Rangers flirt with history again

The New York Rangers could be the first NHL team in 25 years to win the Stanley Cup one year and fail to make the playoffs the next.

Last season the Rangers made history by breaking a 54-year-old Stanley Cup jinx. Now they're teetering between being in and out of the playoffs -- depending on which day you look at the NHL's Eastern Conference standings.


If they fail to make it, it would be the first time it has happened since the Montreal Canadiens won the Cup in 1968-69 and failed to qualify for the postseason in 1969-70.

Of course, if the Rangers fail to make it, they can take solace in two things.


* It is a lockout-shortened season and shortened seasons can do funny things to teams in any league. The San Francisco 49ers won their first Super Bowl after the 1981 season and then failed to make the postseason in strike-shortened 1982.

* After missing the playoffs in 1969-70, the Canadiens came back in 1970-71 to win the Cup again.

That's something for the Rangers to look forward to if they continue to get outscored 30-17, as they did in their past eight games, which translated into a 1-7 skid.

Carey relents a little

Jim Carey, "The Kid," as almost everyone around the NHL now refers to the 20-year-old goaltending sensation of the Washington Capitals, has not only been near-perfect on the ice, but near-stoic off it.

Ask him about his success: "I couldn't have done it without the guys in front of me."

Ask him about his historic Player and Rookie of the Month awards, an NHL first: "If the team plays well, and I do my job, the awards will come."

Please, come out from behind the mask.


"It's part of being an athlete," said Carey. "It's like if you had kids, I'd be amazed and you'd be, 'Yeah, it's nice, no big deal.' For me, it's 'Yeah, it's nice.' I mean, I've been doing this for 16 years. Of course, the awards are inspiring. You want to get better every time you go out there. Not because of the awards, but for myself and my teammates.

"Things have happened so quick here. I mean, the difference in everything is huge. When I'm on the ice, it's kind of relieving because you get away from everything. Practice days are crazy with all the media. But nothing bothers me on the ice. I don't see even one fan. I don't see anything but the game, and I love the game."

Good but rare wine

When the season was supposed to start last fall, there were 16 players in the NHL who had been with the same organization for more than 10 years. A check with the NHL Players' Association shows that number has dropped to 10 -- and with the NHL trading deadline coming Friday, some others could lose their longevity, too.

The long-term loyalists: Boston's Ray Bourque (15 years), Winnipeg's Thomas Steen (14 years), New Jersey's Bruce Driver (11 years), the New York Islanders' Patrick Flatley (11 years), Detroit's Steve Yzerman (11 years). And the 10-year, single-team veterans are Calgary's Joel Otto, Montreal's Patrick Roy, New Jersey's John MacLean, Toronto's Todd Gill and Pittsburgh's Mario Lemieux (if you can count Lemieux, who hasn't played this season).

Those who lost longevity this season: Dave Taylor, who turned in his skates after 17 years with the Los Angeles Kings to become the team's assistant general manager and whose uniform number was retired Monday; Neal Broten, traded to New Jersey after 14 years with the Dallas/Minnesota Stars; Steve Larmer, who asked for a trade after 14 years in Chicago and is now with the Rangers; Guy Carbonneau, traded to St. Louis after 13 years with Montreal; Al MacInnis, traded by Calgary -- also after 13 years -- to St. Louis; and James Patrick, traded to Calgary by the Rangers after 11 years.


For those who wonder

In the 21-year history of the Capitals, there have been two players with at least 10 years in the organization: Rod Langway (11 from 1982-83 to 1992-93) and Mike Gartner (10 from 1979-80

to 1988-89).

Just for fun

Calgary's high-scoring right wing, Theoren Fleury, has 23 goals and 18 assists, and his team is 17-13-5, tops in the Pacific Division. But there is still something irritating Fleury. He is officially listed as 5 feet 6, which makes him the NHL's shortest player.

"I want you guys to get this straight," said Fleury. "I'm not the shortest guy in the league. What about [Corey] Millen? I could eat an apple off his head."


The Dallas Stars' Millen is listed as 5-7 in the NHL's Official Guide and Record Book.

Around the rinks

Chicago coach Darryl Sutter evidently had a few questions about the play that caused Jeremy Roenick to tear the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee Sunday. The injury occurred during a collision between Roenick and Dallas defenseman Derian Hatcher. "Put it this way," said Sutter, "the guy that did it is good at doing it. I've seen it happen before." . . . When Quebec's Owen Nolan completed his second hat trick in three games Sunday, he vaulted into the NHL goal-scoring lead ahead of Philadelphia's Eric Lindros.


Centre Management spokesman Gary Handleman, who is handling the lease negotiations that could bring an American Hockey League franchise to the Baltimore Arena, said he is continuing his discussions with New Jersey businessmen Bob Tech and Alan Gertner.

"We're still working on one, possibly two issues," said Handleman.


He said the negotiations are not open-ended, repeating that Tech and Gertner feel they must have everything in place by the middle of this month if they hope to be operating in the AHL by this fall.