It feels... strange to be thanking
Living Sock Puppet Gary Bettman for anything.
Strange and quite possibly evil. And yet I have been led on a spiritual and intellectual journey over the past few weeks, with only
Schmuck Monkey Bettman and his astoundingly dorky "weenie point" scoring system to thank for my dawning realization:
I really, really hate the New York Rangers.No, REALLY hate them. Hate them to the point that if they knocked the Philadelphia Flyers out of the playoffs this year, it would qualify as "still bad".
It all started not long ago: while browsing the standings, I noted with a chuckle where the Eastern qualifiers would be if they had to play in the West. So I thought about who in the East would be the toughest match-up against my beloved 'Nuckleheads, should they be good enough (and lucky enough) to make it out of the West (the Capitals would be fun, but the Penguins would be a bigger challenge); and as I was chasing that thought around, plotting a Stanley Cup Parade of Emergency Vehicles through Vancouver the night of Game Seven, I found myself idly hoping that Atlanta would make it in to the playoffs. I rather like their team, and would like to see their long-suffering fans to at least have a chance for a playoff win.
And it all went downhill from there.
As Atlanta got closer to being the second representative from the Southeast, the question of which team they would have to bump aside to get in presented itself. The obvious choice was Philadelphia, and when Atlanta beat the Flyers twice in a weekend, I was provided with a nice little chuckle. Noticing the Rangers had three losses in a row after the same weekend brought... feelings.
Being a guy, my first instinct was to crush them before they could grow. But on closer inspection, I recognized the feelings being aroused: spite, derision, schadenfreude. And it was good. The team from Manhattan would soon be dying an ignoble and deserved end. Ha ha!
But then, even as the despised Flyers dropped through the standings, I was not happy: the Rangers started winning. Who I was rooting for was coming from some feelings of sympathy that the majority of Canucks fans have for any team that's been bad for years (and is a recent expansion team - Minnesota Wild, you were too good too soon. No love from us!). But who I was rooting against...
Ah, who I was rooting against stood out clear in my mind, wide and bright as the gleaming head of Messier:
The Rangers. Sure, they had stopped Vancouver in seven games in 1994, in a game seven that was ripe for the taking; sure, the perpetual choke artists stopped Trevor Linden from getting his Cup; sure, they've long been a home for anti-social, team-destroying players from Esa Tikkanen to Sean Avery. But that wasn't really enough to hate them beyond a season or two: very little continuous contact between our teams should mean the rivalry fades, yes?
But then in 2000, magic happened:
Perpetual Whine Machine Glen Sather, who complained constantly when he was in Edmonton that "If I had the Ranger's payroll, I could make a winner every season" was hired as general manager. That he's proving himself wrong at every opportunity in New York - it's glorious to see, and would be such a shame to have end. Ownership choosing to push aside the competent Neil Smith to bring in a blowhard who didn't know when he was riding a good thing just made the mockery easier.
It was a watershed moment, one that could unify everyone who watched in bitter helplessness as the awesome Edmonton Oilers steamrolled their way through the 80s and, well, pretty much everyone on the East Cost who wasn't actually living in the direct shadow of Madison Square Gardens. Getting Sean Avery, my least favourite player, the one guy I would actually sacrifice my career to see his end, was just icing on the cake. That they actually went out of their way to bring his Gong Show back to the Rangers after successfully excising him made me wonder if there was a Grand Scheme to the universe: Manhattan now had everything I despised.
Ownership that doesn't give a rip about the product on the ice, as long as the seats are full; an egomaniacal GM who thought the dynasty in Edmonton was his doing and can balance a budget as well as he can a live fish on his nose; and Sean Avery. This, this is a team I can hate.
And if it weren't for the Harry Buttman of Bon Cop/Bad Cop and his stupid, stupid scoring system making such a close race for eighth place in the East, I may never have known.