By Zane Miller
Check out Part 1 here: https://scorum.com/en-us/nhl/@zmiller82/deplorable-decades-1-part-1-1940-s-new-york-rangers
The 1943 offseason would continue to see the exit of established players in the Rangers organization, as following the trade of future Hall of Fame defenseman Babe Pratt to the Toronto Maple Leafs just six games into the 1942-43 season, Hall of Fame forwards Lynn Patrick and Clint Smith, along with veteran forward Phil Watson, would not return to the team for the upcoming 1943-44 season.
Any hope that the Rangers would be able to turn the season around would be squashed as the team would be unable to score a win until the 16th game of the 50-game season. While the middle portion of the season saw New York claim all their victories on the campaign, taking a season-best showing of 6-22-1, they would not get any wins for their final 21 games to easily fall to last place in the season standings for a second consecutive season.
While one of the few remaining bright spots for New York in veteran forward and future Hall of Famer Bryan Hextall led the team in goals with 21, starting netminder Ken McAuley would be thrown directly into the fire for his rookie season as he took a 6-39-5 record along with a goals against average of 6.24, which remains as of this writing as the worst average in a full-season effort in league history.
Unlike the previous season, where the Rangers at least had the saving grace of remaining somewhat competitive in terms of goals scored, this would not be the case in 1943-44, as they would finish 16 goals behind the second-to-last Chicago Black Hawks (now Chicago Blackhawks) in offensive output. If you’re thinking that the team would at least be able to improve a little bit on defense, you would be very wrong as they also gave up 310 goals, 63 more than they had allowed the previous season. For the second year in a row, the Rangers were the worst in every aspect of the game, and it unfortunately would struggle to improve in the upcoming seasons.
The 1944-45 season continued the downward trend for New York with their third consecutive last-place finish, holding an 11-29-10 record. After leading the team in both goals and assists the previous season, Hextall would be unable to rejoin the team for 1944-45 after being denied entry back into the United States by the Canadian government. Nevertheless, forward Ab DeMarco picked up the team lead in scoring with 24 goals and 54 points, helping the team to not lead the league in losses for the first time since 1941-42, with the Black Hawks and Boston Bruins each finishing with 30. However, McAuley’s second season in the NHL would also be his last, getting a 4.93 GAA with an 11-25-10 showing. McAuley would return to his hometown of Edmonton to play for the Edmonton Flyers of the Western Canada Senior Hockey League from 1945 to 1947, before joining the Saskatoon Quakers of the same league from 1947 to 1949. Although the Rangers would again take the last spot in goals allowed with 247, their offense would pick up a bit with 154 goals scored, 13 above the last place Black Hawks.
1945-46 would prove to be an important turning point for the team, as the end of World War II allowed the return of many players who had left the team for military service prior to the 1942-43 offseason, including forward Neil Colville, who would named as team captain. However, the reunion would not immediately go according to plan as the team suffered their fourth consecutive last place finish at 13-28-9. DeMarco would again lead the way on offense on the strength of 20 goals and 47 points, with new goaltender Chuck Rayner taking the reins for a 12-21-7 record and a 3.72 GAA. While the Rangers again placed last in overall offense and defense, they would still remain competitive in both categories, finishing just two behind the Detroit Red Wings in goals for and six behind the Toronto Maple Leafs in goals against. In spite of their recent disappointments, however, the Rangers’ fortunes would begin to turn around the following season.
Although the 1946-47 campaign would again see the Rangers miss the playoffs, they would finally break their bottom of the standings streak, finishing eight points ahead of the Black Hawks to avoid finishing last for the first time since 1941-42. New York mounted an even stronger challenge the following year, making the 1948 playoffs as goaltender Jim Henry completed his full-time season in over half a decade, although the team would be defeated in the first round by the Red Wings.
Going into the 1948-49 season, the situation was looking up for the Rangers, as it seemed the organization would be able to end a tumultuous decade on a high note. However, the 1940s would have one more trick up its sleeve to throw at the Rangers, as the team dropped from a playoff appearance the year before to last place in the standings for a fifth time. Following the trade of Henry to the Black Hawks, Rayner claimed the starting goaltender spot once again, going 16-31-11 with a 2.90 GAA, as forward Edgar Laprade led the team in goals while 1947-48 Hart Trophy winner Buddy O’Connor earned the most assists with 24. Keeping up with tradition for the decade, the team claimed last in goals scored, but would finish well above last in goals against, allowing 39 less than the Black Hawks on the campaign.
The first half of 1949-50 would see the Rangers struggle to get going initially, although by December they would hit their stride, closing out 1949 with a four-game winning streak, punctuated by a 4-1 home victory over the Bruins on December 31st. The team would go on to reach the Stanley Cup Finals later in the season.
With that, the Rangers claimed a final record of 183-271-82 throughout the 1940s, reaching the playoffs four times including a Stanley Cup championship to start off the decade. However, they would fall short with a total of five last-place results afterwards. Despite the hardship, the team would largely be able to bounce back in the seasons that followed. As of this writing, the team has not finished in last place since the 1965-66 season.
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