Introducing The Hockey Writers’ Countdown to Puck Drop series. From now until the puck drops on the 2019-20 NHL’s regular season on Oct. 2 when the Toronto Maple Leafs host the Ottawa Senators, we’ll be producing content that’s connected to the number of days remaining on that particular day. Some posts may be associated with a player’s number, while others will be connected to a year or length of time. We’re really excited about this series as we take you through the remainder of summer in anticipation of the return of NHL hockey.
In 82 nights, the National Hockey League will commence its 102nd season. Although the New York Rangers don’t begin until the following night against the Winnipeg Jets, excitement for the season is building.
To coincide with the number 82, let’s look back at former Rangers center Martin Straka who wore those digits from 2005-2008. These were the last three years of his 15-year career. After the NHL, he played five more seasons in the Czech Extraliga in his native Czech Republic. He is now the general manager, co-owner and head coach of HC Plzen in the ELH.
Despite having a great NHL career, signing Straka as a free agent in 2005 was a bit of a risk. From 2001-02 to 2004-05 with the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Los Angeles Kings, he only produced 81 points in 127 games. With a very limited number of games over those three seasons, it was unknown whether he could still perform at the level he once was.
A multitude of injuries were to blame for the missed playing time. He broke his right tibia, twice, during the 2001-02 season. During that offseason, he had a workout mishap that resulted in a cracked vertebrae in his back. But he bounced back from those injuries and was among the best players on the Rangers during those years of the mid-2000s. Alongside Jaromir Jagr, Michael Nylander and Brendan Shanahan, he was a pinnacle player.
Obviously, he was worth the investment and the Rangers benefited greatly from it.
Time with the Rangers
Straka spent the final three seasons of his career in New York. Playing alongside Jagr and Nylander on the first line, the Rangers made the Stanley Cup Playoffs each season. Despite only making it as far as the second round, it was the first time the Rangers had made the playoffs since the 1996-97 season.
In 224 games as a Ranger, Straka had a points per game average of 0.83, his highest with any team. He scored 65 goals and 122 assists with the Blueshirts, and recorded two hat tricks.
One of those hat tricks was against the Philadelphia Flyers on Jan. 4, 2007. Straka scored all three goals and carried the Rangers over the Flyers to a 3-2 victory. The first came from a beautiful feed from Nylander, who circled around the under the hash marks to find Straka open in front. The second goal came during the second period, after Michael Rozsival’s shot was blocked and redirected to Straka at the left circle, with a wide open net in front of him. Finally, the third, and game-winning goal, came off of a breakaway sparked by a takeaway from Straka. He raced in on Flyers goalie Robert Esche and faked it to his backhand before sliding it under the goalie’s pad for the hat trick.
Straka is the only member of the Rangers to ever wear the number 82. His performance was crucial during the middle of the 2000s and his short time with the Rangers left a lasting impact. It certainly wasn’t enough to warrant him a number retirement or anything like that, but it was still memorable.
Straka, the 19th-overall selection in the 1992 NHL Entry Draft by the Penguins, played for six teams during his career. In 954 career games, he amassed 717 points, 257 goals and 460 assists. During postseason play, he appeared in 106 games and contributed 70 points.
He was named an All-Star as a member of the Penguins during the 1999-2000 season. Straka never made it to the Stanley Cup Final during his career, but he did win the Czech Extraliga title in 2012-13 with HC Škoda Plzeň.
Oh, and he won it himself with the game-winning goal in Game 7.
At the end of it all, Straka had a million dollar quote to sum up his professional hockey career:
Straka was crucial to the Rangers’ history. In a short time, he was able to help take the Rangers from a bottom of the league team to a playoff berth. Despite not getting the chance to hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup, he did capture a championship in his home country.
Countdown To Hockey
In 82 nights, the NHL starts up again and the puck will drop on another season. The Rangers had a huge offseason and acquired Artemi Panarin and Jacob Trouba, while also drafting Kaapo Kakko with the second-overall pick.
The season is still nearly three months away, but each passing day brings more excitement. Things are looking up for the Blueshirts and the future is bright, but there is still a lot of uncertainty. This is an exciting time to be a part of Rangerstown, and this season will show what the team is made of.