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Ranking the 10 Best NHL Centers of the '80s

Brad KurtzbergContributor IJanuary 13, 2017

Ranking the 10 Best NHL Centers of the '80s

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    The 1980s was a decade of wide open hockey in which scoring was higher than at any other time in the modern history of the NHL.

    It was also the decade that saw the league's last two true dynasties: the New York Islanders, who won four straight Stanley Cups from 1980-1983, and the Edmonton Oilers who captured four championships in five seasons, winning in 1984, 1985, 1987 and 1988. The Montreal Canadiens (1986) and Calgary Flames (1989) won the decade's other two titles.

    Here is a look back at the top 10 centers of that decade of firewagon hockey. It includes their performance between 1979-80 and 1988-89 so some players who went on to greatness in the 1990s or did great things before 1980 will not have those seasons included in this list.

    Feel free to comment on these or to add any players you feel I wrongly omitted. If you do this, please tell us all why the player belongs.

    Enjoy our look back at the best centers of the '80s.

Ken Linseman

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    Perhaps some of you are surprised to see "The Rat" on this list.

    Linseman was not known as a huge goal scorer, but he finished 20th overall (not just among centers) in scoring for the decade with 233 goals and 710 points.

    Linseman was also known as a guy who would play a physical game, be a big pest to opponents top line players and take important faceoffs.

    The Kingston, Ontario, native played for Philadelphia, Edmonton and Boston during the decade and won the Stanley Cup in 1984 with the Oilers. He also appeared in three other Stanley Cup Finals during the decade.

Dale Hawerchuk

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    Dale Hawerchuk spent the entire decade of the '80s with the original Winnipeg Jets and was by far the best player the franchise had up until that time.

    Hawerchuk finished the decade with 353 goals and 848 points, good for 11th highest in the league.

    The Toronto native broke into the league with a bang, scoring 45 goals and totaling 103 points in 1981-82, good enough to win the Calder Trophy as the league's top rookie.

    Hawerchuk was consistent during the '80s, topping 100 points six times and going over 90 points in the other two seasons he played during the decade.

    He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2001.

Bernie Federko

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    Many fans outside of St. Louis forget how good Bernie Federko actually was. Federko was steady, talented and a great leader for the Blues for more than a decade.

    Federko scored 290 goals and 914 points during the '80s, sixth overall for the league.

    He had four seasons of 100 or more points during the decade including a career-best 107 points in 1983-84. Federko still holds the Blues franchise record for games played, assists and points.

    Today, Federko works as a broadcaster for the Blues and remains one of the all-time greatest players in the franchise's history.

Denis Savard

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    Denis Savard spent the 1980s with the Chicago Blackhawks, leading a very good team that always fell just short of winning a championship.

    The native of Pointe Gatineau, Quebec, was a perfect fit for a wide open decade of hockey. His most famous move was the spin-o-rama which helped him score highlight reel goals while making opposing goalies look foolish.

    Savard was the NHL's fifth-highest scorer of the '80s with 324 goals and 933 points. He had five seasons of more than 100 points during the decade including a career-high 131 points in 1987-88.

    Savard won a Stanley Cup with Montreal in 1993 and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2000.

Peter Stastny

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    Center Peter Stastny brought excitement to the game both on and off the ice.

    Stastny defected from communist Czechoslovakia in 1980 to join the Nordiques along with his brother Anton.

    Stastny went on to have seven season of 100 points or more in the '80s and was the second highest scoring player in the decade with 356 goals and 986 points. He won the Calder Trophy as the league's top rookie in 1980-81 when he became the first official NHL rookie to break the 100 point barrier.

    During his tenure with Quebec, Stastny played with his brothers, Marian and Anton and led the Nords in their memorable battles against their biggest rivals, the Montreal Canadiens. "The Battle of Quebec" provided some of the most memorable hockey of the '80s.

    Stastny was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1998.

Mark Messier

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    Mark Messier may have been overshadowed at times by Wayne Gretzky while he was in Edmonton, but Mess was an all-time great in his own right.

    He won six Stanley Cups during his career including four in the 1980s while finishing 12th overall in the NHL in scoring with 841 points during the decade.

    Messier was much more physical during his tenure in Edmonton, patterning his game after the great Gordie Howe. Mess was never afraid to play a physical style or throw an elbow to an opponent's head when the referee wasn't looking.

    "Moose" was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2007.

Marcel Dionne

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    Marcel Dionne spent the majority of the 1980s as part of the Kings "Triple Crown Line." He teamed with Dave Taylor and Charlie Simmer to form one of the outstanding offensive trios of all-time.

    "The Little Beaver" finished third among all NHL players in the '80s with 980 points. He was one of the best passers of his era but the Kings lack of team success and geographic isolation prevented Dionne from getting more attention from the media and fans.

    Dionne won the decade's first Art Ross Trophy by leading the league in points in 1979-80 and had five seasons of more than 100 points during the '80s.

    Dionne finished his career with a brief stint with the Rangers. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1992.

Bryan Trottier

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    Bryan Trottier was the lynchpin of the New York Islanders dynasty of the early '80s.

    "Trots" centered the Isles top line between Clark Gillies and Mike Bossy and helped lead the Isles to four straight Stanley Cup wins from 1980-83.

    Trottier was a well-rounded hockey player. He was quick, an excellent passer, had great vision and was responsible in his own zone. He also came through in the clutch when his team needed him most.

    Trottier had four 100-plus point seasons in the '80s and finished eighth overall in points with 905.

    He later won two more Stanley Cups with the Penguins in the early 1990s before retiring and becoming a coach.

    Trottier was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1997.

Mario Lemieux

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    While Mario Lemieux only played in half of the decade, his level of play was so high that he finished very high on this list. Few players have left as big a mark on the NHL as "Super Mario" and if he stayed healthy, it is very possible Lemieux would have challenged Wayne Gretzky's all-time point record.

    Lemieux finished the decade with 300 goals and 715 points, good for 19th overall among NHL players. Those numbers are more remarkable when you realize he only played five years in the '80s.

    Lemieux won the Calder Trophy, two scoring titles and an MVP award in the '80s before helping the Penguins win a pair of Stanley Cups in the early '90s.

    He actually saved the Pens franchise from bankruptcy when he was drafted by them and again when he assumed ownership of the franchise more than a decade later. He also overcame a bad back and a battle with cancer to resume his NHL career.

    Lemieux was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1997. Today, he is part-owner of the Penguins.

Wayne Gretzky

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    Wayne Gretzky is considered by many to be the best hockey player who ever lived and his performance in the 1980s is the biggest reason why.

    Gretzky captained the Edmonton Oilers to four Stanley Cup wins in the decade and scored an incredible 1,837 points, nearly twice as many as his nearest competitor (Stastny with 986). In fact, "The Great One" had more assists (1,200) than anybody else had points.

    Gretzky's passing skills were unequaled. He always anticipated the play which often put him in position to score or set up teammates for easy goals. He was also one of the first players to set up behind the opponent's goal, a place most players used to think they couldn't score from there.

    In 1988, Gretzky was involved in the biggest trade in NHL history when he was dealt to the Los Angeles Kings. That trade helped the league make new inroads into non-traditional American markets.

    Gretzky retired in 1999 and his number was immediately retired throughout the league. He was also inducted into the Hall of Fame right away, waiving the traditional three-year waiting period.

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