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 nauseam 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, Northwest, and Atlantic.
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…
Note: Like the other Original Six teams, it was very, very difficult to narrow down the list to only three stars. Of course Orr is a gimme, but I really went back and forth on having Ray Bourque in the top three. Out of Shore and Esposito, I was leaning toward replacing Esposito, but in the end I kept him in. Right decision? It’s a tough call.
Bobby Orr – Clearly Bobby Orr is the best defenceman to have ever put on skates, and few would object to that. In his short 12-year career, Orr played the first ten with Boston. Known for his unbelievable skating ability, end-to-end rushes and play-making, Orr was a dominant force in the NHL from 1966-1979. Of all his stat lines, there was one year that may be considered amongst the best by any player in the history of the NHL – 1970-71 (yes, as good as Gretzky’s years over 200 points). In 78 games he scored 37 goals and 102 assists for a total of 139 points (yes, I double and triple checked those numbers). But even more impressive, he had a +124! That was his best statistical year (consider how important he would have been in the 1972 Summit Series), though you know it wasn’t his only ridiculously good one. In 657 games, he scored 270 goals and added 645 assists for a total of 915 points and a career +597. Having won every major trophy possible for a defenceman, he remains the only player to win four in one season; Norris, Hart, Conn Smythe and Art Ross. Orr has his #4 retired, and was inducted into the Hall of Fame.
Eddie Shore – Shore was amongst the elite players of his day, and he was recognized as such as he was awarded the Hart trophy four times (the most by a defenceman, and only Howe and Gretzky have won more). Shore was a very physical player, and for a while held the record for PIM. He was voted to the all-star game each year for the first eight full years of his career (one year was cut very short due to injury). Eddie won two Stanley Cups with the Bruins, 10 years apart (1928-29, 1938-39). In 1947, his #2 was retired by the Bruins and he was selected to the Hall of Fame.
Phil Esposito – Esposito played 18 years in the NHL, more than half of which were in Boston (he started his career in Chicago, and finished with the New York Rangers). After a few great years in Chicago setting up Bobby Hull, he was dealt to Boston. In Beantown, he became a prolific scorer. Esposito was the first player ever to score more than 100 points in a season (126). He was the top goal-scorer in the NHL from 1969/70 through 1974-75, and in that period won the Art Ross five times, and the Hart trophy twice. In 1970, he scored 76 goals – a mark that stood until a certain #99 came along. With Orr and Esposito, the Bruins won two Stanley Cups. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1984, and had his #7 retired in 1987.
Honorable Mentions: Ray Bourque, Zdeno Chara, Cam Neely, Johnny Bucyk, Gary Cheevers, Andy Moog, Milt Schmidt
Note: The only real difficulty was in deciding if LaFontaine was a Sabre or Islander. In the end I chose him as a Sabre because his best year(s) were in Buffalo (often times numbers are so greatly inflated through the 80’s).
Dominik Hasek – Although Hasek played for several NHL teams, and had success with most of them, his greatest years came in Buffalo. He was best known for an incredibly unorthodox style of play. To many, Hasek’s name is mentioned alongside other greats of this generation of goaltenders – Roy and Brodeur. Having won at virtually every level, Hasek was the recipient of numerous personal accolades including six Vezina trophies, two Hart trophies, two Lester B Pearson trophies, and three Jennings trophies, to go along with two Stanley Cups to his resume (with Detroit). Hasek set 25 Sabres’ team records en route to a Hall of Fame career. His career .922 save % (an NHL record that still stands) and 2.13 GAA were phenomenal feats. Consider his most impressive years statistically – 1.87 GAA and .937 Save % in 1998-99, and 1.95 GAA and .930 Save % in 1993-94. Hasek also had a huge part to play in the Czech Republic’s 1998 Olympic Gold Medal.
Gilbert Perreault – Perreault is remembered for having centred the famous French Connection line. Known as a gifted stickhandler and set-up man, Perreault set many team records in his Hall of Fame career with Buffalo, including goals, assists and points. In his career he amassed 512 goals, 814 assists for 1326 points over 1191 games for better than a point per game average. He played in nine all-star games, and won the Calder trophy and the Lady Byng. Perrault’s #11 was retired by the Sabres, and he was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Pat LaFontaine – LaFontaine’s 468 goals and 545 assists for 1,013 points gives him the best points per game in history for an American-born player. He also holds the record for the most points in a season from an American. In 1992/93, his 148 points and 95 assists are team records that still stand today. Unfortunately his career was cut short due to concussion symptoms, as he was only 33 years old when he retired. His #16 has been retired by the Sabres, and he is a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame. LaFontaine never won a major award (he did win the Masterton), though he was nominated for several including the Hart trophy. In 1993, he finished second to Mario Lemieux in the Art Ross Trophy race.
Honorable Mention: Rick Martin, Phil Housley, Ryan Miller, Thomas Vanek, Alexander Mogilny
Toronto Maple Leafs
Note: It is almost unavoidable that some people will disagree with my choices – the list of quality players to choose from when looking at Original Six teams is a mile long. Nonetheless, for me these are the right three stars. Truth be told though, it was really tough not to include Tim Horton, Darryl Sittler and King Clancy.
Johnny Bower – I wonder how many know that Bower played his entire career with rheumatoid arthritis? It was this ailment that had him discharged from the Canadian army during World War II. Following being discharged, he spent nine years in the AHL before finally being picked up by the NHL’s New York Rangers. After several stops including playing in the WHL, back in the AHL, and then another year with the Rangers, he finally signed permanently with the Leafs at 34 years of age. For the next 12 seasons he was goalie for the Leafs, including the team’s last Stanley Cup in 1967 (he also won in 1962, 1963 and 1964). Bower was a two-time Vezina trophy winner during his Hall of Fame career (elected into the Hall of Fame in 1976). Johnny Bower played 552 games and had 250 wins, 37 shutouts and a 2.51 GAA.
Charlie Conacher – Charlie Conacher was a power forward who played from 1929-1941, most of which was with the Leafs. Conacher was known for his intimidating size, physical play and booming shot. During his career, he was the league’s top scorer five times, and had the most points twice. He eclipsed the 30-goal mark four times, which was remarkable considering he played between 37 and 47 games each year. His career was cut short due to repeated injuries to his hand, but during his years with the Leafs he was one of the game’s top few players. Conacher was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Mats Sundin – Mats holds major offensive records for the Maple Leafs including goals and points. Sundin captained the Leafs for 11 years (was in Toronto for 13) after spending his first four with the Nordiques, and final few with Vancouver. Sundin scored at least 70 points in every full season outside his first with Quebec. He finished his career with 1349 points in 1346 games, which is a shade over a point per game. Mats was a first-ballot Hall of Famer in 2012. He is the only Swedish player to have more than 500 career goals (564), and currently has the most career goals and points by a Swede. Only Jagr and Dionne have scored 20+ goals in their first 17 NHL seasons. Sundin played in nine all-star games.
Honorable Mentions: Borje Salming, Tim Horton, Daryl Sittler, Dave Keon, King Clancy, Syl Apps, Teeder Kennedy, Turk Broda, Wendel Clark, Doug Gilmour
Note: I decided only to look at the current franchise beginning in 1992. Alfredsson was an easy choice, and Spezza much the same, but I struggled with a third. Though there have been some good Senator teams, they haven’t had the star power that others have had. In the end I went Phillips for his longevity in Ottawa, and stability in the back-end. I was toying with the idea of Healtey or Hossa, but Heatley wasn’t there long enough and Hossa’s best years were with other teams.
Daniel Alfredsson – Alfredsson has been the backbone of the Senators for his entire 17 seasons in the NHL. Alfredsson unexpectedly broke into the NHL rather unexpectedly after having been drafted 133rd overall – he won the Calder trophy. He holds most offensive scoring records for the Sens including goals, assists and points. As of the end of the 2012-13 season, he has 426 goals and 682 assists for 1108 points in 1178 games. Alfredsson was the 75th player in history to reach 1,000 points (October 22, 2010).
Jason Spezza – Spezza entered the NHL as a very sought-after junior player, being ranked as the top draft prospect in 2001 (he went second overall behind Ilya Kovalchuk). Arguably his most productive years were when he centred a line with Daniel Alfredsson and Dany Heatley, which made one of the top lines in the NHL. In his 606 games in the NHL, Spezza has a respectable 226 goals and 390 assists for 616 points. In international competition, he has the distinction of being only one of three Canadian players to play in the World Junior Championships at only 16 years of age (the other two were Gretzky and Lindros).
Chris Phillips – Chris Phillips is one of those situations where you can’t look at stats alone. Clearly he is not an offensively-minded player, and at first glance it wouldn’t appear he offers much of anything (He has never registered 30 points in a season). Rather, he is a stay-at-home defenceman whose number one priority is shutting down opponents’ top players on a nightly basis. He has spent his entire career in Ottawa after being drafted first overall in 1996, and has served as the team’s alternate captain for much of his career. While he doesn’t have the stats that other defencemen have, his role is no less important.
Honorable Mentions: Marian Hossa, Mike Fisher, Patrick Lalime, Wade Redden, Anton Volchenkov, Dany Heatley
Montreal Canadiens –
Note: Just like the Maple Leafs, there is such a long list of Habs that can easily be interchanged. I struggled with many of these, but perhaps none more so than leaving out Jacques Plante, Larry Robinson, Howie Morenz and Doug Harvey. On any other team these guys would have made it, however I decided to honour the three men who defined the Flying Frenchmen.
Guy Lafleur – “The Flower” or “Le Demon Blond” was drafted first overall in the 1971 amateur draft. The Canadiens had acquired that pick after a series of shrewd moves by Sam Pollock. He planned to find a way to get Lafleur in 1970 trading for the California Golden Seals first round pick. When the Kings were behind the Seals late in the year and threatened to have the first pick instead, Pollock sent them Ralph Backstrom to give the team just enough to pull ahead of the Seals. The move was a shrewd one and really paid off for Pollock. While Lafleur struggled in his first three years in the NHL, he came into his own in 1974-75 putting up 53 goals and 119 points. He would go on to score at least 50 goals and at least 120 points for each of the next 5 seasons following that year. He was the cornerstone of the Canadiens’ dynasty that won four straight Stanley Cups in the 1970s, and the 1976-77 team that is considered amongst the best NHL teams ever assembled. He holds numerous club records for the Montreal Canadiens including most career points, most goals in a season, and most points in a season. He also won three Art Ross Trophies, two Hart Trophies, three Lester B. Pearson Awards, a Conn Smythe Trophy, and the Lou Marsh award. When he reached 1000 points in just 720 games, he became the fast ever NHLer to reach the mark (a record that has since been shattered by Wayne Gretzky of course). Lafleur would be inducted to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1988 and would actually make a comeback with the Rangers and Nordiques after being elected to the Hall.
Jean Beliveau – Le Gros Bill was known for his class both on and off the ice, and this continues to this day. A winner of 10 Stanley Cups as a player, and 7 more as an executive with the Montreal Canadiens, Beliveau’s name is on the Stanley Cup more than any other. (Henri Richard’s 11 Stanley Cups are the most ever won by a player). Beliveau also holds the honor as the longest serving captain in Canadiens history. He was part of 2 dynasties, the 1956-1960 Canadiens who won 5 Stanley Cups in a row, and the 1965-1969 Canadiens who won 4 cups in 5 years (or 5 in 7 years if we include 1971). He is second all time on the Habs list for points, and assists, and third for goals. He won 2 Hart Trophies, an Art Ross, and the first Conn Smythe Trophy ever awarded in 1965. His reputation off the ice, and the respect he commands, even to this day, is second to none. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame within a year of retiring, and is a member of the Order of Canada. In 2012 he was amongst the first group recipients of the Order of Hockey in Canada award. Last but not least, Beliveau was even offered the post of Governor General in Canada (the Official Canadian Head of State), but turned down the post for family reasons.
Maurice Richard – How can we not have a guy for whom a trophy was named after? The name “Rocket” became synonymous with scoring, and not many did it better than Richard. The first man to score 50 goals, and he did it in a 50 game season. The Rocket was also the key guy on the Punch Line. The man is an icon who inspired a city to riot (and went on the radio asking them to stop) in 1955 when he was suspended for the playoffs. He would return in 1956 and Les Canadiens would win 5 straight Stanley Cups before his retirement, setting a record for consecutive Stanley Cups that has not been equaled. When he retired in 1960, he was the NHL’s all time leading goal scorer and point-getter. His iconic #9 is retired by the Habs, and inspired an iconic children’s book and animated short film. Richard is the most iconic figure in the storied history of the greatest team in hockey history. When the Montreal Forum closed in 1996, he was given a 10+ minute standing ovation by the Montreal faithful, one of the loudest and most heartfelt ovations ever given to any player, anywhere. His record for career playoff overtime goals was only recently broken by Joe Sakic (who had the benefit of playing many more career playoff games before doing it).
Honorable Mentions: Larry Robinson, Jaques Plantes, Howie Morenz, Yvon Cournoyer, Henri Richard, Dickie Moore, Doug Harvey, Serge Savard, Bob Gainey, Ken Dryden, Bill Durnan, Toe Blake, Elmer Lach, Georges Vezina, Newsy Lalonde, Joe Malone