In the world of New York sports, there are plenty of fierce divisions. You cheer for the Yankees, for example, or the Mets; you’re either a Jets fan or a Giants fan. There’s one thing, though, that virtually everyone can agree on: James Dolan is neither popular nor successful as an owner.
After what seems like an eternity, Dolan’s New York Knicks have finally turned a corner. Having two successful teams in Madison Square Garden, however, is apparently impossible. With mere days to go in the 2020-21 NHL season, the owner decided to take a torch to the New York Rangers rebuild, throwing the franchise into disarray.
The New York Rangers have been making progress in their rebuilding efforts
For sports fans, rebuilding can be a scary concept. While it’s sometimes necessary to start over at square one, plenty of teams have dropped the ball become mired in mediocrity; a five-year plan is acceptable, but missing the playoffs for the next 10 years until a generational talent arrives via the draft is a bit different. The New York Rangers, however, have been doing things the right way.
Everything began in February 2018, when the Rangers stepped up and put their cards on the table. The organization, in a rare show of transparency, penned an open letter to the fans. While it wouldn’t be easy to say goodbye to the beloved cast of veterans who had carried the team to within touching distance of the Stanley Cup, it was time to gut the roster and rebuild.
Since then, the team has lived up to its word; virtually every star from the early 2010s has moved on. While there have been plenty of bumps and the road and some good luck along the way, things have been moving along. Playing in a stacked East Division during a Covid-affected 2020-21 campaign, the Rangers were mathematically in the hunt until the final days of the season.
Was it a Stanley Cup run? No, but it was progress with a plan; that’s all most fans can really ask for.
James Dolan just put a stop to the New York Rangers progress
On the whole, the Rangers had given fans something to believe in. Dolan, however, was apparently unconvinced.
On Wednesday, the Rangers unexpectedly parted ways with both president John Davidson and general manager Jeff Gorton. According to Larry Brooks of the New York Post, “Dolan’s vision of the future, and more specifically the immediate future, clashed with the blueprint” followed by the two front-office employees. It also seems like the owner didn’t appreciate the team’s “prioritization of skill guys over will guys.”
Regardless of how you feel about Dolan himself of the “skill vs. will” debate, it’s a crushing blow for any Rangers fan hoping to see the end of the rebuilding tunnel. Making it over the hump requires the entire organization to work toward a common goal; even if this change of management doesn’t return the Rangers to step one, it will certainly knock them back a few steps.
Meddling in his team’s affairs is nothing new for James Dolan, though
In New York sports, there has a running joke that, when the Rangers were doing well, it was because Dolan was too busy paying attention to the Knicks to interfere. Now, unfortunately for hockey fans, the shoe appears to be on the other foot.
For what feels like an eternity, the Knicks floundered at the bottom of the Eastern Conference. Draft picks were traded for magic beans; every summer brought the promise that a big-name free agent would come to save the franchise, with no hero ever arriving. Countless stories were written accusing Dolan of being the worst owner in professional sports.
The Knicks, however, seem to have turned a corner. They have some capable young players, a respected coach at the helm, and are on track for a long-awaited playoff appearance. That reality, combined with the Rangers’ turnover on Wednesday, inspired plenty of Twitter jokes that Dolan saw everything running smoothly and needed to shake things up.
There’s a kernel of truth to every joke, though. During the Knicks’ struggles, Dolan was known for meddling in the team’s basketball affairs; Frank Isola of the NY Daily News, for example, reported that he clashed with then-president Phil Jackson over personnel decisions.
Now, it seems like a similar thing has happened on the hockey side of MSG, albeit on a grander scale. At this point, all that Rangers fans can hope for is that they won’t go through a 20-year stretch like the Knicks have just endured.