The title read "A clean slate for the Rangers" in a mid-September issue of the New York Daily news. The story began as so:
"For yet another summer, the Rangers are starting their season with a number of new faces and the same high expectations."
I opened my new issue of The Hockey News around the same time to see the Rangers predicted for a 6th place finish in the East and a B- team grade. ESPN agreed, putting the Blueshirts second in the Atlantic with a B+ grade. These are not bad predictions whatsoever, but to Ranger fans they seemed a little on the low side.
Why is that you might ask? Since the lockout the Rangers have not finished higher than 3rd place in the Atlantic Division. The last time the Blueshirts won the Atlantic was the same year they would win the Eastern Conference and Lord Stanley's Cup (A guess, anyone?); 1994. After two consecutive seasons that ended in the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals and another summer of spending to tweak this roster, the sky had to be the limits.
Now I like to think that I can see both sides of the fence here when it comes to being a sports fan because of my youth. I played both hockey and baseball all through high school. I adopted the Rangers when I was young because of Messier, Gretzky, and because they were on TV a lot. My sons and/or daughters will have an affiliation with the Rangers, and they do not have a choice. But, with elders being from Massachusetts, I was also born and raised a Boston Red Sox fan (Sabathia's doing well, eh?). See, most Ranger fans are like any New York Sports fan (Spare me here, fellow Blueshirt Faithful, for I love them just as much). Instead of looking forward after a loss, pressure builds from the resentment of the last loss, and the only way that pressure is vented is through a redemption win. Maybe that is why it is so easy for me to look forward.
Either way, this is why the expectations were flawed going into the season to begin with, not to mention after the first 13 games of the regular season. The thought of another year being on the hinge of playoffs and not making it past the second round again didn't seem fair to us. After a 10-3 start, to which the team responded by going 4-6 over their next 10, the first layers of expectation pressures were laid. The Rangers pleased us through Christmas and into January, but lost the Atlantic Division lead for good on January 20, 2009. We would endure a Feburary to forget, capturing only two regulation wins in 13 games for a total of 10 points (Thanks, shootout/skills competition!). The pressure was building, and fast.
The month of February 2009 led to the downfall of former Head Coach Tom Renney and his staff. The team couldn't win against a pee-wee team, which led to daily line changes and cries from the media and Ranger fans alike for personnel change (Not just the coach). The month of February also led us into an unnecessary playoff race where the Rangers were fighting for their lives under the new Head Coach John Tortorella. Making the playoffs was bittersweet, as most Blueshirt Faithful had the Atlantic Division crown on their minds two months ago. This fed to the utter dis-belief the Rangers would even be allowed to score against the Washington Capitals to most. They made it a series, and consequently made this a season that could be remembered down the road.
The 2008-2009 New York Rangers season was flooded with unreasonable expectations that ultimately led to the firing of a Head Coach who brought us back to respectability. Tom Renney knows hockey, and he knows how to work with his players well. But all of this is OK, because as sad as it is this season brings the expectations for the 2009-2010 season to a realistic level. Depending on what Rangers Management accomplish over this off season, the 2008-2009 Ranger season could be looked back upon as a turning point that led us to a higher level of play and accomplishments.