When they tore down the original Penn Station, an iconic New York structure, to build the current Madison Square Garden, they termed the new place “The World’s Most Famous Arena.’’ Right now, though, it is the world’s darkest.
Springtime in the Garden is supposed to be playoff time for the building’s two teams. Not this year. Both the Rangers and Knicks completed bleak seasons and added an exclamation point to their endings by firing their coaches.
So Alain Vigneaut and Jeff Hornacek took the hits as the bosses of their teams decided to start all over. Both were advised that their services were no longer required but the blame for their woes really belongs elsewhere.
In February, a full two months before the season ended, the Rangers announced their surrender and traded away the core of the team. They acquired a fistful of draft choices, which is nice, but left Vigneaut with few options for the remainder of the season. Poor goalie Henrik Lundqvist was pretty much on his own as his team of leftovers played out the last games of the schedule. It was a reminder of the time that another Ranger goalie, Gump Worsley, was asked which team gave him the most trouble and he quipped, “the Rangers.’’
Shortly after Vigneault was fired, MSG brass dumped Hornacek after two seasons. His first year was spent trying to fit a square peg in a round hole because of the demands of the weird triangle offense that Knicks’ boss Phil Jackson insisted he employ. When Jackson was fired, Hornacek’s team of journeymen did well until its one legitimate player, Kristaps Porzingus went down with a season-ending knee injury. He took the Knicks, and ultimately Hornacek, with him.
The Knicks have lost at least 50 games in each of the last four seasons and have employed five coaches in the last six years. Does this sound like a pattern of failure?
So where do the Garden’s two home teams go from here?
Well there’s free agency but luring impact players to reconstruction projects could be a problem.
Then there is the draft. The Rangers have seven picks in the first three rounds of the NHL draft and if they choose well, they could turn things around quickly. But it is a longshot to expect instant success from a fistful of new players.
The Knicks will be in the NBA draft lottery, which should supply them with an impact player. But then, with the exception of Porzingis, they have a history of drafting poorly. The poster boy for that cavalcade was 1999 first round choice Frederick Weis, a big center viewed as the successor to Patrick Ewing. He never played a minute in the NBA.
So the two teams approach the off-season with major rebuilding plans. Their histories are not great. The Rangers have won one Stanley Cup since 1940. The Knicks have two championships in their resume, the last one 45 years ago.
Don’t worry about Vigneault and Hornacek, though. They each had one more year left on their contracts.