Here's a riddle for John McCain:
What's the difference between the New York Rangers and Czechoslovakia?
Czechoslovakia ceased to exist in 1993 whereas the Rangers waited until 1995.
Of course, having the Rangers play in Prague is 100 percent consistent with almost all of the recent signings of the Rangers, namely "a great idea if it happened three years ago."
And I know, many hockey pundits over the past several years have been praising the Rangers and their post-lockout return to being a playoff team, but with the "don't let the door hit you on the ass on the way out" departure of Ranger captain and Czech star Jaromir Jagr, and the signings of the past-his-prime Marcus Naslund and soon-to-be past-his-prime Wade Redden, it looks like we are seeing a return to the disastrous decisions that not only led the Rangers into years of soaring payrolls and a complete lack of team chemistry, but the utter abandonment of the only thing that actually worked for the Rangers over the past decade, the creation of a team identity built around Jagr and young Czech players.
Check out this post-lockout 2005 New York Times article about the first place Rangers and team identity. There might be a login required, so here's the pertinent passage:
New York reminds Jagr of European cities, and his preponderance of Czech teammates makes him feel almost at home.
His roommate on the Upper West Side is the Czech rookie Petr Prucha. His car pool to practice includes the Czech veterans Martin Rucinsky and Martin Straka. Jagr usually sits in the back, sipping a cup of coffee and reading the newspaper. The group chats exclusively in Czech.
The car pool has grown this season. The Rangers now have six Czech players on their roster and three players who used to be with Jagr in Pittsburgh. "It's all by design," Rangers Coach Tom Renney said. "You can tell they enjoy each other's company."
Not only are the Rangers in first place in the Atlantic Division, but Jagr also leads the N.H.L. with 12 goals and Straka has complemented him with 13 assists. During games, Jagr and Straka continually gesture to each other, flashing the same sort of hand signals they used to give with the Penguins.
"We had this situation in Pittsburgh with a lot of Czech guys around him," said Michal Rozsival, a Rangers defenseman from the Czech Republic who played with Jagr in Pittsburgh. "He was always happy, always upbeat. He looks the same right now."
The only remaining Czech players on the Rangers are Rozsival, who remains a solid defenseman, Petr Prucha, who despite a promising rookie season has been invisible of late, and Marek Malik, a hulking oaf who gets booed by his home crowd practically every time he hits the ice, and whose unrestricted free agent status leaves him still available to any NHL General Manager willing to part with a used puck bag.
So good luck on the Prague trip, Rangers. I'm sure the locals will be thrilled to come out and cheer for Dan Fritsche.
So it seems that the Rangers have managed completely recover from one of the two brilliant hockey decisions they have made in the past decade- establishing a team identity. (The other one was signing Henrik Lundquist.) Now, after booting their captain, letting character guy and fan favorite Sean Avery walk out the door, leaving Brendan Shanahan unsigned and likely retiring, the Rangers have effectively created another power vaccum for who is going to lead their team. Will it be Drury? Gomez? Naslund? Unless a major surprise happens and this team miraculously becomes greater than the sum of it's mismatched parts, the Rangers are threatening to reclaim their throne as the Toronto Maple Leafs of the United States hockey market, filled with aging players with no chemistry and no chance at the cup, with the one difference being that they'll never have to deal with all that annoying "fan interest" and "demand for tickets" that Toronto struggles with. All things considered, it's a miracle the Rangers didn't end up with Mats Sundin.
As a dedicated Bruins fan, no one wanted to see the Rangers and Bruins face off in the Winter Classic in the last game ever played in Yankee Stadium more than me. But as a general hockey fan who wants to see the game grow, I certainly don't want a team with no identity on the stage that was established last year as such a triumphant showcase for the league.
I have always hated Jaromir Jagr. I hated him for beating my team when he played great, and I hated his lack of passion for the game when he didn't. But hockey has always needed bad guys, and as I see Jaromir Jagr step off the NHL stage, I realize I never hated the man, I just loved to hate the player. And now, I'm coming around to the belief that the management of the New York Rangers failed him, perhaps starting with the signings of Chris Drury and Scott Gomez, as I wrote about last year.
The cracks in the team chemistry that were caused by that signing, have expanded to shatter the Jaromir Jagr era of the New York Rangers, and any rebuilding that they began.
Now the Rangers and their fans must live with the results.