Inspired by my colleague Gavin Daly’s Colorado Avalanche Mount Rushmore, I thought I’d break away from my usual NBA beat to give the good readers of Vendetta Sports Media a Mount Rushmore of my beloved New York Rangers.
The Blueshirts are somewhat of a paradox: they’re an iconic Original Six team, turn out in wonderful uniforms (I even liked the much-maligned Liberty Head as a young man), play in a famed arena and have enjoyed some of the greatest players ever to take to the ice – over 50 players that have worn the Rangers sweater are in the Hall of Fame.
Yet the Rangers can sometimes be an object of pity. Their four Stanley Cups are the lowest of any of the Original Six. It’s less than relative upstarts like the Penguins, WHA imports like the Oilers, and – this never gets easier to say – the same amount as their moribund neighbours, the Islanders. They’ve endured the longest Cup drought of any team – the infamous Dutton’s Curse – and the inevitable ‘2048’ chants grate more and more every season.
Yet that doesn’t mask the fact that some of truly wonderful hockey players have graced Broadway. Today it’s my job to sift through so many illustrious resume’s to come up with just four players who will have their faced etched into the Rangers Mount Rushmore.
To narrow the field down, I’ve decided that to be eligible you have to be identifiable as a Ranger, more than with any other team. That doesn’t mean that your best years were with another team, however. Think of it this way: when you close your eyes and picture this player, what uniform are they wearing? If it’s not Rangers blue, then they’re not on this list. This counts out some wonderful players: Mike Gartner, Jaromir Jagr, Bryan Hextall, John Vanbiesbrouck (sorry Beezer; your Florida run was your iconic moment) and some blow in called Wayne Gretzky.
That still gives me fifteen players that I considered for this list. If that doesn’t give you some idea of the quality that has graced the ice in New York over the years, I don’t know what will.
I’ll cover the Honorable Mentions at the bottom of the piece, so without further ado, here are the players on my New York Rangers Mount Rushmore.
Rod Gilbert (Right Wing)
Rangers Career: 1065 games (1960-1978); 406 goals; 615 assists; 1021 points.
An icon of the club, Gilbert’s #7 was the first Ranger sweater to be raised to the Madison Square Garden rafters. Gilbert spent his entire 18 year career with the Rangers and is still the clubs all time leader in goals and points.
The nine time All Star posted four 30 goal seasons and a 40 goal season through the 1970’s. As the charismatic leader of the famed GAG line with Jean Ratelle and Vic Hadfield (spoiler: both are honourable mentions) he transformed a Rangers team that had been horrible through the late 50’s and early 60’s into a club that made nine straight playoff appearances, including a Finals appearance in 1972.
Gilbert is undoubtedly the best Right Wing in Rangers history, and is amongst the greatest at the position in the history of the sport.
Mark Messier (Centre)
Rangers Career: 698 games (1991-1997; 2000-2004); 250 goals; 441 assists; 691 points; 661 PIM; 1 Stanley Cup, 1 Hart Trophy; 1 Guarantee
Oh Captain, my Captain. Mark Messier is inarguably one of the finest leaders of men in all of sports. Yes, he spent close to half his career (and his physical prime, no less) in Edmonton’s juggernaut, but he is undoubtedly remembered as a Rangers hero, more than Gretzky’s right hand man.
You simply can’t start anywhere else with Messier than the 1994 Cup run that finally broke the curse. Upon his arrival in New York, Messier boldly stated that he would bring Lord Stanley’s Cup to New York. In his first season, Messier led on the ice, scoring 107 points and taking home the Hart trophy. The more he saw off the ice, the more he led a cultural shift in the club, culminating in the Messier led uprising against coach Roger Nielson.
In the playoffs, Messier came alive. As a ranger, he scored 80 points in 70 post season appearances. His 3rd period hattrick after guaranteeing victory against New Jersey in 1994 is hockey folklore.
Messier had it all, as a player: speed, size, stick handling, tactical nous, and a mean streak.
He wouldn’t think twice about cross checking his own grandmother if it was beneficial for the team, yet he somehow – in what’s surely a mistake – received votes for the Lady Byng in 6 separate seasons.
He scored most of his points, won most of his cups and garnered most of his individual honours as an Oiler, but Mark Messier is a Ranger; and one of the greatest Rangers, at that.
Andy Bathgate (Right Wing)
Rangers Career: 719 games (1952-1964); 272 goals; 457 assists; 729 points; 1 Hart Trophy.
Bathgate was the transcendent star on some truly awful Rangers teams. Much like Vanbiesbrouck, team success eluded Bathgate as a Ranger, but it wasn’t for anything that the powerful winger did. He finished in the top 10 in MVP voting five times as a Ranger, winning the Hart in 1959. He also tied with Bobby Hull for scoring title in 1962, Hull ultimately winning the Art Ross by dint of having scored more goals. The hulking winger was an impressive sniper, with a wicked wrist shot and tricky backhand. He was also a formidable checker and feared fighter: an Ovechkin prototype, if you will.
It’s a crime that his #9 wasn’t retired by the team until 2009, almost 50 years after he had left New York. Bathgate died aged 83 in 2016, so thankfully he got to experience the adulation that his Rangers career so thoroughly deserved.
An interesting aside, Bathgate was indirectly involved in the birth of the goalie mask. The game before Canadiens goalie Jaques Plante debuted his mask, he was hit in the face by a puck shot by Bathgate.
Brian Leetch (Defenseman)
Rangers Career: 1129 games (1987-2004); 240 goals; 741 assists; 981 points; 1 Stanley Cup, 1 Conn Smythe; 2 Norris trophies; 1 Calder trophy.
The greatest New York Ranger of all time is Brian Leetch.
He is undoubtedly the best two way defenseman the club has ever had and is up there with the likes of Ray Bourque and Niklas Lidstrom in the all time stakes.
Though Leetch debuted in the 1987-88 season, playing 12games, he burst on to the scene in the 1988-89 season, scoring 71 points in 68 games to take home the Calder. That scoring wasn’t a fluke – Leetch recorded 102 points in 1992, at the time only the 5th defeseman in history to break triple figures. He was a gifted passer and possessed an absolute Exocet of a slap shot. It’s a testament to Leetch’s ability to run the power play that the Rangers haven’t really replaced his point play, 16 years after he was traded to Toronto in the Great Purge of 2004.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking Leetch was a Paul Coffey/Phil Housley offense only type. He was fantastic across the blue line. He wasn’t a bruising punisher like Scott Stevens, rather his elite skating and incredible anticipation defused situations before they became critical. His ability to read and intercept the puck opened up so many odd man rushes for his teams over his career.
Messier gets much of the attention for the 1994 Cup win, but it was Leetch that won the Conn Smythe that year, combining his usual stellar defensive play with 34 points in 23 post season games. He went stride for stride with the quicksilver Pavel Bure, slowing him down enough to give the Rangers ageing side the edge in an all time classic Cup finals series.
Leetch finished his Rangers career as the teams all time assist leader, and ranks 2nd all time in games behind only Harry Howell, and 2nd in points, behind Gilbert. He holds 29 separate franchise records, including assists, points by a defenseman and career playoff points with 89.
We’ve named our famous four, but what about those who just missed out?
Frank Boucher: The greatest hockey player of the pre-WWII era. Won the Lady Byng trophy so many times that the league just gave it to him to keep. The man literally owned the original Lady Byng!
Vic Hadfield and Jean Ratelle: Gilbert’s GAG line mates were wonderful hockey players. Ratelle was the hardest cut to make for this list.
Brad Park: A thought exercise. If Bobby Orr didn’t exist, would Brad Park be considered the greatest defenseman of all time?
Henrik Lundqvist: Undoubtedly the greatest Ranger since the turn of the century, The King has carried some truly awful sides, and elevated some merely good sides to elite. He’s also disturbingly handsome.
Ed Giacomin: An icon. Along with Park and Ratelle was shipped off in the mid 70’s much to the fans disgust. Many still consider him the greatest Ranger between the pipes.
Mike Richter: My vote for the greatest Blueshirt goalie is Richter. Calm and cerebral off the ice, he was a maniac on it. Injuries robbed him of the back half of his career, but he was a remarkable goaltender; fast, agile and clever. I could watch this all day:
It would be remiss not to mention in passing players like Walt Tkaczuk, Adam Graves (fantastic player and a better man), Howell, and Bill Cook. That’s the depth of talent that the Rangers have enjoyed in their stories history. So for Gilbert, Messier, Bathgate and Leetch to stand at the head of those players truly demonstrates how good you have to be to get onto the New York Rangers Mount Rushmore.