September 25, 2020

Neil Smith reveals the inside scoop on the fallout with Mark Messier, Keenan’s deal with Blues, and much more

Neil Smith was the man who built a winner. (AP)

Former Rangers GM, Neil Smith was 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 goes down memory lane and recounts some of the biggest stories in his career.

Neil Smith on what he wants to be remembered for

Neil Smith was asked about what he would like to be remembered for and his response was surprising. “I don’t want to be remembered as just a GM who signed free agents or made trades…I was a scout.,” Smith began. “I want to be remembered for finding Nicklas Lidstrom, keeping it quiet and drafting him in the third round.”

He continued to talk about his days as a scout with the Red Wings. He highlighted drafting Sergei Federov in the 4th round and that was the highest a Russian was ever drafted. Then he wanted to take Sergei Nemchinov in that draft, but the Wings didn’t want too many Russians, so he drafted Nemchinov the next year when he took over the Rangers.

Neil Smith on drafting Pavel Brendl

Neil Smith Rangers
Pavel Brendl far right (NHLI)

Smith reminisced about drafting Pavel Brendl, 4th overall in 1999 which may be one of the worst draft picks in Rangers history. “He scored 92 goals in the Western league, which is thought of as a tough league. The scouts all thought he would be the next Mike Bossy,” Smith explained. “It turned out he didn’t have the character make up to ever make it in the NHL.”

Neil Smith on Kevin Stevens incident

He recalled being ready to leave St. Louis the next morning when he got a call from the Blues security guy. That’s when he learned Kevin Stevens was arrested for possession of crack cocaine at a hotel with a prostitute. “I am almost fell over,” Smith said. “It shook me as if it was one of my kids.”

“Artie (Stevens) we knew had problems with drinking and what not, and now you feel like crap,” Smith continued. “It was terrible what I saw. He was dirty and messed up, crying and hitting himself in the head” he said. “I called his wife to put her at ease, there wasn’t much we could do.”

Then Smith explained getting the NHL involved to get him help. “I remember balling my eyes out,” Smith remembered. “Here is a guy you love, and you don’t know what to do,” he said. Smith addressed it with the team and they worked to help him out. “Anyone who knows Kevin Stevens, played with Kevin Stevens, loves Kevin Stevens.”

Neil Smith on what happened with Mike Keenan

“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.”

Neil Smith on the fallout with Mark Messier

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
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 Smith’s other tidbits

After the offer sheet fiasco with Joe Sakic, the owners wanted him to try it with Paul Kariya to which he said please fire me.

He isn’t fond of Dave Checketts, former MSG President because he lied to him on many issues. In particular about being fired, saying it was Dolan when it wasn’t.

On what the Rangers were going to give up for Lindros. “Kovalev, Weight, I think Amonte, James Patrick, and $12 million.” Neil also wanted to clarify that the arbitration hearing was actually between the Flyers and Nordiques to see if an actual deal was made.

Neil goes into so much more detail, including the mess with the Islanders. Listen to the full episode below.

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