Jere Lehtinen, who’s set to have his jersey retired by the Stars in 2017-18, was one of the game’s best defensive wingers, but where does he rank among the five best in the post-expansion era?
Top scorers, especially those who manage it with some flash, are generally the greatest stars the game has to offer. It’s the Gretzkys and Howes and Lemieuxs of the league who are most often heralded, rewarded with trophies, celebrations and, if they’re so lucky, a jersey retirement at the end of their career.
It’s because of the tendency to remember the stat-sheet stuffers most fondly that the Dallas Stars’ plan to retire Jere Lehtinen’s jersey is so special.
No one is about to confuse Lehtinen with Mike Modano or Neal Broten, the two greatest scorers in the franchise’s history, but his importance to the club went beyond what showed up in the box score every night. That’s not to say Lehtinen was a poor scorer — that was far from the case — but the strongest aspect of his game was his ability to play a shutdown defensive role when the time called for it. He was so good, in fact, that he won three Selke Trophies, a rare feat for a winger.
Lehtinen’s greatness as a defensive winger was part of what helped the Stars capture the lone Stanley Cup in franchise history in 1999, and one can be sure that without Lehtinen’s contributions, an already difficult road to the title would have had at least a few more bumps.
In honor of the announcement of Lehtinen’s jersey retirement, which is set to take place in 2017-18, here are the five best two-way wingers in post-expansion history. And even though he’s the impetus behind this list, you won’t find Lehtinen in the top spot:
5. Marian Hossa
If Hossa was a center, he’d likely have at least one Selke to his name. Alas, the award is rarely handed to wingers, especially across the duration of Hossa’s career. Matter of fact, since Hossa broke into the league, Jere Lehtinen and John Madden are the only wingers to take home the trophy and no winger has won the award in the post-lockout era.
Hossa has come close, however. He’s finished in the top 10 in Selke voting three separate times, and most of that recognition has come during his 30s as he’s morphed his game to be one of the league’s fiercest and most skilled wingers. No time is his ability more evident than when he’s on the back check. Hossa’s head down, all-effort skating when he’s chasing the play has become a staple of his game. He’s also still relied upon as one of the top penalty killers in Chicago despite the fact he’s closer to retirement than he is his heyday.
4. Craig Ramsay
Ramsay’s not in the Hall of Fame, only once made appeared in an All-Star Game and he was never voted to the end-of-year all-star club. His value as a savvy, two-way winger can’t be neglected, though. Eight times, Ramsay was a 20-goal scorer and he hit the 60-point mark five times. But where he really excelled was in his own end.
Bob Gainey owned the Selke once the trophy was introduced, but Ramsay was right there, chasing the hardware just about every season. In 1977-78, the first year the trophy was introduced, Ramsay finished second in voting and he would go on to be a finalist for the award in each of the next five seasons. A runner-up for the Selke three times in his career, Ramsay would eventually get the credit he deserved when he won the award in 1984-85. It couldn’t have come at a better time, either, because he skated off into the sunset following that campaign.
3. Sergei Fedorov
Most are going to remember Fedorov as one of the best scorers to ever grace the league. He netted 483 goals and 1,179 points over the course of 1,248-game career. He scored 100 points in a campaign twice, had a 50-goal season, two 60-assist campaigns, won the Hart Trophy and a Lester B. Pearson Award. Even at the tail end of his career, Fedorov was more than a half-point per game player.
What most forget, though, is that he won two Selkes, finished second once and top-five another two times. According to arguably the greatest coach of all-time, though, the Selkes don’t really do Fedorov justice. Scotty Bowman, who coached Fedorov for nine seasons, used to deploy the Russian pivot as a defenseman on occasion and asked about his defensive ability, Bowman said Fedorov could have been an all-star defenseman on the back end.
2. Jere Lehtinen
As far as modern-era defensive wingers go, they didn’t come better than Lehtinen. Drafted in the fourth-round of the 1992 draft, Lehtinen made his was to the NHL ahead of the 1995-96 season and his impact was almost instant. He may have flown somewhat under the radar in his rookie season — he managed just six goals and 28 points in 57 games — but he quickly showed that his ability to play at both ends of the ice made him an irreplaceable asset.
By Lehtinen’s second season in the league, he was a Selke finalist, finishing third in voting behind Michael Peca and Peter Forsberg, but by the time he had completed his third season with the Stars, he found himself on stage at the annual awards show, capturing the first of what would be three Selkes in his career.
Almost overlooked because he was so sound at both ends of the ice is that Lehtinen was quite the scorer, too. During his best seasons, Lehtinen was a 30-goal scorer and he netted 20 or more goals in seven of his 14 seasons in Dallas. He finished his career with 243 goals and 514 points, which puts him ninth in Stars history.
1. Bob Gainey
The Selke wasn’t created for the express purpose of giving it to Gainey, but you wouldn’t have known that given he took home the award in each of the first four seasons the trophy was handed out. And if it wasn’t for the play of Boston’s Steve Kasper in 1981-82, Gainey would have taken home the first five. He was also a top-10 finisher from 1982-83 to 1985-86. During that run, Gainey also managed to take home a Conn Smythe for his marvellous two-way play paired with a six-goal, 16-point performance in the 1978-79 post-season.
Gainey’s defensive prowess, paired with five Stanley Cups, was enough to earn him a spot in the Hall of Fame, too. There’s no player who spent their entire career in the NHL during the post-expansion era who scored fewer points to make it into the Hall. Gainey scored 501 points in 1,160 games, good for .43 points per game. Only three Hall of Fame forwards have scored fewer points per game.