Mark Messier today ended months of speculation, announcing via conference call that he will not return for a 26th NHL season. The Rangers almost immediately announced that they will retire his #11, in the January 12th, 2006 match-up against the Edmonton Oilers. Messier leaves the game as one of the greatest players to ever play in the NHL, and amongst the most memorable to ever wear a Rangers Jersey.
Drafted out of the WHA in 1979 by the Edmonton Oilers, Messier’s future greatness was not immediately obvious. A rugged player from the start, the Edmonton native managed just 1 goal in 52 appearances with the Indiana Racers and Cincinnati Stingers of the long defunct World Hockey Association. After a moderate start to his NHL career, Messier quickly ramped up his production, registering his first (and only) 50 goal season at the tender age of 21. As part of the dominant Oilers team of the 1980s he picked up four Stanley Cups playing with Wayne Gretzky and a 5th in 1990 after Gretzky had been sent to Los Angeles in a trade.
Messier soon departed Edmonton too, leaving after the 1990-91 season to join the New York Rangers. The move was not welcomed by all, with some commentators suggesting that Messier’s best days were far behind him. In his first year with the team Messier registered 107 points and helped lead the Rangers to the President’s Trophy. Unfortunately the team could not build off of it’s momentum and fell to the ultimate Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins in 6 games. The Rangers fell flat on their face in 1992-93, failing to qualify for the finals and leading to the ouster of coach Roger Nielson.
The following season the Rangers were however, not to be denied. Leading from the front, Messier once again lead the team to the President’s Trophy and then almost single handedly kept the Rangers in the running in the Eastern Conference Finals. With the Rangers down 3-2 in the best of seven series, and the 6th game to played in New Jersey, Messier boldly predicted that they would be back in the Garden for game seven. Messier scored three times that night, including an empty netter to register the hat trick and cement himself in New York sports folk law with “The Guarantee”.
The Rangers went on to win the Stanley Cup in 1993-94, and perhaps some of the most enduring memories are of Messier shaking the cup and grinning ear to ear as one of the longest droughts in professional sports ended. Messier stayed for four three more seasons with the Rangers, including a year with his long time friend and fellow Oiler Wayne Gretzky. The pair helped lead the Rangers once again to the Eastern Conference playoffs, but the Rangers were ultimately overwhelmed by a younger and stronger Philadelphia Flyers team.
The end of the post-season run marked the end of the first tenure of Mark Messier with the Rangers. With no shortage of finger pointing from either camp, Messier left New York for a lucrative contract to play for the Vancouver Canucks. The move did not apparently pay off for either side, with both the Rangers and Messier missing the playoffs for three straight years.
With the departure of Neil Smith at the end of the 1999-2000 season, the Rangers hired former Oiler General Manager Glen Sather. It didn’t take long for Sather to bring back Messier to New York, almost ten years after he first came to Broadway. While Messier played well for his age, he was unable to capture the earlier magic of his career and finished out with four more fruitless years, culminating in the purging of the Rangers veteran roster in the 2003-04 season.
Over his 25 year career Messier registered a massive 694 goals, 1193 assists, 1887 points and 1910 penalty minutes. He finishes second all time behind his former team mate Wayne Gretzky in points and is amongst the top ten in NHL history in several categories. While in the short term his image may have been tarnished by playing on some of the worst Ranger teams in franchise history, time will show that Mark Messier was indeed one of the greatest athletes ever to play in New York.
|Height: 6-1||Age: 44|
|Weight: 205||Birthday: January 18, 2005|
|Position: Center||Birthplace: Edmonton, AB – Canada|
|Shoots: Left||Drafted: 1979 NHL Entry Draft – Edmonton Oilers – #79 (3rd round)|