This is part of a series detailing the all-decade team for every NHL franchise for the 1990s. The all-time teams were compiled using a mix of skill, longevity and statistics; it is not necessarily the best, most memorably or most talented players. Instead, this is the list of players by each position who had the best numbers over a prolonged period (i.e. at least three full seasons between 1990-91 and 1999-00) during the regular season.
Team: New York Rangers (1990-91 to 1999-00)
360-321-105, .525 WIN PCT, 2,522 GF vs. 2,356 GA, +166 Diff, 6/10 Playoff Appearances, 1 Stanley Cup
The 1994 New York Rangers are one of the most fondly remembered hockey teams of the decade. The NHL’s popularity was (arguably) at an all-time high, the game had yet to descend into the Dead Puck Era, Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux were still playing incredible hockey, and the Rangers were led by Mark Messier and his famous playoff guarantee. That one season alone helped make up for more than 50 years of wandering the desert (and 20 years since). The Rangers opened the decade with a decent 85-point season, losing in the first round. And then Mark Messier was brought to the Big Apple from the Edmonton Oilers. Messier led the team to a 105-point season in ’91-92, finishing first overall: Messier won the Hart as league MVP and Brian Leetch won the Norris as the league’s best defenseman. But the team lost in the second round to Lemieux’s Penguins. The Rangers stumbled and missed the playoffs the following year, but then rebounded with a 112-point season that saw them finish first overall and win the Stanley Cup in a thrilling seven-game series with the Vancouver Canucks. Overall during Messier’s run with the team in the 1990s, the team had a 57.1% win percentage and +206 goal differential. They made the playoffs five times in six years, and made it to at least the second round each time: they won nine playoff series during those five appearances. But after Messier left (going to Vancouver as a free agent), the Rangers regressed, posting a 44.3% win percentage and -72 differential, missing the playoffs all three seasons. Overall during the 1990s, the Rangers’ 52.5% win percentage was middle-of-the-pack: they ranked 12th out of 26 teams that played at least four seasons during the 1990s. The Rangers were strong offensively: they averaged 3.21 goals for per game, which ranked 6th in the league. However, their defense was quite average: they allowed 3.00 goals against per game, ranked 12th. Their goal differential of +166 ranked well though, putting them 9th for the decade. The NHL always seems to be healthier when the Rangers are a team to be reckoned with, which was definitely the case for most of the decade. And the fanbase will always have memories of the 1994 Cup win to keep them happy.
Left Wing: Adam Graves (690 GP, 270-211-481, +22, 733 PIM, 35 GWG)
I don’t think there is another player in the modern history of the NHL who is as tied to a single successful season as Adam Graves. In ’93-94, Graves tallied 52 goals and 79 points along with a +27 rating, 20 PPG, 4 SHG and 4 GWG on 291 shots. He was a key contributor as the Rangers won the cup, and he played in that year’s All-Star game. He also made the NHL’s Second All-Star Team, and won the King Clancy Memorial Trophy for exemplifying leadership on and off the ice. He was a solid winger in the rest of the 1990s for New York, but certainly not an All-Star (he never played in another All-Star game). Aside from his 52-goal effort, he had three seasons of 30+ goals, and four seasons of 20+ (he also had 17 in 47 games during the shortened ’94-95 season). He had three 60+ point seasons (including his 79-point effort), and three others of 50+. His worst full season was a 23-goal, 35-point season in ’97-98. He was always a special teams threat: he scored 9+ powerplay goals eight seasons in a row, totally 99 overall. He also hit the 4 shorthanded-goal mark three times, scoring 16 in total. And he had 4+ game-winning goals five times, finishing with 24 (13% of his total). On top of his offensive skills (he had 200+ shots on goal seven times, and had two others in the 185-194 range), he was also a physical player: he posted 100+ PIM four times in five years to open the decade. He then became more disciplined, falling from 66 to the 40s to 14 in the final year of the 90s (’99-00). Graves was a fan favourite and a talented power forward, who will always be immortalized by his (and the team’s) success in the ’93-94 season.
Centre: Mark Messier (421 GP, 183-335-518, +99, 474 PIM, 29 GWG)
Mark Messier is arguably the most popular New York Rangers player of all-time. He was acquired from the Edmonton Oilers prior to the ’91-92 season in a steal of a deal: the Rangers got Messier and future considerations for Bernie Nicholls, Steven Rice and Louie DeBrusk… and the future considerations became Jeff Beukeboom (in exchange for Edmonton getting David Shaw) six weeks later. Messier was an instant smash in New York: he scored 35 goals and 107 points along with a +31 rating in ’91-92. He won the Hart Trophy (as league MVP) and Lester B. Pearson Award (MVP as voted by the players), and finished on the First All-Star Team. While those would be the last individual awards he would win, he remained the premier impact player on the Rangers in the 1990s. During his six-year run, he scored 35+ goals three times, including a high of 47 in ’95-96. He scored 90+ points four three times, and had a pair of 84 point seasons. His low was 53 points; but that was over 46 games in the shortened ’94-95 season, which translates into 94 points over an 82-game schedule. His +/- was only negative once (-6 in ’92-93), and +25 or better three times. He scored an impressive 49 powerplay goals, with two seasons in the 12-14 range. He also contributed 17 shorthanded markers, with a high of 5 in ’96-97. And he was clutch, scoring 5+ game-winning goals four times (maxing out at 9 in ’96-97). In total, his 29 GWG represented a healthy 16% of his goal total. He also had 200+ shots on goal in each of his five full seasons (and his 126 in ’94-95 is a 200+ pace as well). He played in four of five possible All-Star games: ’92, ’94, ’96 and ’97 (there was no All-Star game in ’95, so the only one he missed was ’93). And of course he captained the Rangers to the 1994 Stanley Cup, with his famous guaranteed win over the New Jersey Devils in the Conference Finals. Unfortunately, Messier left New York after the ’96-97 season as a free agent; both Messier (with the Vancouver Canucks) and the Rangers suffered, missing the playoffs in each of the next three seasons. Messier returned to New York prior to the ’00-01 season, but failed to make the playoffs in any of his final four NHL season, and he retired after the ’04-05 lockout (just before the ’05-06 season).
I personally believe his reputation as the greatest Captain in league history is overblown: he was unable to lead Vancouver to any measurable success in the late 90s, and the Rangers failed both after his departure and after his return. However, I do acknowledge that he played an instrumental role in the Rangers becoming a league powerhouse in the early 1990s, and he captained one of the most memorable Stanley Cup championship teams in the modern era. And there is no debating Messier’s Hall of Fame credentials: he is one of the all-time greats, and bar none the greatest forward New York had in the 1990s.
Right Wing: Mike Gartner (310 GP, 162-108-270, +9, 225 PIM, 17 GWG)
Mike Gartner spent his NHL career doing one thing: scoring lots and lots of goals. He unfortunately JUST missed out on a Stanley Cup ring with the Rangers in 1994: he was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs in a deal that reunited Glenn Anderson with many ex-Oilers on the Rangers (including Messier, Graves and Beukeboom). Gartner scored 40+ goals in each of ’90-91, ’91-92 and ’92-93. His production was down slightly in ’93-94, but he still managed 28 goals in 71 games. He wasn’t a huge point-producer: he only once had more than 24 assists in a season, and only once had more than 70 points (81 in ’91-92). But he was a blazingly fast skater with a cannon of a shot: he averaged 279 shots on goal per season with New York in the 1990s. His 17 game-winning goals were a decent 10% of his goal total, but he was killer on the powerplay: he had 10+ PPG each year (topping out at 22 in ’90-91), and he finished with 60 PPG. One of the great offensive right wingers of his era: he scored 30+ goals fifteen seasons in a row, interrupted only by the ’94-95 lockout: he then added two more 30+ goal seasons afterwards. He never won a Cup, but there is no doubting his abilities as one of the best pure goal scorers in NHL history.
Defense: Brian Leetch (700 GP, 148-492-640, +41, 343 PIM, 24 GWG)
Brian Leetch was born to play for the New York Rangers. Never mind the 1990s, Brian Leetch might be the greatest defenseman in Rangers’ history. He played the entire decade in New York, and only had two seasons where he missed more than six games. He won the Norris as the league’s Best Defenseman in ’92 and ’97, finishing on the First All-Star Team in each of those seasons. He also placed on the Second All-Star Team in ’91, ’94 and ’96, meaning he was one of the four best defensemen in the NHL five times in seven seasons. That is elite-level status. He also won the Conn Smythe as Playoff MVP when the Rangers won the Stanley Cup in 1994.
On top of that, he played in six of a possible nine All-Star games with the Rangers, and two of his missed years coincided with significant time lost due to injury. Leetch was a premier offensive defenseman: he had five seasons of at least 78 points, including a high of 102 in ’91-92 (he was on pace for 70 points if he played a full season in ’94-95). He scored 20+ goals three times, and had 13-17 on four other occasions. He fired a TON of pucks on net: he had 200+ shots six times, and had two others seasons just over 180. He was tremendously effective with the man advantage: half of his goals (72 out of 148) came on the powerplay. He was also solid in the clutch, with his 24 game-winning goals accounting for 16% of his total. He was a disciplined player, only once posting more than 42 penalty minutes in a season (67 in ’93-94). He was also defensively responsible, posting a +25 or better +/- rating three times. He DID struggle as the team slid in the late 1990s though: he was an ugly -36 in ’97-98, and was -59 overall ‘from ’97-98 to ’99-00 (after going +100 from ’90-91 to ’96-97). He was one of the best defenseman in the league during the 1990s, and deserves every accolade and award that came his way.
Defense: Jeff Beukeboom (520 GP, 18-72-90, +63, 1,157 PIM, 1 GWG)
Honourable Mention to James Patrick and Sergei Zubov
James Patrick was a solid two-way defenseman: his best Rangers’ season in the 90s saw him record 71 points and a +34 rating in ’91-92. He was traded in the deal that brought Steve Larmer to New York, a key move that contributed to their Cup win in 1994. Sergei Zubov was a sophomore on the Cup-winning team: he scored 89 points and had a +20 rating. But Patrick and Zubov both had one fantastic season, and two decent ones. Jeff Beukeboom spent eight seasons with the Rangers in the 1990s, and he was a force to be reckoned with. Beukeboom had a positive +/- rating six straight seasons, four times finishing in the +18 to +22 range. He didn’t score much (he only had one seasons with more than 3 goals, and his high was 19 points), but that wasn’t his role. His role was to clear the net and punish opposing forwards, and he did that with aplomb. He had five seasons of 150+ PIM, including a high of 220 in ’95-96. His physical presence allowed the Rangers’ more skilled defensemen to take risks and join the rush. Beukeboom was a vital part of New York’s blueline for most of the decade.
Goalie: Mike Richter (530 GP, 240-200-60, 22 SO, 2.85 GAA, 0.905 PCT)
Honourable Mention to John Vanbiesbrouck
Mike Richter is possibly the most popular goaltender in Rangers’ history: he spent his entire 666-game NHL career in New York, with 530 of those games coming in the 1990s. He was a key component of their Cup-winning team, and his penalty shot save on Pavel Bure might be his most memorable highlight.
He was on absolute fire in the mid-1990s: he also backed the U.S. to a victory over Canada in the finals of 1996 World Cup, where he was named MVP and made the All-Star team. He also played in three NHL All-Star games during the decade (’92, ’94 and ’00). Richter won 20+ games eight times, including a high of 42 in ’93-94. He was also a workhorse, playing 61+ games five times. His goals-against average was decent: from ’93-94 to ’99-00, it was typically in the 2.57 to 2.69 range. His save percentage was weaker to open the decade, but he consistently finished above .900, and had three seasons in the .910 to .917 range. He also chipped in a very health 22 shut-outs during his decade-long run. His only competition during the decade was John Vanbiesbrouck, with whom he shared the crease for the first three seasons of the until “Beezer” moved to Florida (via Vancouver). Richter is definitely the best Rangers’ goalie of the 1990s, and possibly their best of all time.