New York City is to baseball as Nebraska is to corn. Hockey is a whole other matter.
When the NHL decided it should probably try to place a team in New York City if it was going to successfully expand into the United States, it created the New York Americans in 1925. The Amerks were a huge success playing where they did, in Madison Square Garden. At the time, the president of the Garden was a man named George Lewis Rickard, a promoter affectionately known to virtually everyone as Tex. Rickard had told the Amerks they would be the only hockey team to play in the world's most famous sports arena, but he apparently had doubts about this hockey thing when he said that. He WAS from Texas, after all. When the Americans started making money hook, line, and sinker, Tex presumably pulled out a pair of six-shooters and shouted "YEE-HAW!" while firing into the air. Then again, maybe he didn't, but it doesn't change the fact that he starting gunning for a new Madison Square Garden team which he could personally call his own. Tex got his team, and while he was first planning to call them the New York Giants, the name was officially New York Rangers Hockey Club by the time it finally got to him in 1926. The origin of the name comes from Tex's name itself. It's presumed that either Tex did it or the media. I'm inclined to believe it was the media, given their penchant for cute little nicknames like the one that the Rangers were named for: Tex's Rangers.
Tex managed to talk Conn Smythe into assembling the team. Smythe is a well-known NHL management legend, but at the time, no one had ever heard of him. He got involved because Boston Bruins owner Charles Adams liked his work with the University of Toronto, and recommended him to Rangers president John Hammond. Smythe's tenure didn't last long, though; him and Hammond got so royally pissed off at each other by the eve of the first season that Smythe was actually given $10,000 to leave. Smythe went on to become a legend with the Toronto Maple Leafs and was replaced by Lester Patrick, co-founder of the Pacific Coast Hockey Association. For the first season, the team was immediately a winner. They pulled in their division title, but lost to the Bruins in the playoffs. It didn't keep the team from taking in the legendary nightlife of 1920's New York City, though, becoming celebrities and obtaining a new nickname: The Broadway Blueshirts.
In their second season, the 1928 season, the Rangers won the Stanley Cup. In defeating the Montreal Maroons in the Finals, the Rangers became the first American NHL team to ever win the Cup. One of the great hockey stories comes from these Finals: Back then, teams didn't dress backup goaltenders, so when regular goalie Lorne Chabot left the game with an eye injury, the Rangers were stuck until they spotted Ottawa Senators goalie Alex Connell among the attending crowd. The Maroons were given the power to say no to that idea for some reason, which they did, so Lester Patrick, at 44, suited up himself for two periods, and for an unpracticed coach, he wasn't too shabby: He only gave up one goal. Frank Boucher scored the winning goal for the Rangers in overtime. The Rangers went back to the Finals the next year, but lost to Boston.
The Rangers were having a string of mediocre years in the 30's when they started lining up brothers Bill and Bun Cook on wing, right on Boucher's line. In 1933, they met the Maple Leafs in the Finals and beat them again three games to one. The Rangers spent the rest of the decade in middling hell before Lester Patrick stepped down in 1939, leaving Boucher to coach for the impending 1940 season. Boucher didn't do too badly - he only took the Rangers to second place that year, plus their third Stanley Cup victory against the Detroit Red Wings.
After that, pretty much nothing happened. Okay, that's only true if "nothing" is defined in relative terms. Plenty actually HAPPENED, you know, like the Rangers collapsing in the mid-40's. They lost games by as much as 15-0. They once fielded a goalie who posted a ridiculous 6.20 goals-against average. They spent five years missing the playoffs before getting into the final spot in 1948 by a squeaker, only to lose in the first round. They went to the Finals in 1950, and had to play all their "home" games in Toronto because the circus was in Madison Square Garden. They managed to drag the Finals out to seven games, but ultimately lost to Detroit.
Oh, right. Another couple of things happened: One is that in 1942, the New York Americans folded out of existence, caving the Rangers as the sole fix of New York City hockey fans and kicking off the Original Six era. The other is that in the 40's, Red Wings owner James E. Norris became Madison Square Garden's largest stockholder. He didn't buy controlling interest, because it would have violated the league's rules against one person owning more than one team, but he had more than enough influence to totally fuck the Rangers over like he was doing to the Chicago Black Hawks. Since Norris was a monopolistic asshole in a corrupt league, he pretty much exclusively doted over his Red Wings.
The Rangers weren't just cooked after those 1950's Finals - they were barbecued, charbroiled, and slathered in sweet sauce even well before them. They rivaled the Black Hawks in being the NHL's most helpless team, a terrifying thought when you consider that for the 25 years following 1942, the NHL only had six teams. The Original Six era was an era of some of the stupidest rules and nastiest corruption in sports history. James Norris owned the Detroit Red Wings, had his puppet Bill Tobin in charge of the Chicago Black Hawks, was the largest stockholder in the New York Rangers, and had great influence over the Boston Bruins by way of mortgages extended to keep them running during the depression. The NHL also had a rule stating that teams had exclusive rights to contracts over promising local players who happened to live within 50 miles. Boston, Chicago, and New York were not only at the disadvantage of living well out of reach from the best players - since most came from Canada - but everything Norris did with those three teams was meant to put them at a disadvantage. Detroit was less affected by the 50-mile rule since it's right on the Canadian border, and everything Norris did with the other teams under his control was pretty much guaranteed to aid the Red Wings. This showed in the standings: During the 25 years comprising the Original Six era, only the Red Wings, Toronto Maple Leafs, and Montreal Canadiens won the Stanley Cup. There was one exception, an aberration in 1961 when Chicago managed to steal it.
The Rangers were finally rejuvenated again by the late 60's with goalie Eddie Giacomin and Bernie Geoffrion, who had been a staple of the great Montreal teams of the 50's. In the 70's, they managed to return to the Finals on two occasions. Once was in 1972, when they lost to the legendary Big Bad Bruins in six games. The other was in 1979. That time they had Phil Esposito with them, the fiery, competitive cog of the 1972 Bruins. Unfortunately, the Canadiens were at the end of one of their always-popular dynasties at the time, two years removed from fielding the greatest team anyone had ever seen. Montreal won it in five games. 1974 saw the Rangers play one of the great hockey series ever against the Philadelphia Flyers. In the seventh game of that series, though, Dale Rolfe of the Rangers got his ass kicked HARD by Philadelphia's Dave Schultz. New York's top line - nicknamed the GAG line, for goal-a-game - consisting of Jean Ratelle, Vic Hadfield, and Rod Gilbert - was on the ice, and none of them lifted a finger to help him. While the GAG line helped the Rangers in the standings, this incident symbolized a commonly held view of them at the time: They were soft. They had been bullied in the 1972 Finals as well.
When the New York Islanders arrived in 1972, they paid the Rangers a huge encroachment fee. But they were in the playoffs by 1975, where they faced the Rangers in the first round. After splitting the first two games, the deciding third ended with a tie in which the Isles beat the Rangers eleven seconds into overtime. In his autobiography, Thunder and Lightening, Phil Esposito described his time playing with the Rangers and how it differed from his stint with the Bruins. He said several players on the Rangers were druggies, and basically wrote in a nutshell that the team's mentality was complacent - they didn't care whether they won or lost. After Esposito had retired and entered into behind-the-scenes play with the Rangers, he also wrote that when the Edmonton Oilers had to unload Wayne Gretzky, the Rangers had a legitimate shot at getting him but the team blocked it off because hey, what for? They were making good money.
Throughout the 80's, it was this attitude that probably prevented the Rangers from getting very far. They made the playoffs every year except one. They only real damage they did in the playoffs was in 1986, when they were being guarded by rookie goaltender John Vanbiesbrouck. They got to the Conference Championship that year, but were ultimately ditched by eventual NHL Champion Montreal. The following year, they picked up Marcel Dionne from the Los Angeles Kings…. Where he had already spent twelve years, and was slowing. At this time, talk of a Curse of 1940 began to arise. During the 1940 season, see, the mortgage on the Garden had been paid off, and since the Rangers won the Cup that year, Madison Square Garden Corporation had a little paper-burning ceremony in which they tossed the mortgage into the Cup and lit it up. Another theory was about Red Dutton, general manager and coach of the old New York Americans. Following the 1942 season, a lot of NHL players signed up for military duty, and that ravaged the Amerks so badly that Dutton decided to suspend the team for the year. When Frank Calder died in 1943, though, the NHL named him President and he held the position until stepping down in 1946. When he stepped down, he did it with the intention of finally reviving the Americans, but the league backed out of a promise to let them return, and Dutton bitterly said the Rangers would never win the Stanley Cup as long as he was alive. He died in 1987.
In 1992, the Rangers won the Presidents' Trophy. In the playoffs, they took a 2-1 series lead against the defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins but lost the series. In 1993, the team was killed by injuries and a 1-11-0 finish that left them in the basement. In 1994, the Rangers got a new coach in Mike Keenan. They had also, in the meantime, picked up a mighty player bounty from the Edmonton dynasty of the 80's: Esa Tikkanen, Craig MacTavish, Adam Graves, and perhaps most importantly, Mark Messier. And those old Oilers all proved they still had it in them: The Rangers ran to a sterling 52-24-8 record to win the Presidents' Trophy. They ran through the playoffs, beating the Isles and Washington Capitals before slamming into a tough New Jersey Devils team. Losing the opener in double overtime, New York won the next two games before New Jersey got back into the series and won the following two, 3-1 and 4-1. The day before the sixth game, Mark Messier of all people guaranteed a win. Keenan said that by doing that, Mark was saying he believed in his team. Messier rose up like Joe Namath in game six, scoring three goals in the third period to set up a seventh game which New York won in double overtime 2-1, when Stephane Matteau scored the winner. After that, they faced a Cinderella Vancouver Canucks team in the Finals. It was as climactic as hockey gets. The Rangers lost in overtime in game one. Then they won the following three games while Vancouver scored only four times. The Cup looked like a wrap, but the Canucks pulled themselves together for a decisive game five win. They did it again two nights later, and the seventh game is one of the league's classics. The Rangers took a 2-0 lead in the first, but Trevor Linden of Vancouver scored short-handed. Messier put New York back up on a power play, and although Linden found the net again, the Rangers held on. New York was finally a champion again.
Keenan left following the Cup because of a dispute with the general manager. The Rangers, meanwhile, got progressively worse. First the Cup, then a second-round exit the next year, and finally, a complete fizzle. Part of the problem was that they started gunning for the biggest names without a damn for anything else. In 1995, they arranged a deal with the Pittsburgh Penguins which brought Ulf Samuelsson and Luc Robitaille to the team. In 1996, it was Wayne Gretzky, whom you may recognize as two things: The Great One, and they guy they could have had about ten years earlier. Later, Pat LaFontaine, Theoren Fleury, Eric Lindros, and Pavel Bure. Most of these guys were aging, and the 1994 guys started retiring and dropping. The GM ran Messier out of town and tried to get Joe Sakic of the Colorado Avalanche to replace him, but Sakic didn't become a Ranger. The Rangers started finishing out of the playoffs despite having the highest payroll in the league. Gretzky retired in 1999.
The 2005 season lockout was the best thing to happen to the Rangers since then. They had picked up yet another superstar in Jaromir Jagr, and began building around him. Behind guys like Henrik Lundqvist and Martin Straka, the post-lockout Rangers were reborn and finished with their best record since 1994. Long story short, the Rangers since then have consistently been a chic Stanley Cup pick. I've picked them a few times myself. Unfortunately, they have playoff hiccups and haven't even been back to the Finals, although after last year's appearance in the Eastern Conference Finals, there's a chance they could still pull through if they can beat Boston, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh.
The Rangers haven't had quite as much success as one would expect from an Original Six team. I guess James Norris can be blamed for a chunk of that, but the soft 70's teams and all-star 90's teams are also culpable. The Rangers have the worst record of the Original Six era. Of the Original Six, only the Rangers and Chicago Blackhawks have an overall losing record, and the Blackhawks at least have their Stanley Cup victory from 1961 to show for the shit they endured for those 25 years. The Rangers have still been able to retire eight numbers for nine players: Eddie Giacomin, Brian Leetch, Harry Howell, Rod Gilbert, Andy Bathgate, Adam Graves, Mark Messier, Mike Richter, and Wayne Gretzky, whose number is retired in the whole league but who WAS a Ranger. Other Rangers greats include Jean Ratelle, Tim Horton, Phil Esposito, Jacques Plante, Jari Kurri, Guy Lafleur, Marcel Dionne, and Mike Gartner.
There are a lot of identifying marks to the Rangers. The most significant is probably their shirt, one of the best in the league. Blue, mainly, with accents of white and red and the word "Rangers" written diagonally downward from the top left. It's a simple design, but one of the most popular in the league, just because it doesn't try to do anything fancy. Even the team's former third jersey was well-received; it featured the head of the Statue of Liberty and the team's initials. Yeah, it's pretty hard to screw up the team jersey. Team traditions include the team gathering at center ice after every home win and raising their sticks to salute the people who turn up at the games while the New York Rangers Victory Song is played. They adopted Neil Diamond's "Sweet Caroline" at the beginning of the 2006 season after learning that it's one of Jaromir Jagr's favorites. Since he became Captain, the song was played in the team's locker room after every win. When the fans found out, the song started getting played at the five-minutes-to-go mark of the game when the Rangers are winning handily. The team also has its supporters in Madison Square Garden's legendary blue seats, where in the 70's, more blue collar fans would sit and heckle the fans in the red seats below. This tradition actually carried over to Yankee Stadium and gave birth to the Bronx Bombers' famed Bleacher Creatures.
Andy Bathgate invented the curved stick that is now standard in hockey at every level. Stan Mikita of the Chicago Black Hawks, one of the stick's pioneering users, even said as much. (Later, Mikita tried to claim sole credit for himself.) The 1994 Stanley Cup was a watershed moment, but perhaps the best Rangers story is the Curse of 1940. I love a good curse story, and the Curse of 1940 is one of the weirdest. It had odd ways of showing up. When the Madison Square Garden Corporation learned it could make more money from the circus than from sports, for example, it was before it was possible to configure an arena to hold a circus and a sporting event in one day. So the Rangers and the NBA's New York Knicks were forced to move their home arenas elsewhere for playoffs. So the Rangers were forced to go to Toronto and use Maple Leaf Gardens as their home in the 1950 Finals. After they took a 3-2 series lead, the league then cited an obscure rule that a deciding Stanley Cup game couldn't be played on neutral ice. So the series was moved to Detroit, where the Red Wings won games six and seven. The 1944 Rangers were hurt by the war and asked for permission to fold until the end of it. The NHL, led by Red Dutton, whose New York Americans had simply folded without making that request, said no. The Rangers got destroyed in the standings that year. Their minor-league goalie, Ken McAuley, gave up 310 goals in 50 games, a record most goalies have never even come close to matching. There was James Norris and his ownership of the Garden. The biggest embarrassment during the curse years was the New York Islanders. They were created in 1972 and were the best team in the NHL by 1980. They won the Stanley Cup four times in a row starting that year, which meant by 1983, they had already won the Stanley Cup one more time than the Rangers.
When picking a favorite team for a sport you're just learning about, it always seems safe to go with The New York Team. The New York Rangers have a great history, but one that's wrought as much pain as any team. Be careful with these guys - they'll break your heart.
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Nicholas Croston (BaronSamedi3)
Hi! I'm here in part to plug my writing and let everyone know that I'm trying to take my work commercial. Now, what about me? Well, obviously I like to write. I'm … more
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