Rangers captain Mark Messier recently spoke with the National Hockey League media about the 2002-03 season, his time in Edmonton, the NHL rules changes, winning the Stanley Cup in New York and much more.
Q. You knew Eric Lindros a bit from the Canada Cup and All-Star Games, now you've had a chance to play with him every day. I'm curious as to what surprised you personally about him in terms of his preparation, his demeanor? How is he different perhaps than you anticipated?
MARK MESSIER: Well, I don't think he's really any different than I anticipated. I think anybody that is one of the best players in the world, in my opinion anyway, has to have all the things that go along with that. He's come to New York here, fit in well with the team. I know he really enjoys the city. Obviously, if not the biggest, he's one of the biggest parts of our team. I don't think, there's anything that really surprised me about him. I played with a lot of great players before. They're all the same. They take a lot of responsibility for their own play, put a lot of pressure on themselves to perform and to play well. __________________________
Q. He's admired you a great deal over the years. What kind of support have you offered him in what's shaping up to be a rough start for him?
MARK MESSIER: Well, I think that, like I said, nobody puts more pressure on Eric than himself to play well and to perform and do the things that he knows he's capable of doing. When you play long enough, everybody goes through spells and streaks and slumps of some nature. I think it's just one of the those things where you have to play yourself out of it.
Eric, like I said, and all the great players I played with, think of the team first. I think that's what's most important to everybody, when someone is struggling, that they don't put themselves ahead of the team. __________________________
Q. I wanted to ask you about how it is that you've been able to play so long. Why do players today seem to be playing longer than they did 10, 15 years ago? How long do you envisage yourself playing?
MARK MESSIER: It's hard to say. As far as how long I'm going to play, I've been committed over the last three years to just playing it one year at a time. I think I'm just going to continue to do that, make my decisions come the summertime for the following year.
I don't really know what the difference is. When I first started, anybody that was 30 years old was basically pretty much finished as far as being a hockey player was concerned. I think now what you're seeing is guys that are in the peaks of their careers anywhere from 27 to 35 years old, seems to be when they play their best hockey.
I think a lot of it has to do with conditioning, a lot of knowledge of new techniques as far as conditioning is concerned. I think because of it, you're seeing guys that are becoming free agents at 31. Sometimes they're in the best years of their career. It's changed in that regard from when I first started.
Like I said, a 30-year-old hockey player, even when I came to New York when I was 30, I was on the downside of my career, pretty much the end of my career. Things have changed a lot over the last 20 years in that regard. I just think overall a lot of it has to do with conditioning and players putting in the time and the effort in the off-season to keep themselves in condition for 12 months a year. __________________________
Q. Do you work out a lot differently than you did earlier in your career?
MARK MESSIER: Yeah, I think so. I think obviously, you know, if you don't make the playoffs, you have a lot more time to get yourself ready to play. There was a time there in the mid '80s to the '90s there that we played six finals, three Canada Cups, we were playing hockey almost 10 months a year for a long time there. You didn't have much chance to recuperate. You have to take advantage of the time you have off in the summertime, things like that, in order to repair your body. Obviously, like I said before, with new training techniques, all the latest knowledge, players have a bigger advantage than they used to. __________________________
Q. When they were going down the list of your various accomplishments, is there one of those accomplishments that you're particularly more proud of than any of the rest?
MARK MESSIER: I don't know. I've never really spent a lot of time thinking about my individual accomplishments actually. I never was brought into the league thinking as far as, you know, statistics, things like that. We were really brought into the league in a team concept. Everything was focused around winning.
25 years later, you know, I haven't really put too much emphasis on any kind of individual goal, other than trying to win any particular night, trying to find a way to do that. So if I had to say any one statistic, I couldn't really give you an answer for that. __________________________
Q. I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about the process of when you first became a captain, how that came about, what advice after doing it for so long you would give to the new captains coming into the league now?
MARK MESSIER: Well, my transition into being a captain was easy. I was assistant in Edmonton with Wayne as captain, and Kevin Lowe was the other assistant. We had built up a team in Edmonton that really knew who each other was from a personal standpoint and from a professional standpoint. Our nucleus had stayed together for a long time.
When Wayne was traded, I became captain. For me it really wasn't anything -- I didn't do anything or I didn't feel I had to do anything different than what I had been doing all along. Going from assistant captain in Edmonton to captain was an easy transition for me.
You know, I think it might have been a little bit different coming to New York because I came into a situation where I didn't really know, anyone other than Jeff Beukeboom, Adam Graves. There was that initial feeling-out process of getting to know the guys, earning their trust and things like that. That was a little bit of a different situation.
But I just think as a captain, everybody's different. Everybody's personality is different. As a captain, I think it's important that the players really know who you are and what you stand for, what your beliefs are, and to be consistent in those if things are going good or things are going bad. You always really have to remain consistent in your beliefs and philosophy. __________________________
Q. Have you seen any difference in the obstruction calling standards? You talk to some people, they'll say they're not calling it as much as they were in early in the season. It's a human reaction to relax in situations like that. What are your impressions of whether they've upheld the standards that they said they were going to?
MARK MESSIER: I think the idea of the obstruction through the neutral zone and away from the puck was an excellent rule. I think the thing you always got to keep in mind, you know, hockey is a game of one-on-one battles. It's a tough game, and you never want to take that aspect out of the game. I think at the start perhaps it might have been a little bit too over the board, calling things that were really insignificant to anything out there other than putting a stick on somebody.
But I really like the rule. I really think it's excellent in order to create the speed through the neutral zone and let players skate and join the rush without being impeded. I think it's been a transition for everybody. I think it's not going to be perfect initially, but I think the players have really kind of responded pretty well to it.
I think there's been some tough goals and some tough games at the start of it all. I think overall everybody's kind of getting used to, you know, what they'll allow and what they won't. Overall I think it's gone off pretty well. __________________________
Q. You played for so many coaches over the years. Now you have another coach here in Bryan Trottier. I'm curious how he's adjusted to you, and you to him. How would you describe him? Is there anybody you've played for that you can compare him to?
MARK MESSIER: It's hard to compare any two coaches. Coaching really is an individual philosophy. Really the team often will take on the personality of its coach.
I think that for Bryan, being assistant coach for all those years, now coming into the position where he's a head coach, it's been a learning experience for him. So I think not only do we have a new coaching staff altogether, but we have a bunch of new players and we have a coach that's come into the league for the first time as a head coach.
There's been a transition period for all of us, but even through some tough times I think we've positioned ourselves pretty well and have improved gradually over the season, which is always a positive sign. __________________________
Q. Do you think Barry Melrose should ever get back into coaching? Do you think there's a place for Barry Melrose to get back into coaching?
MARK MESSIER: I don't know what his aspirations are, if he would like to coach or not. I'm sure if he is, he's had his applications out there with everybody else, when a job vacancy comes up. I know he's been out of coaching a long time. You can never take it away from a guy that's taken a team to the Stanley Cup finals.
If Barry wants to coach, I'm not sure, if he does, I think he'll have his applications in there and be talking to people like everybody else that's trying to get into the business. __________________________
Q. Do you think it would be good for hockey if he ever gets behind the bench again?
MARK MESSIER: Well, I think Barry has become pretty synonymous with hockey throughout the United States, being an analyst for ESPN for a long time. There's certainly a lot of people who know who Barry Melrose is. I think when you're that much front and center of anything, as far as hockey's concerned for us, like I said, he's pretty much the go-to guy as far as hockey highlights, what hockey stood for for ESPN for a long time. It certainly wouldn't hurt. __________________________
Q. A lot of people look back at your career and will see two main highlights, that being the 1990 Edmonton Stanley Cup victory and 1994 Ranger Stanley Cup victory. Could you compare the two, which of the two means more to you?
MARK MESSIER: I think to compare any time you win a Stanley Cup would be unfair to all the players from all the teams. Obviously every one of them was special to that particular team, all the people that were involved with it. I think every team that I was with that we won, we won under a different set of circumstances, different types of teams. To compare is really tough. If I had to compare any of the two, I'd compare the first one in Edmonton, the first one here in New York because it had been so long in New York since we had won. Obviously, being the first time to ever win the cup in Edmonton, they were fairly similar in that regard.
I would never say one was more important or more gratifying than the next because there's a tremendous amount of work, as you know, that goes into winning a cup. I think it would undermine any of the work that anyone did on any of those teams to compare. __________________________
Q. Obviously you spent a lot of years with the Oilers. You established yourself as a leader. What are some of your fond memories of being in Edmonton? Would you ever welcome the opportunity to return there?
MARK MESSIER: Obviously, the memories in Edmonton are from starting from an expansion team with a bunch of young players who grew up together, worked their way through all the tough times early in our careers, to five years later winning a Stanley Cup, then going on to be considered one of the best teams in hockey. You know, just the relationships, the friendships, the way that we conducted ourselves as a team, carried ourselves as a team through Canada. It was just a special time for everybody that was involved there.