Welcome to another edition of Blueshirts Briefs, a series profiling individuals who worked a short shift for the New York Rangers.
Steve Larmer wasn’t leaving anything to chance. His team just 1.6 seconds from its first Stanley Cup championship in 54 years, the New York Rangers’ veteran winger can be seen checking his man even after the final buzzer extinguished over five decades of Blueshirts’ heartbreak.
Such attention to detail made him one of the NHL’s most valuable players during his 15 seasons with the Chicago Black Hawks and Rangers — and why Blueshirts head coach Mike Keenan urged general manager Neil Smith to trade for him.
In Keenan’s mind, getting Larmer in Rangers’ blue was a no-brainer. In 1992, Keenan was Larmer’s head coach in Chicago when the Black Hawks made it to the Finals (and lost) after stunning the first-place Detroit Red Wings with a four-game sweep of the Norris Division champions.
Smith agreed. On November 2, 1993, just after Larmer was traded to the Hartford Whalers, the Rangers acquired the veteran winger, along with Nick Kypreos, Barry Richter, and a draft pick for Darren Turcotte and James Patrick.
Larmer had a solid first season with the Rangers, notching 21 goals and 39 assists for 60 points in 68 regular-season games. In the playoffs, he did precisely what the team’s brass brought him to Broadway for, posting nine goals and seven assists.
He had two goals against the New York Islanders in the opening round, one versus the Washington Capitals in the second round, and two more against the New Jersey Devils in the Conference Finals.
And in the Finals against Vancouver, Larmer torched the Canucks for four goals, including one in Games Three and Four at Pacific Coliseum.
“There aren’t many players in the league like Steve Larmer,” Smith said. “He’s a character person, and he fit in like a glove from day one.”
Windy City departure
Despite notching 106 goals in 195 matches over three seasons in the Ontario Hockey League, Larmer was overlooked by many scouts because of his 5-foot-11, 195-pound frame. Chicago finally took him in the sixth round (120th) of the 1980 Entry Draft, and it didn’t take long for him to reward them.
Larmer played four games for the Hawks in 1981 and three more the following season, notching one assist. But in his first full season, 1983, he played in all 80 matches and finished second on the team in goals (43) and points (90). That effort earned him the Calder Trophy and a spot on the NHL’s All-Rookie first team.
From there, Larmer recorded four additional seasons with at least 40 goals and another four with no fewer than 30 (he scored 28 in 1987 and 29 in 1992). He notched a career-best 46 markers in 1985, but his best statistical season was in 1991 when he posted a personal-best 101 points (including 44 goals).
Ironically, given his size and the fact many teams passed on drafting him, Larmer played in every game for 11 straight seasons (leading the league six times). His iron-man streak reached 884 regular-season games, which is the third-longest in NHL history behind Doug Jarvis’ 964 and Gary Unger’s 914.
As time passed, Larmer longed for a Stanley Cup championship, and his desire to earn a ring became a priority over continuing his iron-man streak. The closest he’d come to winning the Cup was in 1992, but Keenan was gone after that season, replaced by Darryl Sutter. The 32-year-old Larmer and Sutter mixed about as well as oil and vinegar.
Chicago getting swept by the rival St. Louis Blues in the playoffs that spring didn’t bring them any closer together. Following that series, Larmer asked for a trade out of Chicago. He never publicly acknowledged a rift with Sutter, but some insiders believe there was. All Larmer said was “it was time for a change. I spent a long time there, and I just felt it was time to take a different road.”
Larmer held out at the beginning of the 1993-94 season, missing all of training camp, the preseason, and 13 regular-season Hawks’ games. The iron-man streak was done. Had he played in every match that year, he would have surpassed Jarvis. Larmer instead remained in limbo until his trade to Hartford.
“I have no regrets,” Larmer said of breaking his iron-man streak. “You can’t live like that. I’d do the same things all over again. The team was going in a different direction and I was one of the last guys there from a different era. It wasn’t a rebuild. But I felt the team was stuck in neutral.”
The Whalers, 3-9-1 at the time, immediately flipped him to New York, which was 7-5-1. Larmer played his first game for the Rangers on November 3 at Madison Square Garden and recorded an assist in a 6-3 win over Vancouver.
“The nice thing about it,” Larmer said of his trade to New York, “is to get a chance to play for a Stanley Cup again.”
A championship at last
On the night of June 14, 1994, Larmer finally got his Stanley Cup championship.
Larmer had 29 points (14 goals) in 47 games in the lockout-shortened 1995 season then opted to retire. He finished with 441 goals and 571 assists for 1,012 points in 1,006 regular-season contests, and 56 markers and 75 helpers for 131 points in 140 playoff tilts. In 115 regular-season matches with the Rangers, he notched totals of 35-54-89.
Following retirement, he spent seven seasons as the NHLPA’s Director of Player Relations and, at last check, settled back into his hometown of Peterborough, Ontario.
Hall of Fame?
Larmer has yet to be elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame. Perhaps that’s because he played in Denis Savard’s shadow? Or could it be because Jari Kurri was considered the game’s best right-wing during the decade of the 1980s, the same time as Larmer’s prime? Compared to some other right-wingers already inducted, Larmer should be in. You be the judge:
Lanny McDonald was inducted in 1992 after a fabulous 16-year career in which he recorded 1,006 points (500 goals) in 1,111 regular-season matches and 84 points (44 goals) in 117 playoff games. Larmer topped him in points, power-play goals, short-handed markers, and game-winners, but didn’t win any individual NHL awards except the Calder Trophy. McDonald won both the Clancy and Masterton awards.
Glenn Anderson was inducted in 2008 after a 16-year career in which he was part of six Cup-winners. He posted 1,099 points (601 assists) in 1,129 regular-season games and 214 points (121 helpers) in 225 postseason contests. Anderson did not win any individual NHL awards. Larmer had more power-play and short-handed tallies, but Anderson produced more game-winners.
Joe Mullen was inducted in 2000 following a 16-year career in which he notched 1,063 points (501 goals) in 1,062 regular-season matches and 106 points (60 markers) in 143 playoff games. He won three Cups and the Lady Byng twice. Larmer had more power-play and short-handed goals, but Mullen potted more game-winners.
A few years back, NHLPA.com asked Larmer if being inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame bothered him.
“It’s not an issue for me,” he said. “If it’s something that happens, it happens.”