Oral History: The 1994 New York Rangers Cup run

Rangers Cup

With a grumpy, gun-for-hire coach, a swap of Hall of Famers and ‘The Guarantee,’ New York’s drought-ending season was one for the ages

WITH MATT LARKIN AND RONNIE SHUKER

 

1. NOWHERE TO GO BUT UP

The 1991-92 season made the New York Rangers a force in the NHL again. A slew of aggressive moves by GM Neil Smith brought superstar Mark Messier to Broadway. ‘The Moose’ led the Rangers to the Presidents’ Trophy and won the Hart Trophy as league MVP. The 1992-93 campaign, however, was a massive step backward. After a season marred by injuries, the Rangers missed the playoffs.

BRIAN LEETCH, D: It was a disaster of a year, the year before. I know for me it was. I had a couple injuries, one on the ice, one off the ice (a broken ankle from falling while getting out of a taxi). The team had high expectations going into that and everything just snowballed in the negative direction. So it made for a real long off-season. Not a lot of fun.

NEIL SMITH, GM:  Yeah, we missed the playoffs, but not because our team wasn’t as good. It was because of injuries, a coaching change (Roger Neilson out, Ron Smith in), there’s a lot of things that went wrong. So we missed the playoffs, but it was an aberration. That’s why I hired Mike Keenan as soon as that season ended.

MARK MESSIER, C: No person wins any team championship by themselves. The only way you win is to have everybody feel that it’s their responsibility or priority to do as much as they can for the team. In that regard, my focus never changed from any year, whether it was the first year I played or the last year. I came in with the same focus of trying to galvanize the team to the best of my ability, to make sure everybody felt important and a part of the solution, and that year was no different.

MIKE RICHTER, G: The prior championship was in 1940 and you hear, “OK, so it was 49 years, then 50 years, then 51,” then it ends up being 54 years. Each year it ends up getting a little louder and a little more embarrassing, and you say, “Well, OK, I wasn’t here the last four decades.” But you own it because it’s your organization and your job to change that history as quick as you can.

LEETCH: It wasn’t like you were trying to follow in the Montreal Canadiens footsteps and keep a tradition of being successful, and “Why haven’t you won in four or five years?” It’s a different type of pressure. It’s a great opportunity. That’s how I always looked at it. You’re in a big city and you have the chance to be on a team that does something special.

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Top 10 clutch performers in the playoffs

(Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images Sport)

Come crunch time, these are guys who find that extra gear when the pressure gets ramped up in the 
post-season. Here are the top 10 skaters you can count on to come through in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

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Getting Jarome Iginla a Stanley Cup would be “a great honor”

Ryan Kennedy
Jarome Iginla Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)

Back in 2001, the Colorado Avalanche had a chance to win the franchise’s second Stanley Cup in six years. Cornerstones such as Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg, Patrick Roy and Adam Foote already had their names on the chalice, but the addition of future Hall of Famer Ray Bourque the year before had given the crew extra incentive. Bourque, the longtime Boston Bruins stalwart, saw his dreams crash down in 2000 when Dallas eliminated Colorado in the Western Conference final. But he still wanted that elusive Cup, so he came back to Denver for one more season and his teammates instituted “Mission 16W,” a.k.a. Get Bourque his Cup. As a greying veteran he finally hoisted the trophy after a harrowing seven-game series against New Jersey and the iconic moment was his forever.

Fast-forward to present day and gaze upon the situation of Jarome Iginla. Like Bourque, he toiled for years with a franchise that came close, but could not grasp Stanley’s prize. Then the window closed, and despite the noblest of intentions to go down with the ship, Iginla was finally dealt away from his beloved Calgary Flames so the erstwhile captain could earn his championship ring. And like Bourque’s, Iginla’s first attempt went sideways. He joined Pittsburgh via trade, only to see the Penguins maced by Boston in the conference final. This summer, he decided to join the ones who beat him, and now the Bruins have a little added incentive to win their second Cup in four years.

“With ‘Iggy,’ he’s had a phenomenal career, he’s one of the best to ever play the game, and it would be a huge accomplishment if we could win,” says left winger Brad Marchand. “It would be a great honor to be part of that, but we’ve got a long way to go.”

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Proof that referees prone to making even-up calls in the playoffs

(Photo by Jamie Sabau/NHL)

Playoff pressure. Players feel it. Coaches try to control it. Fans freak out over it. And according to a recent study, referees can crack under it.

Michael Lopez, a doctoral student in biostatistics at Brown University, and Kevin Snyder, an assistant professor of sport management at Southern New Hampshire University, assessed the frequency of even-up calls in their paper, “Biased Impartiality among National Hockey League Referees,” published in the International Journal of Sport Finance. Lopez and Snyder found that referees exhibit what they call “biased impartiality.” Meaning, referees subconsciously try to make games as balanced as possible to achieve a perception of fairness.

Nothing nefarious there. The problem is referees may make even-up calls that unfairly balance the number of penalties between teams, and this can actually affect who wins. So despite their best attempts otherwise, refs often have a huge impact on playoff games.

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Criticism hurled at Kane, Byfuglien, Subban & others is about race more than character

Adam Proteau
evander kane

As the Winnipeg Jets’ season wound down, a controversy involving one of their players flared up. Interim coach Paul Maurice made star winger Evander Kane a healthy scratch for a game in Toronto – and just like that, harsh words were hauled out to criticize the 22-year-old: he had an attitude; he was arrogant; he wasn’t a good fit with the Jets; he needed to be traded post-haste. If it sounded familiar, that’s because it was. Ever since the franchise relocated to Manitoba from Atlanta, Kane has been a target for critics.

Some of that, he’s earned. When he posed during the 2012-13 lockout in front of the lights of Las Vegas pretending a giant stack of money was his cell phone, fans and media rightfully ripped him for not understanding how it would be perceived.

But put aside the specifics of that situation for a second and answer these questions: Were you ever 21? Did you ever make a mistake at that age? Do you think that, if you were making millions of dollars and existed in a massive public fishbowl at that age, you might make the odd error in judgment?

The answer should be “yes.” That’s why there’s something about the relentless negativity surrounding Kane that doesn’t sit right. I’m not pointing to anyone specific when I say this, but I have to say it: some of the criticism hurled at Kane – as well as teammate Dustin Byfuglien and Canadiens star P.K. Subban – is about his race more than his character. It’s what Kane referred to last year when he told THN’s Ken Campbell “a good portion” of the criticism is racially motivated.

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Why the Boston Bruins will win the 2014 Stanley Cup…and I’ll be poorer for it

Ken Campbell
(Photo by Jim Davis/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

When the Boston Bruins qualified for the Stanley Cup final in 2011, I managed to purchase tickets for Games 3 and 4 for Wayne McDonald. He’s my brother-in-law, but not in that “worthless brother-in-law” sort of way. Good guy, accountant in Sudbury, does my taxes every year. And he’s a lover of everything Bruins. I’ll never forget him outside the TD Garden that June night before Game 3, acting like a little kid. “Except for when I got married and my kids were born, this is the best day of my life!” he said.

I mention this story because I paid for the tickets. Figured it was appropriate payback for all those years of doing my taxes for nothing. But with the B’s looking primed to go to the Cup for the third time in four years, I’m beginning to wonder who’s getting the better of this deal.

It’s easy to pick a team to win the Stanley Cup when it’s coming off a 12-game winning streak, the way the Bruins did in March. But there’s more to it than that. The Bruins are the class of the East and will have an easier road to the final than say, about, oh, any one of the eight teams in the West. In the past five years, the Bruins have averaged more than 15 playoff games a year and lead the league with 78 games in that span.

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Need one player to bring home the Stanley Cup? Toews is your man

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(Editor’s Note: In our Playoff Preview edition of the THN magazine, we asked the question, “Who Would You Take” if you were a GM and were building a team from scratch to win in the playoffs? Most said Sidney Crosby, but three THN writers had another opinion. Below you’ll read why Adam Proteau would build his team around Jonathan Toews. Also check out Rory Boylen’s column on Steve Stamkos and Ryan Kennedy’s on Drew Doughty)

There’s currently one NHL captain who has two Cup rings and a pair of Olympic golds. It’s not Sidney Crosby. It’s not Henrik Zetterberg. It’s not Ryan Getzlaf, Steven Stamkos, Henrik Sedin or Alex Ovechkin. It’s Jonathan Toews of Chicago, the first guy I’d pick to give my team a shot at winning hockey’s ultimate prize.

Readers of my work know I come by my Toews crush honestly. I’ve never claimed he’s the sport’s best scorer or flashiest presence. But add up all the things he does at an astonishingly high level, and you have a sum far greater than its already-great parts.

When listing all Toews does right, it’s tough to know where to begin. He’s the epitome of consistency: he’s produced offense at a near point-per-game pace (440 points in 484 games) and he almost had the third 30-goal season of his seven-year career this season. He creates space for his teammates and unselfishly dishes off the puck, but he can easily pick a corner or rip a wrist shot past a goalie if the situation calls for it.

There’s not a brand of hockey Toews hasn’t excelled at. If you want to skate, he’ll skate with you. If you want to grind, he’s good on that level as well. And his international resume is impeccable: world under-17 gold medal? Check. World juniors gold? Check. World Championship gold? Check. Olympic gold? Double-check. When people talk about developing a winning pedigree, the standard by which all others are being judged has been set by Toews.
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Why take Stamkos over Crosby or Toews? Goals are still the goal in the playoffs

stamkos-184765614

(Editor’s Note: In our Playoff Preview edition of the THN magazine, we asked the question, “Who Would You Take” if you were a GM and were building a team from scratch to win in the playoffs? Most said Sidney Crosby, but three THN writers had another opinion. Below you’ll read why Rory Boylen would build his team around Steve Stamkos. Also check out Adam Proteau’s column on Jonathan Toews and Ryan Kennedy’s on Drew Doughty)

So we’ve been tasked to choose one player to start building a playoff team around and the obvious names of Sidney Crosby and Jonathan Toews of course were quickly scooped up. But given Crosby’s past concussion issues, which could come up again without notice, and the fact Toews isn’t the supreme scorer on his team, there is reason to choose someone else first overall.

My preference is 24-year-old super sniper Steven Stamkos, even though he’s only been to the post-season once. That’s not a knock on him – Tampa Bay has had blueline and goalie issues through most of his career.

Stamkos is the most complete, elite goal-scorer in the NHL today and he’s kept up a torrid pace after 2013 Art Ross winner Martin St-Louis was traded to New York at the deadline. If it wasn’t for an unfortunate accident that broke his leg, Stamkos would have played a front-and-center role for Canada at the Olympics. He was considered as much a lock as Crosby and Toews were. Read more