Greats Who Got Away: Part Two
Today we’re continuing our look at great players who got away from the Rangers in recent history. You can read Part One of the series here.
Last time around we focused on players who were drafted between the 1980 Draft and the 1985 Draft (or were signed as undrafted free agents). Now we shift our attention to players selected after the 1985 Draft - players our younger readers are likely more familiar with.
Let’s dive back into the history books and look at some great players who slipped out of the Rangers fingers.
836 GP | 89 goals | 328 assists
Yes, Zidlicky was a New York Rangers draft pick, and yes, he belongs on this list.
The Rangers selected Zidlicky in the sixth round of the 2001 Draft with a Hail Mary pick. However, the Czech blueliner never played a single game in New York's farm system or on Broadway. Glen Sather failed to agree to terms with Zidlicky so he stayed busy playing hockey in the Liiga with HIFK until Sather decided to move him.
When Mike Richter’s season was shut down because of a concussion, Sather needed to find another goalie to help out the 19-year-old Dan Blackburn. On December 12, 2002 the Rangers traded Zidlicky, Rem Murray and Tomas Kloucek to the Predators for Mike Dunham.
Zidlicky wasted no time making the Rangers regret this deal. He made his mark with the Predators and Wild over the next eight seasons. The best season of his career came as a rookie in Nashville – when he earned 53 total points, including 35 points on the power play. That same season Brian Leetch led the Rangers in power play points with 19 (he played only 57 games that year).
Still not sure if Zidlicky belongs on this list? Keep in mind that Zidlicky didn't make his NHL debut until he was 26-years-old. He also missed a season of his prime playing years because of the 2004-05 lockout. And that still didn’t keep him from reaching 400 career points.
Zidlicky ranks 97th among all NHL defenders in career points, one point shy of Rangers great Harry Howell. He played his last NHL season with the New York Islanders in 2015-16 after a four year stay in New Jersey and a brief stop in Detroit.
803 GP | 207 goals | 499 assists
The Rangers selected Savard with the 91st overall pick (fourth round) of the 1995 Draft. Unfortunately, Neil Smith never knew what he had.
Savard played in 98 regular season games for the Rangers and scored 51 points. After a 45-point sophomore season under head coach John Muckler, the Rangers dealt the 22-year-old to Calgary along with a first round pick (Oleg Saprykin) for the rights to Jan Hlavac and to move up two picks in the first round to select Jamie Lundmark.
The deal allowed the Rangers to pick Pavel Brendl and Lundmark with the fourth and ninth picks of the 1999 Draft. Ultimately, both players were immense busts.
So, why did Smith give up on Savard? He was undersized and Lundmark and Manny Malhotra were two promising young centers to build around.
Hlavac had 132 points in 218 games for the Rangers. Lundmark scored 99 career NHL points, but only 30 were tallied with the Blueshirts. Savard would go on to develop in Calgary, forming a dangerous duo with Jarome Iginla. Then he blossomed in Atlanta, where he averaged 1.42 points per game over three years.
Savard had four consecutive 78+ point seasons in his career and eventually won a Stanley Cup with the Boston Bruins – showing how size doesn’t matter.
Tragically Savard’s brilliant career was cut short due to concussions, including one caused by the disgusting and infamous Matt Cooke on March 7th, 2010. Savard finished with 706 points in 807 game and he averaged 0.62 assists per game in his career. Savard turns 40-years-old this July.
1316 GP | 430 goals | 599 assists
The Soviet sniper became a member of the Rangers in 1991 when New York selected him with the 15th pick of the first round. Kovalev is best remembered by Rangers fans for being on the 1994 Cup team as a 21-year-old with his whole career ahead of him.
Kovalev had four 20-goal seasons by the time he was 25-years-old. In 1995-96 he scored 24 goals and picked up 34 assists. It was his best season as a Ranger. It’s worth noting that Kovalev was fourth on the team in goals that year behind Mark Messier, Pat Verbeek and Ray Ferraro.
There was a growing feeling that Kovalev’s production didn’t match his talent. As a result Neil Smith orchestrated a blockbuster.
On November 25th, 1998 the Rangers dealt Kovalev, Harry York and future considerations to the Penguins for Petr Nedved, Sean Pronger and Chris Tamer. But that’s not all the Rangers agreed to in the Kovalev for Nedved blockbuster:
To finalize the deal with the bankrupt Penguins, the Rangers apparently agreed to pay all or some of Kovalev's $1.5-million salary and part of the $2.33 million in deferred money the Penguins owe the Rangers' Kevin Stevens.
Nedved had held out for an entire season and was unable to agree to terms with Penguins general manager James Patrick. Smith wanted Nedved back in New York after the Czech center scored 99 points in 1995-96; moving Kovalev and signing checks was the only way to make it happen.
Almost exactly five years after that blockbuster deal the Rangers packaged cash, Joel Bouchard, Mikael Samuelsson, Richard Lintner and Rico Fata in a trade that brought Kovalev back to New York. Glen Sather also picked up Dan LaCouture, Janne Laukkanen and Michael Wilson in the deal.
A lot happened for Kovalev in the five years he spent in Pittsburgh though. How much is a lot? He amassed 354 points and 186 goals in the Steel City – putting up the kind of numbers that Rangers fans were desperate to see from the sniper after the 1994 Cup.
In his second chapter with the Rangers Kovalev scored 55 points in 90 games. But the writing was on the wall, it was time to blow up the team and rebuild. The Rangers moved Kovalev the following season (2003-04) for Jozef Balej and a second round pick (Bruce Graham).
Kovalev finished his career with 1029 points, 699 of them were scored for teams that weren’t the Rangers. He returned to the NHL for 14 games in the 2012-13 season with the Florida Panthers, picking up five points in 14 games at 39-years-old.
1238 GP | 278 goals | 755 assists
Neil Smith drafted Weight in the second round of the 1990 Draft with the 34th overall pick. Despite the talent that Weight displayed to the tune of 70 points in 118 games in New York, he was relegated to a role on the fourth line. The Rangers roster was fast becoming a stacked one and Weight was something of a spare part. Smith chose to deal him to the Oilers for 28-year-old Esa Tikkanen.
"They play for this year," Weight said after the trade. "I think they trade to win right away. They've always done that. The city expects that."
Tikkanen and his iconic Jofa helmet lifted the Cup with the Rangers in 1994, but it’s hard to say the Rangers won the trade in the long run.
Weight would play 1131 more NHL games after the deal. He became an all-time Oilers great thanks to piling up 577 points in 588 games with the copper and blue. Weight broke the 1000 point mark in the twilight of his career and was one of the grizzled veterans who won the Cup with the Hurricanes in 2006.
The United States Hockey Hall of Famer finished his career with the New York Islanders and retired as the team's captain after the 2010-11 season. Weight took home the King Clancy Memorial Trophy that very year. He’s now the head coach of the Islanders.
1068 GP | 152 goals | 619 assists
Zubov ranks 19th all-time in points scored by NHL defensemen. Not bad for a fifth round pick (85th overall, 1990 Draft).
The 1993-94 season was Zubov's first full year in the NHL. He scored 89 points in the regular season and finished fourth in Norris voting, ahead of Leetch who finished fifth. Zubov also added 19 points in 22 playoff games to help the Rangers claim the 1994 Cup.
On August 31, 1995 the Rangers traded Zubov to Pittsburgh in a blockbuster deal that brought Petr Nedved, Luc Robitaille and Ulf Samuelsson to the Rangers. Smith felt pressure to add pieces around Mark Messier and Zubov had a public disagreement with management after he wanted wrist surgery early in the season. Another factor at play was the fact that he and Nedved both needed contract extensions.
"We certainly want to give [Messier] every available chance to be successful before his career is over," Smith said of the deal. "We're trying to do everything possible to surround Mark."
The Moscow-born blueliner didn't click well with Mario Lemieux, but he still managed to score 66 points in 64 games with the Penguins. Pittsburgh decided to ship the risk-taking defender to Dallas. The Lone Star State is where Zubov truly made his mark.
Zubov scored 549 points in 839 regular season games with the Stars and won a second Cup with Dallas in 1999. He played his final season at 38-years-old in 2008-09.
Parting ways with Zubov proved to be one of the biggest blunders made by the Rangers front office. He is regarded as one of the most dangerous and gifted offensive defensemen to play the game. Zubov is the all-time leader in NHL points among Russian defensemen.
1174 GP | 416 goals | 484 assists
The Rangers selected Amonte out of Boston University with the 68th pick (fourth round) of the 1988 NHL Draft.
Amonte caused a sensation with his first two NHL seasons in New York. He scored 35 goals as a 21-year-old rookie and picked up 33 more in his second season. But the speedy winger's numbers dropped in the next two seasons. As a result general manager Neil Smith decided to move him at the 1994 trade deadline.
Smith dealt Amonte and Matt Oates to Chicago for Stephane Matteau and Brian Noonan. The rest is history.
“My biggest concern was in the long-term, trading Tony Amonte,” Neil smith reflected on the trade in 2012. “I didn’t like that trade because I’m a scout at heart, and a builder. I’m not a rental guy. That bothered me that we were trading a guy I knew had a real bright future.
“But when you win the Cup, everything you’ve done is right. I really believe that. But you wish you could have done it without giving away your future.”
Amonte’s blazing speed and nose for the net made him an instant star in Chicago. He had six consecutive 31+ goal seasons for the Blackhawks and likely would have had seven if not for the 1994-95 lockout. Amonte piled up 541 points in 627 games in Chicago before finishing his career as a sniper-for-hire journeyman.
Amonte fell short of 500 goals in his career, but still ranks eighth among all American-born skaters in goals scored.