The Rangers and the NHL All Star Game
On Saturday, January 26th, the National Hockey League will present its annual showcase of talent, flamboyance, personalities and characters. Yes, the Sharks and the city of San Jose will play host to the 64th NHL All Star Game.
The best and brightest that the NHL has to offer will congregate in Northern California where the likes of Connor McDavid, Nikita Kucherov, Sidney Crosby and Johnny Gaudreau will show the hockey world why the current talent level of NHL players is the highest it’s been in years.
The first official NHL All Star game took place in 1947 in the city of Toronto. Prior to that seminal affair played in the Maple Leaf Gardens, the NHL would routinely hold benefit contests, consisting of the league’s elites, to raise money for retired players and their families that had fallen ill or had passed away.
The All Star Game has gone through several different incarnations throughout the decades. Starting in the Original Six era, with the defending Stanley Cup champions taking on the best players from the other five teams, to its current configuration of a 3-on-3 tournament with teams made up from their respective divisions.
For the second consecutive season, the lone New York Rangers representative in this mid-season extravaganza will be goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. This will be Lundqvist’s fifth All Star Game appearance in his 14-year NHL career. In the spirit of transparency and to be brutally honest, the only reason why “The King” is going “California Dreaming” is because of the NHL’s archaic and antiquated mandated stipulation of each team having at least one player playing in this game. Lundqvist has been average-to-good for most of the season thus far, but an All Star he is not as I digress.
Having just one Blueshirt taking part in the All Star Weekend festivities is nothing new. Even in the Rangers 2014-2015 President’s Trophy winning season, they only had one player tabbed for the annual showcase and that was the recently retired Rick Nash.
The last time the Rangers had multiple representatives selected was the 2012 contest played in Ottawa. Lundqvist, Dan Girardi and All Star game MVP Marian Gaborik were all deemed worthy enough to be considered All Stars in that memorable year that saw the Rangers finishing the regular season as the top seed in the Eastern Conference.
There was a time, however, in a galaxy not that far, far away, where the Rangers having more than one player competing in the All Star game was commonplace. From 1991 through 1998, the Rangers did in fact have multiple representatives each and every year, and had a pair of All Star Game MVPs. In the 1993 contest played at the Montreal Forum, Rangers winger Mike Gartner, who was replacing the injured Mark Messier, skated off with the honors by scoring four goals and added an assist. In the 1994 classic played in his home rink of Madison Square Garden, Rangers goalie Mike Richter dazzled the home town crowd with a myriad of scintillating saves including, a break away stop against Vancouver Canuck speedster Pavel Bure which would be a precursor to his electrifying and career defining penalty shot save in game four of the Stanley Cup Finals later on that year.
In the millennium’s final year, Wayne Gretzky was, like Lundqvist, selected as the lone mandatory Rangers representative mainly because of name recognition and because the belief that 1999 was assuredly going to be number 99’s final NHL season. The “Great One” went on to score a goal and add two assists and was awarded the game’s Most Valuable Player honors.
In the 1984 contest played at what was then called the Brendan Byrne Arena in the swamps of New Jersey, Rangers forward Don Maloney became the first Blueshirt to achieve MVP honors on the Devils home ice with a one goal and three assist performance.
Other than Lundqvist, a plethora of stalwart Ranger players were selected to at least five All Star games. That esteemed list of memorable players includes: Brian Leetch, who was selected 11 times, Rod Gilbert, who made 8 trips, and Harry Howell, Andy Bathgate, Bill Gadsby, Brad Park, Eddie Giacomin, and Mark Messier, all of whom made six trips to the mid-winter showcase representing the Rangers.
With the lack of consistent Ranger representation, and because the NHL All Star Game has transformed from a legitimate contest where there was intensity, hitting and defense into an ostentatious, passionless, superficial spectacle, I wonder the levels of apathy and indifference of the Garden Faithful. Will you be tuned in to NBC at 8pm Eastern time on the 26th of this month to watch and marvel at the skill of all of those non-Rangers? Or, will you find something else better and less envious to do with your Saturday night?
In the coming years, and with the Rangers, seemingly, having highly skilled and elite level talent making its way through the prospect pipeline, Rangers fans could, finally, watch their own superstars lighting up the scoreboard and dazzling the audiences on the gilded stage known as the NHL All Star Game.