Matteau came to the club on March 21 in one of the five deals struck by New York general manager Neil Smith at the trading deadline. At the time, the Rangers had 94 points and were in first place overall. Why the major makeover? Smith, who took the Ranger job in 1989, described the pre-trading-deadline Rangers as "a good regular-season team," whereas the post-trading-deadline edition was bigger, meaner and better suited for "the war," as Smith refers to the postseason.
Smith, who has acquired every player on New York's roster except Leetch and Richter, is a wunderkind among NHL general managers. He was 28 when he got the job of director of professional scouting for the Detroit Red Wings and 35 when he replaced Phil Esposito as the Rangers' G.M. Smith's first order of business in New York was to track down the surviving members of the 1940 Cup-winning team—there were seven—and present them with commemorative gold rings. Rather than shun the Rangers' often painful history, Smith has made himself a student of it. In fact, he interrupted a between-periods press-box interview last Saturday to watch a Canadian Broadcasting Company segment on the '40 Rangers. "Look! I have that picture on my wall," he said. "That's the Tudor Room at the Royal York—that's where they had the party celebrating the Cup."
A craggy-faced octogenarian appeared on the screen. "That's David Hiller," burbled Smith. "I gave him his ring!"
The '94 Rangers went on to beat the Canucks that night. Two more wins and Smith would be able to hand out a lot more jewelry.