Craig MacTavish

Rangers Get An Oil Change

The 1994 Stanley Cup victory was perhaps the most important date in franchise history for the New York Rangers. Fifty four years of futility, mismanagement and bad luck was erased in an instant, thanks in large part to the Edmonton Oilers dynasty of the late 1980s.

No less than eight players that season (seven in the playoffs) had donned the Oilers uniform prior to coming to New York. Mark MessierAdam Graves, Glen Anderson, Esa TikkanenJeff BeukeboomKevin LoweCraig MacTavish and Mike Hudson all contributed one way or another to ending the Cup drought that year.

But all good things come to an end, and in the case of the aging former Oilers that end would come swiftly. As the team aged, the management became ever more desperate in it’s attempts to squeeze a little more success out of the former dynasty.

Yet more former Oilers joined the team in 1995-96 when Mark Messier reportedly talked then GM Neil Smith into trading for a soon to be 36 Jari Kurri and the almost 33 year old Marty McSorley. The cost was high for the aging veterans and neither contributed more than a handful of games to the franchise before departing as free agents.

The following year it was Wayne Gretzky, and the return of Esa Tikkanen that ran the Rangers to a surprising Eastern Conference finals, where they finally fell short through a combination of injuries and Philadelphia’s Legion of Doom.

It would be the time the Rangers would play in the post-season until 2006, but it didn’t stop the team from continuing to try and keep the tradition going with a series of signings that included the likes of Geoff SmithScott Fraser, and Esa Tikkanen (a third time), while behind the bench former Oiler coach John Muckler took over when Colin Campbell (also a former Oiler) was let go.

By the time the 1999-2000 season ended the franchise was in chaos, having missed the playoff three straight seasons. The opportunity was ripe for change and into the void stepped yet another Oiler, none other than General Manager Glen Sather.

Sather brought with him a fresh batch of former Oilers to the operation. Ron Low (a former Edmonton coach under Sather, with a less than stellar record) took over the reigns behind the bench, while former Rangers assistant John Tortorella would lose out in his bid to win the Head Coaching job, ultimately settling on the position in Tampa where he’d go on to win a Cup.

Meanwhile on the ice, Mark Messier returned to MSG to re-assume the mantle of captain for the struggling franchise, while another former Oiler, Drew Bannister, would get to play his last three NHL games while wearing a New York Rangers jersey.

The trend continued into the following season with the arrival of Martin RucinskyRem Murray and Tom Poti via trade deadline deals, and the signing of the disappointing duo of Zdeno Ciger and Igor Ulanov as free agents, and over the next two seasons the likes of Ales PisaAnson CarterBoris MironovJussi Markkanen, Stephen Valiquette and Greg de VriesGlen Sather even stepped behind the bench to make it four of the past five Head Coaches with ties to Edmonton.

By the time the NHL locked the players out for the 2004-05 season the futile streak had reached seven seasons and change was in the air for the league and the team.

After a year off the Rangers re-took the ice with a decidedly different line-up, featuring just two players with ties to Edmonton and just the second Head Coach since Mike Keenan that didn’t. Instead of Edmonton, the Rangers ented the 2005-06 season with a solid dose of former Atlantic Division players including Jaromir Jagr (PIT), Martin Straka (NYI/PIT), Petr Sykora (NJD), Michal Rozsival (PIT), Ville Nieminen (PIT), Jason Strudwick (NYI), Darius Kasparaitis (NYI/PIT) and Kevin Weekes (NYI).

Admittedly a large part of the success was due to the large influx of Czechs to the team, but the focus on former Atlantic Division players continued into last season with no fewer than nine such players dressing during the season.

As the Rangers prepare for the 2007-08 season the trend away from the Edmonton Oilers has reached a point when only one player (Stephen Valiquette) will have dressed and played for the Oilers, and only one game at that. Even if the Rangers do end up signing Michael Peca, the Rangers will be facing the coming season with perhaps the team with the least influence from Alberta since the late 80s.

They’ll also be facing the year with a good deal of experience in the Atlantic Division with no fewer than twenty five of the twenty seven players under contract with NHL experience having already played for the franchise or at the very least in the division.

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