New York Rangers’ Offseason Makes Zero Sense So Far

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It is rare for a talented player like John Tavares to hit free agency. When a player of his caliber does hit the open market every team in the NHL should at least call his agent and see what it would take to bring Tavares to their team. However, it leaked earlier that just five teams, the Toronto Maple Leafs, San Jose Sharks, Dallas Stars, Boston Bruins, and Tampa Bay Lightning were represented for in-person pitches. The New York Islanders captain is also being courted by the Islanders.

The New York Rangers are in the midst of a rebuild. However, that doesn’t mean they should sit out the Tavares sweepstakes. Rangers’ GM Jeff Gorton, however, has been quiet regarding Tavares. We all know the chances of Tavares choosing the Rangers are slim. The Islanders are loaded with young talent at forward and have made front office changes that at least indicate the Islanders are ready to move in the right direction.

Still, no offer being made to the top free agent, especially one from a rival, is just criminal. Instead, Gorton seems ready and willing to use his cap space to help a team like Dallas, Toronto, or Tampa Bay open up cap room to sign Tavares by taking back contracts.

That is like a slap in the face to Rangers’ fans. Gorton is willing to help another team sign Tavares by taking back contracts to free up space for that team but isn’t willing to make an offer to the soon-to-be 28-year-old center? Let’s be honest, Tavares on the Rangers makes them a playoff team. The Rangers could slide Mika Zibanejad to the second line and suddenly a position that looked weak last year is pretty strong. The Rangers could also trade some of their restricted free agents to open up more cap room or to acquire more assets to quicken the rebuild. Instead, the Rangers have been quiet this offseason. Though it was reported they were interested in 35-year-old winger Ilya Kovalchuk before he signed with the Los Angeles Kings.

The interest in Kovalchuk makes even less sense than their quiet approach to Tavares. Why show interest in a winger who hasn’t played in the NHL since 2013 but remain quiet when it comes to a 28-year-old center? It makes no sense.

The Rangers are selling this as a total rebuild but yet this roster still has Mats Zuccarello and Marc Staal on the roster. Which is it? None of the restricted free agents like Kevin Hayes, Vladislav Namestnikov, or Ryan Spooner were moved at the draft. In fact, the draft was a bit of a disaster in own right. The Rangers refused to budge from their board even after top talent fell to them potentially continuing a disastrous history of missing out on elite forwards in the draft.

Obviously the jury is still out on the Rangers’ rebuild but their stubborn approach to the draft, their lack of interest in an elite 28-year-old center, and their keeping Staal and Zuccarello on the team indicates they are only putting one foot in the pool. Can I be wrong about the Rangers? Certainly. But what, in recent weeks, gives Rangers’ fans any hope that this team is headed in the right direction any time soon?

Collectors Still Vulnerable To Fraud After Eli Manning Settlement

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New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning settled his memorabilia fraud case just before it was slated to go to trial on Monday. Details of the deal were not disclosed and all parties, including the Giants, released a statement stating that settling was not an admission of wrongdoing. Manning was accused of conspiring to defraud memorabilia collectors by selling equipment that he never actually wore. That equipment would then show up for sale at Steiner Sports.

This case is the perfect example of what a hazardous road collectors face when collecting game-used memorabilia. I should point out that this is in no way an indictment of any of the parties involved. Since Manning was not convicted I can’t say he was guilty. Steiner Sports, a fairly reputable dealer, could only depend on Eli’s word that the equipment they were being given was in fact game-used. It is a slippery slope and the only real loser is the person who shells out hundreds dollars and ends up with a jersey that a player never actually wore in a game.

This isn’t an isolated incident. In 2012, sports memorabilia dealer Bradley Wells pleaded guilty to selling fraudulent game-used items to trading card manufacturers. Wells told the FBI that Upper Deck, Topps, and Panini America knew they were purchasing items that Wells himself had doctored to appear game-used. Those jerseys would then be cut up and pieces inserted into trading cards. There have been several instances where jersey swatches feature Mitchell and Ness logos or an interesting case where a Whitey Ford jersey card featured a Majestic logo. Majestic didn’t begin business until 15 years after Ford retired.

There have been countless stories of athletes using another party to fulfill their autograph quota for trading card companies. Lonzo Ball, who was a hot commodity in the sports card world right after he was drafted by the Los Angeles Lakers, has had several different looking autographs appear on cards. Many have speculated that LaVar Ball signed cards with his son’s name.

Collectors are the only ones who lose out. They spend hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars expecting major companies to vet the products they are peddling. When things go wrong, like the several cases of wrongly labeled game-worn cards, there are no consequences. The worst that might happen is a little social media backlash. However, thanks to exclusive rights deals that card companies have with different sports there is no competition. Card companies have a monopoly on the sport.

The exclusive rights has limited the amount of product, which has solved the oversaturation of the market that almost ruined the hobby in the 1990s. However, it might actually be harming the hobby as well. Topps, which has an exclusive rights contract with Major League Baseball, is the only company that can produce trading cards that feature MLB logos. Panini does offer baseball cards, notably through the Donruss label, but do not feature logos or team names. Panini has exclusive rights with the NBA, NFL, and NHL. Collectors have no way to voice their displeasure with their wallets unless they stop collecting. That is a huge problem.

The different sports leagues, players, and card manufacturers can continue defrauding collectors, whether intentionally or unintentionally, with little or no repercussions aside from paying out some money. The FBI has prosecuted some individuals in the past but those were smaller dealers who were faking autographs. The major companies and the sports leagues have escaped any real harm.

Collecting in this day and age is difficult. Prices have increased but the pitfalls have grown as well when they should shrink. Collectors should be able to purchase cards and memorabilia without worrying about being ripped off. At least not by the companies, players, and leagues we expect to hold a high standard. The reality is they are all no different from the guy who fakes an autograph and puts it up on eBay. When they get caught they apologize, pay the person who complained under the table, and move on. The sports memorabilia industry is a multi-billion industry and is hardly regulated at all. Only the FBI steps in from time to time and prosecutes individuals defrauding collectors. It isn’t enough.

There are still no protections for collectors. There is no oversight, except by the companies themselves and that isn’t good enough anymore. Not when time and time again major companies have either made mistakes or willingly scammed collectors. Not when athletes are committing fraud. Oversight on a massive level is necessary and companies should lose exclusive rights licenses when they are found to be defrauding consumers. Imagine the outrage if this occurred in another multi-billion industry that was more mainstream than sports card and memorabilia collecting. It would be front page news everywhere.

The Manning case is just the latest example. It won’t be the last. Collectors will continue to buy because they want to build their collections or invest for the future. They will have to navigate minefields in an industry where even a perceived nice guy like Eli Manning might be ripping you off. Sadly, things aren’t going to change any time soon either. Navigating the minefield is still hazardous to collectors.

New York Rangers’ Future Not As Dim As You Think

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The New York Rangers fell flat this past season and GM Jeff Gorton sold off assets and set the team up fairly well for the future, at least for this year and next year’s draft while also adding young talent. Gorton will continue to rework the roster, getting younger and more athletic to keep pace with the current trend of the NHL. There is still a lot of work to be done but the Rangers might be better off now than they were at this point last season.

The Rangers will have between $25 and $30 million in cap space depending on where the NHL sets next season’s number. They currently have 13 players under contract and could possibly make some deals leading up to the 2018 NHL Draft to acquire more picks or trade up to select potentially elite talent. Gorton didn’t use all of his ammunition at the trade deadline and could use fan favorite Mats Zuccarello, who is entering the last year of his contract and is owed $4.5 million, as a means to acquire more picks or a younger, cheaper player. Jimmy Vesey, Ryan Spooner, Kevin Hayes and Vladimir Namestnikov are all entering restricted free agency and Gorton could re-sign or trade their rights. There is also a chance that these players would be brought back

There are options for Gorton and the Rangers. There are already rumors that they are interested in Ilya Kovalchuk and Gorton has confirmed he has spoken to Kovalchuk. Adding Kovalchuk doesn’t make much sense for a team that is rebuilding but the Rangers aren’t truly rebuilding. They are reloading. There is also the idea that adding Kovalchuk could help bring along the Rangers’ own Russian players. He is an icon that showed he still had ability during the 2018 Winter Olympics. If the Rangers did sign him it would give them a legitimate scoring winger who could provide leadership to a young team, especially the young Russians like Pavel Buchnevich, Namestnikov, and Alexei Bereglazov. It might not be the greatest move but it could be beneficial.

The Rangers have 10 draft picks in this coming NHL Draft including three in the first round. Their highest pick is ninth, not ideal but not awful. There is a bit of elite talent at the top of this draft and Gorton might be able to move up to ensure he gets an elite prospect. They also currently have nine picks in next year’s draft, including a conditional first-round pick from Tampa which at worst would become a second-round pick. Gorton has something none of his predecessors have had in recent memory, currency.

This past season might have been a dark one. Falling to ninth in the draft wasn’t exactly what Rangers’ fans had in mind but Gorton has the ability to move up and other assets to acquire more picks if he so desires. When you combine those assets with the Rangers’ young players like Buchnevich, Mika Zibanejad, Brady Skjei, Neal Pionk, Vesey, Namestnikov, Spooner, Filip Chytil, and Lias Andersson the future might not be bleak at all.

The Rangers had a very good run over the last few years but you can’t count them out for next season just yet. They have some solid youth, decent veteran players, Henrik Lundqvist, and a slew of draft capital. They are also expected to make a run at elite free agent John Tavares which would give them the elite player they have so desperately craved in recent years. There is a lot to be happy about heading into this offseason if you’re a Rangers fan.