Another season, another list of several anxieties plaguing me about what’s to come this season of Rangers hockey.
Usually this is the time of the year where I’m begging for hockey to start again. That time of the Mets season where everything is flushed down the toilet (which it is) and the time where Arsenal starts off well but eventually trails off to mediocracy (except this year, because they just managed to sign my favorite player at the moment, Mesut Ozil). In short, this is the time where I’m feeling physical cravings for hockey.
But not this year.
The Rangers have entered another transition year and this time, the light at the end of the tunnel is dimmer than usual.
It started at last season’s exit interviews and at the exact moment when Henrik Lundqvist, the fan-proclaimed King, was less enthusiastic about a return to New York once he becomes a UFA.
Now here we have a player who has only known New York, who New York took a chance on in 2000 when they drafted him as the 205th pick and has made a career and life here. For New York fans who have witnessed Lundqvist evolve and grow and become the goaltender he is today, give as non-committal of an answer to a fanbase he calls home, it’s definitely a blow. It wasn’t long ago when Lundqvist was gushing over how much he loves New York and how much he wants to be here.
Now, that could have just been a strategic move. Think about it; even though Lundqvist is a Swedish International, he has become so much of what New York as a city is. He’s a regular on the lifestyle scene, whether it be at New York’s Fall Fashion Week or at an upscale restaurant. It’s difficult to picture him anywhere but New York. He recently said on a Swedish radio show that he couldn’t really picture himself being anywhere else, so I’m not sure if Blueshirts fans have entered manic panic about him leaving just yet.
And let’s be honest, we all know that the front office has been preparing for his contract negotiations for at least two seasons now. No one is going to offer Lundqvist the money General Manager Glen Sather is going to offer him. No one.
Lundqvist has already won an Olympic Gold Medal and I’m sure he knows a World Championship is not in the cards due to the Rangers always making the playoffs. That leaves his desire for a cup being the deciding factor in whether he’ll make like The Clash and stay or go. That’s legitimate. However, I’m sure there was something more behind Lundqvist’s non-committal exit interview remarks.
John Tortorella falls into the same pattern more or less everywhere he goes. He’s annointed Head Coach of a team that has an abundance of young players looking to fit a mold and a team that needs an identity. It takes a couple of seasons for that identity to form, the team ends up having a great season, players get older and frustrated with Tortorella’s brashness, Tortorella gets fired.
If you’ve read this column on a semi-regular basis, you’ll know that I’m a Tortorella supporter. Maybe firing Tortorella was an impulsive, stupid move, but let’s face facts; after a lackluster season, it’s much easier to fire a couple of coaches than 15 players.
So now the Rangers have brought in former Canucks Coach Alain Vigneault, who’s going to be fairly similar to Tortorella, but not as abrasive and not as restrictive when it comes to players’ creativity.
While the future of the team isn’t very clear, fans should be able to expect the teams’ veterans to improve. Michael Del Zotto in particular should benefit from Vigneault’s laissez-faire approach to coaching, as well as Rick Nash and Brad Richards. Del Zotto has been pegged as a power play quarterback for some time, and one would hope that Vigneault will somehow be able to create the perfect storm of urgency and creativity for the defenseman.
The light at the end of the tuneel may be dim, but there’s comfort in knowing that light isn’t pitch black.
We could be the New Jersey Devils.