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March 3, 2015
LCS Top 100: 20-11
by Michael Menser Dell, Editor-in-Chief
In fact, right now, as of this writing, I'd already take him over everyone save the top two guys on this list. But I'm going to rank him at 20 right now out of respect for the game's elders. Let Crosby finish what he's started this year and string together a few more strong seasons before we officially anoint him as the tops.
Listen, I wanted to hate the kid too. I despise all forms of hype and figured he was just a Canadian media creation. I was misinformed.
I still remember the moment I realized Crosby was special. It was his second NHL game. The Penguins were losing 2-1 in Carolina, and Crosby had seen enough. The 18-year-old stepped up and seized the game by the throat, dominating the third period and eventually setting up Ziggy Palffy for the tying goal in the waning moments. The Pens would go on to lose in a shootout, but I had seen all I needed to see. Crosby had the goods.
A superstar with a grinder's mentality, Crosby becomes a better hockey player with each passing day. He recognizes his weaknesses and corrects them through hard work and determination. Crosby has willed himself into an elite goal-scorer, a superb two-way player, and one of the best faceoff men in the game. Add in his uncanny playmaking and explosive skating, and Crosby is the perfect hockey player. He combines the strength and creativity of Peter Forsberg with the breathtaking speed and scoring touch of Pavel Bure, and then he mixes in Mark Messier's competitiveness and Mario Lemieux's dramatic flair to complete the picture. Crosby's never met a big moment he didn't own. At 23, he's already won a Hart, an Art Ross, a Rocket Richard, a Stanley Cup and an Olympic gold medal. Let him strap on the pads, and he'd probably win a Vezina.
Over the first five years of his career, Crosby posted four 100-point seasons and only missed on a fifth due to injury. As of this writing, Crosby's career 1.386 points-per-game average ranks behind only Wayne Gretzky (1.921), Mario Lemieux (1.883), Mike Bossy (1.497) and Bobby Orr (1.393). And Crosby keeps it rolling in the playoffs, with his 1.323 postseason points-per-game mark ranking behind only Gretzky (1.837) and Lemieux (1.607).
Crosby's hockey IQ and competitiveness are off the charts. He makes everyone around him better, and that's important, because he's skated with an endless supply of third-liners. But when the Pens were unable to acquire a legit sniper for his wing, Crosby just became his own finisher, transforming into a 50-goal scorer seemingly overnight.
All you Crosby bashers need to give it a rest. You're missing out on a spectacular show. And the best is yet to come.
During the 1980s, Yzerman was one of the game's most dynamic scorers, breaking through in a big way in 1986-87 with 50 goals and 102 points in just 64 games. He followed it up in 1988-89 with a career-high 65 goals and 155 points, the most points ever scored by someone not named Gretzky or Lemieux. He closed out the decade with another 62-goal, 127-point effort, cementing his status as a true superstar.
An incredibly shifty skater with good speed, Yzerman used spectacular stickhandling, brilliant creativity, and a deadly accurate shot to score some of the prettiest goals you'll ever see. My personal favorite may have been an empty-netter against Edmonton in which he rainbowed the puck over Kevin Lowe's head. Or check out this gem against Chicago.
Yzerman opened the 90s with three consecutive 100-point seasons and two more 50-goal campaigns, capping the run with 58 goals and 137 points in 1992-93. That would be his last year as a dominant offensive force.
Scoring goals and points and whatnot is swell and all, but Yzerman wanted rings. So when Scotty Bowman took over behind the Detroit bench in 1993-94, Yzerman sacrificed personal glory for team success, adjusting his game to become a premier two-way center. Whatever Bowman asked, Yzerman did. The rate of the leader determines the speed of the pack. With Yzerman leading the way, the rest of the Wings fell in line, buying into Bowman's structured, defensive system. And let's face it. Bowman isn't exactly a people person; the Penguins ran him out of town. But Yzerman kept the boys under control. His leadership is what allowed Bowman to last until 2002.
While his days as a 50-goal, 100-point scorer may have been over, Yzerman still hovered around a point-per-game for the rest of his career. And under Bowman's guidance, the Wings made four Stanley Cup Finals and hoisted the Cup three times.
Yzerman played 136 more games and finished with 67 more goals and 114 more points than Sakic. Yzerman averaged 0.46 goals per game to Sakic's 0.45, but Sakic averaged 1.19 points per game to Yzerman's 1.16. Both had six 100-point seasons, with Sakic's final 100-point effort coming at the age of 37. Yzerman had six seasons with at least 40 goals, while Sakic had five. Yzerman cracked 50 goals five times, including two 60-goal seasons, while Sakic only broke 50 twice, topping out at 54. But Yzerman had the distinct advantage of playing some prime years in the free-wheeling 80s, while Sakic spent the bulk of his career in the Dead Puck Era.
Come playoff time, Yzerman had 70 goals and 185 points in 196 games, averaging 0.94 points per contest. Sakic posted 84 goals and 188 points in 172 games, averaging 1.09 points per contest. Advantage Sakic.
In terms of personal and team accomplishments, Yzerman won three Stanley Cups, a Conn Smythe, a Selke, and a Masterton. Sakic won two Stanley Cups, a Conn Smythe, a Hart Trophy, a Lady Byng, and an Olympic MVP. Sakic was also a Selke finalist in 2001, finishing second to John Madden. Sakic was a 1st-Team All-Star three times, while Yzerman achieved the honor once. And both men were long-serving, respected captains. It really comes down to a matter of preference. And I prefer Sakic.
When he broke in with the Quebec Nordiques in 1988-89, Sakic joined one of the worst teams in NHL history. The 1989-90 Quebec squad won 12 games total and allowed a preposterous 407 goals, which was 167 more than they scored. Despite his pitiful surrounding cast, Sakic became an immediate offensive star, scoring 102 points in his second season. After another 109 points in his third year, Sakic was shockingly left off the 1991 Canada Cup roster. The reason? Mike Keenan said Sakic's skating was weak.
I was devastated. Back then, the Canada Cup offered a rare chance to watch my hero play. But Sakic took the seeming insult as a chance to improve his game. He immediately began a plyometric training program to strengthen his legs. It wasn't long before he was one of the most explosive skaters in hockey. He developed lethal one-step acceleration, making him a threat to score from anywhere on the ice.
As sensational as his skating became, Sakic's wrist shot always remained the star attraction. His release was quick like a bunny. No one ever had a better wrist shot than Sakic. It became as iconic as an Al MacInnis slap shot or a Gordie Howe elbow.
Sakic went for 50 goals in each of his Stanley Cup seasons. In 1995-96, he bagged 51 goals and a career-high 120 points in the regular season and then led the playoffs in scoring with a staggering 18 goals and 34 points in 22 games to capture the Conn Smythe.
I contend Sakic's 2000-01 season ranks among the very best in NHL history. He rang up a career-high 54 goals and finished with 118 points, only three behind Jaromir Jagr for the Art Ross. He once again led all postseason scorers with 13 goals and 26 points to carry the Avs to the Stanley Cup, although Patrick Roy swiped the Conn Smythe. But Sakic would win the Hart, Lady Byng, and Lester B. Pearson award while narrowly missing out on the Selke. That's a dream season right there.
Best of all, Sakic won that second Cup flying solo. People forget, but Peter Forsberg went out after the second round with a ruptured spleen. Sakic scored four goals in a five-game drubbing of the St. Louis Blues in the conference finals, including the OT-winner in Game Five. Then he went for four goals and nine points against the stingy Devils in the Stanley Cup Finals, scoring a goal and an assist in Game Seven's 3-1 triumph. Most recall Sakic handing the Cup to Ray Bourque that night as a treasured memory, but I'll always think of him dropping Scott Stevens and setting the tone.
And no Sakic summation would be complete without mentioning his knack for coming through in the clutch. Among his countless huge goals were eight playoff overtime tallies, the most in NHL history.
Lafleur put up a meager 29 goals and 64 points his rookie year and went down from there, dropping to 28 goals and 55 points as a sophomore and then 21 goals and 56 points in year three. Something had to give. He needed a change. He needed to lose the helmet.
In year four, Lafleur ditched the lid and let his locks flow free. With his trademark mane unleashed, the Flower bloomed, ripping off six consecutive 50-goal, 100-point seasons. Lafleur led the league in points three straight years from 1976 to 1978, going for a career-best 136 in 1977. He topped out with 60 goals in 1978 and was named a 1st-Team NHL All-Star in each of the six seasons, skating away with the Hart in 1977 and 1978.
They don't ask you how you score them, just how many. But in Lafleur's case, the how kind of mattered. Famous for his daring individual efforts, Lafleur would dash in on right wing, his hair fluttering behind him, and uncork a bullet top shelf or split the defense for a more elegant destruction. He played an exciting, creative brand of hockey that tore fans from their seats, but unlike a lot of finesse players, Lafleur's intensity never wavered. He brought the same effort night in and night out.
The downside to Lafleur is that he really only had those six great seasons. Injuries started to take their toll in 1980-81, and he'd never score more than 30 goals again. But those six years from 1975 to 1980 were pretty, pretty good.
And don't forget about his disco album, either.
Bossy's idea of a sophomore slump was to lead the league with 69 goals his second season. He wasn't the fastest skater in the league, and he didn't possess a truly overpowering shot like Bobby Hull or Boom Boom Geoffrion. Bossy was just a goal-scorer. And that's a talent in its own right. No matter the situation, Bossy found a way to put the puck in the net. His two best assets were his uncanny shooting accuracy and an all-consuming desire to score goals. Bossy wouldn't settle for ordinary. He scored at least 50 goals in each of his first nine seasons in the league. Only a persistent bad back prevented a tenth consecutive 50-goal campaign, limiting him to 38 goals in 63 contests. And thanks to Mario Lemieux's reluctance to stay retired, Bossy stands as the NHL's most prolific goal-scorer, averaging 0.762 goals per game for his career.
On January 24, 1981, Bossy became only the second player in NHL history to score 50 goals in 50 games. He needed two goals in his 50th contest to reach the milestone and came through with a pair in the game's final six minutes to join Maurice Richard in the exclusive club.
Bossy's bad back would force him to retire following the 1986-87 season. He entered the league wanting to play only 10 years, and he certainly made the most of his time, recording nine 50-goal seasons, five 60-goal seasons, and seven 100-point efforts. He led the league in goals twice (1979, 1981) and paced the Islanders to four straight Stanley Cups, claiming the Conn Smythe in 1982.
During New York's four-year reign as Stanley Cup champs, Bossy bagged exactly 17 playoff goals three times, scoring a total of 61 goals and 111 points in the 72 postseason contests.
Of course, it's difficult discussing Bossy without mentioning his Hall of Fame center Bryan Trottier. The two were virtually inseparable on and off the ice, with each playing a huge part in the other's success. Yet when Trottier was hobbled by injury in 1984-85, Bossy skated with Brent Sutter and John Tonelli and still put up 58 goals and 117 points. Bossy also turned the normally defensive Sutter into a 42-goal, 102-point scorer.
An outspoken critic of hockey violence, Bossy refused to fight no matter how much physical abuse he suffered. His willingness to go to the net and eat cross-check after cross-check without ever dropping the gloves no doubt contributed to his back woes. He ended his career with only 210 penalty minutes, going for less than 10 minutes twice and never posting more than 38 in any one season. His gentlemanly conduct won him three Lady Byngs and the undying admiration of those who find beauty in a sometimes brutal sport.
An agile, strong skater, Lidstrom occasionally leads the rush, but he's always been somewhat conservative in his offensive approach, preferring to spring forwards with crisp lead passes and trail the play late. There's really never been anything flashy about Lidstrom's play. Everything he does is just, well, perfect. His passes are always on the tape. He never takes a bad angle on a forward. Sure, he isn't much of a hitter, but he bodies people off the puck and doesn't run from contact. Good luck beating him one-on-one. He's never out of position and his poke-check has piston precision. While his slap shot may not top 100 mph, it's always low, hard, and on net. If I could have one point man in hockey, give me Lidstrom, because I know he'll always get the shot through for deflections and rebounds.
Lidstrom's 11 goals this season makes it 16 times in 19 seasons that he's gone for at least 10 goals, with his career-best being the 20 he scored in 1999-00. Lidstrom's notched 60 points eight times, his career-high coming in 2005-06 when he put up 80 points in 80 games. Lidstrom's appeared in 247 career playoff contests, the second-highest total in NHL history (Chelios, 266), scoring 50 goals and 175 point in helping the Wings win four Stanley Cups. His five goals and 16 points in 2002 earned him Conn Smythe honors, making him the first European player to win the award. In 2009, Lidstrom became the first European captain to ever lead a team to the Stanley Cup.
At the moment, Lidstrom has six Norris Trophies, trailing only Doug Harvey (7) and Bobby Orr (8). He's also been named a 1st-Team All-Star nine times. No matter how you slice it, Lidstrom's one of the Top 6 defensemen to ever play the game. He could be as high as 2, but no lower than 6. I've got him at 5. Feel free to disagree.
It's easy to dismiss Jagr these days for being a petulant child during his final days in Pittsburgh and never living up to expectations in Washington, but such memories hardly do his career justice. Jagr won five scoring titles and averaged 1.26 points per game in his career, the ninth-best total in league history. He left the NHL with 646 goals and 1599 points, and that includes missing one and a half seasons due to a work stoppages and playing nearly his entire career in the Dead Puck Era. Put him back in the 80s, and Jagr shatters every scoring record there is.
Jagr was a freak. He was 6-3, 240 pounds of muscle with Earl Campbell thighs. He never hit worth a lick and had less edge than a dull spoon, but Jagr used his massive frame and immense power to protect the puck and shrug aside defensemen with shocking ease. His stickhandling was unmatched by anyone not named Lemieux. Once he grabbed the puck, Jagr never gave it up, torturing hapless defensemen in open ice with his mesmerizing moves or manhandling defenders along the wall thanks to his wide base and gibbon-like reach. And breakaways were automatic for the people, with Jagr's patented backhand deke rendering goaltenders little more than an afterthought.
Jagr's most impressive statistical season came in 1995-96 when he went for career-highs with 62 goals, 87 assists, and 149 points only to finish second in the scoring race to Lemieux. Jagr had five 100-point seasons, but he could have easily had three more. In the lockout-shortened 1994 season, Jagr scored 32 goals and 70 points in just 48 games, which would have equated to 120 points over a full 82-game slate. In 1996-97, injuries limited Jagr to 63 contests, yet he still managed a staggering 47 goals and 95 points. That pace would have produced 61 goals and 151 points over a full season. Then in 1999-00, Jagr put up another 42 goals and 96 points in just 63 contests.
Along with his five Art Ross Trophies, Jagr won the Hart in 1999 and was named a 1st-Team NHL All-Star eight times. He never led the league in goals, but he finished second four times and third on another occasion.
From his first day in the NHL, Jagr displayed a knack for scoring big goals, usually in highlight-reel fashion. He was as clutch as they come. Of course, he was kind of a moody chap. The end of his Pittsburgh tenure was downright disgraceful. He seemed doomed to be remembered as a selfish, soft, egomaniac until he mustered the courage to actually give a damn in New York, single-handedly carrying the Blueshirts into relevancy with a 123-point season in 2005-06.
And the coolest part of Jagr's renaissance with the Rangers? He actually started hammering slap shots. I can barely recall him ever taking a slapper during his entire time in Pittsburgh. It was all wrist shots and dekes.
I miss Jagr. The NHL was better for that crazy mulleted fancy boy.
Kit Kats and blue jeans for everybody!
In his 22 seasons with the Bruins and Avalanche, Bourque scored at least 10 goals 21 times, only falling short in his final season. He scored 20 or more goals a remarkable nine times, including a career-high 31 goals in 1983-84. He finished with 19 goals four other times. That's absurd production from a blueliner, and it wasn't merely the product of 80s inflation. Bourque scored 18 goals as a 39-year-old in 1999-00.
Bourque retired with 410 goals, the most in NHL history for a defenseman. To put that number in perspective, Nicklas Lidstrom entered the 2010-11 season with 237 goals.
Obviously, you don't score that much unless you've got a blast, and Bourque could drop the hammer with the best of them, capable of beating unscreened goalies from the blue line and beyond. But Bourque's accuracy truly set him apart. Need I remind you of his hatred for Styrofoam plates? Bourque's sharpshooting wasn't just a parlor trick. He displayed it on a nightly basis in the heat of competition. And it wasn't just for scoring goals. Whenever he needed a change, Bourque would just wind up and drill a shot on net from anywhere on the ice. No need to gain the stripe. Everything he shot was on net. It was unbelievable.
Bourque's uncanny accuracy helped him lead the league in shots three times. The only other defenseman to lead the league in shots was Bobby Orr, and he did it only twice. Bourque's 6,206 career shots rank first all-time and are 840 more than second-place Marcel Dionne.
Bourque's passing was also top notch. His outlet passes sounded like rifle cracks. He posted 60 or more assists 10 times. While Bourque never managed to reach 100 points in a season, he broke 90 four times and averaged a point per game on 14 different occasions. His 1,579 career points lead all NHL defensemen and rank him 11th overall in league scoring.
A record-setting scorer, Bourque was just as dominant defensively. His skating is what allowed him to excel at both ends of the rink. He wasn't as fast as Orr or Coffey, but Bourque possessed exceptional agility and lateral movement. And he was simply a powerful, powerful dude. He had the base of an oak tree. No one could knock him down, and even incidental contact with his granite frame resulted in stiff checks. Pound for pound, Bourque had to be one of the strongest men to ever play in the NHL.
Bourque won five Norris Trophies and was named a 1st-Team NHL All-Star an astounding 13 times, even taking top All-Star honors in his final season of 2000-01. He famously won his first and only Stanley Cup that year as a member of the Colorado Avalanche, but he was hardly a passenger. Bourque's leadership helped galvanize the squad and played an enormous role in that championship.
How beloved was Raymond Bourque? Despite spending less than two years in Colorado, he has his No. 77 retired with both the Bruins and the Avalanche. Hell, Boston even threw him a rally when he brought back the Cup.
A brilliant ambassador for the sport, Beliveau dazzled with his on-ice play and charmed fans and opponents alike with his humble, respectful demeanor. Beliveau played his entire 20-year career with the Montreal Canadiens and served as team captain from 1961 until he retired in 1971. While he never put personal achievements ahead of the team, Beliveau led the NHL in goals twice, going for a career-best 47 in 1965 and 45 goals in 1959. He also led the league in assists twice and won the Art Ross Trophy in 1956 with 88 points in 70 games, although he did go for 91 points in 1959 and 90 points in 1961 only to lose the scoring races to teammates Dickie Moore and Boom Boom Geoffrion, respectively.
Beliveau won the Hart Trophy for the aforementioned 1956 season and again in 1964 when he scored 28 goals and 78 points in 68 games. Beliveau's proudest accomplishment, though, would be his 10 Stanley Cups. That's right; he won 10 Cups. Beliveau scored 79 goals and 176 points in 162 career postseason contests, winning one Conn Smythe (1965) along the way.
At 6-3, 205-pounds, Beliveau had an elegant, effortless stride and could stickhandle through the staunchest defenses. He's the player most often compared to Mario Lemieux due to their similar sizes and skill sets. Like Lemieux, Beliveau had an enormous wingspan and toyed with goaltenders on breakaways. He made everything appear easy, doing readily what others couldn't do at all.
Beliveau remained a consistent scorer late into his career, going for 33 goals and 82 points in just 69 games as a 37-year-old in 1969. In his final NHL season, a 39-year-old Beliveau posted 25 goals and 76 points in 70 contests.
Hockey's original badass, Shore broke in with the Bruins as a 24-year-old rookie in 1926 and quickly earned a reputation as one of the meanest, dirtiest sons of bitches you'd ever want to meet. He was Paul Bunyan, Jack the Ripper, and Genghis Kahn wrapped up in 190 pounds of Saskatchewan sinew and spit. Shore treated each game like a street fight, slashing, elbowing, and punching people until somebody called the cops. He once got into five fights in a single game and retired with more than 900 stitches holding his body together.
When he wasn't intimidating the opposition, Shore was busy scoring. His first five years in the league saw him net 12, 11, 12, 12, and 15 goals, and this was during the days of the 44-game schedule. He recorded more than 30 points on four different occasions, registering a career-high 35 in 1932-33.
Shore was the NHL's best player and biggest draw for most of his career. Even rival owners made a fortune off Shore's infamous reputation, as fans lined up around the block to boo the despicable defender. From 1933 to 1938, Shore won four Hart Trophies. Only Gordie Howe (6) and Wayne Gretzky (9) have won more league MVPs.