A tale of two directions, one a positive upbeat story of re-birth and potential. The other, the downward spiral of a signature franchise, playing out the string on yet another horrid season.
Brian Leetch made his debut as a Maple Leaf Thursday night, fitting in as if he had been there since the day he was drafted. He may always bleed Ranger Blue blood, but for now the Maple Leaf Nation are claiming him as a conquering hero. Leetch, quickly endeared himself to his fellow Leaf players and the fans of Toronto, scoring points early on in his first game. Leetch assisted on Mat Sundin's first goal of the Leaf's 6-2 victory over the New York Islanders. In total, Leetch gained three assists in the game, fitting in with Brian McCabe as the first line defensive pairing and giving the Leaf faithful a chance to do a little long term dreaming.
Exhibiting the skill, patience and smarts that have made him an all star through his career, Leetch provided the Leafs with the kind of defensman they haven't had, since Borje Salming hung up his blades oh so many years ago. For Belfour the idea of having Leetch in front of him for the rest of the season and an expected long playoff march, must have made his back feel as though he'd just come from the chiropractor. Tonight all is well with the Maple Leaf Nation.
Not so in New York, the Ranger faithful sitting back and watching the de-construction of a team that never really seemed to fit well together. Nedved and Leetch, just the start of an expected exodus out of the Rotten Apple Core at MSG. Thursday night, the Rangers continued on their losing ways, as Sergei Gonchar rewarded the Bruins for their faith and money by scoring in his first game as a Bruin, the Bears taking the Rangers 3-1. Revenge for Red Sox faithful, sure New York can still buy and play baseball, but in hockey they buy and still Stink, it must be a small bit of comfort for the faithful of Boston.
While the Rangers continue to lose, the media took time to wish Brian Leetch a fond farewell. As Leetch escapes the fate that faces his former team mates, the New York Papers lauded him for his time as a Blue Shirt. The New York Post, took the approach that the trade was a necessity not only for the Rangers but for Leetch, a final chance to get back to the Stanley Cup, a chance he would never get with this Ranger team. The New York Daily News, used it's sports section headline to full effect, "Leetch gone, Sather stays", blared out in black ink. The News bemoaning the fact that the Rangers had just given away the franchise. An editorial taking Sather to task for not launching the rebuilding phase four years ago, with Brian Leetch there to share in the rebirth. You get the feeling these are going to be long, dark nights for Sather until the end of the season. Not so for Leetch, for him, the days are now bright, a promise of an enjoyable spring just around the corner. Two different directions, it may hurt for a bit leaving the Rangers, but the ride he's about to go on should help to dull the pain.