One of the most important players in Rangers history has just been hired to be the NHL's new Manager of Player Safety.
The National Hockey League announced on Thursday that Brian Leetch, the Hall of Fame defenseman who spent 16 of his 18 NHL seasons with the New York Rangers, will be taking over the position after the previous holder, former veteran NHL defenseman Rob Blake, left to become the assistant general manager with one of his previous teams, the Los Angeles Kings.
Leetch's hiring occurs after the league announced back in June that helmet visors would be grandfathered in starting with the upcoming 2013-14 regular season. The decision, agreed upon by the NHL and the Player's Association, is designed to reduce facial injury to players, especially after Ranger defenseman Marc Staal's eye injury back in March of this year, which certainly affected not only the Rangers' playoff run, but raised questions about whether the talented blueliner would be able to continue his burgeoning career.
Also, in recent years, the league has had to deal with the overall effects of concussions on their players. The most egregious case came with the multiple concussions suffered by Penguins star Sidney Crosby.
Amendments to player equipment, especially goalies, could be made, but one issue that could very well come up is whether or not to change the rules on icing, which if modified to no touch or hybrid icing, could certainly reduce player injury.
Brian Leetch is widely considered one of the greatest players ever to play in the NHL. After the New York Rangers drafted the Texas native ninth overall in the 1986 entry draft, Leetch went on to become one of the elite offensive defenseman in league history. Although he retired in 2007, his 1,028 career regular season points still rank eighth all-time amongst NHL defenseman.
In 1989, he won the Calder Memorial Trophy as the league's rookie of the year. In 1991-92, he won his first Norris Trophy as league's top defenseman and it was well deserved. That year, Leetch became only the fifth defenseman (and, at this time, the last) to score 100 points in one season. He would be awarded the Norris again after a solid 1996-97 season. He remains the only Ranger defenseman to win the award more than once and his two Norris wins constitute half of the four that have been awarded to Blueshirts.
On June 14, 1994, the waiting was truly over as the Rangers beat the Canucks in MSG to win their first Stanley Cup in 54 years and Leetch was a big reason why. In 23 games, he scored 11 goals and 34 points en route to becoming the first ever American-born player to win the Conn Smythe trophy, given to the most valuable player of the playoffs. At the time, Leetch was also the first non-Canadian player to win it. That night, Leetch joined the legendary Bobby Orr as the only two players in NHL history to ever win the Calder, Norris, and Conn Smythe trophies.
Leetch's number two was retired by the Rangers on January 24, 2008. The following year, this Ranger great was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame along with Detroit Red Wing legend Steve Yzerman, the great goal scorer Brett Hull, and former LA King and NY Ranger Luc Robitaille.
In addition to Leetch's hiring, the league also hired Patrick Burke, a former Philadelphia Flyer scout and one of the founding partners of the You Can Play project. Burke will fill the newly created Director of Player Safety position.