a limit to the amount of what we hockey pundits could make fun of, because those networks were just…well…stupid. Remember when hockey games were being sandwiched between deer hunting, bass fishing, and extreme cage fighting? Remember when the network changed, and they launched a campaign for fans to show them your “V” (which stood for Versus…I hope; whatever that meant). Bottom line is, the networks were so bad that no one ever really made fun of the actual broadcast, because it looked like Emmy-worthy material when combined with everything else. Now that the NHL is on the highly esteemed NBC Sports Network (if I rolled my eyes any harder at that, they would get stuck facing the inside of my head), broadcasts are losing some of their luster. Aside from Mike Emrick, whose announcing has been flawless, does anyone see a point to having Pierre McGuire and Eddie Olcyk even being a part of the team? They add absolutely nothing; no enlightening comments, no inside knowledge, no nothing. All Pierre does is loft obvious questions with obvious answers toward Eddie, who, nine times out of ten, completely ignores it before saying something else. “I’d say that was a good save, wouldn’t you, Eddie?” No, you idiot, it was horrible. Tie game in the third period, why would that be a good save?
Yes, give credit to the New Jersey Devils for coming out guns blazin’ in each of these first four Eastern Conference Finals games against the New York Rangers. You must give credit where credit is due, however, if the Rangers lose this series, a result I am now unfortunately leaning towards, even with it tied, they can only blame themselves. They never have or ever will make things easy on themselves or the fans that ardently watch them and spend exorbitant amounts of money to see them play live, because that is the curse that hovers over this team, ever since television announcer Sam Rosen bestowed on them, “This one will last a lifetime!” moments after winning the Stanley Cup in 1994. Even that team could not get it done easily, loaded with all-stars and future hall-of-famers. Comparisons have been drawn between this current team and that legendary one, and all I can do is laugh at that, because that team at least had the killer instinct. Make no mistake, I do not want this to seem like a full-throttle damning of a team that finished first in the Eastern Conference, and yes, always performs well with their backs against the wall, but that is exactly the problem. They cannot seem to focus unless they absolutely have to, such as when facing elimination or coming off an extremely poor performance.