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Earlier this month, New York Rangers management issued a letter to their fans about the new direction the team would be going in. Instead of pushing for a playoff spot, they decided that it was time to “be focused on adding young, competitive players that combine speed, skill and character. This may mean we lose some familiar faces, guys we all care about and respect. While this is part of the game, it’s never easy.” Basically, they’re rebuilding, re-tooling, or whatever other word you want to use to describe a roster overhaul.
At the time, many, including myself, thought it was very progressive of the Rangers to outline their future plans to their fans. But after spending a few minutes in the locker room on Thursday morning, I’ve changed my mind.
Prior to Thursday’s game against the Canadiens, the Rangers held their morning skate at the Bell Centre in Montreal. After the skate was over, the assembled media was allowed into the room. Mats Zuccarello and David Desharnais were just two of the players made available. After talking to them for a few minutes, you could see how that kind of letter has affected the players in a negative way.
Here’s some of the quotes that stood out:
• Mats Zuccarello on the mood changing in the room:
“I mean, we try to keep it the same, but there’s a lot of thinking about what’s going to happen and stuff. I think that’s normal. No one wants to be in this situation. Sometimes it’s hard, especially when you’re losing and there are a lot of rumors and all that. I think in about six days (after the trade deadline), the mood is going to get a little bit better, hopefully.”
• Zuccarello on his name popping up in rumors:
“I’ve been here for a while and I don’t really know any other organization. It’s hard to sleep sometimes and you think a lot, but at the end of the day it’s part of the game and when you’re not performing at the level the team should be or hoping to be, it’s normal that these questions and all the rumors comes up. You just have to deal with it.”
• David Desharnais on Rangers going in different direction:
“I think they thought we were not as good as they thought we’d be and they’re just going to move in another direction. It’s been a tough couple of weeks, but it’s just part of hockey.
• Desharnais on the letter:
“They told us before (they published it), so it wasn’t a surprise for us, but at the same time it kind of is. It’s like (management is) throwing in the towel. We just have to keep fighting and prove them wrong.”
• Alain Vigneault on how difficult it is to keep team morale up after the letter (quote translated from French to English):
“It’s a situation that’s unusual. When the story first came out in January, we were in a playoff spot. We were the first Wild Card team. When the official announcement came out a few weeks ago, we were only three points out of a playoff spot. So it’s definitely an unusual situation for a team to be in. [Management] asked me what I thought our chances of winning the Stanley Cup were this year, and I said ‘I may not have won with better teams, but I’m convinced we could make the playoffs.’ The first time they asked me, we were sitting in a playoff spot and I’m convinced that we’d still be in a playoff spot. Like I always said, once you’re in the playoffs, anything can happen. Just look at Nashville last year, they were the 16th team in the playoffs and they went all the way to the Stanley Cup Final. Organizations make decisions and there’s no doubt that right now, for everyone in the organization, it’s an unusual situation that’s not easy to manage.”
Later on in the afternoon, the Rangers let it be known that they’d be making forwards Rick Nash and Michael Grabner healthy scratches for the game against the Habs because trades were close to happening. New York then hopped on the ice and was just flat for most of the game. The team eventually shipped Grabner to the New Jersey Devils for a second-rounder and a prospect.
There’s nothing wrong with looking at your team’s chances of winning and deciding to blow it up. The Rangers’ intentions were good. They wanted to keep their fans up to date on what the plan moving forward was going to be, but it seems like they didn’t consider their players when they made that decision.
Yes, most of the players will be on their way out anyway, and yes, no one feels bad for athletes making millions of dollars, but it just doesn’t seem like they treated their players fairly in this case.
Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.