While I don’t advise or encourage being sympathetic here, there’s no denying it: sports fans in the New York/New Jersey area have it pretty rough right now. “Deserved” or not.
Since they actually play games in East Rutherford, N.J.,* the New York Giants and New York Jets spread their misery over both regions. Sure, Giants fans can just watch this play and this play over and over again to help blot out the agony of watching Tom Coughlin scowl and scream relentlessly, but 0-6 is 0-6 (In the NFL, at least). The Jets have scraped together some wins this season, but they still have the stank of Sanchez on them and any number of charming Rex Ryan quips can’t save them now.
The Buffalo Bills are basically nothing more than a cellar team that attracts constant Toronto relocation speculation.
In the NBA, the New York Knicks finally won a round in the 2013 playoffs, but they basically tortured their fans in the same way the Toronto Maple Leafs have during the previous decade-or-so and seem primed to be annually dismantled by LeBron James until he gets bored. Meanwhile, the Brooklyn Nets are a Gomez/Drury-era Rangers-level bloated mess and baseball’s Yankees provided a more interesting off-the-field story (A-Rod being A-Rod) than ballpark success.
(And the Mets, well … they’re the Mets.)
So far, the NHL hasn’t been a safe refuge for fans in those areas, as the Buffalo Sabres, New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils jostle for the “worst team in the early part of 2013-14” title (while the New York Islanders merely manage a .500 record).
That leaves us to ask: are these teams primed to prolong the misery or may a few snap out of these early slumps? (Let’s exclude the Isles and their respectable start for space concerns.)
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The question of “Which team is the worst in the NY/NJ area?” could probably be most easily answered “Buffalo Sabres” if they’re considered a part of the conversation.
Simply put, there really isn’t a metric that speaks too highly of Buffalo as a team.
At six goals scored in six games, they have the worst offensive output in the NHL. They don't have a win. There's no excuse about road games, as they've played three games at home and three on the road. They're one of two teams without a win and last in the league with one point.
You can make an argument for Steve Ott (faceoffs, PIM, hits, the occasional point) and dream about Tyler Myers/Christian Ehrhoff getting it together, but ultimately, the Sabres possess three fantasy players of merit: Thomas Vanek, Cody Hodgson and Ryan Miller.
Amazingly, Vanek (29 SOG, four points in six games) and Miller (.941 save percentage in four losses) have actually been viable fantasy-wise despite this mess, so this could get even uglier if they slow down (or remain injured.)
There are plenty of reasons to wonder if the New York Rangers really are this bad.
For all the negativity about John Tortorella, perhaps his shot-blocking system really did bring out the best in all-world goalie Henrik Lundqvist? Maybe his hard-charging style was a better fit for a system that went from nearly devoid of talent to top-heavy than Alain Vigneault, who values specialization?
Still, I look at the Rangers in the same way as I look at Claude Giroux’s Philadelphia Flyers: fresh meat.
RANGERS IN RANGE?
If the Flyers’ mid-level guy to pluck is Wayne Simmonds, then Ryan Callahan could very well be that guy for the Rangers. A novice owner - or even a savvy one concerned about his health - might already be growing tired of the Rangers' captain. He has an acceptable two goals in four games back, but only has eight SOG (the American usually gets just under three per game) and an unsightly -6 rating with 0 PIM.
Of course, the Giroux-level coup would be landing Henrik Lundqvist. It's worth noting that the Swedish star began last season a little slow - though not so catastrophically - with a 3-4-0 record, .904 save percentage and 2.79 GAA in January (seven games) 2013. He never dropped below a .928 save percentage for the rest of the season and finished with 22 wins in 38 games.
In other words, Lundqvist’s value is as low as it could be. Obviously don’t throw a flat-out stupid offer, but hey … maybe you could fleece someone with Jonathan Bernier for Lundqvist or something else that’s of the flavor-of-the-month variety.
SCHEDULE OPENING UP FOR RANGERS
Rangers fans might be pulling a Dorothy by chanting "there's no place like home," but the sneaky thing about the remaining four games of their ridiculous season-opening nine-game road trip is that they're facing teams who are also struggling.
Sure, that means they'll face some teams that are "just as desperate as they are," yet those games seem more palatable on paper: they get a break before facing the Capitals on Wednesday, visit the win-less Devils on Saturday, then wait until Oct. 24 before face the flailing Flyers and then play the good-but-not-great Red Wings two days later.
Once that's over, the Blueshirts get some well-deserved TLC at MSG, so you should try to capitalize.
While the Sabres, Rangers and even Islanders don’t look very good in the fancy stats, the Devils find themselves in a situation that should be familiar to 2012-13: solid-to-good efforts, lousy (0-3-3) results.
The Devils' opening run isn't as dramatic as the Rangers, but it's not that far behind. Six of their first seven games are on the road, with that string ending Thursday in Ottawa. It won't get a whole lot easier, either, with nine of 13 October games on the road.
Really, the key will be New Jersey fighting it out until the Olympic break, when the Devils' schedule finally gets (a little) friendlier:
Feb: three out of four at home
16 of their last 26 games in New Jersey.
WHAT’S AILING THEM
Last season, the Devils' low shooting percentage and poor goaltending doomed them, even with often-impressive puck possession. So far, the goaltending has been disappointing, although Cory Schneider has predictably been better (.908 save percentage) than Martin Brodeur (.878 save percentage).
My feeling is that at least one of those goalies will rebound (Schneider), especially if they really let him grab the reins (Schneider) instead of paying homage to years past (come on).
One thing I like about the Devils is that they have pretty good forward variety, even if they lack crucial dynamism left behind by Ilya Kovalchuk.
The basic takeaways are:
The Sabres are probably horrible. Maybe not at the seemingly historic level they’re indicating, but the amount of useful Buffalo players is woefully low (Woeful-low?)
The Rangers are a real coin flip, yet it’s hard to disregard the massive road trip combined with a new coach, some injury problems and possibly a slow-starting goalie. I think they’ll return to competence soon enough, though whether that’s enough to do something meaningful is another question.
Much like last season, a lot of the bounces are going against the Devils right now. I think that will even out as the season goes along, making plenty of New Jersey guys “don’t panic” material. I’m not sure if they’re a playoff team, though, especially if they can’t quit Marty.