Large Divide Among NY Rangers Fans on Tanking

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NYR FANS (Getty Images)
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If I asked you to guess, since the start of the new millennium – 18 years now, less 1 lockout year – how many of the NHL’s First-round draft picks have won the Stanley Cup, what would your guess be?  Before you answer, know that there is a raging debate amongst fans whose teams are teetering between hopeful and bad, on the subject of whether or not to “tank” their season in hopes of having the best lottery odds toward getting what everyone considers to be the next  “generational talent.”

The answer is 4: with multiples in Pittsburg (3), Chicago (3), Los Angeles, Detroit & New Jersey with (2) each, and 5 singles.  The combo of Sidney Crosby & M.A. Fleury in Pittsburgh and Patrick Kane on the Blackhawks are the only ones to have won it more than once as No. Ones (granted 6 times in that span), and they make up 3/4ths of that list.  At best 7 of 19 Cups with those 4 guys’ names on it, at worst only 3 Number Ones with Cup wins in 18 years, till Ovechkin finally won his – 14 years later. 

I’m never one to poo-poo appreciating getting a McDavid, a MacKinnon, or of course a Crosby or an Ovie, but the avenue of trying to get one of them is just – as a fan – counterintuitive to fandom.  Inherent in that effort is actually putting in an active effort to not put as much effort.  Got that?  Neither did I – which is why I never want to see the New York Rangers tank a season – be it on the ice or in the front office.  

What are the Rangers to do?
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Kevin Hayes looks like a new man; the guy who we always thought he was going to be, especially after he stopped eating Ding Dongs 20 months ago.  Now must be the time to dump him for a 1st, a 2nd and 5 feral cats.  What do we do with Mats Zuccarello, quite possibly the most loved & valuable Ranger of the last handful of years?  Ship him out of town mid-groin injury, limping into Winnipeg?  Most likely.  Let’s not start talking about #22, the so-far barely healthy hometown defenseman.  Trade the bum.  Do it now before he loses more hair.  These are the debates.

I’m a NY Rangers season ticket holder – 10 years running.  It was tough cutting that check going into this season knowing that we were most likely going to be bad.  I told my rep, point blank on the phone “If AV (Alain Vigneault) is brought back, I’m canceling my subscription.”  I was dead serious, too.  “Well…I, you know don’t have that kind of pull here.” he stammered, as if I thought he was getting on the horn to send word to Slats that I was leaving unless that tone deaf gum-chewer was sent home.  I have more skin than most fans do in this team, the results, and how they go about their business – and I still wouldn’t ever advocate a “lose-for-Hughes” campaign (or fill in the prospect, really).  

And you know what?  They aren’t actually half bad.  Neal Pionk is mighty fun to watch, Vesey and Hayes are finally opening up real eyes a little, Tony DeAngelo shows flashes of pizzazz, and even poor Marc Staal is playing pretty damn well.  

Preaching Patience

I know the patience of any true fan is mighty thin, but Ranger fans have to rival Montreal for their knee-jerks.  I have a cousin who lives in L’Acadie, and when I chat hockey with him, all he does is grumble & curse in French (and Arabic) about Marc Bergevin.  And he’s a season ticket holder (like me, with NYR).

There are three factors that, in the sport of hockey in the modern-day NHL, make tanking not worth attempting:

  1. Parity:  Even at your worst as a team, the NHL’s best and worst can win on any given night against anyone.  The packs are tight; the variance in results are not that pronounced.  The regular season is the definition of a slog; stay healthy, win a couple of those inconsequential random 1-goal games in January instead of losing them, and you’re one winning streak away from terrifying the No. 1 seed in 7-games of Rd. 1 of …  
  2. The Playoffs:  Get in.  Damnit, just get in.  Get into that first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and you can forget that time in December when you bagged 1-point-out-of-6 that week against Florida, Montreal & Calgary.  It’s when perennial 30-pt scorers like JEAN-GABRIEL-PAGEAU can turn into Mario Lemieux and score 4-goals against you in one game and the next thing you know you’re punching drywall in your living room.  But I digress…it’s always hard to make the playoffs, but while it’s so often within reach in such an balanced league, I always want my team trying to get there.  Anything can happen in the “Second Season.”  
  3. The Draft:  If you’re doing it for the higher draw in the next draft…if you’ve ever played poker and jammed the turn thinking your river odds are so strong that you couldn’t get outdrawn – well, you already know the answer to that one (or at least I do).  After working so hard in all aspects of trading away your valuable chips for prospects and picks, bringing up AHLers to play out the string, your reward is to sit there and watch that bald guy hold up logos they printed on square oaktag at Office Max and hold your breath to see if the other guy didn’t catch that flush he was drawing to.  (Fun with Numbers: the odds the flush gets there is ~18% for you to lose…roughly the same odds your #1 worst team has to win the lottery draft!  If the poker analogy is lost on you…that’s not good odds.
Ok…there’s a 4th reason: Hank.
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Henrik Lundqvist is still one fabulous goaltender, and with him still around for the next couple of years – we will always have a chance to win at anytime.  How can we tank with Hank?  It sounds like a slogan, but I genuinely don’t think we can ever be that bad…tanking bad… with him in goal.  Disagree with everything else I’ve said, then step back, give Hank 55-60 starts in goal this year, and tell me: is it ever possible to be the dead worst team in hockey at the end of it all to have that glorious 18% chance at Jack Hughes?

No, sir.  Even if we wanted to, he simply wouldn’t let us.