FullTilt Legends: Mike Gartner
Mike Gartner, the mustached speedster, affectionately called Garts, became a member of the New York Rangers on the March 6th, 1990 trade deadline.
He was acquired for Ulf Dahlen, a 4th round pick, future considerations and quickly brought his well-honed, but simple style of play to the Blueshirts.
Gartner quickly became my favorite player at a time when I was really just started learning the game. He just happened to be joining a pretty good, Roger Neilsen coached hockey team that finished first in the Patrick Division that year led by goaltender John Vanbiesbrouck, Brian Mullen, Kelly Kisio, James Patrick and a young Brian Leetch. They were ousted in the 2nd round by Gartner’s drafting franchise the Washington Capitals.
Born in Ottawa, Ontario, Mike Gartner had always dreamed of playing in the NHL, but at 18 he began his professional hockey career as a member of the WHA Cincinnati Stingers. He quickly established himself as a scorer by utilizing considerable skating talent and a blistering slap shot. He was so impressive in his first year he came in 2nd for rookie of the year honors and would have won if it wasn’t for a kid named Wayne Gretzky.
When the WHA merged with the NHL in 1979, Gartner was drafted 4th overall by the Washington Capitals. He played there for 10 seasons and reached the 30 goal mark each year, establishing himself as one of the most consistent goal scorers to ever play the game. He only reached the 50 goal mark once by scoring two goals in the final game of the 1984-85 season. Before joining the Rangers, Gartner made one other stop with the Minnesota North Stars. He spent one season there before being acquired by New York.
With the Rangers, Gartner continued to be the consistent goal scorer he had established himself to be. In his three full seasons as a Ranger, Gartner tallied 49, 40, 45 goals becoming one of the most prolific single season scores in Rangers history. At the time Vic Hadfield had been the only Ranger to reach the 50 goal mark. Gartner still holds the 4th and 8th place in terms of single season goal scoring for Ranger right wings .
Rangers fans certainly appreciated his goal production, but what made Gartner such an exciting player was his speed and shooting ability. He could create something out of nothing with his skating, which often allowed him to use his blistering shooting skills. Gartner could score anyway that needed to be done. His speed was so difficult to handle that he often used it to beat goaltenders on wrap-around goals. He was the kind of player who did whatever it took. It didn’t always need to be pretty and it didn’t even always need to be his goal. Gartner collected 627 assists during his NHL career.
There were a few milestone moments for Mike Gartner as a member of the New York Rangers. In 1991-92, he scored his 500th career goal and tallied his 500th career assist becoming the first player to accomplish this feat in the same season. In December 1993, one of his last great moments as a Rangers player, Gartner reached the 600 and 601 goal plateau against none other than the hated New Jersey Devils, in 8-3 victory which extended the teams 15 game home unbeaten streak.
[su_youtube url=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=54SMgp9ij9A”]Game Seven Highlights – [/su_youtube]
Gartner’s time with the Rangers came to an end at the 1993-94 trade deadline. After four prolific seasons he was dealt to the Toronto Maple Leafs in exchange for Glenn Anderson. As all Rangers fans know, this turned out to be the year that the Blueshirts would finally win the Stanley Cup. While Gartner went on to have a successful run with the Leafs that year they fell short losing to the Vancouver Canucks in the conference finals. Thus capping off a season where Gartner twice fell short of attaining the ultimate hockey goal of winning the Cup. Sadly, a feat he never accomplished in his incredible career.
Over the years, Gartner has made few appearances at the Garden. I suspect it has something to do with knowing he missed his greatest chance with that Messier led team that went on to win. Gartner had become an integral part of that organization and a central member of a team that had won two presidents trophies in four years. In a recent interview with Jim Cerny, the New York Rangers beat writer, Gartner praised the organization. Although, he admitted to sadness looking back at that season. Lamenting the important role he played in building the momentum that led to a championship but not actually winning it.
Mike Gartner accomplished many great things in his career. He had his number retired by the Capitals and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. He was also a 7 time all-star, even winning the fastest skater competition three times and remains the record holder as the fastest skater. His last win as fastest skater was in 1996 at the age of 36. Nobody can argue Gartner may be one of the most consistent goal scorers in NHL history. He holds the record for most consecutive 30 goal seasons, but sadly he may always be remembered as one of the best players to never win the Stanley Cup.
Follow him on Twitter: @Garts2point2