Friday marks the 18-year anniversary of Mark Messier and the New York Rangers organization literally burying the hatchet.
Hockey Hall of Fame forward Mark Messier went down as one of the greatest professional athletes to play in New York after the captain helped deliver a Stanley Cup back to Madison Square Garden in 1994 for the first time since 1940.
The waiting for a Rangers Stanley Cup had finally ended and in large part to Messier’s heroics and gutsy leadership qualities during the 1994 Stanley Cup Playoffs and run to the Stanley Cup Final.
Just three short years later on a shocking summer day, Messier would leave the New York Rangers through unrestricted free agency during the 1997 offseason, signing a three-year deal with the Vancouver Canucks. Another Hockey Hall of Famer, defenseman Brian Leetch, would then captain the Broadway Blueshirts during Messier’s brief departure.
After a forgetful stretch in Western Canada with the Canucks, No. 11 officially re-signed with the Rangers on July 13, 2000 – 18 years ago to the date.
The six-time Stanley Cup champion was also renamed captain and essentially on the spot after re-signing with a Rangers team that was trying to change a losing “culture” with the help of Messier’s presence both on and off of the ice.
THIS DATE IN 2000: The @NYRangers bring back Mark Messier, who immediately receives the "C" from Brian Leetch.
— NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) July 13, 2018
While New York’s performance on the ice and position in the league standings had gone completely downhill since Leetch took over as captain in 1997-98, it probably wasn’t the right direction to take and name Messier captain for a second stint.
Yes, all NHL fans alike can praise Messier for his commendable leadership qualities and ability to come through in the clutch and on the biggest stage at times, but timing is everything in professional sports.
The timing clearly wasn’t right to rename a 39-year-old Messier as team captain, especially since he and Rangers’ management were unstitching the captain’s letter “C” off of a jersey from another future Hockey Hall of Famer in Leetch.
Now, if the Rangers were in a situation similar to the team’s current “rebuilding” state, then one could argue that Messier should be given the captaincy back immediately, and even if he was taking it back from skaters such as former Rangers Ryan McDonagh and Ryan Callahan.
Yes, the action was partially a publicity stunt and Leetch handled the situation with grace and class, but the move clearly didn’t work out for the better.
Messier would captain the Rangers for the next four seasons which also saw the team miss the Stanley Cup Playoffs each passing spring season during the captain’s return. No, Messier isn’t fully to blame, as the Rangers’ roster didn’t have a clear direction or chemistry to get back on track and make the playoffs; but stripping the “C” from Leetch wasn’t necessary.
When the Legend was introduced to the media 18 years ago, he assured another big guarantee in New York as the Rangers’ newly appointed captain.
“I’ll guarantee we’re going to make the playoffs,” said the two-time Ranger. “I don’t think anybody will be disappointed over the next couple of years what will happen here in New York.”
A composed Leetch sat next to Messier and stated that the believed that best leader in sports” should don the captain’s letter “C.”
While it wouldn’t have changed much, perhaps the Rangers were better off with Messier taking a step back during his second stint and just have Leetch continue to blossom as team captain.