To wonder whether there’s a player in the 2010 post-season who is the equal to Claude Lemieux is not to grasp the impact the legendary, polarizing NHLer had on the ice.
Forget, if you can, the borderline and miles-across-the-borderline hits Lemieux was responsible for during his 20 years in the league. Instead, look at the highlights of his hockey resume and see if there’s someone you can fairly compare him to.
At age 20 and with just 19 regular season NHL games under his belt, Lemieux’s first post-season was as fairytale as fairytale gets: he led the 1985-86 Montreal Canadiens in playoff goal scoring with 10 tallies (including a team-best four game-winners) and drank from the Stanley Cup for the first of four times.
In 1991-92, he scored a career-high 41 goals for the New Jersey Devils – yes, those defense-loving New Jersey Devils – to go with his 68 points. It was one of nine seasons in which he netted at least 25 goals and one of eight seasons in which he put up at least 50 points.
In 1994-95, he scored five more post-season goals than any of his New Jersey teammates (including three game-winners) and won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff MVP for the first-time champion Devils.
The next year, he won his third Cup while playing for the Colorado Avalanche and became (a) the fourth player in NHL history to win three Cups with three different teams, and (b) the fifth player in league history to win consecutive championships with two different franchises. Then in 1999-2000, he claimed his final Cup (and second with the Devils).
When he retired after the 2002-03 campaign, Lemieux had amassed 19 career post-season game-winners, five more than Mark Messier and five behind Wayne ‘Freaking’ Gretzky. He also had 80 playoff goals (and 158 points) in 233 career games (he played one scoreless post-season contest with San Jose after making a comeback last year), good for ninth in NHL history.
All due respect to Matt Cooke, Sean Avery and even Ian Laperriere, but that entire trio combined couldn’t hope to carry Lemieux’s stick tape.
That’s why, when Lemieux looks at current NHLers to whom people wish to compare him, he can point to statistical realities without coming across as cocky.
“I think (Laperriere is) a very valuable player and he’s doing an amazing job this year,” Lemieux told THN.com. “But if you look at his playoff statistics, you’d have to dig deeper than that. I’m top 10 in scoring.
“People ask me that (comparison) question all the time and it’s a very uncomfortable question for me to answer, because I’m just who I was and people choose to compare me. Last year, people wanted to compare me to Avery. He’s a very valuable player, but again, I’m going to look at his stats.
“It’s easy to say he’s an instigator, he’s a physical guy and this, this, this and that, but what kind of numbers does he put up? You have to look at the whole package and it’s hard to compare, because there’s not too many guys in the all-time top 10 in playoff scoring.”
Lemieux, who now makes his home in Toronto, believes there were more players with all-around talent in his time than there are in today’s specialized NHL.
“In my times, Esa Tikkanen was an amazing playoff performer,” Lemieux said. “He did a little bit of everything: he was an instigator, he shadowed the other team’s best player, he scored, he passed, he played PK, PP. He was a guy who played a lot like I did.
“I think there were more of those kind of players in our times. The Rick Tocchets of the game always played hard, but there seem to be less of them now.”
And make no mistake – there is absolutely nobody like Claude Lemieux playing today.
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Adam Proteau, co-author of the book The Top 60 Since 1967, is writer and columnist for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog will appear regularly in the off-season, his Ask Adam feature appears Fridays and his column, Screen Shots, appears Thursdays.
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