Rest in Peace, Rangers Legend Harry Howell

The Hamilton Spectator

As the hockey world continues to mourn the passing of Detroit Red Wings legend, “Terrible” Ted Lindsay, the New York Rangers have just lost an icon of their own. Hall of Famer and stalwart Blueshirts defenseman Harry Howell has just passed away at the age of 86.

Howell, who spent 17 years of his 21-year NHL career wearing the red, white and blue, had his number 3 jersey retired in a dual ceremony with fellow Hall of Famer Andy Bathgate in February of 2009. A discussion could be had as to why it took the Rangers organization so long to retire the jerseys of two of their all-time great players and ambassadors. That discussion will not take place now. Instead, we will reflect on the great but troubling Ranger career of the classy, distinguished and talented Mr. Howell.

Howell, the all-time Rangers leader in games played with 1160, made his Garden debut in the 1952-53 season. Howell’s 17-year run on Broadway was very successful from an individualistic standpoint. Howell was a perennial all-star and took home the Norris Trophy as the league’s best defenseman in 1967. Unfortunately for #3, the time period in which he was starring for the Rangers was during the era in which the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs made sure that the Stanley Cup stayed north of the border as often as possible. From 1956 through 1969, the year that Howell’s Ranger career ended, either the Leafs or the Habs captured Lord Stanley’s chalice each and every year with the exception of 1961 when the Chicago Blackhawks won hockey’s holy grail.

To put it in perspective, and this is a doozy of a nugget, the Rangers did not win a single playoff series from 1951 all the way through 1971. That means a Harry Howell led Ranger team failed to advance to the second round of the NHL playoffs. Also, the Blueshirts failed to even qualify for the post-season an astounding ten times during Howell’s Rangers tenure. Even though the Hamilton, Ontario native was one of the few consistent bright spots during a very dark period in Ranger history, the Garden Faithful would routinely direct their collective frustration, venom, and vitriol towards the Rangers All-Star. Not dissimilar to what is occurring today with certain sects of Rangerstown spewing undeserved hate towards goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, Howell, like Lundqvist, was viewed by passionate Ranger fans as being part of the problem and not part of the solution.

Year after futile year, with increasingly resentful and disenchanting screams from the balcony of the old Garden of, “Hit ’em with your purse Mary”, Howell was unfairly blamed for the continuous ineptitude of the hockey team that played its regular season home games on the corner of 8th Avenue and 50th street in Manhattan.

Thankfully, as the decades went on, and as hostility from die-hard Ranger fans started to wilt, Howell, finally, started to get the respect and adulation that he richly deserved culminating with his long-awaited jersey retirement ceremony back in 2009. Simply put, and stated with zeal and fervor, Harry Howell is one of the greatest Rangers players in their entire 90-plus year history. His passing is sad and upsetting. Howell may not have had the league-wide impact that Lindsay had. However, for a franchise like the Rangers that has so few indigenous all-time greats, Howell was a very special person and player and his #3 jersey hanging from the Garden rafters will forever symbolize his relevance and importance to Rangerstown.

Editor’s Note: To read more about Mr. Howell, click here.