On Monday, Adidas released their NHL reverse retro jerseys that had fans salivating (unless you root for the New York Islanders or Detroit Red Wings). The New York Rangers heard their fans and brought back the lady liberty jerseys, which were worn from the 1996-97 season until 2006-07 when they were retired.
The Rangers have lacked an alternate jersey since Adidas took the reins which left a sour taste among fans, but now, they are rejoicing at the beautiful new sweaters they can admire next season. When they were first released, the liberty uniforms were one of the most unique in the NHL, far removed from the usual Rangers crest or diagonal font.
In the 10 seasons with the liberty sweaters, many legends took the ice at Madison Square Garden wearing them; some were synonymous with Rangers history and others with the NHL. Now that these treasured alternates are making a triumphant return, it’s time to open the vault and look at some of the best to wear them during their initial Broadway run.
Any time you name ‘The Great One’, odds are the impact was significant. Gretzky led the Rangers in scoring during the liberty jersey’s debut season with 97 points and in each of the next two seasons. In 1997-98 he tallied 90 points, following that up with a 62-point season, still good enough to lead the team.
Gretzky is the greatest player in history, and dominated in the liberty jerseys despite that he was 36 when they made their debut. His tenure with the Rangers wasn’t long, but Gretzky remained productive, especially in those sweaters.
Perhaps one of the most under-appreciated defensive greats in NHL history, Brian Leetch was a premier play-maker for the Rangers for 17 seasons. He posted 424 points (409 with the Rangers) from 1996-2004 during the liberty jersey’s reign, ranked second by a defenseman in that time, behind Nicklas Lidstrom.
Leetch led the Rangers in scoring, tallying 79 points during the 2000-01 campaign, and finished with 50 or more in six of those eight seasons. It was an incredible run for an incredible defenseman, one which solidified his name in the pantheon of NHL greats.
The liberty alternates debuted in the latter stage of Messier’s career when he left Rangers for the Vancouver Canucks before returning to New York. In 1996-97, Messier finished with 84 points, second to Gretzky on the Rangers. Although his production diminished when he was in his 40s, he still finished the 2003-04 season, his last, second in team scoring with 43 points.
Messier tallied 257 points over five seasons in the liberty jerseys, despite four of those coming after he turned 40. He was perhaps the greatest captain in Rangers history and is a legend in New York. His play during the jersey’s tenure exemplifies his effort and competitiveness.
Jagr is remembered mainly for his days with the Pittsburgh Penguins, but his last stretch of brilliance was with the Rangers. After he was traded to Broadway during the 2003-04 season, Jagr graced the liberty jerseys with 29 points over the final 31 games. After the 2004-05 lockout, Jagr returned with a vengeance, leading the Rangers in scoring with 123 points.
In his two and a half seasons in the liberty sweaters, Jagr put up a miraculous 248 points (he scored 71 more the next season). His brilliance with the Rangers was unparalleled at that time, as he failed to reach those same numbers with any other team over the remainder of his career.
Lindros was a punishing forward who is considered one of the greatest Philadelphia Flyers of all time. The former first overall pick had a solid career in Philadelphia before he joined the Rangers. For three seasons, he donned the liberty alternates and led the team in scoring with 73 points in the 2001-02 season.
Lindros finished second on the team the next season, with a respectable 53 points, and he recorded 158 points over his Rangers stint. He was a solid player for New York, and his brief success qualifies him to be included among this unique group of players.
Lundqvist was the face of the Rangers franchise for 15 seasons, the first two of which were in the liberty sweater. ‘The King’ finished third in Vezina Trophy voting in each of those two seasons, including a fourth-place finish in Calder voting during the 2005-06 campaign.
He had a combined 67-34-17 record with 7 shutouts in the liberty jersey, posting a 2.24 goals-against average (GAA) in 2005-06 and a 2.34 GAA in 2006-07. It was the type of start to a career most can only dream about, and it paved the way for a long reign of success on Broadway.
Finally, we have Petr Nedved, who some may forget played for the Rangers. He came to New York at the start of the 1998-99 season, posting 47 points during his first campaign. During the next four seasons, all wearing the liberty sweaters, Nedved led the team in scoring twice and finished second in 2000-01.
He registered 328 points over five and a half seasons with the Rangers, and reached his high-mark in 2000-01 with 78 points. Nedved did everything he was asked to do with the Rangers, playing a pivotal role in each of his seasons in New York. He may not have been the most memorable name among the cast of legends, but Nedved was a very good player during the liberty era.
In 2020-21, Artemi Panarin, Mika Zibanejad, Alexis Lafreniere, and others will all look to cement their place on this list. The Rangers have an exciting array of talent, which will tantalize audiences, particularly when they’re wearing the new reverse retro sweaters.
Brendan Azoff is a THW contributor and podcast host dedicated to covering the New York Rangers. His passion for hockey started when he first laced up the skates at three, growing into his love for writing and talking about the greatest sport in the world. His podcast, The Backcheck, breaks down the Rangers, Islanders, and NHL news and can be found on The Hockey Writers Podcast Network and Belly Up Sports. Brendan has been writing about the Rangers and the NHL for over two years, with his content also found on Puck Prose, Blue Line Station, and E2G Sports. If you want to connect with Brendan and stay up-to-date on his posts, follow him on Twitter. He is always available for content ideas and interviews, don’t be afraid to ask!