With the retro New York Rangers liberty jerseys making a comeback this season and the captaincy role being filled at some point, a revisitation to one of the pinnacles of Ranger history is in order — the day Mark Messier became a Blueshirt.
On Oct. 4, 1991, the narrative of the historical organization was irrevocably altered upon Messier’s arrival in New York. Insistent on being traded out of his hometown’s club, the Edmonton Oilers, he had his heart set on New York City. Indeed it was the ideal setting for his reinvention. (From ‘Mark Messier trade got Rangers the right player at right time’, New York Post, 6/9/20)
After he arrived, his promise to bring the Stanley Cup back to the city never faded. The trade was a massive headline — the captain of the Oilers asked to be sent out in order to join a struggling franchise. Yet he was deliberate in his actions and, in a way, had knowledge beyond a certain extent that others did not.
Messier as a Player
The list of intangibles that Messier brought to Broadway was extensive. His confidence and appreciation of the storied franchise were key aspects of his leadership system. His success in Edmonton also taught him what allows a team to win five Cups in nine seasons.
“I don’t want to criticize anything or anyone that came before me, but coming from an organization that had won five Cups in nine years to the Rangers, I could detect differences in the approach, in expectations, and just the way things were done,” Messier stated. “When you’re winning championships, more is demanded of you and you demand more of yourselves. There were glaring differences in the way some things were done.”
His awareness and self-assurance had been instilled before his days as a Ranger and he showcased those qualities in Broadway. His impact on the team was essentially instantaneous. Known succinctly as “The Captain” he led the Rangers to the 1992 Playoffs. Though the club did not proceed past the second round, it seemed to be a valiant indicator of hope.
Messier’s time with the Rangers can be visually represented as a roller coaster. The very next season, 1992-93, the team missed the playoffs. Messier was the focus of relentless blame, largely due to their dead-last position in the division. They ended 19th of 24 teams in the league.
By this point, fans were accustomed to disappointment and were dissatisfied with head coach, Roger Neilson. Ron Smith eventually came in to replace Neilson, but this did not solve much either. However, everything changed for the team in their 1993-94 season.
A Total Turnaround
The organization started with new coach Mike Keenan behind the bench, and the Rangers were able to move in another direction. The club adjusted quickly to the new coach’s rigid standard. By the time the 84-game stretch ended, the league average for points was 82. The Rangers had 112.
The regular season put the Rangers in a great position for the playoffs. Goaltender Mike Richter was playing at his peak and was surrounded by a core full of chemistry led by Messier.
Of course, then comes the famous “guarantee” from Messier. In the Eastern Conference Final against the rival New Jersey Devils, he promised a Game 6 victory to the media, the fans, and also to his team. Having lost Game 4 and Game 5, this was a bold remark despite their regular season looks.
Down 2-1 at the end of period two, Messier backed up his guarantee himself. Not only did he score the tying goal, but he also found the back of the net to seal the game-winning goal.
Messier would not stop at two, however. The Captain sent the puck into an empty net to eliminate the red hot Devils once and for all.
The rest is history.
Twenty-six years later, it is still amazing to see how quickly the team was able to recuperate and win arguably the hardest award in all of sports. Messier’s legacy as a captain goes down in Rangers history, but also in all of the NHL.