It might seem hard to believe, but the New York Rangers were once an NHL expansion team.
The year was 1926, and hockey was already a popular sport at Madison Square Garden - only the team of choice was not yet the Blueshirts. Back then, another NHL squad, the old New York Americans, were drawing big crowds in their first season at The Garden.
The Americans, who wore stars-and-stripes jerseys patterned after the American flag, proved that MSG was a perfect venue for hockey. Garden President G.I. "Tex" Rickard came to realize that the time was ripe for a second New York hockey team - one owned and operated by The Garden itself. Working with the league, Rickard managed to secure a team for the 1926-27 season.
Rickard knew he had to put a strong team on the ice to compete with the Americans and win over the loyalty of New Yorkers just discovering hockey. To assemble this team, he convinced one of the brightest minds in hockey, Conn Smythe, to leave his post at the University of Toronto. Rickard encouraged Smythe to travel throughout North America in search of the most talented "undiscovered" players he could find.
Smythe ended up laying the groundwork for a team that was instantly great. In the course of one summer, he found future Hall of Famers Frank Boucher and Bill Cook; Hall of Fame defenseman Ivan 'Ching' Johnson; and second line winger Murray Murdoch, who would become hockey's first 'iron man,' by playing 508 consecutive games.
As Smythe was out signing players, sportswriters back home began referring to the team as 'Tex's Rangers'. The name stuck, and Rickard formally adopted it - stripping the word "Rangers" diagonally across the front of a blue jersey to make his team stand out from the Americans, whose name was displayed horizontally on the players' jerseys
Before the start of the 1926-27 season, Smythe left the team he had built as a result of disagreements with Garden management. Rickard looked west to British Columbia, where he found one of hockey's great pioneers in Lester Patrick. Although Smythe had put the roster together, it was Patrick who would mold it into a championship team.
Knowing they had to break out of the Americans' shadow, the Rangers wasted no time in winning. They finished their first season with the best record in the NHL and the league's top scorer in Bill Cook. The following year, they went a step further, winning the first of the franchise's four Stanley Cup championships. During Game 2 of the 1928 Cup Finals vs. the Montreal Maroons, the 44-year old Patrick made headlines and hockey history by substituting himself for injured goaltender Lorne Chabot and holding his own in net for the win.
Since the Rangers pulled off their remarkable feat in 1928, no other NHL team has ever won the Cup in its first two years of existence. The Rangers quickly won over New Yorkers with a reputation for hard, clean play. Combined with Patrick's innovative tactics, the Rangers became known as 'the classiest team in hockey,' going to the finals four times in their first six years.
Boucher epitomized the club's style and grace, winning the Lady Byng Trophy so frequently that the league allowed him to keep the original silverware and struck a new award. Bill Cook, who still holds the Rangers career record of 11 hat tricks, brought the bulk of the offense -- winning a second scoring title in 1932-33, and scoring an overtime goal in Game 4 of the 1933 Cup Finals to give the Rangers a 1-0 win over Toronto and their second league title.
By the late 1930s, New York had a new group of stars. The team acquired goalie Davey Kerr from the Maroons in 1934 and defenseman Art Coulter from Chicago in 1936, and this duo formed the backbone of the next great Rangers team. Three seasons later, in 1939, Boucher succeeded Patrick as coach, and needed almost no time at all to bring the Cup back to New York. Led by Hall of Famers Neil Colville and Bryan Hextall, the Rangers won their third Stanley Cup title in 1940. Two years later, they were regular-season champions, thanks largely to the trio of Phil Watson, Lynn Patrick (Lester's son) and Hextall, who dominated league scoring. Unfortunately, World War II managed to break up this collection of Ranger All-Stars over the next few seasons.
In their first 16 seasons, the Rangers missed the playoffs only once, and only twice did they fall lower than third place. By the early 1940s, the Blueshirts' popularity contributed to the decline of the Americans, who left The Garden for Brooklyn before eventually folding in 1942. During that 16-year span in which they were one of two New York hockey teams, the Rangers won three regular-season championships, finished second five times and third on six other occasions. Rangers' nights at The Garden became popular, attracting a 'dinner-jacket' crowd that often included sports figures, Broadway entertainers, New York's society elite and City Hall politicians.