These Rangers have the 1989 Year of the Rookies feel
A dynamic rookie defenseman showing skill, ability and maturity well beyond his years: A heralded future franchise goaltender making his long-awaited Rangers debut looking to grab the proverbial torch from the legendary incumbent net-minder. A stable of talented neophytes, learning the NHL game together and steadily growing as a cohesive unit. The team, as a whole, defying pre-season expectations to be, in the first week of March, within a hockey puck’s width of a playoff spot coming off of missing the tournament the previous campaign.
1989 Year of the Rookies
The above paragraph certainly looks like I am describing this current Ranger season. After all, Adam Fox fits the bill of the dynamic rookie blue-liner. Igor Shesterkin and Henrik Lundqvist match the passing-of-the-baton goaltender criteria and the 2019-20 Ranger roster is inundated with youngsters honing their craft and improving their performances on a daily basis. And, the lottery bound Rangers missed out on the opportunity to compete for Lord Stanley’s Cup in the spring of 2019.
The season in question that I am actually referring to is not the present-day, but actually 1988-89. That seminal season, the final full campaign of the ten year span known as the “Decade of Decadence” laid the foundation for what would become the 1994 Stanley Cup Champion squad.
The Original Baby Rangers
1988-89 saw the emergence of the Calder Trophy winner Brian Leetch. That season also saw USA Olympian and 2nd round draft pick Mike Richter replace the veteran and the beloved John Vanbiesbrouck in goal to begin his NHL and Ranger career in game 4 of the first round of the playoffs against the Pittsburgh Penguins trying to stave off a series sweep. We also saw the likes of Darren Turcotte, Tony Granato and David Shaw give “Long Suffering” Blueshirt fans a glimpse into how exciting and how successful the future could be with an injection of youth. Turcotte (Steve Larmer), Granato (went to LA in the Bernie Nicholls deal who was then sent to Edmonton in the Messier trade) and Shaw (Jeff Beukeboom) were all eventually dealt for what would become vital pieces of the 1994 team.
The Rangers did qualify for the 1989 post-season. Leetch’s groundbreaking rookie-of-the-year season and Richter’s desperation game four acrobatics were not enough to avoid getting swept by Mario Lemieux and Co. However, the Blueshirts would take the next step in 1989-90 to win their first division title since 1942 and beat the hated New York Islanders in the playoffs before bowing out to John Druce and the Washington Capitals in the second round. Just four years later, Leetch, Richter, Mark Messier et al would officially slay the 1940 monster giving the Garden Faithful memories that would assuredly last a lifetime.
Today’s Baby Blueshirts
It remains to be seen whether or not this current group of “Baby Blueshirts” has what it takes to clinch a playoff berth in the tough, and I mean tough, Eastern Conference despite the sheer and utter brilliance of Artemi Panarin and Mika Zibanejad. Neither Rome, nor a viable Stanley Cup contender were built in a day, folks. It took five years for the Leetch/Richter tandem to bring hockey’s Holy Grail back to Gotham. Rangerstown has their collective fingers and toes crossed hoping that history repeats itself and the roots of the next great Rangers team are being planted with another franchise caliber defenseman and a concrete wall in goal.
As impressive a rookie campaign as Fox and Shesterkin are having, the American defenseman and the Russian goaltender certainly have a long way to go before they can enter the same atmosphere as # 2 and #35. Similar comparisons were being made with Leetch and Richter to their immediate predecessors, Ron Greschner and the aforementioned Vanbiesbrouck, mind you. Leetch and Richter not only met, but obliterated the lofty expectations set for them as their names are forever etched on the Stanley Cup and their jerseys permanently hang from the iconic Madison Square Garden ceiling.