Regarding the Rangers, I am reminded of Joe Namath’s tale of his first meeting with Bear Bryant. As a high-school recruit, Joe Willie has related many times, he was invited to ascend the tower from which the fabled Alabama coach oversaw practice.
The quarterback admitted he could barely understand Bryant through the coach’s pronounced southern drawl. Except for one word.
As in, “Mumble, mumble, mumble, mumble STUD … mumble, mumble, mumble, mumble, STUD …”
STUDS to the left, STUDS to the right, and a STUD right there in the tower standing beside the Bear in Tuscaloosa, Ala., but no studs at all on the Rangers. A new coach is coming, a new culture is waiting to be created, a blue wave of prospects and draft picks is on the way, but it’s that STUD or two the Blueshirts so desperately miss and require in order to make a quick U-turn on 2017-18.
It turns out breaking up was not hard to do for this group of Blueshirts, many of them transients who came through the door after the previous breakup days that marked the season. The Rangers pretty much started talking about the season in the past tense once management issued its decree on Feb. 9 that the deadline would be about tearing down rather than building up.
Their play did all the talking necessary most of the rest of the way.
By the time the official breakup day arrived, it felt as if the Rangers had been through a number of these already, like when Rick Nash left, and Michael Grabner left, and Ryan McDonagh and J.T. Miller left. They seemed traumatized by the whole experience. That, I think, explains the players’ utter lack of emotion in reaction to the firing of Alain Vigneault three days earlier. By the time Tuesday rolled around, Vigneault seemed like old news and most of his guys — Nash, Grabner, McDonagh, Derek Stepan, Dan Girardi, Derick Brassard — were long gone.
Kevin Shattenkirk produced the most noteworthy take on the season, suggesting the room had lacked veteran voices demanding accountability while admitting that his early-season issues regretfully had prevented him from assuming that leadership role.
Shattenkirk, who was out of the room for good after the Jan. 18 match that preceded knee surgery, is one of the Rangers who is least likely to be traded this summer. Make a list and it is: 1. Henrik Lundqvist; 2. Filip Chytil; 3. Chris Kreider; 4. Lias Andersson; 5. Brady Skjei; 6. Pavel Buchnevich; 7. Shattenkirk; 8. Mika Zibanejad; 9. Kevin Hayes.
But if somehow a STUD becomes available — if somehow, some general manager is looking to move, say, the equivalent of Taylor Hall — then everyone on this list excluding Lundqvist and Chytil would become fair game. If a top-pair right defenseman becomes available — say maybe Jacob Trouba or Dougie Hamilton — again everyone other than the Swedish goaltender and the Czech kid center would be on the board.
There is, of course, a Nine Percent Solution to the Rangers’ issues, and that is the nine percent chance the club has of winning the April 28 lottery drawing and coming away with the grand prize in projected franchise defenseman Rasmus Dahlin, mumble, mumble, mumble, mumble, STUD.
The last time the Rangers had this good of a chance to emerge with the first-overall pick was 2005, when the team had a 6.3 percent chance to claim Sidney Crosby. The Blueshirts had the same chance as the Penguins, Sabres and Blue Jackets in the universal lottery that followed the canceled 2004-05 season. Nobody had as good or better chance than those four teams.
The Rangers came away with the 16th choice in the first round (before trading up to 12 to snare Marc Staal), Buffalo 13th, Columbus sixth, and, Pittsburgh, grumble, grumble, grumble, grumble, STUD.
Shattenkirk, whom the Rangers desperately need to be the player they believed they were getting when they signed him July 1, cited the Devils, Maple Leafs and Bruins as examples of teams that were able to pull off dramatic turnarounds. But New Jersey missed the playoffs for five straight seasons before this year and the Maple Leafs missed 10 out of 11 until last season.
Boston, out twice in a row before last season following a run of seven straight qualifying seasons that included a Stanley Cup victory in 2011 and a losing trip to the final two years later, probably is the template for the Rangers. But they struck it rich only after replacing successful veteran coach Claude Julien with young Bruce Cassidy out of the AHL and only after
Brad Marchand turned into a, mumble, grumble, STUD beside another one in Patrice Bergeron.
So the mandate for 2018-19 is for the Rangers to find one or develop one of their own, so that next year breaking up is harder to do.