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, Atlantic,and Northeast.
Note: Clearly Mike Gartner was an easy choice, and love him or hate him, it’s hard to ignore Ovechkin, even if he isn’t exactly long in the tooth. For my third choice I debated between Rod Langway, Dale Hunter and Peter Bondra. They each brought completely different components to their team, but seeing as how I was more going for offensive skill as opposed to intangibles, or pure defensive play that are difficult to quantify and measure, I went with the more technically gifted Peter Bondra.
Mike Gartner – Gartner played 18 seasons in the NHL, a little more than half with Washington (also played with Minnesota North Stars, New York Rangers, Toronto Maple Leafs and Phoenix Coyotes). The very talented right winger has 1335 points in 1432 games. His best year was in 1984-85 where he registered 50 goals and 52 assists for 102 points. Despite not playing with high-powered offences in Washington, Gartner has several very well respected NHL records including the most consecutive years with 30+ goals (15 – in a tie with Jagr), most 30 goal seasons (17), most goals in an All-Star game (4), and the fastest time recorded in an All-Stars skill competition.
Alexander Ovechkin – Alexander Ovechkin is one of game’s most talented players, and has been considered amongst the top few players since his Calder-winning 52 goals and 54 assists rookie season. Ovie has scored 371 goals and 374 assists for 735 points in 601 games. He has been the recipient of numerous awards, and is the first play ever to have won the Art Ross, Lester B Pearson, Maurice Richard and Hart Memorial trophies in the same year. He has the records for the most goals in a season by a left winger (65), and is the only player ever to have been named to the All-Star game in each of his first five seasons. He also holds many Capitals records, including goals in a season, and most seasons with 50 or more goals.
Peter Bondra – The Slovak-born Bondra became the 37th player to have reached 500 career goals. Bondra holds many team records, including goals (472), points (825), power-play goals (137) and game-winning goals. For a few seasons, he was the league’s top goal-scorer. He finished his career with 892 points in 1081 games.
Honorable Mentions: Dale Hunter, Olaf Kolzig, Rod Langway, Kevin Hatcher
Tampa Bay Lightning
Note: Even though the franchise is not old, it was pretty clear cut who I was giving my three stars to. While Khabibulin was a fine goaltender for much of his time in Tampa, and Dan Boyle is a solid d-man, the three I chose are a step above. Some might argue that Stamkos is too young, but I overlooked that considering how great he is.
Vincent Lecavalier – Vinny Lecavalier was a highly sought-after junior player who went first overall. He is the longest serving member of the Tampa Bay Lightning. He was a key member of the Stanley Cup winning team in 2004. He has won a couple of trophies in his career including the King Clancy Memorial trophy and the Maurice Rocket Richard trophy as the league’s top goal-scorer in 2007. Lecavalier came into the NHL with huge expectations. He has had his detractors who believe he never reached his potential, but there is no questioning he has been a backbone for the franchise for better than a decade. He has 842 points in 998 games.
Martin St. Louis – Known mostly for his diminutive size and feisty play, St. Louis has been a great winger for a long time. In fact, he entered the NHL at the same time as Lecavalier, but in a completely opposite manner. Marty was undrafted, and when he did make the Calgary Flames in 1998, he spent several seasons with the St. John Flames before re-joining the NHL club. He arrived in Tampa in 2000 and has been an integral piece of their roster since. 2004 was a phenomenal year for him; not only was he on the Stanley Cup winning team, but he won the Art Ross, Lester B Pearson and Hart trophies, and was the league’s assists leader and first team all-star. St. Louis has also won the Lady Byng twice and the Plus/Minus award. In 979 games he has 912 points.
Steven Stamkos – Stamkos is a scoring machine, who despite being still a young player, has been on most expert’s top three or four players in the NHL for several seasons. He has twice won the Maurice Rocket Richard trophy for having been the league’s top scorer (2010, 2012), and is the third youngest player to score 50 goals in a season. He is the Lightning’s single season goal scoring record holder, and is the only player to have a career point per game average – 386 points in 373 games. In true sniper fashion, he has more goals (208) than assists (178).
Honorable Mentions: Dan Boyle, Nikolai Khabibulin, Brian Bradley, Brad Richards
Note: Florida was a little tougher than most teams because other than Luongo, no one really jumped out at me. Not that the other guys I chose, or even the Honorable Mentions, aren’t good, it’s just that they don’t scream “Panther” because of some of the other teams they played for, or the lack of team/individual awards.
Roberto Luongo – Of course Luongo will be best remembered for his time in Vancouver, but he was absolutely essential to any success Florida had during his early career with the Panthers (he played for the Isles then was sent to the AHL before joining Florida). While his numbers weren’t spectacular, they were respectable, and considering that the team was a new franchise that lacked talent, he became a highly sought-after goalie. His GAA while in Florida was never what anyone would consider stellar (that stat is very much representative of one’s team), take a look at his save % – .920, .915, 9.18, 9.31 and 9.14 respectively. During his time in Florida he was nominated for both the Vezina trophy (losing to Brodeur) and challenged for the Jennings (losing out to St. Louis). He holds many Panthers records including all-time shutouts and wins.
Scott Mellanby – The talented right winger spent 8 years with the Panthers. It was Mellanby who started the “Rat Trick” in Florida after killing a rat with his hockey stick in the dressing room. Mellanby was just as known for his rough and gritty play than he was for his scoring. Unafraid to go into the boards or in front of the net, Mellanby was recognized for his determined play. In fact, in four of his seven full seasons in Florida he had greater than 100 PIM, and several times he flirted with 200. He was a pivotal piece in Florida’s fantastic run in 1996.
John Vanbiesbrouck– “Beezer” was the foundation of the 1996 trip to the Stanley Cup final. His play in the Florida net was the biggest reason why the young franchise won their first (and so far only) Prince of Wales Trophy as Eastern Conference Champions. His sparkling 0.932 save percentage and some timely scoring was enough for the Panthers to pull some shocking upsets. Vanbiesbrouck was the first overall pick in the Panthers/Ducks expansion draft and came to Florida from Vancouver (he never actually played for the Canucks, but was traded there from the Rangers prior to the draft so the Canucks could protect their existing goalies). Vanbiesbrouck would play 5 years in Florida, and although he played longer with the Rangers, we decided to name him as an all-time Panther. The reality is that with an original 6 franchise JVB’s numbers don’t really get a sniff of the three stars, but in Florida, his magical run is a huge part of Panthers’ history. In total Vanbiesbrouck played in parts of 20 NHL seasons, putting up 374 wins and a career 2.98 GAA. He has the records for most wins, and most shutouts (tied) by an American Born goalie and is part of the US Hockey Hall of Fame. He won He won the Vezina in 1986 as a member of the Rangers.
Honorable Mentions: Steven Weiss, Olli Jokinen
Note: Carolina, despite being a rather new team still, had three players that jumped out at me. Since we are including the Whalers franchise in this, Ronnie Franchise was an easy choice considering his time in Hartford and Carolina. Ward and Staal get bonus points for being part of the most successful era in Canes/Whalers history.
Eric Staal – Eric was the first of the four Staal brothers to have played in the NHL. He was drafted second overall by Carolina behind Marc-Andre Fleury in the great 2003 draft, and he was a key to the team’s successes early in his career. In 2005-06, he had his first 100-point season, and was a leader on Carolina’s Stanley Cup winning team. That year he was voted fourth in Hart trophy voting. Staal has been a main-stay in Carolina, and has been their captain since 2010. He has 627 points in 690 career games. Staal was also a member of Team Canada’s 2010 Olympic Gold Medal winning squad.
Cam Ward – Ward broke on the scene in a huge way. After being drafted 26th overall by Carolina, he anchored his team to a Stanley Cup, and was the first rookie netminder to accomplish the feat since Patrick Roy did it back in 1986. Though he played behind Martin Gerber for much of the regular season, when Gerber struggled in the playoffs, Ward shone. While his career 2.74 GAA and .910 Save % might not sound outstanding, consider the Hurricanes have not been blessed with strong defensive units. Also, Ward has had particular success in playoffs – the mark of a great goalie.
Ron Francis – “Ronnie Franchise” was likely the easiest player to pick in this entire division. No one player symbolizes a franchise and means more to one of the Current (or is that now Former) Southeast Division Teams in the way Francis symbolized the Whalers, and later the Hurricanes. In two stints (one in Hartford, and one in Carolina) Francis spent parts of 16 seasons playing for the Whalers or Hurricanes. In the middle he spent some time in Pittsburgh where he won 2 Stanley Cups. In total Francis would play 1731 career games, scoring 549 goals and 1798 points. He is 4th all-time in NHL points, 2nd in assists, and 3rd in games played. Francis was more than just an offensive force though, as he was known for his great two way play throughout his career, winning the Selke trophy while in Pittsburgh. In recognition of his time in both Hartford and Carolina, Francis’ number 10 hangs from the rafters in the Old Hartford Civic Centre, as well as in Raleigh. He was a first ballot Halll of Famer in 2007. Francis is still with the Franchise as Director of Hockey Operations.
Honorable Mentions: Rod Brindamour, Kevin Dineen, Pat Verbeek, Jeff O’Neill, Mike Liut, Glen Wesley
Note: Remember, this franchise is NOT the same as the old Winnipeg Jets (now Phoenix Coyotes). It is the old Atlanta Thrashers franchise, which makes things much more difficult seeing as how the team had little success and few star players in their short history.
Ilya Kovalchuk – Kovaluchuk entered the NHL with very high expectations, garnering a first overall draft pick by Atlanta. In his time with Atlanta, he was nominated for the Calder in his rookie year, and won the Maurice Rocket Richard trophy (3-way tie) in 2003-04 on the strength of a 41-goal year – he finished in second place in NHL total points. Despite not having a talented supporting cast, he managed to score 52 goals twice while at Atlanta. To date, he has exactly 816 points in 816 games. Kovalchuk has long been regarded as one of the most talented players in the NHL.
Andrew Ladd – While Ladd has played only 3 seasons for the Franchise, he is recognized here for a few reasons. Firstly, lets be honest, while the Thrashers era of the Franchise is much longer than the time spent in Winnipeg, they weren’t all that successful in Atlanta, and so I felt one of the three spots should go to a player who represents the Winnipeg Jets. Ladd is the last captain of the Thrashers, and the Current Captain of the Winnipeg Jets team and so he represents a bridge in the organization’s history. More than that though, he’s been one of the best players on the ice, as he has led the team in points in 2 of his 3 seasons with the franchise. Ladd has also had a successful career before coming to the organization winning Stanley Cups with both Carolina and Chicago.
Vyacheslav Kozlov – Slava split his NHL career between Detroit and Atlanta, with a season in Buffalo in the middle. Remembered for his years with the strong Red Wings teams, he was an important part of the Atlanta franchise early in its existence. In his time in the NHL he scored 356 goals and added 497 assists for 853 points in 1182 games. In 2009, Kozlov had his best year individually, scoring 76 points with weak Thrashers roster (minus Kovalchuk). Kozlov will be best remembered for his finesse game, and particular knack for scoring on penalty shots.
Honorable Mentions: Evander Kane, Dustin Byfuglien, Tobias Enstrom, Kari Lehtonen,