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Dutton’s Curse, also called the Curse of 1940 was a hex that was believed to have kept the NHL’s New York Rangers from winning the Stanley Cup between 1941 and 1993. The Rangers suffered through half a decade of futility while other sports franchises around them most notably the New York Yankees who won 20 championships during that time.
How did the Curse Begin?
The New York Rangers were a very successful team during their early years in the NHL. Between their first season, 1926/27 and 1939/40, they won three Stanley Cups and a number of division titles. In 1939/40, coming off a Stanley Cup win against the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Rangers had also coincidentally finished paying off their mortgage for the Madison Square Gardens.
In celebration Rangers management burned the mortgage in the bowl of the Stanley Cup. This action, according to many believers of the curse, amounted to desecration of the cup and it angered the ‘hockey gods’. This action, according to many believers of the curse, amounted to desecration of the cup and it angered the ‘hockey gods’. This resulted in the curse being placed on the Rangers. Those who ascribe to this version generally use the name ‘Curse of 1940’ to refer to the jinx.
Another version attributes the curse to the role of the Rangers in the downfall of fellow New York Rivals, the Americans. Among this crowd, the ‘Dutton’s Curse reference hold more significance. The Americans had been the first NHL team in New York having been created in 1925. They shared the rink at the Madison Square Gardens with the Rangers when the latter landed in New York a year later.
The Americans ran into financial trouble and the team was taken over by the NHL in 1937. During the 1941/42 season, with the World War II raging on, the Americans’ roster was seriously depleted as players left to serve at the war front. Americans owner Red Dutton announced that the team would be suspending operations until the war ended. Dutton took over presidency of the league following the death of Frank Calder in 1943. He held the post till 1946 and then resigned with the intention of reviving the Americans. The league with the encouragement of the Rangers however broke their promise of allowing the team to return. Dutton bitter with the Rangers’ interference declared that as long as he lived, the Rangers would not win the cup.
The 54-year Drought and the End of Dutton’s Curse
The Rangers went into decline following the end of the war while other teams around them including the Islanders, the Yankees, the Mets, the Jets and the New Jersey Nets all enjoyed success to varying degrees. The Rangers had to wait till 1993/94 to win the Stanley Cup again. During much of this time, the Rangers’ misery came at the hands of another New York franchise, the New York Islanders, who had replaced the Americans in the league.
The two teams established a fierce rivalry but success was heavily skewed in favor of the Islanders. During the 1980s the Islanders won four straight Stanley Cups, overtaking the Rangers who were still on the three they had won before 1941. The Islanders started the “1940!” chant which was a taunt referring to the origin of the curse. Soon, the rest of the league picked up the chant and the idea of the ‘Curse of 1940’ began to take shape. The death of Dutton in 1987 only served to fan this fable further.
They finished the 1993/94 regular season with 112 points to clinch their second President’s Trophy in three years. They then beat the New York Islanders in the first round of the playoffs and the Washington Capitals in the second round to set up an Eastern Conference Finals meeting with the Devils. During the entire series, the Devils fans chanted slogans related to the curse in the hop of intimidating the Rangers.
The Rangers fought hard to secure a Stanley Cup by coming from behind to win both game 6 and 7 of the series. They would meet the Vancouver Canucks for another bruising series. The Rangers would eventually clinch the Cup after a 3-2 win in the final game. The curse had finally been lifted. By then it had been 54 years since Dutton’s words were uttered and 6 years removed from his death. The game attracted a record viewing for an NHL club game with nearly 5 million people tuning in.