Madison Square Garden, the New York Rangers’ home arena, is in the midst of a three-phase renovation, which began last year and had the Rangers on the road for an extended amount of time to start this past season, as the crew needed the time to finish the first step, which was began in the off-season. It was said that it was a very close call, and almost was not finished in time because of the yeoman’s work that had to ensue. Now, phase two is slated to be underway as soon as this season ends. This begs the questions: if the playoffs for the Rangers continue to drag, hopefully to a third round, or as we would all love, the Stanley Cup Finals, would that impede in any way on the scheduled renovation? It would seem that the longer the season goes, the less time there is, meaning that unless the league wants to give the Rangers one of the longest opening road swings in NHL history, another plan may need to be called into action.
Though this has never really been mentioned, except for a few people joking that the Rangers might have to open their home season on New Jersey Devils’ ice at the Prudential Center, one has to think that Dolan and Co. have already had the foresight, in case this speculation becomes a reality. Yes, you can give the Rangers ten or fifteen road games to start the season, but that can wear on a team and act as a disadvantage, not to mention the disproportionate amount of home games toward the end of the season, which then becomes an extraordinary advantage. The Rangers and the league should now been looking for a Plan B in case Madison Square Garden and phase two are not finished.
It would be foolish to think that the Rangers would stage a home opener and play a few home games on an ice sheet that bears a Devils’ logo (not to mention the conflict in scheduling), and the new Barclays Center in Brooklyn may be too small and might not be able to be equipped for hockey. This leaves the only plausible solution being the Izod Center in the Meadowlands, the one-time home of the New Jersey Devils, back during the Continental Airlines Arena days. While this stadium is far from perfect, it is decent enough that it could work—it holds a little more than 19,000 for hockey, even more than the Rangers’ current home, which tops out at 18,200. A new ice sheet can be put down, provided the original pipes and all necessary paraphernalia still work (I am unsure, but has a hockey game of any kind been played there since the Devils moved?). The arena is also in very close proximity to New York City, though it lays in the barren wasteland of the Meadowlands, which led to many jokes for years. That said, I have been to many hockey games there, and I never found anything wrong with it. I still love MSG better than any other arena, but I never minded a game there. The only issue may be there is no access by train, which is how a large majority of fans get to games (it was also a major factor in the Devils relocation).
No situation here will be perfect. The team just may have to decide between the lesser of the apparent evils: a ridiculously long road trip to start the season, or a few mock home games on a rink just miles away from their own. My own person opinion would be to have the necessary amount of games at the Izod Center. It would definitely be better for morale than trekking across the country until what could be mid-November. There are plenty of Rangers’ fans in New Jersey, and enough die-hards that would take the trip a few times (heck, Ranger fans do a pretty good job of filling any Devils’ arena when their team is playing there). Hopefully the Dolans will make the right decision, and what’s more…hopefully the Rangers will last long enough for this to even be a problem.