Monday, September 12, 2005

Future Hall of Famer Mark Messier Retires

Today, future hall of famer Mark Messier announced his retirement. TSN's story is here. This is the third player that I consider a future hall of famer to announce his retirement in the last several days. He joins Scott Stevens and Al MacInnis.

Mark Messier was born in Edmonton, Alberta on January 18th, 1961. Messier grew up in the minor hockey system in the Edmonton area. He was a star in the Alberta Junior Hockey League playing in Spruce Grove and St. Albert (both Edmonton suburbs). Fresh off a big season with the St Albert Saints in 1977/78, Messier played in the WHL playoffs with the Portland Winter Hawks. He scored 5 points in 7 games but chose not to return to Portland. Messier, then only 17, got a tryout in the WHA (as they were signing underage players who were too young to be drafted in the NHL). He started his season with Indianapolis, but when they folded in mid-season, he signed as a free agent in Cincinnati. Messier was not an immediate star, he scored only one goal and 11 points in his 52 WHA games.

When the WHA folded in 1979, Messier was now eligible for the NHL draft. He slipped to the third round, where he was chosen 48th overall by the Edmonton Oilers. Messier spent most of his first season in the NHL (how often does a guy picked 48th overall do that?), he did play four games in the CHL with the Oilers minor team in Houston. Messier was immediately, one of the toughest players on the Oilers but it took a few years for his game to fully mature. In 1982, Messier played in his first of fifteen NHL All Star games. He made the First All Star team at the end of the year playing left wing. He repeated his First All Star team nomination the next season and topped 100 points for the first of seven times. In 1984, Messier was an important part of Edmonton's first Stanley Cup victory (it was Messier's first of six cups). Messier won the Conn Smythe trophy as playoff MVP and was named to the Second Team All Star. Messier was an important part of further Edmonton cup wins in 1985, 1987, 1988 and as captain in 1990. In 1990, Messier had his career best offensive season scorfing 129 points. He won the Hart Trophy and Pearson Award as NHL MVP as voted by the writers and the players. He lead the playoffs in assists and points. Messier made First Team All Star that season. He was now a centerman. In the mid-80's Messier made the transition from left wing to center. He is the only player ever to make First Team All Star in both of those positions. After the 1991 season, cash starved Edmonton owner Peter Pocklington traded Messier to the New York Rangers along with future considerations (which became a Jeff Beukeboom for David Shaw trade) for Bernie Nicholls, Steven Rice and Louie DeBrusk.

Messier was immediately named the New York Ranger captain. Messier won the Hart Trophy and Pearson Award for the second time in his first season with the Rangers. he also made the First Team All Star. In 1994, Messier helped to lead the New York Rangers to the Stanley Cup (Messier's sixth). This cup run included Messier's famous guaranteed victory in the semi-finals when the Rangers came back against the New Jersey Devils. Messier remained in New York until 1997 when he left as a free agent to join Vancouver.

Messier's time in Vancouver can best be characterized as an abject failure. Messier was no longer able to score at point per game rate and the Canucks struggled through some awful years (under the coaching of Mike Keenan). Messier as the team captain and a player in the decline phase of his career was given a lot of the blame. When his contract expired in 2000, Messier returned to New York.

Messier spent four more years in New York with limited success. He continued to captain the Rangers and play a significant number of minutes per game, but his playing value dropped continuously. Messier had not played a playoff game since 1996. After the lockout, unable to get a contract with any NHL club, Messier announced retirement.

Internationally, Messier represented Canada in the 1984, 1987 and 1991 Canada Cups and the 1996 World Cup. He was one of the best players for Canada in international play for many years.

Messier's 25 year NHL career leaves him with outstanding career numbers. He has the second most career games played at 1756 games (only nine NHL games less than Gordie Howe played). Messier was the seventh highest career goal scorer with 694 goals. He is third all time in assists with 1193. His 1887 points is good enough for second all time (behind only Gretzky).

On the topic of retirement, Messier says:

It's been a long career. I've achieved a lot. There was just really nothing left for me to achieve I guess. It was just time to move aside and go on to something else.

The New York Rangers will retire his number on January 12th in their game against Edmonton.

Mark Messier's retirement leaves fifteen active players on my list of currently active players who I think belong in the Hall of Fame regardless of what happens in the remainder of their careers. They are:

Dave Andreychuk
Ed Belfour
Martin Brodeur
Chris Chelios
Ron Francis
Dominik Hasek
Brett Hull
Jaromir Jagr
Brian Leetch
Mario Lemieux
Nicklas Lidstrom
Luc Robitaille
Joe Sakic
Brendan Shanahan
Steve Yzerman

Ron Francis does not have a contract this year and may be the next retirement.

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