With the Rangers season already in the books and the swirl of rumors concerning compliance buyouts, who’s next in line for head coach and the importance of resigning their core of young talent to long-term agreements, we at The Empire have decided to take a break from the calamity surrounding the team and rank and file the top 5 New York Rangers of all-time.
While certain generations of Rangers fans may have a different take in our rankings, no true Blueshirts fan could argue against any one of these players making the final cut. Starting with a list of New York Rangers players who could easily have been part of the conversation but ultimately lost out:
Honorable Mentions: Eddie Giacomin, Andy Bathgate, Ron Greschner, Henrik Lundqvist, Jaromir Jagr, Mike Garnter, Wayne Gretzky, Jeff Beukeboom & John Vanbiesbrouck
#5 – Adam Graves
After being acquired from Edmonton following the 1991 season, Graves went on to play in 770 games over the next 10 years in a Rangers uniform. Known for his grit in front of the net and his uncanny ability to cash in on the dirty goal, Graves epitomizes what it means to put the ‘blue’ in blue-collar. His hardworking, grind it out, protect your teammates at any cost attitude not only won over Rangers fans hearts, it also lead to New York hoisting his #9 jersey to the rafters and cementing his place in New York Rangers history.
With 280 goals and 507 points in his tenure with the team, Graves then team record of 52 goals in their magical 1994 season is one to be revered by Rangers fans young and old. While other players not on this list may have had a greater impact on the team statistically, Graves importance in the Rangers 1994 run to capturing their first Stanley Cup in 54 years simply cannot be understated.
#4 Mike Richter
Taking over between the pipes after the Rangers traded fellow netminder John Vanbiesbrouck following their 1992-1993 Presidential trophy season, Richter cemented his place in New York Rangers history after his unbelieveable save against Canucks sniper Pavel Bure in Game 4 of the Rangers 1994 march to the cup.
What Richter lacked in statue he more than made up for with his acrobatics in net and his stand on his head save making ability ultimately set New York franchise records for wins in a season (42), wins in a playoff season (16), most minutes in a playoff season (1,477) and most shutouts in a playoff year (four). After a bout of knee injuries, followed by a skull fracture and concussion issues which cut short his 9-year career in goal, Richter was still the first Ranger to notch 300 wins and a still remains atop the all time wins list.
Richter’s #35 jersey became the third number retired by the Rangers at MSG on February 4, 2004.
#3 Rod Gilbert
Gilbert was the first Ranger ever to have his #7 sweater hoisted to the rafters of Madison Square Garden. While still holding two (most goals, most points) of New York’s offensive records in team history, Gilbert called New York home and lead the boys in blue and for 15 NHL Hall of Fame seasons. While still employed as a member of the New York Rangers organization and a fixture at the Garden this very day, Gilberts time in a Rangers uniform unfortunately never resulted in a Stanley Cup winning season.
Playing right wing on a line that also featured Vic Hadfield and Jean Ratelle, Gilbert along with Hadfield & Ratelle averaged nearly a goal-a-game and earned him the #3 spot on The Empire’s list.
#2 Brian Leetch
Forever and always a Ranger in the heart of New Yorkers, coming in at #2 on our list and what to many fans could have amounted to a toss-up between our #1 Ranger of all-time is Hockey Hall of Fame defenseman Brian Leetch. A true home grown Ranger after being drafted by them in the first round of the 86′ NHL draft, Leetch manned the blue line of New York for the next 17 seasons.
Leetch, a two-time Norris Trophy winner and the first American-born winner of the Conn Smythe Trophy as Playoff MVP, was instrumental in New York’s run to the 1994 Stanley Cup Championship and one of only five NHL defenseman to ever score over 100 points in a season. Called by many of his teammates as the greatest Ranger of all time, Leetch’s #2 jersey was retired by the team in 2008 ceremony lead by former Rangers Captain Mark Messier.
#1 Mark Messier
Simply known as “The Captain”, Mark Messier in this writers eyes easily goes down as the single greatest player to ever don a Rangers uniform. While much of his NHL success happened while part of the Gretzky lead Oliers teams of the 80’s, Messier was the real heart of the squad whose a fierce competitive edge and intense leadership in the locker room was equally important as his direct impact on the ice.
Already a 5-time champion by the time he put on Rangers jersey, Messier joined New York after the 1990 season in Edmonton’s fire sale of cost cutting maneuvers. In his first season as a member of the Blueshirts, Messier’s 35 goals and 107 points lead the team to the NHL’s best regular season record on the way to earning him his second Hart Trophy as NHL MVP. Unfortunately for the Rangers that postseason, New York ran into 2nd round opponent Mario Lemieux and the eventual Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins.
After missing the playoffs for the first time in his Hall of Fame NHL career the following season, New York ushered in new head coach Mike Keenan before the start of the 1993-1994 season. Together Keenan and Messier put Broadway on their shoulders that year and carried the 94′ Rangers squad throughout their memorable run to ending the teams 54 year championship drought and ultimately hoisting the 1994 Stanley Cup. However, what really cemented Messier’s status as #1 on The Empire’s list of Greatest Rangers of All-Time was not merely based on winning the Cup that year. No, Messier became a legend that year and earned his #1 spot on the list because of what went down in New York history and is still simply known by many Rangers fans today as, “The Promise”.
Tags: Adam Graves Andy Bathgate Brian Leetch Eddie Giacomin FanSided Henrik Lundqvist Hockey Jaromir Jagr Jeff Beukeboom & John Vanbiesbrouck Mark Messier Mike Garnter Mike Richter National Hockey League New York Rangers NHL Rod Gilbert Ron Greschner Si.com Sports Illustrated Wayne Gretzky