Lemieux - le nom dit tout
(Updated with more Oiler-trashing)
A comment on the previous post calls me out on saying Lemieux is the greatest NHL player ever. I'm glad - I was half hoping I'd get a chance to elaborate. Conclusions first:
Most important hockey player ever: Wayne Gretzky
Most accomplished hockey player ever: Wayne Gretzky
Greatest hockey player ever: Mario Lemieux
Am I disrespecting Gretzky? Hell no. I attended many, many Oilers-Flames tilts in the Saddledome in the 80s, and when Gretzky took possession of the puck, it was the closest thing to "fear" I have ever experienced as a sports fan. He was a sublime player, and obviously sent me home crushed (by the game score) more often than not.
But, Mario was better. For years he had trouble shaking a "floater" rap which was very unfair. He took maybe half a season to make the transition from the QMJHL game. Past that, he may indeed have expended less energy than others away from the puck, only because he expended much more than others when he had it.
Highlight reel I'd love to see: Top 10 Mario goals on a delayed penalty. His ability to control the puck while dragging around some Gerald Diduck-type defenceman was incredible. The only comparable performance I've ever seen is by another guy who got a bad rap (at the time, anyway) for his heart: Jaromir Jagr.
1996 Playoffs - Penguins v. Capitals - game goes 4OTs, with Peter Nedved eventually scoring the winner with 45 seconds left in the 4th OT. Mario got tossed in the 2nd period for a "scrap" (trying to kick someone, as I recall). Anyway, Jagr played his ass off for 7 straight periods, on the ice at least half the time in OT. Was always, always, being obstructed by at least one Caps player. He didn't dive, he didn't give up, and he was by far the most dangerous player on the ice for most of 140 minutes.
The anecdote is off-topic, but it brings me to this: we all have certain areas of interest where, while research and discussion might be interesting, we are confident enough on the subject to observe it with our own eyes, draw our own conclusions, and Who Cares What You Or Anyone Else Thinks! For me, NHL hockey c. 1980-1996 is one of those things. Gretzky was brilliant, and the best thing that ever happened to the NHL. Lemieux was a better hockey player.
Lest anyone believe I have a whit of affection of the '80s Oilers, I will also add:
- Every goalie in the '80s, before the debut of Patrick Roy, sucked, and Grant Fuhr was no exception. He wasn't even the best goalie on his own team most of the time. Without examining the competition too closely, I'm comfortable calling him the most overrated player in the Hall of Fame.
- Mark Messier is absolutely the dirtiest player in NHL history who is best known for something besides his thuggery. There's a laundry list of NHL retirees with permanent back problems, post-concussion syndrome, and general pain who will back me up on this.
UPDATE (5 minutes later): Looks like I could have saved myself the trouble of this post, and let Jass take care of it.
2UPDATE (320PM): The memories are flooding back. Marty McSorley, of course, reverted to form to round out his career; even in the Brashear coverage, though, I didn't hear anything about a previous incident involving the Flames. I'll let an Oiler fan tell you about it, mainly because "Koho vasectomy" probably belonged on this list.
And of course there was Carey Wilson's ruptured spleen, suffered in Game 6 of the 1986 Smythe Division Finals at the hands of, well, guess who (scroll way down). Hint: the Hockey Gods' revenge was swift.