“I think the opportunities will be there”

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In a strange coincidence, I got word of Brian Leetch’s retirement today while pulling into Wykagyl Country Club in New Rochelle, where the Rangers great is still a member. There will be lots of time to reflect on Leetch’s legacy in the days and weeks to come. In conversations with a number of people in and out of hockey today, the dialogue kept coming back to two areas:

1. *How Leetch was probably the greatest American-born player ever, and quite possibly the greatest Ranger ever.* Yes, players like Esposito, Messier, and Gretzky had more decorated careers, but those players all had their best years while playing for other teams. The only player who might rival Leetch is Rod Gilbert (my Dad would throw in Andy Bathgate, I’m sure) but it’s hard for me to debate the two since I never saw Gilbert play.

2. *How Leetch saved his legacy by not coming back to the Rangers this year.* I don’t know how close it really came, although I do think it was out there at one point. But even if Leetch was halfway decent — and as my colleague “John Dellapina”:http://www.nydailynews.com/blogs/rangers/ often said, he would have been able to run the Rangers power play in his socks — it would still fly in the face of what the Rangers say they were trying to accomplish developing young players.

Meanwhile, Leetch was on “Mike and the Mad Dog” today and he already made it clear he’d like to get back into hockey, specifically as an assistant coach. “I think it would be hard to be away from hockey for very long,” he said. “I think the opportunities will be there in the future. In what capacity, I don’t know.” For now Leetch said he was going to stay in Boston for the sake of his three young kids, but there was a rumor floating around that he might join Wayne Gretzky’s staff in Phoenix. That’s just a rumor, though — and no I still haven’t heard anything on Don Maloney and the Coyotes GM job.

Personally, I’m disappointed I never got to cover Leetch on a regular basis. I was around the team on occasion when he was there, but he’s a pretty quiet guy, so it was tough for someone like me to get to know him. But my appreciation for what he did on the ice was always there. I think you’re doing Leetch a disservice by calling him an offensive defenseman. He was a brilliant two-way player, and if it was just his job was to just shut guys down, he would have been the best at it in the league.

I look forward to the night they hang his jersey in the rafters. There’s no question he deserves it.

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13 Comments

  1. As much I admire Leetch, the greatest American-born player is Chelios — not by a landslide, but pretty clear-cut.

  2. Sam

    Rod Gilbert was a very fine player, but he was not an outright dominating superstar, and never played at anything close to the standard Leetch displayed when at his best — ie., the ’94 Finals.

    I got spoiled watching him skate and play and compete the way he did against Vancouver, because I thought he would sustain that level in the years to come. But for whatever reason, he never played that hard or well again. He was outstanding, to be sure, but simply not all world as he was vs. Vancouver.

  3. chelios? you have to be kidding me. chelios has been playing for centuries more than leetch & doesnt even pass leetch’s point total.

    lets not talk about chelios.
    its all leetch; the best american born player ever.

  4. that’s right, Sam, it’d be a disservice to call him offensive. recall when Pavel Bure played for the Panthers and they came to MSG. Leetch was assigned to cover Bure and was jumping on the ice whenever Pavel did, regardless of which line he was with. Did Bure score in that game? Yep, he did. How? He did it on an occasion when Jan Hlavac wasn’t quick enough getting back to the bench and Leetch couldn’t get on – several seconds turned out to be enough. But Bure only had ONE chance all game – and it only came when Leetch was forced to stay on the bench a tiny bit longer and couldn’t cover because of his teammate’s mistake.
    Brian was a great all-around d-man, a real rarity in the sport. To my mind, he is in the same class with Ray Bourque.
    Oh and one more unique thing about Leetch that I’ve always been saying about him because it amazed me – he was and still probably is the absolute BEST when it came to keeping the puck in the zone during power play. He’d simply not let it slide or fly out under any circumstances.
    Amazing career, great athlete.
    Thank you, Brian. You define what professional athlete should be like. And thank you for The Cup.

  5. onecupin67years on

    Sam ,Your Dad was right about Bathgate ,he was the real deal
    on pitiful Ranger teams,#9 should be retired in his honor.
    Gilbert was a Mr.Softee ,no check,no fight, antoher Ranger Star ,who broke woeful Ranger records ,which arent the gold standard in the NHL.

  6. onecupin67years on

    Chelios is good anywhere he played.
    Leetch had a few good years with NY ,then was placed upon a pedestal where he was allowed to average and overpaid and past his prime.Likewise Richter.

  7. ORR kicks Ying Yang on

    LOL Chelios…Cmon…Just like what Leetchy said…Cheli has been playing for so long and isnt close to Leetch’s point total….

    Just because Chelios doesnt age…doesnt mean hes better then Leetch…Cmon gimme a break here.

  8. It’s going to take me a long time to digest the fact that you never saw Gilbert play…

  9. I’m sorry, did someone just claim that Chelios wasn’t great because of his point total? Uh, sorry, you seem to have forgotten that the PRIMARY purpose of defense is to stop the other team from scoring. Give you a break? No. Give us a break. Leetch was really good. Chelios is an all-time great.

  10. I’m shocked Sam’s acknowledging a defenseman. Must have been his point totals that got Sam to notice given how he hates the D (other than Malik of course).

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