The Franchise Four. The Mount Rushmore. Four players who tell the story of an organization. In this series I’ll be taking a look at the history of all 30 NHL squads. For criteria, I’m choosing one forward, defenceman, goaltender and a wild card from any position.
An “Original Six” squad, there’s no shortage of sensational star power with the New York Rangers. Since their founding in 1926, the Rangers have won four Stanley Cup titles in 88 seasons.
Through the years the team has boasted the likes of, Brian Leetch, Mark Messier, Rod Gilbert, Ed Giacomin, Andy Bathgate, Harry Howell, Jean Ratelle, Adam Graves, Mike Richter, Henrik Lundqvist, Vic Hadfield, Bill Cook, Walt Tkaczuk, Ron Greschner, Brad Park, Gump Worsley, John Vanbiesbrouck, Jim Neilson and Steve Vickers.
So, which players make their “Franchise Four?”
4. The Goalie – Henrik Lundqvist
A seventh-round draft pick in 2000, the 205th player taken overall, Lundqvist has gone on to pile up 459 wins in a 15-year career – sixth-most all-time. The 2012 Vezina Trophy winner is first among active goalies with 887 games played.
Oddly enough, the classy Swede’s accomplishments might be overlooked at times, given his failure to capture a Stanley Cup. Instead, it was Lundqvist’s brilliance that was most responsible for the Rangers reaching the cusp of a championship twice, with a Cup Final appearance in 2014 and a Presidents’ Trophy and advancement to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final the following season. The Rangers also reached the conference finals in 2012.
Those teams had depth but lacked a superstar scorer to put them over the top. Their biggest star was in goal, where Lundqvist’s high-level consistency from season to season gave the Rangers a chance to win nightly. He posted eleven consecutive full seasons of 30 or more wins from his rookie season of 2005-06 through 2016-17. Not bad for a seventh-rounder who would unquestionably go first in a re-draft of 2000. King Henrik is one of the best of all-time to man the net, championship or not, and he’ll be the next Blueshirt to be enshrined in the Hall of Fame.
3. The Wild Card – Rod Gilbert
A member of the Hockey Hall of Fame. A seven-time All-Star, Gilbert also won the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy in 1975-76. Renown as the right wing part of the “GAG line” with Jean Ratelle and Vic Hadfield, Gilbert was the first Ranger to have his number retired at Madison Square Garden. Gilbert once posted 43 goals and netted 30 or more tallies in five seasons.
In club history, Gilbert ranks third in games (1,065), first in goals (406), second in assists (615) and first in points (1,021), even strength goals (287), power play goals (108) and game winning tallies (50). He notched 67 points in 79 postseason contests.
2. The Forward – Mark Messier
A member of the Hockey Hall of Fame. Messier helped change the fortunes of the Rangers, captaining them to a Stanley Cup title in 1993-94. With the Rangers, Messier was a five-time All-Star and in 1991-92 won the Hart Memorial Trophy and the Ted Lindsay Award.
Through 70 playoff games in a Blueshirt, Messier recorded 80 points. During the championship season of 1993-94, Messier registered 30 points and four game-winning goals in the postseason. Included in those game winners was Messier’s Game 6 victory guarantee in which he netted a natural hat-trick in the Eastern Conference finals, as well as the decisive goal in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final. In Rangers club history, Messier ranks seventh in goals (250), sixth in assists (441), fifth in points (691), third in game-winning goals (41) and first in short-handed tallies (23).
1. The Defenseman – Brian Leetch
A member of the Hockey Hall of Fame. Leetch won the Calder Memorial Trophy as the NHL’s top rookie in 1988-89. Leetch was a nine-time All-Star and twice a winner of the James Norris Memorial Trophy. Helping the Rangers hoist the Stanley Cup in 1993-94, Leetch became the first American born player to be awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy.
During that postseason, Leetch led all skaters with 23 assists, 34 points, a plus-19 rating and four game-winning goals. In Rangers franchise history, Leetch ranks second in games (1,129), ninth in goals (240), first in assists (741), second in points (981) and second in power play goals (106).
I’m a resident of the Chicago suburbs by way of White Plains, NY. I worked for the Associated Press sports department in New York City for 10 years before moving to Chicago in 2005, when the AP’s then-internet division entered into a joint venture with STATS LLC. I worked for STATS for 11 years, until 2016. Since then I’ve covered the Rangers for Elite Sports NY, a hyper-local website, writing long form features and news stories. I’m very excited to be a part of The Hockey Writers.