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This Date in NHL History

July 21: Gretzky signs with Rangers, reunites with Messier

Plus: Ruff named coach of Sabres; Maple Leafs sign Matthews to first NHL contract

by John Kreiser @jkreiser7713 / NHL.com Managing Editor

THIS DATE IN HISTORY: July 21

1996: Wayne Gretzky, the greatest scorer in NHL history, rejoins former teammate Mark Messier when he signs with the New York Rangers.

Gretzky says the chance to play with his old friend and teammate from their Stanley Cup-winning days with the Edmonton Oilers is a big reason he decides to sign with New York after finishing the 1995-96 season with the St. Louis Blues.

"I guess what probably tipped the scale was the chance to play with Mark and the opportunity to get a chance to play with a team that is really focused on trying to win a championship," he says during his introductory press conference after signing a two-year contract worth $10 million. "I'm probably one of the first free agents to ever come to New York that came for a less-money situation. This will be my last stop. I'll make that clear."

Gretzky and Messier spark the Rangers to the Eastern Conference Final in 1997 before they are eliminated by the Philadelphia Flyers in five games. Messier then leaves to go to the Vancouver Canucks, and Gretzky plays two more seasons with the Rangers before retiring in April 1999.

 

MORE MOMENTS

1997: Lindy Ruff is hired as coach of the Buffalo Sabres. Buffalo goes 571-432-84 with 78 ties during his 15 seasons as coach, and he guides the Sabres to the Stanley Cup Final in 1999, but they lose the Dallas Stars in six games. In all, Ruff spends 26 seasons with the Sabres as a player and coach before being fired in February 2013.

 

2016: Auston Matthews, the No. 1 pick in the 2016 NHL Draft, signs a three-year, entry-level contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs. The center, a native of Scottsdale, Arizona, is the first U.S.-born player taken No. 1 in the draft since the Chicago Blackhawks select forward Patrick Kane in 2007, and the first top pick by the Maple Leafs since they take Wendel Clark in 1985. Matthews lives up to the contract by scoring 40 goals in his first NHL season to help Toronto return to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. He wins the Calder Trophy as the League's top rookie.

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