April 21, 2020

The star studded 2003-04 New York Rangers still remain a mystery

Mark Messier and Eric Lindros (Photo: Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images/NHLI)

Let’s play a little game. Let’s play fantasy general manger in which we’re given an empty slate of a hockey team that we can build from the ground up.

Our squad consists of the following…

Mark Messier, Jaromir Jagr, Brian Leetch and Eric Lindros.

The above four legends are pure National Hockey League royalty and are currently (or soon will be in the case of Jagr) enshrined in the Hall of Fame in Toronto.

The above four stalwarts have enough team and individual accomplishments and awards to open up their own annex to the Hall of Fame museum. The brilliance of the above four players have inspired generations of outstanding athletes from all over the world to want to pick up a stick, learn how to skate and follow in their illustrious footsteps.

Lindros (Getty Images)

Joining the Fabulous Four on our hypothetical team are…

Petr Nedved and Alex Kovalev, the Czech and the Russian, complied some extremely impressive statistical seasons during their noteworthy NHL careers with Kovalev earning membership in the 1,000 point club.

Filling out our roster and providing essential depth to the superstars are the likes of…

Bobby Holik, Darius Kasparaitis, Vlad Malakhov, Tom Poti and Martin Rucinsky.

Perennial All Stars they ain’t, but this particular group certainly had distinguished NHL careers and would add skill and talent to any team that required their services.

In Goal and Behind the Bench…

Manning the crease will be the not spectacular, but serviceable, Mike Dunham. Patrolling the bench will be none other than the architect of the NHL’s last great dynasty. The man who taught Wayne Gretzky and Co. how to win in the 1980s. The coach who earned his own niche among the immortals in hockey history, Glen Sather.

Messier and Sather (Anthony J. Causi)

That’s a heck of at team we’ve put together haven’t we? I mean, Hall of Famers galore. First round draft picks inundating the roster. Stanley Cup winners, league MVP’s, scoring champions, my goodness!

Our knowledgeable, loyal and passionate Forever Blueshirt readers are fully aware that my array of highly skilled and accomplished players are not part of any hypothetical team. The fact is, I have just listed the majority of the 2003-04 New York Ranger roster.

How Did It Go Wrong

Some 16 years later, I sit here with amazement and astonishment at how and why this group was not able to break the Blueshirts playoff drought which was going on seven years at that juncture. Sure, a sect of this talented roster were past their primes in 2004. Sure, Glen Sather had lost his chops as a viable NHL head coach. Sure, the team resembled a discombobulated collection of mercenaries instead of a well-oiled machine for much of that campaign. But, the fact remains, the 2003-04 Ranger team should have been good enough to, at the very least, qualify for the Stanley Cup tournament.

In late February of 2004, with the playoffs a lost cause, Sather decided to end his reign as Ranger bench boss and hand the keys to the castle over to assistant coach Tom Renney. In March, without pre-notifying the frustrated fan base with any sort of sensationalized letter, Sather began selling off as many trade pieces as he could trying to, in earnest, rebuild the franchise. Sather’s attempt at a rebuild seems futile in comparison to what Jeff Gorton and now John Davidson have been pursing for the last couple of years.

The 1992 New York Mets, famously or infamously, have been described as “The Worst Team Money Could Buy.” I think it’s fair to say that the 2003-04 New York Rangers are the NHL’s equivalent to that impotent, feckless Mets season.

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