Alternate Reality Rangers: How The Last Lockout Changed The Scope of The NHL….Maybe Forever
By Mike Aker
Whether on television with various incarnations of Star Trek, in comic books with the X-Men, or even in Greek literature, we’ve all learned about an alternate reality, where there exists another realm that might be similar to our own, but is slightly different by as little as one or two minor or major events.
Even readers here who may not be sci fi geeks or care for the Classics have most likely fantasized or at least been involved in discussions about an alternate reality when it comes to sports and specifically the New York Rangers. The ultimate fate and decision to prematurely part with players like Rick Middleton, Mike Ridley, and Sergei Zubov among others, and the health of athletes like Jean Ratelle and Ulf Nilsson has often been talked about for decades and is still debated on message boards across the internet to discuss how different things would have been, and then of course there’s the infamous “I’m not going to Edmonton” disagreement between Mr. and Mrs. Nylander in the summer of 2007 after the Rangers decided to part ways with the underrated center.
While we’ll never know the answer to any of these “What If?!” scenarios, it does bring up the very chilling point that sometimes as little as one or two events, a chance meeting, or a split-second decision based on impulse or to “prove a point” can have a direct impact on the lives of others for years to come. Even hockey fans. Two such events were postponing the beginning of the 2012-13 National Hockey League season and ultimately deciding to play an abridged 48-game version from January that concluded with the Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks this past June.
It’s interesting to think about how different everything would be in Rangerland right now if the entire season was cancelled instead of having the January sprint.
The biggest difference of course starts with right behind the bench. We’re all debating how new coach Alain Vigneault will finally(!!!) fix this Rangers power play, and whether or not Brassard and Scott Arniel can coexist, when with no season, we’re all thinking of what new fitness tests John Tortorella has in store for his usual training camp, and whether or not Mike Sullivan WILL have a clue on the power play.
Injuries and players performance are something else radically different. With no season, Callahan, Staal, and Stralman never suffer serious injuries, J.T. Miller’s still lingering wrist problem isn’t a concern, and everyone’s favorite whipping boy and possible (hopeful?) summer of 2014 buyout candidate Brad Richards has enough time to either get in shape for the upcoming season or is quickly scratched and doesn’t leave management and fans debating if it’s age vs. fitness. Before I continue, keep in mind that Carl Hagelin, who originally hurt his shoulder in the Swedish Elite League late last year is in fact ready to start the season … because his surgery is up to six months earlier.
The final difference would have to do with the depth in the organization or as everyone found out this season, the lack of. No 2012-13 season means Gaborik is still here and no John Moore, Brassard, or Dorsett. Instead of having to rely on Kris Newburry and Michael Haley for fourth-line duty, Tortorella would already have the prospect pool of Oscar Lindberg, Jesper Fast, Michael St. Croix, and others available for either spot duty or fulltime service, and the Chris Kreider “Yo-Yo” world tour never exists. With these rookie options and one or two other potential differences, maybe depth would have never been an issue in the first place, or maybe it would have been worse than before. We shall never know.
The overall makeup of the league would have been very different as well. Does Ilya Kovalchuk continue his self banishment (or more like his wife’s) to Russia? What other team does our favorite lovable mercenary-for-hire Jaromir Jagr join (surely it wouldn’t be the Devils)? Does Boston have to tell Tyler Seguin to grow up somewhere else or is it status quo come training camp? Are Nik Antropov, Mason Raymond, Ron Hainsey, and other notables still unemployed into early August and maybe if they’re lucky have to settle for training camp invites because of cap restraints? With a fully missed season, are the Coyotes still in Glendale?
Finally, the biggest question of all; does this awful (as Ebert would say I hated hated hated hated this) and unbalanced realignment go through? Are the Rangers playing in an awfully named division, and which sixth-place team with more points than a third-place team in another division and misses the playoffs will have the most furious fan base?
Ultimately it will be business as usual for the National Hockey League and its 30 franchises and fan basses this September. But the next time John Moore skates a puck out of the Rangers zone, Jason Pomminville scores a power-play goal for the Wild, or the Sedin twins lay their bodies on the line to block shots, think of how different the league would be now had the entire 2012-13 season been missed.
Photo by Getty Images.