Brendan Lemieux, the Rangers newest rock star

Lemieux (Getty Images)

The word Agitator is defined as, in part, “a person who stirs up others in order to upset the status quo.” Which current member of the New York Rangers best fits that description? If you said the newly acquired Brendan Lemieux, you would be correct!

Lemieux, whose surname must awaken negative emotions from the previous generation of Blueshirt loyalists, has taken his new team and city by storm. He is quickly becoming a fan-favorite with rock star appeal. His long hair, brash attitude and rambunctious style of play is giving apathetic Ranger fans a reason to tune in and invest in otherwise meaningless hockey games.

Lemieux, who is 23 years of age and who will become a restricted free agent during the off season, will more than likely sign a long term extension with the team that felt so strongly about his talent and intangibles, that they jettisoned the budding star center Kevin Hayes for his services back in February.

Ranger fans do love their agitators, don’t they? In some cases, antagonists clad in the red, white and blue were more beloved by the Garden Faithful than the skilled All- Stars. Let’s take a ride down memory lane and revisit some of the better and more noteworthy pests that earned the admiration and adoration of Rangerstown.

To those who traveled uptown to the corner of 8th Avenue and 50th Street at Garden III to watch their beloved hockey team, the name “Leapin” Louie Fontinato is sure to bring back smiles and fun memories. The resident roughhouser of the 1950’s Ranger teams, “Leapin” Lou had a well-earned fearsome and loathsome reputation. That was, until Detroit Red Wings superstar Gordie Howe beat him so viciously in 1959, that Fontinato was hospitalized for his wounds. Fontinato met his match in “Mr. Hockey” for sure, but that did not change the fact that “Leapin” Louie earned a place in the hearts of Ranger fans during that era.

To those who claimed, passionately, vociferously and notoriously, that they would happily give up a limb or an organ or their first born to see their Rangers win the Stanley Cup, trading the young, skilled, future star Doug Weight for Esa Tikkanen in the Spring of 1993 was sure worth the sacrifice. Weight may have developed into one of the best American born forwards in NHL history, but Tikkanen was invaluable to the Rangers 1994 Stanley Cup run. The man known as “Tikk”, to this day, judging by the reception he received during the 1994 commemoration ceremony in February, is just as popular now as he was when he was blowing kisses to Keith Jones of the Washington Capitals in the second round of the 1994 playoffs.

To those who were thrilled and ecstatic when former general manager Neil Smith opened up the proverbial vault to sign prized free agent Theo Fleury prior to the 1999 season, seeing the diminutive #14 score goals while driving the opposition bonkers must have been a welcoming sight. Fleury, who almost single handily resurrected the rivalry with the New York Islanders in the early 2000’s (Chicken Dance anyone?) was, by far, the most offensively gifted member of the Agitator’s Club. Fleury’s Ranger career took some unfortunate turns due to his childhood demons and he was unceremoniously let go after the 2002 season. Be that as it may, Fleury’s untamed legacy still resonates among Blueshirt fans everywhere.

To those who despised Matthew Barnaby, or Barna-baby as he was known. from his playing days with the Sabres, Penguins and Lightning and were furious when the Rangers obtained #36 during the 2001-02 season, Barnaby quickly turned those frowns upside down and became an instant Garden favorite with his unbridled passion, underrated skill and on-ice hysterics. Whether deliberate or not, Barnaby was a pure comedic genius when he was on the ice. Just Google his fight with Jason Doig of the Washington Capitals from 2003 and you’ll see what I mean. I am chuckling just thinking about it…

To those of you who were watching the Rangers struggle and meander their way during the 2006-07 season and who desperately needed a Chernobyl-like spark, the acquisition of super-pest Sean Avery from the L.A. Kings was just what the doctor ordered. Avery’s polarizing and tumultuous two-stint Ranger career was, in a word, controversial. Whether it was his scorched earth battles with New Jersey Devil goalie Martin Brodeur, whether it was his vulgar and inappropriate comments regarding an ex-girlfriend, whether it was tossing his skates in the Hudson River to announce his retirement, Avery was constantly drawing the ire of the suits at the NHL head office in Manhattan.

Avery was suspended for the aforementioned lewd comments directed at his former beau and a rule was enacted to penalize any player who intentionally waived their stick in front of the opposing goalie’s mask as Avery did to Brodeur during the 2008 playoffs. Avery was in attendance at a recent Rangers home game and drew a thunderous ovation from the partisan crowd. Yup, Ranger fans sure do love their agitators.

Returning to the current day and pertaining to the future of the Rangers, general manager Jeff Gorton and head coach David Quinn will expect much more from Brendan Lemieux than air kisses, chicken dances and venomous public comments. After all, his father, Claude, was just as gifted a hockey player as he was a terrorizer. Big goals, inspired play, rabble-rousing and physicality is the Lemieux family credo and the Rangers will need every ounce of vitality that the younger Lemieux is capable of as part of their return to prominence and relevance.

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