New York Rangers: The Lessons Never Learned

Mr. ControversyCorrespondent IAugust 11, 2009

In the history of the National Hockey League, there has been no other team that has taken better care of their players in terms of pay than the New York Rangers.  

For Ranger fans, this has plagued us for over a decade. With enough money to buy the best there is on the ice, time after time we have witnessed some of the worst signings and releases in the history of hockey.

Since the release of head coach Mike Keenan in 1995over meaningless bonus issuesand the letting go of more than half the Stanley Cup winning roster, the Rangers have fallen short of the glory year after year.

In 1996, the Rangers tried to make it up to us by signing the greatest player to have ever put on a pair of skates in Wayne Gretzky.  All though the great one tallied 97 points his first year and shined in the playoffs, the Rangers still came up short and were eliminated in the third round. 

Then the Rangers did the unthinkable. After scoring 36 goals and 48 assists, tallying 84 points for the season, the Rangers let Mark Messier walk.  

The whole purpose of signing Wayne Gretzky at the end of his career was to have the two greatest Rangers of all time play together, and that went out the window. Another great move by the Rangers' organization!

After that, the Rangers missed the playoffs two years in a row, and the worst thing that could ever happen to hockey happens. Wayne Gretzky retires! 

Although I knew this was inevitable and without question it was his time to retire, it was the saddest day in hockey, as far as I am concerned. 

He is by far my favorite player of all time and was a true role model and hero to the sport and fans alike. To this day, he is missed on the ice. At least by me.

So many questions rushed through my mind when Gretzky retired. First, if the Rangers kept Messier, would they have won the Cup the following year? After all, the previous season they had made it to the third round of the playoffs. There was no reason not to believe they could not have done the same if not better in the 1997-98 season.  

Second, if the Rangers kept Mark Messier, would the Great One retire? After all, he did sign with the Rangers to play with his former teammate.

After the loss of Messier and Gretzky, the Rangers tumbled backwards, missing the playoffs for seven years in a row.

Terrible scouting and poor decision-making carried on as usual.  There are draft picks that have yet to play a game in the NHL. And there are free agent signings and trades that have turned disastrous.

In 1999, the Rangers signed Theo Fleury. Theo was a disappointment his first year, and his second year in the 2000 season was no different, as he checked into rehab for cocaine abuse.

The same year, 2000, the Rangers brought back an old and banged up Messier and hired GM Glen Sather.

In 2001, the Rangers signed Philadelphia great Eric Lindros. He had missed the entire 2000-01 season due to concussions and was advised to never play hockey again. During the season, as everyone expected, Lindros went down guessed it, another concussion. Messier got injured as well and missed half the season. 

As the 2001-02 season came to an end, the Rangers grabbed injury-prone Pavel Bure as well as high-priced Bobby Holik and Darius Kasparaitis in the offseason. All three players were a huge disappointment.

In that eight year time span, the Rangers went through five head coaches and two General Managers.

As the 2002-03 season started, it looked like a familiar beginning. Coach Trottier was fired, which brought in the sixth new head coach in eight years...none other than Glen Sather himself. Bure played 39 games. Holik struggled throughout the season to find the net.  The Rangers spent more money by re-acquiring Alexei Kovalev, whose offense was nil.

The 2003-04 season started no differently than the previous years. The fans were calling for Glen Sathers’ head. As the Rangers high-priced players Lindros, Kovalev , and Nedved struggled, Sather brought in another high-priced player bloating the Rangers already high payroll. Sather had traded Anson Carter for Jaromir Jagr. The trade takes a turn for the worst as the Rangers win three of the next twelve games.

Finally, Sather fired himself as head coach and hired Tom Renney. (Is this comical or what?) Sather dismantled the team. Kovalev was sent to Montreal, and Nedved went to Edmonton. Others shipped out were Mathew Barnaby, Martin Rucinsky, Chris Simon, and every other underachieving player the fans had been booing.

They proceeded to trade the great Brian Leetch, as the Rangers failed to make the playoffs for the seventh consecutive year.

After the 2004-05 lock out, Sather was forced to cut the Rangers' payroll. One would think the lessons had been learned. Spending millions of dollars on overrated, injury-prone, and washed-up players have lead the Rangers to miss the playoffs seven years in a row. But the lesson has not yet been learned.

With a respectable performance in 2005-06, the Rangers made the playoffs. They were knocked out the first-round in a four-game sweep by the Devils.

However, Ranger fans looked at the team with some hope for the future because it appeared a star had been born in Henrik Lundqvist.

As the 2006-07 season started, Ranger fans watched with anticipation as Brendan Shanahan was added to the roster.  Finally, the Rangers were making the right moves and signing the right people. They made the playoffs for the second year in a row with the leadership of Brendan Shanahan.   

The Rangers looked unstoppable as they swept the Atlanta Thrashers.  But the Rangers fell apart and got eliminated in the second-round, 4-1 by the Buffalo Sabres.

Then came the stupidity once again. Thinking that spending huge amounts of money would buy him the Stanley Cup, Glen Sather signed overrated second line center Chris Drury to a five-year deal at $32.25 million. To add to that expense, Sather signed overrated second line center Scott Gomez to a seven-year deal at $51.5 million. The results again turned disastrous.

The Rangers started the 2007-08 season losing seven out of the first 10 games. Scoring goals had become a major problem for everyone on the team, with the exceptions of Brendon Shanahan and Chris Drury. Jaromir Jagr had the worst season of his career.

With millions of dollars spent, they barely made the playoffs, just to be banged out in the second-round by Pittsburgh.

With the disaster of the 2007-08 season behind them. Glen Sather decided that he had just not spent enough money on "has-beens." Determined to run the team into the ground and top off the Rangers' cap, Glen searched for the most overrated defenseman in the NHL.

It did not take Sather long to find him, and he quickly signed Wade Redden to a six-year contract paying $6.5 million per year. Redden had been on the downward spiral for the last several years, but that was not a factor for Sather.  After all, this is what he wanted: The pick of the litter.

After letting Jagr and Shanahan go, Glen Sather looked for one more washed up player whom he found in Vancouver. Wasting no time, he signed Markus Naslund to a two-year, $2.5 million contract. He also re-signed Michal Rozsival to a four-year, $5 million a year deal. The cap was now full.

The 2008-09 season started off great. Redden, Drury, Gomez, and Naslund were invisible but the Rangers were winning. Lundqvist looked superb.  They looked like a team that could have gone all the way, riding on the shoulders of Nikolai Zherdev, Aaron Voros, Ryan Callahan, and Brandon Dubinsky, along with the other young players on the team.

Two months into the season, all of that came to a sudden halt. The Rangers true ability—or lack thereof—started to show. 

With loss after loss, it had become obvious that this was not the team. Scoring had become a problem once again. The star players were nowhere to be found with the exception of Callahan and Zherdev. 

Tom Renney decided to change up the lines again. Zherdev was scoring goals and playing outstandingly. His play had rubbed off on Gomez and Naslund, who were scoring off the passes from Zherdev. But the roller coaster ride continued throughout the season, and they barely made the playoffs.

In round one, they blew a 3-1 lead against the Capitals and their rookie goalie. How much more humiliating can it get?

Naslund and Redden both had their worst seasons in 11 years.  Markus Naslund retired, while Redden decided we had not suffered enough and stayed. At $6.5 million for doing nothing, that is one healthy way to make a living.

For more than a decade, the Rangers have signed players on their way out of the NHL. The Rangers have conjured up some crazy reasoning to sign them. Thinking that these players will somehow make this remarkable turnaround because they dressed in Blue. 

Have they ever grabbed a player on his way up in their career?

I don't think so.    

What has Gomez ever done to be worth the salary he received from the New York Rangers? Same goes for Chris Drury, Wade Redden, and Michal Rozsival.

I used the word "overrated," and maybe that is not the proper word. After all, we do not hear how great these players are from anyone other than the Rangers' organization. Perhaps they are simply trying to justify signing outlandish contracts with them.

Pavel Bure and Eric Lindros had major injury issues.  Lindros was told never to play again, yet the Rangers signed them.  

Marian Gaborik also has injury problems, and once again, the Rangers have signed him.  Marian is an awesome player who is still fairly young at 27-years-old, and if he can stay healthy, he will be a dominant player. But that is a big "if."

So why does the Rangers' organization continue to sign and pay incredible amounts of money to players that most definitely do not deserve it?  Players that are at the end of their careers, or players that should have been retired already? 

And when they get a young player with all the talent in the world, they let him go.  Such is the case with Nikolai Zherdev. Even if the so-called issues with Nikolai were true, knowing the ability he has, would you rather try to work with them and help him fix those issues or lose him, just to sign some washed-up player?

After all, looking at what they chose to deal with in the past, I think dealing with any issue Zherdev has would be a gift. He's young, healthy, and can score goals. As of yet, the Rangers have not signed Brandon Dubinsky either.

For decades, this is all the Rangers have done. Signed washed-up, good-for-nothing players, for the same result—no Cup! 

Then they have a legit, young goal scorer, who was the best on the team last year, and they let him go.  If that makes any sense to you, you need therapy, and do not know anything about hockey. 

They say history repeats itself, and that is fine. From the way it looks, I guess I won't be around in 54 years when the Rangers win their next cup.



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