Welcome back to Peculiar Side of Sports. Every so often something in sports perplexes me, and I just hate not knowing something. So, I do what any normal, sane sports fan does – I search ad nausea for the answer by any means necessary. The good news is that I take all my hard work and relay the results to you. If you are a fan of Sports History, check out the other articles I have written – “Sports History”.
I have debated ad nausea with friends of mine over the years about who are the best players from each team in the NHL. So, I thought I’d take some time and look into each team’s history and award Three Stars for each.
Of course there is a big hurdle, and that is players who have played for several teams. For instance, does Wayne Gretzky count as an Oiler, King, Ranger or all three? I decided to allow a player to appear only once. Also note I am choosing based on franchise, not necessarily limiting to current team. So for the Colorado Avalanche I am including Quebec Nordiques, and for Phoenix Coyotes I am including Winnipeg Jets (the old one).
Remember, these are just my opinions having read the statistics and considered the player’s importance to his team, and are not meant to be authoritative – entertainment purposes only. I am not basing it solely on statistics, as many stats are entirely reflective of the team and not the individual. Again, a player can only appear for ONE team!
Without further ado, I present to you today’s Peculiar Side…
Three Stars: All Time Greats of Central Division Teams
Detroit Red Wings
Note: It’s going to be difficult to ascertain the top players to have played for the Original Six teams seeing as they have incredibly rich histories. Detroit is no exception. The players I have made “Honorable Mentions” are at such a high level that leaving them out just feels wrong. Nonetheless, I must play by my own rules.
Terry Sawchuck – Sawchuk’s career 447 wins, 330 losses and 172 ties in 14 years with Detroit are extraordinary, as are his 103 shutouts. Having five straight years of sub-2.00 GAA is phenomenal. Four Vezinas, a Calder and three Stanley Cups cement his place in DRW and NHL History as one of the game’s greatest goaltenders.
Steve Yzerman – Known as one of the youngest and longest serving captains in history, Stevie Y lived and breathed Red Wings hockey for better than two decades. His 692 goals and 1063 assists (1755 points) is good enough for sixth all-time in NHL points. Consider he did much of this with extreme knee problems that would have forced many others out of the game, Stevie Y could be seen hobbling into ‘the Joe’ barely able to walk before a game. Has there been a classier player?
Gordie Howe – It would be stupid to exclude a guy with a nickname, “Mr. Hockey”. Playing from 1946-1971 alone is an incredible feat! He scored more than 1850 points (801 goals, 1049 assists), averaging better than a point per game in his 25 years. Though keeping +/- was relatively new until the end of his career, he still managed a +45 in 1968/69.
Honorable Mentions: Nicklas Lidstrom, Alex Delvecchio, Sergei Fedorov, Sid Abel, Ted Lindsay
St. Louis Blues
Note: I went back and forth with including MacInnis as part of the Blues or Flames. While his stats are better with the Flames, he was also there during a period in hockey’s history where stats were grossly inflated. I felt he was equally as good in St. Louis during his early years there, but the game was changing, and the days of a point per game d-man were long gone. Pronger and Hull were easy picks, however Federko did cross my mind several times.
Chris Pronger – Pronger was easily one of the top few defencemen in the NHL for many years during his time in St. Louis. In fact, if not for Nicklas Lidstrom he likely would have been considered the best on several occasions. His 698 points in 1167 points is phenomenal for a defenceman, but it was his ability to control opposing team’s top lines that he’s remembered for – that, and his very physically intimidating play. In his best year (99-00), he scored 62 points in 79 games with a remarkable +52. He also is one of very few defenceman to be awarded the Hart Trophy.
Brett Hull – 12 seasons with more than 30 goals, 8 with over 40 goals, and an incredible 5-year stretch with 72, 86, 70, 54 and 57 goals (from 1989-1993), Brett Hull was one of the top few snipers in the game for the St. Louis Blues. Known for his quick release snap shot and one-timer, Hull was a goal scoring machine. One of the best pure snipers the game has ever seen.
Al MacInnis – For most of his career, Al MacInnis was feared for one particular aspect of the game – his slap shot. Though he spent a considerable amount of time in Calgary during some of their best years, MacInnis was also a beast for St. Louis. In his 23 years, he managed to make the all-star game 13 times, won a Conn Smythe trophy as the best player in the 1989 Flames’ playoff run, and was the Norris trophy winner in 1999 with the St. Louis Blues. MacInnis finished his career with one of the best points per game amongst any defencemen in the game’s history – 1274 points in 1416 games. He even had 6 seasons with better than a point per game. MacInnis may be best known for his offence, but he was no slouch in the defensive end of the ice either, playing huge minutes against top opposition, and doing so effectively.
Honorable Mentions: Bernie Federko, Mike Liut, Keith Tkachuk, Pavol Demitra, Curtis Joseph
Note: Chicago, like Detroit, had so many players to choose from. To have left some of the honorable mentions off the list feels wrong, but I can’t see how it could be another way.
Stan Mikita – In his 22 years in Chicago, Stan Mikita averaged better than a point-per-game. His 926 assists and 1467 points are both standing records for the Hawks. He also had 541 goals. Born Stanislav Guoth, he moved to Canada from Czechoslovakia and was given the name Stan Mikita by his aunt and uncle. When he retired due to back problems, only Gordie Howe and Phil Esposito had scored more points.
Denis Savard – Savard tallied 1338 points in 1196 games, making him a better than a point-per-game over his career and third in all-time points for a Blackhawks player (he played considerably fewer games). Spending most of his 17 seasons with the Hawks (stints in Montreal and Tampa Bay), he was best known for his “Savardian Spin-o-Rama” (though the move was first coined in reference to Serge Savard). Savard played in nine all-star games.
Bobby Hull – Spending most of his time with the NHL’s Chicago Blackhawks, Hull will also be remembered for having jumped to the WHA’s Winnipeg Jets (the Jets joined the NHL in Hull’s last year). Remarkably, he had more goals than assists – 610 goals and 560 assists prove his extreme talent for finding the back of the net. Hull was the first player to score more than 50 goals in a season, and the first player to score 50 goals twice.
Honorable Mentions: Dennis Hull, Jeremy Roenick, Ed Belfour, Tony Esposito, Glen Hall, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane
Nashville Predators –
Note: With Nashville being a relatively new team, it is difficult to assign three stars. Nonetheless, I feel quite confident that the three I have selected are the best in their brief history.
Shea Weber – Weber’s 291 points in seven seasons in Nashville, to go with a +43 are excellent considering he played on some weak teams in that time. Not to be overlooked, his 17 game winning goals are phenomenal. He also has been a Norris Trophy nominee, and is generally regarded amongst the best defencemen in the game today.
Ryan Suter – Suter played 7 of his 8 seasons with the Predators alongside teammate Shea Weber, with the pair being amongst the best 1-2 D punches in the league. While he doesn’t have Weber’s offensive stats, Suter provided a backbone for the Predators, even during some sub-par seasons. He often played against their opponents’ top line.
Pekka Rinne – Just edging out Vokoun, Rinne is the best goalie to have played for the Predators. His career 2.36 GAA and .920 Save % are amongst the best in the NHL during the same stretch. He’s been a finalist for the Vezina Trophy.
Honorable Mentions: Martin Erat, Steve Sullivan, Tomas Vokoun
Columbus Blue Jackets –
Note: Columbus is easily the most difficult team to have selected players from because the team is young and have had lackluster results. Nash was obviously an easy choice, but Vyborny and Klesa were not. These two highlight the lack of supporting cast for Rick Nash.
Rick Nash – I’ll excuse his -71 because really, he was alone for far too long in Columbus. For 674 games Nash almost single-handedly scored 289 goals, 258 assists for 547 points (83 on the PP).
David Vyborny – Vyborny has split his professional career between playing for the Blue Jackets and in the Czech professional league. During his time in Columbus, his 317 points in 543 games was admirable considering the lack of team depth and supporting cast (other than Nash, obviously). He had several seasons with better than 20 goals, and even a few with a positive +/-.
Rostislav Klesla – The franchise’s first ever pick, Klesa was a mainstay on the blue line. He spent a few seasons playing in Europe, and the last two in Phoenix, and during his NHL years he tallied 147 points in 596 games. While they don’t appear to be fantastic numbers, he also had the dubious job of playing for arguably the least successful franchise of the 2000’s, and against opponents’ top forwards.