What If: The Rangers didn’t sell the farm in 1994?

Another in our What If Series, something that we are hoping to continue this offseason. 

The 1994 run to the Stanley Cup was magical. The Rangers ended the curse, we could all die in peace, and have a lasting memory to last a lifetime. But to get there, GM Neal Smith sold the team’s future to suit Mike Keenan’s needs. The end result was the Cup and the end of a curse, but the selling of the farm led to mediocre teams in the following three years, followed immediately by the dark ages.

There were trades prior to the 1994 trade deadline, the big one being the trade with Hartford that sent Darren Turcotte and James Patrick to Hartford for Nick Kypreos and Steve Larmer Barry Richter and a 1994 6th rounder came to New York as well). But it was the trade deadline that shook up the core of a team already in first place and propelled them to a Cup.

Let’s also remember that the trade deadline was on March 21, 1994.

But, what if Neal Smith held strong and didn’t deal some of that youth at the deadline and in the years prior?

Let’s go through the trades the Rangers made to land their Cup winning team (the major trades from 1993-1994 are included here, anything before I didn’t include):

  • Doug Weight to Edmonton for Esa Tikkanen in March 1993.
  • Turcotte/Patrick for Kypreos/Lamer in November 1993.
  • Tony Amonte to Chicago for Stephane Matteau and Brian Noonan in March 1994.
  • Mike Gartner to Toronto for Glenn Anderson in March 1994..
  • Todd Marchant to Edmonton for Craig MacTavish in March 1994.

There were other smaller trades, like sending Peter Andersson and Phil Bourque packing to make space on the roster, but these were the big deals that shaped the 1994 Cup winning Rangers. Of the players acquired, only Tikkanen has any relevant history with the Rangers following that Cup win. The rest either retired or moved on unceremoniously.

Weight and Amonte are clearly the big losses here. The Rangers struggled to find a 2C behind Mark Messier for a while (and later Wayne Gretzky). Petr Nedved came and went, but the Rangers wouldn’t have needed him had they held on to Weight, who went on to put up 70+ points, including an 80-point year, a 90-point year, and a 100-point year, in each full season until 2000-2001. Messier-Weight as your 1-2 punch gives the Rangers depth that could have carried the Rangers until Messier retired.

Amonte put up 30+ goals each year, three of them being 40+ goals, each season until 2000-2001. The Rangers didn’t have that kind of scorer when he left, aside from the wildly inconsistent Alexei Kovalev. Graves-Messier-Amonte and Kovalev-Weight-RW has the makings of a great top-six. Sure, you can even add Nedved there to fill out the top-six.

The argument here is that the Rangers lost their ability to compete when Messier forced the Rangers to trade Sergei Zubov, who was sent to Pittsburgh with Nedved for Luc Robitaille and Ulf Samuelsson. But does that have as much as an impact if the Rangers still have Turcotte and Patrick? Neither were ever the same when they were sent to Hartford, but Hartford didn’t have the talent the Rangers had.

For the sake of the what-if, let’s call the Gartner and Marchant trades the cost of doing business to win in the NHL. That means MacTavish and Anderson are Rangers regardless. Let’s also assume the Rangers dispatch of the Isles and Caps pretty easily in the playoffs.

How does that Devils series turn out? Matteau scored a pair of double OT winners in that series, including the series winner. But does the series get that far? Does the Blueshirts’ skill overwhelm the still young Devils? Or does the lack of that grit and leadership eventually cause the Rangers to fold in seven? That is something we will never know. The playoffs are often decided by one bounce of the puck, one deflection, sometimes even one missed penalty. The only thing we know is that this series would have been close.

What we do know, however, is that without the trades the Rangers would have been deeper and better equipped to handle the surging Devils. Who knows – maybe the success leads Messier to retract his trade demand, and Zubov and Nedved remain with the Rangers. Is that enough to get multiple shots at a Cup? Do the Rangers sink their shots?

In the end, we always take the guaranteed Cup over a plethora of what-ifs. But it makes you wonder.

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  • The real what if for me will always be, “What if Ron Francis’ 90 footer hadn’t gone in” in 1992. The Penguins didn’t lose again that postseason, and while it’s not reasonable to predict that the Rangers would have swept both series, it’s reasonable to think they would have won them. A Cup in 1992 undoes ALL of those trades, and only costs us Nedved (who we got as compensation for Keenan).

    Plus, we never have to endure the Colin Campbell years.

  • Stanley Cups are very difficult to come by. The price was high, but they were successful trades that brought us the Cup. Everyone has 20/20 hindsight, but if the goal is winning it all, those trades had to be made.

    • Yes. I’m another that think this “They won the Cup period!”. The Rangers finally won a cup in 54 years in 1994. Yet you see all those fans still operating on a “woulda, coulda, shoulda, if it wasn’t for basis, etc…”. Hey, don’t negate a great Stanely Cup victory! They won period!

    • Yes. I’m another that think this, “They won the Cup period!”. The Rangers finally win a cup in 54 years in 1994. Yet, I see all those Rangers fans still operating on a “coulda, woulda, shoulda, if it wasn’t for basis…”. SMH. I’ll choose a definite “They won the Cup period” over a “maybe, coulda, woulda, shoulda,,,” anytime…

  • ’92 would’ve always had the “they only won because they took out Lemieux” commentary.

    I was a LI teenager at the time and that would’ve stuck for sure. I vividly remember NYI fans already grasping onto that as we were working our way through that series. I had a very small feeling of relief that year. And looking back, prob only feel alright about it since we won in ’94.

  • We all know the if word has a whole lot of meaning. For me I felt sorry for Gartner because he did everything keeenan want him to do. He was standing in the front of the net on power plays taking a beating night in and night out and he deserved to win a cup. Keenan just didn’t like him period!

    • Keenan wanted a certain type of player. Gartner wasn’t his type, although he was great. Keenan would have made the team a replica of the old Oilers if he could. Time moved past Keenan, but he did bring home something no other coach could for many years.

  • Unless I’m mistaken, don’t forget St Louis wanted the Rangers to take Brett Hull in the Keenan fiasco, Neil Smith demanded Nedved, and it cost us Tikkanen as well.

  • None of those guys that got traded were winners.

    I think weight and Marchant won a cup but as definite role players. Weight was injured for most of the Carolina series and Marchant played 3rd4th line for Anaheim

    But the rest of them never won a cup. Ever.

    While Larmer Tikkanen Noonan Matteau. Anderson all had multiple rings.

    I really don’t think those players would have made it through 7 games against nj and vancouver.

  • Weight and Amonte could have carried us for years, they were 1st line players that playing as a 2nd line for us (behind Messier, Graves) would have guaranteed our relevance for 10 years — plus Zubov of course. To me those trades are a cautionary tale — yes the short term gain was great, but the long term results were not — the trades set us back for 10 years through the 2004/2005 lockout. Hopefully this time around we keep our homegrown studs and get multiple cracks at the Cup.

    PS: No one knows if we would have won the 94′ Cup with Weight, Amonte and Gartner … but I’m not so sure we wouldn’t have, our firepower would have been second to none.

  • Hey Dave, I love this post, makes one really question what might have been?? Bottom line we won the CUP and that has been the ONLY CUP in my lifetime! The one deadline trade that I felt was unnecessary was the Gartner for Anderson trade. I think Gartner ( famous for disappearing in the playoffs) would have been huge, But Keenan hated him. Another topic you might want to throw out there is what would have happened if the Rangers won the rights to the in your prime young Eric Lindros sweepstakes. ???

  • Here’s a “WHAT IF” scenario: What if Cheraponov lived and what if Sauer didn’t suffer a career ending injury? What type of teams would we have had during the Torts/AV era? Would they have been enough to get us over the top?

  • Yes. I’m another that think this, “They won the Cup period!”. The Rangers finally win a cup in 54 years in 1994. Yet, I see all those Rangers fans still operating on a “coulda, woulda, shoulda, if it wasn’t for basis…”. SMH. I’ll choose a definite “They won the Cup period” over a “maybe, coulda, woulda, shoulda,,,” anytime…

  • I know my father was glad they brought it home before he died and as things drag out, I’m starting to wonder if it is the only one I will see in my lifetime. “Kids” will never understand what that Cup meant to people that had gone 50 years without one, many of those in a 6 team league. Think about that….your team sucks so hard that it couldn’t win in a league that had less teams than a current division has now.

    Doug Weight and Patrick were great players. I wish they could have kept them, but I’d rather say “wish they kept them” than “wish they won the Cup”.

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