Guest blogger Tom DeAngelo: More numbers belong in the Garden’s rafters

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Making The Case For Retiring Rangers Numbers

A Guest Blog by Tom DeAngelo

First, I’d like to thank Carp for the opportunity to guest blog on a topic for which I have great passion: adding Blueshirt numbers to the World’s Most Famous Ceiling.

As I “celebrate” my 50th season as a fan of our beloved Broadway Blues, I would like to reminisce about one of my favorite nights, the evening of Feb. 22, 2009. In that night’s pregame ceremonies, the Rangers organization righted longstanding wrongs, by retiring the numbers of two Ranger Original Six greats: Harry Howell and Andy Bathgate.

I found delicious irony in the festivities, since Mr. Howell (there is a luggage/pocket book connection here) was the first of many NYR defenseman unfairly subjected to the scorn of the MSG faithful. But of greater significance was the fact that Mr. Bathgate received his honor on the 45th anniversary of his trade to Toronto, liberating him to win the only Stanley Cup of his career in the spring of 1964.The New York Rangers On The Ice

If you do the math on my Rangers “career”, you will notice that I essentially missed the pair’s best seasons, which took place at a low point in team history. The drought of 54 years largely took place because of the club’s World War II break-up (Canada was part of Great Britain, and went to war in 1940), and was exacerbated by rules biased toward restocking the Canadian teams, although nobody north of the 49th Parallel will admit this.

My era was that of Emile Francis. I attended my first two games at the Old Garden on 49th Street, and watched the Saturday away games called by Win Elliot on Channel 9 with my dad on our new Zenith color console. We also attended the legendary “blizzard” game in February, 1969, needing four subway lines to arrive at the Garden from Flatbush.

Based on my own observations and research, I would like to make the case for four players of that era: Brad Park, Ron Greschner, Vic Hadfield and Jean Ratelle.

We interrupt this blog for a Public Service Announcement:

Sidebars, 1974 Semifinal Game 7 versus Philadelphia

  1. Dale Rolfe knew his fight with Dave Schultz was staged to get Brad Park out of the game as third man-in with a Final berth on the line. He instructed Park to stay out of the fray.
  2. Vic Hadfield burst out laughing in the penalty box with a minute left in that 4-3 loss when the league official seated there told him how “proud they were of the Rangers”. Vic found this more than slightly amusing after getting the shaft all series from Wally Harris, Bruce Hood & Co.

And now back to our Guest Blog…

Here are my “nominations” for honor at MSG:

#2 Brad Park – Captain Brad Park was drafted second overall from the Toronto Marlies in 1966. He was the stalwart of the Ranger defense until he was unceremoniously traded to Boston in the Emile Francis’ last stand fire sale of 1975. Until the arrival of Brian Leetch, it was generally understood that we were waiting for another Brad Park.

He was the runner-up for the Norris seven times, having had the misfortune of playing at the same time as Bobby Orr. He was an outstanding two-way player, with stellar seasons in 1971-72 (24-49-73, 130 PIM) and 1973-74 (25-57-82, 148 PIM).

Greschner On The Ice#4 Ron Greschner – Ron Greschner is generally regarded as the fourth best defenseman in Rangers history, in a career that spanned 15 seasons. He scored more than 20 goals four times, and was regarded as one of the best offensive defenseman in the NHL. His biggest Rangers moment was his game-winning goal in Game 6 of the 1979 semifinal against the Islanders, propelling the club into an unexpected berth in the Stanley Cup Final. He served as captain from 1986-87. He is seventh in all-time team scoring with 610 points, and he was tough: first in penalty minutes with 1,266.

#11 Vic Hadfield – Vic Hadfield was also a Rangers captain, taking the reins from Bob Nevin. Making it onto the roster largely as an enforcer, his career became more focused in the 1967-68 season when Emile Francis placed him on the left wing of Jean Ratelle and Rod Gilbert to form the Goal-A-Game, or GAG Line. His presence gave the two French-Canadians open ice, and established the trio as a dominant No. 1 line.

He never again scored fewer than 20 goals in a season, although he was often injured from bare-knuckled fighting. His crowning achievement was his dynamic 1971-72 season, when he became the first 50-goal scorer in team history, a record he held until Adam Graves scored 52 in 1993-94, since eclipsed by Jaromir Jagr in 2005-06. He accomplished this by scoring numbers 49 and 50 on national TV in the last game of the season versus Montreal. He is fifth all-time in both team goal scoring and penalty minutes.

#19 Jean Ratelle – Jean Ratelle is the greatest Ranger to not have his number retired. A playmaking center in the mold of Jean Beliveau, he spent a great deal of time in the minors at the insistence of coach Red Sullivan, who wanted him to forgo his talents and play a more physical game because of his height. Emile Francis changed all that, reuniting him with his boyhood friend, Rod Gilbert.

Once teamed with Gilbert and Hadfield, the GAG line became a force. The trio put up phenomenal numbers, led by Ratelle’s playmaking. He was leading the NHL in scoring during the 1971-72 season with 46-63-109 in just 63 games, when he was struck by a point shot taken by Dale Rolfe, and suffered a broken ankle, which likely cost the Rangers the Stanley Cup. However, those 109 points remained the franchise record until topped by Jagr in 2005-06 with 123. He also won his first Lady Byng Trophy that season for displaying “gentlemanly conduct” on the ice.

He scored 30 or more goals in six Ranger seasons, and ranks second all-time in goals, third both in assists and points. Along with Park, he was part of the trade to Boston in 1975 that brought Phil Esposito and Carol Vadnais.

Others to consider:2014 NHL Stanley Cup Final - Game Four

#5 Bill Cook – Original Rangers captain and the leading scorer on first two Stanley Cup teams in 1928 and 1933. He ranks No. 10 in career goals as a Ranger in his 11 seasons. Understand that this was a time when defenseman literally “stayed at home” at their own blue line, and never joined the play. Thus his offensive output was essentially achieved playing 3-on-5.

#7 Frank Boucher – Another original Ranger, he centered brothers Bill and “Bun” Cook on the “Bread Line”, the top offensive unit in the NHL during those early Cup seasons. Considered the Wayne Gretzky of his day for his playmaking ability, he won the first seven Lady Byngs, prompting them to make a new trophy and let him keep the original.

He went on to coach the Rangers 1940 Stanley Cup team, an event with which you might be familiar. As a coach, he created innovations such as the penalty killing “box”, pulling the goalie when trailing, and defensemen who joined the play. He was also instrumental in creation of the red line.

#18 Walt Tkaczuk – Originally known as “Tay-chuck” for three seasons until Marv Albert learned how to correctly pronounce his name, this defensive stalwart finished his career sixth in scoring, fifth in both games played and assists, and first in career playoff games.

#68 Jaromir Jagr – What do we do with this one when he finally retires? The team’s marquee player post Lockout 1, he holds single season franchise records for goals (54) and points (123). Was he a Ranger long enough?

Thanks for your time. I’d like to approach the Rangers on behalf of the “Boneheads” when we have a consensus to nominate who should be honored next.

Photos by Getty Images.

 

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70 Comments

  1. Thanks for bringing this up…all outstanding Rangers, Tom. You establish your fan cred early on…

  2. I became a fan around the same time as you, maybe slightly later (I remember a little bit about the 60s Rangers, but became a big fan around the time they played the Bruins for the Cup.

    I’ve always felt, for these number retiring things that, like the Hall of Fame, it should be for the greatest of the greats. I guess I’m ok with your choices, but I think the only that definitely merits it is Park. The others were very good players. I might retire Ratelles of the other three, but I think it’s borderline. Definitely not Greshner or Hatfield who were both very good players but I think of Vic like I do Roger Maris a couple of nice seasons, one great one. Does that merit a retired jersey? Greshner was simply a very good offensive defenseman who was weak defensively and played in an offense dominated era. So no on him.

    I loved Adam Graves as a player, but I never thought he deserved to have his number retired. Perhaps it happened only because he and Bathgate shared 9 and Bathgate deserved it.

    I agree, Jagr is an interesting case, but I don’t think I’d retire his number as his Rangers career was too short and he’s more known as a Penguin.

  3. Great guest blog Tom. Thanks.

    I’m only a 15-yr fan in comparison so my vote is for Vlad Malakhov or Rich Pilon

  4. Great post Tom! IIRC there were rumors that Neil Smith was going to retire Greschner’s number when he was GM. But then we traded for Kevin Lowe who wore #4 in Edmonton and those plans changed.

  5. Great job, Tom!

    Having been a fan for -36- 26 years, I didn’t get to see many of these players(except for Greschner, but only during the 1 goal years). But, there’s always seemed like a good argument for most of them.

    As for Jagr, I always give him a lot of credit for turning the franchise around in the cap era. He may be the 2nd most important player to Hank in that regard. However, as you mentioned, I think longevity is the issue.

  6. Great post! It’s interesting how a team like ours that has so much history and respected players doesn’t have many retired numbers in the rafters. Then again, maybe that’s what makes a retired number so special.

  7. Good morning, Sally!

    Great job, Tom, thank you!

    IMO, teams with history should have rings of honor where their historical players are honored without their numbers being retired. Numbers in the rafters should only be of the best of the best.

    As I mentioned to Tom, how are Paul O’Neill and Tino Martinez in Monument Park and not more guys from the 70s teams, i.e. Nettles, Randolph, White, Piniella, Chambliss? And, even more glaringly, guys like Red Ruffing and some of the sluggers from the ’20s through ’50s?

  8. Retire Ratty's #19 on

    Thanks very much, Tom, for an insightful entry that highlights more of the great Rangers players that have perhaps not received their rightful place in the all-time Rangers family.

    I second the votes for Park, Ratelle, Cook and Boucher. (It pains me to leave Tzaczuk off this list – whose peer was Bob Gainey and who might be compared to today’s Patrice Bergeron – if not for his shortened career).

    To me Giacomin, Park, Ratelle and Gilbert were unquestionably the “core four” of the 1960s-1970s NYRs. It has always seemed a NYR family blasphemy that the memories of Park and Ratelle could be vanquished the way the have been. I believe it’s not only the trade to Boston itself that resulted in this. Yes – Park was unkind about the NYR organization in a book he wrote after the trade (I remember Greshner broke his NYR scoring record in a game against the Bruins at MSG with Park on the ice – a moment the Big Whistle relished on the air calling him Brad “cry-baby Park”). And it’s not just that french-speaking Ratty didn’t have the Brodway-Joe-like persona of his buddy Rocky, or that he wasn’t a fighter (neither were Beliveau, LaFleur, Bossy or Gretsky).

    It’s that the play of Park and Ratelle in Boston deeply embarrassed the NYRs, Phil Esposito (and Carol Vadnais). It was supposed to be Park for Espo with Ratty and Vadnais included to balance the D-man for Center swap. But Ratty alone eclipsed Espo after the trade (yes even in 1979 when his playoff PPG was higher and he outscored everybody in the Bruins/Canadiens semifinal earning acclaims around the NHL). And when the Rangers desperately traded Rick Middleton for Ken Hodge because Espo allegedly “didn’t have any wingers like he did in Boston” – ouch, Rocky! – the die was cast. With Espo being on the TV team, and having power in the organization as he did through the 80s – it’s no wonder that the names Park and Ratelle were rarely heard by NYR fans.

    Reading Rocky’s tweets here earlier this year it’s clear that he wishes Ratty were back in the Rangers family fold. Gilbert has been a truly great Ranger and is the face of the franchise (with all due respect to greats Messier, Leetch and Richter). I feel Rocky has, in a subtle befitting way, pushed for this wrong to be righted.

    I will never forget a certain Saturday night game in the old Forum in Montreal circa 1971-72 where the Rangers were down 3-1 heading into the 3rd period. And Park made a spectacular rush a-la-Bobby-Orr starting from behind Giacomin’s net all the way up ice to score what was the tying goal (if memory serves correctly) on Ken Dryden – on the way to a thunderous 7-3 NYR win. That game had to play in the minds of the Habs during the semis in 1972 when the Rangers led by Giacomin won in six to eliminate the defending champs and earn a place in the final (dealing rookie of the year Dryden one of his two playoff series losses).

    Hats off to the NYR core four of that era. And here’s hoping that you have success, Tom, in taking the case to the Rangers organization after all these years. I have a vision of a Bruins/Rangers game at MSG where #2 and #19 go up to the rafters before the game (a la what the Canes and Bs did for Glen Wesley some years back). Can you help make it reality? Is there anything we boneheads can do to help?

  9. Carp I agree with you. Sadly, I think the plaques for Tino, Paulie, etc. are ploys to get big crowds for those days. I’m old enough to remember Chambliss, Nettles, Randolph, etc. but the current 20 and 30 somethings who are more likely to bring fans into the stadium have no idea who those guys are. They know the 90s guys. The Yankees have too many players numbers retired who’s shouldn’t be. Billy Martin? Average player, only one WS as a manager. Number 1 to me will always be Murcer. I think for the Yankees, only Hall of Famers should have their numbers retired. Same for the Rangers.

    Same could be said for guys like Ratelle and Gresch and Park. Us old timers know who they are, but the current fans have little idea what they were like as players.

    And one other player who, if Gresch belongs does too, and that’s Dave Maloney, former captain (of the ’79 Cup final team no less!) and all around great guy.

    I like the idea of a ring of honor, or maybe their plaques in the Rotunda of MSG, something like that, but leave retired numbers to the REAL all time greats. So far they’ve got it (mostly) right.

  10. SeeeDubbb aka Beardmaster on

    Tom, thanks for the guest blog, great job. Hadfield was one of my first sports hero. I met him and the rest of the gag line at Herman’s ( remember those) as a seven year old. Great memory, thanks for reminding me.

  11. Good afternoon, boneheads!

    Nice post, Tony. I haven’t seen any of those guys play, excluding Jagr. I can tell you a thing or two about Red Army (CSKA) and Dinamo Moscow players during those years though…:-)

  12. Jagr’s 68 could very well be retired by every team that he played for. He has played past his prime, and still at the age of 42, out scored EVERY RANGER last year.

    With 1,954 total NHL points, he could break 2,000 this year.

    It wouldn’t bother me a bit, if the Rangers retired his number.

  13. You would think with 862 games as a Ranger, with 817 points is *3rd ALL TIME*, you would think Jean Ratelle’s #19 would be in the rafters when people who have done less are retired below him.

    Some times numbers speak for themselves. Correct?

  14. There is only one number and one number only that should be raised to the rafters before anyone else…

    #16 Sean Avery.

  15. Wait a minute… Kulemin and Grabovski are both playing for the fishstix now?! When did that happen?? BARF!

  16. As the proud owner of a Jean Ratelle jersey, it still annoys the daylights out of me that his number has not been retired. If not for his broken ankle, the Rangers curse would have been over two decades earlier.

    I agree 100% with Carp about a ring of honor. The only numbers that should be considered for retirement should belong to Hall of Famers – and even then you need to be a truly elite player.

    As for Tom’s list (Great article BTW), I have no problem with Boucher (#7 is already retired), Cook, Park (#2 is already retired) and Ratelle going up to the rafters.

  17. Great job Tom!! Started following the Rangers in the 68-69 season. The team had a great run in the early 70’s and the team and hockey in general started to get more attention in the media as well. Too bad that Ratelle and Park could not be honored in some way. Maybe even Tkaczuk in smaller fashion although he remains one of my all-time favorites. Greschner had great offensive skills but was a mediocre defender at best. And yes, I remember that game in Montreal as well referred to in the later post ( I thought it was on a weeknight in 1972). Ratelle also scored on a breakaway after intercepting an errant pass late in that game. I believe that was also Jim Dorey’s only regular season game for us as he hurt his shoulder that night.

  18. Robby Bonfire on

    Wonderful stroll down memory lane. I would certainly add Hall of Fame defense man Ching Johnson to the list of all-time top Rangers D’s, making it a top-five. Sure, he played in the first half of the 20th Century, before most of us were born, but, along with Boston’s Eddie Shore, was one of the two dominant figures on defense in the league, way back when, for a good, long run.

    Maybe you, Tom, and others remember how Win Elliot use to confuse Emile Francis with our slightly-built high-scoring LW Camille Henry, by frequently referring to Henry, on the telecasts of Rangers games, as “Camille Francis?” That was always good for some comic relief when the Rangers were getting clobbered in Montreal or Toronto on a Saturday night.

    It sickens me that Jean Ratelle just missed notching 500 goals in this career. Had Jean gotten the breaks he would have scored 600 goals. He career goal scoring total was waylaid by three factors: 1. his early career- interrupting spinal fusion surgery; 2. the ridiculously late promotion to Broadway from Baltimore of the AHL, long after he had nothing left to prove down there and was obviously ready to star at the next level; and, 3. of course the untimely injury when the Dale Rolfe slapshot clipped him on one of his heels and sidelined him, that 1972 season, with 46 goals in the bank and several weeks remaining in the regular season. The date of the injury was March 1st, that year.

    Thanks again, Tom, hope we hear a lot more from you….

  19. bull dog line on

    glad to see that you mentioned Greschner. Greschner is the most underrated Ranger to ever wear the Rangers sweater (along with James Patrick). I agree with Carp, they should have a ring of honor. I do not feel any of the guys mentioned are retired jersey worthy, but were all great Rangers, and would go into the ring of honor if it existed.

  20. If Ratelle were playing today, a lot of youse guys would want him off the team because he wasn’t physical enough.

    Looking at you Wicky!

  21. Carp, the pictures are outstanding!

    Thanks everyone for the feedback. I clearly don’t see Ratelle and Park as borderline. I feel that Graves’ inclusion justifies Hadfield, as does the longevity of his scoring record, his place on the all-time franchse scoring list, and the Tinker-Evers-Chance “je ne sais quoi” vibe of the GAG Line.

    Captains Vic and Brad don’t require another number going out of circulation, nor would the #7 for Frank Boucher.

    I’d love to do this again some time…if I can think of something interesting!

    Tom D

  22. None of the above should be retired IMO. Here is a question for Carp and some older folks, I saw full careers of both and think Buekeboom might be slightly better than Gresch. Thoughts. Gresch could keep the puck in on the point even better than Leetch and could slow the whole game down stick handling, but Buek was more my style, slight edge.

  23. One last thing: Vic’s 49th and 50th were scored in a CBS Sunday afternoon game, with Dan Kelly doing the play-by-play. “Save by Jack-o-min!”

  24. bull dog line on

    Hedberg,
    I loved Buekeboom, but no, not better than Gresch. Gresch gets looked at strictly as on offensive D man, but he was more than that. people forget that Gresch could really throw them. also was not shy about physical play.
    Buek would go into my ring of honor as well.

  25. Robby Bonfire on

    Aneirin:

    Interesting point re Ratty “not being physical enough.” Hey, how about Hot Rod Gilbert, maybe 5-9″, always getting his face washed in that dolt Ferguson’s gloves? Was he physical enough? No one ever raises that question, even though Ratty was tall and Hot Rod was short.

    I recall the first time I saw Jean Ratelle play in a game at MSG. Knowing of his dynamite numbers with Baltimore, AHL, I was really excited to see him arrive in the NHL. My admiration for his smooth skating and creative passing style got me into a debate with the man sitting next to me who didn’t like him “because he isn’t physical enough.” We went around in circles over that the entire game.

    I remember my first impression of Ratty was that he was a taller version of Red Kelly, and you cannot compliment a rookie player in the NHL much better than that. Ratty, like Kelly, was like a well-tuned Rolls Royce engine, smooth as it gets, plus he was so creative with his passing game it looked like he had the best peripheral vision in the league. And they both skated like the wind advancing the puck out of their own end, or so it seemed.

    So happy he made it big in the NHL and for the Rangers. My one regret is being too shy to say hello to him when I saw him eating a hot dog in Nedick’s following a team practice one day. He was proudly wearing a New York Rangers jacket. This made me like him even more.

  26. Here are my votes for “missing” Yankees who deserve retired number status:

    No numbers to retire:
    Numberless – Miller Huggins and Joe McCarthy
    1 Bobby Murcer
    6 Tony Lazzeri
    15 Red Ruffing

    Take down a number:
    11 Lefty Gomez
    51 Bernie Williams (Look at his numbers, and remember who was the real threat in the lineup before you scoff at this)

    Plaques:
    Jack Chesbro
    70’s Nettles, Piniella, Randolph, White
    90’s Posada, Pettitte

  27. And what I mean is that Murcer, Lazzeri and Ruffing should have their numbers retired, and that Huggins and McCarthy should receive a placard with their name and “NY” on that wall with 3, 4, 5 etc.

  28. well Carp

    Jonathan Winters was Robin’s “father” in
    creative genius
    in making up a lot of laughs and lot of poignant truths
    out of virtually nothing but an hyper-active mind

    he suffered from major depression and end up checking himself in a hospital.
    he somehow kept the demons at bay
    but
    sadly Robin could not.

    hoping that Jonathan is there to greet Robin in the
    afterlife and the two can now laugh and laugh and laugh
    pain free

  29. I love what the maple leafs do…they HONOR a number rather than retire it…..then they give it to a player deemed worthy…both frank mahovlich and Darryl sittler have their number 27 up there…the Yankees and habs retire too many but they always won so can’t complain….

  30. Very sad to hear about Robin Williams, from Mork to Lovelace the penguin he has entertained me greatly for over 35 years.

    “Orson calling Mork, time to come home”

  31. Good morning, boneheads!

    Very sad about Robin Williams. I didn’t even know he had those issues. One of too many to succumb to this psychological ailment. And one of too many medical failures. The medical community needs to do better.

  32. Great article tom…even though (except jagr$$$$), I never saw any of those guys play. A bit before my time.

    But like aneirin said, probably a bit smurfish for my liking ;) Vic might have been my favorite of the group it seems.

    Most underrated ranger ever, Chris Simon.

    Loved the bueke!

  33. I can’t believe Robbin Williams committed suicide, so tragic. This guy could do it all in the entertainment business.

  34. I may not have mentioned it before so I will mention it now.

    I received a letter from the Attorney General last week regarding the complaint I filed against the NHL for not fulfilling my $63 Jersey order. The Attorney General accepted my complaint and has sent a letter to the NHL demanding a response.

    I don’t really care about the Jersey but I think what they did to all those fans was really, really wrong. I’m shocked that anyone is taking this seriously but I’m very appreciateive.

  35. “The problem is, God gave man a brain and a penis and only enough blood to run one at a time.”

  36. If someone kills themselves I merely hope that it worked out for them and that they got everything they were looking for.

  37. Bull dog I liked Gresch but it’s a stretch to say he was physics and could really throw them. He could hold his own against a stray Sutter, physical…..ah no! Maybe it was his back. More gifted than Bueke, but I think I want Bueke on my team first. Close

  38. _It is a coward’s way out._

    Said someone who absolutely has no basic understanding of what severe depression is.

  39. Robby Bonfire on

    TOM – Are you the same Tom DeAngelo in the New York Metro area who is a professional singer?

  40. Ok. That is quite a coincidence, though. I was in touch with the other Tom D., a few years back, as regards his guest singer appearances at weddings and parties, etc.

  41. Great stuff … I also remember that MTL game and that goal by Ratty v. Dryden off the steal. It’s stuck with me all this time. I was at the game where Rolfe’s shot broke his ankle too. Come to think of it … this will be my 50th year also! Went to my first game Jan. 30, 1966, age 14. Rangers 8, Leafs 4. Hooked me for life! With on Ratelle in the rafters, and great idea Carp for a Ring of Honor.

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