Mario Lemieux and Patrick Roy (Photo by Denis Brodeur/NHLI via Getty Images)
Mario Lemieux and Patrick Roy were born on the same day in the same province 50 years ago today. Both were superstars, but which one would you take if you needed a win in Game 7?
Google tells me that Andy Griffith and Marilyn Monroe were born on precisely the same day. So were Charles Darwin and Abraham Lincoln. But the best parallel we can make for two people of bound by precisely the same birthday and excellence in the same craft are B.B. King and Charlie Byrd, who were a couple of pretty decent guitar players.
It’s uncanny, really. Two people born in the same province, both possessing talents that made them unique and otherworldly as hockey players. And both did so despite being saddled with the dreaded ‘late birthday,’ which some will point to as a severe disadvantage to a young player’s chances.
But Lemieux and Roy not only made it, they made history. Both were so dominant that they were the focal point on the teams for which they played and were true superstars – a term that is floated around far too liberally these days – for most of their careers. There’s no way the Montreal Canadiens win their last two Stanley Cups without Roy in their lineup. Same goes for the Penguins and their first two Cups with Lemieux. Hell, the Penguins don’t even exist right now if not for Lemieux.
So in honor of their 50th birthdays we’ll hoist a drink to Lemieux and Roy and while we’re at the barstool, let’s have a little debate. More than 30 years after they were drafted, which player would you take first overall in the 1984 draft, Super Mario or St. Patrick?
The day they were drafted, there could not have been a wider gap between them as prospects. Lemieux went into that draft as a generational talent, one who had the New Jersey Devils and Penguins jockeying for last overall in the NHL. Roy was anything but that, coming off a 5.33 career goals-against average in junior hockey and not having won a single playoff game. Prior to choosing Roy 51st in that draft, the Canadiens took Petr Svoboda, Stephane Richer and Shayne Corson, marking one of the greatest single drafts by any team in history.
But when you look at their career bodies of work, the gap narrows in a big way. You’d likely still take Lemieux first because that was exactly what the Penguins needed at the time, an offensive superstar who could immediately come in and revive the sagging fortunes of a moribund franchise. And he did that immediately. Even though the Penguins didn’t make the playoffs in his first season, Lemieux scored 100 points and was named rookie of the year.
Roy didn’t establish himself until a year later, but his imprint on the Canadiens as a rookie was every bit as dramatic. Months before his 21st birthday, Roy led a decidedly mediocre team to the Stanley Cup with 15 wins and a .923 save percentage. Seven years later, Roy was at it again, backstopping a team that had no business being a contender for the Stanley Cup and posting a .930 save percentage, the best of his Stanley Cup winning seasons.
Basically what it comes down to is this: If you were playing Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final, would you want one of the most prolific offensive and physical talents the game has ever known or the best clutch goaltender in the history of the game?
Unfortunately, the two of them never met in a playoff series during their careers. They would have if the Penguins had not been shocked and denied a chance to win their third straight Stanley Cup by the New York Islanders in the second round of the playoffs. Had the Penguins won that series, it would have set up an epic showdown between Roy and Lemieux in the Eastern Conference final. Perhaps that would have provided the clear margin of choice between the two Hall of Famers.
One has four Cups, the other has two. One has an Olympic gold medal and victories in the Canada Cup and the World Cup, to go along with a silver in the World Championship and a bronze the World Junior Championship. The other represented Canada only once, failing to better Dominik Hasek in the shootout of the semifinal at the 1998 Winter Olympics. One has a ton of records and every significant award at the NHL level, the other has three Vezina Trophies and a record three Conn Smythe Trophies as the most valuable player in the playoffs.
There’s not as much separating the two as you might think. So rather than argue, let’s celebrate their greatness with another adult beverage.
And just for fun, let’s do the first round of the 1984 draft all over again. Players are listed in order, followed by the team that had that pick at the time. The spot in which they were actually drafted is in parentheses:
1. Mario Lemieux, Pittsburgh (1)
2. Patrick Roy, New Jersey (51)
3. Brett Hull, Chicago (117)
4. Luc Robitaille, Toronto (171)
5. Gary Roberts, Montreal (12)
6. Stephane Richer, Los Angeles (29)
7. Gary Suter, Detroit (180)
8. Kirk Muller, Montreal (2)
9. Scott Mellanby, Pittsburgh (27)
10. Ed Olczyk, Vancouver (3)
11. Shayne Corson, Hartford (8)
12. Kevin Hatcher, Calgary (17)
13. Cliff Ronning, Minnesota (134)
14. Al Iafrate, N.Y. Rangers (4)
15. Ray Sheppard, Quebec (60)
16. Kirk McLean, Quebec (107)
17. Petr Svoboda, Washington (5)
18. Michal Pivonka, Buffalo (59)
19. Sylvain Cote, Boston (11)
20. Doug Bodger, N.Y. Islanders (9)
21. Don Sweeney, Edmonton (166)