Q&A: Mark Messier on a Vancouver do-over, pressure to win with Oilers, Rangers

mark messier
Jared Silber/NHLI via Getty Images

When Mark Messier finally decided to write a book, he did not want it to be your typical autobiography. After reading books by NBA Hall of Fame coaches Phil Jackson and Pat Riley about the psychology of team sports and leadership, he wanted to go in that direction when it came to talking about his hockey career.

“[I] started talking to [co-author Jimmy Roberts] about all the notes I had collected over the year from speeches I’d given on leadership,” Messier told NBC Sports recently. “Asked him if he’d be interested in writing a book more on team leadership, some psychology through my life story.”

Television also wasn’t on Messier’s mind until former Rangers executive John Davidson gave him a call to gauge his interest. After putting him in tough with agent Sandy Montag, Messier eventually signed on to be a commentator for ESPN’s NHL coverage.

“The timing was right,” Messier said.

Messier’s book, “No One Wins Alone,” comes out this week and details his childhood with a hockey-playing father through his NHL career, which ended with six Stanley Cup titles.

We spoke to Messier about each his three NHL stops, the boost of winning in New York, how he determines a winner for the Mark Messier Leadership Award, and more.


Q. Once those teams in Edmonton were at full power with the numerous Hall of Famers, what was the pressure like there? With the amount of talent you had people just assumed games were easy to win, but you had to win those games.

MARK MESSIER: “Winning when you’re expected to win is one of the hardest things in sports. Any team with Wayne Gretzky on it back then would probably be considered a team that should win. But you’re right, it was never easy. As good of a team that we were and as great as the records during the regular season we had it was hard to win. It was hard to beat teams in seven-game series. It was hard to play 82 games when people were using us as a benchmark for many years. Those were tough years, and then once we broke through and beat the Islanders in ’84 and then we’re all in the peaks of our careers, the expectations to do it again and again and again, it was demanding and challenging, but I think it pushed us in a way that made us better in the end. It made us tougher, more resilient.”

Q. Even after the five Stanley Cups in Edmonton how much do you think winning in New York, breaking the curse of “1940,” did for furthering your profile in hockey?

MESSIER: “That Cup in ’94 represented so many different things. I think it stretched outside the boundaries of hockey. It became an interesting story on many different levels. To do it in New York with the media and the amount of media, really brought that story to light. We were recognized around the country in only a way New York can do it.”

[Excerpt: Mark Messier, September 11, and the FDNY helmet]

Q. The Rangers missed the playoffs before winning that Cup in 1994. How much were the players feeling the pressure to win in New York?

MESSIER: “When I first got to New York the team would have rather not talked about expectations and winning the Stanley Cup. It was easier not to talk about it and get fans disappointed and have to deal with losing and then the aftermath of losing. I came from a culture and an organization that was completely opposite. I came from an organization where our first Christmas party in 1979-80 we all got beautiful shearling jackets and engraved in it was ‘Stanley Cup champions 198_.’ So from the first time I was ever playing in the NHL the expectations were ‘I’m here to win a Stanley Cup.’ That had to change in New York, and of course with that brings added pressure and expectations and decisions that have to be made in order to get you there. 

“I was happy to see that culture change [happen] and there was a buy-in from ownership and management. Obviously it was one of the reasons why we were able to eventually win in New York.”

Q. If you could have a do-over with the Canucks, how would you approach it going in and what would you do differently?

MESSIER: “When I went to Vancouver the expectation was to win a Stanley Cup and the reality was the team had changed a lot since their Stanley Cup run in 1994. I think there was only two or three players left from that team. I tried to bridge the divide between players on the team, but if I had to do it again I would have not have accepted the captaincy and tried to do it in a different way. I think that’s probably the thing I’d change the most.”

Q. Despite all of your accomplishments is there a loss that still does not sit well with you all these years later?

MESSIER: “Any time I lost it didn’t sit well. I loved to win. I knew winning was hard. Looking back, the losses are unfortunately the ones that shape you the most of the time. I hate to admit that because I’d rather win and get shaped than lose and get shaped. Everything happens for a reason.

“Obviously the loss in ’86 [Game 7 of Smythe Division Final to Calgary] was tough for many reasons and not for the way we lost the game [Steve Smith own goal]. But at that time we’d won two in a row, we were on our way to winning a third and losing that year was a tough loss. But we rebounded the next year [won back-to-back].”

Q. What aspects of the game from your era can be found in today’s game?

MESSIER: “That’s a good question. One of the things that was great coming out of [the rule changes for 2005-06] was that we really tried to bring the speed back into the game with the obstruction away from the puck. It really opened up the game to a lot more foot races, a lot more speed in the game instead of the hooking and holding and clutching and grabbing. It really put an exciting element back into the game, which is the speed of hockey. The scoring’s never going to be like it was in the ‘80s when we scored 400-some goals a year, the goalies are just too good and the technique has changed where it’s just incredible. The biggest advancement probably in our game in the last 100 years is the goaltending position.

“But there’s lots of chances, there’s lots of shots, there’s lots of foot races, there’s lots of speed, and it’s opened up the game in a way that a lot of different types of players can play in the game now, which I think is really great for the game.”

Q. You said in an interview in May that you were ready to help the Rangers in any way as they were going through changes. Did they reach out to you and do you still have a desire to work in an organization in some capacity.

MESSIER: “The Rangers didn’t feel, obviously, that I could help, which is fine. But the answer is like anything else you need to be supported, whether you’re a player or you’re a manager or any part of the organization with somebody that believes you can help. If that was the case and somebody thought that I could help their team or their organization that I would be willing to listen to that.”

Q. Could you run me through the process of how you determine the winner of the Mark Messier Leadership Award? Is it just you, do you reach out to people in the game to get their thoughts?

MESSIER: “I talk to many different people in the game from media to team personnel to fans to managers, coaches, owners. I didn’t want it to be a political process in any way. I want it to be completely free of anything that might influence the decisions. That might sound counterintuitive because I’m the only one doing it, but I’m looking to shine a light on players that are doing great things on and off the ice. All too often we caught up to the negative stories about what’s happening instead of celebrating the greatness in our game on and off the ice.

“The real problem that I have is that there’s so many incredible stories, incredible players that are doing great things. Picking one winner is the hardest part, but I think we’ve done a good job picking our players and winners in past years. They’ve reflected what is great within our game.”


Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Scroll Down For:

    Predators fire John Hynes more than 6 weeks after missing playoffs

    Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
    1 Comment

    NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Nashville Predators fired coach John Hynes, moving on from him more than six weeks after missing the playoffs.

    Incoming general manager Barry Trotz announced his decision hours after reports emerged that Hynes had been informed he was out and Andrew Brunette was expected to be hired to replace him as coach. The team announced only the dismissals of Hynes and assistant Dan Lambert.

    “John Hynes is a good man and a good hockey coach,” Trotz said in a statement. “He did an outstanding job after the trade deadline with our team, especially with our young players, and he is a well-prepared, hard-working coach who will continue to grow in the NHL. After our year-end meetings and some additional evaluation, it was time to change the voice and time to go in a different direction.”

    Hynes is out 3 1/2 years since becoming a midseason replacement when Poile fired Peter Laviolette in January 2020. Nashville lost in the qualifying round of the expanded playoffs later that year and was knocked out in the first round in 2021 and ’22, the latter of which was the first time the team was swept in 15 postseason appearances.

    Missing the playoffs by three standings points this year spelled the end for Hynes, but it also came after he did not develop young talent up to the organization’s expectations. Nashville gave up on onetime highly touted prospect Eeli Tolvanen, who at age 23 scored 16 goals for Seattle after getting claimed off waivers.

    Hynes’ departure also comes after Poile held a fire sale before his final trade deadline, sending away several players signed long term or under team control beyond the season: top-pairing defenseman Mattias Ekholm and forwards Mikael Granlund, Nino Niederreiter and Tanner Jeannot.

    Those moves cleaned much of the slate for Trotz, who is moving into the front office after more than two decades in coaching. He spent his first 15 years in the NHL coaching the Predators, from their inception in 1998 until 2014, a second consecutive season out of the playoffs.

    Spencer Carbery hired as Capitals coach after 2 seasons as Maple Leafs assistant

    Getty Images
    1 Comment

    Spencer Carbery got his start in coaching in the minors with the Washington Capitals watching closely.

    They liked what they saw, and they brought him back to fill the job they envisioned he would get.

    The Capitals hired Carbery as their next coach, ending their search for Peter Laviolette‘s successor by landing on a favorite of the organization who in recent years had become one of the NHL’s most intriguing candidates. He now is tasked with getting Washington back in the playoffs with an aging roster and extending the organization’s run of success a few more years while Alex Ovechkin chases Wayne Gretzky’s goals record.

    “Spencer is one of the best young coaches in the game who’s had success at every level at which he has coached,” general manager Brian MacLellan said in a statement. “We feel his leadership, communication skills, ability to develop players and familiarity with our organization will be a tremendous asset as he makes this next step in his coaching career.”

    Carbery spent the past two seasons as an assistant with the Toronto Maple Leafs, running the power play that ranked second in the league over that time. Before the Leafs hired him, he was considered the heir apparent to Laviolette because of his time with the Capitals’ top minor league affiliate, the American Hockey League’s Hershey Bears.

    When Hershey VP of hockey operations Bryan Helmer was interviewing candidates for his head-coaching gig in 2018, he asked Carbery how long until he saw himself in that kind of role in the NHL. Carbery gave himself five years and nailed that projection.

    “He did an incredible job for us when he was here, and I knew that he would be an NHL coach at one point down the road,” Helmer told The Associated Press by phone. “He wanted to make sure that he was ready to make that step. He went through the steps, and I think he’s ready for the NHL.”

    Carbery coached Hershey for three years before getting the NHL promotion to Sheldon Keefe’s staff in Toronto. At the time, there wasn’t an opening for an assistant in Washington.

    There is now, and Carbery at 41 usurps Keefe as the youngest coach in the league after going from a Capitals’ homegrown prospect who began with their ECHL team in South Carolina to one of the hottest names on the market. He interviewed with the San Jose Sharks for their vacancy last year and multiple others this spring.

    The Capitals got him back before a rival team could scoop him up. They chose Carbery from a pool of candidates that also included former captain-turned-Tampa Bay assistant Jeff Halpern, Philadelphia associate coach Brad Shaw and others with more experience.

    “I would like to thank the Capitals organization for affording me the opportunity to lead this team,” Carbery said. “I look forward to working with this group of talented players and building upon the winning culture in place. I would also like to thank the Toronto Maple Leafs organization for all their support over the past two years.”

    Carbery’s job won’t be an easy one. Five years removed from Washington winning the Stanley Cup for the first time in franchise history, the team is coming off missing the playoffs for the first time in nearly a decade and could be on the verge of changes beyond coaching.

    MacLellan must decide how much to shuffle the roster, but in no way is he beginning the process of rebuilding. With Ovechkin, the 2018 playoff MVP and longtime face of the franchise, about to turn 38 and sitting 73 goals away from breaking Gretzky’s career record, the organization from owner Ted Leonsis down has set a goal of continuing to contend while the Russian star is under contract for three more seasons.

    Helmer, who played with Ovechkin briefly in 2008-09, said Carbery’s relationships with Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and other Leafs stars will only help him moving forward.

    “It’s going to be a great mix,” Helmer said. “Spencer really stays on top of it. He expects a lot out of his players and he holds them accountable, which is a great thing. I see big things coming from Spencer and what he can do with the Caps.”

    Golden Knights reach second Stanley Cup Final after Game 6 win over Stars

    Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

    DALLAS — William Karlsson scored two goals and had an assist as the Vegas Golden Knights advanced to their second Stanley Cup Final with a 6-0 rout over the Dallas Stars, who had extended the Western Conference Final to six games after losing the first three.

    William Carrier, Keegan Kolesar and Michael Amadio each had a goal and an assist for the Knights, and Jonathan Marchessault had a goal. Carrier, Marschessault and Karlsson were all part of the inaugural 2017-18 Knights season that ended in their Cup Final.

    Adin Hill stopped 23 shots for his second career playoff shutout – both against the Stars. The other was 4-0 in Game 3 last Tuesday, when the Knights were already within one win of clinching the series before Dallas overcame 1-0 and 2-1 deficits in both Games 4 and 5.

    Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final against Florida will be Saturday night in Las Vegas.

    Vegas led the Western Conference in the regular season with 51 wins and 111 points. The Panthers completed a four-game sweep of Carolina in the East final last Wednesday, but their 40 wins and 92 points in the regular season were the fewest among the 16 teams that began these NHL playoffs.

    Instead of having to face a do-or-die Game 7 at home against the Stars, coach Bruce Cassidy and the Knights got off to another fast start and never left any doubt about the outcome of this series that included three overtime games.

    It was the most lopsided playoff loss for the Stars since the franchise moved south from Minnesota before the 1993-94 season.

    “You just expect more from yourself in a game like this,” said Stars forward Joe Pavelski, the 38-year-old veteran still without a Stanley Cup after 17 seasons.

    The Stars got captain Jamie Benn back after his two-game suspension for a cross-check to the neck area of Vegas captain Mark Stone early in Game 3. But Benn already had a minus-2 rating without a shot after playing only 3:46 in the first period, and finished minus-2 with only one shot his 12 1/2 minutes on the ice.

    Vegas led for good when Carrier scored 3:41 into the game after a puck poked from behind the net in the vicinity of three Dallas players. Carrier skated across the front of the crease and put a backhander in the net, the ninth time this postseason the Knights scored in the first five minutes of a game.

    Karlsson’s power-play goal came midway through the first period made it 2-0, and after a penalty that likely had prevented him from scoring.

    Nicolas Roy took a shot that deflected off Jake Oettinger’s glove and popped up in the air behind the goalie. Karlsson was charging into the crease when Stars defenseman Esa Lindell raised his stick and swatted the puck out of play, drawing a delay of game penalty.

    With the man advantage, Reilly Smith took a shot from the circle to the left, which was deflected in front by Roy and then off Oettinger’s extended skate before Karlsson knocked in the rebound.

    After Kolesar made it 3-0 in the first, and Marchessault scored his ninth goal in the second, Karlsson’s franchise record 10th goal for a playoff series extended the lead to 5-0 only two minutes into the third period.

    Oettinger had been 3-0 when the Stars were facing elimination this postseason, including Game 7 in the second round against Seattle before stopping 64 of 68 shots the past two games against the Knights.

    That was after Vegas had scored three goals on five shots in the first 7:10 to chase him from Game 3, which was the only lopsided game in the series until the finale. Two of their three regular season game went to shootouts.

    Dallas was only the fifth team to force a Game 6 in an conference final or NHL semifinal after being down 0-3, and the first since the Stars lost to Detroit in a sixth game in 2008. Only two teams got to a Game 7, which both lost – the New York Islanders to Philadelphia in 1975; and the New York Rangers to Boston in 1939.

    Vegas avoided a Game 7 at home against the Stars and coach Peter DeBoer, who is 7-0 in such do-or-die games, including the Seattle series finale two weeks ago. DeBoer was the Vegas coach for its only Game 7 wins – in the second round in 2020 against Vancouver and 2021 in the first round against Minnesota. But he was fired by the Golden Knights after they missed the playoffs last season for the only time in their short existence.

    Dellandrea scores twice in 3rd, Stars stay alive with 4-2 victory over Golden Knights

    Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

    LAS VEGAS — With Dallas’ season on the line, the Stars got two critical goals from a player who was a healthy scratch the first two games of the Western Conference Final.

    Ty Dellandrea‘s goals came within a 1:27 span midway through the third period, and the Stars beat the Vegas Golden Knights 4-2 to keep alive their hopes of advancing to the Stanley Cup Final to face the Florida Panthers.

    “He’s one of the best guys I’ve ever played with,” said Stars goalie Jake Oettinger, who made 27 saves. “He deserves every opportunity he gets, and there’s no one happier for him than the guys in this room. It shows how special you are when you get taken out. He didn’t make it about him. He needed the opportunity to step up, and that’s what he did.”

    The Stars escaped elimination for the second game in a row and head to Dallas for Game 6 down 3-2. Dallas is attempting to become the fifth team in NHL history to win a series after being down 3-0.

    And look who’s back for the Stars? Captain Jamie Benn returns after a two-game suspension for his cross-check to the neck of Vegas captain Mark Stone in Game 3. That was the only game in this series that was decided early, and the Stars hadn’t even had a multigoal lead.

    “I know our group, and we weren’t happy about being in the hole we were in, and they decided to do something about it,” Stars coach Pete DeBoer said. “And now we’re rolling.”

    The only problem for DeBoer was waiting two days to play Game 6.

    “Drop the puck,” he said.

    DeBoer said before the game if his team won, the pressure would shift to the Knights. Now it’s up to them to respond after twice being a period away from playing in the Stanley Cup Final and letting both opportunities slip away.

    “I don’t think we brought our best the last two games,” Stone said. “We were still in a good spot to win the game. We’ve got to bring a little bit better effort and start playing a little more desperate.”

    Vegas coach Bruce Cassidy said “it’s a very good question” why his team didn’t play with more desperation, but he also wasn’t thrilled with the Knights’ execution.

    “We had 24 giveaways,” Cassidy said. “I’m not sure you’re beating the Arizona Coyotes in January with 24 giveaways. That’s no disrespect to Arizona, but it’s not the right way to play.”

    Dellandrea found the right way to play and put together the first multigoal playoff game of his career. Jason Robertson and Luke Glendening also scored, and Thomas Harley had two assists.

    Chandler Stephenson and Ivan Barbashev scored for the Knights, and Jonathan Marchessault had two assists to extend his points streak to four games. Adin Hill made 30 saves.

    Dellandrea scored from the right circle to put Dallas ahead, the puck deflecting off Vegas defenseman Alex Pietrangelo with 9:25 left for a 3-2 lead. Then, Dellandrea scored from the slot with 7:58 remaining.

    Dellandrea said the older players kept him motivated when he was temporarily sidelined.

    “There’s no denying it’s hard,” he said. “I’m thankful for a good group of character guys, and you’ve just got to stay ready.”

    The teams traded goals in the first two periods.

    Jack Eichel battled two Stars players for the puck in Vegas’ offensive zone, and then Barbashev swooped in and made a fantastic move to glide past Oettinger and score with 6:24 left in the first period. The Stars wasted little time in answering when Glendening scored on a deflection less than two minutes later.

    Dallas was robbed of what looked like a sure goal when Hill snagged a point-blank shot from Roope Hintz, who then threw his back in disbelief.

    Like in the first period, the Knights had a goal in the second quickly answered by one from the Stars. Stephenson scored from the left circle at 16:40 of the period, and Robertson knocked his own rebounds 2:09 later to make it 2-2. Stephenson tied the Knights’ record with his eight playoff goal this year, and Robertson had his fifth of the series.