N E W Y O R K, July 13, 2000 -- Teary-eyed and promising tolead the New York Rangers to the playoffs, former captain andfuture Hall of Famer Mark Messier today returned to the teamhe led to its first Stanley Cup in 60 years.
The Rangers signed the unrestricted free-agent center to atwo-year contract, worth a reported $11 million. The Blueshirts then introducedhim to the media, after a video and musical tribute to hisstunning career.
“To say it’s a great day, obviously is an understatement,”said Messier, who later added that the expectations of theplayers, city, and Glen Sather, the Rangers’ new general manager, are to win the Stanley Cup again.
Messier, 39, the fourth-leading scorer in NHL history whohas won six Stanley Cups, rejoins the Rangers after three yearswith the Vancouver Canucks, who bought out his contract afterthe 1999-00 season.
“I’ll guarantee we’re going to make the playoffs,” Messier said. “I don’t think anybody will bedisappointed over the next couple of years what will happen herein New York.”
He added, “the way I learned to win and the wayI’ve been successful is to count on my teammates to come to therink and do whatever it is to be successful every night,” hesaid.
Messier also quoted new Rangers coach Ron Low, who coachedin Edmonton while Messier played in New York and Vancouver.
“Winning is an attitude,” he said. “We have to change theattitude that’s been here the last few years.”
Change in Captains
Defenseman Brian Leetch stepped from the dais, where he andRangers standouts Mike Richter and Adam Graves were seated, andhanded Messier his No. 11 jersey, complete with the captain’s“C.”
Messier accepted the jersey, raised his hands in triumph andbegan to speak before breaking down in tears. He finally spokebefore his emotions interrupted him again.
“I feel a little strange right now wearing the sweater withthe captain’s “C” on it,” said Messier, before stoppinghimself again. “I think the people closest to me know how Ifeel about Brian. For him to hand the “C” over and for me toaccept it is a real honor.”
Leetch, who has spent his entire 12-year NHL career with theRangers, was asked why he handed over the captaincy.
“I was concerned that Mark might become a problem in thelocker room if we didn’t make that move,” he joked. “Ourteam is a veteran team and it makes sense to have the bestleader in sports in that position.”
Career of Highlights
Messier was introduced by Sather, forwhom he played for 12 seasons and won five Stanley Cups with inEdmonton during the 1980s and again in 1990. MadisonSquare Garden president Dave Checketts also had words of high praise for Messier.
“Mark Messier has become synonymous with New York like fewother modern day athletes in any other city,” Checketts said.“He arguably has meant more to the Rangers sweater than any onethat has ever worn it.
“Mark, welcome home.”
Checketts noted that reacquiring Messier was one of thefirst items on Sather’s list of things to do since he left theOilers to join the Rangers on June 1.
Regarded as one of the best leaders in the history of teamsports, Messier won four Stanley Cups with Sather, Hall of FamerWayne Gretzky and the Oilers in the 1980s. After Gretzky wastraded and Sather moved into the general manager’s role, Messierled Edmonton to a fifth championship in 1990.
Part of his legend was cemented in the 1994 EasternConference finals, when Messier — with the Rangers trailingthree games to two — guaranteed victory in Game Six againstthe New Jersey Devils. He came through with a hat trickin the third period of a 4-2 victory, and New York won GameSeven in double overtime before defeating the Canucks in sevengames in the Stanley Cup Finals.
Breaking With the Rangers
But after helping the Rangers reach the Eastern Conferencefinals in 1997, Messier and his agent-father Doug Messierbelieved the team was trying to sign him cheaply and he signed athree-year, $20 million deal with Vancouver.
One of the first things Checketts did was bury the hatchet with Messier — literally. At the news conference, Checketts placed a hatchet in a fish tank and the two shoveled dirt on it.
Messier’s job when he first accepted the role of captain wasto lead the Rangers to a Stanley Cup, which he did in his thirdseason with the team. Now it is to get them to the playoffs forthe first time in four years.
Rangers Need Messier
Messier spent six years with the Rangers, totaling 183goals and 335 assists in 411 regular-season games and another 79points in 70 postseason contests. The Rangers went 237-172-51with Messier and went to the playoffs five times.
“The six years I spent here were really incredible, notonly as an athlete but as a person growing here,” he said. …“Hopefully, I can be a better player, better leader and betterrepresentative of New York than when I left.”
Since Messier left, the Rangers have gone 87-99-89 and havemissed the playoffs three straight seasons.
Last year’s spending spree, during which former generalmanager Neil Smith spent upward of $60 million to sign six freeagents, proved a disaster as New York staggered to a 29-41-12record.
In 21 NHL seasons with Edmonton, the Rangers and Vancouver,Messier is tied for sixth on the all-time list with 627 goalsand is fourth with 1,087 assists and 1,714 points.
A ferocious two-way player, Messier won the Conn SmytheTrophy as playoff MVP for the Oilers in 1984. He also won theHart Trophy, given to the league’s MVP, in 1990 with Edmontonand 1992 with the Rangers.
Messier is second to Gretzky among all-time postseasonperformers with 109 goals, 186 assists and 295 points.