BROADWAY, NY: Reason #9,347 hockey is better than baseball – they banged out a plan to restart the season over breakfast. No real hiccups so far. Baseball owners and players are fighting for the last few dollars like Mad Max and Immortan Joe fought for the last few gallons of gasoline. I caught Game 7 of the 1994 Stanley Cup Finals on Sunday. What a game and what a team. With some of the current Rangers beginning to skate and a hopeful restart for hockey on the horizon, maybe this team can pull it off and steal the Stanley Covid Cup. With a break that will probably end up being five months by the time they drop a meaningful puck, all bets are off. I know it’s far from likely, but just for fun, let’s see how this team compares to the legendary ’94 squad.
1994: Mark Messier was the quintessential Captain. He became a legend in New York when he guaranteed victory in an elimination game on the road in New Jersey… and backed it up with a hat trick in the third period.
It was fun watching him hug every single person in the Rangers organization on the ice in the post-game celebration after the Cup winning game. One guy looked like he was thinking “I clean sweaty gloves, why is Mark Messier hugging me?” The Alternate Captains were Brian Leetch and Adam Graves.
2020: The current squad has no captain. The alternates are Mika Zibanejad, the front runner for the captaincy next season, Chris Kreider and Mark Staal. Nothing against those three, but come on.
1994: Mike Keenan was a douche, but he knew how to push buttons and get the most out of his players. When Alexei Kovalev was taking long shifts early in the season, Keenan wouldn’t let him come off the ice and he ended up taking a 6+ minute shift. He would tell Leetch that he was no Chris Chelios. He ruffled a lot of shin pads, but he was a proven winner.
2020: I’m a big fan of David Quinn and he’s not scared to show some tough love. But he’s unproven and has never coached in an NHL playoff game.
1994: The Rangers traded away a few of offensive finesse players in Mike Gartner and Tony Amonte for more battle-tested guys like Glenn Anderson, Brian Noonan, and Stephan Matteau at the trade deadline. Graves had 52 goals and Messier led the forwards with 84 points.
Kovalev had the most skill on the team but he was a bit of a wild card. They had plenty of depth with Steve Larmer, Esa Tikkanen, and Sergei Nemchinov. Craig MacTavish was the faceoff specialist.
2020: Artermi Panarin is the best player from either team. Sorry, but it’s true. Hockey has come a long way in 26 years. Panarin’s 95 points would have led the ’94 team in about 15 fewer games. Mika Zibanejad had 75 points and was on fire when the season was shut down. He had a good chance to get the 15 points needed to outscore anyone on the ’94 team as well, despite missing 13 games due to injury.
But they didn’t have a ton behind their big two. Chris Kreider, with his speed, is a difference maker. Other than those three, would any forward on the current roster make the starting lineup on the ’94 team? Ryan Strome and Pavel Buchnevich are useful players and Jesper Fast is a solid two-way player. Filip Chytil has shown flashes. But their bottom six is mostly young and unproven.
The 2020 team has the two best players, but the ’94 team had quality players all the way down the lineup.
1994: Leetch was the backbone of the D and he won the Conn Smyth for playoff MVP with 34 playoff points. He was also the first American-born player ever to win the trophy. But Sergie Zubov actually led the team in points that season with 89, 10 more than Leetch. (Wayne Gretzky had 92 assists alone that season.)
They traded Zubov after the next season for some stupid reason. Leetch’s partner on the top pair was the big-hitting, stay at home and awesomely-named Jeff Beukeboom. Zubov’s partner on the second pair was the steady veteran Kevin Lowe. Finishing out the group was Alexander Karpotsev, Doug Lister, and Jay Wells.
2020: The current squad has a lot of potential, but is still developing. Mark Staal is the steady veteran but he’s slowed down and likely has just one more season with the team. Tony DeAngelo is the top scorer on the blue line, but he’s got some defensive holes. Adam Fox had a fantastic rookie season and he’s the guy with #1 D potential. The gritty Ryan Lindgren could be Fox’s partner on the top pair for years to come. Jacob Trouba had an up and down season and might never play up to his monster contract, but he can play in all situations and eat minutes.
The current team is building what could end up being an impressive d-corps, with more talent in the pipeline. But they’re not near the Leetch/Zubov group yet.
1994: As good as the ’94 team was, we would still be hearing “1940” if not for Mike Richter. The guy was an absolute monster in the Devils series. In Game 6, the Devils were absolutely dominating Game 6 for most of two periods but Richter shut down the Devils onslaught after two early goals, keeping them close for Messier’s heroics.
Richter stood on his head in Game 7, trading huge saves with Marty Brodeur until Matteau’s wraparound somehow went in. He came up big vs Vancouver as well, including the huge save on Bure’s penalty shot and a monster glove save late in the third period of Game 7 with the Rangers clinging to a one-goal lead.
2020: The team is transitioning from longtime backstop Henrik Lundqvist to Igor Sheskterkin. Shesterkin showed massive potential and pulled the team back into the playoff race with a fantastic start to his career. After the car accident and the long layoff, who knows what you’ll get from Igor. But you never know. Look at what happened last year (feels like 10 years ago) with Jordan Binnington.
1994: Zubov, Leetch on the back end and Messier, Graves, and Kovalev as the top power play unit. This was one of the best units in the league. The penalty kill was the best in the league and scored the most shorthanded goals. Lowe and Beukeboom were strong penalty killers and they had plenty of forwards who could kill penalties.
2020: The team had the 7th best PP in the league, with Panarin and Zibanejad leading the way. But the PK struggled and finished in the bottom third of the league.
It’s a tough comparison for the current squad, the youngest in the league. This team has two fantastic players up front and plenty of potential on D and in goal, but they’re still building. The ’94 team had big stars and strong players all the way down the roster.
The current squad needs galaxies to align and a lot of guys to play out of their minds. But let’s drop that damn puck. I can’t wait.