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.