Artemiy Panarin’s debut season on Broadway was one for the ages. His 95 points in the pandemic-shortened 69 game campaign was easily the best season a Rangers forward put together since Marian Gaborik suited up for the Blueshirts nearly a decade ago. This performance earned Panarin some rightly deserved high praise, namely being a finalist for both the Ted Lindsay Award, given to player judged to be the most outstanding player by the NHLPA , and the Hart Memorial Trophy, awarded to the player judged to be the most valuable player by the PHWA. When Panarin was named a finalist for the Lindsay award, we looked back at the past Rangers winners of the Ted Lindsay/Lester B. Pearson award, and today we’re going to jump into the history of the Rangers and the Hart Memorial Trophy.
1947-48: Buddy O’Connor (24-36-60 in 60 games played)
Oh the “Original Six” era. For 25 years, the NHL comprised of just six teams (as the name suggests) and for 60 games a season the New York Rangers, Boston Bruins, Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs, and Chicago Blackhawks played each against each other in pristine black and white picture.
During the 1947-48 season, Rangers center Buddy O’Connor put up a point per game season with 60 in 60 and earned the Rangers’ their first Hart Memorial winner. O’Connor’s 47-48 season was his first on Broadway following a trade from Montreal, where he played for six seasons. His 60 points that year was a career best and 13 points better than the next Blueshirt, Edgar Laprade.
O’Connor’s first season on Broadway was great for the time, but couldn’t really push the Rangers past 4th overall — or even above a .500 record — as the Blueshirts finished 21-26-13 but still qualified for the playoffs because...well...there were six teams in the league. They ultimately fell to the Detroit Red Wings in six games.
1949-50: Chuck Rayner (28-30-11, 2.62 GAA)
Ok...uh...while Buddy O’Connor’s Hart Trophy season made sense within the context of the times, I’m not quite sure what to make of Chuck Rayner’s 1949-50 season. In his fifth season with the Rangers — and his seventh in New York with two seasons with the New York/Brooklyn Americans— his 2.62 was a career best mark, but he went 28-30-11 in his 69 (nice) games for the Rangers, starting all but one of the team’s 70 games. In fact, Rayner wasn’t even the best goalie this season, as Montreal’s Bill Durnan went 26-21-17 with a 2.20 GAA earning Durnan his sixth Vezina trophy. Rayner’s Hart trophy campaign is an odd one, but it still very much counts.
1958-59: Andy Bathgate (40-48-88 in 70 games played)
By the end of the 1950s, the Montreal Canadiens were turning into a juggernaut powered by Jean Beliveau and Jacques Plante, Gordie Howe was just entering his prime with Detroit and the Rangers had a hard time keeping up. The Blueshirts did have one bright spot in right winger Andy Bathgate and the 58-59 season was a phenomenal one for the 26-year-old forward. His 88 points in 70 games was Bathgate’s best season on Broadway and paced the Rangers throughout the season, 25 points ahead of Red Sullivan.
Much like Buddy O’Connor almost a decade prior, Bathgate’s 1958-59 campaign was great but just wasn’t enough to get the Rangers past the .500 mark as the team finished 26-32-12 (64 points in 70 games) for a fifth place finish (out of six teams) and out of the playoff picture.
1991-92: Mark Messier (35-72-107 in 79 games)
The last Ranger to win the Hart Memorial Trophy, Mark Messier’s 1991-92 campaign was one for the ages. After coming over from the Edmonton Oilers, Messier’s first season on Broadway saw the center put up a 107-point campaign — the most points in a season by a New York Ranger since Jean Ratelle’s 109 in 1971-72 — which led the Rangers but was only sixth in league scoring (Mario Lemiuex had an absurd 131 points for the Pittsburgh Penguins). It’s not hard to see why Messier was judged to be most valuable, though, as he took a morribund Rangers teams that was languishing in apathy and obscurity and delivered a much needed jolt that would see New York go from a 85-point season in 1990-91 to 105 a year later and winning the Patrick Division before being eliminated in the divisional semi-finals to the eventual Stanley Cup winning Penguins.
Looking back on it, the Rangers’ history with the Hart trophy is a strange one. Three winners came in the span of about 11 years with one big outlier in Chuck Rayner, and then a large gap of time until Messier arrived to “save” the franchise. Should Panarin win this year’s Hart trophy it would be a huge moment for the Rangers and Russian forward and joins the short list of Rangers to be named the league’s most valuable player.