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March 10, 2014
LCS Top 100: 80-71
by Michael Menser Dell, Editor-in-Chief
While he never came close to matching his dad’s physicality, Mark Howe emerged as one of the top defensemen of the 1980s, using his exceptional skating, crisp passing, and superior hockey IQ to record six consecutive seasons with at least 15 goals and 50 points for the Flyers.
Howe started his career as a winger in the WHA, recording five 30-goal seasons in six years with the Houston Aeros and New England Whalers. When the Whale swam to NHL waters, Howe remained at left wing and managed a 24-goal, 80-point season before switching to defense full-time in Philadelphia.
Considering his success at both wing and defense, Howe could be seen as the modern Dit Clapper. But who cares? It’s just fun to say Dit Clapper. Either way, Howe should be in the Hall of Fame. Let’s make it happen.
A solid all-around player, Barber had back-to-back 34-goal seasons during Philadelphia’s two Stanley Cup years before erupting for a career-high 50 goals and 112 points in 1975-76. Barber’s best attributes were his fierce competitive nature and a hard, accurate shot that produced five 40-goal seasons. Unfortunately, Barber also introduced diving to hockey. Not exactly a noble legacy. So let’s just focus on the goal-scoring.
As an 18-year-old in 1981-82, Hawerchuk scored 45 goals and 103 points to win the Calder Trophy with the Winnipeg Jets. He would go on to post seven 40-goal seasons and six 100-point campaigns during his nine years in Winnipeg, emerging as one of the top point producers of the decade. Unfortunately, like a hair metal band in leather pants and lipstick, Hawerchuk’s game didn’t adjust too well to the 1990s. But we’ll always have the 80s. And when you’re a Jet, you’re a Jet.
Cournoyer’s explosive speed and phenomenal stickhandling confounded defensemen, as he could sweep wide or dart to the inside with equal success. And despite his diminutive size (5’7”), Cournoyer possessed a bullet shot, allowing him to notch four 40-goal seasons.
And don’t let his two Lady Byng Trophies deceive you. Bucyk was a bruising power forward, known for his bone-rattling hip checks. Most of Bucyk’s goals came through hard work in front of the cage. He was also lethal on the power play, either barging the net or setting up teammates out of the left wing corner. His work with the man-advantage helped him produce four 50-assist seasons to go along with his 556 career goals. When he retired in 1978 at the age of 42, Bucyk’s 1,369 points ranked him fourth among the NHL’s all-time leading scorers.
A lanky center with exceptional skill, Ratelle often drew comparisons to Jean Beliveau for both his playing style and his classy demeanor. Ratelle’s greatest success came during the early 1970s when he teamed with sniper Rod Gilbert and power forward Vic Hadfield to form New York’s legendary Goal a Game Line.
In 1971-72, Ratelle enjoyed the best season of his career, posting a career-high 46 goals and 109 points in just 63 games. He also had only four penalty minutes, earning him his first of two Lady Byngs.
Thirteen games into the 1975-76 season, the Rangers traded Ratelle to Boston in exchange for Phil Esposito. Ratelle continued to thrive in Beantown, completing his second 100-point campaign and helping the Bears to two Stanley Cup Finals appearances.
But Pilote was far more than just a playmaker. He played a rugged physical game for his size (5-10, 178) and racked up four 100-PIM seasons, even leading the league with 165 penalty minutes in 1960-61. Pilote’s dominance at both ends of the rink earned him three consecutive Norris Trophies (1963, 1964, 1965) and five First-Team All-Star honors.
But before Kasparaitis scrambled his eggs, Lindros was a monster. With all the injuries and the off-ice squabbles with Bobby Clarke, it can be easy to forget just how special Lindros was, but that would be neglecting a significant, and rather glorious, chapter in NHL history.
The league had never seen a player with Lindros’ combination of power and skill. He was a 6-4, 240-pound bull with soft hands and a playmaker’s instincts. Lindros barged through defenders like a runaway locomotive and had a howitzer shot, unleashing a quick, compact snapper that could pulverize granite. And he was ornery. Lindros delighted in plastering hapless victims into the wall and welcomed all challengers.
Even before the concussion woes, Lindros proved brittle, missing 42 games his first two seasons with knee problems and another 30 games in 1996-97 due to various ailments. But when he played, he was dominant, putting up 193 goals and 436 points in 297 games over his first five seasons. That works out to 0.65 goals and 1.47 points per game, or 53 goals and 121 points over a full 82-game schedule.
Despite four terribly mediocre seasons with the Rangers, Leafs, and Stars to end his career, Lindros still retired with an impressive 1.14 career points-per-game average, ranking him 18th all-time.
If we’re imagining players in perfect health and at the peak of their abilities, a strong case could be made for Lindros being in the Top 20. So why isn’t he higher?
Well, Lindros wasn’t exactly a great leader. He had a reputation for being moody and disruptive in the room. Plus, if you draft him for the mythical pick-up game, you’d have to listen to his parents yapping from the stands and trying to coach the team. And Lindros never mastered skating with his head up. How long would he last in a game featuring some of the sport’s most feared hitters?
But how great would it be to see Lindros line up against Bobby Clarke? Good times, good times.