The numbers raised to the Garden rafters in the past few seasons were well deserved. No one would argue Nos. 35, 11, and 2 respectively, should not have been retired, rather there would have been a protest on 33rd Street of Mike Richter, Mark Messier and Brian Leetch did not get their days in the sun.
But Adam Graves is a different story. What the Rangers will do tonight is honor an organizational choice, rather than an all-time immortal. They are raising No. 9 to the rafters because of Graves as a person, as much as the player.
Yet, Graves’s No. 9 deserves to hang next to his teammates for eternity, since he meant just as much to the 1994 team as the other three. In fact, it could be argued that the tough left wing was a greater part of that championship run, because to win the Stanley Cup the players other than the immortals need to step up and be counted.
Graves was always there in the front of the line.
“He was the realization of what a Ranger should be,” said Messier. “I think he’s going to be remembered as one of the great Rangers of all-time. He did everything a person could do for an organization, everything a player could do for an organization.
Maybe it came from his relationship with Messier. After signing as a free agent with the Rangers on Sep. 3, 1991, the former Oiler, who played on the “Kid Line” in Edmonton during the Stanley Cup season of 1990, first took Messier’s No. 11 on his jersey, until general manager Neil Smith made the franchise changing trade for the Hall of Fame center a month later.
Graves’s signing was unpopular at the time, as the Rangers had to relinquish young forward Troy Mallette as compensation. The left wing was considered a grinder when that move was made; never scoring more than seven goals in a season and 1990 was actually his first full year in the NHL, playing 76 games.
But with Messier as his pivot in New York, the Ontario native came into his own, scoring 26 goals that first season with 33 assists. As The Captain’s wing, he brought a power forward toughness to New York. Gone were the liberties other teams took at the Blueshirts expense, rather any late his was paid back with interest, as “Gravy” made sure other teams knew who was in charge on the ice.
So much has been written and said about Sean Avery and his antics with goalies. But before ‘The Grate One’ came to the Garden, Graves performed the same duties in front of the net. Yet, his play was clean and never crossed into rule changing territory like Avery.
“He takes everything personally when someone gets run over on the ice,” Leetch said. “No matter whom it is.”
“I like to call Adam ‘the Sheriff’ – he likes to keep the streets clean,” said former teammates and current Oilers general manager Kevin Lowe. “He just watches out for everyone. He’s pretty amazing.”
If Graves was only an enforcer, No. 9 night would have never come about. Yet, he developed that scoring touch which allowed him to hold the Rangers single season goal scoring record with 52 in 1994. (The record was broken by Jaromir Jagr in 2006). But it wasn’t just the amount of goals scored; it was the timing of them.
In 1996, Graves singlehandedly turned around the first round playoff series against the Canadiens. Down 2-0 going into Montreal, the left wing scored twice in Game 3 to give the Rangers a 2-1 win and the twice in Game 4 to tie the series, which was eventually won by the Blueshirts, 4-2.
In 1994, he had 10 goals in the Stanley Cup run and closed out the Devils with a series winning goal in the 1997 Quarterfinals.
Yet, Graves wouldn’t want those accolades mentioned, since he was such an unselfish player. Always putting the team first, he should have been named captain in 1997 after Messier left rather than Leetch, a move which cost the Rangers something on the ice. Although Leetch was a great leader, he was quiet. Graves had that commanding presence on the ice, and his unselfish play would have rubbed off on his teammates.
“There are many things Graves brings that you don’t see on the stat sheet,” Smith said. “Players like Graves are character people. They won’t score 70 in a season, but they will do anything to win.”
And that’s also off the ice. Performing many charity works, Graves had the reputation of putting the community first. For his efforts, he won the King Clancy Memorial Trophy in 1994 for leadership on and off the ice and the Bill Masterton Trophy in 2001 for perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to hockey. He also was awarded the NHL Foundation Award in 2000 for his work off the ice with underprivileged children.
“He was a huge part, obviously, of winning the Stanley Cup in 1994,” Messier said. “But more importantly, the way he handled himself on the ice and the way he represented himself off the ice was everything that makes a fan proud to be cheering for the home team and the home town.”