Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Franchise Players: The King and the Captain

What is a franchise player, really?

This is an important question to the current New York Rangers, a team which saw a complete overhaul in personnel over this off season. I’m personally at a loss. I can’t even begin to predict, I’m mostly just confused and overwhelmed by the mass amount of change.

There are a few Rangers from my childhood I can point to and call true “franchise” players. Mike Ritcher spent his whole career in Ranger blue. Brian Leetch spent most of his career as Rangers, although left towards the very end. (Ranger fans still have bitter feelings when reminded of Leetch’s time in Toronto and Boston. The man was the greatest true blue, drafted Ranger perhaps ever, and we traded him for a prospect currently playing in Russia because he couldn’t take to the NHL. Slow or old is beside the point, the first American to win a playoff MVP deserved more. G/M Glenn Sather still hears it from the New York media and fans alike.)

Can franchises share a player?

Arguably, Mark Messier resides as an Edmonton Oiler. Five Stanley Cups, playing along side a monster of a team which became a dynasty. On the other hand, Messier’s first tenure in New York is marked by the teams very first Stanley Cup in half a century. (Thus the“19-40” chants.) Should Messier not be considered a franchise player to New York despite the turn around he helped cause? Messier is New York’s Capitan, and his importance to this organization is unparalleled.

Speaking of turnarounds, what about Jaromir Jagr, who just left New York for Russia (despite my tears)? Three and a half seasons can’t justify the determination of a player being a “franchise player.” Clearly Jagr belongs to the Penguins, and he wasn’t even in New York all that long. But what is clear is what Jagr meant to the Rangers while he was here. He owns the franchise scoring title, and literally carried the team on his back to their first playoff appearance in nearly a decade. He captained this team; and most importantly, New York is not a joke anymore. We have Jagr to thank for Shanahan, Gomez, Drury, Naslund, and Redden, and the fact that they aren’t here for an easy paycheck, but to work and grow and take this team somewhere. They are here to win.

Jagr took a laughable team (predicted thirty out of thirty, the list of which he posted inside his locker as motivation) and took them to the playoffs and restored the Rangers to honor. Messier took 50 years of heartache amongst New Yorkers and ended it with a bold predication of victory, outstanding leadership and unparalleled performance. They accomplished great things elsewhere… but can we share them, please?

Currently, the Rangers are attempting to build their franchise around Scott Gomez and Chris Drury, who have both seen other teams and wear other teams’ Stanley Cup rings, not to mention they have only played one full season on Broadway. We have some young guys, too, but none of which have played several seasons. The Rangers with the most experience “being Rangers” include 26 year olds Petr Prucha (who doesn’t even see consistent ice time) and Henrik Lundqvist.

Ah, and we get to Henrik Lundqvist. Since Mike Ritcher, the Rangers have not had a franchise goaltender. When Ritcher received a skull fracture, his hockey career came to a sudden stop. The Rangers had thought they had found a decent backup, a high round draft pick named Dan Blackburn. Blackburn was a pretty good goalie, although not our Ritcher. But when he fell to a sudden and surprising shoulder injury and was never able to recover fully, the Rangers were goaltender-less.

Our franchise player wasn’t a first (or second, or third) round draft pick. Lundqvist was picked in the 6th round and was never expected to make the waves he has. After the lockout, the Rangers began their season with Kevin Weekes as the starting goaltender. Henrik eventually earned that spot, and a whole lot more. It was clear Lundqvist had great talent and a great competitive spirit. (His icy blue eyes don’t hurt his case, either. Chicks dig Henrik.)

It is also clear that “King Henrik” would be our franchise player. Lundqvist is one of the most dominating goalies in the league. He led the league in shutouts last season and is at the very top of most goaltending stats. He has managed to be nominated for the Vezina trophy all three years he has played in the NHL, and most importantly, he keeps the Rangers competitive every night.

The most blatant example of a franchise player that I can think of right now is Rick DiPietro who was signed to a fifteen year deal by the New York Islanders. Besides that example, only players the caliber of Sidney Crosby or Alex Ovechkin will remain as franchise players as they were once known. The salary cap helps prevent this, as does longer contracts handed out on July 1st. It’s doubtful we’ll see more “dynasties” such as the Islanders, Canadiens, or Oilers once were, as the salary cap also prevents this. Teams will not stick together as they once did, and the league will continue to be much closer in the standings.

But franchise players will continue in a different sense. In the sense that free agents are being handed longer and more expensive contracts. In the sense that the most talented players will always be the number one target of the teams they were drafted by. And in the sense that Messier was everything to New York, and in the sense that Jagr changed Ranger hockey at least for the immediate future, franchise players will continue to exist. And the most I can hope for is that our “new franchise players” of Gomez, Drury, Redden and most importantly, Henrik Lundqvist, carry their franchise as far as they can.

1 comment:

Lucky13 said...

Well done! I was going to post as soon as I saw the topic, I mean - our team went through a major overhaul - franchise player? Obviously not a priority for Sather. But you covered everything on our boys (who I really don't feel that I know too well, considering half of them are gone).