Upon assuming the reigns as the ninth general manager in franchise history on July 17th, 1989, one of the first player transactions Neil Smith orchestrated was to acquire rugged forward Kris King from the Detroit Red Wings. Smith, the architect of the 1994 Stanley Cup Championship squad, was quite familiar with King’s grit, toughness and pugilistic acumen from their days together in the Motor City.
Kris King, adding toughness to the Rangers roster
Smith inherited a talented, but under-achieving Ranger team that had been swept in the first round of the 1989 playoffs by Mario Lemieux and the Pittsburgh Penguins. Smith, realizing the Blueshirt’s desperate need to reshape the roster, immediately added the player whose nickname of “King Kong” was quite apropos for the 1989-90 season.
In the hockey season that bridged the decades of the 1980’s and the 1990’s, the Garden Faithful were treated to a squad that was as rough and as fierce as any in the league. It was safe to say that no Philadelphia Flyer coach was labeling that group of Rangers as “Smurfs” as Bob McCammon had several years earlier. Led by King and his whopping 286 penalty minutes (in just 68 games), the rough-housing Rangers ran rough shod over the rest of the Patrick Division, earning the franchise’s first division title since 1942.
Kris King was more than just a fighter
King brought a lot more to that table than just his ability to antagonize and drop the gloves. #12 was a hard worker, a leader, a good checker and chipped in with occasional offense. In his 3+ seasons on Broadway, King amassed 27 goals and 60 points in 249 contests. King’s shining singular offensive moment came in overtime of game 3 of the 1992 second round playoff match up with the Penguins. King’s ricocheted goal off Pens goalie Tom Barrasso’s pad gave his team a 2-1 series lead which forced your’s truly to jump so high off my chair, my hair grazed the ceiling of my living room where I was watching the broadcast.
Since the end of World War II, amazingly, only once have the New York Rangers captured two division titles in a three year span, finishing atop the Patrick Division in 1990 and winning the President’s Trophy for most regular season points in 1992. General manager Neil Smith and head coach Roger Nielson’s vision of adding size, grit and toughness to compliment the Hall of Fame skill of players like Mike Gartner and Brian Leetch proved ingenious and was crucial to the unprecedented success of those Ranger teams.
Kris King certainly was not a household name. You’d be hard-pressed to see any #12 or #19 jerseys floating around the World’s Most Famous Arena during his tenure in the Big Apple. However, the plethora of contributions made by King should not go unnoticed and to be honest, I would bet a fairly large some of money that current head coach David Quinn would love a player with the moxie and all-around attributes of Kris King on today’s roster.
Kris King, unsung Rangers hero
King was eventually traded to the Winnipeg Jets along with another popular enforcer, Tie Domi, in 1993 for veteran scoring forward Ed Olczyk. The Blueshirts failed to qualify for the post-season in 1993 and many blamed the ill-faded Jets/Rangers transaction. The aggression and ferocity that King was known for was sorely missed down the stretch of that woeful and futile season.
The addition of Kris King in 1989 helped to change the perception of the Rangers and it forced other teams to take notice. The Blueshirts were not going to be pushed around no more and for that, Kris King is most deserving of being described as an “Unsung Ranger.”