Plenty of players have come to Madison Square Garden and donned the Blueshirt (or home white for a while) and shined. From Wayne Gretzky to Phil Esposito, the Broadway Blueshirts have had no shortage of stars, but while some have shined, others fizzled. So which of all the players are the cream of the crop for the New York Rangers.
10) Henrik Lundqvist (#30) – The Rangers current goaltender has brought stability to an organization that couldn’t find it after losing their All-Time Wins leader. He has won 30 games in his rookie campaign and won at least 35 every year since. After starting his career the same year as Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin, Lundqvist was not only nominated for the Calder Trophy (Rookie of the Year), but he was nominated for the Vezina Trophy (best Goalie) his first three years as well. This year it’s very likely he may win his first Vezina.
9) Harry Howell (#3) – The Iron Man of the New York Rangers in the 1950 and 60’s. Howell played in more games than any other Ranger (1160) and was a relentless shot blocker. In 1967, he won the Norris trophy and then remarked, “I’m glad I did because Bobby Orr’s going to win it from here on.”
8) Andy Bathgate (#9) – Bathgate was bona fide superstar with the Blueshirts. He won the Hart trophy in 1959, when he scored 40 goals and 48 assists. Bathgate was one of the most skilled Rangers to play on the team, but the team traded him in 1964 to Toronto, where he helped win a Stanley Cup.
7) John Vanbiesbrouck (#34) – The young kid from Detroit, made an enormous splash on Broadway in his first two seasons. In 1986, “the Beezer” led the Rangers in playoff upsets over Washington and Philadelphia, before losing in the Conference finals to Montreal led by rookie goalie Patrick Roy. “Beezer” would win the Vezina trophy in 1986, but his career with the Rangers would end in ’93 when the Rangers keep Mike Ritcher in the expansion draft. Still a popular Ranger, “Beezer” is the only goalie to play for the Rangers, Devils, Flyers and Islanders.
6) Adam Graves (#9) – In 1991, Neil Smith acquired the player he scouted with Detroit and knew he was going to be special. In his first four seasons, he scored 23 goals. In his first as a Rangers, Graves scored 26. He would go on to score 280 goals (with a then team-record 52 in 94), but Graves separated himself from ALL PREVIOUS Rangers with his determination on the ice -where no player left more blood- and charities OFF the ice. To list his charity work, you’d need something bigger than the internet and after he was traded to San Jose in 2001, he still continued ALL of his New York Charities.
5) Eddie Giacomin (#1) – Few goalies had the tenacity of the roving Eddie Giacomin. Giacomin was like a third defenseman, skating out as far as the blueline to move the puck. The Vezina trophy winner Giacomin led the Rangers to the ’72 Stanley Cup Finals, but facing Hall of Famers Phil Esposito and Bobby Orr in their prime, proved too tough a task. Giacomin’s skills started to decline and the Rangers dumped high priced talent in their first month of the season. The Rangers cut Giacomin and he was picked up by the Detroit Red Wings, who were playing at the Garden the next game. When Giacomin stepped out on to the ice, he was greeted by fans chanting, “Eddie! Eddie!” Giacomin was so moved that he said he couldn’t see for the first few minutes and the Garden cheered on the Red Wings all night, even booing when the Rangers scored. Giacomin still holds team records in shutouts.
4) Mike Richter (#35) – When the Rangers floundered in December of 1989, former Team USA goalie Mike Ritcher was called upon and returned the Rangers to first place. Over the next three years, he’d form the best goaltending tandem with the incumbent John VanBiesbrouck. However in 1993, the Rangers had to decide which goalie to keep and Ritcher was the choice. The next season, he won 40 games (a first for a Rangers’ goalie since 1940) and won the Stanley Cup. The highlight of the 94 season was his penalty shot save on Pavel Bure (who he also stopped several times in the All Star Game that year at MSG). Ritcher played his entire career with the Rangers and holds the record for most wins (301), but concussion problems end his career prematurely.
3) Mark Messier (#11) – When Mark Messier arrived from Edmonton in 1991, he came with five Stanley Cups and a Hart Trophy as MVP in 1990. Neil Smith was told by then-Edmonton GM Glen Sather that “this was the guy to win you the Stanley Cup”. However, Messier endured some lumps. He won his second Hart Trophy in 1992 and led the Rangers to the best record in hockey, but failed to bring home a championship in 92 and 93 (finishing last). In 1994, he led the Rangers to the best record again, but his biggest gut-check was his game 6 hat trick to stave off elimination en route to the 94 Cup. Messier was a dominant player, but left for Vancouver in 1997. His second act as a Ranger, which started in 2000, was nowhere near as successful. He did pass Gordie Howie to trail only Wayne Gretzky for most points all time, but never played in another playoff game after originally leaving the Rangers.
2) Rod Gilbert (#7) – A career that was nearly cut short by injury before it started, Rod Gilbert muscled through it and became a star on Broadway. Gilbert was the most talented component of the Goal-A-Game line (GAG Line) with Vic Hatfield and child-hood friend Jean Ratelle. He led the Rangers to the 1972 Stanley Cup Final before the Booby Orr/Phil Esposito Boston Bruins eliminated them in six games. Gilbert currently holds the Rangers’ All Time Records in Goals (406) and Points (1021). He continues to bridge the gap of present and past by being a presence to the New York Rangers and resides in NYC. Gilbert’s #7 was the first Ranger jersey to hang in the rafters at Madison Square Garden.
1) Brian Leetch (#2) – One of the greatest American-born players, Leetch snared the Calder Trophy and took home the Art Ross Trophy twice as NHL’s best defenseman. Leetch also made history in 1994 when became the FIRST American-born player to win the Conn Smythe as playoff MVP, leading the New York Rangers to their first Stanley Cup since 1940. Leetch would be named Captain twice -though he passed it to Mark Messier twice. Known as a great offensive defenseman, Leetch’s defense was under-rated as he played more like current Rangers’ D Marc Staal and Dan Girardi, using positioning a shot block rather than being a devastating hitter. Leetch would leave the Rangers short of 1,000 points, but he would get to that milestone with Boston in 2006.