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April 18, 2014
LCS Top 100: 30-21
by Michael Menser Dell, Editor-in-Chief
A fiery little sparkplug, Dionne darted around the ice and used his creativity and skill to shred defenses. He enjoyed his most success as the center of the immortal Triple Crown line, skating the middle for the rugged Charlie Simmer and the dependable Dave Taylor. With Dionne setting him up, Simmer scored 56 goals in only 64 games in 1980 and then potted 49 goals in his first 50 games in 1981 before a horrific leg injury limited him to 56 in 65. Despite Simmer's injury, all three members of the Triple Crown line ranked in the top seven scorers that season, with Dionne finishing second with 135 points, Taylor fifth with 112 points, and Simmer tied for seventh with 105.
Dionne was an offensive dynamo. Equally devastating as a goal-scorer or playmaker, he posted eight career 100-point seasons and six career 50-goal campaigns, including five straight from 1979 to 1983. Dionne scored a career-high 59 goals in 1979, with his career-high in points coming one year later when he rang up 137 to swipe the Art Ross from some Wayne Gretzky character. Dionne retired with a staggering 731 goals, 1771 points, and an impressive 1.31 points-per-game average.
Dionne's detractors point to his lack of size (he was only 5-9) and his inability to win a Stanley Cup; he made the playoffs nine times in his career, averaging 0.92 points per game and never getting beyond the second round. He was part of the Miracle on Manchester, though, so that's something.
Most would say Dionne is too high at 30, but instead of complaining about all the things he wasn't, how 'bout we celebrate him for what he was: one of the best pure scorers ever. And did I mention those wizard purple threads?
Again, this was the 50s. In 1953, when Kelly had 19 goals, all the defensemen on the Rangers had 21 goals combined. Chicago's defensive corps produced 20 goals, while Montreal had 13, Boston 12, and Toronto 7. That should give you some idea how unique Kelly was for his era.
After parts of 13 seasons with the Wings, Kelly's tenure in Detroit came to a shocking end in 1959-60. He spent the season's first 50 games with the Winged Wheel, scoring just six goals and 18 points. Detroit's management criticized Kelly's play in the papers, enraging the proud blueliner. Kelly had been playing with a broken foot, although no one besides Kelly and team management knew it at the time. So he didn't take kindly to being ripped for his efforts. When Detroit swung a trade with the Rangers, Kelly decided to retire rather than report to New York.
Toronto coach Punch Imlach pounced. Imlach traded for Kelly's rights and convinced the Ontario native to end his brief retirement and join the Leafs for the playoff drive. One other small catch. Imlach needed someone to match up against Montreal's Jean Beliveau at center, and he thought the 32-year-old Norris Trophy winner was just the man for the job.
To his credit, Kelly accepted Imlach's offer and thrived in his new role. The high-scoring defender became a rugged two-way center for the Leafs, teaming up with Frank Mahovlich to form a devastating duo. Kelly spent seven-plus seasons in Toronto, posting three 20-goal seasons, winning a fourth Lady Byng, and lifting four more Stanley Cups.
At 6-1, 220 pounds, Esposito was a moose, and he took full advantage of his size. Espo's game was pretty simple. Go to the net. Once he established position in the low slot, no one could move him. Sure, he took a beating, but he never seemed to care. His sole focus was putting the puck in the net. In 1282 career games with the Hawks, Bruins, and Rangers, Esposito bagged 717 goals, with about 700 of them coming from within eight feet of the cage.
Esposito's game took courage, strength, and soft hands. Any meathead could go stand in front, but that doesn't mean he's going to score goals. Espo had the instincts and touch to finish chances. Needless to say, he owned the man-advantage, notching four seasons with at least 20 power-play goals. And Esposito still holds the NHL record for shots in a season, notching 550 in 1970-71.
Esposito also proved to be a clutch performer. He won a pair of Cups with the Bruins, going for 22 goals and 51 points in 29 games during the two runs, and starring for Canada at the 1972 Summit Series, where he scored seven goals and 13 points in eight contests. Only Esposito's skating keeps him from ranking higher on the list. He wouldn't have a prayer keeping up with the guys ahead of him.
If the scoring exploits weren't enough, Mikita placed in the top 10 in penalty minutes five times. He was vicious with the stick, carving up jive turkeys like it was Thanksgiving at Huggy Bear's house. And when he wasn't slashing and spearing people senseless, Mikita was working both ends of the ice and setting the table for Bobby Hull.
Yet as his career progressed, Mikita realized he couldn't keep wasting energy beating down fools. So he decided to turn over a new leaf and took just 12 penalty minutes in 1967, winning the most unlikely Lady Byng imaginable. He followed it up with 14 minutes in 1968 to claim a second Lady Byng and no doubt cost gamblers plenty of loot.
Mikita was a brilliant playmaker, solid defensively, chippy as all hell, and he dominated his era. So why isn't he higher? Well, this list is a little different than most. Yes, it takes career accomplishments to make the cut. But once you're here, you're compared to the other all-time greats, and then I select the guy I'd rather have in a mythical pick-up game. As great as Mikita was, and he was plenty great, he was still just 5-9, 165 pounds. And his skating was downright clumsy by today's standards. All the centers above him on the list would either overpower him physically or skate circles around him. At least until Mikita two-handed them across the head.
Ovechkin is a force of nature. He's a 6-2, 230-pound Russian goal-scoring machine. He's like Ivan Drago with a Ringo haircut. Ovechkin must break you. Unless it's Game Seven. Then he must dump the puck in the corner or get stoned on a breakaway.
But it's hardly fair blaming Ovechkin for Washington's playoff failures. The kid's scored 20 goals and 40 points in 28 playoff games. As of this writing, his 0.714 postseason goals-per-game average is tops all-time, positioning him .004 ahead of Mario Lemieux. Yeah, Lemieux has played 87 more playoff games, but it just shows Ovechkin's postseason production is pretty astounding.
While the 2010-11 season is off to a pedestrian start, with just 12 goals and 39 points in 36 games, that's no doubt due to Ovechkin spending his off-season banging Russian models on big piles of money. Not everyone can spend their summers working on their game. It's a matter of priorities, people. And Ovechkin's tend to have large bosoms and low standards. Jealous?
Five full seasons into his career, Ovechkin already has four 100-point seasons and four 50-goal campaigns. Only 10 players have ever scored more than the 65 goals Ovechkin bagged in 2008, and he did it in an era when it's much harder to score goals. He's simply too big, too strong, and too fast. Put him back in the early 80s, and Ovechkin would have scored 100 goals in his sleep.
But he's more than just a goal-scorer. Ovechkin is also an intimidating physical presence, kind of like a faster, harder-shooting Cam Neely. He's capable of the spectacular individual effort, either through power or skill. And defensemen never want to see Ovechkin barreling in on the forecheck. What he hits, he destroys.
Don't mistake Ovechkin's questionable off-ice dedication for a lack of intensity; he competes every shift, even if the intensity is only directed towards the opposition's net. He seems to feed off scoring goals, translating that energy into other aspects of his game. But if he wants to take the next step, he's going to have to learn to dominate without the puck. The only wingers ahead of him on the list are superior all-around players who've led their teams to glory.
Ovechkin may already be at a crossroads. Has the money and fame gone to his head? Does he want to be the best hockey player in the world or just a goal-scorer with a flashy lifestyle? If he wants to go down as the best ever, he may need to take a break from the booze and the broads. No worries. I'm sure Sean Leahy will pick up the slack. Leahy's a tomcat.
Yet Robinson was more than just a physical defensive defenseman. He was an excellent skater for his size and wasn't scared to jump in the play, recording 10 or more goals 12 times in his 20-year career. He also had seven 60-point seasons, including two 80-point efforts. Robinson's best overall season came in 1976-77 when he posted career-highs across the board, recording 19 goals, 66 assists, and 85 points. Oh, and he was a plus-120. That's right. Plus-120. Robinson never finished a season as a minus and was plus-730 for his career, the highest total in NHL history.
Robinson won two Norris Trophies (1977, 1980) and six Stanley Cups with the Canadiens, hoisting the Conn Smythe in 1978 for leading the playoffs in scoring with 21 points in 15 contests.
For you youngsters out there, just think of Robinson as a more skilled Zdeno Chara with awesome sideburns and a lumberjack mustache.
Plante played 18 seasons in the NHL for the Canadiens, Rangers, Blues, Maple Leafs and Bruins before finishing his career with one season for the WHA's Edmonton Oilers. His best work came with the Habs, where he led the league in wins five times and goals-against average six times. Plante won six Stanley Cups and five of his seven Vezinas with Montreal. His 42 wins in 1962 earned him a rare Hart Trophy, making him one of just six goaltenders to ever snag league MVP honors.
Forsberg averaged 1.25 points per game in his career, ranking him 10th all-time. Unfortunately, he rarely played a full season, missing long stretches due to a ruptured spleen, abdominal pulls, groin strains, persistent ankle problems, and several other undisclosed ailments that would have no doubt crippled a mortal man.
When healthy, Forsberg dominated. He had two 100-point seasons, including a career-high 116 in 1996. His best season may have been 2003 when he led the league with 77 assists and 106 points, winning the Art Ross and Hart Trophies. Then again, Forsberg's most impressive feat may have come in 2002. He missed the entire regular season that year recovering from ankle surgery but returned in time for the playoffs, where he led all postseason scorers with 27 points despite only reaching the conference finals.
If you doubt Forsberg's greatness, please, check the video below and get your learn on. The man was a beast. He's the only guy I've ever seen dish out punishment while controlling the puck. He was like Jim Brown out there. I once saw him drop a prime Derian Hatcher with a shoulder without even bobbling the puck on his blade. Derian f'n Hatcher!
Forsberg should probably be even higher on the list, but every forward ranked ahead of him was a dynamic goal-scorer. Forsberg never totaled more than 30 goals. Had he been healthy, he still probably would have topped out at 36 or so. Oddly enough, he had a wicked wrist shot. He just always thought pass first, second, and third.
And if you see Corey Hirsh, tell him Forsberg says hello.
Go 'head. Read that again. Dryden won six Stanley Cups and was 258 and 57! He lost 57 times in eight years! He never dropped more than 10 games in any season and went 41-6-8 in 1976-77. Yeah, he played on some stacked teams, but those numbers are ridiculous.
At 6-4, 205 pounds, Dryden was a giant between the pipes. The Habs called him up at the end of the 1970-71 season, and opposing shooters didn't know what to make of the lanky netminder. Dryden went 6-0-0 down the stretch and then stood on his head to stun the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins in the first round of the playoffs.
Boston finished the regular season 57-14-7 for a league-best 121 points, giving them 24 more points than third-place Montreal. The Bruins scored 399 goals to lead the NHL, while Montreal was second, more than 100 goals back at 291. Boston also ranked as the third-best defensive team, allowing just 207 goals. Phil Esposito led the league with 76 goals and 152 points. Bobby Orr led the league with 102 assists and finished second in scoring with 139 points. All told, the Bruins had three of the top four goal-scorers and seven of the top 10 point-scorers. They were an offensive juggernaut. That '71 Bruins squad could very well be the best team in hockey history.
And Dryden stopped 'em cold.
With its 23-year-old netminder baffling the Big Bad Bruin snipers, Montreal pulled off the seven-game shocker, capping the upset with a 4-2 triumph in Boston Garden. Dryden is the reason that whole "beware the hot goaltender" chestnut gets tossed around each postseason. The Habs went on to beat Minnesota and Chicago to take the Cup, with Dryden winning another Game Seven on the road to seal the championship. Dryden's heroics earned him the Conn Smythe, and since he hadn't played enough regular-season games to lose his rookie eligibility, he followed it up the next season by winning the Calder.
Potvin was rock solid defensively, finishing a plus-30 or higher nine times in his 15-year career. He was also an offensive force, scoring at least 12 goals every year except 1979-80, when a thumb injury limited him to 31 contests. Potvin cracked 20 nine times and reached 30 on three occasions, going for 30, 31, and 31. He had 70 or more points in a season seven times, including two 90-point efforts and a career-best 101 points in 1978-79. Potvin ended his career with three Norris Trophies and a 0.99 points per game average on 310 goals and 1,052 points.
Unlike most high-scoring blueliners, Potvin didn't need a big slap shot. He got the majority of his goals thanks to a laser rocket wrister. Potvin's other trademark was his nasty demeanor. He cracked people from wall to wall and specialized in the open-ice hip check. And when Potvin hit somebody, they stayed hit.
Potvin's leadership was legendary, and he captained the Islanders to four straight Stanley Cups from 1980 to 1983. During the four Cup runs, Potvin scored 27 goals and 85 points in 78 playoff games.