Flashback: Neil Smith on Mike Keenan and Mark Messier’s exodus from the New York Rangers

Former Rangers GM, Neil Smith was recently on the Cam and Strick Podcast. It was a wide-ranging interview that touched on a number of topics. The architect of the 1994 Championship went down memory lane and wanted to give his side of two very important stories.

Mike Keenan already had a deal in place during the 1994 Finals

new york rangers history
Mike Keenan with the Cup overhead (SI)

“Mike had decided he could cash in on the great series he had with the Rangers,” Smith began. “He wanted to be a manager and a coach, and maybe he thought he could get my job.” Then Smith revealed that he started negotiations with the Red Wings, but they backed out on Keenan. Right afterwards he already agreed to a deal with the Blues before the Rangers even finished winning the Cup in 1994.”

Then Smith started recalling instances where Keenan was being insubordinate. The first time Smith had a problem was during the French’s Challenge, aka: The Mustard Cup exhibition against Toronto. Mind you this is before preseason started.

“Where’s Mike sitting?” Smith asked the Rangers travel guy as they were making their way back home. That’s when Neil found out that Keenan was not on the plane and made his own plans. Proper protocol would be to tell the GM.

Years after, Smith found out that when he used to call down to speak to Keenan, he would tell them to lie and say he’s not there. “He was a really tough guy to handle.”

Mark Messier grudgingly leaves for Vancouver

Everyone remembers the bitter divorce between the Rangers and Mark Messier in 1997. Smith recalled that ownership told them Messier was not to make more than Gretzky and it can only be one year. “They’re going to tell me to frig off!”

Messier (Canucks)

Which is exactly what happened when he goes to see Mark’s agent and dad Doug in Hilton Head. That’s when Vancouver swept in and gave Mess a huge deal.

Neil goes into so much more detail, including the Joe Sakic offer sheet debacle. Listen to the full episode below.

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Anthony Scultore has been covering the New York Rangers and the NHL since 2014. His work also appears at... More about Anthony Scultore

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