Today in Hockey History: July 21

July 21 saw the greatest player in National Hockey League history sign on to play for one of its most historic teams. Plus, a franchise-altering player signed his first-ever professional contract, new head coaches were hired and the Seattle Kraken got its inaugural roster via the expansion draft. So, let’s begin our daily trip through the decades to relive all the great memories from this date.

The Great One Opens on Broadway

Wayne Gretzky signed with the New York Rangers on July 21, 1996. This was the fourth and final team of his legendary NHL career. He is reunited with his former teammate Mark Messier, with who he won four Stanley Cups during their time together with the Edmonton Oilers in the 1980s.

Messier led the 1996-97 Rangers with 36 goals while Gretzky had a team-high 72 assists and 97 points during the regular season. The team advanced to the Eastern Conference Final before losing to the Philadelphia Flyers.

Wayne Gretzky New York Rangers retirement
Gretzky ended his legendary career in a Rangers uniform.
(Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

The following summer, Messier left and signed with the Vancouver Canucks. Gretzky remained with the Rangers for two more seasons. He scored 32 goals and 152 points, but the Rangers failed to qualify for the postseason in both 1998 and 1999. Gretzky retired following the 1998-99 season.

New Coaches Hired

On July 21, 1997, the Buffalo Sabres hired Lindy Ruff as their new head coach. He replaced Ted Nolan, who had won the Jack Adams Award, for being voted the best coach in the NHL the previous season.

Ruff spent the next 15 seasons behind the Sabres bench, winning 571 games and taking them to the 1999 Stanley Cup Final. He was let go just 17 games into the lockout-shortened season of 2013. He was hired by the Dallas Stars, the team that beat the Sabres in the 1999 Final, prior to the 2013-14 season and headed that job until 2017. He is the current head coach of the New Jersey Devils.

Latest News & Highlight

A year later, on July 21, 1998, the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim named Craig Hartsburg as their new head coach. He was the third coach in franchise history, replacing Pierre Page. Hartsburg, who spent the previous three seasons as the head coach of the Chicago Blackhawks, led the Ducks to the playoffs in his first season. They were swept in the first round by the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion, Detroit Red Wings.

Hartsburg and Ducks missed the playoffs during the 1999-2000 season. He was dismissed 33 games into the 2000-01 season. Following his departure, he bounced between the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) and the NHL, where he was an assistant for the Flyers. He was named the head coach of the Ottawa Senators for the 2008-09 season but was fired 48 games in. He is currently employed by the Columbus Blue Jackets after some time with the Calgary Flames and a head coaching stint Western Hockey League (WHL).

The Matthews Era Officially Begins

Auston Matthews signed his entry-level contract, on July 21, 2016, just a few weeks after being drafted by the Toronto Maple Leafs with the first overall pick of the NHL Entry Draft. He was the first American-born player to be taken number one since the Blackhawks took Patrick Kane in 2007.

Auston Matthews Toronto Maple Leafs
Matthews has been a star since his first NHL game.
(Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Matthews made an immediate impact by scoring four goals in his NHL debut on Oct. 12, 2016, against the Senators. He scored 40 goals and 69 points to win the Calder Trophy as the league’s top rookie. He had 47 goals when the 2019-20 season was put on pause in March, setting a new career-high.

Seattle Kraken’s 2021-22 Inaugural Roster Takes Shape

On this date in 2021, the Seattle Kraken Expansion Draft took place in front of a bustling outdoor crowd in Seattle as celebrities and former NHLers presented the picks to round out the roster for their inaugural 2021-22 season. It wasn’t without controversy though, as most of the selections were revealed hours before the event on social media. As a result, it lacked the anticipation the organizers were trying to create. Regardless, the newly-minted franchise got its lineup with selections from every NHL team except for the Vegas Golden Knights, who were exempt from the process.

  • Anaheim Ducks: D Haydn Fleury 
  • Arizona Coyotes: F Tyler Pitlick
  • Boston Bruins: D Jeremy Lauzon
  • Buffalo Sabres: D Will Borgen 
  • Calgary Flames: D Mark Giordano
  • Carolina Hurricanes: F Morgan Geekie 
  • Chicago Blackhawks: F John Quenneville 
  • Colorado Avalanche: F Joonas Donskoi  
  • Columbus Blue Jackets: D Gavin Bayreuther 
  • Dallas Stars: D Jamie Oleksiak
  • Detroit Red Wings: D Dennis Cholowski 
  • Edmonton Oilers: D Adam Larsson 
  • Florida Panthers: G Chris Driedger 
  • Los Angeles Kings: D Kurtis MacDermid 
  • Minnesota Wild: D Carson Soucy 
  • Montreal Canadiens: D Cale Fleury 
  • Nashville Predators: F Calle Jarnkrok 
  • New Jersey Devils: F Nathan Bastian 
  • New York Islanders: F Jordan Eberle
  • New York Rangers: F Colin Blackwell 
  • Ottawa Senators: G Joey Daccord 
  • Philadelphia Flyers: F Carsen Twarynski
  • Pittsburgh Penguins: F Brandon Tanev 
  • San Jose Sharks: F Alexander True
  • St. Louis Blues: D Vince Dunn
  • Tampa Bay Lightning: F Yanni Gourde 
  • Toronto Maple Leafs: F Jared McCann
  • Vancouver Canucks: F Kole Lind  
  • Washington Capitals: G Vitek Vanecek
  • Winnipeg Jets: F Mason Appleton
2021 NHL Expansion Draft Seattle Kraken
Seattle Kraken draft picks (L-R) Jordan Eberle, Chris Driedger, Brandon Tanev, Jamie Oleksiak, Haydn Fleury and Mark Giordano following the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft, July 21, 2021 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Christopher Mast/NHLI via Getty Images)

Unfortunately, the Kraken did not have the same success the Golden Knights had in their inaugural season as they finished last in the Pacific Division with a 27-49-6 record. On the bright side, they were able to secure the fourth-overall pick in the 2022 NHL Draft and ended up selecting Shane Wright, who was expected to go first overall. Now with Matty Beniers (second overall in 2021) and the aforementioned Wright as their top-two prospects, they should be set up for a very bright future.

Odds & Ends

Gerard Gallant signed as a free agent with the Tampa Bay Lightning on July 21, 1993. The move came after he played 563 games over the previous nine seasons with the Red Wings. He played in 51 games for the Lightning during the 1993-94 season, scoring four goals and 13 points. He played in just one NHL game the following season, his last in the NHL as a player. Of course, Gallant has gone on to a successful coaching career with the Blue Jackets, Carolina Hurricanes, Vegas Golden Knights, and New York Rangers.

On July 21, 1998, the Flames claimed veteran defenseman Phil Housley off waivers from the Washington Capitals. This was Housley’s second stint with the Flames. He was originally acquired by them, in 1994, via a trade with the St. Louis Blues for Al MacInnis. He played the next three seasons in Calgary, scoring 26 goals and 143 points.

Ulf Dahlen was a veteran of 10 NHL seasons when he went home to play in his native Sweden in 1997. He returned to the NHL, at 32 years old, on July 21, 1999, when he signed with the Capitals. He scored 53 goals and 138 points in 217 games over the next three seasons in Washington.

Happy Birthday to You

There is a total of 16 former NHL players who were born on July 21. Bill Flett, born on July 21, 1943, had the most goals of this group. He scored 202 goals in 11 seasons with the Los Angeles Kings, Flyers, Maple Leafs, Atlanta Flames, and Oilers.

Defenseman Phil Russell, turning 69 today, leads the July 21 birthday boys with 325 assists and 424 points. A former first-round pick by the Blackhawks in 1972, Russell’s career spanned 15 seasons with Chicago, the Flames (in both Atlanta and Calgary), Devils, and Sabres.

Fellow blueliner Lyle Odelein, born on this date in 1968, played in the most NHL games of the lot. The 1992 Stanley Cup winner played 1,056 games over 16 seasons with the Montreal Canadiens, Devils, Phoenix Coyotes, Blue Jackets, Blackhawks, Stars, Florida Panthers, and Pittsburgh Penguins.

Goaltender Cody Rudkowsky, born on July 21, 1978, played in just one NHL game for the Blues during the 2002-03 season. He did appear in nearly 300 professional games in the American Hockey League (AHL) and ECHL during his nine-season career.

Other players born on this date are Guillaume Brisebois (26), Ty Dellandrea (23) and the late Johnny Pierson and Dutch Riebel.

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