Messier retires after 25 seasons
NEW YORK -- Mark Messier retired Monday, ending a 25-year career in which he won six Stanley Cup championships and ranked second only to Wayne Gretzky on the NHL all-time scoring list.
The Rangers announced that the team will retire his jersey on Jan. 12 in a game against the Edmonton Oilers.
Messier said "a host of things" contributed to his decision.
He became a star in Edmonton in the 1980s and a headliner on Broadway in the '90s, captaining the New York Rangers to the '94 championship that ended the team's 54-year title drought.
"It's been a long career and I've achieved a lot," the 44-year-old said on a conference call. "There was nothing really left of me to achieve."
Even though the official announcement came Monday, Messier all but said goodbye on March 31, 2004, following the Rangers' final home game before the lockout that wiped out all of last season.
"It's a bittersweet day for the National Hockey League," said Wayne Gretzky, Messier's former teammate with the Oilers and Rangers. "Mark has done so much for the game of hockey and taught so many of our young players. 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."
The Rangers held physicals for their players on Monday at the opening of training camp, but the longtime star never expressed intentions to return for another season.
"It was a tough decision," Messier said. "I'm healthy and feel good and I feel like I can play."
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Messier said he never negotiated with the Rangers, and the decision to return to New York was "completely up to me."
But Rangers general manager Glen Sather, the architect of the Oilers' dynasty that was spearheaded by Messier and Gretzky, always left room for the rock-jawed captain to come back.
Messier teamed with Gretzky to win four championships in Edmonton during the 1980s and then won another in 1990 after Gretzky was traded to Los Angeles.
He trails only Gretzky in playoff goals and assists, but he topped the Great One by adding one postseason guarantee that took him to heightened status in Manhattan.
With the Rangers trailing New Jersey 3-2 in the 1994 Eastern Conference finals, Messier promised New York would force a seventh game. He made good on his word by posting his fourth and final playoff hat trick in a 4-2 victory.
New York won Game 7 in double overtime to advance to the finals, which also ended with a seventh game victory.
His second stint with the Rangers, which covered the final four seasons of his career, wasn't nearly as successful. New York failed to make the playoffs in any of the years. Messier played in the postseason during his first 13 NHL years, before New York missed in 1993.
After leaving the Rangers following their most recent playoff appearance in 1997, Messier was out of the playoffs for the next seven years -- including three with Vancouver.
He leaves with 1,887 NHL regular-season points, 970 fewer than Gretzky and 37 more than Gordie Howe, who sits in third place.
"I never thought about any individual records," Messier said. "Coming back to break any records, especially that record wasn't all that appealing to me."
Messier always did things on his terms, and his retirement is no different. After a year off, he wasn't spurred to play again even though he is only six goals away from 700 -- a mark reached by only six players -- and 11 games short of tying Howe's record of 1,767.
Edmonton general manager Kevin Lowe, Messier's longtime teammate on the great Oilers teams, tried to convince him to return to his hometown for a farewell tour. But Messier really only considered playing in New York, where he has a young family.
Messier was showered with applause from teammates, family, friends, fans and even the Buffalo Sabres when he skated off the ice for what turned out to be his final game 18 months ago, a 4-3 loss at Madison Square Garden.
Messier and Gretzky have always been linked, whether on the ice or in the record book. Messier scored 109 playoff goals, 13 fewer than Gretzky, and set up 186 others -- 74 fewer than Gretzky, now the Phoenix Coyotes coach.
But the second partnership lasted just one year as Messier left the Rangers for Vancouver as a free agent following a surprising run with Gretzky to the Eastern Conference finals.
When Sather took over as Rangers GM in 2000 he brought Messier back. Messier scored his final goal in his final game, No. 698 with the Rangers.
The inability to rekindle success in New York and the departure of close friend Brian Leetch, who was traded to Toronto as part of the Rangers' salary dump of 2004, surely pushed Messier to his final goodbye to Broadway.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
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