August 25, 2010
(Ed. Note: Welcome to Puck Daddy's August series, "Mount Puckmore" which will feature fans, bloggers and various media personalities of all 30 teams choosing the four defining faces of their franchise. These four people are who you remember most when you think of these teams -- whether they be players, coaches or executives. We'll be running these daily for the rest of the month. Today, representing the New York Rangers is Jim Schmiedeberg of Blueshirt Banter.)
By Jim Schmiedeberg
Unless you are in the vicinity of 80 years old, it almost seems like all of Ranger history took place when they won the Cup in 1994. Mostly because the Ranger organization can't seem to let go of it, and to say that their post season success since that year has been limited would be putting it mildly.
Despite their lack up banners to hang in the rafters, the Rangers have had some great players in their history. Rod Gilbert, Jean Ratelle and Eddie Giacomin are just some of the Hall of Famers that have worn the Blueshirt. Unfortunately, despite the great players they've had, something or someone always seemed to be in their way when it came to winning Lord Stanley's Cup.
So while 1994 is well represented in our list of the four most influential players to ever play for the Rangers, we were able to find some players who made a difference in other years as well.
Frank Boucher, C/Coach
A former Royal Canadian Mountie and member of the original Ottawa Senators, Boucher came to the Rangers for their inaugural season in 1926. During his 12-year career with the Rangers, helped them win the Stanley Cup in 1928 and 1933. Known as one of the classiest players in the game, he won the Lady Byng Trophy so many times as a player the NHL gave it to him, and Lady Byng was asked to donate another trophy.
After retiring from playing, Boucher was hired to coach a minor league team that also played at MSG, as an apprenticeship for someday coaching the Rangers.
When Lester Patrick retired from coaching before the 1939-40 season, Boucher was given the job, and coached the Rangers to the last Stanley Cup they would win for 54 years.
With his roster decimated by World War II, Boucher even came out of retirement for 15 games in the 1943-44 season.
Directly responsible for three of the four Cups the Rangers have won in their history, Boucher was elected into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1958.
Mark Messier, C
From the minute the Rangers and Oilers completed the trade that would send Bernie Nicholls, Steven Rice and Louie Debrusk, the culture of the Rangers was changed. Named captain immediately, Messier said that his goal was to win the Stanley Cup with the Rangers. Where others had wilted under the weight of the "Curse of 1940", Messier embraced it, instilling his will to win and his pride in wearing the Ranger sweater in everyone around him.
Messier won the Hart Trophy his first year with the Rangers, but it was bittersweet as the Rangers were bounced from the playoffs in the second round by the eventual Champion Pittsburgh Penguins. After missing the playoffs in 1992-93, Mike Keenan was hired to coach the Rangers, and would coach them to another Presidents Trophy. Heavy favorites to win the Cup going into the playoffs, the Rangers were cruising along until they faced the New Jersey Devils.
The Devils had a 3-2 lead in the series with Game 6 on their home ice when Messier made himself a part of NY sports lore by "guaranteeing" a victory in Game 6, and backing it up by scoring a hat trick in the game. Messier's heroics set up a Game 7 for the ages, the third double overtime game of the series, which the Rangers would win on a goal by Stephane Matteau.
Two weeks later, on June 14, Messier made good on the promise he made in 1991 when he scored the game-winning goal in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals to end the "Curse".
Brian Leetch, D
Quite simply the Greatest Ranger of All Time. Leetch holds 34 Ranger records, served as Captain of the Rangers, and is still the only American-born player to win the Conn Smythe trophy as Most Valuable Player of the 1994 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Add to that the Calder in 1989, two Norris trophies, nine appearances in the All-Star game (he was injured for two other times he was selected), countless other Ranger team awards, and it's easy to see how he earned the distinction of being the best the Blueshirts have ever had.
Despite all of these achievements, Brian was not afforded the opportunity to finish his career on Broadway when the Rangers traded him to Toronto on his 36th birthday in 2004. For all the bad moves in the last decade of the Sather regime, this one is probably considered by Ranger fans to be the most unforgivable.
After missing the playoffs for six straight seasons, the Rangers entire organization needed a jolt, and they got it when they made the no-brainer deal with Washington that had Anson Carter(notes) going the other way.
When the NHL returned from the lockout in 2005, the Rangers had a decided European feel, thanks to the influence of their new superstar. After a few disappointing seasons in Washington, Jagr found new life in New York, scoring 123 points and helping the Rangers get into the playoffs for the first time in seven years. Jagr helped restore respectability to a Ranger franchise that sorely needed it, leading the Rangers to the playoffs in each of his last three years with the team.
(UPDATE: The Jagr selection has obviously caused an uproar, and Jim posted a response to the backlash on Blueshirt Banter:
I chose Jagr when I looked at his importance to the franchise AT HIS TIME, I thought he deserved to be there. He brought the Rangers back to respectability, and made them a relevant franchise again. I mean no disrespect to the great players the Rangers have had, hell, I spend half my free time trying to honor them on our radio show in one way or another.
Main Mt. Puckmore photocreated by B.D. Gallof of HockeyIndependent