Strange finishes for NHL legends

Bobby Orr a Blackhawk. Bryan Trottier a Penguin. Canadiens heroes in Ranger uniforms. As incongruous as it seems, these 10 Hall of Famers and others finished their careers in strange and unusual places

1. Bobby Orr – The man many consider the greatest hockey player ever – and certainly the greatest defenseman in NHL history – Orr played his first two seasons with the Boston Bruins, winning eight straight Norris Trophies, three Hart Trophies, two Conn Smythe Trophies, and a pair of Art Ross Trophies as the only defenseman ever to  lead the NHL in scoring. Orr also had a record +124 rating in 1970-71. He wound up playing 26 games over two seasons with the Chicago Blackhawks before knee injuries forced him to retire in 1978.

2. Ray Bourque – Another legendary Boston defenseman, Bourque won five Norris Trophies and scored 395 goals during his 20-year career in Boston. Bourque then went west to Colorado for two seasons, finally winning an elusive Stanley Cup with the Avalanche in 2001. He still holds NHL records for goals (410), assists (1,169) and points (1,579) by a defenseman.

3. Brian Leetch – Like Orr and Bourque before him, Leetch won the Calder Trophy as Rookie of the Year. He also won the Norris Trophy twice, and a Conn Smythe Trophy with the Rangers in 1994. After 17 years in New York, Leetch was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs for prospects Maxim Kondratiev, Jarkko Immon, and future first and second round draft picks in 2004, then closed out his career in Boston a year later.

4. Bryan Trottier – He’s the all-time Islander leader in a multitude of team categories, including games, assists and points. He won a Calder, Art Ross, Hart and Conn Smythe Trophy. And he led the Islanders to four consecutive Stanley Cup titles beginning in 1980. Trotts signed as a free agent with the Pittsburgh Penguins after the 1990 season and won two more Stanley Cups in 1991 and 1992. He retired after the 1994 season.

5. Guy Lafleur – This Montreal winger was already a Hall of Famer and retired for three years when he made a comeback with the Rangers in 1988. A five-time Stanley Cup champion with the Canadiens with three scoring titles and two MVPs, Lafleur, right, played his final two seasons with the Quebec Nordiques.

6. Doug and Max Bentley – The Bentley Brothers from Delisle, Saskatchewan, had similar careerr paths, Doug, the elder brother, broken into the NHL in 1939 and played 12 seasons with Chicago Blackhawks. Max joined Chicago the following year and was traded to Toronto in 1947, where he won three Stanley Cups. The Bentleys finished their careers wearing the Rangers crest in 1953-54. Max scored 245 career goals and Doug 219.

7. Bernie Geoffrion – Boom Boom played 14 years in Montreal and was one of the first players to score 50 goals in a season before he retired in 1964. Geoffrion won six Stanley Cups and Calder, Hart and Ross Trophies with the Habs. He joined the Rangers in 1966, and retired again in 1968. Boomer later coached the Rangers, Atlanta Flames and Canadiens.

8. Eddie Giacomin – The popular goalie played 11 seasons with the Rangers before being placed on waivers and claimed by the Detroit Red Wings on October 29, 1975. Giacomin was an outstanding netminder with the Blueshirts. Ironically, Giacomin’s first game with the Red Wings was Halloween, two days after he joined the team. Madison Square Garden partisans voiced their displeasure with the deal, and cheered on a 6-4 win for Giacomin, left. Seeing limited duty, Eddie finished his career with Detroit in 1978.

9. Ching Johnson – The Hall of Fame defenseman played 10 years with the Rangers and was a member of the 1928 and 1933 Stanley Cup champions. He was signed as a free agent by the New York Americans, and was scoreless in 31 games in his final campaign.

10.Sid Abel – A member of Detroit’s famed Production Line with Gordie Howe and Ted Lindsay in the late 40s and early 50s, Abel won the Hart Trophy in 1949 and finished in the top five in scoring four times. He was traded to Chicago for cash before the 1952 season, and retired a year later.

Honorable MentionMarcel Dionne, fourth all-time with 731 goals, drafted by Detroit, played most of his career with the Los Angeles Kings and wound up with the Rangers; Bernie Federko, ended his career with the Red Wings in 1990 after 13 seasons with the St. Louis Blues; Pierre Pilote, three-time Norris winner with Chicago was traded to Toronto for Jim Pappin where he played one-year before retiring in 1968: and Bjore Salming, the first Swedish born player to earn an All-Star berth, signed as a free agent by Detroit after 16 seasons in Toronto.


Finally, Blueshirts are back in the Finals

Goaltender Henrik Lundqvist exults as the Rangers advance to the Stanley Cup Finals.

I began following the New York Rangers in grammar school. Back then there were just six teams in the NHL, and yet the Rangers missed the playoffs eight of nine seasons between 1958 and 1966. They weren’t very good….or else they weren’t quite good enough…and those would become  prevailing themes as I followed the Blueshirts through the years.

I went to my first hockey game in 1967, just days before Christmas, at the old Madison Square Garden on Eighth Avenue. The Rangers got blanked by the Boston Bruins that night, but the team was on the rise, thanks primarily to goalie Eddie Giacomin.

In 1972, the Rangers, fueled by superb goaltending and the GAG (goal a game) line of Jean Ratelle, Rod Gilbert and Vic Hadfield made the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time in my lifetime. There they lost to Bobby Orr, Phil Esposito and the Bruins in six games.

Several years later Espo was traded to the Rangers, and with John Davidson between the pipes the  Broadway Blues knocked off the Islanders and made it to the Finals in 1979, only to lose to the Montreal Canadiens in five.

The Islanders dominated the early 80s winning four straight Stanley Cups. Meanwhile the Rangers title drought continued, often to the accompaniment of 1940 chants in visiting arenas.

The Messiah delivers

Before the 1991-92 season began, the Rangers acquired Mark Messier, below, from the Edmonton Oilers with the express purpose of delivering a Stanley Cup. And the Messiah delivered, with help from defenseman Brian Leetch, goalie Mike Richter and a stellar supporting cast.

I was in the house on June 14, 1994, when the Rangers ended a 54-year jinx, defeating the Vancouver Canucks in Game 7 to win their first Cup since 1940. That night, a fan in the Garden unfurled a banner that read “Now I can die in peace.” We all felt that way.

But not even the great Wayne Gretzy could bring another championship to the Rangers. After reaching the Eastern Conference finals in 1997, the Rangers missed the playoffs seven years in a row.

A rookie goalie named Henrik Lundqvist arrived in 2005, and backstopped the Rangers to their first playoff appearance since 1997. The Rangers gradually built a team to support Lundqvist, making a big trade to acquire sniper Martin St. Louis just before the trading deadline, and now they are back in the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time in 20 years.

Some playoff runs are expected. The 1994 Rangers had the best record in the NHL during the regular season, and were favored to win the Cup. This year’s team has been a surprise, taking New York fans along for the ride. New York has become RangerTown.

After beating the Flyers in the first round, the Rangers rallied from a 3-1 deficit to beat the Penguins, then topped the Canadiens in six to advance to the Finals. They’re now on the doorstop, on the verge of making hockey history.