The 2013-14 NHL Season: Rangers, Islanders, Devils And Switching Trains


Most people who encounter the NYC metropolitan area — whether as natives, commuters or tourists — will find themselves on some sort of public transportation. Rarely do any of us stick to one vessel to get where we need to. We transfer from local buses to local trains to get to school. We pack ourselves in front of doors of subway cars in hopes of rushing to wait on station platforms for more packed trains. Commuters who left the city long ago thought they were at an advantage in life until they needed to rely on New Jersey Transit, Long Island Rail Road or Metro North and then the subway itself.

So, what does this have to do with hockey? Plenty. In a metropolitan area of three NHL teams — the city’s Rangers, the Islanders of Nassau and Kings Counties, and the Devils (aka. Jersey’s Team) — change, or rather transferring, seems to be a theme. They have their destinations — Stanley Cup or bust (again), future contender, financial solvency — yet are making one switch after another to get there. It makes for entertaining hockey, but it can also make for the rush to go absolutely nowhere if they’re not careful.

The idea that the most "stable" of the three NHL teams is the one that’s planning to move in two years is not as crazy as it sounds. And that it’s the Islanders, a team that has defined incompetent management and questionable fashion, makes this all the more impressive. The Islanders not only snuck up on the hockey continent’s consciousness last spring with the first playoff appearance in seven years, but they stunned the masses with a tough series against the heavily favored Pittsburgh Penguins.

Stability for this team starts with Hart Trophy finalist John Tavares. The new captain's story is widely known within the hockey faithful, but a potential star turn within the metropolitan area would be just what the doctor ordered for the Isles. A homegrown, offensively gifted captain who already has command of a team not truly relevant beyond the league’s obligatory lower-seed playoff entries? I think the cool hunters in Brooklyn might sign up for that.

Brooklyn is two seasons away, and while the Islanders might try outreach to the borough with the same, b-school approach as their future co-tenants in the Nets did, their final seasons in Nassau County could be surprisingly emotional if this team builds upon 2012-13. After swimming in nearly three decades of punch lines and apathy, if the Isles suddenly become the electric young franchise they’ve always wanted to be, the “Please Don’t Go” signs will sprout like weeds. If they fall back as recent history has shown they might do, fans might stop just short of packing the Islanders’ boxes for the move.

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-New York Rangers at Boston Bruins

Bringing things a few miles east are the blue bloods of the area. Recently on The Exchange, Dillon Friday felt that the Rangers are the most talented team in the conference, even ahead of perennial Cup contenders in Pittsburgh and Boston.

Saying that tells a lot about what the Rangers have been for close to a decade — all the expectations, ability and resources in the world, yet none of the results. Going from the even-keeled Tom Renney to the combative John Tortorella back to a “mild” strategist (and former Ranger) in Alain Vigneault, the Rangers have tried. Other than Detroit or Nashville, every team in the NHL has looked at a change of head coaches in the last decade as a shot in the arm.

Blocking goals has been so ingrained in the Rangers that you might have to forgive them if they have a flurry of post-goal celebrations in the season’s first few games. The idea that they will play a more offensively aggressive style while retaining the defensive identity is a noble one. This all depends so much on a bounce-back year for Brad Richards, health for Marc Staal and Ryan Callahan, a settled role for Rick Nash, and of course, the overworked Henrik Lundqvist. With the latter being a free agent after the season (as of press time), if the guys in front of him can’t keep the puck on the opposite ice, it may be just that much harder to convince Lundqvist to not transfer to an express out of town.


There are two teams in the state of New Jersey whom fans cannot believe played in their league finals just over a season ago. One happens to be the 0-4 Giants, for whom much has been said ad nauseum. The other happens to be the Devils, and even with major defections in recent offseasons, this one took the cake. Among the many shockers during last June’s NHL Draft at the Prudential Center was the arrival (via trade) of the heir apparent to Martin Brodeur, former Vancouver Canuck Cory Schneider. That was big enough, but the good fortunes appeared with the much-needed sale of the team to Philadelphia 76ers owners Josh Harris and David Blitzer, thus far quelling long-time financial issues. Yet, that was nothing as Ilya Kovalchuk retired from the NHL in order to return to his native Russia and play in the KHL.

There were other moving pieces as well, but the Devils haven’t been this unstable in years thanks to these three major additions and defections. Harris and Blitzer have promised to close the most disruptive chapter in franchise history by clearing the team’s debts and, in turn, repairing the team’s relationship with the city of Newark. However, if you observe their current stewardship of the 76ers, it’s not hard to wonder if this is the start of a possibly painful rebuild just under two years after playing for the Stanley Cup.

It’s hard to know what to make of the NHL in New York and New Jersey this season. It’s more than likely that each team will fall into the same exact positions as one season ago, even with realignment forging this new Metropolitan Division. Yet, there’s a lesson they can take from their Major League Baseball brethren. Both the Yankees and Mets, in some regards, played above expectations this past season. The Yanks spent a majority of 2013 fielding a team that looked more like Double-A Trenton than a World Series contender yet weren’t out of the playoff hunt until one week ago. The Mets, meanwhile, rewarded manager Terry Collins with a two-year extension because he’s been a teaching hand for a team forced to be young because of the aftermath of Bernie Madoff.

Of course, the NHL is fundamentally different from any other major sports league. Its parity allows for some teams to rise before they're expected to and others to crash to earth with just as much speed. What’s been clear for a long time in the NYC metro region is that the Rangers, Islanders and Devils have felt the effects in ways that have kept them a few subway stops away from the Stanley Cup.

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