By Zane Miller
The New York Rangers of the 1940’s were one of the worst teams in the history of the National Hockey League in terms of sustained failure, finishing dead last in the standings five times in a 10-year span, including four seasons in a row as the team struggled to stop the slide before the end of the decade.
As the Sun rose in New York City on January 1st, 1940, it didn’t look as though the Rangers were headed for one of the worst decades in NHL history. After all, the team was sitting at a 10-3-7 record and was coming off of a victory against the cross-town rival New York Americans the night before. The Rangers were also led by head coach Frank Boucher and general manager Lester Patrick, both of whom would be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.
The Rangers would finish the 1939-40 campaign at 27-11-10, good for second in the overall standings as well as a first-round bye in the playoffs. The team disposed of the Boston Bruins in the second round before knocking out the Maple Leafs four games to two in the Finals to win their third Stanley Cup in franchise history. The team qualified for the playoffs in 1941, before falling in the first round to the Detroit Red Wings. The Rangers followed up their performance the next season with the best regular season record at 29-17-2, although they would be eliminated in the second round by the eventual Cup champion Maple Leafs.
Although it seems odd that such an abysmal decade for a team would start on such a high note, it would not be long before the Rangers would drop off the map, starting with the very next season in 1942-43.
The offseason would see the departure of goaltender Jim Henry, who was the team’s starter for every game of the 1941-42 season, as he returned to his native Canada to serve in the military following the start of World War II. As Henry had led the league in wins along with placing fourth in goals against average, finding a replacement to match his defensive output would be a difficult task. However, this would not be the only notable offseason exit, as 20-goal scorer Alex Shibicky, forwards Mac and Neil Colville and defensemen Art Coulter and Bill Juzda would also enlist in military service.
Although every NHL team would be impacted by World War II, the Rangers in particular struggled to find solid replacement players. As a result, the team fell from first to last in the standings, holding an 11-31-8 record.
While the team were able to remain somewhat competitive with the other five teams in the league offensively, scoring 161 goals and only eight behind the regular season champion Red Wings, their lack of defense would be the primary factor in their disastrous season. The Rangers gave up a total of 253 goals, easily the worst in the league as the next closest team, the Montreal Canadiens, only allowed 191 goals on the year.
Due to the recent success of the team, it would have been fair to say that the 1942-43 season was only a one-off struggle as a result of the unusual circumstances surrounding them. However, the downward slide would continue for the next several seasons.
Part 2 Coming Soon