Fans of the New Jersey Devils never cease to amaze with ways they come up with to attack the New York Rangers and their fans, by means of wearing little pins and t-shirts with the official Ranger logos on them and the words “Rangers Suck” placed on the crest instead, and other shirts from years past featuring the Statue of Liberty all donned up in black and red with a slogan that went something along the lines of “This is Where Her Loyalty Really Lies.” While I was always amused at the pins, because you had to get within a foot of the fan wearing it to actually see the replaced words, thus making these people the only fans in the history of the sport to place the logo of their most hated rival on their actual apparel. The reason for this has always been an inferiority complex to New York, and a little bit to Philadelphia in the south. The Devils have won three Stanley Cups since 1995, a commendable achievement, and that has left their minuscule fan base unable to wrap their heads around why no one actually cares about their hockey team—a team with that amount of success should be selling out every night. I have long thought that their fans care more about attacking the Rangers and rooting against them than rooting for and cheering on their own team.
Though this video has been available on YouTube for what seems like forever, it just never gets old. It is one of the rare videos taken during a dark time in New York Rangers history that you can just watch over and over again and still laugh your head off. The date was Wednesday, November 5, 1997, and the Rangers were off to a mediocre start in what would be the first of seven consecutive seasons without a trip to the playoffs. They had taken a 4-1 lead at Madison Square Garden on the perennial-contending Colorado Avalanche on goals by Wayne Gretzky, Pat LaFontaine, Kevin Stevens, and Niklas Sundstrom, with Mike Richter in goal. Time was running out in the third period, and legendary Avalanche goaltender Patrick Roy was not about to let the game end as dismally as it had been played. So, with just under four minutes to go in the game, the puck drifted down into his end, and he took it. Rather than passing it off and leaving it for a teammate, he decided to go for a little waltz down Broadway, turning a game that no one would ever remember into a memory of a lifetime. Let’s have a look:
At the culmination of the 1993/94 NHL season, the New York Rangers snapped a 54 year Stanley Cup drought, with their thrill-ride seven game series victory over the Vancouver Canucks. This team, the assembly of which, is one that people only dream about today,and has perhaps gone unmatched in hockey over the last 17 years, with its combination of veteran leadership, superstar power, clutch goal-scoring ability and goaltending, and a much less talked about presence of skillful youth. This is the one lineup, that, if given the opportunity, any fan of this team would ask for. However, two seasons later, the Rangers arguably fielded an even better team, but one that is largely forgotten, due to it being sandwiched between the Rangers’ Stanley Cup victory and the ensuing lockout, and later, the arrival of Wayne Gretzky in New York, to re-team with Mark Messier, a duo which won four championships in Edmonton. The mid-1990′s was the most exciting time to be a Rangers’ fan since probably the 1970′s. Anyone who has read Losing the Edge: The Rise and Fall of the Stanley Cup Champion New York Rangers (Pub. 1995), by Barry Meisel, knows that GM Neil Smith was poising his team to become a dynasty, but unfortunately, it never happened, and the Rangers would have to settle for only one. The 1995/96 season had even more promise at the start than 1994 did, and although they finished lower in the standings, this had all the makings of another championship.
Today in the National Hockey League, there is much controversy amongst fans over players who pad their stats, whether it is trying to show that a certain number of goals a player scored in a season came against an empty net late in the game, or even more popularly, the role of the secondary assist in the game of hockey. We all know today, that each goal scored has the potential to have two assists attached to it, a primary and a secondary, being the last two players to touch the puck before the shooter puts it in the net. Sometimes, the passers make brilliant plays to get the puck to the scorer, but other times, a lucky bounce just happens to glance off their stick or body before landing right on the sweet spot of the eventual scorer’s stick. Is it really stat padding or just a part of the game? The answer to that question will vary based on who you ask, but there is no doubt that recording points today is much easier than it was, in let’s say, the first year of the NHL’s existence back in 1917; before that, the professional hockey league of the era being the NHA, short for National Hockey Association.
I have not watched every single minute of pre-season this year, so forgive me if this line combination has already been tried.
As of right now, the most obvious and likely choice to land the left-wing spot on the first line of the New York Rangers is Wojtek Wolski. With newest acquisition Brad Richards being brought in to hopefully be that elusive star down the middle, and oft-injured Marian Gaborik planning on having a bounce-back year and return to his former greatness, the Rangers would like to compliment their skill with a player who has the potential to come in with a bang. Wolski, however, can join a long list of former players the Rangers have had, both loaded with talent, but equally susceptible to a disappearing act. The former first round pick from 2004 only had 12 goals last season, one he split with the Phoenix Coyotes. While he does add some much-needed size, he lacks toughness and is not much for checking.
To put it bluntly, the Rangers have had too many players act as reclamation projects, and it is already known that the rope Wolski is on is very short, and can be yanked at any time, especially given his $3.8 million price tag. If he clicks with Gaborik and Richards, then by all means, he could put up more than 20 goals, even though that is something he has accomplished only twice in his career. However, given the circumstances, and the fact that I do hold out much hope for players to automatically reverse their bad habits, if Wolski does not find himself cut to free up cap space before the season starts, then by the middle of October, the Rangers will be making that move.
Other than Wolski, another name that could be a fit for the top line wing spot is Brandon Dubinsky, because again, he brings size, and this time, actual toughness and fighting ability. But he also showed great chemistry with Ryan Callahan, and it would not be worth disrupting that just to load up on one line, because secondary scoring is equally as important. So, is there anyone on this team who could excel in that role? Well, how about another one of their free agent signings this summer, Mike Rupp? The enforcer and hard checker could be perfect on the line because he would not be relied on to score goals, just the occasional chip-in. His presence would allow Richards and Gaborik (not as a knock against them, but neither of them are physical players) more room on the ice, as well as acting as protection. Rupp could add size and balance, and be a force to be reckoned with in front of the net. Can Wolski do that?
Bottom-line is, when Wolski does not score, he is absolutely useless–worthless is the better word. He does not check, fight, or do anything aside from take up space. Rupp, on the other hand, can throw that body check to free up room, stand in front of the net to set a screen, and worst comes to worst, fight to stick up for a line-mate in case they are taken advantage of.
The Rangers have not had luck in recent years with enforcers. Donald Brashear was too old and Derek Boogaard experienced a severe injury. Colton Orr was the last good fighter they had, but alas, he did not have much hockey sense aside from rearing back and clocking someone in the head. Rupp has been known to score the occasional goal (ironically enough, he scored too many against the Rangers while a member of the Penguins) and his 22 goals in the last two seasons combined are very good for an enforcer, if not abnormally high. He is not a tremendous skater, but he can get around well enough that he won’t be a detriment. The Rangers should give this combination a shot. We know Wolski is going to be a bust, so lets just forgo the disappointment and give this threesome a shot in exhibition. Gretzky had Semenko, so why not let Gaborik and Richards have Rupp?
Just finished reading a great piece by Larry Brooks in the New York Post, where he asks Wayne Gretzky, who turns 50 on Wednesday, how his life is going and should the Winter Classic be in New York next season, would he play for them in the legends game. The Great One responded with an emphatic yes and an, “I’d be there in a minute if the Rangers had one.” If this doesn’t help sell the NHL that the Rangers should be hosting the WC next season, I don’t know what will. As someone alluded to on Yahoo, wouldn’t it be sweet to see a Rangers-Kings classic, where Gretzky suits up for Los Angeles for the first half of the game, then finishes in Ranger blue? But that does not appear to be the likely scenario, because it seems the Rangers and Flyers are the leading contenders for 2012.
This all begs me to ask the question, if Wayne is so eager to play for them in the legends game, would he play for the Rangers right now? With injuries to Dubinsky, Callahan, Christensen, Fedotenko, Boogaard, Frolov, Prospal, and now Girardi and Prust, Gretzky would be a top-flight player on this team who is featuring half of the Connecticut Whale on their roster. If you would have told me that by January, the Rangers would have peeks at Zuccarello, Weise, Dupont, Kolarik, Newbury, McDonaugh, and Williams, I would have thought you were crazy, but the Rangers have caught the injury bug this season, and no one has escaped it, including Marian Gaborik and Chris Drury who are healthy now but missed an extended period of time earlier in the season.
The Rangers four current centers are Brian Boyle, Derek Stepan, Artem Anisimov, and Chris Drury…HELP! Where would Gretzky fit into all of this, even at fifty years old? I’d say pretty damn well if you ask me. The Rangers are one of the worst teams in the league on faceoffs…do you think Wayne has slipped up in that department. And how about for goals, a category the Rangers are strapped for considering half their team is watching in the press box? I think he still has a few biscuits left in his arsenal.
So Wayne, if you are reading this and still feel ties to New York, please come and help us out! If I see Captain Clutch miss one more open net or flub one more slap shot, or lose a faceoff, because apparently, that’s the only thing his $7 million salary is paying him to do, I’ll scream. You will always be welcome here Wayne, so how about a comeback attempt?
A 50th anniversary is something special, and the gift to be given is usually gold. After all, 50 years is quite a long time for anything, whether it be marriage or the amount of time a company or franchise has been around. 75 years is something even more momentous, and can be awarded with gold as well. 100 years is something that is monumental, and can be awarded with a 10K diamond. But 85 years is something that goes right between the last two major anniversaries.
According to About.com, the 85th anniversary is something that can be commemorated with diamonds or sapphire. The New York Rangers will be commemorating their 85 years in the National Hockey League this season, and have only four diamond rings of their own to show for it. That is roughly one championship every 21 and a quarter years. Why is there a celebration of this?
The Rangers are not the only team obsessed with nostalgia. The Montreal Canadiens seem to be honoring someone every season, and their schedule is chock full of games with pre-game ceremonies. But they can, after all, they’ve only won 24 Stanley Cups. They can honor the equipment manager from 1946 if they want.
But the Rangers never seem to let go of the past. In the last 85 years, just look at the names who have donned the Broadway Blue: Andy Bathgate, Eddie Giacomin, Brad Park, Phil Esposito, Harry Howell, Rod Gilbert, Jean Ratelle, Mark Messier, Mike Richter, Brian Leetch, Wayne Gretzky, and Jaromir Jagr, to name just a dozen. All those marquee names, all that firepower, and only four measly Stanley Cups to show for it.
In 85 years, the Rangers have had 39 coaches behind the bench, 57 Hall of Famer’s lace up skates, and they have only reached the playoffs 52 times, not to mention a recent seven-year stretch without one single playoff berth.
No matter what team they assemble, whether it be a team of greats or scrubs, there have always been complications. Good offense-bad defense, good defense-bad offense, great team-bad goaltending, great goaltending-bad team, great team-bad coach, great coach-bad team, too many stars, not enough stars, no voice in the locker-room, too many voices in the locker-room; the list just goes on and on.
Again I ask, what is there to celebrate?
The Rangers have the right to honor their history; pay homage to the “founding fathers”, so to speak, and of course, pay tribute to the 1994 heroes. But giving respect is not the same thing as ramming ’94 down our throats, the last great achievement this franchise has reached, and essentially the only one of note in the last 70 years. All this talk, all this rehashing of the same events over and over again from 16 years ago, at the same time as waiting more than thirty years to retire the numbers of Andy Bathgate and Harry Howell.
Out of the “original six” teams, let us look at the amount of years they have been in the league, the amount of Cups they have, and how many championships per season they have won:
1. Montreal Canadiens- 24 Stanley Cups in 101 years (1/4.21 years)
2. Toronto Maple Leafs- 13 Stanley Cups in 94 years (1/7.32 years)
3. Detroit Red Wings- 11 Stanley Cups in 85 years (1/7.72 years)
4. Boston Bruins- 5 Stanley Cups in 86 years (1/17.2 years)
5. Chicago Blackhawks- 4 Stanley Cups in 85 years (1/21.25 years)
5. New York Rangers- 4 Stanley Cups in 85 years (1/21.25 years)
The Rangers are tied with the Chicago Blackhawks for lowest amount of Cups won for an “original six” team, as well as Cups-per-season ratio. The Blackhawks are coming off a championship this season, their first since 1961. That distance of 49 years is just shy of what the Rangers went through from 1940-1994, their longest Cup drought. The Toronto Maple Leafs, meanwhile, have not won since 1967, the longest current streak in the NHL.
The Blueshirts may have won 16 years ago, but if you look at the broader picture, it is one Stanley Cup in the last 70 years.
The only reason I can think of for the Rangers picking such an odd year for a commemoration is because the older Rangers legends are just that– getting older. The Rangers have been very lucky to have some of the franchise greats live into old age, and still be capable of coming to Madison Square Garden and even appearing on television and radio from time to time. Emile Francis is 84, Eddie Giacomin is 71, Andy Bathgate is 78, and Harry Howell is 77. In my grim assessment, it is reasonable to assume that the Rangers are going to choose this year, rather than wait until the 100th anniversary for some fan fare, because those aforementioned players are in great shape and are still able to appear and revel in the team’s history. Fifteen years from now, will these greats still be around for the century mark of this team’s existence?
I can only hope that in the next fifteen years, the Rangers will add at least another Stanley Cup championship. As teams around them continue to get better, and the Rangers evenly tread water, how would it look for the one hundredth anniversary, to still have only four Cup banners raised to the rafters? The Rangers could then have a very even one championship for every quarter century they have been in the league.
The Rangers have many bright young prospects in the minors, and perhaps the best farm system they have ever had. The Rangers will be under pressure in the next few seasons to put a winning product on the ice, but not just one that can get it done in the regular season, but one that can thrive in the playoffs and push for a championship.
So as the Rangers unveil their new shoulder patches, jerseys, and center ice logo, I hope they will not only look to honor their somewhat disastrous past, but strive for greatness in the future. The fans of this team have stayed loyal all these years, and with prices never decreasing, they deserve to see a better product on the ice, and be proud of their New York Rangers.