I started thinking about this a little while back. I don’t remember seeing many Rangers teams like the current one, a team that has earned the hearts of its fans by the way it carries itself on the ice. Oh, there have been good teams, probably better teams than this.
But, as you know by now, this team is kind of special because of the way it plays, the identity (Tortorella-ism) it has created, and what it is accomplishing all the while pouring all the cement for a solid foundation for the future. This team hasn’t won jack yet, hasn’t clinched a playoff spot — and it remains possible that it won’t (doubt it, though). But this team’s legacy isn’t tied into what it wins or if it makes the playoffs. It will all be about what this team is, and what it will be down the road.
Anyway, there have been a few other Rangers teams that kind of had the spirit and the togethereness that this one has. Here are some which I have covered that immediately come to mind, and I’d like to hear if you have others, or if you disagree with any of these:
1978-79: The first team I covered — I did some home games as a youngster in the business — was loaded with characters, and I don’t think it worked nearly as hard as this team does in practice or in the weight room (if there even was a weight room). But it was pretty tough, had key lesser guys like Lucien Deblois and Dean Talafous, Eddie Johnstone and Mario Marois, and had guys like the Maloney boys, Walt Tkaczuk and Steve Vickers, who would fit on this team. And one of my all-time favorites, J.D. It piled up 91 points (pre-OT, pre-shootout) and, of course, went to the finals.
1981-82: Herb Brooks’ Smurfs. Mike Rogers (one of those rare scorers who came to New York and continued to score) along with Mark Pavelich, Reijo Ruotsalainen, Mikko Leinonen and Mike Allison, and leftovers Anders Hedberg, Don Maloney, Johnstone. All of those Brooks teams had the misfortune of coming along during the Islanders dynasty. But they lost the first playoff game in Philly, then won 7-4, 4-3 and 7-5, and took the Isles to six.
1989-90: This was the one that reminds me the most of this one, because it was digging out of the rubble after Neil Smith took over from Phil Esposito. But it played a much more passive, less aggressive style under Roger Neilson. It had some veterans, and added more (Bernie Nicholls and Mike Gartner) but also had a young Brian Leetch, a young Mike Richter, young Tony Granato, Tomas Sandstrom, Troy Mallette (and an old Lindy Ruff) and it was tough as hell with Mallette, Kris King, Randy Moller, Chris Nilan and Rudy Poeschek. Unbelievably, it was the first Rangers team since 1941-42 to win a regular-season title.
1993-94: I don’t think I even have to say anything about that team, other than, when you look down the roster and see the thoroughbreds, the all-for-one, tough and willing … well, you know what happened.
And two that didn’t quite measure up:
1996-97: Yeah, I know, it had the Gretzky-Messier reunion, and it still had Leetch and Graves and Richter and Beukeboom and Tikkanen, plus Samuelsson and Verbeek and all those guys. But until it made that black-and-blue run to the conference final, I thought that team terribly underachieved.
2005-06 and ’06-07: The first two teams after the lockout were also the first teams to make the playoffs after eight non-playoff years. I thought the fans kind of fell in love with those Jaromir Jagr/Brendan Shanahan teams, and there were some inspiring performances, but I didn’t think it ever was really threatening to win a championship, and it wasn’t really building anything. And then it went out and threw a King’s ransom at a pair of B-list free agents
AP photo, above … Ryan Callahan hopes to return tomorrow.