The New York Rangers entered the National Hockey League for
the 1926-27 season as the second team from New York. The Rangers shared the
Madison Square Garden III with the New York Americans until 1942 when the
Americans suspended play temporarily but never returned.
It took over fifty years before the Rangers got into the
tradition of retiring jersey numbers of great players. Since 1979, seven New
York Rangers retired numbers have been hung from the rafters of the New
York Rangers arena, Madison Square Garden IV (eight if you include the
league-wide retirement of Wayne Gretzky’s number 99). The seven numbers represent
eight players as the number 9 is shared by two players.
Rod Gilbert’s number 7 was hoisted to the rafters at the
start of the 1979-80 NHL season. Gilbert played 1,065 regular season NHL games
between 1960-61 and 1977-78, all with New York. Rod holds the all-time Rangers
marks for points and assists in a career. Gilbert was elected to the Hockey
Hall of Fame in 1982.
Ten years later, the Rangers retired the number 1 of
goaltender Eddie Giacomin. Giacomin played with the Rangers from 1965-66 to
1975-76 when he was traded to the Detroit Red Wings. Eddie finished out his
career with the Red Wings and retired after the 1977-78 season. Giacomin won
the Vezina Trophy in 1971 and entered the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1987.
Another goalie had his number 35 retired in 2004. Mike
Richter played his whole NHL career in a Rangers jersey from 1989-90 to
2002-03. Mike played a huge role in bringing the Stanley Cup back to New York
in 1994 for the first time since 1940. Although not yet a member of the Hockey
Hall of Fame, Richter is a member of the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame.
Mark Messier basically had two playing careers in the NHL,
the first half with the Edmonton Oilers and the second half with the Rangers,
with a few years with the Vancouver Canucks thrown in. Messier’s number 11 is
retired by both the Oilers and Rangers. This is well deserved as Mark captained
both teams to the Stanley Cup, the only professional athlete to captain two
teams to a championship. The Rangers took number 11 out of circulation in 2006
and the following year Messier entered the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Brian Leetch played on the blue line for the Rangers from
1987-88 to 2003-04 when he was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs at the trade
deadline. Leetch finished out his NHL career with the Boston Bruins in 2005-06.
Leetch is the owner of several major awards in the NHL including the Calder
Memorial Trophy as rookie of the year, the Conn Smythe as playoff MVP and two
Norris Trophies as the NHL’s top defenseman. Leetch’s number 2 was retired by
the Rangers in 2008 and he was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame the
In 2009, the Rangers played catch-up in the number
retirement department, raising three different numbers to the rafters of MSG.
The number 3 was raised in honour of Harry Howell, a long time New York
defenseman. Howell played over 1400 regular season NHL games with the Rangers,
California Golden Seals and Los Angeles Kings. Harry also played in the WHA for
the final three years of his hockey career. Howell earned a spot in the Hockey
Hall of Fame in 1979.
On the same day Harry Howell’s number 3 was retired, so was
the number 9 of Andy Bathgate. Bathgate played over 1,000 regular season NHL
games with the Rangers, Toronto Maple Leafs, Detroit Red Wings and Pittsburgh
Penguins. Bathgate entered the Hockey Hall of Fame a year before Howell.
Also in 2009, the number 9 was honoured for Adam Graves, as
well. Graves enjoyed an NHL career that spanned 1,152 regular season games with
the Detroit Red Wings, Edmonton Oilers, Rangers and San Jose Sharks. Graves
excelled in 1993-94, scoring 52 goals during the regular season and helping the
team to a Stanley Cup victory.