In the past, these season ending eulogies have been emotional. They’ve been raw.
This one isn’t. Instead of raw emotion, there’s a cold, calculated feeling of understanding – of knowing.
This was coming for a long time. The New York Rangers pushed it off as far as they could, kicking the can until their feet were blistered and raw, but time, time always wins. The Rangers had their chances at glory and missed it; they spent money and assets to keep a window open that had already been closed for three years.
Sure, change has already come. Familiar faces are gone. People at fault were finally removed from their positions of power.
The changes that have come since the final bell tolled on this year’s disaster of a season have been encouraging. Vigneault’s tenure as head coach ended seven hours after the Rangers’ season did. Not long after, his staff was also removed (Lindy Ruff remains on board for now, but there’s no reason to assume he sticks around). The search for his replacement has already begun, but Jeff Gorton sees no need to rush a coach in before the Draft. To this point, everything Gorton has said and done should give you hope that the Rangers are finally moving in the right direction. (We did a Patron-only podcast that covers some of this as well).
There should be no anger in the decisions the Rangers made this year: to sell. To fire. To start over. The right choices were made, and I suppose, weremade at the “right” time.
Should they have come a year ago? Absolutely. Two years ago? I would have told you yes.
The Rangers very well could have looked at their team in January and thought they could make a push for the playoffs (like Islanders did; the Rangers were in line with them in terms of points when they decided to announce their intentions of selling). But they didn’t, and it was the right call.
When the season ended last year, and even the year before, there was a bad taste left in your mouth. They’d gone for it again despite all the evidence they weren’t good enough. They failed again despite everyone knowing that was the likely outcome. They entered the summer again with fewer assets than they went in with, pulling from an already barren cupboard.
This season there are no such feelings. Four new prospects, three new draft picks, two new NHL faces, one new AHL face were brought in. The Rangers finally added and because of it, the way the season ended was far more tolerable. This time we all knew the team would fail, but the Rangers bailed out enough water to live for another day. This ship? Oh sure, it’s ruined right now; it will need new parts and a new crew, but it will sail again – hopefully to even better places than the last one.
While there is a sense of sadness as I flip through the different NBC channels and watch other team’s play for the Stanley Cup, there’s no dread that a highly-probably loss will once again turn into a lost year. The Rangers are building now, and the relief that comes from knowing they’ve closed up shop for the year and did all the right things far outweighs another two percent shot at the Cup – one that was dependent on a perfect Henrik Lundqvist, mixed with the right amount of opponent failures. That recipe didn’t work for Tom Renney, John Tortorella, or Vigneault, so Gorton finally put an end to the madness. And now with that decision, the Rangers are moving in a new direction.
The important calls have yet to be made. I thought the hiring of Vigneault was one of the most important coaching decisions in recent memory, but this trumps that by a mile. Vigneault was to be the captain of a ship already built. The new coach will be part captain, part ship-builder, building as he leads.
I have my thoughts on who I think would be a good fit. Sheldon Keefe is one of my top choices. I do think an NCAA mind — one that’s accustomed to cycling through rebuilds every four years, and constantly developing new, young players — would be a good fit as well.
Sure, the future decisions are important. They’re vital, actually. But the decisions they’ve made to this point have been a long time coming.
The bill has finally been paid.