Friday, July 18, 2008

As Time Goes By

As everyone starts scrutinizing the schedule for next season and starts predicting the opening night roster, I figured I would take a quick look back ... way back ... waaaaaayyyyyy back ... to the Rangers opening night from October 5th, 2005.

Oh, I remember that date. What glee to see hockey finally back after the horror/disgrace/shame of the lockout. Sheer joy. "Thank You Fans" was written across the ice. The seats were cheaper! The team looked better!

Wasn't that something? I remember that well. Of course, not many Rangers remember that game. Why, you may ask? Because just two of the 2008-09 Rangers were in the starting lineup that night - Blair Betts and Michal Roszival. That's it. Two. Just two Rangers have managed to make it this far (three if you include that squad's backup goalie guy, Henrik SomethingSwedish, but backup goalies don't count).

By comparison, that very same evening, the Detroit Red Wings played the St. Louis Blues. And you know what? Twelve of the Wings who played in that game raised the Stanley Cup over their heads just over a month ago and all 12 are expected to be back in the fall. Twelve.

And you wonder why I am so pessimistic heading into this coming season? The Rangers are now a team primarily made up of hired guns. Mercenaries. Soldiers of fortune. From Drury and Gomez to Naslund and Redden, these guys have no idea what it is to be a Ranger. They have no idea what it is to grow into a team that can win. Drury may have had an inkling but bailed from Buffalo for the cash. Gomez? His taste of success came when he was still a kid, when he wasn't relied upon to be 'the man.' He left the Devils when they needed him the most for another, bigger paycheck. Naslund and Redden? Well, no one was stupid enough to give them the deals the Rangers did. Say what you will about the offensive upside of Nik Zherdev, Fedor Tyutin was growing up as a Blueshirt - the last remaining member of the first new wave of homegrown True Blue.

I understand that you have to have a plan, and you build from that plan. That's why, as much as I loathed placing the team in the Czechs' hands, I got what Sather was selling. But three years later he blows it up entirely and starts again? Or you can even say he started dismantling it last summer by bringing in two major players who didn't match with what was already here.

Detroit did it right. They built a core of players and let it simmer, let it grow together. Six of those 12 players were drafted by the Wings, but six were solid acquisitions that Ken Holland and crew kept around. They learned the system and now execute it better than anyone else.

The Rangers now? New team, new look, new system. Who knows what will happen three years down the line but the near future looks grim, at least from where I am sitting.

And just in case you were wondering: the Rangers won that first game out of the lockout 5-3 over the Flyers. They got goals from Jason Strudwick, Jamie Lundmark, Marcel Hossa and two from Jaromir Jagr. Kevin Weekes got the win. To steal from Mel Allen, “How about that?”

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