My mother, of all people, telephoned at the trade deadline to ask why the
Rangers would go to the trouble of reacquiring a player they already
discarded five years ago.
"Mom," I said, "you have to understand that this is the
most poorly-run organization in sports. Nothing they do surprises me at
this point. Bringing Kovalev back to New York is like slapping a new coat
of paint on a house that's falling down. Sure, you've made the old barn
look purdy, but you haven't really addressed the bigger issues, have
And so it was that I explained in great detail why that trade - a steal
for the Rangers from a personnel standpoint - would actually do more harm
than good over the long-term.
I'm a big picture guy, you see, and while I recognized that Kovalev
would pump a little excitement back into Madison Square Garden, sell a few
more tickets, raise hopes of a playoff berth and perhaps even win a game
or two by himself, I also knew that for every action, there is a reaction.
1. TRADE DELAYS THE REBUILDING PROCESS. Ok, we know. We know. The
Rangers will rebuild when Bobby Clarke invites Eric Lindros to his summer
home for tea and crumpets. But we still dream - perhaps in vain - of the
day when MSG will give Rangers management authorization to strip the club
down and start from scratch with a young nucleus.
2. FAT NEW CONTRACT WILL ACCELERATE WORK STOPPAGE. Rampant salary
escalation will be one of the primary catalysts for a major labor dispute
in 2004. No team is guiltier of overpaying players than the Rangers, who
committed over $67 million to Bobby Holik and Darius Kasparaitis last
summer. Now, that practice is going to blow up in the league's collective
face. Thank you, Jim Dolan.
3. POST-SALARY CAP RANGERS WILL BE HANDCUFFED. If you think
Kasparaitis, Holik and Lindros are untradeable now, wait until 2005. The
post-lockout landscape will probably include a salary cap, at which point
the Rangers will have one more albatross tied to their throat.
4. NEW YORK AIN'T PITTSBURGH. You can say that again. Imagine how
frustrated he'll become once Kovalev returns to the 25-goal, 60-point
territory of yesteryear. The nine-game scoreless streak he nursed through
March is only a taste of what's to come.
5. DEFENSE, NOT OFFENSE, IS THE RANGERS' GREATEST WEAKNESS. At the time
of the trade, New York ranked 29th out of 30 teams in goals allowed (180
in 58 games). If you can explain how Kovalev will improve the Rangers
defensively, then you're smarter than me, Scotty Bowman, and the ghost of
Toe Blake put together.
After three-plus seasons as an effective checking forward on San
Jose's third and fourth lines, Niklas Sundstrom's (1995-99) career has
been given new life now that he's a member of the Montreal Canadiens. If
the Habs are smart, they'll push Sunny to use the creativity that's lain
dormant since he put on the black and teal. Expect him to be a bigger
offensive contributor next season. Sundstrom's goal total has dropped
every year since he scored 24 in 1996-97, his second full season in the
Boston's Mike Knuble (1998-2000) was one of the most pleasant surprises
in the NHL this season. As a Ranger, he toiled on the third and fourth
lines. With Sergei Samsonov out for an extended period, the Bruins turned
to Knuble to step up his play. He capitalized on the opportunity when
placed on Boston's top line alongside Joe Thornton and Glen Murray and
shattered his previous career high of 15 goals.
We love WFAN late night host Joe Benigno for his brash, outspoken
style. After witnessing the Rangers' abominable 3-1 loss to the struggling
Penguins on March 26 - a game the Rangers needed to win to keep their dim
playoff hopes alive - Benigno launched a venomous on-air rant that ranks
among his best yet.
Calling the loss "the lowest point in the history of the
franchise," Benigno railed against the listless Rangers and their
pitiful effort against a team loaded with AHL players and playing without
its best player in Mario Lemieux.
It wasn't the first time Benigno could be accused of exaggerating, but
his point was well taken. The Rangers, with high expectations and an even
higher payroll, embarrassed themselves and the organization by delivering
anything less than a 100 percent effort at this late and crucial juncture.
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