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Messier Opts to End NHL Career Quietly

Times Staff Writer

When the New York Rangers acquired Mark Messier from the Edmonton Oilers in 1991, the Rangers’ general manager, Neil Smith, had a sixth sense.

“I remember saying, ‘Take a good look at this logo, because it will never be the same for him having been here,’ ” Smith said. “And that was absolutely right. He put his mark on the Rangers.”

Messier won his sixth and final Stanley Cup championship with the Rangers in 1994, ending the club’s 54-year famine. But when he announced his retirement on Monday, severing the last active link to the Oilers’ great teams of the 1980s and to the upstart World Hockey Assn., the 44-year-old center was remembered for more than merely the number of times his name has been engraved on the Cup.

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Messier played 26 years of professional hockey, starting with the WHA’s Indianapolis Racers and Cincinnati Stingers in the 1978-79 season. The Oilers chose him 48th overall in the 1979 entry draft, and he became the linchpin of a young, high-scoring team that transformed the game and rewrote the NHL history books.

He scored 1,887 points, more than any NHL player except his Edmonton teammate and friend, Wayne Gretzky, who scored 2,857. He ranks third in assists, with 1,193, and seventh in goals, with 694.

And he played 1,756 games, more than any player except Gordie Howe, who played 1,767. Returning for another season, merely to pass Howe, never entered his mind.

“I never thought about any individual records,” Messier said Monday on a conference call with reporters. “Coming back to break any records, especially that record, wasn’t all that appealing to me.

“As tough as it was to make the decision, I think it’s the right one and I feel good about it.”

Numbers alone do not reflect a full measure of Messier. His customary expression was a glare, reflecting his fierce determination to run over anyone and anything that stood between him and a victory.

“He was one of the most scariest players I ever played against. Not only playing against, but just looking at him,” King center Jeremy Roenick said Monday.

“It’s a shame he had to finish after a lockout season. ... I could walk away quietly from this game, but Mark deserved to get the standing ovations from fans one last time. The league robbed him of it.”

Gretzky grew up beside Messier in Edmonton and was traded by Edmonton to the Kings in 1988. The Oilers won a title without Gretzky in 1990, but Gretzky never won another title without Messier.

The duo was reunited in New York for a season -- Messier left for Vancouver in 1997 after a contract dispute but returned in 2000 -- but they couldn’t rekindle the magic they’d produced with the Oilers.

“Mark has done so much for the game of hockey and taught so many of our young players,” Gretzky, now the coach and managing partner of the Phoenix Coyotes, said in a statement. “He was an exceptional leader who was unselfish, hard-working and dedicated. He truly loved the game.

“He was the best player I ever played with, and it was a pleasure to play with him each and every day.”

Messier isn’t the only future Hall of Famer deprived of a final bow by the cancellation of the 2004-05 season.

Scott Stevens, a three-time Cup champion with the New Jersey Devils, announced his retirement last week. Al MacInnis, a stalwart defenseman with Calgary and St. Louis, also retired recently, as did veterans Vincent Damphousse and James Patrick.

“Those guys, the last 12, 15, 20 years, have been catalysts of what hockey is all about,” Roenick said of Messier, MacInnis and Stevens.

Smith, speaking by phone from New York, recalled that Messier had a bad wrist and bad knee in 1991, but Smith hoped he could bring “a winning background and insatiable thirst for championships and for winning” to New York.

Messier did that and more. He embraced the city and the city embraced him, never more than when he made good on his promise that the Rangers would force a seventh game of the 1994 Eastern Conference finals after they fell behind the Devils, 3-2. Messier led the way with a hat trick, and the Rangers won the decisive seventh game in double-overtime before defeating Vancouver for the Cup.

“He had in him everything you want in a hockey player,” said Smith, who was a finalist for the Mighty Duck general manager job this summer. “He had great leadership, hands, skill, smarts for the game, fire in his eyes and the will to win. You don’t know these things sometimes until you see a guy every day.

“He was tough and he was quick. He was a better-skilled Gordie Howe, I think is the best way to put it.”

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Times staff writer Chris Foster contributed to this report.

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Messier statistics

Career statistics for Mark Messier. He won the Hart Memorial (1990, 1992) and the Lester B. Pearson trophies twice (1990, 1992), and the Conn Smythe Trophy (1984):

*--* REGULAR SEASON Season Team GP Goal Ast Pts 1979-80 Edmonton 75 12 21 33 1980-81 Edmonton 72 23 40 63 1981-82 Edmonton 78 50 38 88 1982-83 Edmonton 77 48 58 106 1983-84 Edmonton 73 37 64 101 1984-85 Edmonton 55 23 31 54 1985-86 Edmonton 63 35 49 84 1986-87 Edmonton 77 37 70 107 1987-88 Edmonton 77 37 74 111 1988-89 Edmonton 72 33 61 94 1989-90 Edmonton 79 45 84 129 1990-91 Edmonton 53 12 52 64 1991-92 N.Y. Rangers 79 35 72 107 1992-93 N.Y. Rangers 75 25 66 91 1993-94 N.Y. Rangers 76 26 58 84 1994-95 N.Y. Rangers 46 14 39 53 1995-96 N.Y. Rangers 74 47 52 99 1996-97 N.Y. Rangers 71 36 48 84 1997-98 Vancouver 82 22 38 60 1998-99 Vancouver 59 13 35 48 1999-00 Vancouver 66 17 37 54 2000-01 N.Y. Rangers 82 24 43 67 2001-02 N.Y. Rangers 41 7 16 23 2002-03 N.Y. Rangers 78 18 22 40 2003-04 N.Y. Rangers 76 18 25 43 Totals 1,756 694 1,193 1,887 PLAYOFFS Season Team GP Goal Ast Pts 1979-80 Edmonton 3 1 2 3 1980-81 Edmonton 9 2 5 7 1981-82 Edmonton 5 1 2 3 1982-83 Edmonton 15 15 6 21 1983-84 Edmonton-x 19 8 18 26 1984-85 Edmonton-x 18 12 13 25 1985-86 Edmonton 10 4 6 10 1986-87 Edmonton-x 21 12 16 28 1987-88 Edmonton-x 19 11 23 34 1988-89 Edmonton 7 1 11 12 1989-90 Edmonton-x 22 9 22 31 1990-91 N.Y. Rangers 18 4 11 15 1991-92 N.Y. Rangers 11 7 7 14 1993-94 N.Y. Rangers-x 23 12 18 30 1995 N.Y. Rangers 10 3 10 13 1995-96 N.Y. Rangers 11 4 7 11 1996-97 N.Y. Rangers 15 3 9 12 Totals 236 109 186 295

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x-Won Stanley Cup


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