Hockey lost one of its all-time greats on Sunday when longtime New York Rangers defenseman Harry Howell died at the age of 86. The Hall of Famer, who retired in 1973, holds the Rangers’ record for games played during 16 NHL seasons in which he missed 17 total games.
“The National Hockey League mourns the passing of legendary defenseman, consummate professional and Hockey Hall of Famer Harry Howell. He will be remembered not only for his consistency and leadership but with the ultimate class from which he carried himself,” said NHL commissioner Gary Bettman in a statement.
Howell played 1,411 NHL games, scoring 94 goals and 418 points. He joined the Rangers in the 1952-53 season and immediately became an impact defense-first blueliner. While his 6-foot-1, 195-pound frame was considered big for that era, Howell did not use his size to be overly physical as he was a player who built his level of play with proper positioning and a high hockey IQ.
Howell was not a big point producer over his first nine seasons as he never reached the 20-point plateau. His first big offensive year came in 1966-67, his 15th season, when he tallied 12 goals and 40 points. He won the Norris Trophy that season as the NHL’s best defenseman.
After the 1968-69 season, Howell began to have back problems that eventually required surgery. Despite offering him a front office position with the team, Howell, 37 at the time, wanted to keep playing. The Rangers traded him to the Oakland Seals for cash. He played with the Seals for a season and a half before being traded to the Los Angeles Kings, where he played for two-plus seasons. Howell continued his career, playing three seasons in the WHA before retiring in 1976.
Howell was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1979 and had his number retired by the Rangers in 2009. He will no doubt be remembered as one of the great Rangers players ever.