Dave’s recent post recapping great playoff moments while looking toward the future had me thinking. Like Dave, like all of us really, I’ve gained some incredible memories with friends and family over the years through this Rangers team and their sustained playoff success. Those are memories I wouldn’t trade for almost anything, with the “almost” really just being a Stanley Cup with Hank’s name on it. The reminiscing a lot of us have been doing in the days since Sather and Gorton released The Letter got me thinking into why this fanbase has found itself split in its reaction to last week’s communiqué. As we gear up for the Rangers’ first big fire sale in the Lundqvist era some of us are filled with trepidation, while some look towards a brighter future. Why is that?
It’s easy to resort to some kind of sports essentialism when attempting to answer these questions; some of us simply are xyz kind of fan while others are abc kind of fan. That answer, while satisfying in its simplicity, doesn’t do it justice I don’t think. Sports are a crazy complex web of cause and effect, both inside and outside of our own heads. The reasons we feel one way and not another are of course on many levels personal but can still be analyzed by looking at whats going on in terms of input.
With that said it’s clear that what’s been input into our brains over the past decade or so of Rangers hockey has been pleasing (unless you’re one of those lunatic fans who hates Henrik Lundqvist, in which case I don’t even know, man). We have the benefit of hindsight here of course, and that’s a crucial point to make as we try and sort out the anxieties and hopes of this not-a-rebuild rebuild. Before getting too much into why that’s so important to point out let’s talk about trades for a second.
Although in rare circumstances there occurs what the media in the last few years has termed “a hockey trade”, where each trading partner receives something to their present benefit almost equally (worth noting that two of the last big “hockey trades”, Larsson/Hall and Weber/Subban, were actually extremely lopsided), most trades are on some level about trading present success for future success or vice versa. Again, not a ground breaking fact, but worth pointing out as we put all the cards on the table and sort out what’s what.
However, unlike all of our favorite playoff moments, so dutifully recounted by Dave and others, we don’t have the clarity associated with reminiscence when scoping out trades. It’s one of the reasons I’m so terrible at trade hypotheticals, but more broadly also one of the reasons we see so many bad trades happen in the NHL. Sure stats, fancy or otherwise, video, and scouting reports help GMs get a good idea of what their getting and what they’re giving up, but so often there’s just no way to tell how things will turn out.
Who would’ve thought that Mikhail Sergachev would have more points as a defenseman than Jonathan Drouin has as a forward this season? In this example two teams thought they were swapping a successful present for a successful future, only to have just the opposite transpire. The known, present success all but guaranteed by acquiring Drouin seemed a fair price to pay for the known, future success of Sergachev, but we can all tell now what an silly idea that was. Not a lot of us saw it coming however, and the evaluative ease with which we now mock Marc Bergevin was simply not available ahead of time.
And that there cuts right to the core of why some of us are incredibly nervous about what’s to come and why others are brimming with excitement. Especially around the time of the trade deadline, trades in hockey involve exchanging what we know and what we don’t know, which when examined through the lens used by Dave and others in retelling the story of Hank’s playoff heyday, really means exchanging memories we think we’re guaranteed to have for ones we have no idea about. Trades can vary so much though, as in the Sergachev example, that there’s both potential for overwhelming success and crushing failure wrapped up in any given deal.
We might all end up with memories of a quick turnaround and eventual Cup glory, maybe even while King Henrik remains on his throne. We might also end up mired in a downward spiral and be perpetually rebuilding for the next decade plus. To those fans who are excited about the prospect of a rebuild, the sure-to-be stale memories of an early out in the playoffs are easily exchanged for sweeter ones down the road, while the Blueshirt Faithful fearing the rebuild feel that today’s memories are guaranteed to be more valuable than ones that might never come to pass.
Both sets of fans have good reasons to feel this way, pointing to teams like the Toronto Maple Leafs’ relatively fast rebound or the Oilers lingering terribleness. We all want those everlasting memories of a Cup win, or at the very least sustained playoff success, but we simply have no way to tell if we’re going to be getting a fair shake when we trade one set of memories of another. Even if we do all of the right things, this whole rebuild may still backfire on us and then what? At the same time, this could very well be our year by some infinite improbability, except oh no, wait, you traded all of your good players for draft picks you’ll misuse.
People rightly cherish the memories they have of this team because time is a tricky thing wrap your head around – if you only get one shot at things you want to be damn sure that it’s all going to go well. When it does go well there’s a kind of relief, and we find ourselves looking back at things without the terror that comes when the buzzer sounds at the beginning of overtime in a game seven. When it doesn’t go well we’re left almost grieving, experiencing a not-knowing that empties us out while we attempt to form a different future in our heads. As Ranger fans we’ve felt both to some degree, but on the whole more of the former than the latter. We’re at a crossroads now, one where the fog of uncertainty remains thick, and whose toll will be memories, near or far-flung. One way or another we’re going to be giving something up, and there’s no way to know if what we’re getting in return will be worth it. It’s this basic unknowing, and the exchange of everlasting memories that intersects with it, that creates a space so easily filled with either dread or excitement.
As an addendum, I want to point out the good news about hockey memories: the ones you’ve already got can never be taken from you. They’re yours to keep, forever, and you can take them out and play with them whenever you like. Maybe you’ll store them away until the night they retire Hank’s number, maybe you’ll revisit them every spring as the postseason gets going, but the choice is yours. You may find yourself with the aforementioned emotional vacuum the comes from pondering what could have been, but given the years and years of great games I think you’ll feel not only relief but pride that you filled your time on this existential plane with wonder, surrounded if not by friends and family then at least wrapped in the blanket of our broader community. You get to decide what you make of them but they’re not on the market – no rebuild, success or failure, will ever mean trading those away."The Persistence of (Hockey) Memories",