Work in Sports
ATLANTIC DIVISION |
3 New York Rangers
Team Page | 2000-2001 Schedule | Roster
Sports Illustrated Ranking: 13
By Mark Beech
Nobody in New York seems to care that Mark Messier is 39, or that his plus-minus rating for his three-season stint in Vancouver was -37. Those are just numbers. To the overpaid, underachieving Rangers, for whom he starred from 1991-92 through '96-97, he remains the Messiah. "Mark told me he may not be able to carry a team to the Stanley Cup anymore, but he can certainly lead," new general manager Glen Sather said when he signed Messier to a two-year, $11 million free-agent deal in July. "And leading is what I'm looking for."
Sather wants Messier to pull together the disparate personalities of a club whose members often played as if they'd never been introduced. In the summer of 1999 the organization doled out $67 million on free agents, and the two most expensive -- right wing Theo Fleury (15 goals) and left wing Valeri Kamensky (32 points in 58 games) -- were total flops. The Rangers, who had the NHL's highest payroll ($60 million), went 29-41-12-3, missed the playoffs for the third straight season and got coach John Muckler and general manager Neil Smith fired. "We had a lot of skill last year, but we were never in sync," says left wing Adam Graves, one of only three Rangers, along with defenseman Brian Leetch and goaltender Mike Richter, left from the Messier-led Stanley Cup champions of 1994. "It has to come from everyone."
Messier's presence could help several Rangers regain their form. Most important is Leetch (26 points in 50 games and -16), a two-time Norris Trophy winner who struggled as the team captain when Messier left for Vancouver. Another who hopes to benefit is center Petr Nedved, who led the club last season with 68 points but was too often the target of intimidation tactics, assaults that his teammates never responded to. That's a problem Messier, who centers the first line, has vowed to remedy.
The Rangers aren't Stanley Cup contenders, but with new coach Ron Low, who brings an up-tempo style of play, they are better than last season and will become a lot better if Fleury and Kamensky bounce back as expected. That promise is why Messier's homecoming is the most anticipated return of a bald man to Broadway since Yul Brynner reprised his role in The King and I more than 20 years ago. The King is back. Long live the King.
Issue date: October 16, 2000
Click here to look back at CNNSI.com's training-camp previews.