Can Artemi Panarin beat the Rangers curse?

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NEW YORK, NEW YORK – NOVEMBER 04: Artemi Panarin #10 of the New York Rangers celebrates his second period goal against the Ottawa Senators at Madison Square Garden on November 04, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Artemi Panarin is having a career year in his first season with the New York Rangers. So far he has avoided the curse that has struck so many Blueshirts over the years.  Can he keep it up?

Every time the New York Rangers sign a big free agent or trade for a star player, Ranger fans cringe just a little bit.  The fear is that the new player will succumb to the New York Rangers curse.

What is the New York Rangers curse?  It’s the uncanny transformation that affects top scorers when they join the team.  They stop scoring. There is a long list of players who had tremendous success as top scorers only to see the scoring well run dry when they become Rangers.  Well, maybe not run dry, but certain reduce to a trickle.

Believe it or not, nine of the top 20 goal scorers in NHL history have played for the Rangers. The sad fact that all of them scored most of their goals with other teams.  Most of these hockey immortals joined the Rangers when they were past their prime, but there were at least a few who fell victim to the curse.

There are players who were able to beat it.  So far, Artemi Panarin is doing precisely that.   We’ll get to them soon, but first a look back at some of the best (or worst) cases of players losing their scoring touch when arriving in New York.

FILE: Phil Esposito of the New York Rangers. (Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Curse victims

The curse may be a myth, but it is grounded in fact.   There are many cases of players whose goal production decline precipitously when the came to New York.  Here are some of the painful memories.

Phil Esposito came to the Rangers at age 33, the greatest goal scorer in NHL history. Esposito averaged 65 goals in the five seasons prior to his trade to New York. In his first season with the Rangers, his goals total dropped from 61 in 1974-75 to 35.  In his first five years in New York he averaged 37 goals per season.

Luc Robitaille was one of the most prolific scorers in the NHL while with the Los Angeles Kings.  In eight years in L.A. he scored 392 goals, an average of 49 goals per season with a one year high of 63 goals in 1992-93.  Acquired in the Sergei Zubov trade, Robitaille spent two years in New York and scored 23 and 24 goals.  Of course, after the Blueshirts gave up on him and traded him back to the Kings he went on to have goal scoring seasons of 39, 36 and 37 goals.

Bernie Nicholls  was a prolific scorer for the Los Angeles Kings who scored 258 goals in six seasons, an average of 43 goals per season. Midway through the season after he scored his career best 70  goals he was dealt to the Blueshirts in a blockbuster deal that saw him become “Broadway Bernie” in exchange for Tomas Sandstrom and Tony Granato.  Once in New York, his goals per game average dropped from 0.57 in Los Angeles to 0.38 in New York as he had 27 goals in 47 Kings games and 12 in 32 for the Rangers.  He was ultimately swapped to Edmonton in the Mark Messier deal and he never regained his scoring touch.

Mike Rogers had scored 84 goals and totaled 210 points in two season with Hartford before his trade to New York.  In his first season with the  Blueshirts, his numbers were down slightly with 38 goals and 103 points, but after that, he never topped 30 goals or 76 points and was gone within four years.

Eric Lindros was another big scorer, averaging 0.60 goals per game in eight years, topping the 40 goals mark four times with the Flyers.  Joining the team in his prime at age 28, he scored 37 goals his first season and promptly dropped to 19 the next season.  His goals per game average in New York was 0.34.

Theo Fleury’s offense totally collapsed in New York.  He had topped 40 goals four times and peaked with 51 goals.  In his last season before joining the Blueshirts as a free agent, he scored 40 goals.  In his first season with the Rangers, he scored 15 goals. He did rebound to score 30 goals the next season, but only lasted one more year in New York as he couldn’t handle the bright lights of Broadway and was a victim of numerous personal issues.

Steve Larmer is venerated as a member of the 1994 Stanley Cup champions, but the curse struck him too.  In 11  years with the Black Hawks, Larmer averaged 37 goals per season, with five 40 goal seasons.  Acquired by the Rangers in 1993, he dropped from 35 to 21 goals and then 14 in the strike shortened 1994-95 season and he then retired.

The one that is freshest in the minds of Ranger fans is Eric Staal.  Staal was an offensive force for the Carolina Hurricanes for 12 years, scoring goals at a 0.35 per game pace.  He later signed with the Minnesota Wild and in three seasons his GPG is even better at 0.37.  In his brief tenure with the Rangers he scored three goals in 20 games, a 0.15 pace.

The curse is also manifested by injury.  In Pavel Bure and Pat LaFontaine, the Rangers acquired two of the top goal scorers of their generation.  Bure scored 31 goals in only 51 games for the Blueshirts and was forced into retirement by chronic knee injuries. He was just 31 years old.

LaFontaine was another great scorer who joined the Blueshirts in 2002 when he was 32 years old.  In his one season with the Rangers, he scored 23 goals in 67 games when the last in  a series of concussions forced him to hang up his skates.

More recently, Rick Nash fell to the curse but was a victim of  injuries. After scoring more than 30 goals in seven of nine seasons with Columbus, he only topped that number once in six campaigns in New York with his GPG percentage decreasing from 0.43 in Columbus to 0.39 in New York. He scored at a 39 goal pace in his first, lockout-shortened season, but after that, his totals were limited by a series of concussions and other injuries.  In his one full season he totaled 42 goals.

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