So last month was the Meigray expo and former Rangers Neil Smith and Stephane Matteau were the guest speakers. Normally we probably wouldn't care but frankly they were easily the best speakers that I have ever heard at the expo. Both, especially Smith, were extremely frank and open. Some neat tidbits from them:
A) Both Neil and Stephane hated Mike Keenan. Neil hated him more than Stephane.
B. Neil said that Keenan bugged him immediately. He liked Roger Nielsen but the hiring for Mike was a very "win-now" decision. He said that he felt pressure to hire a guy who went to the finals only 2 years prior to get the rangers over the hump in 93-94, especially after 92-93 disaster of a season.
C) Smith said Mike was just irritating and frustrating to deal with. An example he gave was that they played in Europe for a couple games. He got on the flight back home and saw Neil's lawyer and agent on the flight. He said that's unusual to see but for Mike that's not that unusual. He later asked in the flight where mike is and his lawyer said he went on a different flight back to Chicago to see family. Neil was pissed because mike didn't tell him or anyone he was doing that. He said that was Mike in a nutshell.
D) Neil said Mike didn't like Amonte and Gartner pretty much immediately. He said he hated Gartner for a personal reason that he didn't want to disclose at the expo. He said he just didn't like how Amonte was as a player and preferred big power forwards. He said that starting in mid November until the trade deadline Mike would immediately ask Neil after every practice in Rye to trade Amonte for Matteau. He literally said for Matteau straight up because he liked him in Chicago. Neil didn't make the trade until the deadline because he needed to get more than just the straight up swap and Noonan was the throw-in the even the trade out.
E) in an answer to a question, he said he traded Zubov in 95 because of how Zubov played in the 95 playoffs. He said that against Philly in that year he played very scared and got man-handled. He said that he looked like he was going to crap his pants every time Lindros came near him so he traded him and Nedved (whom both himself and Colin Campbell liked) to Pittsburg for Luc and Ulf. The main target of that trade was actually Ulf because they figured for the next few years the road to the cup meant they would have to go through Philly at some point in the playoffs so they needed toughness.
F) Colin Campbell didn't like Matteau and neither knew for sure why.
G) in an answer to a question, Neil smith talked about the Messier to Vancouver signing. He said that their owner, ITT, gave cCecketts and him direct orders to not pay Messier a cent more than what Gretzky was earning. Neil flew down to Hilton Head in the summer of 97 to meet with Messier's agent which was his father Doug. He said when he told them the most they were going to do Doug got extremely upset and basically told him to go to hell. Neil said to us that he wasn't too broken up when Messier left. He said Doug was a nightmare to deal with as all hockey parents as agents were and that he felt like Messier's play was starting to slip. He said that while Doug argued that the Rangers were Mark's team in reality he was getting old and was man-handled by the Flyers in the 97 ECF and felt like Gretzky was better.
H) Neil told us about the process of creating the liberty head third jersey. He said he mainly wanted something for kids as he felt the main design was too old-timey and was a design from 30's/40's. He said he got inspired for the NYR portion partially from seeing billboards in NY with DKNY and with the Rangers referred to as NYR on out of town scoreboards. The Liberty head came directly from Richters mask. He said that he actually was violating league rules with the white Liberty jersey because at the time teams were only allowed to have one alternate. He wanted to do alternating years of white and blue. 96-97 and 97-98 were blue, 98-99 was white, 99-00 was blue. He was going to do white in 00/01 but he was canned and Sather decided to finally listen to the league. Smith said he got away with doing the fourth jersey because he simply ignored the league when they complained.
I) he brought a never before seen prototype of a third jersey they designed for the 99-00 season that was never used. Picture is attached.
J) Smith said that he was ordered by ownership to offer sheet Sakic as they were slightly panicked in losing messier. Vancouver only went after messier in 97 because he lost out on Gretzky in previous years when he was available and was obsessed with getting either messier, Gretzky or both. The signing of messier was literally just a vanity project for the owners of Vancouver. Smith said he told owners that Colorado would match it and it was a bad idea. The idea was that Colorado ownership was having financial difficulties and would never match it. They did and Smith said all it did was piss off the league's GM's.
K) Smith said when he heard during the playoffs that Keenan was talking to other teams about leaving the rangers while he was in the middle of the 94 playoffs he was really happy. He said it saved him from headaches in firing Keenan during the off-season and getting backlash from the fans.
L) Matteau said he got along with Keenan for years as a player and that's why he seemed to follow him from Chicago, to New York to St. Louis. He said he went to Florida for same reason but when he got there he found himself often being scratched. At one point he was scratched for 18 games in a row. He asked mike what was up and Mike flat out asked him to retire at 33. He said that it pissed him off and he didn't talk to him again until the recent Rangers reunion only a few months ago where they patched things up.
M) he said that he was told Smith traded for him because they needed a third line center. Rangers were mostly using Tikkanen as the center and he was a natural winger.
N) He said that in the 96 playoffs when he was in St. Louis that after a bad game Keenan pointed the finger at Gretzky in the locker room and screamed at him saying he was playing like sh!t and that he was past his glory days. He said he never was in a room so quiet before and since then. He said Gretzky just sat there and gave him the death stare during the tirade while Hull was in the corner not giving a sh!t. He said Hull rarely gave a sh!t about anything. He said that after the series ended and they were leaving the locker room mike would stand at the door high fiving every player. When Gretzky walked past him he purposefully didn't slap mikes hand. Gretzky was a goner from St. Louis because of Iron Mike.
O) Matteau said the year he got the cup in 94 was the last year players had the cup without the keeper being right there. He said the reason was mostly because of him. He said when he had his day with it up in Canada he brought it up to his hometowns local dive bar. Him and his buddies got drunk and were holding the cup above their heads. He said by the time he got it the cup part at top was wobbly from years of abuse. When one of his buddies held it above his head the cup part finally snapped off and they were all horrified and panicking. One of his drunk friends was a welder and said he could fix it. He claimed he could do it even though he most welded steal and not silver. So in the middle of the night with no other options Matteau's welder buddy fixed the cup. The problem is that his inexperience worn silver was evident when the weld was gigantic and really thick with the solder. Smith was the person who got it next and he said when he opened it up he was panicking and called the league because it was a mess with the solder and it was done very sloppy from the welder being drunk. He said the league later fixed it but now that's the season why they have a guy with the cup at all times haha.
P) Matteau said in his second game on the Rangers (which was an away game in Edmonton as his first game with the Rangers was an away game in Calgary), it was the first time he actually said anything to Messier. He said Mark had a really bad shift and when Messier came back to the bench he said to Mark "I hope all of your shifts aren't like that because you played worse than a pee-wee player!" He said Mark just looked at him with that stone cold death stare for a few minutes. Matteau said he broke into laughter and Mark had a little smirk then and didn't say anything. He said Mark was a very serious guy but a really good leader in the locker room. He said during that 94 run he said everyone in the locker room Messier was the undisputed leader of that locker room with Leetch and Graves as leaders as well. He said Graves, Leetch and Richter were always very nice and friendly.
Q) Smith said that Lindros and Sundin really are the two players who changed the dynamics of the game from the mid to late 90's the most. He said every GM wanted those type of players to go up against the Sundin's and Lindros' of the league. He said Lindros especially was the player everyone was pointing to as the future of the NHL. He said Zubov was not the only player who would crap his pants when they saw Lindros coming near them. Smith kept stressing that pretty much every team in the Eastern conference were building their teams to directly compete against Philly from about 1995 through 2000.
R) Matteau said on that famous goal that he wasn't actually trying to stuff it in on a wrap-around. He was actually trying to throw it in front of the crease for Tikkanen to bury it. He said that it was just a lucky bounce off of Marty that it went in.
S) After the offer sheet he gave to Sakic was matched, the Rangers ownership demanded that he put another offer for Paul Kariya. The owners figured that both Kariya and the Ducks were locked in a bitter contract dispute and that they could take advantage. Smith advised against it and won that argument. He said he told them that if they offer sheeted Kariya that it would not only piss off the other GM's even more after Sakic, but that they are going up against Michael Eisner who was not about to let his star athlete walk.