On the day he was honored with his own stamp, the man many hockey fans feel was the greatest player of all-time gave his stamp of approval for that designation to Gordie Howe. Bobby Orr threw his support behind Mr. Hockey in the never-ending debate concerning the greatest player ever to play the greatest game. “Gordie is, in my mind, the greatest ever,” said Orr, who recently penned the foreword for Howe’s memoir, Mr. Hockey. “His numbers are outrageous and most of that was with the six teams, when it was a lot tougher. I don’t think there’s any question. Play any way you want to play…he was special.” Read more
Call 2014-15 the year of the sneaky milestone, the season that’ll have people on the street saying “He’s played how many games?” and “That guy has that many goals? Who knew?!”
Perusing the top 10(ish) high-water marks that should be reached, you’ll find at least one legendary name and more than a few surprises.
10. Marc-Andre Fleury’s and Ryan Miller’s 300th wins
Even if both tenders have their share of critics, especially when it comes to their recent playoff performances, Fleury and Miller have done generally fine work in the regular season. At 288 and 294 victories, respectively, each guy should join the 300 club easily, becoming the 30th and 31st members.
We’re going to go on the assumption here that Teemu Selanne has retired from the NHL for good this time. Of course, you never know with Selanne, but we’re thinking he’s serious about it this time.
That leaves Jaromir Jagr as the oldest player in the NHL this season. And it also gives Jagr a career distinction that not many players can say they share.
When Jagr made his NHL debut with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1990-91, he did so as the youngest player in the NHL that season. Born Feb. 15, 1972, Jagr beat out Owen Nolan of the Quebec Nordiques by just three days. Jagr actually had a bit of good fortune in this situation because the three players aside from Nolan who were taken before him in the 1990 draft – Petr Nedved, Mike Ricci and Keith Primeau – were all late birthdays in 1971 who missed the 1989 draft because they were too young.
Fast-forward 24 years later and Jagr is still playing, and playing very well, for the New Jersey Devils. By the time this season ends, Jagr will be 43 years and two months old, which will make him the 10th oldest player to ever play in the NHL. And it will also give him a distinction shared by the legendary Gordie Howe. When Howe played as a rookie for the Detroit Red Wings in 1946-47, he did so as the youngest player in the six-team NHL that season. And when he finished his NHL career with the Hartford Whalers in 1979-80, he did so as the oldest player in the league at 52.
Not sure how many players can say they were both the youngest and oldest player in the NHL during the course of their careers, but the fact that Jagr and Howe are two who can is a testament to both their prodigious talents as young men and their ability to maintain a high level of play throughout length careers. Some players have one or the other, but a precious few have both. And those who do tend to end up with a plaque in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Jagr is on the verge of a couple of other milestones this season worth celebrating. With 705 career goals, he is sure to pass Mike Gartner and Phil Esposito on the all-time goals list. But here’s where it gets interesting. If he scores 27 this season – remember, he had 24 last year – he’ll pass Marcel Dionne at No. 4 and if he has a wildly successful season and gets 37, he’ll usurp Brett Hull at No. 3.
With 44 points this season – entirely achievable since he had 67 in 2013-14 – Jagr will pass Ron Francis for fourth on the all-time points list. If he takes 210 shots this season – he had 231 with the Devils last season – he’ll be No. 2 behind Ray Bourque on the all-time career list for shots.
Kind of makes you wonder where Jagr would be if he had decided to stay in the NHL instead of playing in Russia for three years and if he hadn’t been robbed of a season-and-a-half with lockouts. But the same could be said for Howe, who retired for two years and played six more in the World Hockey Association before returning to the NHL. Bobby Hull, with 610 career goals, played six-plus seasons in the WHA before returning for a nine-game stint with the Whalers in 1979-80.
And who knows? Jagr hasn’t hinted at retirement and with his level of play so high, it’s not inconceivable that he could play a couple more seasons in the NHL. Regardless of how long he plays, three years after he decides to hang up his skates there will be a place waiting for him in the Hall of Fame.
If Scott Gomez and/or Tomas Kaberle make the New Jersey Devils this season and contribute in a meaningful way, GM Lou Lamoriello will be able to claim another feather for a cap that is already bursting with plumage. The veterans are reclamation projects, looking to revive careers that are ever-so-gently flickering.
Barring the spectacularly unforeseen, however, those potential additions won’t be able to match the magic Lamoriello performed 23 years ago.
In this edition of Throwback Thursday, we remember the incredible summer of 1991, when the Devils acquired Scott Stevens and Scott Niedermayer via a series of head-scratching events.
Happy birthday, Sid the Kid.
Hard to believe Sidney Crosby turned 27 Thursday. It feels like we were just watching him light it up with the Rimouski Oceanic and pop the water bottle behind Jose Theodore as an 18-year-old rookie.
Crosby is now squarely in his prime, probably approaching the latter half of it. He already has a Hall of Fame resume and a safe perch among the most talented to ever play the game. But how does he measure up to the generational talents with whom he’s often compared, the Gretzkys and Lemieuxs of the world? It doesn’t make much sense to weigh them against each other in sheer point production and volume – though Sid is no slouch, with the fourth-best points per game in NHL history – because they belong to different eras. But we can have fun looking at team accomplishments and individual hardware. Here’s a look at what Crosby, Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Gordie Howe, Jaromir Jagr and Alex Ovechkin had done at the same point of their careers: the season in which they were 27 for Game 1 in October.
First things first, in the interests of full disclosure, I want to mention a little bet I have regarding Roberto Luongo.
Early in Luongo’s tenure with the Vancouver Canucks, I wagered with THN managing editor Edward Fraser that Luongo would at some point in his career win a Stanley Cup. Fraser didn’t like the cut of Luongo’s jib and took the career disappointment side.
When Luongo was among the top two or three goalies in the game and the Canucks were a powerhouse, the bet was looking good in my favor. But now…forget it. He ain’t winning the Cup. No biggie. The bet was for ice cream and Fraser is now a vegan so it’s a painless loss.
But is Luongo’s career on a trajectory that will lead him to the Hall of Fame? That’s a tricky one.
I must admit that after the smoke rose from the chimney of the Hockey Hall of Fame where the conclave gathered Monday to choose the 2014 inductees, I was surprised at the amount of love that was being shown to Eric Lindros for not being among them.
This column will not debate the merits of Lindros as a Hall of Famer. I see him as a borderline candidate and would not have strong feelings one way or the other if/when he finds his way in. But far more fascinating were the machinations that revolved around the Lindros debate.
And almost none of them have anything to do with his performance on the ice. There are those who truly believe Lindros is being punished for his off-ice comportment over the course of his career – spurning the Soo Greyhounds in junior hockey and the Quebec Nordiques in 1991 and engineering a trade to the Philadelphia Flyers, having a mother and father (who later became his agent) having an enormous amount of influence during his career and generally being a player who didn’t sit down, shut up and play by the rules. Read more
It was no surprise when the Hall of Fame announced Dominik Hasek as one of its six new members Monday. Learning Hasek was chosen in his first year of eligibility was a mere formality, as he belonged in the shoo-in class of players. He was simply that dominant in his NHL career.
And, ironically, dominant doesn’t do ‘The Dominator’ justice. No goalie in the history of the league has accumulated a resume like his. No goalie has been as head-and-shoulders above his peers for a longer stretch of his career. And dare I say no goalie has ever played the position as well as Dominik Hasek did. Not Patrick Roy, not Martin Brodeur, not Terry Sawchuk.
To make such a claim is to go against some sacred THN rankings. Our Top 100 of all-time, released in 1998, ranked Sawchuk ninth overall and first among goaltenders. Hasek, then mid-career, squeaked onto the list at No. 95 overall. The panel of judges included luminaries from Milt Schmidt to Howie Meeker to Scotty Bowman. It was as authoritative as it gets. Our 2010 update, after Hasek’s NHL career ended, bumped him to fifth, but still placed him behind Sawchuk, Roy, Brodeur and Jacques Plante.
So why go against the experts? I believe that, with each passing year since Hasek’s retirement, his accomplishments look even more impressive. I humbly present a pitch for his status as the best of all-time.
1. His major hardware collection is the closest thing goalies have to Wayne Gretzky’s and Bobby Orr’s.
The only goaltender with more Vezina Trophies than Hasek’s six is Plante, who had seven and won six of those playing in a league with six teams and six starting goaltenders. The NHL had 26 teams when Hasek won his first Vezina and 30 when he earned his sixth. Plante also won all his Vezinas when the award went to the starting goalie of the team with the lowest goals-against average, so Hasek has the most Vezinas under the “real” system, in which GMs vote on the league’s best goalie.
Hasek won a hilarious, ridiculous five Vezinas in a six-year stretch at one point in his career. He’s the only goalie to win the Hart Trophy as league MVP twice, which he did over back-to-back seasons in 1996-97 and 1997-98. In both of those memorable campaigns, he won the Ted Lindsay Award, chosen by the players as MVP. Mike Liut is the only other goalie to win the Lindsay. Hasek is a six-time first-team All-Star. He won two Cups with Detroit (one as the starter) and, before that, got to the final by dragging along a Buffalo team that boasted Mike Peca, Miroslav Satan and Jason Woolley as its best players. His .922 career save percentage is No. 1 in NHL history. Did he play a big chunk of his career in the Dead Puck Era, or is it more accurate to say he was the Dead Puck Era?