Nice work by ESPN doing various Top 10 lists of the NHL, such as best #1 draft picks and teams.
In this spirit, I sat down to do a top 10 best Ranger players of the decade. After Lundqvist and Jagr it started to get very very hard. Almost embarrassingly hard. So I aborted and instead went with a top starting team of the decade.
G — Henrik Lundqvist. This is as much of a no-brainer as Tiger is for winning Worst Husband of the Year. (Technically, Mike Richter qualifies. But he barely does, and cause of concussions he was a shell of his former self in the 2000s.)
D — Brian Leetch. Despite his best years well behind him, he still was the best defenseman we had up through the lockout. And he probably gets a little subconscious help from 1994 and the fact that he was unceremoniously, and prematurely, shipped to Toronto.
D — Marc Staal. I searched far and wide for another Rangers defenseman more deserving, but couldn’t find one. Staal has been remarkably consistent and reliable in his short tenure so far. I’ve often said that he will be a stud for the next decade. But this pick is more about what the Rangers did not have for most of the decade than what he’s done so far. Honorable mention actually goes to Michael Rozsival. Based on his pure numbers you actually, sort of, if you stretch it, and hope, can see why Sather gave him the big contract. An amazing +35 in 2005-06 season (and 30 points — 5G, 25A), followed up by a +10 and 40 point (10G, 30A) campaign the following year.
RW — Jaromir Jagr. He wasn’t a Ranger for all that long, and failed to deliver what he was brought in to do. But he was by far the most talented Ranger since Messier (stay #1 in NY) and they did consistently make the playoffs at least. Honorable mention to the controversial and underperforming Theo Fleury.
LW — Shockingly poor production over the decade from our LWers. Graves was there only in the beginning of the decade, which was the tail end of his career. Avery? Please. Basically, the only choice was the professional Martin Straka. Check out these numbers. 2005-06: 76 pts (22, 54). 2006-07: 70 pts (21, 49). He then added 41 points in an injury-shortened final year.
C — The toughest call of them all. There are only two choices. (Lindros should have been the no-brainer, but he never played up to potential due to the concussions.) It’s between the Messiah and Michael Nylander. Mess played before the lockout, in his second stint as a Ranger, and at the end of his Hall of Fame career. He was the unquestioned leader of the team for 4 seasons and scored 67 points (24, 43) in 2000-01, 23 points (7, 16) in half of 2001-2002, then 40 pts (18, 22), and 43 pts (18, 25). But he was playing on fumes and memories. Nylander essentially was brought in to replace Messier after the lockout as the top line center. But even though he was the Rangers #1 pivot, he was much more of a role player. This was Jagr’s team, and everyone knew it. Still, Nylander scored 79 points (23, 56) and was a +31 his first year in NY. The following year he netted 83 points (26, 57) and was a +12. The team made the playoffs both years. Nylander was arguably more productive, even factoring in the Messiah’s captain abilities. BUT, and this is the tie-breaker, Nylander was here for only 2 years. That’s not enough for an all-decade team. So the winner is the one and only Messier.
All-decade team’s are supposed to be fun and remind you of better times (if your team is currently losing, which we basically are). And I did not want this to be a reinvention of 1994. So I searched real hard for non 1994 Cup winning players. There just weren’t many. And as sad as it is, and maybe this is a justification to feel better, I’m okay with that. Sports is about hope. The Rangers were not good in the 2000s. But things are looking up and in 10 years this list better (will?) include Staal, Del Zotto, Lundqvist, Callahan, Dubinsky, and Gaborik!
Happy New Year! See you all in a week.