New York Rangers and 99: When Wayne Gretzky Hung ‘Em Up

The 1998-99 season was a particular one in New York Rangers’ historical past. It was the final season Wayne “The Nice One” Gretzky performed hockey. It was a time of combined feelings all through the hockey world. Tears, pleasure, reflection; and a altering of the guard would begin to happen.

The Nice One and “Mess” Reunite

After turning down a three-year contract with the St. Louis Blues price $15 million, Gretzky signed a two-year take care of the Rangers for $8 million, plus incentives, as a free agent in July 1996. He can be reunited along with his longtime buddy and Edmonton Oilers teammate Mark Messier.

UNIONDALE, NY – 1983: Wayne Gretzky #99 of the Edmonton Oilers sits on the bench throughout an NHL sport towards the New York Islanders circa 1983 on the Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, New York. (Photograph by B Bennett/Bruce Bennett Studios/Getty Photos)

Messier advised The New York Instances’ Jason Diamos, “We’re including a form of man to the staff that I don’t assume we’ve ever had since I’ve been right here, and one thing has been lacking on offense the previous few years. He’ll elevate some gamers to a spot the place they haven’t been earlier than. Is he filling a void we’ve been missing? I feel the reply to that’s sure.” (from: ‘HOCKEY; Messier, Not Cash, Made Gretzky a Ranger’, The New York Instances – 7/7/96)

After signing the deal Gretzky had this to say from a Madison Sq. Backyard press convention, “I’m in all probability one of many first free brokers to ever come to New York that got here for a less-money scenario.”

He completed by saying, “It was a tricky resolution, nevertheless it simply stored coming again to my intestine really feel. I suppose in all probability what tipped the size was the possibility to play with Mark and the chance to get an opportunity to play with a staff that’s actually centered on attempting to win a championship.”

Shut, however No Cigar

That season, they made it to the Japanese Convention Remaining earlier than falling to the Philadelphia Flyers. The Nice One led the best way with 10 objectives and 10 assists within the playoffs, nevertheless it wasn’t sufficient. Messier ended up signing with the Vancouver Canucks within the offseason which signaled the final time the 2 would ever play collectively and the final season both of them would make the playoffs.

New York Rangers Desktop Sports activities Wallpaper (Credit score: Tom McSparron/flickr)

Gretzky tallied 92 factors in 80 video games throughout the 1997-98 season with the Rangers, however they didn’t make the playoffs for the primary time since 1992-93. Gretzky was doing his finest to mentor gamers like Alexei Kovalev and Marc Savard, nonetheless, the staff completed 15 factors shy of a playoff spot.

The ultimate season performed by “No. 99” was a disappointment for the Rangers and Gretzky statistically. The Rangers completed fourth place within the Atlantic Division, lacking the playoffs by 13 factors. Gretzky in the meantime solely had 9 objectives and 53 assists for 62 factors in 70 video games. It was Gretzky’s worst season by far in his historic 20-year profession.

Gretzky’s final aim got here at MSG on March 29, 1999, towards the New York Islanders. In true Gretzky style, he scored the game-winner with simply over two minutes left to interrupt a 1-1 tie. The Nice One all the time had a aptitude for the dramatic and on this evening he didn’t disappoint. It was his 1,072nd skilled aim. This surpassed Gordie Howe’s skilled whole while you mix each their WHA and NHL common season and playoff statistics, together with Howe’s one minor league season with the Omaha Knights of the USHL in 1945-46. Gretzky once more confirmed one final piece of magic because the season and his profession had been coming to an in depth.

No. 99 Waves Goodbye

No. 99’s last sport within the NHL was on April 18, 1999, towards the Pittsburgh Penguins. Gretzky recorded an help on a aim by Brian Leetch in a 2-1 time beyond regulation loss to the long run staff of Gretzky’s successor because the NHL’s most dominant participant (of his period) Sidney Crosby. Jaromir Jagr who ranks second in profession factors behind Gretzky, scored the winner and Alexei Kovalev scored the opposite aim for the Penguins.

After the sport, Gretzky was showered with love from the followers, and present and former gamers. He shook fingers with the entire Penguins’ staff and took a lap across the ice, then took a last group photograph along with his teammates. A number of of Gretzky’s former teammates, household and mates had been in attendance, resembling Ulf Samuelsson, Glen Sather, Mario Lemieux, and naturally Messier.

Wayne Gretzky New York Rangers retirement
Wayne Gretzky of the New York Rangers waves in salute on his retirement, Apr. 18 1999 (Photograph by Ezra Shaw/Getty Photos)

Many of the MSG crowd stayed to want the best participant who ever performed the sport farewell. At all times gracious, The Nice One made a number of curtain calls after initially heading to the locker room till he lastly took one final skate across the Madison Sq. Backyard ice. He waved to the followers whereas his eyes had been crammed with principally tears of pleasure when he left the ice along with his household for the final and last time. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman mentioned that nobody within the NHL would ever put on No. 99 after Gretzky took his jersey off that day.

Gretzky took off his skates and went to the post-game press convention along with his jersey on. When requested about his uniform he advised the media, “Most likely, subconsciously, I don’t need to take it off. I’m not going to place it on ever once more.”

So after 1,487 video games, 894 objectives, 1,963 assists, totaling 2,857 factors and 4 Stanley Cup Championships, to not point out numerous different NHL data that can in all probability by no means be damaged and even come near being touched; The Nice One lastly waved goodbye to MSG and the hockey world in 1999. He took off his jersey and hung up his skates.

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