The Winds of Change are About to Blow
While there has been much debate during the past two weeks among we Ranger faithful on how to proceed into next year, there is also a unanimous sentiment ringing constant, loud and clear which is indisputable; we Boneheads are a proud group — proud of this particular Rangers team and coaching staff and all they accomplished; proud of their collective spirit, consistent effort and steadfast solidarity; proud of their tenacious grit, dogged determination and defiant “never say die” attitude; proud of how across the roster, each team member sacrificed and gave above and beyond, game after game, always for the greater good of the team. What a captain! What a coach! What a goaltender! What a selfless team!
What this year’s group lacked in talent compared with teams of past era’s (the Emile Francis teams of the ‘60/70’s; the smurfs of the 80’s under Herb Brooks; and the Cup & President’s Trophy winners and of the ‘90’s under Neil Smith/Mike Keenan/RogerNeilson) was more than made up for with their extraordinary heart and soul. Removing the ‘94 Cup winner from consideration, the team of 2011-2012 will for me go down as the quintessential Ranger team, easy to watch and easy to root for.
It was a pleasure to be a Rangers fan this year — unquestionably the most successful season since the Cup year of ‘94 and, perhaps the most surprisingly successful season in franchise history. This year’s club steamrolled our pre-season expectations with a blind ambition, gritty personality and unwillingness to cave during times when previous Rangers squads would have indeed folded the tent. As sure as the sudden ending to the playoffs was painful to endure, we are equally certain that the future for this team and organization looks remarkably bright. There is excitement, optimism and a resolute confidence pervasive among ownership, management, coaches, players and fans alike. The organization is undeniably on the right path, positioned well for sustained growth and, dare I say, likely to be “in the hunt” for Lord Stanley’s hardware on an annual basis.
While there is great optimism, we can also be assured of this; raising the bar and moving upward will not be an easy process, nor will it occur without the attendant bumps, bruises and likely detours along the way. Although, this current collection of players and coaches may actually be perched and in better position for long term success than were the teams of the early 1990’s, which consisted of a group of older highly-talented mostly past-their-prime players, and a management team which often operated in a divisive, distrustful, backstabbing, egotistical self-serving way. (see Neil Smith, Mike Keenan, Bob Gutkowski, et. al).
As for the process of moving forward, let me start with one big hooray for us! The collective mistrust the fan base holds for our aloof and barely visible President and General Manager Glen Sather, (aka Wizard of Oz), is now tempered by our confidence of knowing the long dark period of “let’s build our team with mercenaries obtained through free agency signings and by trading away prospects for over-the-hill veterans” appears to have ended.
Clearly, it didn’t require a hockey PHd to recognize this approach was wrong — we fans knew it; the management and coaches knew it; ownership knew it; the rest of the National Hockey League knew it; because the results often screamed it — “high priced veterans are motivated to collect their paychecks — not necessarily to perform”! Besides, the alleged justification for this flawed approach — “this is New York, the fan base has high expectations and will not tolerate a rebuilding process” — was pure gobbledygook! Why on earth would we Rangers faithful not tolerate the ups and downs of a “build from within philosophy” especially after having witnessed with envy the annual success of our friends across the river — to the tune of three Stanley Cups! We are no different. We hope to become a perennial championship caliber organization and certainly are willing to be patient during the up and down process of getting there. Nevertheless, it is a bright and fine day when you realize no longer are we subjected to the anger and frustration of watching and rooting for a “past their prime, blasé, over the hill, run through the motions, happy to collect my pay check” roster filled with the Valeri Kamensky’s and the like of the current NHL. (Can you guess where I stand on Alexander Radulov debate?)
Hopefully, management will continue to improve the team by adhering to its current philosophy — a holistic and balanced approach — of scouting and drafting solid amateur prospects; maintaining a robust minor league player development program at Hartford; allowing prospects the opportunity to compete for available roster spots; acquiring players to meet needs and fill existing gaps at reasonable costs through free agency and trades.
In this league, there are no simple solutions or short cuts to magically guarantee success from year to year. There is risk inherent with each and every decision. As the ongoing exchanges of the last two weeks bear witness, there are unlimited ideas on how the Rangers brain trust should move forward. I guess one mains junk is another man’s gold. We Boneheads are pretty much in agreement on where the gaps exist, but the answers on how to fill them, probably not so close. The debate on what to do, how to do it, who should stay, who should go, who should come has been informative, humorous, sometimes contentious, and always entertaining.
Everyone has remedy — whether it be to cure to an anemic offense with the addition of a sniper or two; build depth in the forward lines by signing third & fourth-line players who possess grit, speed and some measurable degree of offensive skills; improve the defense skill and depth by adding a rugged, physical, front of net presence and/or a legitimate power play quarterback/ shooter / mobile puck carrier. The differential is found more in the who, not the how— who stays, who leaves, who comes. With all the debate, time and heartfelt effort devoted to this discussion, is there any doubt that the decisions of the next month are enormous and of critical importance to the both the short and long-term success/non-success of the club?
I could finish by detailing my personal plan of action — but honestly, why bother? My only qualifying attributes in considering such matters are simple and meaningless — I love this game, I love my team, I’m a fanatic. Sure, there are times when I’m frustrated in my armchair and know that I would be a far better scout, coach and GM for this team. But as of yet, they haven’t accepted my resume! From a philosophical and tactical approach, I’ve grown spending most of my post mortem hours in this space during these past two weeks, for sure. Now, when I consider and evaluate the recommendations on trades, signings and player cuts put forward by our group Bonehead GM wanna-be’s, I simply apply the common sense principle espoused by our leader our blogfather — “I’ll do it, only if it has the chance to improve the team.” The binary nature of the answer (yes or no) assures that for each decision, I have a 50 percent chance of success! I like those odds. The question is, can Sather and his henchmen do better? They better!
Let’s go Rangers. I don’t really care if we lose the off-season, as long as we’re playing in June every year!!