Volume 93, Issue 48

Wednesday, November 24, 1999


Smack down second

Swimmers travel high and low

Judges place Mustangs seventh

More than Gretzky-less

More than Gretzky-less

In need of a little greatness.

The New York Rangers blew into town Saturday night to take on the Toronto Maple Leafs on the eve of Wayne Gretzky's early and well deserved induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

The game ended in a 4-3 overtime victory for the Maple Leafs and a conflict of interest was apparent, as the Great One was torn between Toronto and New York – his childhood favourite and his final professional team, respectively.

But what had to be weighing on Gretzky's mind during the match was the shape of his former National Hockey League club. New York stands at a dismal 6-12-3-0 in this early season and many are fearful that their recent plunge in the standings will be a season long sickness – all of this after the deep pockets of the Big Apple went on a buying spree, sucking up every available free agent talent this summer.

Names such as wingers Theo Fleury and Valeri Kamensky, defenceman Stefan Quintal and goalie Kirk MacLean all inked huge deals and donned the Ranger blue, white and red.

With a roster like this, you would be a fool not to have picked Lady Liberty's finest as the pre-season favourites to be drinking from Lord Stanley's Cup this spring.

Once again, however, a pro sports team is finding out the hard way, that you cannot buy a championship.

The Los Angeles Lakers, Baltimore Orioles, Los Angeles Dodgers and last year's Vancouver Canucks are all prime examples of this reality. Every one of them have bankrolled their teams to look immaculate on paper only to turn out less than perfect on their respective playing surfaces.

There has to be a certain team chemistry and players have to grow with one another before they can rise to championship perfection. The Chicago Bulls had two of the greatest players in National Basketball League history, but the rest of their team was made up of role players, each with specific jobs.

The same can be said for the first Toronto Blue Jays pennant team, who although well known to us, did not have a who's who of baseball lineup or a huge salary base. A few high priced superstars don't win titles – entire teams win titles.

As it stands right now, the blame for the nightmare in New York has landed squarely on the shoulders of head coach John Muckler and sadly, it is only a matter of time before the Ranger's front office axes him.

Blaming the coach is an easy way to extinguish media fire and buy head office some time to figure out how to turn the season around before the smoldering embers catch flame again. With a huge payroll like the one the Rangers have fiscally taken on, they are going to need to fill Madison Square Gardens a lot more often than usual, just to stay out of the red.

So as the expensive Rangers sink further and further into the depths of NHL mediocrity and the other professional leagues fail to realize what buying up off-season hired guns does to the integrity of sport as a whole, one has to wonder – what would Wayne say about all this?

I imagine his answer would be a far cry from a Great One.

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Copyright The Gazette 1999