The Best Off-Season Ever?

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One of the most frustrating things about loving a sports team too much is that when said sports team underachieves, it can really feel like a punch in the gut. Such was the case for me in 2011-2012 with 3 of my favorite teams.

It happened slowly for months on end with me and Arsenal in the EPL. The Gunners struggled early in the season before finishing in 3rd place on the very last day of the season thereby guaranteeing Champions League football in 2012-2013.

It happened quickly and swiftly with me and the N.Y. Rangers. After having the best record in the Eastern Conference during the regular season, they lost to the New Jersey Devils in the Eastern Conference Finals.

And it happened in a teasing manner with me and the Lakers. Just when you thought they had Chris Paul, the trade was vetoed and even though they did fairly well in the regular season, you just knew they didn’t have the legs or firepower to keep up with the young stallions of the Thunder in the playoffs.

But hope springs eternal if you’re a sports fan, as the maxim of “There’s Always Next Year” rattles around in your head. But most of the time during its off-season, the team you love does not or is not able to do the things you feel they need to in order to fix the problem.

And then sometimes, you have an off-season like the current one.

Arsenal’s big problem last year was they lost Cesc Fabregas to Barcelona and Samir Nasri to Man City so soon before the start of the new season. Combine that with Jack Wilshere getting injured and not playing at all, there was no creative spark from the midfield or consistent support for Robin Van Persie up front. The back four also showed a lot of indiscpline and nerves, especially during set pieces or when trying to hold on to a lead late in the game. As a result, Arsenal became a one-man team of Van Persie more often not.

Arsenal, unfortunately, has gotten a reputation for transfer window frugality in recent seasons. The club has gotten too young and too inexperienced, and it showed. I was girding myself for another off-season of Arsene Wenger saying they will only buy if it’s a player worth buying, get my hopes up with the transfer rumors that always pop up, then end up disappointed when nothing happens, or the team ends up buying very young and potential filled, but ultimately unproven, players. But that wasn’t to be the case this time around.

First to arrive in April was Lukas Podolski, the 27 year old German International Forward from FC Koln. Finally, someone else besides Van Persie who could score. Then after France’s Euro 2012 campaign ended, Ligue 1’s leading goal scorer Olivier Giroud joined the fold from Montpellier, the defending champions of France. Then just earlier this week, Santi Cazorla was bought from Malaga, giving Arsenal that creative midfield force they have been lacking.

Yes, the Robin Van Persie mess still has to be sorted out one way or another. But Arsenal added 3 world class players of the right age – all in their mid 20’s – to the squad, and they may not be done adding even more players yet. Then you also add Steve Bould joining the coaching staff, and you can’t help but feel that if there’s anybody out there who can help the current Arsenal back four blend into a cohesive, disciplined unit, it would be one of the members of Arsenal’s most famous back four ever.

The Rangers’ problem on the other hand was that they just didn’t have the offensive punch to carry them to the finish line. They had great goaltending, very good set of defensemen (with more on the way from the minors), but when Marian Gaborik hurt his shoulder in the first round of the playoffs, they lost their most consistent goal scoring threat.

Enter Rick Nash.

After demanding a trade during the season, the Nash saga seemed to draw out forever before the Rangers acquired the high scoring wing without depleting their deep farm system of its top assets like J.T. Miller, Dylan McIlrath or Christian Thomas. Even though Gaborik is still scheduled to miss the start of the season, having Nash with the team lessens the pressure on the rest of the team to pick up the scoring slack, allowing guys like Chris Kreider time to grow further.

And finally, the Lakers. Since the Dwight Howard trade just happened, there’s no need to rehash that, nor the significance of having obtained him without having to give up Pau Gasol as well. And no need to rehash Steve Nash joining the team and giving the Lakers their best point guard since Magic either. Let’s just say I’m really looking forward to this upcoming NBA season a lot more than I was the previous one.

Now, do all these moves guarantee championships for these 3 teams? Of course not. But there’s something to be said about a sports fan getting some love from his teams in this way. After all, who likes getting punched in the gut?

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