Mark Douglas Messier (born January 18, 1961) is a former Canadian professional ice hockey centre of the National Hockey League and current special assistant to the president and general manager of the New York Rangers. He spent a quarter of a century in the NHL (1979–2004) with the Edmonton Oilers, New York Rangers, and Vancouver Canucks. He also played professionally with the World Hockey Association (WHA)’s Indianapolis Racers and Cincinnati Stingers. He was the last former WHA player to be active in professional hockey, and the last active player who had played in the NHL in the 1970s.
Messier is considered one of the greatest NHL players of all time. He is second on the all-time career lists for regular season points (1887), playoff points (295) and regular season games played (1756). He won six Stanley Cups, five with the Oilers and one with the Rangers, and is the only player to captain two different professional teams to championships. His playoff leadership while in New York, which ended a 54-year Stanley Cup drought in 1994, earned him the nickname “The Messiah”. He was also known, over the course of his career, as “The Moose” for his aggression and strength. In 2007, he was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, in his first year of eligibility.
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1978–79: Early years and WHA
Mark Messier played Tier II in the Alberta Junior Hockey League with the St. Albert Saints. In 54 games, Messier had 74 points and 194 penalty minutes. Messier also played a few games with the Portland Winter Hawks. Mark’s father Doug once played junior hockey with Pat Stapleton, the coach of the Indianapolis Racers. Doug called him and got Messier a contract to play hockey in Indianapolis for $30,000. Messier signed the 5-game tryout contract at the age of 17. He failed to register a point and was released just before the Racers folded.
Shortly after being released by Indianapolis, Messier was signed as a free agent by the Cincinnati Stingers. While with the Cincinnati Stingers, Messier was on a line with Robbie Ftorek. Ftorek was one of the top scorers in the league but Messier managed to get only two goals. He would play 47 games for the Stingers tallying only one goal and ten assists. While in Cincinnati, Messier was teammates with Mike Gartner, Barry Melrose and Paul Stewart. When he retired, Messier was the last former WHA player still active on the ice as a player.
1979–91: Edmonton Oilers
Messier was drafted in the 3rd round, 48th overall, by the Edmonton Oilers in the 1979 NHL Entry Draft. Messier was a fierce, tough competitor whose intense leadership in the dressing room was as important as the goals he scored on the ice. He was not initially known as a scorer, but his offensive numbers increased steadily over his first few years with the Oilers. In 1981–82, he registered his only 50-goal season. For most of his tenure with the Oilers, he played on a line withGlenn Anderson.
Initially a left winger (he was named to the NHL First All-Star Team in 1982–83 on left wing), Messier switched to centre in the 1984 playoffs, and the results were spectacular. In Game 3 of the 1984 Finals, for example, with his Oilers trailing the four-time defending champion New York Islanders by a goal, it was Messier’s goal on a brilliant end-to-end rush that sparked a comeback by the Oilers. By the end of the series, Messier had earned the Conn Smythe Trophy, awarded to the most valuable player of the playoffs.
In 1984, Messier was suspended for 10 games for cracking Jamie Macoun‘s cheekbone in a fight during a game against the Calgary Flames on December 26. Messier was retaliating for having been boarded by Macoun earlier in the game, but the NHL ruled that he had instigated the fight.
He won four more Cups with the Oilers, 1985, 1987, 1988, and 1990, the last which he captained the Oilers to a five-game victory over the Boston Bruins. Though the Oilers had been a 1980s powerhouse, the 1990 victory, which came two years after Wayne Gretzky was traded away, surprised many. Messier also won theHart Trophy as league MVP that season, edging out the Bruins’ Ray Bourque by just two votes, the narrowest margin in the award’s history.
Though Messier was actually under contract to the Oilers until 1993, his agent and father Doug Messier unsuccessfully pressed Sather for a new deal in the summer of 1990. After the 1990–91 season, Messier was upset that the Oilers were willing to let Adam Graves leave the team. Messier issued a public trade demand during the Canada Cup tournament saying that he wanted out if the Oilers were not willing to do what was necessary to keep important players. On October 4, 1991, in one of many cost-cutting moves by Edmonton management, Messier was traded to the New York Rangers for Louie DeBrusk, Bernie Nicholls, and Steven Rice.
1991–97: New York Rangers
In his first season with the Rangers, Messier won his second Hart Trophy and guided the Rangers to the best record in the NHL. However, they were ousted in six games in the second round by the eventual champions Pittsburgh Penguins led by Mario Lemieux.
In 1992–93, the Rangers missed the playoffs and was the first time in Messier’s career that he did not play in the postseason. After the season, Mike Keenan was hired as head coach.
In the 1993–94 NHL season, the Rangers rebounded to once again finish first overall, and this time were expected to win the Cup.
Down 3–2 in the 1994 Eastern Conference Finals against the rival New Jersey Devils, Messier confronted the New York media and publicly guaranteed a Game 6 victory. With fans and players on both sides reading the news headline, it then became a feat comparable to Babe Ruth’s called shot and Joe Namath‘s Super Bowl III guarantee, and backed it up by scoring a natural hat trick in the third period on an empty net goal with ESPN commentator Gary Thorne boasting, “Do you believe it! Do you believe it! He said we will win game six and he has just picked up the hat trick!” It helped the Rangers erase a two-goal deficit. The Rangers went on to win the series in a thrilling seventh game double overtime nail biter.
Then, in the Stanley Cup Finals, Messier scored the Cup winning goal in Game 7 at Madison Square Garden, giving the Rangers their first Stanley Cup in 54 years. He became the first (and to this date, the only) player to captain two different teams to the Stanley Cup, and provided two of the most memorable images of that Stanley Cup Finals. First, when the buzzer sounded he was jumping up and down with overwhelming emotion as ticker tape fell; fireworks burst and fans and teammates celebrated. The other, which would become an iconic image to the Rangers and their fans, taken by George Kalinsky, photographer at Madison Square Garden, showing incredible emotion as he accepted the Stanley Cup from NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. Finally, during the ticker-tape paradecelebrating the Rangers’ win, Rudy Giuliani, witnessing his first New York sports team championship victory just five months after becoming mayor, dubbed Messier “Mr. June,” conjuring Reggie Jackson‘s “Mr. October” nickname.
In 1995–96, Messier came as close as he had since 1991–92 to breaking the 100-point plateau when, at the age of 35, he recorded a 99-point season. In 1996–97, former Oilers teammate Wayne Gretzky joined the Rangers, while Messier retained the captaincy and had a respectable 84-point regular season. The two led the team to the Eastern Conference Finals, where they were eliminated by the Philadelphia Flyers in five games, as the Rangers could not match the size and strength of Eric Lindros and his “Legion of Doom” linemates. Messier left the club at the conclusion of the season (see below), ending the brief reunion of Messier and Gretzky being together again on the same team after just one season. It would also turn out to be both players’ final playoff appearances.
Messier had wanted to finish his career with the Rangers, but Dave Checketts, the president of Madison Square Garden, said the team did not think Messier was worth $20 million USD for the next three years, though Messier maintained that he would have signed a one-year contract extension for under $6 million a season. Although public sentiment sided with Messier, as he led the team to two first-place regular season finishes and the Stanley Cup, General Manager Neil Smithfigured out that he had Gretzky and Pat LaFontaine as top centermen, and he came close to signing Joe Sakic from the Colorado Avalanche At 36 years old, Messier signed with the Vancouver Canucks to a high-priced free agent contract, where he would be reunited with Mike Keenan, who was the Rangers’ head coach in 1994, who would be hired as the Canucks’ general manager and head coach early in the 1997–98 season.
1997–2000: Vancouver Canucks
It was an emotional and high-profile move, with Messier returning to Canada after six years with the Rangers, but the honeymoon did not last. Before the season started, captain Trevor Linden willingly relinquished the captaincy to Messier, a move that did not go well with Canuck supporters as Linden was a fan favorite. Shortly after Messier’s acquisition, Linden was traded by Mike Keenan to the New York Islanders, where he became their captain, replacing Bryan McCabe, for whom Linden was traded along with Todd Bertuzzi. Messier’s demand to receive the number No. 11, which he had worn throughout his career with the Oilers and Rangers, but which the Canucks had unofficially retired after Wayne Maki‘s unexpected death in 1974, hurt his image as well.
In Messier’s first game back on Broadway, MSG provided a video for him which was displayed on the big screen at the Garden. It was very emotional as some fans as well as Messier himself shedding tears. He went on to score a goal in that game against his former team where he received applause after doing so even though he wore a different uniform. One fan even displayed a sign which read “You will always be our captain Mess”.
Sixty points in 1997–98 was his worst mark in a full year since his first NHL season; his next two seasons were shortened by injury and finished with 158 points over three years, considered below expectations compared to other star centermen earning around $6 million US a season, like Steve Yzerman and Joe Sakic. Messier was still expected to be named to the Canadian men’s hockey team for the 1998 Olympics, which allowed professional players for the first time, however he was surprisingly omitted by general manager Bobby Clarke.
Keenan was fired from his post as Canucks’ manager and coach midway in the 1998–99 season, as the club missed the playoffs during Messier’s three years. The team made no attempt to re-sign Messier, to whom Canucks fans never warmed, and he became a free agent after the 1999–2000 season.
2000–04: Back on Broadway
After his tenure with the Canucks, he returned to New York and joined the Rangers. The Rangers held a press conference where they symbolically buried a hatchet, and Messier made an ill-fated “guarantee” of a playoff berth. Messier was also given back the team captaincy upon his return to the Rangers, handed over to him personally by Brian Leetch.
Messier’s 67-point season as a 40-year old in 2000–01 was a mark better than any he established in his Vancouver years, showing that he could still be a valuable presence, but the Rangers missed the playoffs for the fourth year running. After missing half of 2001–02 due to an arm injury, Messier recorded only 23 points, and finished up next year with a 40-point season.
On November 4, 2003, against the Dallas Stars, Messier scored a pair of goals to vault past Gordie Howe into second on the all-time point scoring list. Eleven days later, Messier was the only active player to play in the legends game at Edmonton’s Heritage Classic, suiting up with the Oiler alumni and making many light-hearted comments about being Edmonton’s “ringer.” During his last game at Madison Square Garden, Messier received applause every time he touched the puck and, after the game, received a standing ovation while he skated around the Garden and bowed to every section of the stands. At the age of 43, most media outlets believed Messier had decided to quit. The NHL lockout eliminated the next season. All speculation ended on September 12, 2005, when he announced his retirement on ESPN radio.
2005 and beyond: post retirement
Messier retired eleven games behind Howe’s NHL record 1,767 regular season games played. Messier holds the record for most NHL regular season and playoff season games played at 1,992. Messier is one of a handful of players to have played 25 NHL seasons, doing so over four decades.
On January 12, 2006, during a very emotional ceremony that featured most of the 1994 Stanley Cup team and the Stanley Cup itself, the New York Rangers retired his number 11 in a game against the Edmonton Oilers. Front row seats were resold on the black market for up to $30,000. During the game, the Rangers defeated the Oilers. His is the 4th number retired by the Rangers. His number was retired by the Edmonton Oilers on February 27, 2007, against thePhoenix Coyotes, coached by former teammate Wayne Gretzky.
In February 2007, Messier publicly expressed interest in returning to the NHL as General Manager for the Rangers; however, current GM Glen Sather responded by saying he has no plans of stepping down from his position. With the departure of Assistant GM Don Maloney from the Rangers organization in May 2007, Messier’s name had been attached to possible replacements; however, in July 2007, Jim Schoenfeld was announced as Maloney’s replacement. Messier would return to the NHL and to the Rangers when Sather named him special assistant to president and general manager on August 16, 2009.
Off the ice
Messier attended St. Francis Xavier High School in Edmonton as he played junior hockey where his father Doug was his coach and mentor for his early years, where he played with the Spruce Grove Mets. Mark’s brother Paul Messier was drafted by the Colorado Rockies 41st overall in the 1978 NHL Amateur Draft, but he only played nine games with the club in 1978–79 before embarking on a long career in the German Bundesliga. His cousins Mitch and Joby also skated for NHL clubs. Joby was even briefly Mark’s teammate on the Rangers. One of his cousins, Brian, is keeping up the family hockey tradition in Texas, playing with the Ice Hawks.
Messier’s son Lyon, who was born on August 16, 1987, is a former defenseman who spent part of two seasons with theSouth Carolina Stingrays of the ECHL. Lyon also split time with the Charlotte Checkers of the ECHL and the New Mexico Scorpions of the CHL during the 2008–09 season. Lyon’s mother is former model Lesley Young. His current girlfriend and soon to-be wife, Kim Clark, gave birth to Mark’s second son, Douglas Paul, on July 15, 2003, and daughter Jacqueline Jean in August 2005. Messier and his family reside in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina.
After his retirement, Messier appeared in a Versus television special in the United States highlighting his “Mark Messier Leadership Camp”, which allowed New Yorkers to mix seminars in leadership and working with others with hockey games against former Rangers, including a scrimmage on the Garden ice.
Messier was featured in a Lay’s chips campaign that aired in Canada in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The commercials originally featured Messier being challenged to a bet by a local hockey fan, who bets that Messier cannot eat just one potato chip, in reference to the Lay’s slogan “bet you can’t eat just one.” Messier loses the bet, and ends up playing in a local ‘beer league’ hockey game, which he easily dominates. Later variations would have Messier himself making the same bet. He was also featured in Lay’s ads in America where he asked neighbors to borrow ice, sugar or a hairdryer (playing on his bald head) to get chips.
Almost thirty years after having played with the Saints, Messier is a legend in the Edmonton suburb of St. Albert, Alberta. One of the rinks in the local Campbell Arena bears Messier’s name.
More recently, Messier has found time to do some work as a hockey analyst. He’s occasionally seen on NHL on Versusas a studio analyst, was an in-game analyst for The NHL All-Star Game on Versus, and has been a guest commentator on NHL on NBC.
In Edmonton, a section of St. Albert Trail between St. Albert and the City of Edmonton, has been renamed to Mark Messier Trail as of February 26, 2007.
On November 12, 2007, Messier was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in the players category.
Messier is an advocate for preventative healthcare and spokesperson for Cold-fX. He is also involved in many philanthropic causes, most recently The New York Police and Fire Widows’ and Children’s Benefit Fund, for which he serves on the Board.
Messier has also become a hotelier, owning the small Runaway Hill Club on the pink sand beach on Harbour Island in the Bahamas. He also regularly fishes for marlin on his boat ‘Wani Kanati’.
Messier ran in the New York City Marathon on November 6, 2011, finishing with a time of 4:14:21.
On December 31, 2011, Messier played for the New York Rangers at the 2012 NHL Winter Classic Alumni Game in Philadelphia between the New York Rangers and the Philadelphia Flyers. Messier had 1 assist during the game, but at the end it would be the Philadelphia Flyers winning the game 3–1.
Awards and achievements
- 1983–84 – Stanley Cup Champion – Edmonton Oilers
- 1984–85 – Stanley Cup Champion – Edmonton Oilers
- 1986–87 – Stanley Cup Champion – Edmonton Oilers
- 1987–88 – Stanley Cup Champion – Edmonton Oilers
- 1989–90 – Stanley Cup Champion – Edmonton Oilers
- 1993–94 – Stanley Cup Champion – New York Rangers
- 1989–90 – Hart Memorial Trophy Winner
- 1991–92 – Hart Memorial Trophy Winner
- 1983–84 – Conn Smythe Trophy Winner
- 1989–90 – Lester B. Pearson Award Winner
- 1991–92 – Lester B. Pearson Award Winner
- 1981–82 – First Team All-Star Left Wing
- 1982–83 – First Team All-Star Left Wing
- 1989–90 – First Team All-Star Center
- 1991–92 – First Team All-Star Center
- 1983–84 – Second Team All-Star Left Wing
- Played in fifteen NHL All-Star Games in 1982, 1983, 1984, 1986, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1994, 1996, 1997, 1998, 2000 and 2004
- Played for Canada in the 1984, 1987, and 1991 Canada Cups, the 1989 IIHF World Championship, and the 1996 World Cup of Hockey
- Played for the NHL All-Stars in Rendez-Vous ’87
- Played for the Edmonton Oilers Heritage Classic alumni team while a member of the New York Rangers.
- The only professional athlete to have captained two different championship teams, the Edmonton Oilers and New York Rangers.
- In 1998, he was ranked number 12 on The Hockey News‘ list of the 100 Greatest Hockey Players.
- On November 13, 2006, the National Hockey League created the Mark Messier Leadership Award, given to an individual in the sport who leads by example on the ice, motivates his teammates and is dedicated to community activities and charitable causes.
- His 1,887 points in the regular season are second all-time to Wayne Gretzky‘s 2857 (alongside whom he played for 11 seasons). Despite this feat, Messier never won a scoring title, as his best finish was runner-up in 1989–90. His career-high for regular season goals was 50 which he accomplished just once in 1981–82.
- His 1,756 regular-season NHL games played are second all time to Gordie Howe, who played in 1,767 regular-season NHL games.
- He was the last active player that had played in the 1970s.
- He was the last active player who played in the World Hockey Association.
- His six Stanley Cups gave him the most of any active player at the conclusion of the 1993–94 season, shared with Kevin Lowe and Glenn Anderson (all of whom were teammates for the five Oilers and one Rangers Cup wins) and Bryan Trottier (who retired at the end of that season). These men have the second most Cup wins as players who were not members of the Montreal Canadiens, after Red Kelly.
- He was selected as an inductee to the Hockey Hall of Fame in June 2007, in his first year of eligibility, with the ceremony taking place in November 2007.
- He was ranked No. 4 on the all-time list of New York Rangers in the book 100 Ranger Greats (John Wiley & Sons, 2009).
- August 9, 1979– Edmonton Oilers‘ third round choice, 48th overall in the 1979 NHL Entry Draft
- October 4, 1991– Traded by the Edmonton Oilers, along with future considerations, to the New York Rangers in exchange for Bernie Nicholls, Steven Rice andLouie DeBrusk.
- July 28, 1997– Signed as a free agent with the Vancouver Canucks.
- July 13, 2000– Signed as a free agent with the New York Rangers.
- June 30, 2003– Negotiating rights traded by the New York Rangers to the San Jose Sharks in exchange for future considerations.
- September 5, 2003– Signed as a free agent with the New York Rangers.
- September 12, 2005– Officially announced retirement.