Why Tampa Bay Lightning Fans Should Watch The New York Rangers


The Tampa Bay Lightning do not have a game this evening, but if you happen to find yourself bored and sitting on the couch looking for something to do tonight, I recommend you check out the New York Rangers. Here’s why.

Here’s what I’m doing right now. I’m sitting in front of my television, dressed in my vintage Vinny Lecavalier-turned-Brett Connolly-via-hockey-tape jersey, my big foam Tampa Bay Lightning #1 finger (it serves as one of the two fingers I type with), my Lightning blue Bauer helmet which has been equipped with a visor since early 2013 (because I have fewer than 25 games of NHL experience), and half of my face is painted Lightning/Braveheart blue. Tonight is Thursday, October 16 and there is no Lightning game.

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Talk about all dressed up with no place to go, right?

Well, not exactly.

Tonight I’m watching the New York Rangers play host to the Carolina Hurricanes. And I’m watching as a Lightning fan. If you ever find yourself craving hockey on a night that the Lightning aren’t playing, but a night that the Rangers are in action, I recommend you try it.

Some of you are probably guessing that I’m watching the Rangers as a hold-over fan of Martin St. Louis. Or maybe even Ryan Malone. Maybe even Dominic Moore. And some of you couldn’t be more wrong. The truth is I’m cheering for the Rangers to lose. I’m cheering for them to lose tonight the same way I cheered for them to lose two nights ago, and four nights ago, and the same way I plan to cheer for them to lose 77 more times this season after tonight.

Bitter, right? I must be bitter, you’re thinking.  Bitter over the St. Louis-for-Ryan Callahan trade. While I’d like to say no, I must admit that there’s plenty evidence to support that assessment—I do, for instance, find myself sour at how well St. Louis is playing so far this year, and I do seem to groan every time he makes a highlight reel assist to Rick Nash. So okay, that’s part of it. But it’s a small part.

The real reason why I actively cheer against the Rangers—and enjoy doing so—is because I’m a Lightning fan. And the Rangers’ season, this year, could have a direct effect on the future of the Lightning. Why? Because in the trade that sent St. Louis to the Rangers, the Lightning acquired a conditional second round pick in the 2015 NHL Draft, and that second round pick turned into a first rounder when the Rangers made the Eastern Conference Finals.

Here’s the thing about draft picks: They get better as a team gets worse. So the Rangers’ failure in the present is directly tied to the Lightning’s success in the future.

So imagine the glee in my painted blue face this past Sunday when King Henrik Lunqvist was chased from the game by a very sloppy Toronto Maple Leafs team. And oh the chuckles I had at the Rangers’ expense two nights later when the New York Islanders put six on the board against them. And look at this, just now lowly Carolina Hurricanes, missing three of their best forwards and their best defenseman, have scored a goal and are up 1-0. And we laugh, and laugh, and laugh….

I’m sure there are those of you who think it’s petty/classless/insert your own adjective to hope overtly for a team’s failure. And who knows, maybe you’re right to think that.  But you know what? It’s fun. It’s fun to actively root against the Rangers. Every night I have a new second favorite team. Tonight it’s the Hurricanes. On Tuesday it was the Islanders. On Sunday I’ll be a single-serving Sharks fan.

All sports are, when you get down to the nitty gritty of it, is an artificial means to evoke real emotion. Sports are a narrative. And in every great narrative, there’s a great hero. But for every great hero there’s a great villain. What’s fun about sports is we each get to choose our own heroes. For me, the hero is the Tampa Bay Lightning. The villain, the New York Rangers.

So if you’re looking to squeeze a little more fun out of hockey, feel free to join me. We’ll shake our fists at our respective screens every time Rick Nash–who appears disgustingly rejuvenated this year–scores yet another goal. We’ll mutter disparagingly about people of certain height disadvantages every time Marty St. Louis racks up an assist. Insert your own Ryan Malone joke if you’d like.

And, while you’re cheering the Rangers on to hopefully their worst season in franchise history—I’m holding out hope for 1-81—and while you’re simultaneously keeping your eye on the pre-draft rankings that run wild all over the internet, remember: it’s not personal. It’s about the draft pick.

…Okay, so I lied. It’s a little personal. But that’s what makes it fun.