By Nick Q.
I am a Ranger. That’s not only a corny MSG marketing slogan, it’s also the truest thing that’s ever been spoken about Rangers fans. From sunrise to sunset, our lives revolve around the Broadway Blueshirts. Being a Rangers fan isn’t just a hobby, it’s a passion and a lifestyle.
We were founded in 1926 as part of the Original Six. Despite there being a handful of teams in the league at the time, we only escaped the Original Six era with three Stanley Cups. Besides the Chicago Blackhawks (who also have four Stanley Cups in their history), every other Original Six team has had much more success than we have had throughout the past 85 years.
As more teams were added to the league, the Rangers fell into obscurity. There were years we were good from the late 60s through the 80s, but never good enough to take home the Stanley Cup once again. The Curse of 1940 seemed like it would never go away.
That all changed one fateful October day in 1991. Thanks to Glen Sather and budget cuts by the Oilers, Mark Messier and Jeff Beukeboom were traded to the Rangers in exchange for Louie DeBrusk, Bernie Nicholls, and Steven Rice.
Two and a half years later in the spring of 1994, the Rangers found themselves four games away from a trip back to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since 1979. The problem? The Blueshirts fell into a 3-2 series hole and were facing elimination on the road.
The opponents were none other than the New Jersey Devils, led by a young Martin Brodeur. Mark Messier claimed “We’ll Win Tonight” before Game 6, and The Captain delivered with a hat trick that night at the Meadowlands.
A wraparound goal in overtime of Game 7 sent the Rangers back to the promise land. But Stephane Matteau would only have been a footnote in history if the Rangers didn’t take care of things on “Mount Vancouver”, in the words of Howie Rose. The Rangers jumped out to a quick 3-1 lead, but two straight losses set up an apocalyptic Game 7. It was truly the last stand on Earth for the Rangers.
Leetch sniped one into an open net, Graves scored on the power play, and Messier tipped one in on another power play for good measure. The Rangers were the champions for the first time in 54 years and it felt damn good. Sam Rosen famously (or infamously, depending on your point-of-view) exclaimed, “…and this one will last a lifetime!”
But that one didn’t last a lifetime. 17 years later, Rangers fans are as hungry as ever for another chance to bring the Stanley Cup back to New York. From ’94 to the lockout, we watched this franchise crumble to the ground. Between bad draft picks, terrible trades, and laughable free agent signings, the Rangers became the joke of the league.
Luckily, we decided to change our strategy after the lockout. Behind our franchise goalie Henrik Lundqvist, we’ve made the playoffs five out of the last six seasons. Instead of trying to “win now” every year, we’ve built from within and put ourselves in an enviable position. With a plethora of young prospects and two stars in Richards and Gaborik, there’s no reason we can’t take the next step and be parading down the Canyon of Heroes sooner than later.
The Big Apple deserves a winning hockey team, and I believe the Rangers are here to stay as the premiere hockey franchise in the New York metropolitan area. The Devils may have the veteran players to carry them the next few seasons, and the Islanders may have the young prospects to be good one day. But there’s only a handful of teams in the league that have the perfect balance between the two. I wholeheartedly believe that we are one of those teams.
So why not us? Say what you want about our owner, but he’s willing to spend money to get the job done. There are a lot of teams who would kill to have an owner like Jim Dolan. The same goes for our general manager. Sure, Sather may not be Conn Smythe, Lester Patrick, or even Neil Smith, but he’s really been committed to building this team the right way over the past few seasons. And what’s not to like about our coach? He’s fiery, his players seem to love playing under him, and he’s already won a Stanley Cup.
What about our goaltender? Lundqvist has yet to put the team on his back and carry us through a playoff series, but anyone who watches him every game knows how vital he is to this team’s success. From saves in crucial moments to shutting out teams in the shootout, there are only a handful of goalies who are as good and as consistent as Hank.
There’s no use in having a good goaltender if you don’t have quality defensemen to put in front of him. Thankfully, that’s not a concern for the Rangers. With Marc Staal and Dan Girardi, we have a potent top-two defense pair. Michael Sauer and Ryan McDonaugh, two rookies last season, emerged as legitimate top-four defenseman. Add Tim Erixon to that mix, who is NHL-ready according to most scouts, and you have five reliable defensemen who will be part of the long-term picture.
Then you have Michael Del Zotto, who is an extremely skilled 21-year-old puck mover. If he can figure things out, he can be a great tool on the power play. Another highly touted defenseman is last year’s first round pick, Dylan McIlrath. I was a critic of the pick at the time, but it makes perfect sense now. McIlrath can be the crease-clearing defenseman we’ve been missing for years. If he can develop into what we think he can be, he is definitely going to be a special player in this league.
Our defense and goaltending are great, but what about our offense? For years we couldn’t score, but the Gaborik-Richards combo is sure to change that. We haven’t had a more potent forward combo since Messier and Graves. No matter if it’s Wolski or someone else playing left wing with Richards and Gaborik, the Rangers are going to have no problems with their first line in the near future. The second line isn’t bad at all either, with Dubinsky, Anisimov, and Callahan. I’ll take those guys any day of the week.
Perhaps the heart and soul of this team lays within the lesser known players on the team. Boyle, Prust, Rupp, Zuccarello, Fedotenko, Avery, and others are the players who make up our true identity. We’re a hard working team that grinds out every minute of every period of every game. Those players above clearly exemplify of what we’re about. We haven’t had an identity for years, but now we are finally showing teams what we’re all about.
So what about our future forwards? With guys like Chris Kreider, Carl Hagelin, and Christian Thomas all inching closer to joining the team, we’re in good hands. Derek Stepan proved to the world last year that our farm system is as good as hyped. Led by Gordie Clark, our scouting department has done a great job at drafting some the game’s future stars. If we continue drafting as well as we have been, we’re going to be a competitive franchise for a long, long time.
Rangers fans have been waiting since 1994 for another Stanley Cup victory, and I believe we’re closer now than ever before. 1994 was a thrill for every Rangers fan old enough to remember it, but it’s time for some new memories. With stable leadership on the ice, behind the bench, and in the front office, I think Stanley Cup number five could be right around the corner. It may not be this season or the next one, but our time is coming.
When Glen Sather pulled the trigger and signed Brad Richards, this franchise’s rebuilding mode came to an end. It’s now only a matter of time before “the waiting is over” once again.
Just a reminder that I will be accepting guest blog entries until July 31st. Please e-mail them to email@example.com. The winner will receive a home blue Derek Stepan jersey.