When the New York Rangers acquired Mark Messier from the Edmonton Oilers on October 4th, 1991, few could have predicted that the trade would be the finest in the Blueshirts’ 86-year history. Messier’s performance as a Ranger makes the deal one of the best the franchise made, as he became a legendary figure in in New York sports history.
Not to mention, the deal was a steal when you consider that New York only had to part with Bernie Nicholls, Louie DeBrusk, and Steven Rice (along with $15 million) to bring the Hall-of-Fame center to the Big Apple.
Messier’s first game as a Ranger was the next night against the Montreal Canadiens at the fabled Montreal Forum. Entering the contest, the Rangers had a long winless streak at The Forum. But Messier played a key role in ending this drought — a sign of things to come later on in his Rangers career.
The Edmonton, Alberta native recorded his first point as a Blueshirt in the third period, an assist on rookie Doug Weight’s goal. Weight’s goal tied the game, and the Rangers won the game in overtime on Sergei Nemchinov’s first NHL goal.
New York’s overtime win only heightened the anticipation for the home opener at Madison Square Garden on October 7th. Rangers fans anxiously awaited Messier’s first appearance at home, but they also wondered which player would be named the team’s 22nd captain (Kelly Kisio, the Rangers captain during the previous four seasons, was claimed in the expansion draft that summer by the San Jose Sharks).
As author Jeff Z. Klein wrote in his book, Messier, “The crowd at MSG was more excited than for any home opener since the brief heyday of the ‘Ooh-La-La’ Rangers of the late 1970′s.” After all of the players were introduced, Messier was formally introduced as the new captain of the Blueshirts. As he skated to center ice, the newest Ranger was greeted by players representing 65 years of Rangers hockey.
Among the notables on hand to greet Messier were Rod Gilbert, Andy Bathgate, Harry Howell, Ron Greschner, Dave Maloney, Don “Bones” Raleigh, Camille Henry, and Messier’s distant cousin and original Blueshirt Murray Murdoch.
The raucous ovation that Messier got from the Rangers fans stuck with him. Years later, Messier remembered, “I felt a sense of tremendous pride, and didn’t expect to be greeted like that. I said to myself ‘I will die trying to bring a Stanley Cup to the fans of New York.’”
With the ‘C’ on his jersey, Messier showed the Rangers fans that he was not the beaten-down man the Oilers had traded away. The Rangers’ captain assisted on both Rangers goals against the Boston Bruins, including Mike Gartner’s game-winning goal thirty-one seconds into overtime.
The 1991-92 season proved to be a remarkable year for Messier, who won the Hart Trophy as league MVP by totaling 35 goals, 72 assists, and 107 points. Simultaneously, Messier’s leadership was instrumental guiding the Rangers to the President’s Trophy during the regular season.
But it all started on that October night, when the Messier era began at MSG.