by Adam Raider
My mother, of all people, telephoned at the trade deadline to ask why the Rangers would go to the trouble of reacquiring a player they already discarded five years ago.
“Mom,” I said, “you have to understand that this is the most poorly-run organization in sports. Nothing they do surprises me at this point. Bringing Kovalev back to New York is like slapping a new coat of paint on a house that’s falling down. Sure, you’ve made the old barn look purdy, but you haven’t really addressed the bigger issues, have you?”
And so it was that I explained in great detail why that trade – a steal for the Rangers from a personnel standpoint – would actually do more harm than good over the long-term.
I’m a big picture guy, you see, and while I recognized that Kovalev would pump a little excitement back into Madison Square Garden, sell a few more tickets, raise hopes of a playoff berth and perhaps even win a game or two by himself, I also knew that for every action, there is a reaction. To wit:
1. TRADE DELAYS THE REBUILDING PROCESS. Ok, we know. We know. The Rangers will rebuild when Bobby Clarke invites Eric Lindros to his summer home for tea and crumpets. But we still dream – perhaps in vain – of the day when MSG will give Rangers management authorization to strip the club down and start from scratch with a young nucleus.
2. FAT NEW CONTRACT WILL ACCELERATE WORK STOPPAGE. Rampant salary escalation will be one of the primary catalysts for a major labor dispute in 2004. No team is guiltier of overpaying players than the Rangers, who committed over $67 million to Bobby Holik and Darius Kasparaitis last summer. Now, that practice is going to blow up in the league’s collective face. Thank you, Jim Dolan.
3. POST-SALARY CAP RANGERS WILL BE HANDCUFFED. If you think Kasparaitis, Holik and Lindros are untradeable now, wait until 2005. The post-lockout landscape will probably include a salary cap, at which point the Rangers will have one more albatross tied to their throat.
4. NEW YORK AIN’T PITTSBURGH. You can say that again. Imagine how frustrated he’ll become once Kovalev returns to the 25-goal, 60-point territory of yesteryear. The nine-game scoreless streak he nursed through March is only a taste of what’s to come.
5. DEFENSE, NOT OFFENSE, IS THE RANGERS’ GREATEST WEAKNESS. At the time of the trade, New York ranked 29th out of 30 teams in goals allowed (180 in 58 games). If you can explain how Kovalev will improve the Rangers defensively, then you’re smarter than me, Scotty Bowman, and the ghost of Toe Blake put together.
After three-plus seasons as an effective checking forward on San Jose’s third and fourth lines, Niklas Sundstrom’s (1995-99) career has been given new life now that he’s a member of the Montreal Canadiens. If the Habs are smart, they’ll push Sunny to use the creativity that’s lain dormant since he put on the black and teal. Expect him to be a bigger offensive contributor next season. Sundstrom’s goal total has dropped every year since he scored 24 in 1996-97, his second full season in the NHL.
Boston’s Mike Knuble (1998-2000) was one of the most pleasant surprises in the NHL this season. As a Ranger, he toiled on the third and fourth lines. With Sergei Samsonov out for an extended period, the Bruins turned to Knuble to step up his play. He capitalized on the opportunity when placed on Boston’s top line alongside Joe Thornton and Glen Murray and shattered his previous career high of 15 goals.
We love WFAN late night host Joe Benigno for his brash, outspoken style. After witnessing the Rangers’ abominable 3-1 loss to the struggling Penguins on March 26 – a game the Rangers needed to win to keep their dim playoff hopes alive – Benigno launched a venomous on-air rant that ranks among his best yet.
Calling the loss “the lowest point in the history of the franchise,” Benigno railed against the listless Rangers and their pitiful effort against a team loaded with AHL players and playing without its best player in Mario Lemieux.
It wasn’t the first time Benigno could be accused of exaggerating, but his point was well taken. The Rangers, with high expectations and an even higher payroll, embarrassed themselves and the organization by delivering anything less than a 100 percent effort at this late and crucial juncture.