Three Stars: All-Time Greats of the Northwest Division Teams
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. I have already looked at a few divisions, and you can find here: Central, Pacific.
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…
Calgary Flames –
Note: The glaringly obvious miss here is in Al MacInnis, but I must remind you of the rules I established stating that I will only include a player once. You can find Al in the Central Division‘s St. Louis Blues section, even though he was a phenomenal Calgary Flames d-man. I think you will agree with the three guys I went with, all of whom were fantastic players. Curiously, all Three Stars for Calgary played right wing.
Lanny McDonald – Easily the heart and soul in Calgary for much of his time there, who didn’t like Lanny and his moustache? Lanny spent almost equal time between Toronto and Calgary, with some years for the Rockies in between, but he is best remembered for his Stanley Cup run, and win, in 1989. His 1006 points in 1111 games is a great total for a right winger, and it’s interesting to note that over his career he had an almost identical goals:assists ratio (500:506), showing he really had a knack for scoring. In his final year in 1989, he not only won the Stanley Cup, but managed to reach the coveted ‘500-goal club’. Lanny was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1992.
Theo Fleury – Can you ever remember a guy who had that much talent who fell from grace so fast? Not me. Fleury burst onto the NHL scene as a grossly undersized right winger, playing as the brunt of many jokes. He answered his critics with all out hustle and grit. No one expected much because of his diminutive size – he wasn’t selected until the 166th pick in the 1987 Draft. Playing his first 11 seasons with Calgary, he also had stints in Colorado, New York (Rangers) and Chicago, before going completely off the map by playing in Horse Lake, Belfast and Steinbach. An incredibly talented and feisty player, Fleury put up 1088 points in 1084 games in his NHL career, making him a point-per-game player over his career. Fleury of course will be remembered for off the ice incidents including drug and alcohol abuse and a high profile scandal involving Graham James. Fleury is a very easy choice.
Jarome Iginla – If Lanny was the heart and soul of Calgary for most of the 80’s, then Jarome was the equivalent in the 2000’s (and late 90’s). Jarome Iginla, who like Fleury and McDonald played right wing, was a bright spot for an otherwise weak run of years for the Flames through much of his time in Alberta, with some obvious exceptions (such as the Cup run in 2003/04). Iginla is the Flames all-time leader in goals and points, and sits in second place in assists (behind Al McInnis). He is part of the ‘500/1000 club’ (goals/points) and has won the Rocket Richard and Art Ross trophies, Lester B. Pearson and King Clancy Memorial trophies and was a six-time all star.
Honorable Mentions: Gary Roberts, Mike Vernon, Joe Nieuwendyk, Miikka Kipprusoff
Note: The only difficulty I had was in choosing Stan Smyl over Markus Naslund. Cases can be made for both, but I just felt Naslund had a much better supporting cast and Smyl was more important to his Canucks team’s success.
Henrik Sedin – Henrik will forever be tied to his brother, Daniel, who has also been an anchor for the Canucks franchise for much of his career. While Daniel is the goal-scorer, it is Henrik that drives the offence as a play-maker and team’s captain. In a game this February (13th), Henrik became the all-time point scoring leader in franchise history. He has scored 792 points in 940 games, with 610 assists highlighting his play-making abilities. He won both the Art Ross and Hart Trophies in the 2009-10 season. He was also a member of Sweden’s Gold Medal Olympic Team in 2006.
Pavel Bure – Bure’s 478 points in 428 games give him better than a point-per-game, and is the only Canuck to have achieved that (Mogilny came just points from doing the same). His 254 goals in that same stretch is one of the best goals-per-game outputs in the history of the game. Simply, Bure was one of the best (if not THE best) sniper’s in the game during his time in the 90’s.
Stan Smyl – Smyl, nicknamed “Steamer” because of his gritty play, captained the Canucks for eight seasons through the 80’s. Before the records were broken by Linden, Naslund, and Sedin, Smyl owned several records for Vancouver including games played, points, goals and assists. He was also the first Canucks player to have his jersey (#12) retired. Despite playing only 12 years, he put up a very respectable 673 points in 896 games.
Honorable Mentions – Kirk McLean, Daniel Sedin, Trevor Linden, Markus Naslund, Todd Bertuzzi, Tony Tanti, Matthias Ohlund, Thomas Gradin
Note: The three I picked I feel were all incredibly obvious. The only real difficulty I had was whether to put Messier as an Oiler or Ranger. In the end I went with the Rangers so expect to find him there.
Wayne Gretzky – Obviously. 2857 points in 1487 games, which actually flirts with 2 points per game (1.92 PPG). Check out these point totals from 1980/81 – 1986/87: 164, 212, 196, 205, 208, 215, 183. Those are stupid good. The Great One is arguably the best player in NHL history (though often debated with Mario Lemieux and Bobby Orr), he had his best seasons as an Oiler, winning all 4 of the Stanley Cups he would bring home in his career. At his retirement in 1999 Wayne Gretzky owned 61 NHL Records (40 regular season, 15 playoff, and 6 all-star). With 2857 career points he is over 1000 points ahead of Gordie Howe who held the points record until Wayne shattered it. The majority of those points were scored as a member of the Oilers, and Wayne helped the team become a dynasty in the 1980s.
Jari Kurri - Obviously Kurri benefited from being on a team with Gretzky and Messier, but this Finn could flat out play. Averaging better than a point per game (1.12 – 11th all time PPG), he finished with 1398 points in 1251 games. Kurri did some travelling, joining teams in Europe (Italy and Finland), and in the NHL. He never duplicated the unbelievable success he had in Edmonton, even when he followed Gretzky to Los Angeles in 1991. Kurri will go down as one of the greatest European-born players in history, and along with Selanne, the greatest Finnish player as well. He is the first Finnish player to ever make the Hall of Fame. Five Stanley Cups, 8 all-star games and a Lady Byng trophy, not to mention Kurri sits fifth in all time points by a RW and number one in points by a RW in the playoffs.
Paul Coffey – Paul was known mostly for his unbelievable offensive skills and blazing speed. He effortlessly carried the puck for the Oilers for much of the 80’s, gliding end-to-end. That’s not to say he was a slouch defensively, however, as Grant Fuhr is quick to add. Coffey’s 1531 points in 1409 games rank him second in all-time points by a defenceman behind Ray Bourque, though he played 200 fewer games – Bourque had 0.98 PPG, Coffeey had 1.09. Coffey is 17th in all-time PPG, and is just behind Bobby and Brett Hull, and ahead of guys like Beliveau, Messier, Selanne, Howe and Mikita – pretty good for a defenceman, right?
Honorable Mentions: Ryan Smyth, Grant Fuhr, Glenn Anderson,
Note: When a team is a rather new one, it is difficult in determining a franchise’s best players. Nonetheless, I feel I chose the proper three. I would fully expect some newer guys like Suter, Pominville and Parise to make this list five years down the road mind you, assuming they stay with the team a few more years.
Marian Gaborik – Gaborik is the all-time leader in goals and points for the Wild. Chosen third overall in the 2000 Draft, Gaborik played 8 seasons with Minnesota with a couple stints in Europe as well, before heading to New York and Columbus. He has amassed 674 points in 769 games – not bad considering he wasn’t surrounded by a lot of offensive talent in Minnesota.
Niklas Backstrom – A winner of the Jennings trophy for the goaltender giving up the fewest goals in a season, Backstrom has been the most important player for his team since his 2006 rookie season. With a career .917 save % and 2.43 GAA, Backstrom has been widely considered amongst the elite goaltenders in the NHL thoroughout his career.
Mikko Koivu – Koivu has spent 8 of his 9 years as a professional in Minnesota (he played a year in Europe), and was named the team’s first captain in 2009. Koivu was selected the all-star game in 2012 (couldn’t play due to injury). He has 398 points in 536 games. He’s been Minnesota’s number 1 centre and go to guy for several years, and the team’s record with him in the lineup shows a marked improvement than the record at times when he is injured and unable to play.
Honorable Mentions: Zach Parise, Ryan Suter, Jason Pominville, Andrew Brunette
Note: First, I decided to have Roy for Colorado rather than Montreal, even though many identify him with the Habs. For me, Roy and Sakic were easy choices, but who to pick for a third star, Stastny or Forsberg? I really think Forsberg was the better player of the two, but Stastny has the fourth highest PPG in history. I decided on Forsberg because I think we can fall into the stat-happy trap that is the 1980’s.
Peter Forsberg – Forsberg was simply one of the most dominant players in the NHL during his time in Colorado. Known for his gritty play, many felt he was the complete player – he never had a year with a negative +/- (career +238). He ranks fourth all-time in assists per game behind only Gretzky, Lemieux and Orr – not bad company! He finished with 885 NHL points in 708 games. Forsberg is in elite company as a two-time winner of the Triple Gold Club – two Stanley Cups, two World Championships and two Olympic Gold medals. Forsberg’s number was retired by the organization.
Joe Sakic – Joe Sakic was an easy choice for one of my three stars. LWOS guest columnist John Daly wrote a poignant piece on Joe Sakic being inducted into the HOF, which is definitely worth a read. Sakic’s 1641 points in 1378 games gives him 1.19 PPG. Joe holds Avalanche records for goals (625), assists (1016), and points (1641). He is a member of the Triple Gold Club for having achieved a Stanley Cup, World Hockey Championship and Olympic Gold. Sakic has won the Hart, Conn Smythe, Lady Byng and Pearson awards. Joe started his career with the Quebec Nordiques, and is an important link with the Avalanche’s early days as a franchise, when they were located in La Belle Province.
Patrick Roy – We’ve all argued back and forth at some point with our buddies as to who is the greatest goalie in NHL history, and every list will undoubtedly include Patrick Roy. Roy was a workhorse for Colorado, playing more than 60 games in 7 out of 8 seasons. He won two Stanley Cups with Montreal and another two with the Avs (1996, 2001). He has the record for most Conn Smythe Trophies (3). He also has received 3 Vezina trophies, 5 Jennings trophies, 11 all-star games, and has had his #33 retired by both the Habs and Avs.
Honorable Mentions: Michel Goulet, Dale Hunter, Peter Stastny, Milan Hejduk,
Thanks for reading. Check back soon as I will have the Southeast Division for you. Have an interesting question you want answered? Feel free to leave comments below. Don’t forget to follow our hockey department on twitter – @lastwordBKerr, @BigMick99, @IswearGAA, and @LastWordOnNHL, and follow the site @lastwordonsport.
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