Welcome to LWOS Hockey’s summer series. After the historic 2016 NHL Free Agency period, it’s a good time to look at the best free agent signing in the history of all 30 NHL franchises. Up next: The all-time best Colorado Avalanche free agent signing.
Make sure to check out the previous articles in our 2016 summer series here.
The All-time Best Colorado Avalanche Free Agent Signing
1980- Peter Stastny: Signed as an Undrafted Free Agent
The history of the Colorado Avalanche franchise is storied and filed with many elite players. Although, the all-time best Colorado Avalanche free agent signing belongs to their predecessor: the Quebec Nordiques.
Peter Stastny began his hockey career in his native Czechoslovakia in 1975. Until coming to the NHL, he played for HC Slovan Bratislava in the Czechoslovak Extraliga. During this time, he also served as a member of the Czech national team in the 1976 and 1980 Olympics. By 1979, Czechoslovakia regarded Stastny as the best active player in the country, being named the Player of the Year. However, the young Stastny and his brothers, Anton Stastny and Marian Stastny, wanted more. They dreamed of playing in the NHL and freeing the oppressive Communist regime. Even by Czechoslovakian standards at the time, they lived a comfortable life. The brothers continued to want more as they eyed freedom and a better life. Meanwhile, the Quebec Nordiques had been coveting the trio for several years wanting to utilize their skill.
In August of 1980, the Nordiques made their move and the brothers finally had their chance at freedom. All three Stastny brothers had traveled to Innsbruck, Austria to compete with the Czech National Team. Previously, the Nordiques’ director of personnel development, Giles Leger, had offered to arrange the family’s defection to Canada. However, Peter waited until they left Czechoslovakia to make the call. Leger, along with Nordiques’ President Marcel Aubut, arranged for the defection of Peter, his pregnant wife, Dariana, and Anton. The three sought political asylum in the Canadian Embassy and soon found their way to Quebec. Upon arriving, the two brothers began training for the start of their NHL careers.
Peter and Anton played their first game for the Nordiques on October 9, 1980. Less than a week later, the former Stastny, a center, scored his first NHL goal. In February 1981, they accomplished a feat that will probably never be performed again in the NHL. According to the Hockey Hall of Fame Website,
“On February 20, 1981, each of the brothers got a hat-trick to lead their team to a 9-3 win in Vancouver. And less than 48 hours later, that feat was improved upon. Peter scored four goals and Anton three and Quebec won the game 11-7.”
This marked the first time in league history that brothers scored at least three goals each in two consecutive games. On February 22, 1981, he set the NHL record for points in a single game by a rookie and points in a road game with 8.
By the end of his first season, Peter set a rookie record by scoring 39 goals and registering 70 assists. He also became the first NHL rookie to amass 100 points in a single season (109). It is no surprise that he ended this season by winning the Calder Memorial Trophy. This award is given to the most proficient player in his first year of competition in the NHL.
Within a year, Peter and Anton gathered enough money to send for their brother Marian. After their defection, the Czech national team suspended Marian as punishment for his brothers’ actions. After Marian’s arrival, they became the third trio of brothers in NHL history to play on the same team. The trio would continue their career in Quebec together, often skating on the same line.
A Decade of Personal Success
Peter remained with the Nordiques throughout the 1980s. He became one of four players to amass at least 1000 points in a decade. The only player to outscore him was none other than Wayne Gretzky. In addition, he became the first European-trained player to record 1,000 points in the NHL. Stastny was the top scorer for the Nordiques in the decade with younger brother Anton finishing third.
While a Nordique, Peter participated in a total of six NHL All-Star Games (1981-1984, 1986, and 1988). He led the team to seven straight years of Stanley Cup Playoff appearances between the 1980-1981 and 1986-1987 seasons. Even with the success he found in Quebec, the Nordiques traded Stastny to the New Jersey Devils in 1990. Stastny’s NHL career continued for five years, finally retiring with the St. Louis Blues in 1995.
A Record Setting Career
In total, Stastny would play 977 games with 450 goals, 789 assists, and 1,239 points in his career. 1998 saw his induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame, with his IIHF Hall of Fame induction following in 2000.
Upon his retirement from the NHL, Stastny held multiple league records which include the following:
- NHL record for assists by a rookie (70- Shared with Joé Juneau.)
- NHL record for points in a game by a rookie (8). Record set on February 22, 1981 against the Washington Capitals.
- NHL record for points in a road game (8). Record set on February 22, 1981 against the Capitals.
- NHL record for points in two consecutive games (14). Stastny had three goals and three assists on February 20, 1981 against the Vancouver Canucks and four goals and four assists against the Capitals on February 22.
Stastny became the fourth fastest player in NHL to hit the 200, 800, 900, and 1,000 point milestones. Only two players reached 400, 500, 600, and 700 points before him and only Gretzky achieved 300 faster.
Throughout his career, Peter always cherished playing with his brothers. He explained the joy of doing so in the October 2011 issue of USA Hockey Magazine:
“I realized the blessing in my career was playing with my brothers. It’s very unique, playing at this level, in the Olympics, in the NHL, playing on one line, Anton at left, Marian on the right and I was the center.”
Perhaps the most amazing thing about Stastny’s NHL career is the probability of it never happening at all. If it wasn’t for the bravery of the Stastny brothers and the willingness of the Nordiques to help the promising trio defect from their home country to play hockey in Canada, their family legacy may have never been forged.
It’s a family legacy that would continue to affect the Avalanche, even into the next generation. Peter Stastny’s son; Paul Stastny was drafted by the Avalanche in the second round of the 2005 NHL draft. He would play eight seasons for the team before leaving for the St. Louis Blues as a free agent in 2014.