(Ed. Note: It’s the NHL Alternate History project! We’ve asked fans and bloggers from 31 teams to pick one turning point in their franchise’s history and ask ‘what if things had gone differently?’ Trades, hirings, firings, wins, losses, injuries … all of it. How would one different outcome change the course of history for an NHL team? Today it’s Conall T. McNelis on the New York Rangers! Enjoy!)
By Conall T. McNelis
The New York Rangers. One of the crown jewels of the NHL, yet they still only have four championships to their name — this despite competing in a League that only had about six teams for the first 45 years of the franchise’s existence.
Three of their championships came within their first fourteen seasons, and only one since then in the blessed year of 1994. So when thinking of an alternate history, we might look to add to that winning (or lack there of) culture.
There is 1950 where the Blueshirts lost in Game 7 of double overtime, despite playing two “home games” at Maple Leaf Gardens and five games in Detroit because the circus was at Madison Square Garden.
There was 1972 and Jean Ratelle’s broken leg spoiling a shot at Lord Stanley. Or the upset of the new crosstown rival New York Islanders in 1979, only to lose to the mighty Montreal Canadiens in the Final. Or fast forward to 2012 and 2014 and the overtime heartbreak that ended two magical playoff runs.
You could even bitch about poor drafting whether it be the 1977 draft where the Rangers had two picks in Lucien DeBlois and Ron Duguay before the New York Islanders took Mike Bossy 15th overall.
And don’t even mention the disaster that was the 2003 NHL Draft and taking Hugh Jessiman at No. 12 overall. Go ahead and look at that draft. Go ahead. Look.
But because I am a miserable Ranger fan, and as a Devils fan Greg likes to laugh at us, I am going to go a different route.
What if the Rangers went all in and didn’t win in 1994?
The 1994 New York Rangers had everything going for them. Leading up to the trade deadline the team was 44-22-6 with the best record in hockey. Yet on March 21, 1994, Coach Mike Keenan felt changes had to be made. Pressing General Manager Neil Smith’s hand, the Rangers made three moves to change their makeup: The Rangers traded Tony Amonte for Stephane Matteau and Brian Noonan; Mike Gartner to Toronto for Glen Anderson, Scott Malone, and a fourth-round pick; and Todd Marchant to Edmonton for Craig MacTavish.
The trades ultimately made them “tougher” and more of a Mike Keenan style team. The squad would inch by the Devils and hold on against Vancouver to win the franchise’s first Stanley Cup in 54 years.
But…what if the Rangers swung and missed?
Whether they lost to the Devils or Canucks, the Rangers would have traded a future Hall of Famer in Mike Gartner, a future 400-goal scorer in Tony Amonte, and 498-point scorer Todd Marchant with no parade down the “Canyon of Heroes.”
The franchise and its fans would have to live with the awful trades, no Cup, and misery for years to come.
Messier would bolt for Vancouver in’97 and be booed in that first game back to Madison Square Garden. He, along with Adam Graves and Mike Richter, would never have their jerseys ascend into the Garden rafters.
The echoes of 1940 would remain as the club spun into mediocrity that would have been even less tolerated through the late 90’s and early 2000’s with no championship to show.
And, dare I say it? The Rangers would become the Knicks.
There would be no memory for us to hold on to, only the stories of our fore fathers telling us of the glory days of Rangers hockey. On the contrary the Broadway Blueshirts may have been more successful through the 1990’s having not made those trades. Adding Wayne Gretzky to a team with Tony Amonte, Todd Marchant and Mike Gartner amongst others could have made for something special and perhaps more years of success in New York beyond the fabled year of 1994. And maybe the team wouldn’t feel pressed to move stud defenseman Sergei Zubov for Luc Robitaille, with Amonte emerging as a true star out scoring Robitaille 140 points to 117 points in the two years Robitaille was in New York.
But go ahead and breathe Ranger fans. They did win in 1994. You can wake up now. This was just a bad dream. Now lets get back reality and realize its August and we all just really miss hockey.
Conall T. McNelis is a die-hard Rangers fan and thinks the Devils suck.
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