Brian Leetch is a testament to Rangers “loyalty“ even after being traded on his birthday

Sports is a business. That is even more so the case in today’s NHL when you have to deal with the realities of a salary cap. That was not the case when Rangers legend Brian Leetch was unceremoniously traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2004. On his birthday nonetheless. Yes, after 17 years and a Stanley Cup Championship that ended a 54 year drought he was gone. Let’s not forget, he was also named the MVP of that playoff year and was the first American ever to win the Conn Smythe Trophy. Business indeed.

A New Leaf

Brian Leetch is arguably the greatest Ranger ever to be drafted by the team. Sadly, GM Glen Sather who made a litany of disastrous moves traded him away on March 3rd, 2004 for two 21 year olds, defenseman Maxim Kondratiev, center Jarkko Immonen, a first-round pick in the 2004 draft (Lauri Korpikoski) and a second-round in the 2005 (Michael Sauer). Needless to say that looking back, for all those pieces the Rangers would’ve been better of with #2 mentoring the defense.

Leetch (AP)

Loyalty is Nonsense

So why bring up this painful memory? Yesterday, we extensively wrote about Mats Zuccarello unloading on the New York Rangers for how they treated him and their current handling of Henrik Lundqvist. In an interview with Norwegian news outlet VG, Zuccarello said he was horrified with how the team is treating Henrik. He didn’t stop there and gave his feelings on what happened to him and “loyalty” from Rangers management.

“I never thought it would happen to me either. In my eyes, I was going to end my career with the Rangers,” Zucc continued. “I think Hank would, too. Everything was going to be fine and great, but then management decides, and then you’re not worth shit…Now you see that being nice to a club, or taking less pay because you are loyal, turns out to be just nonsense.” 

Mats Zuccarello

Let it be known that this was building up with Mats for a long time. Zuccarello to his credit took less to stay with the Rangers when he was a UFA in 2015-2016. He did so because he wanted the Rangers to have cap space to improve and continue going for the Cup that was eluding them. Before he was traded last season, a source in contact with Mats let me know that there would be no way he would take a discount in either years or salary to stay. In Zuccarello’s mind he had done that twice already (the season before he signed a 1 year show me deal as an RFA) and he wasn’t going to do it again. Unfortunately for Zuccarello, he simply didn’t fit the Rangers plans on a 5 year deal and was traded to Dallas.

Mats Zuccarello with reporters

Time Heals All Wounds

Soon after Leetch was traded, his agent Jay Grossman, said in a telephone interview, ‘‘No matter how long you play in the league, no matter how much you think about it in advance, it’s always a shock.” That shock and pain lasted for several years with Brian Leetch, and in a candid interview with Michael Kay he admitted it’s still upsetting. However, in that same interview he also said what so many former players echo today about the organization.

”The organization treated me so well and they continue to do it till this day,” Leetch explained. “Whenever we have charity events or whether we need anything from the organization they’re there right in line.” Brian said there will never be anything negative he will say about a Rangers club that’s been tremendous to him. This is coming from a guy who was the star player that ended a 54 year streak of futility and was traded on his birthday. He is a testament to the loyalty and bond the Rangers have with all their players.

It is a bond that Mats Zuccarello will also enjoy when his career is over. Zuccarello much like Leetch will always be upset, but Madison Square Garden will welcome him back with open arms and be there for him to support his charity efforts. Time heals all wounds and Mats will be no different.