For as long as we can remember we’ve had one reliable Crazy Team, an organization we could count on to defy our every expectation of how wacked out they could possibly be. And that team, Gentle Reader, was the Philadelphia Flyers. When we wished on them a playoff failure, they’d go and top our wildest dreams by losing 8-0 on their own ice to significantly inferior teams. When we hoped to see a colossal collapse, they’d go out and have their goalie give up impossibly crazy goals, then skate toward his own bench while play was going on, screaming furiously in unintelligible Czech at his own teammates. When we prayed to the hockey gods that they’d reveal a tragicomic leadership void in that organization, we were treated to the Great Debacle of the 2000 Eastern Conference Final. But we’re wondering now, at the outset of this new season, if maybe the Flyers’ Reign of Crazy is coming to an end. Are we looking at the dawn of a new age of crazy?
See, here’s the thing: last season the Flyers peaked in Craziness. (Okay, that’s not entirely true. They peaked in the aforementioned Great Debacle, that was so debaclous that it was like a pandemic of debacling. But we digress.) They stunk up the Eastern Conference so badly at the start of the year that they broke their fans’ spirits, sent Peter Forsberg into a legacy-destroying tailspin, and finally, finally got Bobby Clarke fired. But then they quietly started acquiring decent players, installed a coach who seems to be a pretty good fit for those players, and became almost unrecognizable for how they went about their business like a team that has its head screwed on relatively straight. We realize it’s probably too much to expect a team that is no longer run by Bobby Clarke to be reliably Crazy, but we’re also curious about the way things played out on July 1. We think we may have seen a glimmer of the New Crazy. And that New Crazy is the New York Rangers.
It made perfect sense for the Rangers to sign Scott Gomez. (Okay, that’s not entirely true. It made perfect sense for them to keep Nylander, but we digress.) He’s young, he was a big-name UFA, he has been a noted Ranger-killer in his career, and it was a great way for them to stick it to the Devils. For a few minutes after that signing was reported we were devastated. But then the Rangers did something that salvaged the day for us by being too crazy to explain: they signed Drury too. Wha-huh??? Why would they do that? What is the point of that? It was the UFA contract equivalent of Roman Chechmanek’s garbled tirade toward his own bench. There doesn’t really seem to be a place in the lineup for both of those guys, it creates some obviously suspect chemistry issues, and it left the Rangers barely able to re-sign the rest of their own RFAs. Our Crazy-Team Spidey senses tingled all summer when we thought about the Rangers, and then after just the first pre-season game we started getting the first reports of the impending Debacle, in that Jagr and Gomez weren’t clicking. It’s too early to say for sure, but seriously, there seems to be a ton of Crazy Team promise on Broadway. And in hindsight, we should have seen it coming — consider how the Devils’ sweep of the Rangers in the 2006 playoffs had almost as many Crazy ingredients as the 2000 ECF. There was the way, with three games left in the regular season, the Rangers had the division title all but locked up, but on the last night of the year the Devils snatched it away from them to grab home ice. Then there was the panicky goaltending switch (a classic Flyers Crazy move). Then there was the Jagr shoulder separation, which was later described by the New York Times as “the stupidest injury in New York sports history”. We should have known then. And if we didn’t pick it up during that series, we should have spotted the Crazy when Sean Avery was the missing factor to make their chemistry work last year.
So here’s what we’re wondering today — are the New York Rangers the new Crazy Team in the NHL? Or are the Flyers still just as crazy as before, but kind of in a period of dormancy, just waiting to unleash the “oh no they di’n't!” when we most expect it? Or is there some other team quietly assuming the mantle off our radar? Was the Senators collapse in the SCF a sign of the Crazy, like the Flyers in 1997? Or is the mere presence of Brian Burke (and his bizarro roster choices) enough to make the Ducks the New Crazy? Does Edmonton count, or does Crazy require some playoff presence? Or is Crazy happening too close for us to notice it, right under our noses, where coaches get fired with three games left in the season and captains get mysteriously stripped of their “C”s in training camp?