A look at the New York Rangers’ All-Decade team for the 1980s
This is part of a series detailing the all-decade team for every NHL franchise for the 1980s. 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 1980-81 and 1989-90) during the regular season. A complete list is available here.
Team: New York Rangers (1980-81 to 1989-90)
351-347-102, .503 WIN PCT, 3,019 GF vs. 3,015 GA, +4 Diff, 9/10 Playoff Appearances, 0 Stanley Cups
The Rangers were up-and-down during the first half of the 1980s, before settling in as a decidedly-average squad during the second half of the decade. They twice eclipsed 90 points (’81-82 and ’83-84) before falling off to 62 in ’84-85. They then averaged 81 points a year during the last five years of the decade. They did have two appearances in the Conference Finals (1981 and 1986), as well as advancing to the second round on three other occasions. They were never great, and rarely awful. Unfortunately, the Rangers sabotaged their attempts to get better by dealing away quality, long-term NHLers before their prime (most notably Ulf Dahlen, Kelly Miller, Mike Ridley and Mark Tinordi). Overall, their win percentage of 50.3% was just above average, ranking 9th for the decade. Their offense was a bit of a weak spot; they scored 3.77 goals per game, ranking 11th. Their defense was exactly the same, averaging 3.77 goals against per game (but ranking slightly higher at 9th). This resulted in a goal differential of +4, also ranking 9th. Decidedly average.
Left Wing: Don Maloney (546 GP, 161-242-403, +46, 603 PIM, 24 GWG)
Don Maloney was a good-but-not-great forward, typifying the Rangers’ offense during that era: a few very good players, but no real all-stars. He began the decade well enough, with four straight seasons of 20+ goals and 50+ points (including two in the 66-69 range). But his production fell off, and over the next five seasons (two of them with less than 40 games played) he only exceeded 33 points once, and never again hit 20 goals. His +/- went up and down in waves, but he was generally positive with a solid +46 overall in parts of nine seasons. He was a solid powerplay threat for the first half of the decade, scoring 37 PP goals in five seasons. He was also a threat on the penalty kill, scoring 13 shorthanded goals in the decade. He was also dependable in the clutch, with 15% of his goals (24) registering as game-winning goals.
Centre: Mark Pavelich (341 GP, 133-185-318, +50, 326 PIM, 17 GWG)
Honourable Mention to Mike Rogers
I considered Mike Rogers, as he started his Rangers’ tenure with an impressive 38-goal, 103-point season. But in the next 3+ seasons he was below point-per-game status, and his +/- was awful (-55 in 316 games). So Mark Pavelich gets the nod. Pavelich was a consistent point-per-game threat during his five seasons with the Rangers in the 1980s. He played two full seasons, and two partial seasons. All three of his full seasons saw him hit the 75-82 point range, and the 29-37 goal range. He was also solid defensively, posting a +52 rating in his three full seasons (and then -2 over the next two partial seasons). He was a threat on the powerplay, scoring 10+ goals three years in a row (48 overall), and even chipped in 6 shorthanded markers. He also chipped in a respectable 17 game-winning goals, 13% of his total. He even had a bit of an edge to him, recording 50+ penalty minutes four times. He was a good-but-not-great centreman for the blueshirts.
Right Wing: Tomas Sandstrom (407 GP, 173-207-380, -4, 563 PIM, 19 GWG)
Honourable Mention to Anders Hedberg
The Rangers didn’t have very much depth on the right wing during the 80s. I briefly considered Anders Hedberg, as he had four seasons of 20+ goals (including two 30-goal seasons), and a pair of seasons in the 67-70 point range. Plus he had a decent +18 rating in 305 games. But Sandstrom was just a touch better offensively, so he gets the nod. While Sandstrom had a negative +/- rating overall, he was always in the +5 to -10 range, so he was never terrible. He hit 40 goals once, and on three other occasions was in the 28-32 range. He was also impressive on the powerplay, scoring 54 overall including 35 in a three-year span. His 19 game-winning goals represented a modest 11% of his goal total, but he was a chippy player: he exceeded 95 PIM four times, including 100 in just 48 games in ’89-90. He also cleared 190 shots five seasons in a row. A solid offensive threat with a physical presence… unfortunately, the Rangers dealt him to the L.A. Kings. Fortunately, he brought over Bernie Nicholls, who in turn became Mark Messier, so it all worked out in the end for New York.
Defense: Reijo Ruotsalainen (389 GP, 99-217-316, +57, 154 PIM, 15 GWG)
What the Rangers lacked in forward talent, they made up for on the blueline. Ruotsalainen was a fantastic two-way threat during the 1980s. In five seasons he scored at least 16 goals, 38 assist and 56 points in each season. His best year (’84-85) saw him score 28 goals and 73 points (but interestingly, it was also his lone season with a minus rating, at -27). He was +17 or better four times, and he was a solid threat on the powerplay (good for 5-10 PPG each year). He was also strong in the clutch, with his 15 game-winning goals accounting for a solid 15% of his total. He fired a ton of shots on net (228 or more each year), and he only missed 11 games in five seasons. Durable, talented, productive and responsible; exactly what you want from a defender.
Defense: James Patrick (451 GP, 75-233-308, +39, 366 PIM, 5 GWG)
Honourable Mention to Barry Beck and Dave Maloney
Barry Beck and Dave Maloney both get honourable mentions. Beck was stronger defensively, but still had an offensive side: four seasons of 30+ points, and a +58 rating over 5+ seasons. Maloney wasn’t as solid in his own end, but had more skill, with three seasons of 47-60 points. Both had mean streaks too, consistently getting 100+ PIM. But Patrick gets the nod here for his strong, clean two-way play. Patrick played in 6+ seasons for the Rangers, scoring 10+ goals five times and 50+ points three times. His game improved as he matured, bringing his PIM totals down from the 70s and 80s early on to the 40s and 50s by the end of the decade. He also got more playing time on the powerplay, potting 24 in the final three seasons of the 80s (35 overall). While he did only score 5 game-winners (7% of his total), he was steady on the blueline: he only once had a negative rating, ad he was +13 to +16 three consecutive seasons.
Goalie: John Vanbiesbrouck (316 GP, 138-128-31, 7 SO, 3.57 GAA, 0.886 PCT)
*NOTE: Save Percentage is from ’87-88 to ’89-90 only
Beeeeeezer! After two short stints, Vanbiesbrouck became the Rangers’ #1 goalie in ’84-85, and he held that role for the rest of the decade. He was able to post a .500 or better record six times, despite playing for a team that struggled to have a winning record. He had a very strong save percentage for his era, and a respectable goals-against average that he managed to keep in the 3.30 to 3.40 range in three of his six seasons. Beezer was a talented goalie who probably kept the Ranges in some games they had no business being in.