Sorry for the length of this post but on the eve of the New York Rangers first second round playoff game in a decade, as a Blueshirts fan I can’t help but be excited, and the current success has got me thinking. It’s been a long time since we had a team we could be proud of. But this year’s team has overcome adversity and achieved that respect. Although only time will tell how far this current squad can go in this year’s playoffs, they have already proven that they are a far cry from the decade of failure that proceeded them. For years the Rangers tried to “buy” the cup and failed. Trade deadlines and free agent signings always showed Rangers management attempt to make the biggest splash by landing the biggest name. More times than not it backfired and the combination of these big name players proved to be a recipe for disaster. And with the largest payroll in the NHL the Rangers quickly became the leagues laughing stock.
As a fan late April became a time to reminisce about the team’s failures, while any thoughts about one day trying to secure a playoff ticket at MSG seemed impossible. However, times have changed and it now seems that the Rangers current recipe for success is one that works and could continue to work in the future. Still, I can’t help thinking about the old days and how bad the playoff season became for Rangers fans. Maybe all those years of failure is what makes the current success that much sweeter. They still have a long way to go, but we as fans must remember how far they have come. But just for fun I thought I would ask two questions.
First, was the trade of Anson Carter for Jaromir Jagr the best deal the New York Rangers have ever made in franchise history? People can bash Jaromir all they want and question his desire to win, but any Rangers fan knows that the team’s success largely rests on his shoulders. In his first full season he was a Heart Trophy candidate who shattered almost every offensive record in team history, all while leading the Blueshirts to their first playoff appearance in years. Not only did the Rangers clearly get the better player in the deal with Washington back in 2004, but they also talked the Caps into picking up half of the big guy’s salary. In the new salary cap NHL this makes Jaromir a $4.3 milliion cap hit; a bargain if you ask me. It’s hard to believe that there is currently a better bang for your cap hit buck in the NHL than number 68.
Second, out of all the trades or signings the Rangers made during the, shall we say “dark years”, which was the worst? For me, evaluating these transactions places players into two categories; disappointments and busts. In my opinion the biggest bust award has to go to the reacquisition of Alexei Kovalev via a trade in 2003. Prior to the trade Kovalev had been lighting it up for the Penguins over the past three seasons. That season, Kovalev found himself competing for the scoring title with 27 goals, 37 assists and 64 points during the first fifty four games. Due to financial problems the Penguins needed to shop the super star forward and the Rangers saw it as another opportunity to land a big name player that would help push them back into the playoffs. However, Kovalev failed miserably once he put back on the blue and white. For the next twenty four games Kovalev would put up a measly 13 points and the Rangers once again failed to qualify for the post season. Kovalev would begin the following season the same way he had ended the previous one and would find himself dealt to the Montreal Canadians at the deadline. I can’t recall any player who went from being so hot to so cold in a quicker span than Rangers fans witnessed with Kovalev.
For me the biggest disappointment has nothing to do with this player’s ability to live up to expectations, but is disappointing because he never really had the opportunity to achieve success as a Ranger due to a career ending injury. When the Rangers landed Pavel Bure in a trade with the Florida Panthers in 2002 they were getting one of the most exciting players the game had ever seen. The “Russian Rocket” was a human hi-light reel who seemed to have an ability to score goals at will. Coming off back to back seasons that saw him score 58 and 59 goals respectively (earning him the Rocket Richard Trophy) at age 31 it seemed that Bure was still in his prime and would only continue to shine on Broadway. With twelve games remaining in the 2002 season Bure showed his scoring touch by notching twelve goals over that span. And although the team would miss the playoffs again that year, Rangers fans had every reason to be optimistic about the team’s future with Bure at the helm. For once it appeared that management had landed a super star that could actually live up to their hype.
Unfortunately Bure suffered serious knee injuries that surgery could not repair. He would attempt to come back and play 39 games the following season (notching 19 goals), but the pain was too much to take and the “Russian Rocket” was forced to retire. To me Bure is that “what if” player in the team’s history. Although it’s easy to speculate in hindsight, I believe Bure would have been one of those exciting players the Garden Faithful would come to love. Could you imagine a healthy Bure playing with Jagr? And talk about curing the Rangers lack of a shot on this year’s power play. With Bure at the point you never had to worry about too much passing. But like I said it’s all in hind sight and no one will ever really know. But isn’t speculation one of the best parts about being a fan.
Either way the Rangers have had lots of busts and disappointments over the last ten years. You could easily make a good case for lots of players. So who is your biggest bust or disappointment? Was it Lindros or Fleury? Maybe it was Patty Lafontaine or the second stint of the Messier years? Let me know who your pick is. But while your reminiscing about the problems of the past, just remember how far the current team has come. And when the second round kicks off in Buffalo tomorrow just sit back, watch and remember that the only thing that really matters now are three little words…
LET’S GO RANGERS!!!!