There is no way to figure where the Rangers will be in April. They might be good enough to win a playoff series, they might be lousy enough to miss the postseason. They don't have enough definition to be a clear-cut anything. What is sure, though, is that they still will be here next year and in 2016 and most likely in 2092.
They have been around since 1926 and they aren't going anywhere. They still are wearing basically the same jerseys they wore when Clint Smith debuted in 1937 and when Reg Fleming was mixing it up in the 1960s (nice memorial tributes to both men were shown on the video screen last night).
No offense, but a person couldn't help notice there were three hockey home openers in the New York area last night and the Rangers were in the middle. Not just geographically, either.
While one neighboring team is demanding a new arena and the other is playing in one, the Rangers still are the longest- running attraction on Broadway. They are the Tonight Show of local hockey. Faces change - 19-year-old defenseman Michael Del Zotto scored his first NHL goal last night - but the big show keeps rolling. When the fans chant "Hen-rik," for Lundqvist, it sounds like "Ed-die," for Giacomin.
As the Madison Square Garden public address announcer said during the Rangers' rousing 5-2 win over the Senators, "It's the tradition we honor tonight, the tradition we continue tonight." Of course, the fans knew that. The Rangers aren't like New York's oldest franchise, the Yankees, whose attendance depends on winning. The Rangers are more like the Giants (est. 1925), whose fans keep showing up because they just want to.
What's more, they have spawned two other teams. That's not boosterism (the Rangers are owned by Cablevision, which also owns Newsday). That's quoting one of the greatest Islanders ever, captain Ed Westfall, who always has said that if it weren't for Rangers fans, there would be no Islanders.
This, of course, was pertinent last night with the specter being raised at Nassau Coliseum that there might not be an Islanders team in New York soon. The owner made his boldest threat yet about moving. That would be quite sad for everybody interested in hockey around here, Rangers and New Jersey Devils fans included.
But it does emphasize the Rangers' staying power. The team endured some really rough years, like the times when they had to hold Stanley Cup home games in Canada because the circus was a bigger draw at the Garden. They and their fans withstood seasons when the Rangers were more like a circus (the words "John Muckler" come to mind). None of it sent anyone packing.
Opening night was a time to celebrate all of it. Everyone cheered as John Amirante opened his 29th season as the national anthem singer. Adam Graves presented an award to a family from Section 45 that has had a season subscription for 50 years. There are Rangers fans who remember 1940 - the actual year, not the extinct chant.
They keep coming and they create an atmosphere that affects even a veteran all-star such as Lundqvist: "I didn't sleep much last night, I was so fired up about this game."
Fans keep coming to see the next good kid, such as Del Zotto, John Tavares' junior teammate. "People were going so crazy, I didn't know what to think," Del Zotto said of his goal. "It was the best feeling of my life."
Rangers fans can tell him that it's not always so great. They keep coming, mindful that their hearts usually get broken, but that doesn't stop them. That's one of the traditions of a franchise that is here to stay.