by Kevin Conway
We’re about to witness the sixth consecutive NHL season without a playoff appearance by the New York Rangers. Ponder for a moment how much has happened since the last time the Rangers made the playoffs. We’ve been through two presidents, seen the economy wither and die, and watched the Stanley Cup hoisted five times while Mark Messier and company worked on their golf games.
Eric Lindros was still considered to be a dominant player back in those days, not an overly-concussed crybaby. The New York Islanders have made the playoffs more recently than the Rangers have, the ultimate slap in the face for any self-respecting Blueshirts fan. The last time the Rangers made the playoffs, I was still in middle school. I’m a sophomore in college now. Something is dreadfully wrong here.
In the same six season period, what should be one of the proudest franchises in the NHL has lost all sense of accountability. Glen Sather apparently has more lives than all of the members of Motley Crue combined, because he has dodged more bullets than any other NHL general manager ever has.
Sather has assembled the largest collection of mismatched parts in the history of the NHL, but even that is not the issue. The New York Rangers have the talent to win the Stanley Cup, but they do not have the heart to even be competitive in the AHL.
Take a look at the last few games on the schedule. At this point in the season, every single point is critical, yet the team couldn’t seem to muster a consistent effort. They were beat soundly by Pittsburgh, minus Mario Lemieux. Against the Thrashers, they earned one point for the overtime loss, which unfortunately isn’t good enough at this stage of the season. Then against the Islanders, they didn’t show up to play. They were soundly beat, and it took a late goal to even earn one point. That is truly unacceptable.
As legendary as Mark Messier is, even his leadership can’t motivate this bunch. Players phone in games regularly, and decide to turn it on only when it is absolutely necessary. The game against the Islanders was a microcosm of the entire season: too little, too late. Even with their backs against the wall, they couldn’t seem to motivate themselves to turn in 60 solid minutes of hockey.
With the exceptions of Matthew Barnaby, Anson Carter, Brian Leetch, and Mike Dunham, none of the New York Rangers deserve to make the playoffs. Eric Lindros has been a joke this season. Watching his lackluster play, one can’t help but wonder if he should have hung up his skates years ago, after Scott Stevens knocked his lights out. Mark Messier has chipped in an occasional big goal, but that’s not enough. On most nights, he plays like what he is: a 42-year-old. Darius Kasparitis and Bobby Holik have reminded us why a blank-check philosophy towards building a hockey team is destined to fail. There are plenty of other Rangers that deserve to be called out for their uninspired play, but most of them have been so invisible that they’re not even worth mentioning.
The 2002-2003 season is a lost cause for the New York Rangers. Even if by some miracle they make the playoffs, it will be yet another epic disaster. They will find themselves down three games to none against the Senators before they decide that they feel like playing hockey. Almost all of the Blueshirts look out for themselves and themselves alone. It’s truly pitiful to watch this once proud franchise take the ice and disgrace the uniforms that they wear every night.
For the time being, Rangers fans must pray for a day when Eric Lindros is long gone, Dan Blackburn is an All-Star goalie, and Jamie Lundmark is a 35 goal scorer. By then, Glen Sather will be chomping on a cigar somewhere in Canada, watching his former employer putting together a scrappy young squad that isn’t the most talented, but hungry enough to win.
But for now, the one thing that is clear is that such a time is far off. Glen Sather will probably be here for a long time. In fact, when the world ends, the only two human beings alive will probably be Glen Sather and Keith Richards. But the blame can’t be placed squarely on Sather’s shoulders. As bad a job as he’s done, it does not change the fact that his players aren’t giving their all. There’s an attitude and desire that winning franchises have. The New York Rangers just don’t understand that.