Rangers’ Early 2021-22 Success an Ode To Rod Gilbert

This 2021-22 season, the New York Rangers are donning Rod Gilbert patches on their jerseys to honor the Hall of Fame Ranger. Gilbert recently passed away at the age of 80 in the summer of 2021. The way the Rangers are playing right now is certainly a nod to Gilbert, known as “Mr. Ranger” himself.  

Rod Gilbert, also known as “Mr. Ranger” holds several franchise records and was a prolific scorer for the team. (THW Archives)

The Montreal-born star was a career-long member of the Rangers for 18 seasons, the longest of any player to wear a Ranger jersey. The forward still holds the franchise record for most goals and points. He concluded his career with 406 goals and 615 assists in 1,065 regular season games. Gilbert’s production never slowed down in the postseason either. He scored 34 goals and collected 33 assists in 79 playoff games.

With a 22-8-4 record, the Rangers sit first in the Metropolitan Divison at 48 points and have a three-game win streak. The Blueshirts recently defeated the Edmonton Oilers and before that, the reigning Stanley Cup Champions, the Tampa Bay Lightning, twice in a row. While it all seems to click right now for the team, there is still a long stretch ahead. 

Gilbert’s Great Career as a Ranger

Gilbert debuted at a critical point in team history. Amidst a playoff series with the Toronto Maple Leafs in early 1962, he finally entered the scene and in quite a spectacular fashion. He had an instant impact on the ice for his team who was down in the series 2-0 to the Maple Leafs. 

Gilbert found his linemate, Dave Balon, for the last goal to take Game 3 from the Maple Leafs, a 5-4 victory. In the subsequent game, Gilbert netted his first career goal only 41 seconds in and the rest was history. The team dropped the series but his role with the Rangers was cemented forever then and there.

Though serious injuries haunted his career, especially early on, Gilbert persisted and went on to forge his identity in history as one of the forwards that consisted of the Goal-A-Game line, known as the GAG line. Of the 139 goals and 312 points collected by the GAG line in the 1971-72 season, Gilbert accounted for 43 goals and 97 points. 

Had history played out differently for the GAG line, the Rangers and Gilbert could have won the Stanley Cup that season rather than the Boston Bruins, but fate would have it go another route. Despite such disappointment, Gilbert’s overall career was fabulous. 

In 12 seasons of his 18 years, he scored a minimum 20 goals. When he retired, he was second only to Gordie Howe for career points. The 1976-77 season was his last full season. He racked up 75 points in 77 games. On Oct. 14, 1979, he became the first Ranger to have his number retired.

He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1982. Gilbert collected many honors and awards over the years, but was robbed of rightful captaincy. The 1975-76 Bill Masterton Trophy and the 1990-91 Lester Patrick Award are some of the accolades he received. (from ‘Past Rangers.’ The New York Rangers: Greatest Moments and Players, Sports Publishing, New York, NY, 2015, pp. 39–43.)

The Rangers Are Having Themselves a Season

With forwards Chris Kreider and Artemi Panarin faithfully producing, netminder Igor Shesterkin playing Vezina-worthy hockey, and defenseman Adam Fox making a serious case for back-to-back Norris Trophies, the Rangers are nowhere near short of bright spots. The team is led by their new head coach, Gerard Gallant, who also seems to be a great match for the youthful team.

Related: Rangers’ Gerard Gallant’s First 30 Games: Positives & Negatives

Kreider’s 20 goals in 34 games is a statistic most did not anticipate. In his 10th season as a Ranger, his increased contribution comes at a perfect time as he embraces his leadership role with his team inching closer to accepting postseason invitations again. He is invaluable on the power play, as 12 of his goals occurred on the man advantage. He sits in second with most power-play goals, only one behind Edmonton’s Leon Draisaitl

Despite the competition in the toughest division, the Rangers are finding ways to pull out wins and prolong consistent individual success. Specifically, Mika Zibanejad recorded the team’s first hat trick of the season last game and Shesterkin is boasting a .936 save percentage. Fox and Tampa’s Victor Hedman are tied for most points by a defenseman this season, but Fox has 35 in 24 games played rather than Hedman’s 35 games on the season.

Of course, there are underrepresented positives like blueliner Ryan Lindgren. Ryan Reaves’ passing abilities are on full display this season and Mika Zibanejad looks like he is returning to his old form. The penalty kill ranks fourth-best in the league. The power play comes in at seventh-best.

The Rangers had a tough string of seasons that began the 2017-18 season when they missed playoffs and could not advance to the postseason including an opportunity during the 2019-20 Qualifying Rounds to make the playoffs. Since then, the team evolved greatly and seems to continue trending upwards.