The New York Rangers, although nearly 90 years old, are famous for their tumultuous history. They've only won the Stanley Cup four times, and the organization's 54-year dry spell between their two victories in 1940 and 1994 is still one of professional sports’ longest championship droughts.
The Rangers’ limited success has diluted an otherwise rich history. But looking back through time, one of the things about the Rangers that sticks out is that there weren't many great leaders. And seeing as strong leadership is a must if a team is to succeed in this league, it’s not surprising the organization has struggled.
The teams in Rangers history that have actually impressed are the ones commanded by a true leader. It’s no surprise that the three best captains the Rangers ever had played during the team’s inaugural seasons, the early '70s or in 1994.
Today we’ll highlight them and their contributions to the Rangers organization. Read on to explore a bit of the Blueshirts’ history.
Bill Cook was the first captain the New York Rangers ever had. When the Rangers joined the NHL for the 1926-27 season, it was Cook who led the way, not only in the dressing room, but also on the ice.
His 37 points in 44 games was tops in the league in that first season. Cook’s partnership with his brother Bun and Frank Boucher proved to be one of the most potent in the league, and as a result, the Rangers reached the semifinals as a rookie organization.
Cook’s offensive production dropped in 1927-28, when he scored just 24 points in 43 games, but his leadership and playoff performance helped the Rangers raise the Stanley Cup in just their second season in the league.
Fast-forward to 1932-33, when Cook again led the league in points, this time with 51 in 48 games. But, even more impressively, Cook led the Rangers to their second Stanley Cup.
Cook is not only one of the most unique captains the Rangers ever had, but he is also one of the most special players the organization ever employed. Not only did he lead the Rangers to half of their Stanley Cup championships, but he’s also only one of two Rangers to ever lead the league in points, and he even did it twice.
Like Bill Cook, Vic Hadfield is one of the most talented forwards the team has ever employed. As a member of the GAG (goal-a-game) line in 1971-72—the first season Hadfield captained the team—alongside Jean Ratelle and Rod Gilbert, Hadfield became the first Ranger to ever score 50 goals in one season. His 50 tallies would remain the most in Rangers history until Adam Graves scored 52 in 1993-94.
Hadfield’s 106 points in the same season was also good for second most in Rangers history behind Ratelle’s 109, a milestone also achieved in 1971-72.
But personal achievement wasn’t all that was accomplished in that 1971-72 season. The Rangers finished the year in second place with 109 points and then stormed to the Stanley Cup Final. They eventually lost to the regular-season champion Boston Bruins in six games.
The next season, the Rangers again eclipsed the 100-point mark during the regular season. They also made another run in the playoffs, but this time only to the semifinals.
1973-74 was the worst of the three season with Hadfield at the helm; the Rangers finished the year with 94 points but failed again to move past the semifinals.
Although Hadfield’s offensive numbers tailed off after the 1971-72 season—which was the main reason he was traded after the 1973-74 season—Hadfield captained one of the most dangerous teams in the organization’s history.
He’s called the Messiah for a reason.
Mark Messier’s move from Edmonton to New York was somewhat prophetic. After leading the Oilers to their first Stanley Cup since they traded Wayne Gretzky in 1989-90, Messier was ready to take on another challenge: ending the Rangers’ 50-year Stanley Cup drought.
He was immediately named captain and then proceeded to take the NHL by storm. In 1991-92, he turned the Rangers into regular-season champs and even picked up his second Hart Trophy as league MVP. Although Messier’s performance that season was nothing short of dominant, the Rangers stumbled in the second round of the playoffs, losing to the eventual champions, the Pittsburgh Penguins.
1992-92 was a disaster. The Rangers were the sixth-worst team in the league and missed the playoffs by a wide margin. It was the first time in Messier’s career he missed the playoffs, and although he still managed to score 91 points, the season was a complete failure.
If anything, the taste of failure motivated Messier. The next season the Rangers went on to win the President’s Trophy once again and eventually the Stanley Cup. Messier broke the curse of 1940, and as a result, he will forever be immortalized not only as a Ranger, but also as a New Yorker.