Earlier in the summer, Mark Messier, one of the game’s all-time greatest and a legend in New York after helping the team snap a 54-year Stanley Cup drought in 1994, was named special assistant to president and GM Glen Sather.
‘The Moose,’ as Messier is known, took time to talk to THN.com about his new position, his future with the team, his hopes for the Rangers and The Messier Project.
Edward Fraser: Tell me a bit about the role of special assistant to the president.
Mark Messier: I think the role has given me the opportunity to come in and get an overview of how the entire organization is run from every aspect, which is interesting. Obviously, I think I have the hockey part pretty much understood, but there are a lot of other aspects to it as well.
It gives me an opportunity to come in and learn from Glen (Sather), who I’ve been with for a long time and has a lot of experience.
EF: How specifically did the opportunity arise?
MM: We’ve been talking for the past few years…I’m just happy that Glen gave me the opportunity to come in. Hopefully, in addition to the management team, I’ll be able to contribute in some way, whether from an evaluation standpoint or whatever they need me to do.
EF: Do you have an end-goal in mind, a role you’d eventually like to assume with the Rangers?
MM: Not really. I didn’t come in with any expectations whatsoever other than to come in and learn all the different facets of the organization without any kind of thought of where it might take me.
I don’t really know what area will attract me the most. Being able to be exposed to all the different jobs is important to give me some understanding, first of all, of where I might really be able to help out.
EF: You’ve obviously had a chance to watch the team and evaluate the talent. The Hockey News picked the Rangers to finish 13th in the East. What is your assessment of this team and is this a team that can reach the playoffs this season?
MM: Well, everybody looks at it differently. I would find it hard to pick a team with a goalie like (Henrik) Lundqvist 12th or 13th. I know how important goaltending is, so starting right from there (laughing) I’d give us a better rating than that person, but what do I know?
Hopefully we’re going to be better than we were last year. I think that’s the end game. Hopefully we’re going to have more depth, more scoring and play a game that is more suited to pressuring the puck, which hopefully will turn into more goal scoring.
We didn’t score enough goals last year; our power play wasn’t good enough to really take it to the next level. I like the things (coach John) Tortorella’s doing, like his positioning and commitment to the type of team he wants to play. He’s convinced it’s the right way to play and I like that he’s able to hold the line with the players…
Look at Pittsburgh – they won the Stanley Cup, they probably had six changes, at least. Take the bottom-tiered teams that didn’t made the playoffs and some had more than 10 changes. All teams are a moving target every year and I don’t think anybody knows what they’ve got until the games start and the season starts to unfold.
EF: Are there holes you see in this team that need to be filled to be a true contender?
MM: From my experience, most teams that are successful are strong down the middle. Signing (Brandon) Dubinsky gave us a step up there. That was a big signing for the team, to get him back in the lineup.
But overall, you have to be able to score goals. It puts too much pressure on the entire organization if you’re always playing the tough side of the puck each and every game, squeaking out one-goal games or trying to come from behind.
Being able to score some goals and win some games through your offense is very important. That’s obviously the area we’re trying to address most – shouldn’t say the key area – but certainly one that will help us move forward.
EF: A healthy Marian Gaborik will go a long way, too, eh?
MM: Yeah, he’s a tremendous hockey player. He has the ability to be at the right place at the right time, which all goal-scorers have; to appear out of nowhere much the way the best goal-scorers always have, like (Mike) Bossy and (Brett) Hull.
Pure goal-scorers just have the knack of finding that quiet place where the puck always seems to find them in, around the goal. Not to mention what he can do to create his own room for himself with his skating and his puckhandling.
He’s a tremendous hockey player and I expect him, if he’s healthy, to have a strong year.
EF: With the new special assistant role, does that mean the end of the NHL Leadership Award?
MM: I don’t think so. I don’t think it’s really a conflict of interest in any way…
We want to be proud of our players not only for what accomplishments they have on the ice, but also for what they achieve off the ice.
Being strong community leaders and good civilians is important and that’s what the award really promotes – that you have a bigger responsibility to the game than just playing.
The players, the past couple years, have taken notice of the award and hopefully they work to try and win it.
EF: The other thing you’ve been prominent in this summer is the launch of The Messier Project. Tell me about that.
MM: It’s something I got into when I wasn’t really looking for a job (laughs), so to speak, but the more the folks (at Cascade Sports) talked about their mission and what they were trying to do, it became clear that it would be a way for me to give something back to the game.
Concussions are something that have crept up into our game, not only at the NHL level, but alarmingly so at the minor hockey level, which is a real cause for concern.
We’ve spent money on developing new sticks, new skates, new materials and every other part of our game except for the most important part – the helmet. Cascade has done that; they’ve developed the Seven Technology that goes into helmets that’s far superior to anything that’s ever been in helmets.
I felt that if I could come on to the advisory team and give some experience from the player’s side – what the players are looking for in a helmet – as far as performance and protection, and of course the almighty mirror test (laughs) – that we could make some traction.
As we all know, in order to make traction at the minor hockey league level you have to get credibility at the NHL level because all our young hockey players are watching every move our players make, not only for what they wear, but for what they do, how they play and everything else.
We’ve said our goal is to have at least five players in the NHL wearing the helmet and we’re going to have more than that this year, which is, for us, very successful. As we move along I think it’ll gain more traction. I think the players have to see the helmet on the ice and then realize not only does it protect the players more, but it also doesn’t look different than any other helmet, which is always a major concern.
We’re looking for players who really believe in the mission as well. We want players to wear the helmet, first of all, because they really feel that it will protect them and their careers better than any helmet on the market, which we know it does. Also, to make a statement to the minor hockey players, so they’re giving something back to the game.
I came on board not only because I believe in what a good helmet it is, what it does and what the mission is, but to bring some much-needed exposure to a problem in our game and to start changing the mindset of players, parents, organizations and teams.
Edward Fraser is the editor of thehockeynews.com. His blog appears Thursdays.
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