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High-risk deals produced big reward for Rangers

by Mike G. Morreale

Glenn Anderson, who along with Craig MacTavish was acquired from Toronto, fit well in the Rangers lineup, which consisted of many of his former Edmonton teammates.
There aren’t enough expressions in the English language to describe the feeling of every New York Rangers fan on the night of June 14, 1994. It made no difference whether you held a ticket to Madison Square Garden or watched from home, the feeling was undoubtedly euphoric.

The Rangers earned their first Stanley Cup since 1940 the hard way, going seven games with the New Jersey Devils in the Eastern Conference Finals before winning another seven-game series with the Vancouver Canucks in the Cup Final.

Not to be forgotten, however, is that remarkable 23-game playoff run to end 54 years of futility was fueled at the trading deadline on March 21, 1994.

”We discussed it as a staff (General Manager Neil Smith and coaches) and although we were in first place overall at the time, felt that if we were to go deep into the playoffs and perform well against some of the opponents we expected to face, particularly New Jersey, we needed to get bigger on the walls up front and needed more experience at the center position,’’ Mike Keenan, the coach of the Rangers that season, told “Kevin Lowe, who played for me at the time, termed the trades, ‘High risk and high reward’ and certainly we couldn’t have had a better reward than the one we ended up achieving.’’

Smith, the Rangers’ GM from 1989-2000, rolled the dice at the deadline, acquiring right wing Glenn Anderson from Toronto, center Craig MacTavish from Edmonton and wingers Stephane Matteau and Brian Noonan from Chicago. Gone were right wing Mike Gartner, center Todd Marchant and wingers Tony Amonte and Matt Oates.

Remarkably, the trades seemed to bolster team chemistry as MacTavish and Anderson were reunited with former Edmonton teammates Lowe, Jeff Beukeboom, Esa Tikkanen, Adam Graves and Mark Messier. Matteau and Noonan, meanwhile, would not only be joining former Chicago teammate Steve Larmer in New York, but their former coach, Keenan.

Another key in making the deals, according to Smith, was the fact the players he acquired were unrestricted free agents at season’s end and not locked in to any long-term contract.

”Most of the players we traded for were nearing the end of their careers and realized they could get a little more money with a team wanting their services than from their incumbent team,’’ Smith said. “Mike (Keenan) had wanted Matteau for the longest time, but I really wasn’t set on trading Amonte for Matteau straight up. So (Chicago GM) Bob Pulford and I were actually discussing a deal for most of the season, but it wasn’t until the deadline when we finally agreed on something. I told Bob the only way he would get Amonte was if he added a player (Brian Noonan). I was always conferring with our head coach throughout my talks with Pulford, but I wasn’t taking instructions from the head coach. If you feel it’s clearly in the best interest of the organization not to trade a player, it’s your duty as GM not to make that deal. In the case of Tony Amonte, I felt I owed it to the fans to really go for it, and only when I was guaranteed two quality players in return for Amonte, did I feel confident doing that.’’

For Smith, fortifying the roster without disrupting team chemistry was critical at the trading deadline.

”I don’t think the trading deadline is a time to reinvent your team by bringing in core players,’’ Smith said. “I didn’t feel we changed the makeup of our team at all. MacTavish would fill in as a nice third or fourth-line center, Noonan and Matteau were solid supplemental players and while Glenn played so many roles, he was also Messier’s former roommate in Edmonton.’’

At the time of the trades, Messier, who became legendary after recording a hat trick in the wake of his Game 6 guarantee (a 4-2 victory) in the Conference Finals against the Devils, was a tad surprised.

”I think it’s always a dicey time at the trade deadline, especially since our team had been in first place,’’ said Messier, who led the Rangers with 12 goals in the ‘94 playoffs. “There’s a chemistry you build over the course of a regular season, but managers are always analyzing whether they have the right team to win in the playoffs. Obviously, they felt we needed some changes in order to compete and they brought in players with Stanley Cup experience.’’

Adam Graves led the Rangers with a career-high 52 goals during the 1993-94 season.

Adam Graves, the crafty left winger who led the Rangers with a career-high 52 goals that season, knows the trade deadline is never an easy period.

”When you talk chemistry or formula in any trade, there’s a feeling of uncertainty,’’ said Graves. “When those deals were made, you got the feeling management was sending a message to the rest of us that ‘Hey, we’re not satisfied with the organization and weren’t confident what was in place.’ So they added some bigger, stronger and experienced players built for a longer grind. The unfortunate part was the fact good people, whom I respected, had to leave.’’

MacTavish, the helmet-less veteran who spent nine seasons with Edmonton, was ecstatic to be moving from a team that was going to miss the playoffs to a Stanley Cup contender.

”Most of the guys who were picked up were former Oilers or guys who had a pretty significant history with Mike (Keenan),’’ said MacTavish, who won the final faceoff against Vancouver’s Pavel Bure with 1.6 seconds remaining to end Game 7 (a 3-2 victory) of the Stanley Cup Final.

”It normally doesn’t happen where you have that degree of familiarity with players after changing teams, but I can tell you it eliminated a lot of uncertainty,’’ MacTavish admitted. “Making a trade for a player that you know something about is a lot better than taking a chance on one you know little about. Mike knew the players from Chicago and felt they would fit in well. Glenn and I had experience in the playoffs and that was big. Neil must have felt, at the time, it was important to shake up the team a little bit.’’

Keenan felt his experiences in three previous Stanley Cup Finals benefited him in New York.

”I had been to the Final three times prior to ‘94 (twice in Philadelphia and once in Chicago) and was in my ninth year as a head coach, so the experience I had in watching and learning from people who had success in the playoffs really helped,’’ Keenan said. “I learned what ingredients were needed to challenge in the playoffs. There’s always going to be a critical point in your run for a Stanley Cup where your team must overcome adversity or you’ll be headed home.’’

For the ‘94 Rangers, the trading deadline proved to be one critical point in their Quest for the Cup.

Contact Mike Morreale at

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