This summer, NBC Sports’ social media team is conducting the #NHLGreatest initiative, designed for fans to choose the best player in each franchise’s history. Balloting was conducted through three platforms — Facebook, Twitter and Instagram — with thousands of votes being cast. The results of this initiative will be released throughout the month of August, in conjunction with PHT’s Team of the Day series.
New York Rangers
1. Mark Messier — 957 votes
2. Brian Leetch — 641 votes
3. Mike Richter — 314 votes
4. Wayne Gretzky — 291 votes
5. Henrik Lundqvist — 155 votes
6. Rod Gilbert — 113 votes
There was really only one choice to make here, wasn’t there?
Yes, Rod Gilbert is the franchise leader in goals and points and a Hockey Hall of Famer. Yes, Brian Leetch was the Conn Smythe Trophy winner in 1994 and Mike Richter was the goalie that helped make that Stanley Cup championship happen that year, but Mark Messier was the captain.
Messier’s guarantee the Rangers would win Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final in 1994 against the New Jersey Devils was the stuff of legend and earned him the nickname of “Messiah.” It was backed up by seeing him score a hat trick and force a legendary Game 7 that was capped off by Stephane Matteau’s double-overtime winner past Martin Brodeur.
What seemed to by mythology about Messier’s leadership came to fruition as the Rangers battled back against New Jersey and then slipped past Pavel Bure’s Vancouver Canucks in seven games in the Final. Hell, Messier even has his own award he dishes out annually for leadership based not upon the five Stanley Cups he won in Edmonton but the one he got in New York.
Wayne Gretzky had a fine final run with the Rangers and perhaps the best of Henrik Lundqvist’s legacy is yet to come in Manhattan, but when you think of the Rangers it’s Messier’s face taking the Cup from Gary Bettman that’s forever emblematic of the franchise.