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.