Mr. Smith's Neighborhood

It's a beautiful day in the Neighborhood for teachers everywhere! Anything and everything is fair game!

A Coup by the New York Rangers July 2, 2007

The Rangers announced yesterday the signing of free agents Chris Drury (formerly of the Buffalo Sabres) and Scott Gomez (formerly of the New Jersey Devils) to long-term contracts. The signings fill a major gap in the Rangers line-up at center and brings two top NHL talents to the team, providing additional power for years to come. Forming a nucleus with youngsters like Henrik Lundqvist, Ryan Callahan, Fedor Tyutin, Blair Betts, Petr Prucha and Dan Girardi (along with many talented minor league players), the Ranger’s future seems bright.

There have been very few days that are truly magical as a fan of the New York Rangers since 1994. The last two seasons have been special for many of us who are season ticket holders despite the drought since we won our last Stanley Cup. While we demand perfection from Ranger management, sometimes unrealistically, we have been pleasantly surprised by some great moves in recent months.

Last season, we signed or obtained players like Brendan Shanahan, Matt Cullen, Paul Mara and Sean Avery. The level of devotion to this team is at the highest I’ve seen it in my 39 years as a fan, even superseding that great season of 1993-1994. Much in the same way that Mike Richter, Adam Graves, Mark Messier and Brian Leetch inspired many great seasons of hockey, Ranger fans will be able to feast their hockey appetite on a menu that includes Jaromir Jagr, Marty Straka, Lundqvist, Shanahan (likely), Prucha (likely), Avery (it had better be definite!), Gomez and Drury.

At the end of last season, I had sworn that I had enough with hockey. The ridiculous NHL referees, Colin Campbell (the bald-headed geek), instant replay, inconsistent penalty calls and general bias against the Rangers by league officials made hockey unbearable and a travesty. The Rangers somehow managed to overcome the odds, and their incredible effort kept my devotion to the game alive. Most importantly, the recent success by Ranger management is impressive. Many of my fellow fans have, like me, have been critical of Glen Sather and his staff, especially after signing washouts like Sandish Ozolinsh, Tom Poti, Bobby Holik, Aaron Ward, Adam Hall and Petr Sykora.

I think many Ranger fans will require a HUGE reversal of opinion in accepting Scott Gomez and Chris Drury. Scott Gomez captured the true essence of being a “Gerbil” … a favorite nickname of Ranger fans for the New Jersey Devils. I have hated Chris Drury as long as I can remember … maybe even more than I hated Bobby Clarke when he played for the Flyers. But, like 83% of the Ranger fans, I expect that the duo will score over 120 points in Broadway Blue. Over 61% expect the duo to score over 140 points. If we learned to love Esa Tikkanen and Ulf Samuelsson, we can learn to love anybody, especially two guys with a knack for scoring big goals.

I would not be a “True Blue” Ranger fan if I didn’t see the dark side to all of this. Gomez and Drury do little to add “toughness” to the team and, in some ways, add to the list of players needing protection. A second problem is that they do not necessarily improve the team defense, but their speed adds an excellent threat and the ability to be effective on the forecheck and backcheck. And, finally, these two young players add to the expectation of winning a Stanley Cup, especially in what could be Jagr’s final year in New York. The pressure on the team will be more intense than in recent years. Anything less than a trip to the finals could be considered utter defeat and lead to “Buffalo Syndrome” (consistent failure in the face of success). But, maybe we need that fear so that we do not have to eventually start hearing derisive chants of “1994” as our last Cup drifts into distant memory.

While we welcome our two newest players, it is with some amusement that we also get to enjoy the dismantling of the Smelly Buffies and the Debbies. Buffalo can also expect to lose Teppo Numminen and Dainius Zubrus while having little reason to attract big-time players after losing Drury and Briere (to the Cryers). While Buffalo is circling the bowl and going into hockey’s waste drain, everyone should expect that Shrek will somehow keep the Gerbils alive.

Hockey pre-season is only about 75 days away. Woo-hoo! Let’s Go Rangers!


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