Last Monday, the Rangers unveiled a modified version of the lady liberty alternate jersey as part of the NHL’s “Reverse Retro” program. The original incarnation of the liberty jersey was a hit with fans, though some will remember the uniform unfavorably as the Blueshirts missed the playoffs for seven consecutive seasons between 1997-98 and 2003-04.
The Rangers wore the original liberty alternate uniforms to mixed on-ice results between 1996-97 through 2006-07. Let’s take a look at the top 10 contributors of the Liberty Jersey Era.
Note: All statistics and achievements used to create this list are taken only from seasons in which the Rangers donned liberty alternates.
1. Brian Leetch
Leetch captured his second Norris Trophy after a 78-point 1996-97 season. No Ranger registered more points (409) or played in more games (562) during the Liberty Era.
The elite playmaker was named to the NHL All-Star Game five times during the era – 1997, 1998, 2001, 2002, 2003). After Mark Messier departed for Vancouver, Leetch wore the captain’s “C” for three seasons prior to “The Messiah’s” return in 2000. Leetch was a no-doubter for the best Blueshirt of this era and is probably the greatest Ranger of all-time.
2. Mark Messier
Reuniting with Wayne Gretzky for the 1996-97 season, Messier recorded 84 points in 71 games. The 1997 playoffs would be Messier’s last, where he posted 12 points in 15 games before the Rangers were eliminated by the rival Philadelphia Flyers in the Eastern Conference Final.
A highly-emotional departure to the Vancouver Canucks in the summer of 1997 was regrettable for all sides. The Rangers sputtered into mediocrity, while the Canucks fans bristled at Messier usurping Trevor Linden as captain and demanding the no. 11 which had been shelved following Wayne Maki’s 1974 death.
Messier was welcomed back with open arms at The Garden in the summer of 2000. At age 40, Messier proved he still had plenty of magic in his stick by notching 67 points. He would retire as a Ranger at age 43, following a 43-point campaign.
3. Jaromir Jagr
Jagr’s 1.27 points per game was the highest of all Rangers during the Liberty Era. No. 68 captured the Ted Lindsay Award (then-known as the Lester B. Pearson Award) by recording 123 points in the 2005-06 season. Jagr fell short of winning the 2005-06 Hart Trophy by 85 votes, losing out to Joe Thornton.
The one-for-one swap of Anson Carter for Jagr proved to be one of the greatest trades in Rangers history and Jagr became the first captain to follow Messier in 2006.
4. Wayne Gretzky
“The Great One’s” final chapter in New York was highly productive and his 1999 Madison Square Garden farewell is etched as one of hockey’s most memorable moments.
Gretzky recorded 249 points in 234 games as a Ranger. His 20 points in 15 games during the 1997 playoffs. No. 99 became the first player in Rangers history to record two hat tricks in a single playoffs – in Game 4 of Eastern Conference quarterfinals against the Florida Panters and in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Final against the Flyers.
5. Mike Richter
Renowned for his ability to perform under pressure, Richter turned in an incredible .932 save percentage during the 1997 playoffs. Like Messier, this would be his final playoff hurrah.
A series of knee injuries and concussions plagued Richter’s final years and forced him into early retirement – but any Blueshirt diehard can recall his clutch netminding heroics.
6. Adam Graves
The fan-favorite Graves continued his strong two-way performances as he approached age 30, including a 38-goal season in 1998-99. His 127 goals scored during The Liberty Era only trailed Petr Nedved’s 138.
Graves received the 2000-01 Masterton trophy having persevered through the deaths of his father, Henry and his infant son.
7. Henrik Lundqvist
Symbolic of the Rangers’ shift from cellar dwellers to playoff mainstays, Lundqvist donned lady liberty during his first two seasons. Posting a .919 save percentage across that span, this was a sign of things to come for the future greatest goaltender in team history.
Lundqvist set the Rangers’ rookie record of 30 wins, finished third in the Vezina Trophy voting and was named to the 2005-06 NHL All-Rookie team.
8. Alexei Kovalev
A captivating wing, Kovalev dazzled fans with his penchant for the spectacular. His unpredictability, superb stickhandling and lethal wrist-shot always kept opponents off-balance – though his struggles with consistency befuddled coaches.
Kovalev tallied 150 points in 222 games during The Liberty Era.
9. Theo Fleury
Fleury brought his trademark lightning acceleration and wrecking ball style of play to the Rangers in 1999, arriving as a free agent. The 5-foot-6 wing recorded 201 points in 224 games as a Ranger.
10. Pavel Bure
Though chronic knee injuries played havoc with his final years, Bure amassed 50 points in 51 games as a Ranger. “The Russian Rocket’s” electrifying career ended prematurely at age 32 following the 2002-03 season.
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