On this anniversary of the New York Rangers’ last Stanley Cup, it’s easy to heap accolades on the players from that team. In fact, whenever a member of that championship teams ventures into the Garden these days, they are introduced to the crowd to the tune of the “New York Rangers Victory Song.” They range from longtime heroes like Brian Leetch to mercenaries like Glenn Anderson or Craig MacTavish who played all of 12 regular season games along with the playoffs.
On this anniversary of that great day, it’s appropriate to pay some tribute to the unlucky ones. The guys who came thisclose to achieving hockey Nirvāṇa and who ultimately never knew the glory of winning the Cup.
You can be sure that these players still wonder “what if” when it comes to their departure from New York, just before that magnificent Cup run. Most of them can thank Mike Keenan for their fates as “Iron Mike” had his idea of what he needed to win and was able to get General Manager Neil Smith to mortgage the future for the chance to win one Stanley Cup.
There are hockey legends and Hall of Famers in this group and they all share one thing. They were members of the 1993-94 New York Rangers team, but didn’t make it to the playoffs.
Mike Gartner was traded for Glenn Anderson on March 21, 1994. The Blueshirts also got a fourth round draft pick and Scott Malone, but it essence it was the trade of an elite goal scorer who had never tasted playoff success in exchange for a member of the Oilers alumni association who was a prove playoff performer.
Did Gartner deserve to be sent away? Mike Keenan seemed to think so. That despite the fact that Gartner had topped the 40 goal mark the three prior years and had 28 goals at the time of the trade, compared to 17 for Anderson who at 33, was one year younger. Keenan was convinced that Gartner was not a playoff winner, though in 29 playoff games in New York, Gartner had scored 14 goals and 26 points.
Gartner played four more years in Toronto and Phoenix. After the trade, the Maple Leafs made it to the Conference Finals, losing in five games to the Vancouver Canucks. Gartner had five goals and 11 points in 18 playoff games for the Leafs, compared to Anderson’s three goals and six points in 23 playoff games for the Rangers.
James Patrick was a former first round pick who was the Rangers top defenseman for years until Brian Leetch came along. Patrick played for the Rangers for 11 years getting some Norris Trophy consideration and with 1,280 NHL games, he is one of the top defensemen in terms of game played. His 363 assists as a Ranger ranks eighth all-time in franchise history.
Mike Keenan was eager to get Steve Larmer who had played for him in Chicago and he pushed for Smith to make a trade with Hartford for Larmer who had been dealt to the Whalers after he held out to start the 1993-94 season. The same day, November 2, he was traded from Chicago to Hartford, the Rangers sent James Patrick and Darren Turcotte to the Whalers for Larmer and Nick Kypreos.
Larmer played two full seasons in New York before retiring while Patrick went on to play 10 more years in the NHL, never winning the Cup, but coming close with a trip to the Final in 1999 with the Buffalo Sabres.
Darren Turcotte was the other player sent to Hartford in the deal for Steve Larmer. He had been one of the Rangers top goal scorers for four years before 1993-94 topping 25 goals each year. He never achieved those heights for any of the five team he played for after he left New York and he made the playoffs only once with the 1998 St. Louis Blues, losing in the Semi-Finals.
Tony Amonte was only 23 years old when he was traded to the Chicago Blackhawks at the deadline for Brian Noonan and Stephane Matteau. Again, this was the story of Mike Keenan’s desire to reunite with two players he had coached in Chicago and his willingness to give up a future star in exchange. A fourth round gem for the Rangers in the 1988 Entry Draft, Amonte had scored 35 goals as a rookie and followed that with 33 goals in his second year. Under Keenan he slumped to only 16 goals and that was one reason Smith was willing to swap him for two solid, but not spectacular forwards.
Amonte would go on to play 13 more seasons for Chicago, Phoenix, Philadelphia and Calgary, scoring 416 goals and 900 points in 1,174 games. He scored over 30 goals six straight years, topping 40 goals three times. He never won a Stanley Cup, getting as far as the Conference Finals in 2004 with the Flyers.
Peter Andersson was a Swedish defenseman who had played eight games for the 1993-94 Rangers before he was traded to Florida at the deadline for a ninth round draft pick. Could he have been one the “Black Aces” for the Rangers during that playoff run? Considering the injuries suffered in the playoffs by Kevin Lowe and Jeff Beukeboom it’s possible he might have gotten lucky, but that chance went away when he was traded.
Don’t feel bad for these guys
Todd Marchant was traded at the deadline for Craig MacTavish. While it was a totally one-sided deal with MacTavish playing only 12 regular season games and 23 playoff games while Marchant went on to play 1,194 games more games in the NHL for three other teams. Marchant did get to sip from the Stanley Cup as a member of the 2007 Anaheim Ducks.
Phil Bourque was a left winger who was basically given away at the deadline, sent to Ottawa for unknown compensation. He had appeared in 16 games for the Rangers with only one assist and with the arrival of Larmer, Matteau, Noonan, MacTavish and Anderson, there was no room for him. While he missed out on the Rangers’ Stanley Cup, he had won two Cups with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1991 and 1992 so there is no need to feel sorry for him.
What’s done is done
So, would the Rangers have won the Stanley Cup in 1994 with Mike Garter, James Patrick, Darren Turcotte and Tony Amonte on the roster instead of Craig MacTavish, Brian Noonan, Stephane Matteau, Glenn Anderson and Steve Larmer? We will never know. Thankfully, all of those decisions turned out to be the right ones and he 1994 Stanley Cup belongs to the New York Rangers.
It would be nice for the Rangers to pay some tribute to the players who left in exchange for those key pieces of the Stanley Cup puzzle. In particular, Gartner and Patrick were outstanding players who excelled in New York and in Amonte, the Rangers gave up a player who would have been a star at Madison Square Garden for years. But the hockey gods work in strange ways. Ask Marian Gaborik.