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.