Who Belongs on the New York Rangers Mount Rushmore?
As team president John Davidson and general manager Jeff Gorton contort themselves trying to now figure out a way to get their hockey team under the NHL’s salary cap, let’s divert ourselves away from that mountain of arithmetic and mind-numbing scenarios to talk about which members, over the 90+ year history of our beloved Blueshirts, deserve to be on the hypothetical Ranger Mount Rushmore.
WFAN talk show legend Mike Francesa started this trend a few years ago. In referring to Mount Rushmore, the national landmark in South Dakota that has the faces of four of the most important and influential American Presidents, the “Sports Pope” gave his opinions about which four New York Yankees player’s likeness should be enshrined on the side of the proverbial mountain.
As it pertains to the Rangers, there are certainly several worthy candidates that deserve eternal recognition. Narrowing the field down to four was not an easy task. However, with my hammer and chisel by my side, I will begin the hyperbolic carving of these four Ranger greats that rise above all others and should be recognized as the Godfathers of the Broadway Blueshirts.
Lester Patrick is the patriarch of the New York Rangers. The “Silver Fox” is as important to the birth, rise, and success of New York’s second professional hockey team as George Halas was to the Chicago Bears and Curly Lambeau was to the Green Bay Packers. Without Patrick’s leadership, team-building skills and coaching acumen, the Rangers may not have survived the Great Depression era, in which several NHL teams went bankrupt, including the hockey team that preceded the Rangers at Madison Square Garden, the New York Americans.
Patrick’s contributions are not limited to the Rangers, as his many innovations and rule changes helped form what the modern-day NHL has become. Patrick’s singular shining moment for the Blueshirts came not behind the bench, but on the ice in the 1928 Stanley Cup Finals when the 44-year-old head coach decided to don the goalie equipment of injured netminder Lorne Chabot and backstopped his team to a 2-1 overtime victory.
The other three faces on our Rangers Mount Rushmore can be debated and discussed. However, Mr. Patrick, the patriarch, is undoubtedly the first man deserving of enshrinement.
Rod Gilbert, the man who has become the unofficial ambassador of the Rangers and Madison Square Garden. Even though Gilbert retired from the NHL over 40 years ago, his 406 career goals and 1021 points remain the most of any Ranger player. His number 7 jersey was the first Rangers sweater to ever be retired. The eight-time All-Star is best remembered for being the right-wing on the famed GAG Line of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Gilbert is the only member of my Mount Rushmore team to not have sipped champagne from Lord Stanley’s Cup. However, the Montreal native played every single one of his 1065 career NHL games wearing the Rangers uniform and the 78-year-old continues to be an integral part of the organization to this day.
Brian Leetch is, simply put, the greatest player this franchise has ever produced. Leetch did it all. He won the Calder Trophy. He won the Norris Trophy twice. He won the Conn Smythe Trophy. And, most importantly, he won the Stanley Cup. Leetch dazzled the Garden Faithful for parts of 17 seasons. Number 2 dropped more jaws inside the hallowed walls of MSG than boxing legend Muhammad Ali. Like Gilbert, Leetch handled himself with class and dignity each and every time he took the ice as a member of the Blueshirts. Leetch’s greatness, both on and off the ice, remain examples for future players to follow and emulate.
My final facial carving was the most difficult decision. I chose Messier over Henrik Lundqvist, Mike Richter, Andy Bathgate, and all other deserving candidates because of one very important factor and that is, Messier, “The Messiah” stared down the 1940 monster and accomplished a feat not done by any other Rangers captain in 80 years and that is leading his team to the Promised Land. If Leetch is the greatest Ranger of all time, Messier is the most important. Messier’s arrogance, and ultimately his greed, surely turned off scores of Ranger fans. His hissy fit and subsequent bolting for Vancouver after the 1997 playoffs left a bad taste in the mouths of many people – some of which still haven’t forgiven number 11 for his presumed disloyalty. Be that as it may, Messier orchestrated his exodus from Edmonton to the Big Apple for the express purpose of ending “1940” once and for all. Messier talked the talk and walked the walk. The rest of us mere mortals can only hope to, one day, guarantee greatness and deliver in spades as Messier did in the spring of 1994.
Well, there it is folks. Perhaps someone out there in Forever Blueshirts land who is tech-savvy can create a computerized New York Rangers Mount Rushmore? I am curious to see which members of the Ranger organization makes all of your respective carvings.